0 com
Tried to post this yesterday, but the electricity went out. Bummers.

Should you ever visit Cameroon, heed the steps. Even in nice houses and office buildings, the stairs here seem to have been planned one at a time. Their heights vary according to no particular reason, as do their widths, slants & angles. I have yet to fall down them, but only due to extreme amounts of caution.
On the other hand, the main room of our training center is set at two different levels. One half of the room is set about two inches higher than the other. This I fall off daily. (Luckily, a fall of two inches is only mildly surprising).

So, cultural tidbit aside, qu'est-ce qui se passe? What is up? Time flies! Les temps volent. Voler is the french verb for to fly and to rob. I didn't make a connection until now, connecting it to time. A mere dozen days remain for training. Apres ca, we will all go our (kind of) separate ways (my closest PC neighbor will be 15 minutes away by moto, my furthest (and favorite) agro buddy will be a few days travel). I am revelling in the silliness the space of fifteen 20-somethings contains. When I get to site I will be glad to start working & planning in earnest, but for the next 12 days I plan to make the most of mes amis.

This weeks' dinner was a wildly delicious potato gnocchi, pasta & garlic bread with three sauces - spicy tomato, creamy cheese & pepper and basil-licious. We also had sweet tunes and a bonfire. Did I mention we are (talking about) starting an a cappella disco group? I know, right? I am doing (theoretically) mild-to-moderate back-up singing.

Maladies checklist. So far our stage has been full of many of the tropical entrees offered here, as well as a smattering of other mishaps. Illnesses and suspected illnesses include: typhoid, malaria, dysentery (!!! many kinds), mono (?), syphilis (?), insomnia, worms, bike brake lever impaling, chiggers.... and a hangnail. Don't worry. We are tough.

We spent yesterday in Bafoussam, a city of confusion. I can almost guarantee you that I will become lost in this city (it is my regional capital, a mere 30 minutes from my site, and contains such wonders as my bank and supermarkets that sell cheese and peanut M & M's. Did I spend more today to buy a small packet of peanut M &Ms than to buy the two heaping plates of food that were my lunch? Yes. Yes I did. Also, Bafoussam has soft-serve and a pool. So there). I have always felt that I am pretty good at orienting myself and not getting lost, but Bafoussam confounds me. In addition to having a church shaped like a pirate ship, it appears to have been planned by a baby on heavy drugs. THere is no logic. It merely spreads like an illogical fungus. We traversed the city several times over today, and I can barely make sense of the main drag. I take it back. I can't make sense of it at all. It just so happened that every once in a while I would recognize something. Aha! Supermarket that sells cheese! Roundabout of death! Naked crazy man!
The roads of Bafoussam are paved in the sense that there is cement, and one might imagine it intended to be a paved road. Unfortunately, the roads achieve a state of pavedness comparable to perhaps how Vache-Qui-Rit compares not to cheese. Is it paved/cheese? Only in the loosest sense of the word. One learns to appreciate it when one lacks all other options. The "paved" roads/Vache Qui Rit are better than the dirt roads/nothing at all, but not by much. Alright, I lie a little. Vache Qui Rit is way better than the roads of Bafoussam.
Aaaah, Bafoussam, confusing, bumpy, polluted, over-trafficky dirty city. There's a special place in my heart for you. And a special place in hell.

So. Yesterday we went to Bafoussam for a field trip. What did we see?

1. A rad NGO called Winrock International that is working in Cameroon on improving post-harvest methods & technologies. A big obstacle in Cameroon agribusiness is getting food from farm to market. Poor roads, lack of infrastructure, transportation costs, no control over prices, seasonal food availability and worth. A big solution is food transformation. Winrock is working to create awareness, interest & technical knowledge of some food transformation machines. One is a gas powered dryer for drying fruits, spices, fish, etc. Another is an improved type of grain mill. They are doing research now on if the oil-press they have is a cost-efficient solution compared to imported oils.
Winrock finds local metal-workers who fit certain criteria (enough equipment, motivation to market these products, location, etc) and teaches them how to make these technologies (& how to fix them). Winrock also does publicity to increase awareness & interest in the products, like letting an interested party use the dryer for a week to see if it would be a worthwhile investment. Pretty cool. The focus is on the project being sustainable after Winrock is done with it. Unfortunately, the equipment is moderately expensive (like, $400-$600, which is A LOT here, but it is a great entrepreneurial opportunity, and great for food security).

2. We visited another NGO, this one local to Cameroon. They do lots of work with agroforestry related topics, and they love Jesus. We went to see a shop where they fabricate improved cookstoves. What is an improved cookstove? Let me tell you. Most women here (and I mean women, though I don't mean to be sexist, the mention of a man cooking is usually followed by raucous laughter) cook with the three stone method. A giant marmite (pot) is balanced on three rocks and a fire is kept underneath. An improved cookstove encloses the fire & focuses the heat upwards. This improves it in two ways... 1) health, there is less smoke, and 2) conservation, it requires much less wood. At meal times, the air here is straight up SMOKY. My family here has a gas range, but does almost all the cooking over a fire. Why? Traditional food takes a long time to prepare (hours! days!) and traditional families are large. And gas is more expensive than firewood.
Great, right? Except when we go to the shop that is making these stoves, the NGO contact is not there, and the guy left in charge is not impressed with us. He doesn't want to talk to us about the stoves because we are getting in the way of his work time. Fine. So the guy from the NGO gives us a quick rundown while stoveman stands and pouts. Someone asks how much one costs. He shakes his head, refuses to answer and walks away.
Here is a business tip.... if you want to sell something, talk to your clients about it!! I know, I know, sounds crazy.
After How Not to Conduct Business 101, we go to see cane-rat elevage. What is a cane-rat? It is a giant, and supposedly delicious, rodent. It is more similar to a guinea pig with a tail (blown up to grand proportions) than a rat. Don't worry, people eat regular rats, too. And they are also giant.
Anyway, giant rats in cages. They don't like strangers. I have never tasted one. I am still coming to terms with knowing the animals I may eat. Example: my family got chickens. Pleasant! We then had chicken for dinner... Fresh.

All for now, mes amis.

All my love to you, and all the love from Cameroon, too.


PS: Bristol, your package was the most amazing thing in the world! Unfortunately, two of the four glass jars shattered. Did I brush off the candy and eat it anyways? Oh yes, I did. No internal bleeding yet. Also, you are the most amazing person ever. It was like Christmas in November in Cameroon. The silly putty and playdoh are especially amazing. You know me. Thanks for knowing me. Thanks for sending me love.

PPS: Those of you who are considering visiting, consider this. Dry season is between November/December and March. I can't have visitors until after March 2010. Probably the longer I am in country, the better we can navigate, and the more cool things I will know to show you. Regardless. I hope you do come and visit me, because we will have a great time.