Monday, July 31, 2006

Monday July 31 - Day 6

One of our team members, BB, has spent a part of the early morning in the bathroom with stomach issues. I readily offer him up as a token sacrifice to the stomach gods that be so that I may escape his dire situation. But hey, I'm a leader. Around mid-morning, NLind is with him as it comes out the other way - well she wanted to be a nurse. We let him sleep it off for the rest of the day. The rest of the day is simply known as "Pygmy Village." Not a store in the mall, but an excursion that all of the camp will take - riding in dugout canoes upriver into the jungle to visit a pygmy tribe. No I'm not kidding.

Right after breakfast, we pack it all up into three Toyota Minivans that serve as our transport. We drive about 20 minutes and then get in a combination of 4 canoes.

The lodging caretakers at the beach have set this up for us, including bringing a list of basic staples for the village - soap, matches and salt, and a huge bottle of whiskey we all thought was water. We are told the pygmy village is a touristy kind of thing, except we don't see any other people the whole day. Touristy is in the eye of the beholder I suppose. G ends up staying back at camp to take care of BB, also using the time to continue to tweak his talks.

The canoe ride is uneventful. We hear monkeys but don't see any, although people in another canoe later said they saw a few. I thought I saw an antelope, but it turned out to be a goat. Give me a break, I live in the suburbs.

Cameroonians believe that there is a spirit of water, a spirit that does not have the best interests of humans in mind. Couple that with not knowing how to swim, you have a chicken-egg combination - people die because they don't know how to swim and they are afraid of the water because people have died and there is a spirit that lives there. Many of the students here ran into big opposition from their parents about the camp because of both the beach and the river ride. It's pretty amazing that most of them were allowed to come in the first place.

The pygmy village is a surreal experience. There is no water or electricity and they live in a complex of thatched roof structures, built out of branches, leaves and sticks. They are all fully dressed in clothes when we arrive, and there are all ages of them from little kids to older, grandmotherly types. They are just a bit shorter than us and top of the roofs come up to about my shoulder. They marry other pygmies from other tribes and they go into town only when they need something vital. They don't speak English or French, except one of them named John. That's kind of random. They also have a dog or two.

In the back of my mind, I've been asking myself if this kind of thing is even morally right. The scenario is a bit too exhibitionist and consumeristic - bring a boatload [literally] of white people to see a village of pygmies. To be blunt - it sounds too much like a zoo. I love exposing students to the concepts of engaging another culture - I don't think we have a choice, the future depends on it. But it has to be an engagement, not a viewing.

At one point, JM tells me that she wants me to talk to the tribal chief about why we are there and about Jesus. I collect a few thoughts ranging from "I'm going to do what?" to "Maybe other gods talk to this guy," to "This should be interesting." In the end, I share just a little bit about how we are here from America because there is a God that talks to us, gave us a book and created everything that you and I see here. Not necessarily right from the Four Spiritual Laws. I would speak to Wlson, who spoke French to one of the canoe drivers, who spoke the pygmy language. The answer would come the other direction. After our short dialogue, there was also a short question and answer session and then the pygmies did a dance for us, with hand made drums, singing and pulling some of our pale skinned teammmates into the circle of dance. Surreal.

We arrive back at camp in the late afternoon, have a snack and continue on that evening with normal camp stuff, including a talk and small group time. Quite a day in Cameroon.

Photos: one of the canoes, NLind dancing with the tribal chief, me and the chief.

20060726Cameroon photoset

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