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Living the Provisional

Noreen MacDonald, CND

My life of Visitation was a life in motion, a life on the way. I experienced this frequently during my time in Africa. Just reaching a destination was often a miracle. For example, during the last three to four hours of driving from Yaoundé to Kumbo the roads were so bad that the driver was compelled to ask if we had a contract with God. This was not the "go I will not abandon you" of Mary but it made me become more conscious of whose work this was and of the providential care I could expect. In fact, we often said that our guardian angels were working overtime.

Little apparently insignificant remarks and acts of kindness that I encountered on the roads and in crisis situations would always turn out to be my greatest Visitation moments.

Moments of great blessing and the recognition that I was always protected were very frequent. For example the men who managed to hold my car on the railroad-track-like road to keep me from sliding into a very deep gully, or the ones who filled up a ditch so I would get around a stalled truck, and not have to go back up an impossibly slippery road, or the man who proved the road was wide enough for the car to pass without falling over the high drop off by taking the wheel, or the one who managed to steer the car to the side of the road from outside when it got away while I was not in it.

Meeting the hungry, the poor, and those without power describes my being with others in Visitation. People were always thankful for whatever we were able to do for them. Some expressed themselves from the heart better than others. I would like to share a couple of instances which really touched me. As Christmas of our first year drew near, Sister Cecile and I looked for ways to help our neighbours to have a little something for Christmas. We especially wanted to give to the family next door who had so little. We were able to give some food and a couple of gifts of clothing we had with us to "Mary-next-door" as we always called her. Mary and her sister came in a few days after Christmas to thank us. Mary's way of thanking us was to tell us we had become her mothers. She said that her mother had died and she came back with white skin! Some years later, Mary's brother, whom we had helped through school and seminary, while thanking the CNDs for helping him to become a priest, quoted Mary's famous words.

Another person who thanked from the heart was an associate and friend, Francis. Francis had sickle cell anemia, and needed to get to the hospital quickly when he was in crisis. I often drove him to the hospital as carefully as I could over the rough roads. One night when we arrived at the hospital Francis said he didn't know why I loved him so much to drive him so often. I was so touched by this remark and I wasn't sure I could reply. So I assured him that I was counting on his pulling me into heaven when I die. This broke the tension and we laughed. Francis has since gone to heaven and I intend to hold him to this request!

Thinking about the hospital and driving people there, I cannot forget driving a young pregnant woman. I had just finished my dinner after a morning at school when our cook returned to our house and asked if I would drive her young sister to the hospital as she was ready to deliver her baby. I pleaded fatigue, half jokingly, and Relindis got down on her knees. It was difficult to get near her house by car, but it was not far away so I suggested she walk to our compound. When I went out to the car I could see that she was in labour. Since I knew little about delivering a baby, I was a bit nervous and kept telling the young woman to breathe all the way to the hospital. Relindis had not come with us but sent her house girl who knew as much as I did about assisting at a delivery. Luckily for me, the pregnant girl had more sense than I had at that moment and told me to drive to the back of the hospital as we would be near the delivery room there. I managed to get her out of the car and near the delivery room door when a nurse and a midwife saw what was happening and came running. The baby was in their hands in five minutes. When they called me in to see the child, they were amazed when I told them that I had never in my life seen a child that soon after birth.

When I went to Cameroon I asked how I would know when I had malaria and was told that I would know and I most certainly did! I was in the hospital with malaria a few times, but one stands out clearly in my mind. There was no electricity and the nurse was having trouble keeping the “drip” in my arm. She would try to secure the needle in one arm as I held a lantern in the other hand. This happened often during the night. Each time she left my room she would say, “I am going before I come.” I found out later that this was a direct translation from her traditional language and, as I had guessed after the third or fourth time, meant that she would return and she would return often through the night and we would go through the same procedure again and again. Her words were such a gift to me.

There were several instances where I dealt with the authorities over prisoners and was always treated with kindness. This made it easy to pass on respect and kindness to those in need. This was a blessing to me in that it helped give me the confidence I needed to try almost anything. It was not always the high and mighty who helped in this way. One grandmother carried her grand child to our compound and asked to me "fix" the child's foot. A machete cut, that to me needed stitching, was the problem. We could not communicate except in signs and just a few English words like "you" and "fix" so I put my first aid training into practice over the next few days and was rewarded by knowing that I could do such things.

My real ministry in Cameroon was in the school and the building of two junior colleges, but that is another story. This one is just about some of my extracurricular activities. Yes, I was able to give much to many, but in each encounter, I received much more than I was able to give.


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