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.