Friday, March 19, 2010

... Into a pea soup dust storm

The ridiculous heat of the past few weeks ended abruptly yesterday. I woke up to find a morning haze. At first I thought that it was imminent rain, it had stormed in Garoua two nights before and it had been overcast in Kaélé for the better part of the week. It had even smelled like rain which was an otherworldly experience after the dry heat we had been having. But rains in March, a rare occurrence as it is, is just unseasonable. As the day progressed the haze grew in intensity and everything got covered with a fine talcum powder. I am not using “everything” lightly either. Even indoors all objects and surfaces are filmed with this cream-white dust, me included. I can see my fingerprints and footprints so clearly that I get the impression that my home is a crime scene. Everyone is saying that the dust is going to bring a plethora of illnesses and I do not doubt them. My nose and mouth are caked with dust and anybody with breathing problems is going to have a fine time. People in town walk with handkerchiefs wrapped around their mouths and noses, giving the impression that we are in the wild west and that the bandits have come to stay. Sore throats will abound, I am sure. Eyes are getting irritated but you can’t really rub them. I have noticed how useful eyelashes are in keeping most of the dust out of your eyes. It really is a bizarre season and everyone is anticipating the first rains with relish.

On other news my business classes started this past week. Though there are not as many participants as I had hoped for, the classes themselves are fun to do and they put me in a good mood. More and more people have been arriving, so with hope next week we should have 15 to 20 participants. Some of the students have enough experience to understand a lot of the concepts I am throwing at them while most are struggling to see where I am coming from. It is those students who I am more concerned about. All the women are in that group and they are shy and meek amongst their male class-mates who, in good Cameroonian fashion, will not hesitate in bringing down their self-worth. So far my strategy is to engage them more in the classes and to give them positions of responsibility in group activities. But that has not seemed to work yet, I will have to devise another method of getting them to speak up and speak out. If anybody has any suggestions, tell me! I could use any help available at this moment.

The partnership I had with a local NGO broke down last week. Though I did my duty and taught accounting to 51 GICs I left immediately afterwards since I have no interest in doing any further work with them. It all came to head in a final meeting before the date of the formation. Teaching modules, which were supposed to be completed and ready for printing, were not finished (presented at midday the day of the formation, halfway through the seminar). Likewise the schedule was changed and changed again. The budget was out of control and in all honesty I do not know if the NGO made a profit or not and I am sure that they do not either. It is principally the frustration of watching a group unravel all the planning ahead that was done 3 weeks in advance by simply continuing to do things their way, even though the agreement was that my post mate would be overall in charge and I would take care of the budget so that we could show them how a training seminar is organised efficiently and effectively. My opinion is that if someone does not accept your offer of help then you look for greener pastures; I am not going to waste my time with people who are unwilling to heed my words.

On a completely different note the new Peace Corps Country Director for Cameroon visited Kaélé this week. The Country Director position is the head of the Peace Corps in a country, so basically the new boss is in town. She was very engaging and was also very curious as to how things worked in Kaélé, what work I was involved with and what life in the Extreme North is like. I wish her all the best in her new role.
On a sadder note my cat died about a fortnight ago. I will miss his black and white cow splotches and his crooked tail. He was a fun little creature.

Hopefully the next time I update this blog the dust will have cleared but I doubt it. It will probably diminish somewhat and be accompanied by scorching heat until the first rains arrive. That may be May or June...

Friday, March 12, 2010

From the frying pan...

The cold season ended early this year. From a “cool” 13˚-35˚ Celsius temperature range we are now in the full blast of 17˚-50˚ Celsius range, and I am not exaggerating. Clothes drying out on the line don’t dry per se, they combust. I can’t wear jeans an hour after I’ve put them out to dry, not because they are still wet, far from it. It’s because the metal buttons and zippers on them are so hot that they burn my skin. Nowadays I wake up earlier than usual only because by 10:30 am it’s too hot to do anything. I am discovering new and novel ways of keeping my house cool. Shade jumping, something I’ve mentioned in my earlier posts, has become an art form now. Evenings and nights are blessedly cool but my house is still warm enough that it is unbearable to fall asleep inside... The lemon grass I planted next to my house is constantly dug up by my dog since it’s in the shade and watered twice a day. The cat also takes advantage of the industriousness of the dog... I am sure that I will find some fable that touches on that theme, perhaps there is a Muondang Aesop walking about.

In any case, aside from the heat I have had a lot of work these days. Since it’s the end of the final millet crop before rainy season there is little work for farmers. In the hot season there is nothing growing so the landscape looks more like a barren wasteland than ever before. People have more time on their hands and this is the time of year for meetings, formations and councils to take place. Incidentally I will begin teaching business classes in mid-March and continuing GIC formations with a group I have been working with since last December. A GIC is a French acronym for Groupement d’Initiative Commun or in English, a Common Initiative Group. It’s an entrepreneurship group to get businesses started. It was initiated by the government several years ago in an effort to build local businesses. These groups are exempt from paying taxes for the first 5 years after their formation as a way to encourage people to create more start-ups. Invariably, here in Kaélé at least, most if not all of the groups are dedicated to agriculture and livestock. There is not really a local market for anything else and transport costs are prohibitive. Thus I’ve been working with a local development organisation called ASPLAD-MK and my Peace Corps post mate to teach things such as project planning, financing, group management (amongst other things) to over 100 GICs in the Mayo-Kani Division (a division is basically a province of a Cameroonian region, of which there are 10 in the country).

As for the business classes, those will be starting on March 16th and I am aiming at having 30 people enrolled. In this respect I am continuing my predecessor’s work and using the material he left behind to see how things will work out. The first set of classes ought to finish in mid-April by which time I shall decide if I continue with a second cycle immediately afterwards. Other work has been continuing consulting with the clients of the Micro-Finance Institution I work with and teaching them business skills. Considering that these clients are mainly agricultural GICs, it’s not too different from the big formation I have been doing. It certainly seems that my work is heading towards agriculture at the moment. More information about the results of that will be coming soon!

This is also the beginning of the parade season. Last February we celebrated youth week with a grand old parade in which all the school kids paraded in front of our division prefect (highest representation of the government in the provinces), all the local ministry delegates and the Grands of Kaélé. It was a 3 hour long celebration of “youth” so ranging from the incredibly cute and funny toddlers “marching” in something resembling an order, to the sombre and serious student teachers who seemed to embody the meaning of “grim”. Local cheerleaders, called majorettes (for Europeans reading this they are like cheerleaders but are not, find your nearest American and ask him/her what the difference is) marched and “cheered” (if that’s the verb!) with one of the Kaélé high schools winning the competition. What follows the parade is Kaélians’ favourite past-time: drinks and bili-bili (millet beer). Invariably by the evening most people are too jolly for their own good and I took the opportunity to slip away and sleep. A couple of days before the youth parade I visited my stage mate in the village of Lara, 10kms away, to assist here Lycée’s bilingualism day. Poems were read, songs were sung and for a brief instant my English became garbled enough that I may not have passed my Key Stage 2s. Nonetheless it was encouraging to see some of the students make an honest attempt. The one thing with the Lara Lycée’s uniform is that its bright orange. When I first visited I got the impression that I was in a prison ward, followed by believing that I was at an Easy Jet training centre.

The other parade was Women’s day. I made a suit out of the green Women’s day pagné (cloth that you can buy and have made into clothes, or furniture covering for that matter) which led to many men asking me if I was a women and my chiding them on standing up for women’s rights. The speech before the parade was along a similar vein. A woman made a speech to the prefect with one phrase being “Thank you Mr. Prefect for giving us women’s day. Thank you our husbands for allowing us to leave our homes to celebrate Women’s day”. I may have been amongst the few who raised our eyebrows at that. The parade consisted of the prefect, the ministry delegates and other Grands (mainly men) sitting in a covered parade stand watching women parade ahead of us in the scorching sun. I came to the conclusion that these fêtes are not a venue to air out the issues to which they are dedicated. Nonetheless Women’s day was fun; a lot of debates with random men and more and more bili-bili as the evening progressed. By 8pm I made the effort to go to our local “celebrity” bar and was pleased to see women dancing. It is the only time I’ve ever seen women dance and a refreshing change from the rule of thumb. Normally it is only men who dance and when they do so they dance alone or with their reflections if there are mirrors handy. Nonetheless I was happy to leave promptly and go to bed around 8:30pm... a habit that is fast developing this hot season.

It is only the beginning of this heat, it will stay until the first rains arrive which may be in May or June so I will try and keep my head cool in the meantime.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy New Year to everyone!

My apologies to anyone following this blog, I have not kept it up to date since October. Many things have occurred since then, and I will make a greater effort at posting new entries more regularly.

So a lot has been going on since I last posted. Throughout the month of October I’ve been settling in more into life in Kaélé. The rains did not stop until November which was unusually late and made people concerned. When you measure your life by the seasons I suppose that the smallest perturbation is enough to make you worry. Nonetheless everything is dry as a bone aside from the Neem trees now, and it’s the cold season meaning that mornings are chilly (12-15˚ Celsius) but afternoons get hot, round the 30-35˚ Celsius mark. Considering that everyone back home is suffering from cold snaps and freezing, I feel somewhat content where I’m at right now!
During October I worked with individual entrepreneurs as a consultant. Things changed in November when I was asked to help organise an Artisan’s fair for the province of Kaélé, which is called Mayo Kani. Despite working for 3 weeks and enlisting over 100 artisans, overall organisation was stymied by last-minute rushes which were irritating since a lot of things could have been far better planned. Nonetheless there were a lot of people and most people seemed to have had a good time. The top 10 contestants went to Maroua for the regional fair and the top 3 winners were a traditional tools group, a soap and body-lotion making group and a traditional dance and music group (the last of which I am not entirely sure if it could be included in an artisanal and/or handiworks class but they were). There were a variety of crafts represented, from pottery to leather work, tailoring to metal work and more variety of crafts that would fall into handiworks. I was also asked to be the president of the jury which as it thankfully turned out was nothing as grand as the title seems to imply. At least it was good to see how a jury works and also what controls are in place to prevent rigging of the competition.

After the fair, which took up a considerable amount of my time, I travelled south to Yaoundé and to the beach resort town of Kribi for what is called In-Service Training (Peace Corps, loving its acronyms, calls it IST). That was most of mid-December and that was an incredible change from being in the North. For one thing, it was all green. Fruit cost a tenth of what I would pay back in Kaélé (if there were non-local fruit to begin with) and it was very humid. Being back in Yaoundé was also a drastic change in that there were cars everywhere, not motorcycles and I had my first Chinese meal in over 6 months. Likewise it was refreshing to be called “le blanc” rather than “Nassara” and I had gotten far used to the Grand North since I was shocked by women wearing trousers, jeans and skirts that end far too above the ankle to be deemed acceptable in villages I had visited.

Kribi was an even bigger change since the humidity was oppressive, it had been the first time I’d seen the ocean and eaten fresh fish and shrimp in over 7 to 8 months and also the first time in 3 months that I saw everyone I arrived in country with. Why Peace Corps thinks it’s a good idea to have a week-long work seminar at a resort town is beyond me, but I was very thankful for it! The beaches were white sand and lined by palm trees. The sun set regularly in Brazil’s direction and the water was incredibly warm for being the Atlantic. It felt more like the Mediterranean in July, but I expect that that is what you get at tropical beaches, especially a stone throw’s away from the Equator. The work itself was acceptable though there were things that could have been jettisoned from the program and others that could have been better planned out. But when you have 29 Americans and 29 Cameroonians to cater to, I suppose you have to find a middle ground. After work we invariably went to the beach to hang out and pass the evening sunset or went for meals in town or at the beach. As I already said, I hadn’t had fresh fish and shrimp in a long time but what was available there was simply incredible, and those of you who know me well know that I’ve never been a fish person. So I suppose that it is no surprise that the crustacean that Cameroon got its name from is simply spectacular.

All beach excursions have to come to an end though, and on my way back up I spent Christmas Eve in Ngaoundéré, the final stop of the train to the Grand North. It was only a couple of volunteers and I in our transit house in the city but it was a very enjoyable one. We made do with what ingredients were available to us, so we managed to order a roast chicken and made salad, ratatouille and potatoes au gratin to go with the main meal and baked an “apple crumble cobbler” for the desert. It was spectacular to say the least! Ngaoundéré is also a beautiful city when you leave the area around the train station, and I consider it the closest thing I’ve seen to Switzerland in Cameroon on account of houses being made of stone and some even having chimneys. It’s obviously not Switzerland though since I woke up to the minarets calling the faithful to prayer on Christmas morning. Christmas day was spent travelling to Kaélé with my other postmate and it was a relief to finally arrive home. Pazzo had grown a lot in only 3 weeks of my being away and my kitten, which is called Furbo, had likewise grown up some. Things had gotten drier and browner in the time I’d been away but everyone was incredibly welcoming when I got back, so all in all it was a great first African Christmas.

The past couple of weeks I’ve kept myself busy with a project planning and management seminar as well as by hosting some other volunteers who decided to spend the holidays visiting the Grand North. Aside from that I believe that I may relax from all the hectic travelling and decide with what Lycées I will be working with and how I will go about teaching business classes to the women´s group in Kaélé.
So a brief update of what has gone on, and a lot has not been included, but rest assured that I will be more rigorous with my blog from now on!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hot October

I believe I am correct in saying that it has rained only twice so far this October, and we are approaching the end of the month. It could very well be the end of the rains and it has been getting somewhat hotter during the days, but at least power cuts have been less frequent and a working fan is worth more than its weight in gold (so to speak). When outside though you can only depend on the breeze and I am starting to choose my routes around town on the basis of whether these are tree-lined and I can therefore metaphorically leapfrog from shaded road to shaded road. Being caught out in the sun is simply an invitation to dehydration.

On a completely different note I finally picked up my puppy. I have named him Pazzo, thereby assimilating the local tradition of naming pets as well as people the oddest words possible. When I hear the neighbours calling for their children or dogs and their names are such things as Rambo, Romeo, Valdez or Crazy I feel justified in naming my own dog “Crazy”, but in Italian. Not completely original, but it suffices, especially when the name Pazzo becomes garbled into Pacson, Paco or Palo. The closest has been Paso, but that does not yet merit a cigar.

I also celebrated my birthday last week. The 5th of October is also International Teacher’s day and it is rigorously followed in Cameroon. All the Teachers of Kaélé as well as of Lara all wore matching Teacher’s day pagné (patterned fabric found all over West Africa that can also be themed for different fetes) and marched for a few hundred metres in front of a stand composed of the town dignitaries. It was hot and I think everyone involved wanted to get the march over with and start celebrating with friends, food and drink. The other 2 volunteers and I were invited to the official lunch at the large High school in Kaélé, the Lycée Classique. There was a lot of ceremony involved and people went to the buffet according to their place in the official hierarchy. It was interesting to be somewhat involved in an official holiday and the food was not bad though not very exciting to say the least. Fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to come by in most of the Grand North and even during an official holiday this will remain true. If you’re lucky you may get plantains and bananas but when other things, i.e. pineapples, cost 10 times more than what they are worth in the Grand South, there are some obvious constraints. The flipside is when you have local fruit and vegetables in season. Guavas are currently plentiful and are refreshingly delicious when chilled in a cannery. There are wild mangoes available too, and they taste good and are pretty juicy. I am told that they are not half as good when compared to domesticated mangoes so I can only wait until they are in season a few months from now.

Work has been going relatively well. I am starting to encounter the challenges of not only being a volunteer but a business development volunteer at that. Since my partner institution in Kaélé is the local bank, everyone assumes that my job is to give out money to groups. People will assume that anyway but the perception is heightened by the micro-finance connection. So despite my efforts to dispel it I am still asked by people I consult with if I could give them 20,000 francs, even when starting a meeting by clearly stating that I will not be giving any money whatsoever and not to even bother asking. I have also been visiting the surrounding towns where the bank has small branches. These towns have markets that cater to agriculture and grazing and therefore have large herds of livestock for sale and plenty of crops that are in season, so walking around the stalls can be quite an experience. Since I am still on the learning curve and getting a hold of the ropes regarding how the bank functions these trips involve either meeting with groups and arranging loans or collecting loan repayments (which I do not do myself). Slowly but surely I am figuring out what my role in the community will be, I will therefore leave things at that and try and make sure that at least one more entry is written this month.

Last Friday, 23rd of October I was diagnosed with malaria. The preceding days I had light fevers that lasted a couple of hours but would return every day accompanied by headaches and a generalised pain throughout my body. In effect it felt more like the flu but had I not started treatment it could have progressed into something far more complicated and life threatening. I finished treatment yesterday evening so all that is left is to see whether it worked.

When I got the results from the blood analysis and the head doctor at the hospital informed me nonchalantly that it was “le Palu” I was surprised, even though I was suspecting it was in fact Malaria. Its one of those diseases you hear about so often in the media that you expect something completely different. Again, I was lucky that, with help from friends, I identified and started treating it at the outset. Nonetheless there is one final thing I would like to say: I extend my respects to doctors and nurses working in Africa. How they manage to work day to day, with the amount of people they have to attend to with the reduced means at their disposal, is beyond me and worthy of admiration. I did not have to spend the night at the hospital, far from it, I just waited my turn for a few hours to get a consultation, get an analysis and see its results, but even a glimpse of healthcare provision gives you a lasting impression. So any advice I can give from this experience would be avoid getting sick! There will be no privacy, no sterilised rooms and you may be bunking with quite a few people. Such is life in the Sahel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Elephants among other things

I have been an official volunteer for nearly a month and I have been in Kaélé since the 21st of August. Time has naturally flown by and if training felt like a general blur, time at post has gone at the speed of light, especially if I consider that I “only” arrived in Cameroon during the 1st week of June, which is more than 3 months ago.

Kaélé is hot. It is sandy. There are goats everywhere. I eat beans and beignets (supposedly donuts but more like deep fried dough) a little too much. I am called “Nassara” (westerner or white person in Fulfulde) everywhere I go. If it is the kids that say it they scream in laughter when I reply with “Bonjour bikoy” (children). Clearly Fulfulde can be used here, but I have not keeping it up since I left Bangangté. Muondang I have not even touched, though I am slowly but surely picking up words. Last week the power went out for 4 days because a herd of elephants near Mindif, wanting to scratch their backs, knocked over 4 wooden electricity poles in the process of said scratching. Without electricity the pumps do not work so I resort to washing with well water that is too briny for human consumption. I bought jerry cans for when that occurs again so I may have some potable water handy. Blackouts occur more during the rainy season since the seasonal rivers are torrents when it storms here, eroding any and all material. So when it is not the rains that give headaches, its elephants, and such is life in the Sahel.

The Corps asks all new volunteers when they arrive at post that they introduce themselves to the local authorities. My counterpart helped me out immensely in this but even so I had to take various trips in and around town to catch the “grands” since finding them at their offices during office hours was pretty much hit or miss. I met the local “lamido” who is also the king of the Muondangs. He has been king for more than 50 years which also means that he was King before Cameroon was even independent. Aside from the Lamido I introduced myself to the mayor, the gendarmes, the police, the judge, the head doctor at the hospital... in short, any and every personality in town.

I started working at the local microfinance institution pretty much the week I arrived. It is called “Crédit du Sahel” and it has offices in most of the towns within the Grand North, which includes the Adamawa, North and Extreme North regions of Cameroon. So far my “work” there has been to decipher the procedure manual which is written in a somewhat convoluted French and includes such varied topics as what to do in the case of a hold up, how to open an account for a minor in the case that you are a legal guardian (or one of several) and accounting methodologies for pretty much everything, among other things. Aside from that I met the head of a local co-op that makes soaps, body lotions, insecticides and tooth picks from local plants, especially from the Neem tree. Its the kind of product one could find in the body shop and it seemingly works. Cameroonian cuisine puts an emphasis on including any abundant amount of oil in anything edible and I had a pretty spotty face when I got to Kaélé. The soap seems to help since now I am relatively pimple free and I cannot think of any other changes to diet or habit that would reduce them. Thus, I am clearly pitching an investment opportunity here. I have also been helping a local trio of painters start up a business in Kaélé. A lot of work needs to be done but they are taking my advice and it has been a very productive relationship so far. Hopefully they will start off well and give “the Latin quarter of the North” something that actually lives up to its name. An art gallery, for example.

Other than that I am ready for the rainy season to be over. The bugs at night are a nuisance, elephants turning off the power are so farfetched that you actually are not surprised by it and the humidity during this rainy season can be oppressive. Then again I should probably bite my tongue. 45 degrees Celsius in the shade may have me running after the clouds for a reprieve and the harmattan winds from the Sahara next year will fill every nook and cranny with dust.

Quick update: Yesterday I went to a market town called Dziguilao where I was treated to chicken. The only thing with said chicken was that I was treated to the “prize peace” which is the egg inside it that was to be laid a few days later. Surprisingly good meat, though I had to close my eyes!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The King and I

Last Sunday I met a King.

His majesty King Fotso Nka’kkho of the Bamougoum Dynasty took the throne in 1981 and is the 20th king of Bamougoum, the first king being Ndjwòngveu who established the kingdom in 1403. The current monarch has over 100 wives some of which he inherited from his predecessor. I found this all out at a visit to a local Chefferie near Baffoussam, the regional capital of the West region of Cameroon. The food was great, the art in the palace consisted of wood carvings and the 100 wives danced for us as a tribute to us being honoured guests of the king.

I thought I would start out this post with something out of the ordinary. It has been a few weeks since I last posted something new and the novelty of the trip up north has passed, considering that I will be repeating it on Thursday, 20th of August. My apologies for not posting as regularly as I may have wanted to. Nonetheless Stage has finished. Tomorrow I swear in as a peace corps volunteer and start my duties and responsibilities in Kaélé and I am antsy to start. The stage has been useful but after 11 weeks of it I am more than ready to put it behind me. There have been some interesting elements to it though. After the visit up north we had a representative of the Ministry for the Development of Small and Medium sized businesses (PME in French) visit us and talk about schemes they have in place to encourage the development of business in Cameroon. That was a stellar presentation; especially after we tasted some of the dried mangos and bananas prepared by a company he helped out that export the stuff to Switzerland. There’s a ministry office in Maroua so I am looking forward to collaborating with it up north.

I had a cross cultural presentation on waste management in Cameroon. It seems that things are improving in the country now that they have the society in charge of waste collection and disposal expanding throughout the country. Suddenly “être propre” is the cool word in town and everyone is joining the bandwagon. That does not mean that the piles of garbage on the crossroads here are going to disappear anytime soon, but they do get collected. I finished my consulting with the local cable company in town and recommended them to become a stronger monopoly. That was not the type of consulting I envisioned doing here, but it was interesting anyhow. The owner outperformed all the other competition in town and is continuing to expand relentlessly throughout the area, adding new publicity schemes and creating new markets to tap. He did not really need my help in my opinion but it was good fun trying to come up with recommendations for him.

On other things, there has been a lot going on. But to be frank what I just wrote is the juicy bit. My time in Bangangté is coming to a close and Kaélé is calling. I will not be speaking Fulfulde there, just Mundong (spelling to be checked!) though Fulfulde is an interesting but complicated language. On that note, Useko, Sey Yeeso (thank you, goodbye) and next time I will not be a pukaraajo (student) but a janginoowo (teacher) writing from Kaélé, Extreme North, Cameroon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Site Visit

Last week I found out where I was posted. Any ideas regarding tropical paradises and pristine beaches that I may have entertained myself with before coming to Cameroon are most definitely swept away. To give an impression of what I am talking about, I am currently writing this in the city of Maroua. It is 6:10pm and it is still 40 degrees C outside. I have taken 2 showers, I have seen a lot of slaughtered goats and herds of cows pick at the ground, raising the dust.

My post is a town called Kaélé. It is in the Extreme North region of Cameroon, about an hour and a half away from Maroua, the regional capital. The town itself is about 20km away from the Chadian border. At the height of the hot season the temperature gets to 45 degrees C in the shade. In other words, it is the Sahel. Peace Corps Cameroon encourages us trainees to visit our site during training and we get a week to do this. Considering that today is Wednesday, that our group left last Sunday and that tomorrow I am already starting the return journey, one can easily get an idea of how transportation works here.

The journey itself started with the Bangangté-Yaoundé bus ride on Sunday. We got into the Peace Corps office and relaxed somewhat, eating out at the ex-pat neighbourhood. In the evening we drank with other volunteers and got more and more tips on how to lead a successful and entertaining volunteer life. The following day we killed time at the same place while sorting out train tickets to head up north. We went to the train station around 5pm and the train departed around 6pm. We chose the “couchets” or bed cars on the train so as to be able to sleep though that was made difficult for the following reasons:

a) You cannot turn off the lights since that will encourage the mosquitoes to bite.
b) It is ridiculously loud
c) When the train starts and stops you are occasionally thrown about like a rag doll due to the force of the movement.

The last 2 reason have some extras. From what I understand the Germans did a stellar job of introducing the railway to Cameroon. Since they left, all has been downhill. They left after 1918, you can do the math. That means that though the engines and the carriages are fine, the rails are not and you get derailments constantly. Bear in mind that this is not the US or European concept of derailment, it just means that a carriage will go off the tracks at lower speeds than westerners are used to and take the schedule out of synch. So the strong movements and noise from the train comes from badly maintained 90 year old train tracks. Or not, I am not an engineer.

The train covers only one half of the trip, from Yaoundé to Ngaoundéré, in the Adamawa region. From there onwards you have to take a bus (read bush taxi) to Kaélé via Garoua in the North region. Compared to the 17 hours the train took, this is a breezy 8 hour journey if there are no burst tyres, gendarmes hassling drivers or stops to pray that go on for too long. From Ngaoundéré onwards you enter the Sahel. I suppose I was lucky to first see it in the rainy season since it was all a lush green. It is for that reason that the milder Adamawa region is the honey centre of Cameroon. But once you enter the North region you can tell that things in the dry (or hotter) season can turn parched since tree cover becomes sparser and the trees themselves are stunted. In that respect my first impression was “wow, this actually looks like southern Spain, despite moving across continents I have not really left”. But seeing how buildings are made, the crazy landscape consisting of tall cones of stone that jut out of nowhere and the signs warning drivers of local fauna crossing the road you are reminded very quickly that yes, you are in Africa, stop pinching your arm.

My counterpart travelled with me from Yaoundé to Kaélé and we both made it intact into town at the fall of night. The Volunteer that I will be replacing greeted me at the gare routière and a moto ride afterwards I saw my future home. By night it looks a lot like a Chinese pagoda. By day it looks like a corn silo that had the bottom two thirds accidentally removed. It is spacious, it has electricity (when the town has electricity), and it has indoor plumbing. Funnily enough though, there is no toilet despite this, there is a latrine. And to turn on the plumbing you have to go outside into the street. The volunteer said that the house is regarded highly, if not the second best house, amongst the best house volunteers get in Cameroon. I believe him when he says this, and I am looking forward to moving in next month.

Kaélé is a nice town. It is hot as hell though. The joke amongst volunteers is that there are only two seasons in the Extreme North: hot and hotter. Getting back to the present, I saw the microfinance institution I will be working with and it is the sharpest office building I have seen to date in all of Cameroon. I also saw a women´s centre that the previous volunteer in Garoua helped finance and it looks great too. The houses are built in compound fashion so each has its own wall and buildings within. Some of these walls are half built (or half torn down) so you can catch a glimpse of family life within. There are herds of goats all over the place and the occasional herd of cattle. My house is in the Christian side of town and it is pretty vivacious. I have been speaking French finely here, but the local level is simpler to the point that volunteers up here say that you are already doing a fine job if you are using the present, past and future tense. Using any other tense will just confuse the listener.

So it seems that I will learn some Fulfulde but in actuality I will probably learn more of the local dialect, mundong. The local culture also seems pretty funny though this may be because I heard a story about an “avenging angel” of the tribe that beats non-tribesmen during a local ceremony that occur every couple of years or every three. Since the last one was a few weeks ago, I may unfortunately miss the next one.

So I left Kaélé in the afternoon and got into Maroua a couple of hours later so I could open a bank account (again via bush taxi). The town is very green since there are trees planted everywhere. This could be to beautify the city, but I reckon it is to provide some extra shade. I am at the Peace Corps house and will be having dinner shortly, though the heat is certainly killing my appetite. The stars will be coming out and if they were anything like last nights, they will be a riot. All in all its been an extremely long journey up, so the trip down will probably be as bad or worse. But I am very happy to see where I will be living and working for the next couple of years, where I will sweat copiously, learn how to use a latrine stylishly, and speak a language that no one else I have known can.

I may or may not put up the second half of the journey since I may or may not want to reminisce it. But I will post something else next week or after.

A +


I got back to Bangangté yesterday evening. The trip back was no less eventful than the trip up. It does not mean I would want to reminisce, as the last paragraph above says though! The buses were packed with people (it turns you can fit 5 adults and 2 children in a row intended for 4 people), the roads in Garoua made it hard to stay on the moto and I got somewhat sunburnt along the way.

Nonetheless the scenery is hard to forget. The green is Sahel will be something I will pine for during these two years. Also the road between Garoua and Kaélé is funded by the EU and therefore resembles a European road which can throw things off a bit in one’s head. But at journey’s end it feels great to get home and take a bloody cold shower after the heat from the last few days.

In any case, back to stage and lessons. Will keep things up to date.