Skip to main content

The Incinerator, Soldier Ants, and Mercy

Perhaps surprisingly, garbage trucks don’t venture down our dirt road weekly here in Northwest Cameroon. Typically, garbage is dumped in a “pit” some distance from the house, and routinely burned. Our pit had been filled in at the request of our neighbors, who didn’t want to breathe in the diaper stench during the burning sessions (reasonable).

 Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of garbage because most things we buy are not pre-packaged, and we have a large compost pile for fruit and vegetable wastes. Unfortunately, the new drop-off location for our garbage is half a mile up the hill at the hospital incinerator (every bit as scary as it sounds). So, our current sanitary disposal options are as follow.

Plan A: our gardener, Keneth, brings the quarter-full, small garbage pail to the incinerator several times per week. As an aside, I am often amazed at how little garbage we produce here. In the US, I would bring out at least a large grocery sack full daily.  Unfortunately, today he was off.

Plan B: wait until Keneth returns in a day or two.  Not an option on this day, as our garbage can was emitting a wretched smell. Normally, we use flushable diaper liners but had recently been gifted liners that could potentially clog our septic system. 

Plan C:  bring the garbage myself during Esther’s nap. Auntie Jen, who recently started cooking for us, can entertain the preschooler with cooking tasks. Again today, not an option.  Auntie Jen recently started a cooking business and comes later in the morning to our house and I was REALLY over the putrid smell in our kitchen.

Plan D: bring the garbage to the incinerator, children in tow. By the time one arrives at Plan D, expectations should be at a minimum.

I set off, cautiously optimistic about the possibility of an uneventful trip to the incinerator (is that even a real thought?), until we reached an area teeming with soldier ants. My preschooler panicked, and STOOD STILL. I urged him forward, and when he wouldn’t go, picked him up and hurried forward. As you might guess, the pause did not treat us well.

I could feel ants climbing all the way up my legs, biting as they went. I didn’t have to guess how Josiah fared: he was wailing, “Ants! Up my pants!” as I dragged him, the garbage, and Esther up the hill. I tried to pull down his pants in the middle of the path to remove the offending agents, but the little suckers were recalcitrant. The cleaning staff behind the hospital called out, “Ashia!” (“So sorry”, “Take courage!”, “I’m with you!”) at the dancing little boy with his pants down and the unfortunate woman with a toddler on her back and ants up her skirt. 

We stumbled up the hill towards one of the buildings where a kind woman pulled us into a bathroom she had just cleaned. She quickly went to work picking ants out of Josiah’s pants, freeing me to remove the offending insects from my upper thighs.

Crisis (mostly) averted. I looked at her with gratitude and asked her name.


Of course.  Of course on the day when countless things going awry culminated in an embarrassing and slightly painful situation, of course on that day: God would send Mercy.

I almost laughed. But instead I thanked her, I thanked God, and we continued on our way.
As we went home (by a different route), I reflected on the meaning of life’s small frustrations. The plus/minus balance of such eternally unimportant factors typically determines the “quality” of our day. 

Perhaps like never before, in Cameroon I have the benefit of perspective. In my 33 years of life, I have had more educational, travel, and monetary opportunities than most West Africans will ever receive. My passport alone gives me tremendous advantages, as do my training, the color of my skin (unfortunately), my financial status, and my material possessions.

Yet I have not met a single person here who seems jealous of my privilege. They are gracious, kind, helpful and (for the most part) content. That list of adjectives hardly applies to me, a person with too many First World advantages to enumerate.  Am I ungrateful? Yes. Self-absorbed? Certainly. Defensive of these traits as “normal”? Absolutely. Does God still love me? Yes. A thousand times yes.

Wherever I am, I find that He sends Mercy in so many forms every morning.  For my small trials and the tragedies of those around me, His Mercy is more than enough. 


  1. So amazed at your faith.....praying that you will be encouraged by the grace and the Miss Mercies He provides to assure you of His love and protection.

    1. Thank you for your prayers! They are a beautiful gift.

  2. Moving story. Praising God for His provisions in your life.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. It is interesting how it can often be the relatively small events that can lead to the greater realisations. How poetic that her name was Mercy.
    I hope you manage to avoid the ants in the future. They aren't the most pleasant of creatures to encounter.

    Dennis Barton @ Chand's Disposal


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

On Losing My Virtual Footprint and Physical Ticket

Thirty years ago, the technology that just turned my digital world upside down was unimaginable. I was locked out of my Google account because I foolishly left a Google voice number as a two-factor authentication. So when I was logged out of all devices unexpectedly, I couldn’t receive text messages to prove my identity.  The thought of trying to describe this situation to someone in the 90’s is comical. What is Google? Two-factor authentication? A digital world? Similarly, I can’t imagine explaining that despite having a ticket, I couldn’t board a plane that had a seat for me because a computer wouldn’t print my youngest child's boarding pass. In pursuing security and efficiency, have we lost common sense?  Technology has changed the world so quickly that I am old enough to remember a time when manual workarounds were commonplace and young enough to expect a lot more change will come in my lifetime. I spent much of yesterday trying every possible means of recovering ten years of e

Making a List and Checking it Twice (Choose Joy)

  Some of the best advice I heard about moving is to focus on what is good about where you are. This is solid counsel, and applicable to both temporal and geographic contentment. The pandemic provides endless opportunities for discontent, particularly comparison to how things used to be. But perspective is powerful.   I could think about snow, which reminds me that Summer is by far my least favorite season (especially in pregnancy), we don’t have a yard/lawn/parks, and the kids have been stuck inside for months (and now can’t go three minutes without fighting). We can’t bake Christmas cookies because we made the difficult but correct decision not to have an oven in our 90 degree kitchen. Our kids miss soccer, gym class, running, and having friends. And if my thoughts go in that direction, my jaw tenses up and frustration mounts.  Or I could think about how we have everything we need and so many things we want. A huge fan blowing. Christmas music streaming on internet better than we oft

Giving through Christian Health Service Corps

We are now Christian Health Service Corps missionaries. We’ve had people ask about the best ways to support us, which we will list below. Thank you for considering joining us on this mission!  If you have any questions we would love to hear from you. By Check Make payable to:              Christian Health Service Corps or CHSC Memo line:                             Project Number #176/Helm Mail to:                       Christian Health Service Corps PO Box 132 Fruitvale, TX 75127   Via Bill Pay Set up an automatic Bill Pay instruction through your bank/financial institution with donations mailed to the address above, giving your “ Project Number 176/Helm ” as the account number.   Via CHSC’s Website – for credit card donations Donate online at: _ (Please note when donating online that the Recurring Frequency default is monthly .   Use the drop down box to choose your preference.    Also, when donating online,