Friday, August 19, 2016

C.A.R. (Wednesday, July 6)

Roy with a new fruit.
From guest blogger, the wonderful husband, Roy Thagard! 

Today we woke up to a light rain.  Who would have thought that it would rain in Africa?  But living in a rainforest climate, it is likely to come!  One realization in my eyes is that on days of rainfall, are people able to work during the day?  For jobs that are labor-intensive, I would believe many would not be able to work due to the weather.  This would also mean that if a wage is unearned, that perhaps their families may go unfed.  So while we know the rain to be life-giving, today was a reminder of job insecurity within African countries.

With the rainfall today, our team did a tour of the CEFA farm where we were staying.  There is so many individual projects  that are taking place, today was a day to see just a glimpse of all that is being done.

A typical day will see 2-3 flat bed trucks bring as many as 100 people to work at the farm for the day.  Everyone is dropped off at the front gate where a morning devotion is led by either Roy D or one of the farm managers.  These are shared in Sango, the local trade language.

After the devotion, everyone disperses into their respective jobs.  Today we would see some of the efforts to establish cover crops, the agroforestry landscape, aquaculture ponds, and the nutrition garden. 

The perennial peanut as a cover crop in the "Garden of Eden"
There are many purposes of a cover crop in a landscape.  In a tropical climate, rainfall can quickly deplete soil nutrients.  Legume crops produce nitrogen in the soil, which is desired for plant growth.  If a cover crop can provide this valuable nutrient, it will make other plants and trees grow substantially more efficient.  We looked at two legume cover crops that the farm is interested in establishing—kudzu and ground peanut.  Those in the southern US know kudzu for its undesirable ability to take over a landscape because of its prolific growing habit.  But if the plant is kept in check it builds a great soil biomass while providing a great nutrition source for the landscape.  Ground peanuts are an unreproductive plant that also produces nitrogen.  It grows closer to the ground as it spreads, so it does not require as much management as kudzu.  It does, however, seem to spread more prolifically through its rhizomes when left unchecked. 

Here are a few pictures of workers on the farm using a board on a string to pack down the kudzu from growing and spreading onto trees in the landscape.
stompimg down the kudzu
the stomping down tool :-)

We also went to see the nutrition garden.  Here they are just beginning to establish vegetables as the rainy season begins.  Insect feeding has been problematic, so early establishment of these vegetable plants has been slow.  The CEFA farm has a night watchman, and his family lives here near the nutrition garden.  His children seem to be tasked with keeping the garden growing well. 
Roy D. in the newly planted nutrition (vegetable) garden
Beside the garden are 6 individual aquaculture ponds.  These ponds have tilapia fish that are harvested every 8-10 months and sold in the town’s market for profit.  This money would go back to the farm to sustain its work, such as purchasing additional fish.

One of the Tilapia ponds
For our afternoon time, we were invited to be guests for lunch in Kenzu, a village on the Cameroon side of the border just a few miles from our location.  Today was the day that the Ramadan fast was broken, so it was a time of celebration.  Aleta told us our greeting for the day, “Barka de sala” which means Blessings of peace.  We spent time getting to know H, a very dear Fulani friend of Aleta.  It was wonderful seeing the children dressed in new clothes made just for the celebration of the day.  Even the men in the village would take time to come and greet their family, many traveling from great distances for this celebration.  We were honored to be invited to celebrate such a special occasion with these new friends.
Denise with H and a friendly kitten
We were blessed with a delicious meat and rice meal. 
Aleta catch up with H's family
 Later in the day we walked and visited other family members and friends in this same village.  Roy D. noted fruit trees that he had once planted in the village continue to thrive.  He was excited these trees were being cared for.  The family also took us to the edge of town where they were establishing personal family garden areas.  

The ladies showing their garden preparation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

C.A.R. (Tuesday, July 5)

Today we went out to see some of the farmers that the CEFA farm works with. We visited a couple cooperatives which is the primary way that CEFA works in the community. First we all climbed in a land cruiser pickup and traveled down a path which they called a road. Oh, and I should introduce all those in the "we." We includes Roy and I, the 3 men who joined up with us at Cameroon, Roy D. (our missionary host), Benoit (the director of CEFA, and Nadej (another CEFA staff member). Most of the guys bounced around in the back the truck on what Roy calls worst road in CAR.  :)  (They were mighty nice to me and I got to sit in the front while Benoit drove.) We stopped when the road started becoming just a motorcycle path. A hike from the truck brought us down to the field. One of my first impressions was "where is the fence?" To me, no fence means that there isn't many livestock around that would otherwise destroy the crop. 

One of the coop members describing his field
This field was a peanut and cowpea field, and they had also planted cassava, an important staple crop. The cooperative members joined us out in the field. This was their first year grouping together as a coop. They had received permission to clear and plant on the village chief's land. This coop also was made up of members from the same church. CEFA  had given them seeds to plant, tools to work the field and expert advice. At the harvest time the coop will give back the same amount of seeds to the project, they will also save enough seed necessary to plant the next year, and the rest of the crops can be divided or sold. Money from the harvest will go into a lock box where there are 3 different locks and 3 different keys. They will decide as a group how the money will be spent & 3 different key holders provide accountability.
Roy looking at the health of the peanut plant with the CEFA director, Benoit looking on.
While the farmers already know how to plant, CEFA comes alongside to help them improve their technique. First, their access to tools is limited and so they provide tools for the Coop members to use. Second, CEFA teaches some techniques to help get the most harvest from a field of crops. They learn about crop spacing instead of just broadcasting seed or putting several in one hole. This year this coop learned about distancing the plants. Next year they'll learn about planting in rows and also plant a different crop. 

The peanut, cowpea and cassava field
We also learned about the importance of land ownership. They would love to purchase their own land. CEFA teaches the importance of doing this properly and getting the land deed (a challenge that comes with paperwork--difficult if you aren't literate!) One goal of many cooperatives is to plant fruit trees eventually (interspersed with the crops). BUT, we learned that if you plant trees on borrowed land (or land that you own but don't have the deed) then suddenly the land owner sees the value of the fruit trees with their fruit and he claims that the fruit is his and takes the land back. The cooperative is then left with nothing and must start over. 

After lunch we visited the "Garden of Eden." This is an acreage on the mission station in Gamboula where Roy D. has collected and planted trees and plants from all over the world. They are arranged in sections according to the continent of their origin. Plants that do well here may be propagated and used in the community. We saw all sorts of fruit trees and fruits that I've never heard of. 
Roy D. showing us a jack fruit. 
Then we went to the mission hospital for a tour. They treat many things including lack of nutrition--mothers and their young children are particularly susceptible. Malnutrition patients and children will stay for 3 months, and the ladies learn how to plant vegetables, eat healthy and save seed for the next year. When they leave they will receive a machete for at tool and seeds to plant at their home.
Nadej showing us the nutrition garden. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Flexibility is a must (July 3-4)

Our first morning in Cameroon we got up bright and early for breakfast and then we were ready to meet our taxi driver, Moses at 8:30 AM so that we could get some local currency and some grocery items for the next day's travel and for our travel companions that would come in that night. Except our taxi driver didn't show up. He was an hour late and we found someone who could call him for us. We found out first that he was no where in the city and then that his 8 year old daughter had just passed away and so he was driving to be home with his family. We soon heard new plans that another driver, Paul would pick us up to do our errands that afternoon. We spent the rest of the morning resting and checking out the street and vegetable vendors near us, but not purchasing anything since we didn't have any money yet.

Moses was also going to drive us all the way to Central African Republic the next day in a van. So our hosts, Aleta and Roy D. arranged for 2 taxis from the Cameroon / CAR border to bring up one missionary family and then return with us the next day. Unfortunately, neither of them spoke English, but at least we had a ride! At this point I realized how much of a mission trip this was where all the carefully laid out plans have to be changed. Flexibility is always a must in missions!

After running errands in the afternoon, we met up with our new taxi drivers that night, and all was arranged for a 5 AM departure the next day. Then the other three men, Dave, Eric and Mark who represented the project's mission agency, a support agency and a supporting church arrived from the US. They would have a short night, and Roy and I were thankful for the extra day we had to rest.
These are the 3 men who joined us for the first 4 days, along with our missionary host, Roy D (right)
Our 5 AM came soon and we packed up and were off. We were driving on the last day of Ramadan (month of fasting for Muslims) and so our groceries were helpful so that we didn't have to hunt for restaurants that would be open. We made super good time driving across country. The roads went from beautiful smooth pavement to gravel to rough gravel and then after crossing the border they went to rough dirt roads.

Sunrise on the way out of Yaounde on nice paved roads
onto the gravel road which was mostly smooth

This is the main road (dirt) once we crossed into CAR.
I was impressed that Musa, our taxi driver even stopped at gas stations where there were real bathrooms (a luxury I did not expect). Roy and I both compared the countryside to the parts of Africa we had been in the past. Cameroon was much greener than Senegal where Roy had lived, and I noticed a lot less animals, especially donkeys, and many more motorcycles on the road as compared with Ethiopia. There were also a lot of check points where sometimes they would wave us on and sometimes they would check our passports and ask questions and a couple times ask for things. We made it to the border town of Kentzou on the Cameroon side by 2 PM, and Roy D met us and picked us up to take us across the border. More security checks, and it took a couple hours to get through all of them with all five of us visitors.

Then we arrived at our destination, CEFA which is a project farm (NGO or non-government organization). It stands for Center for Education and Formation of Agriculture and is located 5 km from the small town of Gamboula, CAR. It is basically a training and demonstration farm set up to help people improve their lives by improving their farming.

Almost out to the CEFA farm!
We would call this home and stay in a guest house here for the next couple weeks. We got to shower off the road dust (of which there was a lot since we didn't have any air conditioning) and we foreigners (especially pregnant ones) want  the windows down to keep it cool. Our driver would have preferred a hot car free of dust! Then we were fed a hot delicious spaghetti supper and planned out the next day.
The guesthouse where Roy and I stayed at the CEFA farm.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Our Arrival in Cameroon (July 1-2)

We had good flights to Cameroon. After dropping our dogs off in Fayetteville, NC, Roy's mom and step-dad took us out to eat for our last American meal (at Cracker Barrel) for a while and then to Raleigh where we had a 8.5 hour flight to Paris, France, a 6 hour layover and then a 6.5 hour flight to Yaounde, Cameroon.

On our way!
We were able to meet up with my former college roommate, Kristin in the Paris airport. She and her family are working to help plant a church on the outskirts of Paris. Kristin treated us to breakfast and it was fun to catch up! They've had a tough year, but God is working through their efforts.

Denise and Kristin
Soon, after a few airplane movies, a couple airplane meals, short naps and several walks around the plane (doctor's orders), we arrived in Yaounde. The baggage carousel felt like a free for all, but we were thrilled to get all our bags and get through customs smoothly. A Covenant missionary, Konroy who works at a an the Rain Forest International School, was generous to pick us up and on the way to our guest house we got a quick synopsis of Cameroon history. It was first colonized in the 1400's by the Portuguese and called Cameroon (which means "shrimp"). After WW1 it came under German rule and then after WW2 it was given over to France and England. Then it gained her independence in 1969 with the national languages of English and French. The country is pretty stable today which has been really important to those missionaries in Central Africa as they have relied upon Cameroon as an entry/exit point and for other logistics.

We got settled into a three room apartment at the SIL guesthouse in Yaounde. The next day we would be joined by three men who would be going with us to Central African Republic to see the CEFA project. We were tired but so happy to be on African soil!
Mosquito net to make sure no mosquito got a meal from us at night. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Home now and time to reflect

Roy and I got home last night! It is always good to come home even though we'll miss our special times in Central Africa. I hope to reflect back on our Central African Republic trip over the next few days. We took lots of photos and I wrote quite a lot in my journal, but I didn't take time to get anything posted to the blog while we were there. (Internet access was across the border and 1 hour away.) In the meantime, our hosts the Danforths have posted a few items and photos. So here's a look at our visit (with a few photos) from their perspective:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Visiting CAR

Roy & I are doing great in CAR. I don't have many photos on my phone to share, but here is one of our taxi drivers after arriving last week. We've been busy learning about the agricultural ministry here and seeing all the amazing ways the farm is touching people's lives and allowing them to live out Christ's love in real life. After lots of days looking at plants today we had the chance to visit a Fulani family and their cattle. We continue to covet your prayers and can't wait to share in more detail when we get home!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

In Cameroon

Roy and I arrived in Cameroon safely Saturday evening--bags and all! We just found out the wifi password at the guest house tonight where we are staying and since I can't sleep, it's time for a short post.

It is definitely a mission trip where the first rule is "be flexible." This morning our taxi driver, Moses didn't show up at the arranged time to take us to run a couple errands. We found out that his daughter just passed away. This man was to take us to the village tomorrow so we now have backup drivers taking us tomorrow. They don't speak English & so it will be an interesting trip. We met them tonight, arranged for a 5 am departure in the morning and learned how to say, "we need to stop for the bathroom." So we are all set! We were joined by three others this evening from the States who are going out to see the farm we are visiting. They'll be with us the first three days when we'll tour the farm and see the ministry sites in the area. We're excited to get on the road and see some countryside and finish getting out to Gamboula!

Thanks for all your prayers!

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