May 9, 2017 – The next day came to life, a day that honored the work that Front Porch (one of iN2L’s strategic partners) has brought to life in Cameroon. The reality of life over here hit me like a freight train around 6:30 am. I was immersed in a short shower, head and body completely covered with soap, and with no warning the water completely shut off. I went through a few seconds of wondering what to do, then I remembered I had a bottle of water in my room. So I wandered through the room leaving soap residue along the way and dumped drinking water over myself to rinse off. Such is life here. The government turned off the internet for the time being, power intermittently shuts down, I just learned to not sweat the small stuff. In a unique and ironic twist, it’s liberating to not care.
Finally I got up and running. We stopped at the town to get snacks for the road. Zack and I snuck off for a few minutes to see the village in action (with Lilbert of course). Butchers were slicing up cows and chickens in the morning sun – it’s not for the faint of heart to see that reality of meal preparation! We wound up the hills, going the opposite direction from the day before to see the village of Abuh, where the “Support A Global Village Project” took place, all funded by the Front Porch Foundation.
Francis arranged for us to stop at the office of the senior divisional officer, Joseph Oum II. It was a fascinating meeting, Mr. Oum had such command and presence. He oversees much of the entire English portion of Cameroon. It’s an enormous responsibility as he navigates the politics between the regions and oversees the safety and civility for the English speaking area. There clearly are limited resources to deal with the multitude of infrastructure problems in the community. We waited in a polished administrative area and were finally greeted by the minister in a majestic room with elegant chairs and tables. It had the aura of a room where important conversations happen. His commanding presence was in one sense intimidating, but there was true warmth and appreciation for the work Francis is doing. I could sense the respect both men feel for each other. Francis has the unique ability to deal with any type of person in any type of situation.
As was the case yesterday, the village anxiously awaited our arrival as we headed up another pothole filled road into the lush, scenic mountains. Cars were constantly breaking down in this environment, I saw random vehicles abandoned with trunks carrying 20 times their capacity. The concept of a towing company here is completely foreign. Like everything else the people learn to cope and survive.
We arrived at Abuh late in the morning. Before we went to the main village, we had the honor to greet the women in the fields that Front Porch has funded. The women were singing and dancing in the middle of these fields, holding signs thanking Front Porch and Sunnyview. They swayed in rhythm with their new farm tools nearby. When Francis toured the US he visited Sunnyview and stayed overnight with the residents – one of his favorite experiences on the journey. He developed a strong affinity for the elders there as well as Sally Plank and Bill Penrod, so he took this project very seriously. He gleamed with pride as the women in the field sang their chants of joy. After this celebration, we drove up and see other farms and fields. We had fascinating conversations with a women unceremoniously working the field. Through all of the ceremonies we enjoyed it was more fascinating to see a woman in the field tilling – the farm was on a steep hill yet she had the look of determination and hard work that is so prevalent throughout this glorious country.
We drove back to the main village to another spectacular greeting. It’s Never 2 Late and the GOATT Project had nothing to do with this village, all of the success and celebration truly belonged to Front Porch and Sunnyview. But I was honored in over-the-top fashion as the man who has brought all of this together. This Front Porch success was completely driven by Sally Plank and Bill Penrod. Sally responded to my email celebrating the power of Francis. She went to Bill with the idea of wanting to do something. They emailed Francis and set up Skype session with the elders from Cameroon and their residents in Cupertino, California. It was a lot of work to choreograph from Francis to bring seniors down from the village to a place where Skype could get set up. But the generous residents from Sunnyview collaboratively pitched in over $10,000. That money paid for the fields, the farming and the goats we visited on our way in. As we walked through the crowd, about 300 people from the village all chanted in unison. They held signs with the names of individual residents who donated. It was magical and I look forward to presenting this whole experience to Front Porch when I get back.
One of my favorite parts of this visit was the iN2L song that the CDVTA volunteers performed for us. There is a great CDVTA song that is sung at each event. Each time I hear it I whisper to Francis that iN2L needs a song. And miraculously here is our song! About 16 to 20 CDVTA volunteers at this community, dressed ceremoniously in uniforms, are proudly singing the IN2L song. The words are awesome – honoring our work, my mother and our journey to Cameroon. My favorite line in the song was about Jack York’s wisdom, I can’t wait to hear the tech guys in Colorado singing that verse at the top of their lungs!
We followed the procession into the main hall – Lilbert always there in front of me, behind me, he’s everywhere! He led me up to the main stage where chairs were set up to honor our entourage. The local chief offered up a prayer, thanked to Front Porch, told of the community’s needs and Francis and I gave our words of appreciation. In my case, my words were all aimed at Front Porch and Sunnyview, particularly Bill and Sally. This was their show, not mine. I started a tradition yesterday to “adopt” a baby in each village and promise to return every year in April to honor that child and see it grow. It resonated with the people and it resonated with me, as this experience and the power of these celebrations were not something to see once and forget. They were an inspiration to do more.
The celebration ended and we head back out of the hall and find Sylvester waiting for us with the car ready to depart the village as quickly as possible. This is a hard one to leave as the mobs of people surrounded us and the car, singing in unison and making it impossible to move. Just when I thought these celebrations had run out of ways to amaze, I was ceremoniously handed a live chicken as a parting gift. A live chicken! All I could do was shake my head and wonder what was coming next. In addition to the chicken, woman after woman brought us corn and grain, filling large gunny sacks. At first I didn’t understand why, but then I was reminded that this celebration was for the farming work that has been done and the crops represented the fruits of their labor. I relish the chance to meet with Front Porch after all of this and would love to present to Bill with a live chicken, but getting it through security will probably be a challenge.