My March Letter

This was originally entitled "February Letter" and I did start it in
February, but well, it has taken longer to finish than I anticipated, so I
changed the Subject.

I put off writing this because I knew there would be news, real news, soon.
And soon has finally come. Of course, since it's been almost two months
since I've written, there are a LOT of things to share. Get yourself a cup
of coffee/tea/hot chocolate. Sit back. Relax.

First, I want to send a shout out to everyone who has sent me a card or
postcard. Thanks! I've gotten several so far and they have been wonderful —
Christmas cards, a postcard from Hawaii, a handmade card from Rwanda. Mail
from the US seems to take about a month, but I'm happy to get mail whenever
it arrives.Today I received two postcards from California — one of the
Redwoods and one of the Big Sur coast — just to remind me that "home" is
the most beautiful place on earth!

The Togo trip was great. The climate there is absolutely perfect in my book


— always a nice breeze coming off the ocean, cool enough in the mornings to
make running pleasant, warm enough at night to ride around on the back of a
motorcycle without a jacket. I met a bunch of great people, ran, hung out, went
to a night club and even went swimming in the ocean one Sunday. Photos can be
seen on my flickr site (see link in my signature below).


I also spent
a weekend in Bafoussam a couple of weeks ago, visiting fellow VSO volunteer
Duncan, which was nice. He lives right *in* the city and so it was a nice change
in vibe from Fonta. That Sunday was National Youth Day and we got to see quite a
parade — everything from uniformed little kindergartners marching with their
school to muscle-bound young men in compression shorts marching with their gym.


Upon
returning to PRTC, we were all just sort of hanging out, waiting to hear our
fate. I was actually in Bamenda, facilitating a meeting for VSO with a potential
new partner when I received the text message from Mr. Sama saying that MRDF (the
Methodist Relief and Development Foundation in the UK) approved our 3-year grant
proposal. Woo hoo! Since they are funding everything PRTC does, with the
exception of the Research department (2 people) and the Cattle section (4
people), everyone was quite anxious to hear this news. By the time I got back to
Fonta in the afternoon, there was already a group at Beatrice's that had been
celebrating for several hours. Shouts of joy and more rounds of drink ensued.
People looked more relaxed and happy than I had seen them in months.


I had great
hopes that, funding now secured, I would be able to get down to doing some work.
We did all sit down for 2 days and create the operational plan for the PRTC, but
both my name and the work of creating a different, less dependent, way of
fundraising was noticeably absent. Undaunted, I created my own workplan which
went through the end of April and gave copies to the management team asking them
to review it and for us to all meet. Meanwhile, VSO was exploring new
partnerships within their Partnership & Governance program area and wanting
to know from me when I would be available to potentially work with one or more
of these emerging partners. Well, my workplan elicited no response. None
whatsoever. I tried to schedule a meeting twice, to no avail. So, when the
Country Director of VSO was coming up to Bamenda, we decided he needed to speak
with the Principal. By the time he actually came, it seemed pretty clear to me
that PRTC was not ready to do the work they had initially wanted me to do. And
that was confirmed when this meeting happened.


So. . . We
decided that I will leave PRTC and move into Bamenda at the end of March. Then,
when PRTC is ready to do the work they need to do around fundraising, they can
call on me and I can come out and work with them. In the meantime, I will be
working with several organizations in Bamenda — two networks that are new
partners for VSO where I will be coaching them through an OD (Organizational
Development) process and another current partner that needs help with management
systems. This is really good on several levels. I look forward to being fully
occupied, even busy. And I know I will find life in town much, much easier and
far less isolated. In addition, the OD work lets me use my facilitation skills
which, the couple of times I've been able to use those skills here so far, have
been really appreciated.


I do not yet
have a place to live and don't know what my address will be, but you can always
send cards and whatever to the VSO office. There are staff coming up to Bamenda
almost once a month these days, so things get to me. That address is:


        Tracy
E. Longacre
        c/o VSO Cameroon
        B. P. 25127
       
Messa – Yaoundé
        Cameroon


And for those
of you who don't know or may have forgotten, my birthday is March 17th. Hint,
hint 😉 It's my 45th which somehow feels significant to me. I haven't figured
out how I am going to celebrate it, but I want to do something. I'm still
annoyed that I never really celebrated my 40th.


I was
inspired to create some practices to mark Lent for myself this year. When I was
first thinking about it, I knew I wanted to do something but didn't know what. I
started to go down the traditional "deny myself some food I shouldn't be eating"
path which was familiar, but I was having a heck of a time thinking of what I
should eliminate from my already pretty restricted diet. One thing I realized
that I wanted to focus on was forgiveness. It's not something I'm very facile
with and so I decided that one of my practices would be to forgive
someone/something each day–like a strength-building exercise. But I still had
this thing that I needed to deny myself something or have more discipline about
something or improve myself somehow. Then my Spiritual Director suggested that
perhaps what I needed to "fast" from was this constant need to improve myself.
What if I loved myself for 40 days? Could I do that? Well, that seemed like a
daunting task! So there's my second practice–to love myself each day. I'll let
you know how it goes. I have an initial reflection on my running blog (see link
below in my signature).


Twice I have
been asked to preach on Sunday to our Prayer Cell here on the PRTC Fonta
compound. I had done a homily or two during our staff prayers, but this group
includes wives, children and various other family members. My biggest job is to
SPEAK SLOWLY, so last Sunday I printed that in large letters on every page!
Thankfully, on Sundays the text is always from the Gospel (during the week, this
is not the case), which is something I'm used to, although the Presbyterian
Church in Cameroon (PCC) Lectionary bears little resemblance to either the
Episcopal or Revised Common Lectionaries in the US. But at least I have a text
to preach from. My latest sermon is on my TELCameroon blog, if you are
interested (see link below in my signature).


For those of
you who might be following or vaguely aware of all the "stuff" happening in the
Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion these days, I am not going to say
anything about that. Except to say that I am tired of reading everything and
feeling a bit beaten up by it all. Someday I think I should say/write something
because things look pretty different when you are sitting here in Africa, but
not today.


Speaking of
sitting here in Africa. . . I went out to my deck/veranda the other day and I
heard something rustling in the bushes. I looked over just in time to watch a
rather long snake fall out of the bush, hit the ground and slither away. "Glad
I'm up here," I thought. Then I noticed that there was another snake under that
same bush, even longer than the first. I think the two had gotten into a scuffle
and that is why the first one went away. This darker one hung out for awhile,
looking around, and then slithered off in the other direction. "Really glad I'm
up here," I thought.


Being a woman
in Cameroon is really not great. Being a foreigner, I am thankfully shielded
from the worst, but I still have to put up with a level of misogynistic remarks,
outright sexism, hostility and harrassment that I have not actually ever had to
deal with. But for Cameroonian women it is really pretty bad. I hope that
well-educated women in the big cities get some relief, but I'm not so sure. One
great example is the law regarding adultery. For a woman to accuse her husband
of adultery, she has to prove that he has been unfaithful — stand up in a court
of law run by men kind of proof. However, a man merely has to suspect that his
wife has been unfaithful. This has produced an interesting phenomenon. I know
many men, particularly older men (my age and older), whose wives are living in
the US and they are living here. Why? Because here the men can be "big" men,
whereas in the US, they are no great shakes. But when they returned to Cameroon,
their wives refused. I am not surprised.


My social
life primarily consists of brief conversations over fufu-corn and a beer about
once a week at the Horizon Chicken Shack in Bambui. These usually end when the
guy — generally older than me — starts asking about marriage. But last week, a
group of four younger guys came in and sat on the comfy chairs & sofa where
I was. I talked with one of them before the other three showed up and then I
went back to eating. When I was finished, the guy next to me started up a
conversation and we had quite a pleasant time chatting. Aidan teaches religion
and philosophy at the local high school (God, that cannot be an easy job!).
Turns out, he went to seminary (there's a Roman Catholic (Capuchin) seminary in
Bambui) but decided not to become a priest. And what can one do with a Seminary
education? Teach religion and philosophy to High School kids. Anyway, he was a
nice guy and it was nice to just have a conversation with someone. I think I may
intentionally strike up conversations with younger guys–I'm too old to be
interesting to them for anything other than chatting.


Finally, I'll
end by sharing a few things I've learned about myself over the last six months
here in Cameroon. One thing I am learning is that I find it very difficult to
ask anyone to help me. If I were in dire need I could, and I have no qualms
about asking people to help others or a cause I believe in or even something I
might benefit from, but straight out helping me with no added benefit to the
helper? Uh, no, can't do that. Not unless it is someone's assigned job.
Interesting. I did not know that about myself.


Perhaps a bit
related, but discovered in a different context (work rather than personal), I
have learned that I really like to work where people have clearly defined roles
and accountabilities. Not that their assigned accountabilities are the only
thing people do, but to me, it really helps to clarify who should be in a given
meeting, for instance, or who should take the lead on a project (or at least who
we can choose from). Most places I've worked, this has been just the way things
are (clearly, or pretty clearly, defined roles and accountabilities), so I
wasn't so aware of what a difference it makes. It does. Particularly to me.


Finally, I
had the most amazing "aha!" moment last Sunday. Amazing because I have never
thought this of myself and when I saw it, it was so true and so powerfully true,
that I was stunned to have never seen this before. You know those guys who stand
on a street corner with a sign that says, "Will work for food"? Well, if I were
ever in that circumstance, my sign would read, "Will work for praise." That was
my revelation — after being praised twice on Sunday, in two different contexts,
I was so motivated. And I realized that, in that moment, I would do anything for
either of the two people who praised me. Now, it needs to be authentic, but all
of you out there who have designs on me, I have just given away the keys to the
universe that is Tracy. All you gotta do is say nice things about me and I'm all
yours.


And I'll end
with the quote that is my current signature line on my other account:



I
have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last
night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.
Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset
with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last
night.                            Tony Campolo




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About Seth Longacre

primal health coach, vision fast guide, itinerant discalced Episcopal Deacon, barefoot runner, photographer, spiritual director, yoga teacher, minimalist, pilgrim
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