More Than Just the Same Name

Each morning when Andre, Kevin, Kevin, and I drive to the American School together from Bastos (district of Cameroon), we seem to have a similar recurring conversation: why is Africa in the state it is?  But first, what is Africa?

Typical conversations focus on the negatives as both Kevin and Andre are frustrated with privileged students at the American School of Yaounde who feel they are entitled.  Corruption in the country is rampant, well at least more obvious than in the United States. Allow me to give an example:  There is ongoing construction to build another building next to our apartment in Bastos.  During the week, there is little activity, but once Friday evening rolls around, suddenly a concrete mixer and 30 workers show up.  They “work” through the night, pouring concrete about half the time, drinking and yelling the other half.  It’s loud, and it’s literally right outside our windows. What to do?  Typically in the U.S. you would call the police and they would show up and hand out noise violations.  Unfortunately the police are useless here, often taking bribes (I’ve only seen one police car here the whole time anyway).  So whoever is running the construction operation has most likely paid off the police for the noise reason and for the fact that he probably doesn’t have a permit to be working on the weekends (why wouldn’t he work during the week?).

Public school in Maboye, Cameroon

Anyway, our theories about the existence of entitled students and corrupt business practices usually finds its way toward culture and education, both of which seem to go hand in hand.  Among world culture, I have found it commonplace to always complain about problems but never to do anything to solve them, i.e. Monday morning quarterbacks in the U.S.  Kevin the school counselor, and Andre the teacher have taken a different approaches.

Andre has taken the power vested in him by the American School of Yaounde to try to inspire his students, most of them Africans, to find ways to improve Africa.  What the future leaders of African nations should do to combat the disparity of wealth, corruption, and economics in general are culminating assignments in Mr. Orban upperclassmen courses.  Many of his students, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, are children of Cameroonian and other African diplomats, so they have the potential to be leaders in their countries.  However, the challenge comes in breaking the cycle of their forefathers.  Their parents are often the one’s who are at the root of allowing corruption and poverty to continue unbridled, and when you are in the position to inherit power and wealth, what is your incentive to change?  Mr. Orban is trying to get the point across to them that the general well-being of the whole country is to their benefit in the long run: they will have educated neighbors, feel safer in the streets, and be competitive with the world economy.  Andre is also a huge supporter of Dr. Bwelle’s medical campaigns, to which he donates generously his money, time, and a room in his apartment for me.

American Kevin at school with a colleague

Kevin Mellencamp, the American School’s counselor, is a retired 20-year member of the U.S. Navy and hails from the panhandle state of Oklahoma. He’s got a heart of gold and a don’t mess with Texas attitude.  He doesn’t put up with anyone’s bull, especially trying to speak French to him, English only, because this is the American School of Yaounde.  I don’t know the exact details, but last year Kevin M. and his wife hired a driver to take them from their apartment to the American School every morning, which is very common to do (his named happened to be Kevin as well).  Each day riding to work in the morning, they found out more and more about Kevin, as he spoke English, being from the Western part of Cameroon.  Eventually they found out that Kevin hadn’t had the opportunity to finish high school because it was too expensive for him and his family.  So the Mellencamp’s did their part, and they took Kevin under their wing and fixed the problem.  Although I would venture to say that Kevin is over 20, it was evident that he wanted to go to school but simply couldn’t afford it.  American Kevin and his wife sent Cameroonian Kevin to school and told him that they would pay for it.  American Kevin is heading back to Oklahoma in a couple weeks and thanks to his generosity he can leave feeling that he drastically improved another man’s life, if not a country.  Cameroonian Kevin is graduating high school.

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