Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The final days

Yesterday was a roller coaster.  It started off generally crazy and nervous while we got ready for the Big Occasion.  Olivia had come up with her mom and two friends and she was extremely helpful in converting my short speech into real French from Franglais.  They also spent a lot of time putting together a big board with dozens of photos illustrating our project over the years, which went off to the school to be exhibited for the ceremony.  The school was whitewashed and decorated with woven palm fronds.  Announcement banners were hung across the road from Ndang to the school.  Tents were set up to shade the plastic chairs being set up for the occasion.  A carpenter built wooden steps to enable dignitaries to easily climb up and look into the water reservoir.  The school’s tapstand was remortared for appearance’s sake.  A slow leak at the reservoir’s exit pipe was patched and reinforced.  I called the U.S. Ambassador’s staff to confirm their arrival at 10 am.

In the mean time Felix, our plumber, was doing last minute repairs. We had located a significant leak in a feed line to the reservoir the day before, so this was repaired. Flow to the reservoir from the well at Bakang II went way up, but this caused a new leak adjacent to the ceremony site, discovered about 9 am. I heard a rare expletive from Felix, but he replaced that pipe section quickly, and sealing these leaks gave a higher flow rate into the tank, which increased significantly as the sun rose.   

We returned to the Mayor’s house in time for a call from the Ambassador’s entourage. They were arriving in Bamendjou, so we met their vehicles at the Ndang intersection and escorted them to Mr. Mukam’s house for introductions and a nice breakfast in the large dining room.  We enjoyed speaking with Ambassador Jackson and his wife, as well as Jon and Katy Koehler, the Cultural Attaché and his spouse. There was spirited conversation about development strategies, involving the other officials also at the table.

We then continued to the village school.  For me, this has sometimes been the most peaceful place to reflect on what we’re doing, as the mild wind blows through the eucalyptus trees. But today, it was abuzz.  Hundreds of school children, three different crowds of uniformed women, a microphone system, officials directing cars where to park among the rocks, and a voter registration table.  Most of the local people were in their traditional dress, including many of the area chiefs. The Ambassador was presented with flowers by a schoolgirl, another student read a poem, and we went through a long line shaking hands with folks (some of whom I’ve now known for years). 

After everyone sat down, there were speeches by numerous people of import, plus me (I will add my speech at the end of this blog).  The most entertaining was the lead-off, by the chief of Bakang I, but it was in patois  and we never got a translation to go along with the gestures and laughter. The representative of the state’s Governor spoke, then the Mayor, then our U.S. Ambassador, then me, and then Mike, with translations into patois (and Mike’s from English to French, too).  I presented Mr. Mukam with a pipe wrench that we had spray painted in gold, and Mike presented him with the maintenance manual. There was a lot of singing and dancing, and presents given to the Ambassador and to me (more on that later).

Olivia was given the headdress of a village queen—a great honor, well deserved for her work in getting our project off the ground six years ago.

We then walked up to the water reservoir.  I explained the system for the Anglophones, and the Mayor explained for the (vast majority) Francophones.  The VIPs peeked into the reservoir, which had a nice flow coming in, and checked out the water at the school’s tapstand.  Below, you see the United States Ambassador to Cameroon, Robert P. Jackson, approving of our water!!!  After that crucial test, and a few more formalities, we proceeded to the Town Hall in Bamendjou for a sumptuous lunch.

Then it was over. We went back to the house, changed clothes, and 30 minutes later we were again bushwacking along the Bakang II distribution line, in a cloud of dust, trying to locate a leak or blockage.  By the end of the day, we had located the flow problem and came back to the house sweaty, dusty, and exhausted. No water or electricity. It seemed to me like the ceremony had been days ago!
That evening we opened two wrapped presents that had been given to us. One was an Oumbé cane, decorated with shells, and the other was a locally made basket.  Nice.

But I was most struck by the first gift presented to us earlier in the day: a heavy bag full of potatoes.  Really. This was a small field’s worth of cultivation and care, of considerable value to the women who gave it to me.

Later, one of them had thanked me personally and, looking me straight in the eye, had said that they were thinking of how their potatoes would be enjoyed by our families far away in the U.S.  I told her I love potatoes, and thanked her deeply.  Of course we must leave them with acquaintances here, but the gift was very memorable.

Today we’ve wrapped up some loose ends in Bakang and Bamendjou, and are now in Bafoussam for the internet.  Tomorrow early, we take off for Yaoundé and home.   Sorry for so few pix - we'll add more when we have real internet.
Dr. Steve

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