Day one in Douala

Tuesday, February 06, 2018
Douala, Littoral, Cameroon
This morning I woke farily well rested but still with a deep cough. At breakfast I was amused to see that because workers come here from so many different nations in the world and speak so many languages that meats are labeled with pictures of the animal rather that the words in any tongue.
Armel came by in the morning. He was rightly proud to show me his Master’s degree diploma in Clinical Biology, part of his program to become a medical doctor which he should complete later this year. This is quite an accomplishment anywhere, but especially in this part of Africa. The obstacles to young people reaching this level of education are legion. Armel thanked me as representing the church which paid for his school fees over the past several years to make it possible for him to reach this milestone. I was thankful to be part of an organization that helps in these circumstances, and proud of Armel for his hard work and perseverance. God cares for His people even in the most trying of circumstances.
We had a long discussion about the situation in the country and the needs of the little group here which is spread around quite a number of locations. There are members in Douala of course – the economic capital of the country, but also Yaoundé, the political capital, and Eséka, which I have often visited, and farther north in Nkoteng, and beyond. This geographic dispersion is one of the greatest challenges of working with the group here.
I’m trying a new strategy this time, rather than try to visit everyone in their location, or have them travel to Eséka which is not so easy to access, and which requires a great deal of car travel and attendant expenses, I’m having everyone who can do so, travel here to Douala for a day. This allows for less wear and tear on me, and also lets the members from all over spend a bit of time together. They deeply appreciate that after their regular geographic isolation. And the expense to the church should be less than it would be for me to go to all the above mentioned locations. We’ll see how it goes.
He and I took a taxi to the Akwa district where the money changers conglomerate. The drive is through dense threatening traffic. Beat-up taxis and small cylinder motorcycles weave and dodge seemingly without much care, but underneath the chaos there are rules, the main one of which is “he who arrives first has the right to be there”, so passage is negotiated with inches to spare, amid much honking and lurching. Red lights are suggestions if convenient, as Hamlet said: “more honour'd in the breach than the observance.”
Finally arriving in the crush before the Akwa Palace Hotel, we found a place to pull over, waited a moment for a forex man to step forward, negotiated a rate, counted and recounted, agreed with a nod, and drove on.
I was able to negotiate a slightly better rate than in Côte d’Ivoire. In theory there is no difference between the value of the West African CFA Franc (XOF) and the Central African CFA Franc (XAF), both currencies, guaranteed by the French central bank, are pegged to the Euro at a constant value of 1 Euro = 655.957CFA. That is true in banks. On the street however there are variations; the West version is usually worth slightly more than the Central one. It’s fascinating and mysterious how markets work.
We made our way back to the hotel and I let Armel go, he had lots of arranging to do getting the travelers settled in to the hotel and arranging their evening meal. I also had lots of prep to do, tomorrow I will talk for five or six hours or more, both in formal presentation and in individual counseling. I also have the sermon in Dallas this weekend, and need to prepare for that too.

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Mary Hendren

Encouraging to learn that Armel completed is working toward a good hope. We pray for your strength for the meetings, especially that the new strategy of bringing members into Duoala benefits everyonei. Fluctuating currency values and negotiating for cash, what a challenge.