Monday, January 28, 2008

January 27th

1-25 (late) – Dr. Steve
Last night at dinner we had some existential doubts about what we are doing and why. Hearing about the hardships shrugged off by the Peace Corps folks probably exacerbated this, but we also feel daunted by our own ambitious tasks. It can feel like the people of the Bakang village will live their lives whether we come here or not. Everything will always be covered with brown dust. There will always be ruts in the dirt roads and power lines with no electricity. The scope and degree of our differences can feel overwhelming, and what we will do here, no matter how successful, will be a drop in the bucket. Maybe only a droplet in the bucket.

I suppose, in our hesitations, we’re asking about this bucket, and why we would want to fill it. One might say that the volume needed is not the disparity between our cultures but between the levels of true need in our societies. And, in fact, our own bucket in the U.S. is hardly overflowing for some people. But on the average, at least (and that’s a big issue), I’d say it’s still pretty full.So how do we justify our work, when it can seem so negligible? One ethical test that one can apply to an action is to ask, “What would be the consequences if a lot more people did what I am going to do?” This makes me feel better about the droplet, because a lot of them together will fill a bucket. Lots of buckets. So, by this test, we’re doing the right thing.
But all in all, the bucket metaphor is still pretty limiting. For example, our chemical engineers know that it’s better to find a new catalyst than to build larger reactors. We want to help people bring out their own betterment. That’s what we do when we show people how to repair a well, or bring solar energy to a region that has not seen it before, but will adapt it to their needs.

Furthermore, the bucket analogy says we’re doing something that can be measured, and I am sure it *cannot* be. This is frustrating for an engineer! Of course we’ll be able to measure the water production from the wells we develop … but you can’t put a number on good will, and that’s an important part of this.
And besides, we may be engineers without borders, but we’re people without borders, too. What we do here is in the name of international good will, to show people who we are and that we share our capabilities. We’ll get them some cubic meters per hour of potable water…but we are also here to shake hands and share a smile, to root for the soccer team, to struggle with the language and hear them laugh, to walk down their roads with them. Those are immeasurables, but they’re the stuff going in the bucket. All of us in EWB are helping. Stop trying to measure it, and just do it the best way you can.
Okay, Dr. Steve – get some sleep.
1-27 – Dr. Steve
We were wondering if we’d have enough to do on Sunday, ha-ha. (please pardon any typos since I’m typing this on the laptop on a very bumpy road to Bafoussam!) – but it turned out to be loaded. We started out going to mass at the church on Mr. Mukam’s invitation and the service was quite different from what any of us are used to. This was the second service, which is in French and for the younger set; the early ser vice is in the local language for most of the locals. Singing was at least two thirds of the program and a wonderful mix of African traditional, Western hymns, and age-old Catholic chants. There was also a baptism included in the service.
For purposes of symmetry, Mr. Mukam then took us to funeral. But this was not like anything we’d ever seen before. The local chief (actually a sous-chef, subsidiary to the chief or King of all of Bafoussam) had passed away a number of months previously—and been buried—but it was now time for the big affair celebrating his life, and also choosing his successor. There was lots of food, and we were placed at a table with the mayor for a variety of hors d’oevres. We left quickly, though, to get a view of the dancing as it began. There was traditional percussion and chanting by a central group while crowds formed lines that circled around the musicians. Apparently, when the music briefly stopped, a different part of the family would take over the music, and new groups of dancers would also crowd in. The daughters carried bags of the chief’s clothes on their heads, and there was a group of widows on the periphery who, per tradition, were holding empty pots. Since the mayor was asked to join the circling throngs, we followed as well and went around several times.
Shortly after we exited the dancing circle, there was a great shout of excitement, and many of the people ran down a path through the crowd. Apparently, the new chief had been chosen – and captured - by the Notables. Here they came, to the music, with the new chief covered by a blanket, both preceded and followed in line by the Notables, some in bizarre masks and others in feathered disguise. They also circled the musicians. In the excitement, one person started firing a shotgun in the air, and we decided it was time to leave. But we got some unforgettable moments, with pictures and video to show you all!
Later that afternoon we really needed to get some work done, so we headed back to the Bakang area to scout out elevations and locations of the family compounds (called concéssions) near the school, well. and the hill as its crest runs away from the area. It was a very quiet hike but we ran across a family with a well higher up from where we had been before, which runs dry for 3-4 months of the dry season. One of the men spoke clear French so we learned a lot of the area and he walked us around to more wells and also another stream crossing which is a popular water collection point.
We got the same story we’ve heard before. Basically, the well water is turbid and its taste is bad, so most people only use it for washing. They go to the stream for their drinking water and don’t believe that it is harmful. So it seems like (a) education is in order, and (b) a means of treating the well water is needed. Of course, this is not what the water committee sees as the priorities. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Today (Monday) we were going to start the well test early, but before we left the mayor’s house, a man from HydroSanté dropped by. His organization has an office in Bamendjou and we had a long discussion. We’ll meet with him tomorrow. We then proceeded to fail at our well test (we could not get the water level cable down the well, even though we were able to in our previous dry run, and we also cannot pump by had at more than 1.3 m3/hr, which we need), so we’re in Bafoussam to try some other things, like finding the well repair guy to help, and renting a pump. Hope for the best. We’ll update you soon!

No comments: