Saturday, November 3, 2012

The North West

Or the north part of the west.  It’s a bit confusing.  Cameroon is kinda shaped like a chicken (seriously, go look at a map).  There is this whole western part where they speak English.  The northern part of it is called the North West and that makes sense except there are three other regions that are much farther north.
We had quite the adventure and left Monday afternoon and didn’t get back till Thursday.  This probably doesn’t seem like much, but when every second of every day is planned a bit of an escape seems damn near the most amazing thing ever.  I think we spent half the time in a bus and that was fantastic as far as I was concerned.  It was too bumpy to actually do work which leaves hanging out, listening to music, and drinking.  I’M JUST KIDDING.  The only person who’s allowed to drink on the bus is the driver.
There may come a point when my jokes no longer make sense to anyone other than Cameroonians and Peace Corps Volunteers.  Apologies, ye faithful need just bare with me.

Cultural note: No, they do not speak Spanish anywhere in Cameroon so I’ve no idea why it’s called the “Super Amigo”.
This was our first time out in a real city since Yaounde.  Sure we still had a curfew, but it was extended to 10 o’clock.  And besides, we all went to the same hotel.  That means we got to still be together as opposed to alone (or rather with families of people who don’t understand us linguistically or culturally).  It was fantastic.  PLUS we stayed in super nice hotels.  Or… well there was hot water!  And water pressure!  Yea, we shared a bed with another volunteer, but at this point we are just one giant family anyway.  And the food… it’s like they read my blog or something, because we ate so well.  We had, oh what’s the word in English, I think I’ve forgotten… OPTIONS.  I spent infinitely more money than they gave me to spend, but it doesn’t matter; I fattened myself up quite nicely and can just live on the reserves in the coming week (actually, I seem to be shedding pounds already and I barely can find the time to work out). 

I realize I haven’t bothered showing you pictures of things like the town I’m actually living in or my home...  You will happily take whatever I give you and I will not hear a single complaint.  Anyway, I’ve really wanted to try to explain to you what I’m looking at here every day.  It’s a strange unique beauty.  The contrast between the buildings and humanity with the monster here that is “nature” is so stark I can’t always wrap my head around it.  I have tried to take a number of pictures, but they are pale comparisons to what I’m looking at with my own eyes.  It’s massive, impressive, and somehow incomprehensible.  It’s like being atop one of the mountains of the Appalachian and staring over an expansive forest only you are in the middle of some run down village that feels plucked from an old western flick.  And the sky… if you’ve talked to anyone that’s been to Africa, they told you about how much bigger the sky is here.  I know that makes little sense.  It just can’t be bigger.  But I’ve seen it.  And it is.  I’ve seen the clouds here and I’ve seen storms roll in from the distance.  You don’t need an umbrella here; you just check the sky and walk home before the rain catches you.

In the other direction there is a waterfall cascading down those mountains.  Seriously.
I’ve tried to take pictures of the stars.  It should be mandatory that cities cut power for an hour during the night at least once a month so we can all go outside and see what is really up there.
We learned a lot on our trip.  I learned how to make tofu from soy.  And it was actually incredibly tasty unlike almost every other time I’ve eaten tofu.  I also learned how to make soap, though I couldn’t stop relating it to the book/movie Fight Club.  It was intended that we learn to make wine, but somehow that got cut.  Don’t worry, I’ll get that knowledge soon enough.  All these are sort of income generating projects we use to get to communities and have them fund other projects.  It makes for more sustainable development if we set up health projects along side income sources. 
We also experienced probably the best day yet.  A lot of time is spent learning how to do need assessments and different sorts of projects we can start.  The how we actually get people and communities involved and committed seems incredibly daunting and we hear about as many efforts from volunteers that fail as those that succeed.  Sometimes the tasks seem insurmountable (like those mountains in the distance; go ahead, give ‘em another look).  But we spent a day in the most welcoming community I could imagine.  All of us including the PC trainers were taken aback by their response to our arrival.  They organized welcoming parties, a feast, songs, a work demonstration, and had speeches prepared.  It was all a thank you for a successful water project that a volunteer helped get underway.  Basically harnessing a spring and pumping clean water to a village of 1,500 people.  I can’t really describe the response except to say it was unexpected and brought, what do you call them, emotions to the surface.  Strange watery droplets and such tried to form.  It was just a reaffirmation of why I came all this way.  Hope and a sense that things really can be accomplished.
On that note, don’t go expecting as much from me.  That volunteer had more positive energy than I have cynicism.  
That’s the best picture I’ve got of a ton of people digging out a trench for the water pipes.  They are just community members, not paid workers or anything of the sort.  I have a great video… but I’m barely overcoming the picture problem at the moment.
I’d like to go into more about how the actual project started and worked.  Both technically and organizationally.  I will see about getting that info and talking to the volunteer who actually did it.  Otherwise I’ll just go back to making jokes about my life in Africa.

Dale out.