‘It didn’t take me long to realise that life here would be less certain than life back home,’ writes Wycliffe worker Rachel Robinson, who began serving in Cameroon in 2017. She shares what she has learnt about living with that uncertainty:
Contemporary Africa has been described as a place where life is ‘objectively risky and unpredictable’. During my first year and a half in this country, this unpredictability became a reality: I moved house several times, lived through the first rumblings of conflict, was evacuated because of unrest, and experienced for the first time what it’s like not to know where your next meal is coming from.
There is, paradoxically, freedom in letting go of control
A colleague told me very early on that the secret to thriving (rather than just surviving) in Cameroon is being flexible. Again and again, I have been forced to accept that I am not in control of my own life. Coming from the Western world, I had often held on to that illusion. But it’s only an illusion. And there is, paradoxically, freedom in letting go of that control. Africans are much better at dealing with uncertainties, because their lives have always been full of them. A sick child may die. There might not be any food to eat this evening. The bus might or might not come. I may or may not be able to travel today. My crops may or may not fail. The money I’ve lent may or may not be returned to me. The list is endless.
Choosing to come back to Cameroon, and in particular, choosing to continue working with the same language, felt like an acceptance of the possibility of further instability in my life. Despite that, I’ve been blessed with finding ways to continue working with the same language, even though for security reasons I can’t live in the village where the language is spoken.
There is currently a risk that conflict could necessitate a move back to the capital city. And yet my colleagues in the capital city are monitoring the situation with the coronavirus there, which has the potential to escalate. Could the capital city then become unsafe?
In spite of the uncertainties of life, I have lots to be thankful for
So why am I telling you all this? Well, I’ve sometimes hesitated to talk to people back home about what life in Africa is like – at least in terms of the uncertainties. I don’t know how to explain the unpredictability of life here because in the Western world, we usually don’t have any experience – and thus any understanding – of it. But with the global pandemic affecting the UK and Ireland, I’m suddenly aware that some of you may be experiencing the feelings I’ve had over the last few years.
And yet in spite of the uncertainties of life here, I have lots of things to be thankful for. I’d like to share a few of them with you, and hopefully some photos will bring them to life!
Firstly, my language helper from the village, David, made it safely here at the end of February to work with me for a week. At one point, the colleague David was travelling with phoned to say that they had had to stop, get off the motorbike and hide somewhere because there was potential violence on the road. Those of us here in the office didn’t know what to do but to pray for them. They arrived safely – to rejoicing! It was so good to see David again and continue working with him.
Another moment of happiness from the past month – small but significant – was giving a copy of the New Testament to someone in my church – in his own language.
There are lots of ‘internally displaced people’ in my church. One of these ‘IDPs’ is a young man from the village of Bambalang, where the language Chrambo is spoken. In January I attended the Chrambo New Testament dedication, so there are now lots of copies in our office, ready to be distributed. I brought a copy to church recently, and the young man was absolutely delighted. During the service, every time I glanced across at him, he was reading his new Bible!
Finally, I am very grateful for the neighbours I have around me. They sometimes give me food and the children like to help me with jobs around the house in exchange for treats! The children are sometimes charming, sometimes cheeky, often kind and helpful, occasionally naughty… but always cute!
I was planning to travel to Yaoundé on 25 March, to be there for almost a month – SIL Cameroon* is due to have its annual conference. I was also planning to attend a week of spiritual retreat and a week of academic meetings. I will be perfectly honest. The things I was most looking forward to were running water, a hot shower and having access to a washing machine!
SIL Cameroon has just informed us, though, that we might not be gathering as usual for these meetings, due to measures being taken because of the coronavirus... so yes, yet more uncertainty!
*SIL is Wycliffe’s primary partner organisation