02 June 2007

Agricultural and business training for rural women to combat malnutrition

I'm working an a nutrition project, to help combat malnutrition in my health district by the introduction of soy cultivation and the trainer of nurses and community health workers in malnutrition. Again, former sources used by PCVs for funding (USAID small project assistance grants, british high commission) are no longer available.
So I'm asking for your help.
This project is being done through Peace Corps Partnership, a program through which Peace Corps Volunteers from around the world sollicit donations for work. Projects are approved by PC Cameroon and PC headquarters in Washington. Donations can be in any amount, and any money not used/if the project for some reason does not come to completion - will be returned. The project is fully planned and supervised by the PCV (me), and a detailed report of work and funds used is required at the completion of the project. (For more details - link to my site on PCP - https://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/donors/contribute/projdetail.cfm?projdesc=694-082&region=africa
Please help, if you can. A small amount in the States can go very, very far in Cameroon.

The basic idea is that we're using the introduction of soy cultivation into the region; through women's agricultural groups, to combat malnutrition, train local nurses in managed care of severe malnutrition, train women as nutrition outreach workers and in basic business practices, and culminate with a soy fair for the women's agricultural groups to showcase soy and soy products. Soy cultivation has already been shown to be successful from an agricultural perspective; now it's about teaching people how to incorporate it into local foods. In terms of funding, this project doesn't need much. Most of the funds will be used for the trainings, for the creation of a nutrition manual for nurses, and for promoting the soy fair. I've already started this project - soy is growing! Each woman who received a quantity of soy (along with basic nutrition/soy cultivation education) signed a contract to reimburse twice that quantity of seed from her harvest. (Soy produces quite prodigiously). That way, we will have a permanent soy seed bank in the district to keep the cultivation going.
Malnutrition is a major problem in my area - almost every child under 5 who comes into the hospital has some form of malnutrition or nutritional deficiency. Nurses are not trained in the care of malnutrition, nor in the nutritional prevention of it. I think that this project could be an important step in combatting this issue in the Mvangan (my) health district.
Thank you.

31 May 2007

Dear all,

A note of context. I wrote this March 11 and 12, 2007, during and after a voluntary community HIV testing campaign we did in Amvom. (Amvom is about 40 km, or 2-3 hours, from Mvangan, going towards Gabon. It's another one of the health centers in the district). This was the first time I've practiced HIV counseling on a large scale (counseled about 25-30 people that day). Sylvain was the chief nurse in Amvom, and when he worked there, he and I did an HIV peer educator trainer for Amvom and surrounding villages. We taught many times together. Since February, he's been at the district level, as chief public health officer (replacing the previous one who hasn't come back in about a year and a half from Yaounde, where he's doing his MPH). For the first time, I have an actual counterpart - "supposed" to be part of PC work but I hadn't had a viable one close to me before. He and I planned the 11 March testing together. It was free, we used our peer educators to do pre-test counseling, and first gave out results of the initial testing he had done there, for them, in December. 11 March, we tested 65 people. All results were given that day (takes about 5-20 minutes to develop results in the laboratory, with the newest tests we have) The Amvom health committee (one of 2 in the district that really functions) prepared food for everyone who got tested, and after, all of us who had worked ate and drank together at "Homme d'Amvom"'s house (Man of Amvom. Usually called just "homme" (man). Context as I may write more on him later).
I haven't been able to send this since…March. Internet problems, same as I have not been able to upload pictures to send since December. Still working on this. Useful people and things to know:
Depistage - HIV testing
Sylvain - CBS - chef du bureau de sante, my counterpart. Also HIV counselor
Essola - nurse/ HIV counselor from district hospital; helped at depistage
Honoré - nurse/lab tech from Catholic hospital; helped at depistage
Pastor Elom - pastor/HIV counselor from Mvangan; helped at depistage
Ebolefou - head of lab in Mvangan; see "Zoebefam"
I think those are the relevant notes.
Will write more soon, as actual "updates". All next week, the African Development Bank (BAD - see entry from end of September) will be in Mvangan holding meetings and then having us run around the entire district to give them statistics, surveys, analyses of all health and otherwise problems. Hopefully this will lead to funding. But it should, in the least, be an interesting week. That and Sunday (tomorrow) is May 20, national independence/unification holiday.

12 mars 2007
Dépistage - Amvom
Put on my best Mary Sunshine face and lie. I've never been an optimist. Now I have no choice. I'm petrified. I tried to bow out. Essola do counseling, me work in the lab with Honoré. Sylvain refused. He said he'd work with Honoré, Essola would take his place - he's too close, knows the people here too well. It was his aire de sante for 4 years, after all (good lord, he's wasted en brousse). No being chicken now. Terrified to give people results? You make others do it. You want to be a doctor? Suck it up and be one, now.
My first positive. First counseling, in fact. I am a LIAR. He's thin and sortof sickly. LIAR. "You don't have AIDS. (yet)" Oh, but, you probably do. I saw him earlier. Councillor for the municipal council. Almost shouted "dude, you have the HIV!" Not really. But sometimes I'm afraid the pressure, the stress will bubble it out of me. Rage and frustration.
When we saw E this morning, thinking "today's the day you find out you have HIV. Better stop smiling, now…" I've thought it every time I've seen her, past few months, which has been a lot. What a secret. To know someone else has the virus when they don't know. And she's a nurse. Hoping, hoping she's using gloves to do births. That she hasn't been infecting patients, unknowingly.
Then again a nurse at the HDM has "it," too. That's at least 3 district nurses, now. And I don't even know how many of the others have been tested.

I re-did the district stats today. 11.2%. Eleven percent, of those we've tested, anyway, which is voluntary but fairly extensive. About 20% when you remove the sixth graders (I tested ..one hundred? Kids? Last year). 17-30% prevalence for women. This is the "lesser affected" part of Cameroon. Of Africa, even. Yeah, right. Are statistics only adult population? We're not counting babies, right? (Though they have it too. I can diagnose AIDS in babies. I've seen the OIs enough times, now. I shouldn't be able to do this). Among the Amvom group, of the ones tested, it was 20%, I think. Sylvain's had the test results, we just couldn't all coordinate to return and do counseling. It's his village, his village, his call on whom to tell and when. Amvom is on the trucking route to Gabon---that's why it's higher. That's frequently why.
Every time I hear someone's been sick for awhile - laid out - diarrhea or whatever - I assume AIDS. In the US it's the flu. But it's not just jumping to conclusions. Often enough, I've been right. Here. I'm usually right.

Back to Sunday. My first counseling. I was shaking when he, MT, came in. One of my most useful gifts is concealing stress, apparently. Good. Of the 5 tan envelopes - Sylvain's December dépistage - 2 were positive. I knew which 2. And I knew them. Had trained them, taught them to be peer educators, back in August. So MT walks in and I was wishing it was an easier one first. But I knew.
So I spent time. First (as in all counseling) asked what he knew, thought about HIV/AIDS. Then made sure I covered the basics - HIV vs AIDS, role in the body, prise en charge, transmission, prevention, possible test results and actions to take after each. Are you ready? Opened the envelope. Kept my voice calm and neutral. Read results. 1st test - positive. 2nd confirmation test - positive. Conclusion: positive. And here's what we're going to do. Association of PVVS. In Mvangan. Financed. Training. April 8 (dumb me chose Easter. And the Pastor didn't see fit to tell me until that evening, when we were all having dinner. So we'll do it the 9th - add. now 13th and 14th). And - it went well. He accepted it. He understood. But do I believe what I'm saying??? Screaming inside. There's no other way. I have to believe this is better than ignorance, I have to. And I do, most days. Most.

Sylvain comes in from the lab with new envelopes. White. I don't know what these say. I'm staring at the white envelopes. Carefully marked - by me, yesterday. Coded. AM00__-B. That's me, counselor B. I'm afraid. What's in here. How many time bombs are on my desk.
Sylvain. I'm not used to this. I remember science labs, first semester of college, when I suddenly had lab partners I could count on. Shouldering the burden - even pushing each other to each do more of the work. Not like before when I ended up doing everything because I knew that was the only way it would be done.
But this is like work, or life, or something. (Like Life- good book by Lorrie Moore).
I can count on him.
My real counterpart in every sense.

I'm not used to this. He's the first person here I can really depend on - I think, I'm afraid to say that - in terms of work. Or most things. Doc means well. He really does. And he's one of the smartest and best people I've ever known. As a doctor and a person (Sylvain, too, is always 3 steps ahead of me. I'm the dunce in this team. I tell myself that at least I work hard and try hard). But Doc - like today, promised to come then something else came up. Like during la Semaine du SIDA when every person I had counted on - besides PCVs, my saviors - left. And in PS days (pre-Sylvain at the district level, CBS), that would mean I was left alone, floundering, without resources (transport, finance, material), and without the hierarchical - I'm your boss and I can sanction you-power to make other people help. I'm getting better. Because I learned with that. And now I have help so with 2 of us - we can conquer the world. Or, fix this health district.

… If Sylvain ever gets paid. Damn PPTE (HIPC - Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative), World Bank, and corrupt Cameroonian government.
All morning I kept reminding myself I didn't have to stress. Making Ebolefou give us the lab keys to get tests. Getting people together to leave, 3 hours late. Rain. Wondering if Caroline (nurse in Amvom) was there.
There were two of us worrying. And two of us prepared to fix things.
(This is, ideally, how PC works. PCV + Host Country National (HCN) counterpart. But I've had no counterpart for the first 12 months. Now. I win).
"Yes, I understand all that. Jenny, I love my husband. I'm faithful to him. But he's president of the COSA and goes to Mvangan all the time now and I don't know what he does there."
This was one of the easier ones. Fidelity! Condom! Get your husband to use a condom with you. Yeah, RIGHT. Refuse sex if he doesn't. Yeah, RIGHT in a machismo culture where women don't have that right.
I know her husband. And I promised to talk to him. (Did. Check. He didn't have time Sunday, was working with us. He said he will next time he's in Mvangan. I need to keep him to that).
Language barrier. I wish I knew more Bulu.
Woman who gave birth December 25 (Daughter named Noëlle). She's probably not positive. Got tested during pregnancy. And - she's not.
I've done 3 now. Each 10-15 minutes. 20 more to go. Scary with white envelopes. I don't know how to counsel, so it's neuter. Fine if they're negative, but positive?
Another woman. Faithful to her husband, etc. But he has 3 wives. One of the co-wives is with her. We discuss. I say that's good, but now go back and convince your husband and wife no.3 to get tested. She's negative. Goes out smiling.
…later, older woman. Doesn't speak French. (or rather, my Bulu sucks. Need to keep reminding myself that I'm the dumb one here). Get Pastor Elom to help me. Other woman, in polygamist marriage, from before comes back and says to me "Jenny, this is my co-wife!"
…And she's positive.
Watching Pastor Elom talk to her, I almost cry. It's harder, watching. Doing it - you're in it, you have to be strong. Now -I can only think of her co-wife. There are so many factors, intrinsic and extrinsic to the culture here, that increase transmission rates of HIV. Africa just gets the short end of the stick, time and time again. And polygamy is a major factor in this. It's great to talk about fidelity between two people (though reality/"feasibility" of that in this context - well. Marginal at best). But when you add in a lot of other people to that equation, the risks go up. Though, there is a cultural difference (in Cameroon) between Christian polygamy (oxymoron? No. Churches here - including the Catholic one - have adapted their doctrines to include this. It would have been difficult to find many willing converts, otherwise) and Muslim polygamy. Rates of HIV in the mostly Muslim north of Cameroon are far, far lower than in the Christian south. Alcohol is another factor in this, but alcohol(ism) and poverty is another den of mosquitoes.
Girl sitting before me. Breast-feeding a one-year-old, about. Tells me she's been tested twice. So I'm feeling confident…only question is she says her last test was the "good" result. (Positive? Seropositive/seronegative is highly confusing. This is why we try to clearly explain the results and what they mean in counseling, before actually giving the answers). I ask if she has questions. Yes, about how to live with someone with AIDS. Can you eat together. Can you share clothes. I give her my "4 fluids" speech, feeling a little awkward about "breast milk" as that's what she's doing right now…
I end with "so unless the clothes are soaked with blood, you can wear them. But I don't think you'd wear those anyway." We laugh. I open the envelope.
Good lord, she's shocking. I try to calm her down. Try. Tell her about the association we're going to form. The meeting. Tests we're going to do. She's not okay. I keep trying. She leaves. (later, I talk to Sylvain about her. He says she's lying: she never got tested. He had to drag her to prenatal consults. And he's not surprised. Every man who passes through the village - loggers, builders, cocoa, whatever - goes to her. She's 17).
And her baby's sick, that was the first thing she said, she wanted me to consult her baby. Too bad I'm not a nurse. What if…oh gods.
Another woman. 30s, maybe. As we're talking about protection…she tells me she's faithful to her husband. But he has all these girls who "go out" a lot, too. She wants to protect her health. She wants to raise her children. She's trying to divorce him. Because what's she supposed to do, insist he use a condom? (If the anti-HIV spermicide is every developed, in a way that doesn't make women more susceptible to HIV because of abrasions, oh, I know the women I'd give it to. All the women here). We talk. We open the envelope. She's negative. But. He refuses to get tested, she says. Do I encourage her in the divorce proceedings?
I do. I don't know if I should have done that. Few more to go.
I go to see Sylvain in the lab. I'm tired. I think everyone's done. He hands me an envelope marked "A". I tell him, "This is Essola's." He says, "No, I want you to do this one." And I'm too dumb to figure it out.
So I go. Kerosene lamp now, it's 7:30 pm. JP. Late 20s. We talk. He knows nothing about HIV/AIDS, he says, just that "SIDA kills." I go into my chronic illness spiel - AIDS becoming treated like a chronic illness, diabetes, like sickle cell anemia, etc. We talk a lot. I know he's my last client, and I'm in no rush.
Positive. He's taken aback, but he takes it ok. I see he wants to talk. So we talk. Maybe 30, 45 minutes. No idea how long. He's not married but he has a "woman" and kids in Gabon. Oh, Gabon. I'm in a frontier zone - the border with Gabon is about 30 km from Amvom. And everything I hear about Gabon is kinda wild. So many people go there to get money and return with HIV…Lindsey's friend, S…anyway.
But I feel good about this one. Counseling. It feels so familiar…I'm trying to remember. I trained to do it in Boston, but I didn't really get to practice. And I was rejected the once - twice? I applied to the peer counseling group in college. Poets are trained to listen. That's one thing, I guess. I keep thinking of the 17-year-old. She said it was January that she was negative (Why do people lie so often?) I was shocked. Felt a little like (gods, so minor) my first failing test results. Sophomore year, organic chemistry (and continuing). Disbelief. No, this isn't happening. This can't be happening. And if I feel like that, how many times the person faced with the result? I had a dream, few months ago, that I had HIV. Probably the scariest dream I've had (here). Trying to make it not true. Trying to get someone, anyone, to take it back.
That morning, before leaving, Pastor Elom told me Etitan's baby (ooh, good place to hyperlink) was from a teacher. Gods. She'd told me it was a high school kid. Maybe I asked her leading questions. Maybe she was embarrassed. But I'd been afraid it was this. Angry. She told me…when, so long ago, that one of her teachers (was it the Spanish prof? German? Which is she taking?) gave her a failing grade on a test and she didn't know why and told her she had to come to his house to make it up. Back then I was afraid I knew what that meant, but unsure. How stupid was I.
I can't forget the conversation with Gaston (wonderful PC language trainer) during Stage. About students sleeping with teachers for grades. We read an article about it. So I asked him - a high school French teacher, we'd even visited one of his classes - what his experience was, with his colleagues. And he grew visibly uncomfortable and evaded answering. That was one of the first moments of reality, here.
Being in PC - a totally, totally different place - is like growing up again. Language. Culture. Reality. Life around us. I think I might be a young teenager now, maybe. I'm starting to realize so much of what really goes on around me. It's like veils have been torn, thrown aside, these past several months. I'm starting to get it, now. It's a funny juxtaposition to being in a position of power in a health district, planning and executing policy along with the district medical officer, supervising, teaching. A more "grown-up" job than I'd have in the States for awhile - in some senses, and in some senses not at all. Yet the neighbor kids still laugh at me for being white (and, therefore, doing everything weirdly and probably wrongly). Lately I work 8-5, if not longer, 7 days a week. I have my own house. I have more money than most of my colleagues (if they got paid, they'd get about my salary. But…they don't. PPTE. Can I hyperlink that? I make $320/month, by the way. On par with a highest level nurse's salary, and some high school teachers.
Then again, even if they got paid, I still have more, because I'm not supporting anyone. Me and the cat. Speaking of, I need to go look for her.
- more in the next.

04 March 2007

Water Project - Completed.

Lessons in development in the equatorial rainforest
“Like water for chocolate”
Zoebefam Diary
27 November – 9 December 2006

Cast of characters:
Jennifer – me. PCV in Mvangan.
Hans- water engineer from Ebolowa. Good friend of South province volunteers. Pink track suit in pictures.
Daniel- lead technician. Blue pants and yellow shirt in all the photos.
Charles- youngest technician. Tall guy with shorts and beer polo.
Ebolefou (Papa Paul) – my counterpart for this project – and colleague from the hospital. He’s head of the lab and works a lot with me on our HIV counseling center. He’s from Zoebefam and has been the impetus for this project.
Paulette- nurse in Zoefebam. She lives next to Papa Paul and we’ve spent a lot of time with her.
Levy oldish guy. Worked a lot all week. The materials for source 2 are stocked at his house.

Source 1
J.C. – mason from Zoe, has taken 2 weeks off of his regular work to help us out at both sources.
Papa Dibo – old guy with 3 wives, lives near source 1 but has also helped at source 2. He claims to be so rich that he doesn’t need clean water; he can buy bottled water to wash clothes and cook with.
Olinga – young guy, peer educator for HIV. Helped all week.

Source 2
Papa Gaston- old guy, TB patient that I know from the hospital in Mvangan. He’s been the driving force behind the source 2 group, and comes every day, though he can’t work. He’ll often pick up a small stone on his way down to the source, to sit.
Ayele – “ayele” means “teacher” in Bulu. I don’t know his real name, but everyone calls him this. He’s the school director for a primary school about 30 km away. He’s been early and working all week.
Jenner – guy who looks very educated – and as i find out later – is. Has also worked all week. He was at the HIV peer educator training I did in late November.
Metango/Marie Blanche – palm wine
Odontol/Marie Claire – palm whiskey (distilled palm wine)
Francs CFA= approximately 500 to 1 US $

One note on photo quality and color-- these were printed in Cameroon from a very old camera and then scanned.

Day minus 2
Monday 27 November
Got up early to buy materials with Hans. Walked into his office with over 2 million CFA, walked out with quite a bit less. We got everything at the same quincaillerie (hardware store) – everything on the list, plus quite a bit more. There’s a problem with the buses (still don’t know what that is). So we craft a new solution with contre-plaquets (plywood), more cement, and more iron bars. This afternoon, I realize we’re 32,000F CFA over budget – already. Shit.
Hans goes to get the truck and gravel. They’ll leave early Tuesday morning, and I’ll leave by Kouma car, join them Wednesday morning in Zoebefam.
We're actually building two spring boxes, one at each end of the village.

And that’s 2,211,575 F CFA. Thanks!
Day minus 1
Tuesday 28 November
Met with Hans in the morning and explained the money problem – he said we could do with 10 less bags of cement. Also, the sous-préfet has closed the roads to vehicles of more than 4 wheels. I’m worried that the lorry will be stopped. I give Hans the letter typed (by me) from the sous-préfet. I don’t have official authorization – S/P said he’d give it to me then he voyaged. Okay. Hopefully they won’t have any problems. We’ll meet Wednesday morning.
...*all day Tuesday* I can’t find a car. There's usually one, at least, going from Ebolowa to Mvangan every day (either the small van with 20-30 people or the Toyota Corollas with 12-14. +chickens). Or, I do find one – my friend Sylvain’s- but then he’s at the garage all day, getting it fixed (and whether it will actually be fixed enough to go is...debatable). To leave or not to leave – and how?
Blair shows up – no water or power at his post, Ambam (water is out due to power being out). We’re walking around town and I hear “Jennifer!” It’s Hans, with the truck (it's now 4 pm). They haven’t even loaded anything yet…it was in the garage all day, getting repairs done. We hang around for a bit. I get 53,000F back for the 10 bags of cement – then pay 12,000F for...I’m not sure what. Still ahead. Slightly. But we haven’t started yet…
Day 0
Wednesday 29 November
I go to find an early morning clando car (7 am). No cars. So I return to the house, leisurely pack and take everything to Kouma Voyages (leaving around noon). Sit and read the Atlantic. 11 am, Hans shows up…what?? He's still here?? Apparently the truck broke down last night, 30 km from Mvangan. They (technicians) slept on the road, and Hans came back up to Ebolowa to get a few things they had forgotten. He’s travelling with me. All we can hope is that we don’t find the truck on the road and that they will have already arrived in Zoe…
When we come upon the village where the truck had broken down, we’re told that it’s just ahead of us (just?We arrive in Mvangan around 4:30 (that's a quick trip, actually, for the 100km). I drop my bags at my house and go to meet Hans in the center of town. After arguing with mototaximen trying to cheat us about a “price hike” to Zoe (it’s 1000F; they’re claiming it’s now 1500F). Finally ,we find a mototaximan willing to take us both.
5 km in, he gets a flat tire (Zoebefam is about 14km from Mvangan). He goes back to Mvangan to find another…meanwhile, Hans and I walk for a few km. Finally, a car comes that takes us the rest of the way.
Arrival in Zoe (!) The first man we encounter tells us that the truck went on to Ekowong (15 km further). Hans and I almost fall over. Second man comes up “no, no, they’re down there…” (far end of the village where we’re starting the project). We find the technician and truck dumping gravel. Ebolefou (Paul) is directing operations, and Paulette’s back (nurse of the village).
Truck dumping gravel, Day 0 in Zoebefam
It’s really happening…
RELIEF. We make plans to meet back the next morning – I’m returning to Mvangan tonight to coordinate December 1 plans (World AIDS Day) with my high school health club. 
Hans and I go to find the chauffeur. He’s irate. Yelling “I worked so much today…I haven’t eaten anything today…” Hans replies, “I gave you money for food.” (The chauffeur got a large amount of money already. But he expects food and drink on top of that…unexpected costs. Can’t budget for that. Never mind that it’s his fault the truck broke down and he hadn’t brought any tools…). He insists on going right back to Ebolowa to do the next trip (he was paid for two) tomorrow. At this point, Hans hasn’t slept in 2 days. But..he has to go. The rest of his team will begin operations. 6 am! Back to Mvangan, until then.
Day 1
Thursday 30 November
No power in Mvangan (it's the usual state, but we've had electricity for the past week or so, oddly enough), so I don’t leave until it’s light enough out to get dressed. I leave my house by 6:30. Takes some time to find a moto. I arrive in Zoe, at the site, by 7:15. No one else is there yet (Oh, l’heure africaine!) Daniel, Charles and I go to work.
View of source 1 from the top of the hill. Daniel and Charles start to work.
I watch, antsy, for a bit until I grab a shovel – against orders – and jump in. I’m bailing, bailing water – by 9:30, we have a crew of 8. It's hard work. Men who went en brousse (into the forest, either to their farms, to check on hunting traps, or to tap palm wine) in the morning, early, to work before coming to work with us on the source. We continue until 2 pm, no breaks.  That's fairly usual in Cameroon, in the South, anyway. At the hospital, we'll do trainings from 8 or 9 am until 3pm, no real breaks until the end. "Break" often means "stop working for the day." We're digging…but the earth keeps collapsing. Clearing water out…
Even a dog has joined us.
The men of Zoe get to work…bailing out water and clearing mud
The scaffolding wood is made – wrong size – and remade. This is for the wall, where we’re going to create the dam. First we had to clear all the water out of the source, so Daniel could see where in the earth the sources were coming from. Once that’s done, everything needs to be dug out, down to the impermeable rock layer. The source is shaped and and then it's decided where the dam will be placed. Tomorrow they’ll reinforce the wall and, hopefully, start mixing and pouring cement. No truck, no Hans – we’re hoping they’ll show up tonight.
Scaffolding is put in place. This is where the barrier wall will go, for the reservoir
Day 2
Friday 1 December
I’m in Mvangan, working on World AIDS Day activities (that’s another headache/triumph in itself). Doc’s not around, so I’m in charge – meaning I have/am leading meetings all day and activities at the lycée in the afternoon. After the health club (I’m so proud of my boys!) finishes their sensibilisation/show, the COSA (official health committee...who did nothing...) have dinner. Including me. Me and the “big men”..well, these are medium men, really. The real authorities aren’t in town. Happily, electricity arrived late last night, so the evening’s activities are a bit easier. Around 7:30 pm, we’re sitting around, enjoying dinner and drinks…and Hans shows up. He’s been travelling since Tuesday! The truck broke down again in Ebolowa. Finally, they’re here…only 14 more km to go. We have a drink--a 33 beer for Hans and a Castel for me, as usual- and I head off to the lycée party. We’ll meet up early tomorrow morning in Zoe.
Health club at the Lycée de Mvangan, getting set up for December 1 activities
Day 3

Saturday 2 December
I arrive in Zoe from Mvangan around 8:30. And this time they’d really started at 6. A fairly orderly chain of men, lining the steep hill, is passing buckets of concrete (cement, gravel, sand, Sikalite, water) that others are mixing. I look around, chat a bit. Papa Paul says to me “on travaille ici…” (we're working, here). I’m a bit annoyed. So I go up to the top of the hill and start hauling concrete, too.

Chain of concrete down the hill…Olinga in striped shirt
The men were duly impressed. I do like the feeling of accomplishment with manual labor. So we passed the buckets down, and they filled in the dam, the principal structure of the spring box. The concrete was done, the wall was filled, and palm wine was passed down the line…we finished around 10:30. Time to let the wall dry until Monday and start in on the other source.
The team for mixing and carrying concrete
On the way, Hans and I stop for a drink. He had some singe (monkey), carried on passing children’s heads. I passed.
Now it's time to go down to Source 2. No one is there, and the gravel hasn’t even been moved from the road. Ebolefou goes to round up some workers.
Source 2, au naturel – people getting water
My dream team – Charles, Daniel, Paul Ebolefou, Hans next to source 2
They show up, eventually…a few. Some kids on their way to collect water help us carry gravel. Two women refused to help us, saying the project has nothing to do with them and they don’t care. One says she’ll kill Ebolefou for "this" (for what, exactly?) I’m tired…sit down. Digging is done, along with some bailing out of water. The principal water currents are found, and the beginning of the dam is put in place. I’m hoping more people show up Monday…
We leave around 5. Ebolefou takes me back to Mvangan; he’ll be in Ebolowa for the next few days.
Source 2, end of Day 3 – scaffolding in place for two of three walls
Sunday 3 December
Rest. (And turn 24).
Day 4
Monday 4 December
I show up at 8:30 again – it took awhile to find a moto. But this week, I'm staying in Zoebefam until we finish. Ebolefou isn't back yet. First site – they’ve been working for some time. Apparently lots of women showed up to help – early – with bailing out water. Now they’re passing stones to make the back wall of the reservoir. The concrete wall is done! I join the assembly line.
Hans and Daniel. The source 1 wall is done. Notice iron reinforcement bars.
After all the stones have been moved, the men break mud/land to cover the area in front of the reservoir. The pipe has been extended and the water’s already running well – and clear. All that’s left to make is a reservoir cover and a puising area (water collection area). Around 11, we head to Source 2.

No one’s there and nothing’s been done. I’m embarrassed – and frustrated. Hans, Daniel and I go to Papa Gaston’s house. He rants about the truck for the stones which are in another village (we’ve been discussing this exact issue since July). His wife pipes up, says “that’s not the real problem – people are lazy and don’t want to work.” He yells at her. Hans is irate. “We have to finish both by December 10, maximum. Or we’re leaving.”
We walk back up to the village.
A few men are walking toward Source 2…Fine. They start transporting gravel down. Kids getting water are implored to help – and they do. So does Papa Gaston’s wife. We bail water for awhile. The others finish the dam, with Daniel and Hans directing. Charles and J.C. (who is from source 1 but has come to help out) are cutting and bending iron bars.
Papa Dibo, Daniel, Hans, and Charles inspecting the scaffolding
Hans has a meeting tomorrow in Ebolowa, so he leaves – he’ll be back tomorrow night or Wednesday. Ebolefou’s still gone.
Day 5
Tuesday 5 December
Up by 6, ready, out – 6:15. Me, Daniel, and Charles. As we’re walking down toward Source 2, we see the guys for Source 1. Up, ready, and carrying the stones we still need. They’re autonomous! Even though Ebolefou isn’t there. On that side, things are going well. Today, they just need to find stones and bring them to the site and fill in more of the reservoir.
We arrive at Source 2. No one. 7, 7:15…they start to show up with the wheelbarrows of materials. Everything was measured for concrete last night. Now – time to start mixing. With shovels – 4,5 men mix, Daniel and Charles work on the iron “armature” for the wall, and 2 of us carry water up the hill to the concrete. I don’t know how many trips…finally, there’s enough at the bottom of the hill and others work on bailing out the source and clearing mud from inside the scaffolding. It’s ready.

Ayele (striped shirt) and mixing concrete
Time to start pouring. Three of us carry buckets back and forth. After a few trips, I come to refill my bucket and the men ask (they’ve been talking) “Madame, vous avez fait le service militaire, n’est-ce pas?” Ha! No. “Peace Corps, not War Corps.” Anyway. This goes on for over an hour until we run out of concrete. So now they have to go carry more cement – 8-10 bags – 8 wheelbarrows of sand – and 16 wheelbarrows of gravel. Some kids come help (why aren’t they in school? Well the school director’s here too...). Papa Gaston sits, as do a few others. Daniel rails on community development and why it’s failing here. Why in such a large village we have so few people to help…I ask if he’s had worse projects- hoping- and he says yes. We’ll see, still, here. But for the moment we're near the top of his list.

Papa Emmanuel, Papa Gaston, and Levy

The community contribution (required for the grant) was supposed to be – clearing brush on the path (done for Source 1, not for Source 2), bringing stones and wooden planks (done for Source 1, though insufficient, and not for Source 2), nutrition (food every day for the technicians and the work groups –no), and lodging (everyone has been staying at Ebolefou’s house, though other people were supposed to take us in, as well).
No stones. Since JULY. They’re 3 km away. But no one has been willing to pay or rent a car. Since July. So that’s 2 extra walls and a lot of extra cement. We should still have enough.
Waiting. Charles goes to get Sikalite. And food! Pistache and legumes and plantain pile. And bananas. I’m well-sated. And so, so dirty.
They finished mixing concrete, and we finished all 3 walls. Worked till 4. Exhausted. We’ll come back Thursday to undo the scaffolding and finish, here…
Spent the evening with Paulette. (again)
Day 6
Wednesday 6 December
…Today should be 6.6.6, not 6.12.6. So frustrated I could scream. Took a “shut out the world” nap instead. Up at 6. Neighbors had been blasting music since 2am…they sold cocoa, so they bought gas for the generator and played music. Didn’t sleep. Ready to go before 6:30 – no Daniel and no Charles. Paulette says they left early to check on Source 2. So I hang out and wait…8:30, they’re back. We descend. No workers? They carried stones and filled in a good part of the reservoir yesterday, without us, so I’m not too worried. 9, 9:30…Daniel and Charles start building the scaffolding for the puising area. I’m bored. I fill the pile of stones into the reservoir – thwack! –good unskilled labor for me to do. Time passes…Paulette comes by. “What, there are only 2 of you?” Daniel looks at me and smiles. “Three.”

I bail water for a bit. They’re doing technical things, so I can’t really help. 1 pm. NO ONE. The next step is concrete – so we need people to carry bags of cement, sand, gravel. We’re stuck. Back up the hill (and time to shut out the world). When I get up, I go have my leftovers from breakfast chez Paulette, then wander out to get a drink. Find Daniel and Charles. Tired…and bored. And frustrated. All of us. I could be home. Hell, if the daily commute were worth it…there is so much to be done in Mvangan! And I’m here, chôming. And in Mvangan I have music and friends and food and my own house…and the possibility of electricity, at least if Doc turns on his generator…but instead, I’m here. And for what. With what.
We’re waiting for Hans and Paul. Both should be back already and neither is…
I’m down at Source 2, writing. Kids are coming to puise the clear, continuously running water. I should be happy.
I’m not.
Thank gods my first lessons in development are hard ones, in of the hardest regions to work. Yet, I still want to do this? Ask me again next week.
Hans and Ebolefou arrive. Victory!!! It's been days...I’m frying plantains, for lack of other activity. We eat. Papa Paul changes, gathers his brothers, and gets to work hauling stones – until it’s dark. Not a totally wasted day, after all.
Night – we sit around, drink palm wine and eat spaghetti. Charles is called out for awhile, “mysteriously”, by a woman. We talk about lions and Waza (national park in the Extreme North, where both Hans and Daniel have worked). I fall asleep, exhausted, and sleep through the night. Ma ke bombo si. Ma wo'en.
Day 7
Thursday 7 December
6:30, ready to go. Down to Source 1…men have been hauling stones since 5 or 5:30. So that’s done. But then they go off to work. Damn cacao. Damn WESTERN WORLD. Cacao is the major cash crop, here, though I often wonder what farmers net off their harvests, given the amount of work and expensive pesticides go into the plantations. Cacao is a shade plant, like coffee, that grows best in the rainforest. Like here. But when it's cacao season (would have been better to plan this another way, another time, but this was what was possible), everything else falls apart.
 There we go, I’ll just blame all the chocaholics I know for the project’s problems. There are about 7 of us this morning, including 2 technicians and me. Daniel left early this morning for a meeting in Ebolowa.
We get to work – cover the wall with plastic, and it’s time to mix cement. Water up, up, up…a girl comes by to help. She came to get water, we conscripted her, and – she stayed. Water up…cement down the steep hill. For hours. Papa Paul is doing most of the work. I get dizzy walking too far down the hill.

“Like water for chocolate.” Because the desire for cocoa (later chocolate) is superseding the desire for water….
Hans inspecting the reservoir at Source 1. Stones in place - now ready to be covered.

Now- rest. 10:45. Food! Not from the village, mind you – from Daniel’s aunt. Pistache and pile. And papaya. Hans implores me to rest, so I’m sitting here, writing this.
Dry season hack, dust in lungs, coughing.
Reservoir covered! Pipes are to pour bleach in, to disinfect the reservoir.

Hans says we should all spend Saturday night in Mvangan. Akiba a zambe. (Thank god). That’s 2 more nights here for me. Good lord, I’m tired. If I get to spend Sunday at home, doing nothing – I’ll be redeemed.
Hans, Paul, and Charles go down to visit Source 2. I get washed and walk down….pass them…look at the source…and go on to Ngomedun to see Papa Gaston. I find him sitting outside with two younger guys. Metango is on on offer…Lindsey got free Top from her project, I get palm wine. Well, there’s one of the big differences in our lives. We discuss development for awhile, how I’m not a government agent, I don't work for the CIA, and how there are no kickbacks from this project (if they only knew how much I’ve had to spend, this past year…Papa Paul, too, has put in a lot). Two glasses of metango, discussion of tomorrow’s work schedule, and I go back up the hill.
Scaffolding on the puising (water collection) of Source 1. Design by Daniel.
Discussion with Hans…there’s no food. Apparently the spaghetti we had the night before he paid for, gave Paulette the ingredients to make it for us…he asks how much money I have. 5000F on me, I was expecting to make a few back/forth trips to Mvangan, but there hasn't been any time, this week. So…we decide I’ll go home briefly tomorrow to get money and buy food. We could be stuck here till Monday at this rate. Meanwhile, we go to the boutique, buy spaghetti, sardines, rice, etc. and cookies (Hans insists, for me). Daniel arrives! One good thing. We go back. Paulette’s out. It turns out Papa Paul also realized the problem, bought food, and gave it to a woman in the village to prepare. We wait…and talk…tired. Finally, spaghetti, baton de manioc, and pile. To bed. Hans is falling asleep. We talk of the difficulties of Mvangan. Did I mention there are 2 beds for the 3 of them, in the kitchen? I have the room inside. The chef promised to lodge (and feed…) people – but he hasn’t been seen in the almost 2 weeks we’ve been here. He knows we’re here and was supposed to come back. But, cacao or water? Cacao.
To bed. To another day…
Day 8
Friday 8 December
I don’t want to get up. I’m sick of working like this and the community not being engaged. Nothing to eat (?) What is this shit? (Surprising? No).
…whatever. I’m up, 6. Have a bite of papaya. We trek to Source 2…no one. Daniel and Hans get to work decoffring (taking the protective materials off the spring box), Charles is cutting metal rods…I’m bored. Nothing for me to do. And annoyed. The stones Papa Gaston promised? NOT THERE. 7, 7:30. People show up. 2, 3…Ayele from Minkom. Papa Paul’s brother, who works for primary education in Mvangan, arrives with paperwork for Ayele. “But there’s no one here!” he exclaims. Yeah, we noticed. Well, at least he’s (legitimately?) busy.
Source 2 - Ebolefou standing on the wall, Ayele removing scaffolding.
More people. Ebolefou arrives with …beignets. Bless him. With one of the men, I get to work clearing water. Tired. The stones arrive! FIve exultant months later, they are here. Wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow (with lots of complaining…) But they’re here. We form a chain to pass them down to protect the reservoir and around the pipe.
Hans and Daniel are cutting plywood for the reservoir cover. Metal cutting, men sawing.
Women show up (!) Papa Gaston’s wife is here, clearing water. Another woman I haven’t seen before. Kids help carry gravel. (We’ve sent orders for more gravel, cement, etc). The woman from last Saturday. She’s here…and she goes all the way to Source 1 to carry gravel when she wouldn’t carry it from 100 meters away before. Incredible. Things are starting to change…we’ve got men, women, and children here. Papa Gaston and the (other old guy) brought metango again and Levy brought food! Crazy. After a bit…it seems everyone has a job. Not much for me to do, so I ask Hans if I should go back to Mvangan (yes, because even if it looks better now, things could always change again…) to get more money and food.
Source 2 – Hans looks on as women bail water out

So I walk back up, change boots for babouches, and set out to find a moto. Find a pasteur by his boutique. He invites me in for a drink…no, I want to go to Mvangan. He says, I was going soon anyway, just let me get ready. (Will this be a free ride?) He also says, “Madame, you must have done military service, not so? That is what everyone is saying.”
We go back, nice and slowly. Safe. To my house…bypassing the hospital. I don’t feel like seeing friends. I don’t want to talk to anyonw about the problems we’re having. I run in, out…grab a few things in the house and head out…home…I’ll be back soon.
Walk to town. (again, bypassing the hospital/most friends’ houses). I see Essono, my favorite chauffeur-- yes! Ask him if he can take me back to Zoe in 15, 20 minutes.
I go next to Em’s for lunch. She is always generous with rice and beans. Food! And water that doesn’t taste like pool water (we’ve been bleaching our drinking water in Zoe all week, and I accidentally put too much bleach in mine....For better or worse, I do drink the (spring) water in town). Mvangan really feels like a metropolis some days. Guy comes in…"oh, I want your helmet…I need it. Give it to me…" normally, I josh back, but I'm tired. THis is an old discourse. Try to get him to stop. No. Finally. “Would you please leave me alone, I’ve had a hard week!” Fuming. My friend brings over my food and the marmite of piment – oh, she knows me well.
I go out. Time to buy food chez Housman and head out. Essono’s loading up his moto…what…he says the man who brought me wants to take me back; he’s waiting at the garage. Okay. So someone in Zoe is appreciative, maybe…
Go to Housman’s, buy food. Walk down to the garage. Moto not ready yet. Fine. So I sit with Papa Bouba…get bored and take a walk. Run into Cecile and Julie (shit, I was hoping no one would see me...). Oh, but it is good to have friends. I brief them on the week’s situation – they’re sympathetic. Soon, it’s time to go back to Zoe.(I was gone about 2 hours)
Paulette walks down with me to the site (Source 2).
Reservoir cover with hole (to be covered) in case of extreme dry season
…A lot’s been done! Concrete turning, reservoir half covered, metal all in place, stones…this is good. The woman from last Saturday (and this morning) is back…she made lunch for the technicians! Incredible. Some more work…hauling water up, concrete down. The reservoir is covered. We put glass chards in it so kids won’t play on it – or wash clothes – or whatever. People are serious about this. Other old guy goes to collect bottles. We write our names in the drying concrete. Just has to dry, now – there’s a trap for if water stops flowing in a severe dry season, they can open it to get water out. I watch kids playing in the stream- washing feet – women washing dishes. There’s something intoxicating about running water. Cold, clean running water. Not drinkable, not yet. Two more days, maybe.
Kids gathering tree trunks for scaffolding
After, we all walk up, set to unscaffold Source 1 so people can start getting water there. We’re interpelled (intercepted/accosted). Levy and Ayele invite us over. The whole work group, dinner and wine! And speeches about how they’re so proud, how this is so important…how their children and grandchildren will see this and be proud.
Finally. This is the nutrition contribution that has been supposed to be happening all week. Working together and hanging out together. As it should be. Tomorrow is another day…and I’m feeling a hell of a lot better.
It’s starting to work. “Community project” with community contribution. I should remember how much of this is the fault (somewhat) of international NGOs, coming in, dropping money, building things that quickly break in places and ways people won't use. This is different, but it's taken awhile to truly demonstrate.
We get to Source 1 in the dark, so no unscaffolding, just looking. People have alrady started using it, convoluted as the scaffolding makes it…
Tomorrow we start at source 2, finish, come to Source 1. Finish. We hope.
Day 9
Saturday 9 December
Today I’m up and in a good mood. Slept well. Hans, Daniel, and Charles go to unscaffold Source 1- they tell me to go on to Source 2 to rally the troops, so to speak. I walk down, pass several of the Source 2 guys as I walk down, who seem to be on their way to work. I buy beignets on the way, for everyone – I feel like being generous, today. I pass the chief of the village on the way…finally, he shows up, after almost 2 weeks…he says he’s heard about all the good work (he should have been there/had promised to be there to motivate people and organize them and get them to work…and lodge the technicians…). He sent gravel and rocks over, he says.
Finishing the water collection area at Source 2, putting rocks down
I get there. Sit. And wait. Around 8, Ayele shows up. After that, Hans, Daniel, and Charles. We wait. NO ONE. They unscaffold the outside and stop up the leak. We need more concrete. Orders were put in yesterday for the materials. Where the hell are they…we clear water. Do some cleaning where the water collecting area will be, and Hans and Daniel build the scaffolding. Guys show up, very slowly. Papa Gaston with odontol (palm whiskey). The anglophone boy “rapper” who was wanted all week for me to take his picture. He sits. (After a bit, I yell at him to work). By 11 we have the materials for concrete. Mix. We carry it down..wow, I’m tired of hauling concrete. At least it makes my daily water buckets seem ridiculously light. Kanga Felix – very drunk guy “quoting” from the Bible in his pocket (he’s making up passages) – is helping/spilling every other bucket. He’s funny, at least.
Drinking the water.
We finish around 1:30. Leak fixed, water collection area done. Daniel insists that I write my name on the concrete over the collection area, and he won’t let anyone else go near it. They need to build a fence around the glass shard area and unscaffold next week. DONE. We take a picture. And I get them to take one with me in it – my second all week.
Group photo, perched on the edge of the wall as the cover isn’t strong enough…

We leave. Papa Gaston invites us to his house. His wife has prepared fish and manioc for us. She carefully lays out plates – even glasses for the wine they’ve bought. We’re the guests of honor. Even papaya for dessert. It’s a touching gesture.
Olinga posing on the reservoir, source 1
We’re tired. Up to Source 1…Daniel is slow and chatty but Hans is impatient. He wants to get out. (as do I). Papa Paul and his brothers are there and have been working all day. They’re made a beautiful area with a canal for the water. Everything looks good. Daniel finds a slight problem and takes an hour to fix it. Small oversight.

Group photo at Source 1

Hans is already changed and ready to go…Finally, finally after last instructions we trudge up- last time- to have a meal in Ebolefou’s kitchen (where Hans, Daniel, and Charles have been sleeping). The chief points out the wine he brought. “Look”..and he proceeds to drink it all. A few speeches are made – I decline to say anything at all. I just want to go and have nothing to say in this crowd. We finally are ready to leave. Motos found. (that we have to pay more than the normal price for…) Get back to Mvangan a little before dark. Power’s on! Daniel arrives a bit later. We drink. We’re DONE. To a project completed.
Friday 15 December 2006
I go back to inspect the sources. I meet up with Jenner (who somehow didn’t make it into any pictures) and Papa Gaston in Ngomedun. Everyone in the village uses the “new” sources, they say. And the ones who didn’t work…at first were too ashamed to use the sources, but most of them are getting water there anyway now. Jenner and I walk up to Source 1 together, see that the scaffolding has been removed and everything seems to be working. We return to his house where we have a wonderful meal of fresh corn bouillie, which tastes a lot like corn chowder. As I get ready to go, his wife hands me avocadoes and bananas. It’s sweet. Then on the moto ride back, 3 of us on a rickety moto, we fall off into a patch of stinging nettles. There’s the bitter. Like everything in Cameroon – every day
That’s clean, cold, running water, folks
USA Peace Corps Partnership
09/12/2006 JAS, PCV