Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Page 2 of 3

Video Update! WOooh!

The Latest African Epidemic: World Cup Fever

I don’t know how to put this, but the World Cup is kind of a big deal.  Even in the United States, perhaps as a result of hosting the 1994 World Cup, the popularity is rising, whereas in the rest of the world, it’s all-consuming.

This is Eto'o. More popular in Cameroon than God or Allah.

Cameroon is a huge soccer country.  Where ever there is a flat rectangular area, or just a flat area for that matter, children or adults have erected makeshift goals.  Young and old can be seen playing in the morning, at lunch, after school, and also when they’re supposed to be at work.  If you want to come to Cameroon, but you’re worried about not knowing French, well, learn to play soccer instead.  The most widely used language in the world is football (soccer).

Luxurious nets at the American School of Yaounde

Continue reading ‘The Latest African Epidemic: World Cup Fever’

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.

Continue reading ‘More Than Just the Same Name’

Just Another Day at the Office

The original focus and objective of this whole trip was to lend a hand when it came to the pro bono medical missions on the weekends.  As those trips are only Friday through Sunday, how I’m spending my time during the week is probably a mystery at this point, and certainly was for me as well.

Surgeons, Residents, Anesthesiologist, and Assistants

Each weekday, I wake up around 6am, scramble to make some breakfast, and leave the apartment at 6:30am with Andre, Kevin I, Kevin II.  Andre is currently hosting me in the spare room in his apartment because he is very generous and his wife also left Cameroon early for southern France, where the two share a home.  Andre and Kevin I both work at the American School of Yaounde (ASOY), Andre as a teacher and Kevin as a counselor.  Kevin II is a hired driver of Kevin I’s car, more about that in a later post.

Continue reading ‘Just Another Day at the Office’

Bidets in Cameroon, You Can’t Be Serious

Yes, I am serious, very much so.  Although I can’t say I’ve used one yet, and it’s been over a week.

Didn't expect my first bidet to be in Africa...

Upon our return from Maboye, the rural village of the first medical mission, arranged for me to stay somewhere other than at his home.  The switch certainly wasn’t per my request but I’m very happy at the new apartment.  Dr. Bwelle traded me to Monsieur Andre Orban, who is a teacher at the American School of Yaounde and was also a member of the medical volunteer team dispatched to Maboye the first weekend.  Mr. Orban is older Belgian man who speaks Flemish, French, and English all at a very high level.  He’s spent time working for Exxon Mobil all across the world, Belgium, South Africa, Nigeria, and Cameroon.  Now he’s retired and is teaching for pleasure, although at the end of the school year the teachers are as fed up with the lackadaisical students as the students are with attending class.

Continue reading ‘Bidets in Cameroon, You Can’t Be Serious’

Shower of the Gods

Every hearty Vermonter, or cold-weather inhabitant for that matter, knows the feeling: the desire to do nothing other than shower.  After a frigid game of pond hockey or a long day on the windy slopes, the numbness in your extremities seeps through to your core.  It’s a cold, wet sensation that only a hot shower or bath will remedy.  That’s what driving back from the jungle felt like.

Not only did I not shower during the weekend in Maboye, but the only shower I had taken since I arrive on May 27th was pouring rainwater on me using a cup.  Spending the weekend sweating through a set of scrubs and one set of street clothes, I was smelling like the damp sock you left in your high school gym locker after playing soccer in the rain, to put it politely.  A shower was all I wanted.

However, Dr. Bwelle had other plans for us, he always does.  One of Dr. Bwelle’s very close friends, a minister of commerce I believe, was hosting the celebration for his son’s baptism, a very big deal in Cameroon.  We were all apparently invited. Had they known the state that we were in, perhaps they would have retracted the invitations.  Never-the-less, Dr. Bwelle assured us that it was fine and I was later informed that part of the measure of your social status in Cameroon is how well you host a party for guests.  Sure this is partly a measure of how much money you have, but I must say that the U.S. could use a little more social measurement by how well you share with those around you.

An example of Northern Cameroonian apparel

Continue reading ‘Shower of the Gods’

Jungle Medicine

We arrived in Maboye, an isolated jungle village in Cameroon, at 9pm to a crowd of about 200 villagers.  As soon as they saw our headlights, they rose from their seats and came to greet us with hugs, handshakes, and singing.  After all personal and medicinal baggage was unloaded, Pastor Nselba Bikoi Bruno had us all sit in the main room of the biggest home in the village.  There a 10 year old girl had a prepared welcome in French for Dr. Bwelle and gave him flowers.  The Pastor made a little speech, thanked us profusely, and had the women of the village bring in platters of food, a feast they prepared for us.

Dr. Bwelle received plastic flowers from a young girl, note the awesome UVM t-shirt

Giant plates of whole fried fish, chicken, porcupine, bread, rice, plantaines, and ndolet were displayed on the table for eating.  That was fortunate, for we had just spent over an hour trying to free our van from the jungle road.

Continue reading ‘Jungle Medicine’

Jungle Travel

We left Yaounde with two vehicles, a small European Toyota Corolla and a large 20 passenger Toyota van. All of the luggage on most vans and buses in Cameroon is placed on a roof rack as you can see from the picture on the previous blog post.

Messeman, Zenge, and a little of Dr. Bwelle in the van

So much has happened in the first couple days that I will attempt to capture the few that are most interesting.

There were several reasons I ventured to Africa, one of which was for the sheer sense of adventure. My first full day provided just that, but I can’t even describe the half of it. I left you last as we left Yaounde on the road toward Douala. From that main paved road, we turned off onto a dirt road, more of a path than a road. It was the quintessential African jungle road that anyone would love to take their Land Rover on.

Continue reading ‘Jungle Travel’

Urban Africa

Our Toyota Van

After dinner on Thursday, I bathed. This is when it hit me that I was in Africa. There was no running water in Yaounde today. George and Zenge had set out buckets outside to collect the rainwater off the roof and this was the water used to bathe. Oh yeah, there are no sinks either.

So I poured cold water on myself with a small pitcher, which was actually quite refreshing. Then I did my best to lather myself up while standing. More on the bathroom: it’s actually a toilet/shower all in one. Imagine the footprint of a square shower that doesn’t have a bathtub, and that is approximately the size of the whole bathroom, maybe George’s was a little bigger. The toilet is on one side and the shower is typically on the opposite corner (it normally works) and the floor just drains. Pretty efficient use of floor space if you ask me.

Also, water that comes out of the drain can’t be used to brush your teeth, only bottled water.

I awoke several times in the middle of the night hearing the tap tap tapping of little mouse feet on the tile floor. In the morning, breakfast was awaiting me, Zenge, and Messeman; George had left early in the morning to go to the hospital where he works. We had a baguette with mayonnaise and tea with milk in it.

Continue reading ‘Urban Africa’

Bonjour from Yaounde, Cameroon!

May 27th, 2010

This place is absolutely nuts! Crazy drivers, a different language, and hot weather.

On Wednesday at 12:55pm (EST) I left Burlington, Vermont and on Thursday I have arrived in Yaounde, Cameroon at 7:40pm (WAT). I arrived in the dark so I didn’t have much of an introduction.

I suppose the realization that I was going to Africa hit me when I was in line boarding the plane from Zurich to Douala and then Yaounde. That’s when I realize that for the first time in my life, I was going to be in the minority. At first I must admit that I was a little nervous, but eventually I got my head around it and have no problem with it. It truly was a shock though – when I think about it, the Czech Republic is more white than Vermont, and Vermont is one of the whitest in the union with something close to 98% Caucasian.

Flying from Europe across the Mediterranean Sea and then across the Sahara desert was quite amazing. The pictures are a bird’s eye view of the Algerian Sahara, Niger’s desert to grassland transition, and finally, the complete forestation of Nigeria and Cameroon. Honestly when we were landing first in Douala, Cameroon, I thought we were touching down in the middle of the Amazon. I sat on the left side of the plane so I had no view of the metropolitan city that holds several million people, just a glimpse of riverside shacks next to the runway.

Continue reading ‘Bonjour from Yaounde, Cameroon!’