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!

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