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.