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.