Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Bakoum Pastor

by Dave
Bosco standing in front of the men working a large tree.
You know the typical “mom” response when you do not eat your dinner: “There are starving children in Africa who would love to eat this!”? I have noticed here in Cameroon that there really are not that many starving children. There are sick children, and children killed in accidents, but not really very many starving ones. So it was surprising to me the other day when we asked our language partner Bosco what made him happy and he said, “When I get to eat!” Bosco later asked me to come to the field with him one day to see what it was like. This is my account of our day.

We started out at 7:30am, I drove out to his village and we began walking to his field. He told me it was not long, and I enjoyed the walk. He talked about different birds that we saw and plants and told me the words for them in Bakoum. I noticed he was wearing a long sleeve sweatshirt, which seemed crazy to me. Until a branch reached out from alongside the path and ripped off a chunk of skin off my arm. Noted. He told me that there was a particular tree that had red flowers that only bloomed right before the dry season. He told me that a village custom was to call out that this tree was in bloom whenever the gendarmes (French-type police) arrived. The flowers are reminiscent of their red berets and if someone did not want to run into the gendarmes they would know to flee.

As it turns out “not long” is a little over an hour. After veering off the main trail we walked past a couple of men cutting up a gigantic tree with a chainsaw. We were at that point walking through the rain forest. His field was a clearing with only a few enormous trees and LOTS of brush that was taller than I am. It was a sea of leaves and vines. Our task for the day was to clear out this brush with machetes so that he could begin planting plantains. I have a bit of experience with this type of work, as this is how I cut the grass in my yard. But it is intense physical labor, and it did not take long for my T-shirt to be completely soaked in sweat. Just before we started I asked if there was anything in this valley of weeds that he did NOT want cut down. He said just avoid the plantain trees. So…I immediately cut one down. If you have never seen a plantain tree, it is more like a stem, very easy to cut through. And with the thick surrounding bush, I just did not see it. I felt bad but he said it was no big deal and that it would grow back.

After about an hour Bosco offered to give up on the work for the day. I asked if he usually only worked for an hour and he said, “Of course not.” So, after telling him I was there to help, we worked for another hour. I type this without a whole lot of feeling in my right arm due to this period of time. After we cleared a large section of his field he asked if I wanted to go hunting with him. I said yes, picked up his village-made shotgun, stuck a shell in my pocket and we headed out into the bush. We walked up large deteriorating fallen tree trunks, through a marsh, and deep into the forest. The ground was covered in decaying plant material and was soft and spongey. Bosco stopped in front of me at one point and looked up into the trees. He pointed, said there was a monkey, and told me to follow him and be quiet.

At this point Bosco turned into Legolas, walking on top of the leaves of small plants without them bending. I was much more akin to Gimli and could seriously not take a single step without breaking down entire trees. How does one be quiet when walking on a carpet of dead leaves? At one point he looked down and said forcefully, “Shuluku!” I looked down as he started to run away and saw the entire ground, as far as I could see, covered in biting ants. For the next hour I picked said ants off my legs and feet as we continue through the forest. I would have liked to stop, but could not bring myself to admit that I literally had ants in my pants. At the end of the two hours, he said the monkeys were hiding, but he was not sure why. As we were walking back to his field, though, I swear I heard a couple monkeys talking. One said, “I could hear the big one breathing from a mile away.”

This is looking across Bosco's "field."
We left the field and started heading back for home. I realized at this point that every thread of my clothing was soaked in sweat and I was very thirsty, and I did not bring water. Bosco seemed completely unfazed and did not bring water, though he did bring us some bananas. He started quizzing me on the Bakoum words that he taught me on the way, but I could barely open my mouth. I was pretty convinced I was going to die, but we did make it back to the village. We ran into Bosco’s sister on the way and she asked if I fell into the river, which sounded pretty nice at that point. Bosco answered for me, “No, it is just sweat” and we continued on our way under a barrage of laughter.

I asked Bosco what he would do when he got home and he told me that usually after the field he washes up and studies for Sunday. It was then that I really realized the cost of his life. It is true, Bosco and his family does not really know starvation. But they do know the curse far more than I have ever known it. I joked with Bosco in the field that when God said that we would grow food “by the sweat of our brow” he was not joking. He smiled and said that it was definitely not a joke, and that he appreciated every bite all the more because it cost him so much. My whole life I have had it so easy. I told him, "I cannot imagine doing this everyday. I cannot imagine even doing it tomorrow!" He said, "You get used to it." Bosco later confided in me that because we did not catch anything he spent the next two nights out hunting for his family, only catching two small monkeys. But through all of this he did not complain once, and he told me how much he loved being a farmer.

As Thanksgiving is approaching, I am seeing so many things to be thankful for. I am thankful for conveniences and an indoor job. I am thankful for coming from a country where we can listen to tons of great sermons by men who can spend much of their time studying. I am thankful that, even with great labor, the land here yields much fruit and my neighbors are not starving. And I am thankful for Bosco, who spends his life not lusting after the privileges of others, but thankful for the ones he has.