Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A final entry from Dr. Steve

I mentioned a few days ago that everything seems uphill here. One such Sisyphean effort is the battle against the reddish brown dirt and dust that blow and stick everywhere. Of course, it’s part of the fertile soil that supports the corn, beans, and potatoes grown here, but the dust, in particular, gives you a reddish collar, cuffs, and fingerprint within a short time outdoors. You can avoid having a brown tinge by frequent change of clothes, but when it rains, everything turns to a colorful mud that cannot be defeated. The mud adheres to shoes and gets tracked everywhere. Everyone takes off their shoes when going indoors, but this process seems to get mud on the bottom of your socks, too. Futility.

I am particularly aware of this as I now write, because we didn’t make it to Yaoundé in time to get our baggage yesterday. So all of us have been in the same change of clothes for 48 hours. My blue jeans are an interesting mix of tints from blue to dark brown that, frankly, looks very unprofessional. Note to parents: because these colors come from the ferric iron content of the soil, a laundry additive intended to remove iron stains *may* be successful in treating the clothes you will soon be staring at with some consternation. Bleach is less likely to work. The best solution may be to pack the clothes away until you go back to the High Plateau again.

So we're done and packing up. I have learned from my previous trips to Cameroon that I can adjust fairly quickly to the third world disorder and standard of living, as well as the dirt, and at least for a couple weeks at a time. But strangely, I have more difficulty coming back the States. It’s hard to shake the sensory intensity of this place. Whatever I mean by “sensory intensity” is hard to explain, but it sure stays with you. The city noises and air pollution, the lush green above the red dirt, the make-do and can-do mentality, the coconut, banana, and many other tropical trees that I need to learn names for. The friendly faces, the continuous foot traffic on urban dirt roads, everything carried on peoples' heads, the dirty water carried home to use. And so many other things.

….Tuesday!! We had no internet in Bamendjou or Yaoundé and we are now in Paris, on our way home. Our projects ended up pretty successfully, but it’s important to understand that this is only the beginning. Our solar cells submersible pump will provide water for a significant fraction of the people in Bakang, but not the ones at higher elevations or further distances – probably two thirds of the population. To get them water means more wells – a tough proposition. We have our next project ahead of us, and look forward to the challenge.

And we’re also looking forward to being home!! See you soon!!


Jim said...

Dr. Steve,

You are quite right about clay removal from soiled clothes. One of the EWB team members on this trip was raised in the Virginia Piedmont which is rich in this reddish clay soil. Hence, her wardrode is already tainted. She is sometimes referred to as a "red clay rambler". One thing people might try is a bar of Fels Naptha soap rubbed into stained areas.

Merci beaucoup to the two UDee engineers that graduated in May(Julie and Doug) for their continued support and dedication to this project and the people of Bakang!

Engineers Without Borders - Toledo Chapter said...

Thanks for posting, it's cool to read about other chapter's projects. We just started here at the University of Toledo.

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