Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday: Not what we were planning, but this turned out to be Water Committee day! We showed up at the agreed upon 9 am time at the Bakang crossroads. Actually, we were 20 minutes late – and had to wait another hour and a half for things to actually commence. This is apparently standard Cameroonian scheduling, which even runs late by Dr. Steve’s mental clock. And, in fact, it gave us time to send Doug back to the mayor’s house to get the posters which we realized we would need. Then everyone waited on wooden chairs and benches assembled in the open area by one of the small structures at the crossroads. We could hear the noises of children, and occasional singing, from the children in the school way up the hill. Women would occasionally walk by carrying goods or water on their heads, and guys on mopeds, usually carrying people or large bundles on the back.

Finally the last essential person arrived, the English teacher from the Bamendjou public school (lycée) who turned out to be an eloquent translator as we went through our five alternatives for potable water for Bakang. After the verbal descriptions and explanations, we brought out the poster, and the translator read it out loud.

The committee members then retreated to inside the small building to discuss the alternatives. The conversations were in the local patois, but we could tell from just outside that there were some heated discussions. When they came back out, everyone sat down again for the chief to announce their conclusion. He said that they had considered many parameters, and one that was important was that the housing compounds (concéssions), including the dug wells, were privately owned. This made the well retrofitting, and the rainwater catchments, more problematic.

The chief then said that they would prefer the alternative using solar panels. They understood that this was a more difficult project and it would take longer to accomplish. But he pointed out that food cooked rapidly on a hot fire was not as good as food cooked slowly and patiently. They also had agreed that each family would contribute financially to a fund to maintain the system. Finally, the chief asked that all present should announce their agreement to this decision, to show that it was not his voice alone that was speaking – and we heard all of the committee members in unison.

Before leaving, we agreed with the chief to meet and the mayor when he arrived that evening. We then went back to the mayor’s house to get our work gear and so Dr. Steve could take off his coat and tie. In the early afternoon we went out and inspected some more wells, but then got caught in a thunderstorm that seemed like it was not going to let up…so we bagged it and came back to the house to run the coliform analyses on our samples. To our dismay we seem to be missing our Petri dishes and the literature giving the dilution factors for the test. Sarah is e-mailing us the required information and points out that the bacterial tests are not as important as they were last time. We’ll look in Bafoussam today, but Petri dishes are not likely to be a stock item there!

After dinner, we hiked into Bamendjou where we met Nura and two other Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs). We picked up a beer each in a little store next to Nura’s little house, which is right across from the mission church, and then sat in her place and had a truly memorable conversation. The details we learned about life in Cameroon as a PCV would fill several blogs and these people are amazing, amazing, amazing. Also hilarious, because it seems like a strong sense of humor is an essential tool of survival for them. I’ll let Amelia and Doug share some of the PCV stories! We very much appreciate the fact that we are here for shorter periods of time and our accommodations are luxurious compared with theirs.

I’ll (Amelia) talk more about our time with the PCV’s. These people are so amazing! Nura talked about how lucky she is to have electricity in her house, but she is actually stealing it from the store just above her house with a little cord. She even has running water, but the shower is pointed directly at the toilet so she has to sit on it in order to take a shower. They are all starting a new project where they raise rats. Actually, it sounds disgusting but they assured us that rat meat is really good (not so sure about that). They are all going to be given three rats and have to breed them in order to sell them to people. What a career! Nura did assure us that the malaria pill that Doug and I are on is the best one that we could have, while Dr. Steve’s is not quite so lucky. There is a side effect of sun sensitivity and Dr. Steve’s head is now a bit pink even though we haven’t had much sun (he has a solar collector)! They are all on the pill with night terrors and are having some interesting dreams it sounds like. It was so nice to see them for a while and after we came to Mr. Mukam’s house to watch the football game with the chief of Bakang II and another chief from the area (it was Mali versus Nigeria). Going backwards in time, on Thursday, after we were able to blog for a while in the internet café in Baffousan, we went around the city trying to find products that would be applicable during an implementation phase. Luckily, we found a man in a store who was able to show us another store that would be able to help us. Unlike in the US, the idea of competition seems not to exist. This man took us to another store separate from his in order to help us find what we were looking for. The same occurred when we were trying to exchange our money at the bank; the first bank gave us a quote but told us we could get a better rate some place else. Needless to say, we went to the other location. Otherwise, things seem to be going well. Hopefully it won’t rain so that we will be able to look at all the wells and housing locations in the village.

-Amelia

1 comment:

lrjm said...

Thanks for the description of the decision making and discussions with the water committee, which gives some real insight into the ways of your new cultural setting.