Heather & Hannah – Hugs From Home

Not often do you meet someone who after briefly knowing you packs up to travel around the globe to join arms with you for a cause. I was so blessed to meet Heather and Hannah Ritchey at the airport in Douala. Seeing their faces come through the gate was a brief moment of feeling at home. They arrived safely, we got quickly through customs and got into the guest house for the night with no problem. We headed to Bamenda in the morning. Although it is a long drive the experience begins: traffic check points, people selling roasted field corn at your car window and stopping for “McDonald’s” (which really means roasted goat or beef with a lukewarm bottle of soda). It was so fun watching people take in the sights for the first time. They are adventurers! They ate the fire-roasted beef, corn and fruit along the way without batting an eye at the oddities or lack of food safety measures. I was much more leery at first. It was great to stop at a waterfall before finally reaching home. I learned with them Cameroonians worship “Mommy Water” so there were salt and food sacrifices around the site. They are careful to appease her since they believe her to be responsible for their land’s fertility. (I am so happy to worship the God who made the water – I get to keep my groceries.) Image Holly and Jake graciously provided a full schedule of activities and sight-seeing beginning with Lake Awing a short drive out of Bamenda into the hills. Years ago a lake leaked methane gas killing hundreds of people in the area. This natural phenomenon reinforced the belief “Mommy Water” should be feared and appeased. A native of the Awing village accompanied us to ensure we did not anger her. Typically boating or disturbing the water is prohibited. Fishing is allowed but we do not get to keep the fish…which was good because the only fish we caught were Goldfish crackers. After fishing we continued up the hill for a quick hike to the highest point in the area! Another missionary family and two neighborhood buddies joined us for the morning and it was a blast!

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Our first evening of crafts commenced at the Children’s Home. The girls brought special activities like nature paper that works like photo paper, googly-eyes to glue to homemade jellyfish, friendship bracelets to make and more! Heather and Hannah brought the children their own individualized goodie bags with candy and small gifts. The kids loved their gifts and even shared some Jolly Rancher candies with me!

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Crafts were an awesome activity after long days of exams for the children! Their school year is winding down. Since we couldn’t spend all day with the kids, we were able to do a lot of other things like hike in Mbingo! We saw Fulani cattle roaming the mountain, a waterfall and had a picnic at the top of the waterfall. The scenery was incredible! At one point both Heather and I had to positive-self-talk ourselves out of panic attacks on a steep mountain with an abrupt drop-off. No photos as we were focused on getting over it alive. On the way home we stopped at our new land in Bambui to see the fence Jake and the boys from HHCH just put up to mark our newly drawn land lines!

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After a full day of hiking we went to a traditional Cameroonian baby shower called a “Born House” for a gal in our church. She had a beautiful baby boy who was born over one pound heavier than Promise’s weight at two months! The major praise was that both the mother and baby came home from the hospital healthy and happy as that is not a guarantee for any mother or child. Like Promise, for instance. It was a time of rejoicing with our sisters from church! Singing, dancing and eating all in someone’s living room. About 20 of us were squeezed in there! Holly also wrote a quiz on the book of Esther as part of our Bible study; Heather scored the second highest with 15 out of 18 correct!

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While I was teaching music class the girls got to experience the market! It is one of my favorite places as it was one of theirs because I love the challenge of finding things and negotiating prices. Heather and Hannah can attest Holly is a great teacher at getting a good deal. She knows her stuff! After all, she and Jake have been here for 10 years! The Schilinskis have established contacts in various facets of commerce who give them fair prices for goods.

Typically, it is difficult to take photos or “snaps” in the market because people either want a copy of the picture or think you are stealing their ideas/scouting their merchandise. These photos are not easily obtained!

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Huckleberry leaf or njamanjama – one of my favorite Cameroonian dishes which Heather and Hannah got to experience several times in their visit. They were fearless trying food during the entire journey! They jumped right in which warmed the hearts of all their cooks at the Children’s Home, one of our friends’ “chop houses” or restaurant and a family friend’s home!

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Both of them commented on how surprised they were at the lush beauty of the terrain and how good the food was. We tend to be under the inaccurate generalization food is in short supply in all of Africa. Balanced nutrition is certainly a problem as the diet here is starch heavy but food is not in short supply. Fruits and vegetables grow with ease. It’s the protein that can be an issue although beans are readily available. Education on balanced nutrition could improve but the stereotype of desolation and starvation does not accurately represent all of Cameroon. It is beautiful and bountiful! Praise God for his provision!

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On an outing with the older girls from the Children’s Home, we got smoothies at a cafe and had a Bible study prepared by one of the girls. We talked about the fact once we become believers and accept Christ, we are in walking in The Light which is synonymous with ‘Life’. We are going to exist for eternity but where you spend it is the question. What happens after our physical bodies is only a part of the battle. How we live our time on earth in the Lord’s eyes is indicative of things to come! If we are not following Christ, we are existing in death on earth – not “living” on earth. Life comes from God. So if you feel empty, accept the gift of salvation and enjoy the fulfillment of true life! If you’ve accepted it, show God your appreciation by living fully in the life He provided for you! Joshua 24:15 – there’s no time like the present to decide!

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Heather and Hannah brought us suitcases full of things donated by friends and family for us and the Children’s Home. Two gals, whose mother knows my mother, sacrificed their birthday presents from in order to collect donations of yarn and nail polish for the girls of the home! Our girls received the gifts at the girls’ outing. They have had multicolored toes and fingernails ever since. They love their gifts! It has been like Christmas!

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One of our last sight-seeing ventures was Pres-Pot, a pottery operation outside of town near the village where Promise was born. It is all done by manpower. No big machines or heavy equipment. They dig the clay from the river, carry it to the shop, refine it, store it, mold it and fire it into products to sell! The pottery is beautiful and durable. They are true artisans!

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Above is a picture of a typical store. Heather got great pictures along the road of things I started to take for granted. I don’t notice some of the differences anymore so it was a nice reminder of the cultural differences through the eyes of a first-time visitor. She got such great pictures!

We also got to enjoy an outing with the Helping Hands kids at Parcours Vita to enjoy “making sport” or working out. Basically there is a police/military training park where you can run, do various exercises or play on a giant playground of recycled and hand-crafted materials. It was really hot and humid that morning but we had a lot of fun burning energy with the kids. To see them out of their normal environment is always enlightening. We had races and other challenges. The moral of the story is, I’m not as young as I once was. Ha!

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We did so many things I am not doing their time here justice. All in all we did a pretty good job of taking in Cameroon culture. The time, energy and money the Ritchey’s sacrificed was a blessing I can’t begin to explain. From getting to hear how everyone is doing back in Shenandoah to cards, hugs and hellos from everyone, my heart felt refreshed! They were fantastic guests to have who brought smiles to everyone here! The trip is not a small undertaking between driving, flying and driving again but we can praise God again for His travel mercies on them.

If you see the girls, ask to see their photos as they have hundreds more! Thank you to everyone who sent their greetings and donated to the cause. You truly blessed the children and our family! We love you guys!

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