This little computer is a saint. Considering how heavy all of my other things are, it helps that this valued item can fit easily into my purse. This is my fourth day in Cameroon, and it has been a whirlwind to say the least. To update you on my past week, I landed in Douala at around 6 pm on Tuesday. The 3 flights over had been a crazy process. On the first flight to Newark we were rerouted to Connecticut because of lighting storms. After waiting an hour there we flew on back to Newark and I was convinced I would not make my connection. However, my saintly mother had called up United and gotten them to wait for 15 minutes because there was a whole group of us on the plane needing to make the connection. My Brussels group and I ran for 5 minutes with our luggage to get to the next gate, looking absolutely ridiculous. However, I made it and ended up sitting next to a lovely girl who worked at Vanderbelt college and was going to Uganda to work in a village for a month with a mission group. It amazes me how easily we can travel half-way across the world to help a complete stranger. After talking more with this woman I realized that the trip was very much for her, to help put her life in perspective. This interesting concept plays into the idea of Voluntourism, a main topic discussed in my minor. For those of you who haven’t heard me rattle on about this before, the idea is that individuals from first worlds will pay money to go and volunteer and experience the third world. Regardless of the individuals intentions, the morality of an industry of making money off of volunteers is what is debated in my classes. However, I look at myself and I am doing the same thing. Although I am seeking to avoid voluntourism by doing research, I am paying money to go and have an experience, which I can assure you has already started. The plane flight to Douala was very lovely, and I had a Spanish young man sitting next to me who was going to Yaounde for some meetings regarding the mining his company was planning on doing in Cameroon. He is a hydraulic engineer who helps build the mining equipment that his company designed. For this particular project he his company was hired by a group of American investors, one of which included some brand names. He was very easy to get along with and joked about how we were on different teams, but his most interesting remark was that he “doesn’t understand why they trust us to do this.” However, his company is paying the Cameroon government a lot of money for the permits. In addition, his company attempted to apply for long term VISAs since they have a building in Yaounde and travel there often, but was rejected. Maritus, the Spanish man, speculated that it was because every short term VISA costs them 80 euros, which goes directly into the government’s pockets. For those of you who don’t know much about Cameroon, the government is highly corrupt. You can look up more on Wikipedia, but since their independence in 1960, governmental elites have used resources poorly and supported many programs, especially in the agricultural sector, that although have increased money in the short term, has hurt the general public in the long term. (I will talk more about this in a later post). To finish up my trip I landed in Douala, was picked up by my supervisor, Keghah, and spent the night at a lovely Baptist hotel. The previous post is a what I sent to my mom to upload for me because I could not get on the blog on my phone. Overall, it was a very tiring but interesting 30 hours!
Wednesday was another day of travel. It was also another day of worry. Cameroonians are known for their tardiness, as I have been warned. However, I had spent the night at the Baptist Board House alone, and Keghah said he would show up in the morning because our bus left at 10. I needed to clear out from the room at 10, and Keghah had still not shown up. Starting to completely worry, I went online and spoke with my correspondence in the UK who has previously worked with Keghah. Although he was able to reassure me, somewhat, that Keghah would show up, Keghah did not come until 11. (I also managed to use up a bunch of my roaming data because I had forgotten to turn that off, coming out to an atrocious cost of $140. My saintly mother, again, helped me out by calling up AT&T and getting me a plan.. so for all you future travelers, beware and avoid my ignorance! ) We took a taxi to the bus and the bus ended up leaving at around 12. The 8 hour bus ride to Bamenda covers 3 different territories; the south, the southwest, and the northwest. At every entry we had to stop at a check point so that policemen could verify the buses papers. The check points were guarded by patrol officers, but the actual gates were only a stick on a log that someone would lift up real high to let us pass. Outside of Douala is where I started to experience the real third world in Cameroon. Little shacks line the roads, and are especially concentrated at these checkpoints. Women, men, and children are outside selling food which includes meat, various types of fruits and vegetables, nuts, etc. I can’t say that I remember any of the names but I was especially delighted by the bananas which were still on the stalk. The landscape in the south was also incredible, and jungle like. However, what I at first thought was wilderness, I quickly learned were palm and rubber plantations, all foreign owned. Keghah explained to me that land grabbing is a big issue in Cameroon, especially by foreign companies. At the second checkpoint we unloaded for a rest break and for everyone to buy groceries and lunch. Mind you, I am the only non-Cameroonian person I have seen since the airport. So, I am also the only white person, which makes me a bit of a celebrity in a way. Keghah told me that when someone sees that I am white their ultimate goal is to get something from me. I had bought food before getting on the bus, but unloaded to stretch my legs and everyone was hollering “lady” at me to come and try and buy their food. In general they were still very respectful though and much nicer than the street vendors in Douala. When we got back on the bus a little girl I had met at the beginning of the trip decided to join me and Keghah for the next leg of the journey. Her name was Fotos and spent her time examining my face and slapping both me and Keghah. She told me that I have a very tiny nose, an American girls dream come true? She was very funny and even shared some of her TOP with me, which is a Cameroonian juice—but actually more of a soda. On the bus ride everytime we stopped or slowed down vendors would run up to us and try to sell us food, the woman in front of me bought bananas through the window! I avoided trying too much for fear of sickness, but had some delicious tangerines. It gets dark at around 5 here, and we arrived in Bamenda at around 8. As we traveled down the mountain to Bamenda we went along a very well paved road with nice houses on either side and Keghah told me this is where all the government officials live. Down in the valley was where the 1 million residents of Bamenda live. When we got off the bus the muddy roads were running since it had been raining all day and Keghah got a porter to put our stuff in a trolley so that it wouldn’t get wet. The taxi ride to my new home was fine except when we reached the junction of st paul john to get to my house the roads were all mud with deep rivets and the taxi actually stalled at one point. But finally, after my two day journey, I made it home.
Thursday, today, was when I got to properly meet everyone in my house. Regina, my Cameroonian mother, and Sama and Titus, my Cameroonian brothers. Both Sama and Titus are my age or older, and Reginas 4 little children, 8 and under, are in Yaounde for the summer. My room is huge, and the house is very big, all of the rooms have lights, except the bathroom. There is also no running water. I have a misquito net I sleep under, but I got up last night and must have let some mosquitoes in because I have about 7 bites, but don’t worry, I am now wearing DEET repellent and haven’t forgotten my medications at all! Keghah came to pick me up and we took a taxi into town to buy me a cellphone. A main topic that Keghah and I have discussed other than the research I will be doing is money. Since I am only the 10th or so volunteer, or maybe less, I am not sure, he has not gotten all the details worked out and many of the costs have been more than I expected. However, he is a very reasonable man and I told him that he must explain to me why he needs money before he asks me for money. Also, we were able to sort out all of the costs and I now don’t owe him anything. For food, I decided it would be best to give money to Regina and have her feed me. She makes very delicious Cameroonian food and knows how to safely cook for my weak American stomach. Actually, here in Cameroon I feel weak in every sense, my skin is pale, my eyes hurt from the sun, and my stomach doesn’t respond to everything, it’s a good thing I have sunscreen, sunglasses, and Pepto-Bismo to help me out! Once I got the cellphone, which I can sell back at the end of the trip, we walked through town. I have a few photos for you, but in general it is always constantly busy with people doing their work or sitting around but still working by selling things. Everyone is very nice to me in Bamenda, and I feel very blessed for ended up in such a respectful town. I was back home at 11 and took a 4 hour nap, which I mentioned before. After my nap I took my first hand bucket shower. As I said, there is no running water so to flush the toilet you pour water down, and to shower you lather then rinse off you scoop water from big tubs with a handy yellow bucket. I am now in the living room watching Nigeran soap operas with my family. It is pouring rain outside and I am clean, well fed, and content, so don’t worry mom! I was going to go into town to upload all of this and send some emails but it started pouring rain at 4. My brother Titus just told me that it starts raining at 4 every single day and they don’t go out after that because it is too wet. There are many tricks of the trade I must learn in order to survive in Bamenda! I am learning more and more every day, or I guess hour to be realistic. This evening we had visitors! Two young gals named Eveline and Laura. I didn’t have the chance to talk much with Laura since she went out with Titus, but Eveline was very friendly and curious about my school work and what sorts of things we do in America. Eveline is currently a university student studying to become some sort of business woman. She brought over a very well used notebook, and was going over how to drive stick with Sama. From what I gathered she had taken a class and had written down all of the instructions. It was very humorous to see Sama act out her instructions while sitting on the couch. Of course the first step was enter the car and close the door firmly behind you. In Eveline’s own words, “people forget this.” Looking at Eveline’s notebook I realized that throughout all of the shops I’ve been to or walked past, there is a very limited set of things that are sold. Electronics are everywhere, new or used computers, cellphones, etc. In the west there is fruit sold everywhere, but in Banenda the fruit is shipped in, so in downtown you are more likely to find it in the market. In addition, clothes and shoes are sold in many places. Regina, herself, has a little shop outside her house (you can see from the photos) from which she sells food and clothes. I asked her where she gets the clothes from and she said that friends in the United States send them over to her, and they are all in pretty good condition still. American apparel is everywhere in Bamenda. Regina herself sports a little cardigan with some sort of Raul Lauren-like logo on the side, Sama has a Winne the Pooh sweatshirt he wears, and Eveline was wearing a New York sweatshirt. As for books, I haven’t seen them sold anywhere. As a thank you for having me I gave Regina some dish towels and some books for her little children. She was very grateful and told me that she was looking forward to reading the books before her children. For the rest of the night we sat in the living room watching Nigerian soap operas, so much for getting away from television :p and then later on watched an international soccer game. I have a feeling that I am going to become a soccer fan while over here, for those of you who don’t know soccer is HUGE here. Around 9 Regina, Eveline and I all went to bed while Sama stayed up and Titus was still out.
As for my work, Keghah and I start today on our planning for surveys. Keghah has already done this sort of research with other volunteers in different communities, but he wants me to add to the surveys if I have any ideas. We will be interviewing 6 different communities of 1000 people each while I am here. Next week we will go to each community to meet with the leaders to discuss our plans and ask for their permission. Keghah has an established relationship with these communities already, so there shouldn’t be any issue. After next week we will spend the remaining 6 weeks doing surveys, on week for each community. Along the way we will type up the community’s responses and analyze the data. In each community we will talk to 5 households, which can have up to 10 people, totaling in around 50 people per community surveyed. Many of the residents are illiterate so we will be reading and writing their responses. They also speak Pigeon English, and not my English so Keghah will be translating for me. Unfortunately, there is not Pigeon English dictionary :p Keghah laughed when I joked about needing one! Since I am not here for longer than 7 weeks I won’t have the chance to present to the ministry, but I have to say that it probably for the best.