Cameroon Task Force

2012 Trip: Part 2 of 5

Laura Knapp is an active member of the CTF team. She traveled with the group four times (2010-2017). Knapp has offered to share her journal from the 2012 trip with everyone.

Nothing But Nets

(Trip 2012)


After dinner we happily put up our insecticide packed bed nets to cover our beds. Some nets are suspended from a single hook centered above the bed. Ours need to be attached to something high on the walls and are pulled from all four corners. Then you have to tuck it under the mattress – leaving a space to lift it up to get into bed, and then tuck it in around you. It is known that in Cameroon Malaria is the cause of much illness and many deaths. The most deadly form of the malarial parasite, is carried by female mosquitoes, and they are most prevalent at night – so it was our job to avoid meeting up with them.

Protecting Against Malaria

During the day, we kept an eye out for them; after dark, when the Malaria carrying mosquitoes are most dangerous, we used insect repellant, long sleeved clothing when outside after dark. The mosquito nets protected us at night while we slept. And just in case we do get bitten, we all started taking Malarone, an anti-malarial drug before we left Alaska. The insecticide bed net is critical to saving lives – especially when you can’t afford to buy Malarone or Deet flavored mosquito repellant. We will take the nets down before we check out, leaving them for families in Kribi.

Cover Yourself Up With Deet:    Some of us had forgotten to cover ourselves last night at the banquet (silly us), so we made sure to comply with the protocols – seriously! All of us wore long sleeved shirts and long pants, and doused ourselves with ‘Deet perfume” (get used to it). Dinner at the hotel was excellent!

Pentacost Day

(Trip 2012)

A Holy Service

We got very little sleep last night due to the malfunctioning air-conditioner in our room. So, the first morning at the Coca Beach was a wreck for mom and I. We found out the heavy rain from yesterday triggered an electrical outage in our room. The toilet did not flush and the shower was broken.

At 7 a.m., the Hotel served coffee & tea, French bread, hard boiled eggs and omelets for breakfast – this would be our morning meal for the duration of the week. As planned, Pastor JoAnn and Jeri met us at the church (dedicated in memory of Pastor Mathieu Mba Nzameyo on our last visit), to celebrate Pentecost day. The three hour service was spent honoring the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus, celebrating the consecration of one church member as a deacon and four more (including our dear friend Manu) were baptized before becoming a member of the church – quite a monumental day for all five of them.

A Joyful Music

The worship music was absolutely mesmerizing! I recognized a few of the hymns from our last visit. There were several choir groups, the elders wore black robes (very hot) and the young adults wore green robes.

Each sang accompanied only by drums, whistles and hand held shakers – totally unforgettable! We joined along with their musical praises, slapping bamboo sticks together and moving our bodies to the beat.

I find their dance and jazzy gospel-like tunes so uplifting and vocally vibrant. It was a humbling and meaningful experience worshiping with them.

Time To Relax At The Beach!

In the afternoon we had lunch at Pauline’s house. After the feast, Jo Ann and Christi went with Phil to his uncle’s house to do some blogging on the internet. Mom and Jeri went back to the hotel to relax, and the rest of us went swimming in the ocean at the cove near Madame’s place. Wow, was that the best decision ever! What could been better than walking on smooth, silky sand and soaking in the gentle currents?

Flooding Issues

We came back to the hotel just before sundown (about 6p.m.) to unwind for the evening. But by 7 p.m., it was pitch black and Jo Ann, Christi and Phil were still out. We were concerned because nights in Kribi can be quite different than days and can be scary for foreigners. But about an hour later, in walked all three of them, and we were just relieved for their safe return.

Mom and I switched rooms – from the dreaded #9 to room #7. We had figured out a way to fill up the toilet tank with a deflated soccer ball used as a cup – but the air conditioning still didn’t work and the shower overflowed onto the floor. Room 7 was downstairs – and everything there worked. It became our little part of heaven for the rest of the trip.

The Wellness Center

(Trip 2012)

A Busy Morning

A Pastoral Prayer

The Wellness Center is also known as the Nurse’s Aide Training School. It is the same location as the dormitory rooms and the kitchen we worked on during the 2010 visit. The pastor from the Nzameyo Presbyterian Church started off the morning blessing the work we were to begin with a short speech and prayers. Then he rolled up his sleeves, picked up a paint brush and worked along with us.

The Thriving Kitchen

Cathie and Kelly led a tour of the place – it had improved so dramatically since our last visit. A lush, thriving tropical garden boasted cassava and tomato plants, wow! Janet Hinz’ well was still producing clean water for the Center (and probably for the neighbors around the Center). But the best part was when we walked into the kitchen and felt the strong foundation bricks, hope and love that keeps bringing our two cultures together. Gail said excitedly, “Hey guys… I think this is the exact spot that Laura and Ben did their rebar assignment – I can feel the support of their hard work underneath us!” The kitchen looked stunning and well-constructed. It was truly an uplifting way to start the day.

More Work at the Center

Jody, Jo Ann, Christi, and I spent a good chunk of the morning repainting the worn-down dormitory doors and shutters – all were painted light blue-grey. In one of classrooms, a group of us laid eyeglasses on tables by prescription levels, then distributed reading glasses all morning. Mom went to the Kribi market with Olive (Seraphim’s mom) and one of the seamstress students, Edith (pronounced eh-deet, the French way) who speaks some English to buy fabric and supplies for the 15-20 expected sewing students.

Building a Security Barrier

(Trip 2012)

Cement Mixing Time

Eli, Kelly, Christi, and Gail did serious work at the construction site with the foreman making cement for the fence foundation. They laboriously mixed water with sand, mud, and cement mix using shovels, then filled the buckets to be poured into the deep trenches – with time, it would form into a massive outdoor, security barrier.

Waiting For Approval

The government will not approve a school unless it has secure structural walls. Eli did a man’s work that day – and everyone noticed it. Way to go Eli!

The Kribi Hospital

(Trip 2012)

The Reality

Our group toured the only hospital in Kribi. It serves a population of about 60,000 people with only three doctors. That works out to one doc for every 20,000 people. (If we had only one doctor for the same number of people here in Anchorage, we would have about 15 doctors here – unbelievable…). Patients come here for serious interventions: Malaria (still the greatest cause of death for all ages), TB, and obstetrics. Our friend Nazel, currently in Medical school in northern Cameroon, will be the fourth physician here when he graduates in about 3 years. (He plans to specialize in pathology, the study of disease and its causes).
We visited the urgent care unit, maternity and pediatric wards, and avoided visitation at the TB section (for obvious health reasons). Given the lack of access to medical care, poor economic state of most families and lack of infrastructure in Kribi, I was surprised to hear that it had been three years since the last stillbirth at the hospital – an alarmingly a good statistic. It shows that there have been improvements in medical treatments, water, education and training. It does not speak to what happens when women give birth at home or in the villages across Cameroon.

The Pediatric Ward

The Emergency Unit

A Busy Crazy Day!

(Trip 2012)

Mom's Sewing Workshop

My mother began her sewing school on Tuesday. The first day project was sewing a simple table runner – which allowed her to assess the sewing skills of the students and giving them a practical item they could make and sell in the local market. She had one master seamstress – Olive (pronounced the French way it is much prettier: Oh – leave), and a seamstress- translator (my new sister, eh-deet). Olive understands a lot of English, but doesn’t speak a lot of it. Mom knows almost no French. Eh-deet knows French and a lot of spoken English. Between the three of them they laughed a lot, and communicated pretty well.

We brought two electric sewing machines and a serger. One machine was missing (but not lost). The power was not working at the Center (due to rolling blackouts by the government) so none were usable that day anyway. Mid morning, a big, beautiful antique treadle sewing machine arrived by taxi. The women lined up to use the foot powered machine and business was good the rest of the day.

Eli, Kelly and Gail continued working shoveling heavy wet cement into a wheel barrow, hauling it across the grass to the exact location, and dumping the load….over and over and over….. Next to the sewing room, eye glass distribution continued – and it was a hot mess (literally and figuratively)! Two brave women stood in the doorway with their arms crossed, barring entry until invited. This was so necessary to control the eager rush of people holding eyeglass prescriptions, who wanted to receive the precious gifts we brought from the Palmer Lions Club.
A Rush of People Eager to Receive Precious Gift of Eyeglasses.

Desperate Times

Without the door guard ladies it would have been a feeding frenzy! Eye glasses are expensive in Cameroon – each custom pair is valued at about $400 – which is the average monthly income there. Our donated glasses had a street value of about $200,000 American. Someone had the idea to issue a number system each day to people who had received the (free) eye exams. That cooled the intensity of those waiting to receive such hot commodities. Each recipient was called by number… and those who didn’t have a number, or had not received an eye exam in advance waited patiently for their opportunity.

Christi, Jo Ann and I spent the morning painting the Center’s exterior walls a salmon pink. We took frequent breaks from the job to get away from the strong cocktail of fumes: paint, diesel and gasoline – used in some proportion to thin the paint and clean us up afterwards. Yes, we would get our arms and legs scrubbed with gasoline after painting – basically, a smelly, oily bath – not for the faint hearted. LeAnn, Bonnie, Phil, Jeri, and Jody all survived the eye-glass distribution. Overall, we had a successful morning!

And one more thing… Christi’s checked baggage came – yeah, what a relief!

Read part 3

Get Involved Now!