Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Muslim Quarter - Campaigning in the Briqueterie

Our story of visiting the Muslim quarter, called the Briqueterie in Yaoundé, actually began shortly after we arrived in December. In our first days of being here at Mont Fébé, we met a server named Amadou who was a delight to see first thing in the morning with our tray of breakfast. He took very good care of us and quickly realized that there was indeed something special about us...we weren't your average hotel guest.

As you can imagine, Antoine speaks to EVERYONE, no matter their station in life. This has allowed us to get to know a number of the hotel staff and of course, that works in both directions. We discovered that Amadou is a Muslim. Cameroun is an example of Christians and Muslims living together in peace as the breakdown of the population by religion, is in approximately the following proportions, Christian - 55%, Muslim - 25%, other traditional religions - 20%.

One day, Amadou asked Antoine for one of his cards and of course, Antoine obliged. The next day, Amadou came with the card of the Imam of the Grand Mosquée in Yaoundé, and told us that he would like a call from us to schedule a time to be received by him. You may not be aware of it, but the Imam is the spiritual leader of the community, in the Muslim religion. This was a great honor and we called and went to see him at the Grand Mosquée in the area known as the Briqueterie.

His translator also accompanied us as he showed us the building improvements that are being done on the Mosquée and showed us around the grounds. Afterwards, he invited us into his home and as we brought our water purification equipment with us, we did a demonstration with water from the well near his house. We gave him four 1.5 liter bottles of pure water.

We also took him a donation in honor and respect for his position. I have to say that we had an absolutely fabulous exchange of ideas; political, economic, social and otherwise, for approximately two and one half hours. He finished by blessing us with oil, and praying for us and over us. He, before us and his God, blessed us to continue and be successful in achieving our goal and mission. He even offered to take our cause to his elders in Nigeria, to ask them to also pray for us in order to intensify the prayers so we could achieve our goal even sooner. Through this exchange I had an opportunity to understand directly from the spiritual leader, the Imam, some of the beautiful aspects of the Muslim faith. For me as an American, it opened my eyes to an understanding of their relationship with their God, as it is lived each day. It is about 180 degrees different from say, Catholicism, which is based on 'hell and damnation' if you don't adhere to all the rules and regulations imposed by the church! I found the Muslim faith, as shared with me by the Imam, to be one of a loving God, one who does all to ensure his children have everything they need and could want. We were asked during this closing prayer to visualize everything we want, and feel it as real and granted BEFORE we take these prayers and intentions to the 'throne of God' in prayer. It was a very powerful experience for me.

In Jerusalem, I also had experience in the Muslim quarter when I visited there a number of years ago. I loved this quarter with its inviting aromas, vendors and incredible coffee shops. You haven't had a Turkish coffee, until you've had it in a coffee shop in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem, believe me!

So, for me, campaigning in the Muslim part of Yaoundé brought back warm feelings even with our difference in religion. You can imagine my surprise by the reaction of the 'temporary Imam' in charge until the Imam we met, returns from Nigeria. He was actually afraid to talk to us and said he does not mix politics with religion. He brought up an event started by an opposition leader during the time of the first independent government that ended up in years of blood spilled. The event was one in which the question existed about how to 'kick out' the Europeans who held all the Administrative positions in the country, effectively who had the structure to 'run' the country.

One faction decided that they should unilaterally get rid of all white men, and run the country themselves. The other faction decided that this was suicide as there were not enough people within the population who could take on all these duties all at once. The man, who promoted the former in 1951, was also an opposition leader, and the interpretation of the ‘temporary Imam’ we met Tuesday, was that as Antoine is an opposition leader now coming with a 'white woman' to become Head of State, he could not endorse us. The former internal struggle in Cameroon’s history, based solely on white Europeans ruling vs. black Africans resulted in many deaths and a war that lasted until 1965. This Imam promptly ran away. The experience Tuesday was decidedly different to our first encounter with the presiding Imam. It is an example of how people's fear can distort the truth, not only of the present, but also of the past.

It has taken me almost 24 hours to really understand what was stated, and the actions we witnessed with this Imam. And I am grateful to have been able to understand more of the psyche of at least one old Muslim in this country. This is the only incidence I have thus far experienced of intolerance in a new generation.

As they say, "A picture is worth a thousand words" I will let the accompanying photos speak volumes for themselves. I am so very happy that I was able to really capture the general mood and enthusiasm of the rest of the people in the streets of the Briqueterie. The people here do not care if they go against the conventional thought...all those who are part of the current government with their monthly paychecks. The people in the Briqueterie are living the effect of the policies handed down to them from a top heavy leadership who no longer has the interests of the people at heart.

There is a fire brewing just under the surface; we could feel it and see it in the eyes and faces of all those we met. Our message is clear: we have solutions which will help each man in the street, be able to feed himself and make for himself and his family a better life. This is not a matter of changing the constitution or not. This is not a matter of being violently against the current Head of State to promote our own agenda.

This is a matter of what well founded truth will begin to help change the lives of each citizen of Cameroun; the value of each hour of work which will permit all to be productive and raise their standard of living. We're not talking about every Cameroonian sitting back and not being productive. Besides, what is the role of a functionary? What do they produce which promotes development and a healthy and strong economy? How does anyone in an Administrative position actually produce anything?

These people were receptive and given the political will, will be instrumental in helping us to achieve our mission, our destiny. Who would have thought that this Muslim community would become so important to the life of one American woman who is committed to becoming the next First Lady of Cameroun!

Amen! By God’s Grace.

God Bless Cameroun!

Anita Lynne NDEMMANU