Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Revolution

Revolution is the turning of ideas and actions into the transformation of society. That’s how I see it. Numerous signs and indications are daily demonstrating the truths that many prescient writers from distant times have described. How the ruling players; oligarchy, plutarchy and the corporations undermine and control the media, money, transport and food, which in turn controls the populace. After being lied to and manipulated for years, I for one am no longer willing to entertain any trust in them. The status quo for many is a life of deprivation and dis-ease. Constantly played against each other, demonizing various portions of the population maintains an us and them that effectively isolates and distracts everyone from the elite perpetrators of this travesty.

I have felt the ennui and apathy of overwhelming fear in the face of this monster. My inability to deal with or fix the problem, which ever one has my attention, seems part of the strategy. Realistically I see it all as symptomatic of a society that has lost touch with actual culture. We are constantly bombarded with advertising promoting impossibly perfect visions of humanity. By playing on our latent desires and need for validation  it maintains a sense of insecurity, whether intentional or not,  so we are all always in a state of stress. Medications abound to alleviate or relieve this state, never dealing with the cause. Who wants to give up their toys? Comfortable lifestyles or out of season fruits and vegetables? It all has a cost and much of it falls on our organism; humanity. Where are the cultural  commonalities that speak to our actual essence in this?
History has many lessons for those who would examine it. Numerous groups of people, societies and cultures were quite able to maintain relative homeostasis, comfort and balance, living in harmony with their environment. And a number of movements driven by extraordinary individuals have wiped out those peoples. Greed, organized religion and a tremendous lack of empathy,  all possibly the consequence of crowding, are now part and parcel of the ruling paradigm.

Thankfully there are voices of reason, individuals and groups who share a common understanding of our empathetic nature, our need to be in community, connected to the earth itself. Through the magic of the internet the possibilities exist to mobilize large groups of people, disseminate truth and wisdom. Used with prudence! We must also acknowledge awareness of the insisdious elements wishing to mine our information. The tools of this age provide possiblities to dialogue across continents and oceans, cities and countries. However, it is the face to face, down to earth grass roots connections that weave us together into  community. Those opportunities to sing songs, share meals and read each others body language bring us into the cauldron of connection.
I’m afraid for the many who are complacent and in denial, ignorant intentionally or otherwise of the absolute meaningless of our popular culture. There is nothing sustaining about a society whose morals and ethics are for sale, that has no meaningful rituals or ceremony enrolling it’s members. Retail therapy notwithstanding.
The revolution begins when individuals have had enough of the bullshit, the lies and obfuscations preventing us from truly being part of our environment. It starts with growing our own food, speaking to our neighbours and connecting with spirit , however that looks. It maintains itself through joyous celebrations; in song, feasts and rites of passage for our youth. It thrives by establishing manageable community, harmonized and in balance with local environments, creating no waste, sharing surplus and using the least energy to create the maximum effect. It’s not rocket science- we don’t need to go to Mars to succeed in this experiment.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Day of Sunshine

Nov 30
I get up after the first call to prayer, The Muezzin sings out for 2 minutes or so, mostly melodic, in Arabic of course. It's dark still but soon the eastern sky lightens and the mountains are backlit as the sun rises towards the edge of the hills. Down below in the city there are occasional taxis and motorbikes, a few people are walking down the hill to the market where trucks have arrived, unloading sacks of oranges from Nigeria, baskets of tomatoes and hundreds of melons passed  and thrown to waiting vendors who stack them in the open area in short wide pyramids. Sometimes the whole area is a peculiar green from the piles of them, like thousands of grapes covering the place. Running up the hill are the morning exercisers, who congregate in front of the building doing stretches and counting in husky, breathy voices together.
 The Sun makes it to the edge of the horizon just after 7am and below, the city is bathed in dust or haze, everything is indistinct except the noise. More people walking down the hill as the traffic increases. The sun is now brilliant, strong and hot as the light fills our apartment. I have to drop the curtain since I’m facing east and it shines into my eyes. The cool air of the night dissipates quickly. We have put our “perishables” on the balcony overnight and I pull them in before the sun has risen past  the mountain. Some vegetables and occasionally cheese. This is my time every morning. I sit and write and look at email.
Elke sits with her coffee and does exercise in the other room, then we make breakfast. After, I do the dishes standing at the window with the curtain part way down. The dishes dry quickly with the sun shining directly on them. By 11am the sun has gone past the edge of the building and we are in the shade.  A bit of wind might come up the dust/haze diminishes some.  By 1pm it is very warm.
Yesterday after writing /editing a piece for BWC I walked down to the market. There I bought some pears (avocado)  1 ripe, 1 almost ripe and 2 not so ripe- 900 francs- a bit expensive, the season is about to start so there are not a lot of them available. When they are, we buy 10 or 11 for 100 francs. about 20 cents. Tomatoes 10 or 12 for 500 francs-$1.00  Fresh (still covered in dirt) carrots, potatoes, and beans(no dirt), papaya’s in season and my daily lemon. Occasionally a treat; an eggplant, mushrooms in season, Chinese cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower. We rarely if ever buy melons, too big, no fridge, they go bad fast.
 After shopping I walked back up the hill, slowly with my walking stick. Arriving at the top I was sweating pretty heavily, heart rate up, shirt soaked. Inside the apartment a cool wind blows up or down the stairs. I have to watch myself on them  as they are inconsistant in depth and height. I’ve tripped a few times.
 Elke will have done laundry in a bucket in the bathroom and hung it out on the balcony. We have no large sink, this apartment is actually office space. We had a tap installed on the toilet  line to fill buckets. Dish water gets dumped down the toilet. The laundry is usually dry by the time we eat lunch.
By 5pm the wall in the bathroom has heated the pipes in it enough to have an almost hot shower. It  will radiate heat all night long so sometimes we leave the balcony door open during the night.
I miss the sunsets, they are on the other side of the building. By sticking my head out of the bathroom window I can sometimes catch it but it’s awkward. The window is just big enough for my head to poke through.And I have to remember to look. Around 6 the bats begin to fly from the cliff to the east, the flow of pedestrians up the hill increases and the setting sun lights up any clouds building in the north east,  bright red and pink. We often sit out on the balcony to cool down and talk  until the smell of some noxious burning substance drives us inside.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Entertaining events

Dec 1
Meanwhile the entertainment, if it can be called that, continues here.
One of the volunteers went to the main market in the morning yesterday; she told us the police had appeared and locked the gates (usually happens at 5pm) to prevent the escape of some suspect. Apparently this fellow was a friend of the guy standing in the coffin last week preaching (I’ll use a euphemism) change. Eventually he was located and arrested, not necessarily in the market.
About 3 hours later we heard a lot of honking and yelling. Looking out the bathroom window (I spend quite  a lot of time checking traffic, weather and sunsets through this tiny portal) I watched a convoy(?) of motorcycles race past, many were carrying branches of greenery, hooting and hollering expressing some kind of joy or celebration. A lot of them. Many had passengers; some drivers and passengers were standing, doing acrobatics, fists in the air, mostly men but a few passengers were women.  (I have seen perhaps, 1 female taxi driver and 2 or 3 female bike drivers in the 3 years we’ve been here)  They raced down Che street towards Ntarikon. Then within half an hour they were  back and racing down Fish Pond Hill. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a photo… Any way it’s a one way street UP. More hooting, hollering and acrobatics down this rather steep street. They raced past the food market and turning left towards City Chemist. That’s the road I pictured with the tires burning in a previous post, the second picture of smoke and people in the street is leading towards City Chemist where the guy in the coffin spoke. It’s a round-about that turns right onto Commercial ave and SE towards Veterinary junction. Commercial runs approximately parallel to Che street out front of our building and Food market road down below us. Anyway a few minutes later, there they were again!   It was a celebration. The police had released the fellow.
Elke was scrolling through FB and saw a reference to some US Cameroonians who are requesting interventions from the US military, plus, they have collected 43 million francs for the purchase of (according to FB anyway) weapons for the struggle. You might imagine our reaction to this news. We are giving ourselves  2 weeks to pull our loose ends in, deal with our furniture and say farewell to folks we’ve met here… Unless things calm down.
Wednesday was supposed to be the end of the teachers strike, no word on the lawyers yet and nothing about any negotiations with the government. Then we heard that the teachers asked the parents of all students in English residential schools to receive them home. That will make the buses busy.
  Traffic is back to normal, noisy and backing up on the hill. Tonight the bars are full with patrons watching a football game. Everytime Cameroon scores, there is a roar of approval.
And we heard our first Christmas carol broadcast from somewhere down below.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Instability

Nov 25
It’s back to normal here, honking taxis, the flash of reflected light down in the market, crowds of shoppers, children playing nearby and a couple of falcons wheeling and soaring above.
I spent part of the morning walking through town past the piles of charcoaled coils of wire pushed off the road, blackened pavement where the fires had been. Most of the evidence cast aside and contributing to the general debris at the side of the roads. In a few places piles of garbage mounting, smelling of course.
At the main intersections, police pick-ups, some with bored soldiers sitting in the shade under the vinyl covers, cradling their rifles. I had occasional glimpses of camouflage dressed militia here and there, walking the streets in pairs. In front of every cash machine a long line-up of people.
The vendors are busy, stores open for business, crowds around the women hawking fruit and vegetables beside the market. Young boys and older men trundling loads of firewood in their two wheeled carts.
We hear from locals that there will be a protest march on Monday. The last one here in Bamenda was “moved” to Buea so not much happened while we were gone to the farm. Some cleanup I imagine. Removing the piles of burnt tires, broken up phone kiosks and the hulk of a car off the road.
The protesters needing an outlet for their frustrations, piled tires and whatever else they could find, onto the roads across the city, setting them on fire to limit the mobility of the military.
 The response was, in my mind both pathetic and provocative. Various extensions of the military (so many  to account for and all their signs in French) racing up and down the roads randomly firing either tear gas or smoke bombs (I didn’t see anyone in tears or suffering) into the neighbourhoods, whether there were people assembled or not…! Like boys with big toys, showing off their firepower.
The helicopter surveillance (they seem to have only one) filled the air the day before we escaped with it’s noxious noise, circling the town wending it’s way across the landscape monitoring whatever.
After 50+ years of inaction and stonewalling the Anglophones are fed up. The president in power for more than 30 years appears to spend more time in luxury hotels outside the country than in. Sounds like the definition of absentee landlord living off the avails. He’s worth a fair chunk of change from funnelling monies received for the country into various offshore accounts. It helps support his playboy son heir-apparent in this fiasco. At least according to what I’ve heard.
There is talk of secession. When the British gave up their rule here, there were two Cameroons and most of the country determined that unity was the best option. That sentiment remains only on the French side now. There has been a constant erosion of rights and privileges, installations of government officials who don’t speak English and general ignoring of the desire for dialogue.
For us temporary residents, it was disturbing, anxiety raising and unpleasant; breathing in the smoke from burning tires (our  floors were covered in the dust, and this is with all windows and doors closed) random gunshots and people scattering whenever a military vehicle approached. Their laughter,  seen from my perspective, either nervous or disdainful.

 I had no desire to be stuck in civil war or any kind of violent  confrontation. That night the streets were uncharacteristically silent.
 Our driver had been unable to get past a barrier the day before so when we heard that something might happen we arranged for a quick getaway early in the morning.
Out at the farm it was quite peaceful, only a few passes overhead from the helicopter, birds singing and a beautiful star filled sky. We spent a couple of nights there, did some work on the stoves, some cultivation, chopped firewood and talked with the neighbours. Their perspective was we should not worry, nothing would come from it and everything soon back to normal, so we returned. It was ironic to be happy to hear the sounds of a busy city as we drifted off to sleep.
Monday? maybe back to the farm. And if things really get nasty? Already making plans to leave the country. But only if necessay.

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?