Rediscovering my teaching talent

Yesterday Leo and I visited a remote village named Nchuo Bissi. I should have realized if we were walking down a mountain, we would have to climb up the mountain to get back. But at that moment I just wanted to arrive at our destination. Leo does a lot of volunteer work, giving free seeds for trees and plants to poor villages. He even gave the government 40,000 free plantain plants last year; actually they were part of a contract he had made with the government. They would buy 40,000 plantain trees and give them to poor farmers. He was suppose to get paid 9 million cf francs ($18,000) for the work he completed last August . In November they demanded $1500 for pretax payment and when I arrived at the end of February, they had been asking for $500 but settled for $100. He is still waiting for the papers to be processed.
We had come on Leos cycle, riding over narrow dirt roads and donkey paths filled with rocks, deep crevices and mud. I wasnt enjoying the scenery as much as praying we would remain on the bike. Leo is an excellent driver but other people are not.. The first week in Fundong we were sideswiped by another bike, catching me on my left leg leaving a large bruise. The next day I burned my right leg on the exhaust pipe as I was getting off the motorcycle. The only people with cars are the rich Cameroonians and the taxi drivers with questionable vehicles. So motocycles are the main transport outside of the cities.We left the bike parked off the road,and walked another 2 miles down the mountain to Bissi. We were greeted by a group of 15 women singing a welcoming song as we entered the compound. This was the meeting place of over four hundred women from all over the province who had been given free land to farm as a gesture of generosity by a landowner. Leo had come all this way to talk with the women about planting techniques, give them seeds and discussing the possibility of also giving them fruit tree starters when the rains begin.
Realizing when I arrived in Fundong that I did not have anything important to add to Leos agro forestry information, I decided to revive my old teaching skills and stress the importance of clean drinking water. The majority of Cameroonians have no water source except from
small streams running through their villages. My mantra was boil your drinking water in the evening, cover it and drink it the next day. Simple as it seems, most Cameroonians cook on wood fires and barely have enough wood to cook their meals, especially if they have anywhere from 4-10 children. So as simple as boiling water is for us, it is a major commitment for them. I asked how many of them had stomach problems, headaches or diarrhea and most responded yes. I explained that many of their illnesses were from
drinking dirty water. Attacking the topic of birthing less children was more difficult since this involved two people and the men in this country are unbareably macho. For them, many children was a sign of their virility and manhood. It was not uncommon for men to take several wives, one of the excuses being there are twice as many women as men in Cameroon.
Most of the women at the gathering were over 35 and had at least 4 children or more. The reason the women gave for having so many children was to compensate when some of them died. I told them that if they had only 2-3 children, they could feed and cloth them better and take better care of themselves and the children and have less deaths. I also mentioned the importance of all their children going to school. In a country where 50% of the people earn less than $2 a day, there are no free public schools. Families must pay 2000 cf francs a year plus 13,000 francs for books and uniforms. The minimum wage is 23,500 francs a month ($45) so if you have 6 children, it would cost 4 months salary to send them to primary school. At a meeting in the village of Fujua I was told that 20% of the children living in the town could not afford to go to school. The government of Cameroon tries its best to keep the people uneducated, beaten down and powerless and seems to be succeeding quite well. Compared to the previous issues the problem of garbage being thrown anywhere and everywhere seemed less important but I wanted people to start thinking about it. I suggested that food scraps be taken to the farm and turned into fertilizer. Paper should be burned rather then thrown all the the streets and plastic bottles and bags collected and reused whenever possible. One day at my house, the owners son was fixing a broken electric socket and I asked him where to throw my garbage. When I realized he was going to throw it outside in the field, I ran after him and explained why that was not a good idea. His father is a professor at a college and he is in his last year of secondary school. So if the educated are guilty of pollution, what can we expect from the rural villages.
Another frustrating and unfortunate situation in this country, is that most of the people in the villages dont speak English. Even the young children going to school hear only Kom(African dialect) or Fufude(Muslim dialect) at home. I am rarely giving a lecture without a translator so I have no way of knowing if they are communicating my ideas correctly. The women in Bissi were no exception, only 3 out of 45 understood English. After Leo gave his lesson in planting and passed out a few pounds of seeds, we started hiking back up the mountain we had descended. This was when the women showed me up as they casually wandered up the road while I moaned and groaned and had to be dragged up the last kilometer by two older men.

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