Staying sane in a crazy place

I can’t tell one day from another here in Fundong. My breakfast coffee and bread are my favorite meal since I brought my own espresso beans, a grinder and an espresso pot from the States . In Bamenda, a big town a few hours away, there is a good bakery and the supermarket sells imported French butter. Experimenting the first week, a half pound of butter, submerged in a plastic bag in cold water, will survive well for a week. Once the baguette dries out, I make French toast with powdered milk and eggs from the market. The rest of my meals revolve around fresh tomato sauce on pasta or rice or couscous once I have exhausted the vegetables from the market in Bamenda.

On the way into town, there is an 1950’s electronics shop which sells all kinds of small appliances. The first time I walked by, the speakers attached to the one and only television, were blaring out international news. Starving for contact with the outside world since the internet connection is unreliable, I wandered in and sat down to listen. The next day when I walked by, there was a born again Christian preaching the gospel.  The man who owns the shop is a religious zealot so I try to convince him that world news is as important as the word of God.  Being a man of the faith, he changes the channel when I drop by, so I can catch up on current events.

Garbage sits for a week in piles on the dirt road until a broken down truck comes by and a guy gets out with a shovel and throws most of it  on the open back. I am not sure how much actually arrives at the dumping spot.  I suggested to the mayor 2 years ago that we teach the people selling in the vegetable market to recycle their food scraps into compost.  He said in order to do this, they would need a lot of trash bins and asked if I was going  to buy them because the city council had no money. The Fundong council has turned off the water taps in the village because they don’t want to pay the old bill from 2003-2007 or future bills. I am considering going to their next meeting and asking them what they actually get paid to do if they cant supply a clean water source to the  people in town.

Shocked at this situation, I found a solution to turning the taps in town back on. We negotiated the old bill from 2 million francs ($4000) to under 1 million including a prepay on 2 of the taps. My brother offered to help with this project and donated all the monies. Since the council will not pay the bill, the water must be sold at the taps and the money paid directly to the private water company. I have to find people I trust to sell the water and not steal the money.

Last week I revisited an elementary school which I remembered as being extremely rundown with few teachers, no supplies and extremely poor children. It was still in the same condition.  A wonderful charity, little dresses for Africa, had sent me 35 pounds of new clothing for young kids.  We picked out girls and boys from first and second grade and took them to an empty classroom. They seemed frightened and confused and even after we had dressed them in the new clothes, they were still disoriented. The teachers told us the families were so poor, the children had never received new clothes.

Some days I go to the market to buy eggs from the farmers. They are relatively fresh, whereas the eggs in the wooden shack shops can sit for two weeks in the heat. This is a local market so there is very limited produce. Onions, tomatoes, bananas and plantains encompass 90% percent of the choices. The other day I found a few green peppers and an over ripe pineapple. This was a special day.

Since I unwittingly helped to send the girl who worked in the internet café to nursing school, there is no more internet in town. The two cell phone companies, Orange, out of France and MTN from South Africa have devised net access for personal computers using a USB key, activated by a sim card. It works like a cell phone, is slower than dial up and more expensive then my monthly internet connection in the States. The last five days I have tried to send email and access my bank account. The only part of the internet that is working is the time ticking away. In this case time is really money.  C’est la Cameroon.

Each day brings new realizations about this country. We’ve all heard of ghost writers, but how about ghost workers. The rumor is that 15% of government salaries are paid to these mysterious people. They were civil servants who now live in the other countries like France and the United States.  But they pay or bribe to be kept on the government payrolls, making it profitable for all involved except the majority of the population who lives on less than a dollar a day.

I have suddenly taken on a new persona, something like the bank of Lois. The old saying goes the more you give, the more they want. Nothing like becoming disillusioned when you have traveled across the world to improve living conditions of the less fortunate. The other day one of the teachers from theprivate Catholic school, came to visit me with tears in her eyes. She had just built a house on a piece of land she had bought and she couldn’t afford to buy doors for the house.  The next day the girl we sent to nursing school called me up, moaning about her toothache. Today I was invited to invest in a pig farm and approached bya food seller in the market wanting to share her problems with me.

All is not as dark as it sounds. On the positive side, I have enough monies left from donations to fund a small water project for the village of Meli and the secondary school on the hill. I am finally initiating a recycling program at the high school in town. Using funds from the $4000 donated to open the water taps, we bought thirty plastic 30 gallon cans ($240) to distribute around the campus.  We willseparate food scraps for compost, paper and plastic for burning and finally garbage. To initiate the program I will discuss hows and whys with the older students and ask them to assist reinforcing the program with the younger students.

One of the important possessions here in the village is my computer. I have a built-in entertainment center connecting me to the outside world, reminding me that I have still have choices in this life.


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