Friday, July 9, 2010

The Fourth and Fireworks

My childhood memories of American Independence day are of family and friends at parades and picnics and later fireworks over the lake. As I grew up and moved around I have enjoyed memorable Independence day celebrations around the country. Each celebration has its own uniqueness whether it was with particular friends, fireworks displays, music, or what-have-you. Some of the standouts: Boston, standing on the bridge over the Charles River listening to the Pops perform the 1812 Overture; Washington DC on the Mall; Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness in Idaho after two days of rain our "fireworks" were a gorgeous sunset and a roaring fire. In 2002 I spent my first independence day celebration with Trixy. We went to San Francisco enjoyed exploring the city during the day and were on the wharf for dueling barges sending up the fireworks.

This year I have just celebrated my first 4th of July Independence day celebration outside of the United States. It was a very different experience. For one thing, we are around very few Americans. In Buea we know of five (including Trixy and me). So there is little focus on the day. But what I also realized is that social networking tools such as Facebook provide a touch of that awareness. I get to share in the events of the day with my friends and relatives again - though much more retrospectively and certainly not in first person.

I think the term "retrospective" is fully appropriate to describe my experience this year. I have been reviewing what the day means to me and the many and varied ways I have spent the day and all of the various people with whom I have celebrated (the list is LONG and IMHO distinguished).

Reading the American Declaration of Independence still gives me goose bumps. It is, along with the American Bill of Rights, among the worlds greatest documents. It declares independence from abuse and outlines appropriate boundaries by revealing grievances. The authors didn't seek to burn bridges but understood that the "other party" might not agree and they may make forceful effort to forbid such. The document sets the foundation for a national identity. As the nation grew and matured (and continues to grow and mature) we realized that many attitudes the various citizens have held through the years have had to grow and mature as well. I hope we have not yet stopped growing and maturing.

This year we had no fireworks (except for those expressed by me when I couldn't find my Cameroon National ID card - which Trixy was able to find). Instead Trixy and I, with Peace Corps friend Kami drove to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. From our home it is about 200 miles to the American Embassy. Leaving our house at 9:15 am we stopped at Beno's Bakery and later in Bonaberi for fuel and to top off the tyres (here you say "fill-up" which sounds like "flop"). In Buea you pay about 100 cfa for each tyre. At Tradex they fill up the air for free. From there it was a Sunday's drive through Douala (meaning much less traffic).

I have only driven to the airport in Douala. So every kilometer after the airport was new to my personal driving experience. Near Edea we were stopped by the police. He looked at the stickers on the windshield (all current and correct) and sent us on our way. No IDs or vehicle documents requested. The entire trip this ended up being the only time we were stopped. And no one wished us a happy 4th of July.

I had reviewed Google Earth before leaving home and had a pretty good idea of where I needed to go. We planned to stop at the SDA headquarters in Yaounde, followed by the Guest House and then the Embassy. We arrived at the Embassy, after our stops at 2:30 pm about half way through the three hour party. Sadly we missed the National Anthem which was played at 1:30. Still it was wonderful to be greeted with "Welcome to America!"

We were guided to the pool area where tents were set up over tables and chairs (this is the rainy season after all). We paid 7,500 cfa for lunch (about $15 for a cheeseburger, hotdog, two ice creams, cupcake and cracker jacks). Included were any drinks in the coolers and the sandwich accompaniments (pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mustard, ketchup, potato salad, etc). The area was decorated with red, white, and blue balloons, streamers, etc.

While the clouds looked threatening, it did not rain! In fact the sun came out and was a tad bit warm. Trixy and Kami went swimming while I visited with friends. There are many Americans living and working in Cameroon. We met up with SIL Missionaries and Peace Corps folk we've met before (and made some new friends too). We spent the evening with the Kapteyn's, the SIL Missionary family we know in town and with whom we visited at the pool party. We hadn't had a chance to really visit since we saw them in April 2009.

I am reminded that I am an ambassador for all the things I am and profess. I am a citizen of the US of A. Everything I say and do reflects on America. I am a professed follower of "the way" (of Jesus of Nazareth) and thus consider myself a citizen of a government "not of this world", a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I am a student of "Leadership", promoter of technology and the geo-dispursed knowledge contributor. What I say and do matters as it reflects on what I profess.

The American Colonies' written declaration of independence reminds me of the incredible responsibility I have in participating in my government processes. I am reminded of the awesome responsibility of refusing to be abused while desiring peace with those who might seek to abuse me; and of not abusing others with force, fear, intimidation, or manipulation but rather to stand with courage and - in a conviction of love - serve. The declaration of independence and the bill of rights are designed to protect the rights of all members of the citizenry: the powerful and the weak; the victims and the victimizers; the majority of "whatever" as well as the minority "whatever". At the beginning of the united States of America the signers of the declaration pledged their lives and fortunes to one another - come what may. I wonder where we are today.

***

When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. Thomas Jefferson

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
William Pitt the Younger

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.
Abraham Lincoln

History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy... These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened.
Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations, Circa 1774