Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Departing Douala

Our exodus from Douala Cameroon began with a taxi ride to another hotel. Douala is at the mouth of the Wouri river and is the major port for the country. Development has not kept up with growth and the once ample bridge built in the 1950’s is now a bottleneck. Construction on a new replacement is underway slated for completion in 2019 according to our driver. It towers over the existing structure which carries a rail line down the middle doubling as a passing lane although I doubt if much rail traffic crosses the bridge. During mornings and evenings it can take an hour or more to get across so during a lull we changed hotels.
The fellow pulling our luggage into the room said there was an early bus, that left at 8 so to get there by 6. We accordingly set our alarm and were ready to go before any breakfast (or especially coffee) was available. The driver misunderstood our request, taking us to an unfamiliar, complete war zone of a “bus station” Certainly there were structures masquerading as terminals, decrepit booths  with little roof and less seating. On top of which, at that hour, no one was selling tickets. The rain in the night had filled every pot hole and depression which along with months of garbage, refuse and discards made for a fragrant and unappetizing  prospect to walk through. The amused patrons of the stand we arrived at offered no suggestions. So we commandeered another taxi to take us to the “early bus” stand.
Arriving at the now familiar bus stand it was almost impossible to enter due to the narrow entrance and dedicated taxi drivers, motorcycles and pedestrians streaming in and out. Mayhem barely describes it. Elke alighted to go purchase tickets while our driver jockeyed with the other drivers and entrance guards. He managed to convince them to let him in to disgorge me and the luggage then quickly escaped. After dragging our bags under cover, I stood watching while the line slowly inched forward. It was a long line. Snaking from inside where patrons were seated on benches and shuffled forward as tickets were purchased back again on itself reaching around the roof supports and a pile of luggage, well past the building and onto the “sidewalk” behind.
Out in the yard taxis continued arriving  with more passengers. Trucks and buses came and went backing up slowly with liberal use of the horn as the motorcycles and pedestrians negotiated around the moving vehicles with little concern. Aplomb I believe it is.
A couple of women came up to us who had been at the previous bus “terminal” where tickets were apparently sold out. An explanation for the chaos was soon forthcoming… school start on Monday so everywhere families and children are returning. By 11 o’clock when our bus finally pulled out they had filled three and were working on the fourth.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Adapting to circumstance

Aug 31
I’m conflicted,  but not convicted or convinced. Faced with internal  contradictions and dilemmas. I’m in cognitive dissonance with what I believe to be truth in this moment.  My emotional response tells me, “it aint so” yet the words I’ve been saying, the line I’ve been spouting is something quite different.
I AM a chameleon in spite of my ethical challenge to embrace it. To be so adamant or (dare I say it?) convinced of the apparent truth in the moment. As much as I said I was not looking forward to returning,  I cannot deny that right now,  I am enthralled, excited and definitely looking forward to my return to Africa.
My time away has brought up many feelings.  Big enjoyment and appreciation for the familiar terrain, friends, family and the pleasures of excellent bread, fine wine, good beer and (almost legal) cannabis. In Europe even better beer and bread, fantastic public transit, mature and adult attitudes to lifestyle, personal choice and intellectual stimulation.
But, there is something incredibly compelling about the experience of being in Africa. Granted I’ve a narrow perspective- 3 countries do not a continent make… (Excluding North America where the vast geography of both USA and Canada consist of numerous regions and differences that are in actuality  different cultures). That aside, I’m anticipating with pleasure, my return, now that I am here, committed, on the plane, in the air. Yes!  In spite of all the complaints and hesitations, the discussions of challenges, contradictions and frustrations I expressed with friends and to myself.
 It’s an exciting and compelling  place to be, I haven’t personally found much boredom or apathy. The only thing I might take for granted is that nothing is as it seems. Decisions and choices are often immediate, although sometimes I’ve had to wait and wait for results. There are many old patterns well entrenched but I’ve experienced  a climate of potential, change and transformation  that can alter the obsolete or ineffective with  a fusion of new and old ideas.
The paradox is entertaining. This old dog can learn some new tricks. Keeping my mind and options open I accept the possibilities. The well entrenched structures of my heritage, birth country and culture provide a foundation of knowledge I can potentially apply where ever I go. I’m unlimited to some extent, able to improvise, advise and learn from the circumstances and various environments I find myself in. Perhaps because it is so different to my Northern/Western experience that I’m able to reinvent myself without restraint (personal limitations notwithstanding!)
I didn’t expect this. My feeling was subdued and sad, disturbed and hesitant, somewhat fearful of leaving the comforts and pleasures I had slipped back into so easily. I see that that makes me adaptable and resilient, able to go with the flow and be comfortable where ever.
Thankfully I can change to meet the situation, enjoy the process and that works for me. Bring it on!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Flying again..almost

I missed my flight. Arrived as it was leaving the terminal. After inserting my passport and a machine telling me I was too late, I suddenly realized my mistake. An addled and complacent brain had  associated 18:40 with 8:40 pm and I was quite out of luck. The sense of shock, vulnerability and disappointment was overwhelming, but my need to continue my journey pushed through this cognitive lapse towards a solution. My phone skills are not enhanced by a lack of hearing due to ongoing peripheral neuropathy, but I managed to extract another booking from the agent, while on hold I contemplated their advertising and muzak, the clock ticking on my limited airtime.
On a scale of traumatic incidences this barely deserves mention. I however felt devastated and impotent, out of synch with reality, ungrounded and adrift. Life goes on as usual, the skytrain whisks us all towards our destinations, the masses of people filing in and out on their way to whatever, where ever. I remained in this state of disbelief and disconnection for some time. Cancelling my train passage across Germany and booking a flight instead. Money talks. My previous obligations and agreements needing to be honoured and met.
 There is, for me, some security and well being, a sense of gravity or grounding in place when I am feeling safe and confident. This shook me deeply. I had made a mistake in calculation and by doing so lost my compass, my sense of knowing or taking for granted what I knew was up and relevant. And I was mistaken! Is this what losing one’s way is like? Dementia or Alzheimer’s? Scary to contemplate being unable to design my own path, control my destiny.  However, I was reminded on reflection of the impact living in a war zone might be like. Constantly aware of impending doom, drone strikes coming out of an empty blue sky. My troubles pale in comparison.
 I have a ticket out of here thanks to the good will of the airline and possibly my entreaties on the phone. No extra financial cost incurred as far as I can tell. So I will continue, a day later. Not much disrupted except for my mental state which once I’m in the air I assume will settle down and level off as I attempt to sleep on this redeye across the Atlantic. No point in sitting beside the window. Travel may broaden the mind but this modern age has us herded like sheep, willingly entering a mechanism that takes us anywhere on the planet. As long as we follow the rules. Always at the mercy of circumstance and our ability to pay. I do feel at times out of integrity with much of the population by my carbon footprint when I fly.
The complexity of it all is almost  beyond comprehension. Actually for me it is beyond comprehension. The number of people employed, all their jobs, technology and organization it takes to get me through security, immigration, booking flights and arranging ground transport reflect upon a massive structure supporting an even larger culture. This has been enlightening and scary, how easily I’m trapped into routine and ignore my sense of scale or context of the bigger picture. I get caught up in my stuff and lose track of the essential nature of paying attention. Mindfulness. Be there or lose your way eh?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Travel broadens the mind. but anticipation drives the bus. Maybe. Some parts of travel are wonderful, vistas and obscure or unique examples of ancient architecture, foreign foliage, magnificent beaches and awe inspiring waterfalls are all a turn-on for me. I love the costumes or local dress of different cultures and sometimes the variety of food choices. Peoples attitudes and understandings, family dynamics  and governance are occasionally challenging to my preconceptions. They are part of why travel is so satisfying. Being in the moment, experiencing  difference and diversity. I thrive on variety and novelty.
Perhaps my age is showing, but the actual moving around is harder. I am continually asked to squeeze myself into taxis, sharing the seat in front or back till I’m jammed tight against the shifter or the doorhandles. Worse though is contemplating getting on a bus that might break down before we get there. Sometimes I have a non refundable ticket for a flight out of the country.
The busses are  often so crammed with passengers that the aisles are full of standees. The roof loaded so high it looks top heavy. Drivers who seem to believe fate is on their side hurtling around corners  and  passing on hill approaches. Passing upside down buses in the ditch or burned out hulks at the side of the road re-enforce my apprehension.
 I sat in the back a few times when we were unable to secure seats up front. Every bump magnified, throwing me skyward into the ceiling. My legs are usually jammed up against the seat in front, or splayed so wide anyone sitting beside me is sitting on my lap.
I hold my biggest fear for flight though. Consciously, willingly I enter a narrow a cigar of aluminum to surrender to a person I don’t know or usually see, much less meet, who proceeds to accelerate down a track lifting us into the sky at speeds beyond my comprehension. The takeoff is mostly smooth as we leave the earth pointed skyward.  I hold my breath, close my eyes and pray to whatever force available to make it successful.
My fear diminishes once airborne, the inflight goings-on a great distraction till it’s time to land. If the person in front of me is resting with seat tilted back, they are resting on my knees. Getting in and out is a balancing act wedging myself back in. I’m unable to make out dialogue through the supplied earbuds so I usually read: whatever is at hand or my own supplies, till I’m bored out of my skull. Sleeping is almost impossible. I drift off, jerking awake continually, legs cramping, back aching and neck in a permanent spasm.
 When the meals arrive they are welcome diversion no matter how they taste. Then getting to the toilet,  an opportunity to block the aisle as the stewards pick up remains. Standing a welcome relief; walking as much as is possible in the limited space. So many of my fellow passengers are comatose; watching the movies, listening to music or asleep.
Landing is deadly. That scorch- sound as the tires touch the pavement, the jolt and shudder as the plane settles onto terra firma is both welcome and terrifying.
 Security and customs, long lineups, usually unfriendly officials and the baggage lottery is anti-climatic in the extreme. Into the next conveyance, then arrival at my destination for recovery from the time zone difference  and respite till the next excursion.
It's all worth it though, meeting wonderful people and enjoying the gifts of this amazing world I have seen so little of... so far.

Friday, 1 July 2016

These are NOT rhetorical questions

I have feared and believed all my life in an upcoming chaos, whether climate change, nuclear winter or some form of armageddon. Fuelled by the media and the obvious disregard of the populace for each other. Too many examples of racism and sexism, perpetrations of violence, abuse of privilege and manipulation of circumstance to fleece the unwary; much of humanity really doesn’t care about individuals. They are expendable, “collateral damage”, the consequence of generalized disregard. I’m aware there are individuals, groups, communities of people practicing empathy, charity and support for the oppressed. But why are people oppressed in the first place? Why do some segments of society choose to place themselves above? What is it about destruction that is so seductive? Why is it that individuals will abuse their power in order to control, manipulate and profit off of the death of others?
     This is not a new story, it’s not even news.  It is assumed and expected that some will profit while others suffer and ultimately die in the service of those profits. Slavery in all forms is abhorrent  (to me) yet flourishes across the globe in many manifestations. Every situation of it demands a disregard for the basic human rights of the enslaved individual. Who are these people? What drives them to treat members of their own community as subservient or beneath contempt? What expectations do they have about where this will eventually lead? 
     I’ve read enough dystopian scenarios to imagine just about anything is possible. The utopian scenarios are generally structured around naive assumptions about co-operation, a lack of of need or desire for personal profit, a collapse of caste and political hierarchy. I don’t see much movement in those directions.
     Where is this all going? What happens if this massive climate scenario levels the field? 
     What do we need to  survive? My own concerns have me focussed on developing skills I feel best further and support actual community involvement: Open lines of communication, awareness of dangerous or threatening situations, observation of the immediate environment, individual responses and my own response/reaction to stimuli. Low level technology; growing and processing food and fibre, building from natural material, developing personal networks and creating resilient community.
    As I am living a nomadic existence my ability to be grounded is conditional on, firstly, my own self consciousness, then, who I connect with locally. My sense of safety or security is always dependent on, again, my own self awareness, my ability to be resilient and adaptable to circumstance. These are positive actions in the face of possible disruption.
     Whether the political structures around me are friendly or not, it is with the local people that my possibilities exist. Maintaining, sustaining and encouraging relationship based on sharing empathy and mutual success go furthest. No one has a monopoly on knowledge much less wisdom. Losing my arrogance and rescue mentality creates trust faster than a belief in any expertise I might have. As a visitor /stranger I seldom have  much understanding of local issues, environmental anomalies or specific concerns. I bring my own and they often need to be put aside in order for me to become part of the community.
      In the beginning I thrust myself as fully as possible into the challenges I see. I make efforts to engage where I’m encouraged, tentatively investigating where I’m not and doing all the research I can in order to support the creation, movement and expansion of consciousness within the organization, community and society. 
     My reality though is to not engage fully,  not to be absorbed. I will always be an outsider, different, and this brings up a number of conflicts or dilemmas.
     Eventually the fear of, or resistance to, change  begins to provide friction. What do I have actually that is of value? What can I learn here? Why should I expect anyone to embrace whatever I have to offer when everything they know has been working for them so far? And my culture, my  heritage, is essentially responsible for the continued destruction of the environment, abuse and exploitation of people across the globe. What credibility do I have ultimately?
     I’m transient, offering what knowledge I have, sharing my stories, relating human to human, getting to know the people I meet, learning what they are willing to share. I gain from this, I believe they do too and the world is a little brighter for it.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Still walking

Walking is our default option for mobility. This weekend we watched Artur Mikes, a 15 month old inquisitive, smiling little bundle of energy make his way around the circling porch of his home. Trucking along with and without my finger grasped firmly in his hand. He would falter, trip and pick himself up consitently without complaint.
 Into the garden, down pathways, back and forth, in and out of the kitchen. Occasionally he reverted to a crawl working his way to his dad or mom then standing, motioning with his hands and spouting incomprehensible syllables.

I felt like I was at the other end of that cycle.
After walking in to their home, a farm tucked in between forest and pasture in the mountains of  North West Cameroon I was beat and almost mute.

Halfway there, Louis, our friend from Bafut offered to take my backpack. No hesitation, I handed it over.
 We’d been climbing up a rutted slope after picking our way across two log bridges traversing the stream at the bottom of a ravine.
The cattle and the rain had made the ground like inconstant corduroy, deeply eroded channels all aimed downhill. Or uphill which is where we were going. These “trails” are erratic, narrow and occasionally slippery. I was using my cane and it often slipped, throwing my already compromised balance off. The grassy pasture, a bright green from recent rains was tufted and steep making for tough going even without the pack. However, the view was spectacular. These are the mountains in the North East we can see from our apartment in Bamenda and it was clear enough to see all the way back there.
 All around was lush growth, blooming trees, shrubs and bulbs.With hardly a cloud, the sun beat down. The shade was  welcome as we circled the mountain, following the cow paths and “road” where we met a herd of cows accompanied by both younger and elder herders.
That part of the trail is completely pedestrian, the steep slopes and erosion make it impassable even for motorbikes. Crossing another watercourse stepping from rock to rock we climbed again. through deeply eroded banks up onto a grass verge. It was startlingly green, bright and fresh like some vast pasture anywhere in the world. Off to the right were small earth brick houses, laundry hung brightly on the fence.

Here we were joined by 3 young boys who accompanied us and themselves by singing loudly as we walked into the forest along a better maintained road.The large trees and thick bush provided  cooling shade and we soon arrived at Martin and Jella Mikes’ homestead.

After a short rest and refreshment we toured the property. Martin is passionate about protecting the forest and has planted over 15,000 trees up the mountain on the property he stewards. His tree nursery has thousands more germinating and filling poly pots.
 He’s also passionate about permaculture  and organic gardening, growing wheat, irish (potatoes), cabbage, onions and carrots. What they can’t grow they trade with neighbours making them almost community sufficient.
Nearby there is a group of chimpanzees living in what remains of the primal forest. Part of why Martin and Jella are here is to advocate and protect the habitat for these remaining animals. The local herders are more interested in burning the vegetation away to make more pasture… Cattle are their life blood. Their economies are based on having large herds and somewhere to graze them.
The local forestry officials seem less than committed to protection and there have been constant struggles with officialdom navigating the bureaucracies. But after 8 years the Mikes’ interest seems hardly diminished and much has been accomplished. Chickens, goats and 3 types of fish in their pond, compost piles producing mulch and dark soil growing healthy vegetables. A well established herb garden and a number of round earth block buildings , water systems and a school for the local children. Unfortunately at this time the school has been closed.
Oh to be young again, with this knowledge and experience….
We had brought some bratwurst from the Helping Hands Butcher shop and with a substantial salad of homegrown veggies had a satisfying supper.

The light faded, the clouds rolled in (literally!) and were in the fog and deep damp.

In the morning after breakfast and some conversation, Elke and Louis built a rocket stove cooker in the  kitchen. Martin had blocks already made and it was together in very little time. I did my best to record the process, It is entertaining how everyone gets in the way of the camera, especially those actually building!

Their previous cooking arrangement involved 3 stones and very large pieces of constantly smouldering wood, so this was a revelation. But also a major adjustment from big stuff to small, twigs and branches. I sensed some resistance from the cook, it will take some time and experience to win her over. The design needed adjustments as well, we are all still learning but it is an improvement in air quality and safety.

Our stay was short, we’d arranged for our taxi to pick us up at 3 so after lunch cooked on both 3 stones and the new cooker, we walked out, accompanied by Jella with Artur on her back. At the rutted field we said goodbye and made our descent into the narrow valley recrossing the stream, clambering up the other side, then back along the road, past horses in the fields and walkers hauling sacks of groceries to their homes. Onto a better road where fellows were falling great eucalyptus trees, slicing them up into timber and boards. Up the steep hillside some women called out us as they stopped their harvesting and hoeing in the terraced farm. Motorcycles passed us carrying massive sacks of NjamaNjama; what they call Huckleberry-  Black Nightshade leaves-Solanum nigra- for sale in town.
Eventually we arrived at the paved road leading  east to Ndop or  back to Bamenda. I had managed the backpack every step of the way. Tired but satisfied. I’m not over the hill yet.
  After purchasing a few items from the vendors congregating along the road we found ourselves a seat in a Mimbo bar and grill and sheltered from the rain. Good timing! Eric our driver came along and we were on our way home. (More pictures on my Facebook page!)

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A Water Catchment Project

In my volunteer work I’ve chosen to use my growing photography skills to document some of the events and occurrences for Better World Cameroon. At the moment we are focussed on  a water catchment project.
From a small trickle of sweet and dependable water that we were  barely able to access, the eventual intention is to have it filtered, contained and then pumped up to the kitchen and dormitory. As Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage is meant to be a community resource and learning centre, the local Regent of Bawum was approached and he pledged the community’s support.
 Every mutanibaa ( the day after country Sunday, a community work day) one “quarter” of Bawum (one of the Fondoms within Bafut) sends a group of folks to help.  Both women and men bring hoes, shovels and cutlass to clear land, dig and clear mud from the channel as we slowly approach the source of our spring.
 The major thrust of work has been at the end of the dry season. Our intention, as project leader Joram Shu has stated, is to get below the water table, deep into the earth where the water source appears to be.
The first week’s group of people worked long and hard, from a muddy track on the surface to a ditch a metre and half deep more than 50 metres long descending into the valley bottom. Through topsoil down into a grey clay that had building manager Elke Cole expressing interest for plaster.
The women pulled muddy slop downhill continuously, opening up the channel while at the head of the excavation the men burrowed into the hillside, deeper and deeper.

Strong young (and occasionally older) men lifted great, wet slabs of clay up and over their heads onto the edge of the ditch, There someone would either pick it up by hand, hoe or shovel and throw it onto an ever increasing pile.
The second week we had women carrying large rocks down for the filter bed and cistern, on their heads, and in their arms. Young men had brought wheelbarrow loads of sand and gravel anticipating the eventual creation of each piece of the system. However the digging continued. After cutting right at 90 degrees chasing the water our flow had increased to 4+ litres a minute.
This week the flow from the  right hand turn had diminished and seemed to be coming directly below a raffia palm.
With more excavation, the channel deepened and the flow increased. Everyone in the ditch, now over two metres deep near the source, comes out covered in grey slip.

After 3 sessions of hanging about the edge I felt it was time to take my camera into the heart of the experience. Most of the community had left so I knew I wouldn’t be getting in the way.
Unfortunately, lacking experience and having a large lapse in judgement, I neglected to note the depth of mud, the narrowness of the ditch,  and the risk to the camera. I did manage to get some footage, grey walls grazing the lens, as I slowly sank deeper and deeper into the soft and grasping clay, one foot disappearing almost to my knee. No purchase on the sheer and slippery walls.

Unwilling to proceed and get both legs swallowed up, I had a hard time turning myself in the canyon like passage. Extracting the one foot while maintaining balance meant the camera made contact with the wall.Yuck! Covered almost completely in grey clay slip I pulled myself out and lay the camera in the sun, while I went for cleaner water to at least wash my hands.

From now on I’ll remain the observer. I have some footage, interviews and a record of the progress. When the project is completed I intend to create a video. It will be a celebration and acknowledgement of community involvement and support in the creation of natural resources; human and environmental. Offering possibilities for the community.

Follow the progress in the Facebook album