Monday, October 29, 2007

Our Reality

Yesterday was one of those dichotomous days that I WOULD have traded for the world. First, we had our opening day for Gateway UMC. It was wonderful, and we saw the potential for God's work to be done in the neighborhood of Simbok. It was lovely with lots of visitors and a wonderful meal to follow. It couldn't have gone better, except...

During the middle of worship time, Wes left the room and had Collins return to ask me for all the money I had in my purse. I had no idea why, but I handed him my wallet and off he went. Wes finally returned to mouth the words, "Djibril's son died." I have never been able to lip-read very well and was wondering what in world he was trying to say to me. He finally slipped me a note that said the same. We were devastated. We knew that Ayoudou, 22, had had cerebral malaria for nearly two weeks. Wes had rushed Mr. Djibril (pronounced jee-breel) to the hospital one day last week and prayed with Ayoudou and had heard reports that he was slowly recovering. We were very hopeful.

The Djibril's are Muslim. They are devout, and we talk about giving God the glory and thanks for so many things that happen during the course of a day. Even though we know that Mr. Djibril doesn't call God "God", he does with us so that we understand he is thanking the same God we are. I know that some of you do not believe we worship the same God but please don't comment to me about it. I won't change my mind, and it's not appropriate in our time of grief.

I guess I haven't said who Mr. Djibril is. He is our driver. We inherited him from the previous missionaries and have always felt uncomfortable about the fact that we have a driver and no other missionary in Yaounde does. It's not that we don't drive, both of us do, but Mr. Djibril is a master at navigating those crazy taxi drivers and horrible roads that Wes has to encounter every time he goes to the Southwest Province. But even more importantly, we keep him because he has (had) eight children, and we love him. Wes and I weren't willing to put this man out of a job just because we could do for ourselves what he could do for us. I truly couldn't imagine not having Mr. Djibril in our daily lives. He keeps us up on the news of the day (he's an avid radio listener as he does not read or write French but Arabic). He corrects our muddled French, and we can always count on having a good laugh with him when we see some of the bizarre scenes on our daily treks around the city.

So after church, in the late afternoon, we filled the car with Geni, Philippe, Collins, Rev. John Thornburg (our guest for two weeks) and the five of us. We went to the market to buy food knowing that the Djibril's would have a houseful of people for several days. In the Muslim tradition, they bury their dead the same day they die. We knew that Ayoudou would already be buried by the time we got there.

We arrived at his home in the Briquetterie (the Muslim neighborhood in the city of Yaounde). In his little house were all his relatives and friends. All the women were inside and all the children were out. The men of his community and he were at the mosque. This is how they grieve, men separate from the women. But we had called to say we were coming, and Mr. Djibril came from the mosque to greet us. We arrived before he did, and we were able to greet and hug Mrs. Djibril. It was really, really difficult. As a mom, that is my worst nightmare. How must she feel? I can, and I can't even imagine. Then entered Mr. Djibril. He greeted everyone first with a handshake and a thank you for coming and then he embraced me and we cried. All I could say was how sorry I was. I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

So, as in the Cameroonian tradition, we sat there. Just sat. That's what you do, just sit and show solidarity in your sitting. After an hour or so, we knew it was time to leave. My blessing was getting to hold Baby Leah, Mr. Djibril's eighth child named after me. She's sweet and was quite happy to be held by all the strange white folks in her house.

To have and lose a child in the same year...I won't ever know how that feels.