The cars are always worn, the back windows rarely can be opened because of missing door handles, and the windshields have so many cracks that they are waiting to fall in on your lap. If you are one of the three passengers in the front seat, this can be a dangerous ride. The driver shares his seat with one of them setting the stage for an accident waiting to happen. On my second visit in 2010, I swore off public transport. Well its not really public, the cars are privately owned by individuals. If someone is wealthy they can own several cars and hire drivers for as little as $30 a month, a common wage in a country where a 16 ounce can of powdered milk costs $5 and less than fresh eggs cost $1.20 a dozen. A few of the taxi drivers own their own cars, and a few of the motorcycle drivers own their bikes. But the bikers who drive for someone have to pay 3000 cfa ($6) a day to their boss. They pay their own gas out of the remaining 2000-3000 cfa and are left with $2-3 a day after working twelve hours a day. There is no money for helmets and when their mirrors break they don’t seem to be in a hurry to replace them. When I found out that a pair of mirrors cost $4, I bought several of the drivers I knew mirrors. A cheap way to save everyone’s life.
As I mentioned before, global warming appears to be making a statement in northwest Cameroon. Unwelcomed by all, there are torrential rains everyday. Most people earn money by selling in the market and on the streets but with the rainy season expanding from 6 months to 10 months, beginning by 2 pm each day, there is a short window of time to sell anything outside. Since everything is hand washed and line dried, you must be around to grab your half dried clothes before they get soaked.. So if you are taking a trip, start washing several days ahead.
Today was market day when all the surrounding villages come to sell. The rain started at noon and then at 1pm it stopped. I ran to the outdoor market and while I was buying carrots still covered in fresh dirt, the skies darkened and within minutes the ground turned into quick flowing streams. Wadding through water and people and holding on to wooden poles, I made my way to streets of slippery mud. In the crowd of people everywhere, I had one of the few umbrellas and raincoats.
One of the most serious problems is the large number of illiterate people. More children are going to school each year which is a positive change except the classes are growing so large that children who are average students can’t keep up. At least 50% of the children who enter primary school quit at grade six.. Some of them can barely read or write. The condition of most government elementary schools is so appalling, many without any water and always without supplies, decent benches, no electric and it goes on and on. The grammar school teachers are so poorly trained and so poorly paid. Their classes have 40 or more students. It is amazing that anyone learns anything under these conditions. Another serious problem is that most of the students only speak English at school. When they go home they speak Pigin or their own tribal language. They have little practice hearing English so they eventually quit school. One of the high schools which has had a good reputation, just had 60% of the 1700 student body fail the quarter.
The principal blamed the students for not working hard enough. I suggested teachers could be the problem. Another shocking bit of information was finding out that teachers are physically abusive with the students. I had witnessed many cases of children being verbally attacked. Recently the sister of a friend had to go the hospital after her teacher beat her and yet he is still teaching the class. Another young girl of 15 was seduced by her 32 year old teacher and now has a 2 month old baby. A 23 year old girl has been in jail for four years for having had an abortion.
The other day one of my young 17 year old Muslim girl friends confided that her mother is trying to force her and her 14 year old sister to marry. They said they would run away from home and find a way to pay their school fees to continue studying. Unfortunately divesting the family of their young girl children is still very common among Muslims here; a 25 year old motorcycle driver just married a 15 year old girl in his village. I offered to send her back to school but when he asked her family’s permission they refused. Women’s liberation is far in the distant future in this culture.
Last year, the president, who has won every election since 1984, offered to make abortion legal but every religious order in this country vehemently protested and so we still have abortion here considered a crime of murder. Luckily they have not resorted to burning these women at the stake like they did in the Dark Ages.