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!)

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