It has been a hectic past few days with hours of traveling and many meetings, but we now have a chance to talk about our trip thus far. Our flights were safe and uneventful; we only had a brief delay when a tire had low pressure. We had a two hour layover in Paris and touched down in Douala before arriving in Yaoundé. It was easily apparent why frequent travelers to Cameroon prefer Yaoundé airport over Douala. The facilities were well kept and the weather tends to be cooler and less humid. After Mayor Mukam greeted us on our arrival, we were driven to the Hôtel le Tango. Despite not being in either of our travel guides, the accommodations have been quite nice with “air conditioning” and a curious set of stairwells. Our rooms were on the first floor but getting to them involved several flights of steps and turns that are impossible to navigate in the dark.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
On Monday, our first full day in Yaoundé, Mayor Mukam gave us one of his drivers to take us around the city. The maps we had did not convey the elevation changes and size of the city, or the nature of driving in Cameroon. The roads consist of pedestrians walking on the shoulder with motorbikes and little yellow Toyota cabs weaving around them and through traffic. With very few lights, it was amazing to have not seen a single accident, although the condition of the cabs showed many previous scrapes and low speed collisions. We stopped at the U.S. Embassy to confirm our visit and to inquire about potential funding programs. While guards are located everywhere in the city we particularly felt their presence around the embassy. Photos are not allowed but SteriPens can make it through security. We also shopped around the local banks for the best exchange rate from dollars to FCFA’s and ended up going to the Hilton. The greatest help we received of the day was from Dr. Nkeng, the Director of the National Advanced School of Public Works. He gave us great advice on our project and even managed to get a well driller to come and speak with us. We were also impressed by Olivia’s friend Johann, a medical student who helps coordinate health initiatives every summer in rural communities.
Continuing on with Doug’s remarks (Amelia), things have been going well but at a hectic pace. On Tuesday there was a football match between Cameroon and Egypt (Cameroon lost!) that caused mayhem. Traffic was particularly terrible we were told and at 6:00 when the game started the city seemed to stop. It was so crazy. We tried to grab a quick sandwich but that proved to be less than simple because a simple cheese sandwich is not really customary and our waitress could not understand us. We have been having most of our meals at the restaurant at the hotel. They have been so accommodating to our needs and we had the most wonderful pineapple and even some cold “33”!!!!!! (That’s Cameroonian beer) So on Wednesday morning we were able to get to the embassy. While the meeting went well, we found out that there are many more challenges involved with trying to get money. Unfortunately, we missed the December 1st deadline for the 2008 fiscal year, but we can try for 2009. The man we met with, Ebenezer, seemed interested in our project but explained that there are over 600 applications for an $80,000 budget that is continually being cut. He said that our visit was good and that he would be able to say that he has actually met with us and that would look good on our part during evaluations. So, after that, we went to see Mr. Mukam, the mayor, at his office. He talked to us about the various projects that he is working on which include churches, schools and personal residencies. He gave us coffee and the coffee is pretty terrible but we drank it like heroes. After all of this we took the oh so long trip into Bamendjou. The drive was about 4 hours and luckily most of it was on paved roads. There are these random tolls that you have to stop at along the way and while you try to pay hordes of children attack the car trying to sell various produce items. We arrived in Bamendjou on market day so the village was packed with people selling all sorts of wares. We drove directly to the mayor’s house, which is spacious and comfortable (running cold water, but no hot water). It makes the living here much easier, but doesn’t have the lively feeling of the village. We had dinner at the “Seven Eleven” (they obviously have no idea what that is!) and met with the new Peace Corps volunteer. Her name is Nura and this girl is such a force. She has only been here for a few months and she has done so much. She has a degree in Middle East Politics and Economics and she is here teaching computer skills, English education and working on agriculture. She gave a class today for village farmers about composting and organic pesticides. She did say that it was nice to speak English for a while, but she has learned all of her French since she has been here and it is really good. We have had so much going on that tomorrow will sort of be a slower day that will allow us to mentally catch up and spend some time getting to know the area a little more. The days are pretty warm, but while we were in Yaoundé today it rained for a while and our driver told us that was very strange. The nights are actually quite cool and there really are no bugs around, which is so good because I’m pretty paranoid about the whole malaria thing. Things are good and we are all learning so much!
Dr. Steve here. I too am excited, but in this case, to be back in Cameroon and meeting the wonderful people of this country – again. Everyone is so welcoming, and patient with my French. The chaotic traffic of Cameroonians on foot, on bikes, pushing carts, riding in buses crammed between the bundles of plantains – it’s now a bit familiar. This is a culture that seems to accept their many inconveniences (is there a choice?) but is also intent on making the best of their country. The medical students we spoke to take 6 weeks in the summer doing free clinics in rural areas; when they become doctors, their salary will be a fraction of what we pay a graduate student. Dr. Nkeng told us that the country tries to assure affordable Universities (at about $100 per year), but this means they are dependent on government funding which is inadequate. The country spends a large proportion of their budget on primary and secondary schools, but still, 40% of the teaching positions are unfilled. Nura has 120 kids in her computer class, with 4 computers. She has them draw pictures of keyboards to use. The U.S. Ambassador has a special program for self-help efforts in Cameroon, but the available funds have decreased year by year. Amelia already mentioned the large number of localities that apply, in hopes that our country will aid them.So here we are, with a small village to help. Our task is simply to get them safe drinking water. I hope we can find the resources.