Thursday, March 15, 2007

On second thoughts, perhaps not: it is a silly place.

Virgin Hair Fertiliser ... need I say more. If anyone has any ideas as to what this does or is do let me know. Answers on a postcard.

Here I sit for the ultimate publication prior to scootling from this hotbed of baptist fervour destination Godola and the building I am to call 'home' for the foreseeable future. It's got walls and a roof and an external toilet as the brochure said it would and so I have little about which to grumble.

As I cast my eyes around the room for inspiration as to what to write I feel that the meagre visual fare on offer, were you able to see it, would not fill you with the anticipation I aspire to provoke in you, my reading public. To my left is a picture of what looks like a man of good intention being distracted by Mr Magic Hands himself from intervening in a street brawl involving nothing but men on crutches. There's loo roll scattered over the baked earth floor and someone seems to have lost his shoes ... answers on a postcard again? Perhaps a letter would be better.

So, yes, I leave tomorrow. This week has been as weird and disjointed in many ways as last week. Having got here on Friday late and having seen the placement and met the boss, the rest of the time was ours to kill. All very well and good except neither of us, me or my travelling companionette, had any idea where we were or what there was to do. After the security briefing in Yaounde that basically told us never to leave the hotel after dark as the kindly street folk we saw by day turned into vampirous murders as soon as the sun set, we were understandably loathe to leave the comfort of our respective dorm rooms. I may err towards the 'XL' section of pret a porter clothing emporia but I don't need five beds all to myself. Perhaps they were allowing for my permitted 4 wives.

Were it not for a current volunteer rocking up early evening with an invite to dine with a handful of other volunteers we would have been at, what many would describe as, "a loose end". Dine we did and it was good to meet some of the others who will be constituting the social scene for various amounts of time twixt now and '09. Joined various of their number for a dip on Sunday - of the chlorinated as opposed to Cream cheese and chives variety - which involved taking my first Moto-Taxi, the preferred mode of transport round these parts: a small and not fast motorcycle.

Nobody wears helmets except for me it seems, and in my excitement at having mastered the transport system so adeptly I sat just close enough to the driver to ensure that every time he touched the brakes I nutted him. Whether or not he noticed history didn't relate. He looked a little dazed when I got off but then again he looked a little dazed when I got on. Apparently it's not totally unknown for them to be stoned out of their skulls on one of any number of mind-altering substances.

Monday through today has largely been spent 'discovering' the heart and soul of this, the capital of extremely northern Cameroon either physically, geographically, gastronomically or, indeed, morally. The last of these has been by word of mouth and region specific briefing; the rest on foot, or Moto-taxi where necessary.

Some of the tales have been jaw-dropping it has to be said. Most memorable has to have been our gender briefing. For those of you who are as confused as I was when I saw this on the timetable, we're not being told what gender we are but how what gender one is, in this melting pot of cultures and beliefs, can have a seriously detrimental effect on your life.

In a country where "Is this is a polygamous marriage? Y/N" is one of the questions on the marriage certificate, it doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to realise that, for the most part, that second X chromosome is a burden that would break the strongest of backs. There are of course exceptions, people who escaped the vicious cycle of childhood marriages to men 40 years their senior, or 'selling' themselves to their teachers to get better grades, but in this vast and multifaceted country and in this its most nomadic region, they are few and far between.

Part of my remit is to start an after school club for girls to encourage them to continue to the end of secondary education, here in a country when most of them consider themselves on the shelf if they're not married by 16. I've got to try and encourage their continued education in a country as a whole with very few female role models, not only that but also to get them to try and persuade their younger female siblings to do the same. The sad thing is, the generation I'm teaching will not be the ones who reap the rewards if indeed there are any. Their children may benefit, but in a country where surviving today is the challenge and tomorrow can wait it would be fair to say we've all got our work cut out.

Where do you start? I've no idea ... you can add the answer to that as a P.S. Incidentally, the best address for those who feel the urge/need ...

c/o VSO
B.P. 1004 Maroua
Extreme Nord

Djam Waala, as they say.

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