WEEK 3 FUNDONG –– the ants attacked the pineapple

The rains have begun.. when it rains here it is torrential.. get caught get soaked.. trek mud everywhere, worry that the motorcycle you are on doesnt slip on the wet pavement or rocky dirt road. The electric goes off, where is the flashlight.? how can i charge my laptop… the ants attacked the pineapple.


As I looked around at the haggard faces of the men in Ngwah village, I imagined them thinking, this American woman is going to save us.  I spotted a child of two with ringworm on his head. I looked down at the feet of a bunch of elementary school kids, their clothes torn and soiled, some wearing broken flip flops, others barefoot. This was a poor farming village with no water, just the dirty streams.

Leo, who I had worked with my first two years in Fundong , had appealed to me and the Fundong council  to see if we could help the village complete a water project they had started last year.   With funds from Leo and the villagers they had built a catchment in the wooded hills above Ngwah.  Now they needed about 3.5 million franc($7000) to build a tank, attach PVC  pipes and construct stand taps.

After trekking to the catchment, we returned to greet the villagers who had waited hours in the hills near the catchment to greet us..  We had been six hours late.  Leo made a speech in Kom, mentioning how I had funded many water projects in the past, putting me in an uncomfortable situation. The mayor said the council would see if they could help. Translated by the mayor, I promised to see if I could raise funds, understanding the severity of their situation.  I asked the principal of the high school the population of the village, how many schools and students. The numbers were shocking.  A population of 5000, one high school with 400 students and two elementary schools with 1000 young children.   Again and again the same scenario; ignorance, poverty, religion and more babies.  When I suggested the teaching and practicing of   birth control, I was shocked when the mayor said the country did not have a problem with overpopulation. How about extreme poverty?

When I mentioned this to the principal at the high school, he laughed and said the government gives subsidies to civil servants to motivate them to have more children.  The plot thickens. Is this a way to keep wages low, too many people, not enough jobs. ?  The minimum wage was raised to 40,000 franc a month, or $80. And that is for the lucky ones who have jobs.

Stopping for gas on the way to Bamenda, I asked my friend why  the price had gone up instead of down.   I told him a barrel of oil had dropped 50% to $42 a barrel and prices at  gas stations  in the U.S had dropped substantially.  Why not pass on this discount to the people in Cameroon.  Then I realized that this was an opportunity for the government to buy gas at a huge discount and increase their profit two fold.

There was no gas at the only station before Bamenda, 90 km away. This is a very common occurrence outside of big towns.   So we were forced to buy gas on the street from people selling liters in glass bottles. I asked Simon how would he know if they had watered down the gas.  Take your chances when you have no other options.. Within minutes the car was bumping and jerking. It was obvious they had cut the gas with water.  By the time we reached Bamenda, the fuel pump was barely working, surely the watered down gas didn’t help. The  20 year old Toyota wagon was in the shop for 5 hours. A new fuel pump and battery plus labor was $100.

After stocking up on cash from an ATM, butter, yogurt, Kellogg’s frosted flakes and barely decent French bread, I went to Press Café. Serving western food, this is the expats escape from Cameroon.   My Greek salad had fresh feta cheese, made by a woman in the village of Santa, 5km away. A few days later I ordered half kilo of feta and my friend, the principal, returning from a nearby village, picked it up. I wanted to give him a taste, he had never eaten cheese in his life, but he had put it in his freezer (few people have any refrigeration including me). I’m hoping its still edible when it defrosts.

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