Wednesday, April 04, 2007

'It's life, Jim, but not as we know it ... "

It's that time again when the cranial flatulence that builds up during the week/month needs to be released for fear of more dramatic and possibly explosive effects should it continue to be contained. In many ways this blog is like the tap thing at the curved but not noisy end of a trombone: you press it and the result of all that "thpwttt"-ing drips out onto the heads of the unfortunate bassoon players in front. You lucky people are the bassoons and I apologise for the dripping but needs must.

I have now been here for what is affectionately refered to as "a calendar month". That is, of course, as opposed to a lunar month, solar month, synodic month, sidereal month, anomalistic month, nodical or draconic month.

In fact to be totally correct I've been here for just over a calendar month and I'd like to say that time has flown but, alas, it has been dragging it's talon like nails over the blackboard of life and it has only been those brief moments of respite while the hand returns to the top of the board that have scuttled past. It feels like I've been here a lifetime but then I did get here at possibly the most obscure and least busy time of year so I can only hope that things will start to speed up.

March and April. Daffodils. Winter's retreat. Lambs. A mud:grass ratio that favours green over brown. Longer, warmer days. April showers. A temperate utopia ... we don't know how lucky we are!

That battleship greyness that plagues our winters and condemns us to a perceived drizzley misery. That battleship greyness that stalks our every waking hour, that blots out the stars, that hides the sun, that wraps us in its damp and gloomy interior and forces us to retreat indoors.

What I'd give for one solitary cloud ... if it could just drift in front of that heinous ball of flame for just a moment ... is that too much to ask?

Yep, the heat is not good! There really is no escape. From 11 til 3 it's almost unbearable and there's little or no respite after that. Everything becomes a washed out beige colour; life collapses in whatever shade it can find. The people melt into pools of inactivity. The most deranged of mad dogs and even the most pith-helmeted and handle-bar-moustached of Englishmen hide themselves away. Not that it's any better the rest of the time, and in fact nights are almost worse. At least by day there's an excuse. It may be an excuse that's 93million miles away but it's an excuse all the same.

By night, the walls that during the day had absorbed all that radiation, do their best at getting rid of it ... that's to say the house becomes an oven. Lying in bed, stuck in limbo between needing to sleep and not being able to because of the infernal heat, the foam matress doing its level best to ensure that you don't toughen up by basting you evenly like a chicken in a rotisserie. The fan, stirring the air and blowing like a hairdryer over your already baking body.

A nice cold shower would go down a treat, except the only cold water you have is in the fridge and has been filtered for drinking ... when you have to fetch your water from the well, filter it before you drink it and you're drinking 10+ litres a day, it's a little extravagant to pour it over you for all of a 10 second respite.

I could go on, but I think you've probably got the message!

So, yes, after a whole two weeks of work I now find myself on holiday. What from I'm not entirely sure as there didn't seem to be a lot being done when I arrived. Next term apparently gets really hectic with a whole 4 weeks of teaching before the school can't afford to pay its teachers any more and exams start which means it doesn't have to! I'd like to say I was joking but ...

As I said, an obscure time of year to be sure. In speaking to one of my fellow education volunteers who is nearing the end of her stint, it seems that September to December is really the only time that anyone gets any educating done. In a school year of 38 weeks, under half of them (16) are spent constructively. What happens for the other 22? Good question, although I guess if the schools run out of cash 10 weeks before the end of the school year that really only leaves 12 to fill. And if the last two weeks of the 'spring' term (and I use the term 'spring' loosely - far too energetic a word: slump would be more appropraite) are spent writing reports, then I guess that only leaves 10 to account for. A week is lost at the beginning of each term while students realise they're meant to be back at school (8), and then the week leading up to Independence Day is lost while everyone practises their marching (7) ... the weeks flee like rats from a sinking ship and I can't think of a more appropriate analogy.

The good ship Cameroonian Education is listing badly. The pirate ship Bureaucracy has riddled her barnacle encrusted hull with great holes of corruption and the barrells of goods have been thrown overboard. The Captain is clinging on to the worm-infested steering wheel while his inexperienced crew are being keel-hauled for their troubles. You get the picture.

Possibly not the cheeriest of blogs but an honest one! The pre-match sheen of enthusiasm has worn off and the realities of this peculiar life of mine are thrown into sharp relief by the glaring and relentless sun. Everything they tell you before you arrive, the briefings, the lectures, the workshops, they help but it's only on arrival that you realise just how thankless a task this is. And the doubts then start to surface.

Why am I here? What can I do? Where do I start? Why am I doing this? The answers, that seemed so clear through the rose-tinted but blinkered spectacles of blind optimism drift away with the smell of gunpowder and all that fills your head is the sound of water pouring in.

You start to question the merits of 'Development' ... who are we to impose our thoughts, our beliefs, our morals on anyone else. If any of you, friends, strangers, whoever were to come up to me in the guise of Cameroonian culture and to start expounding your views on life, the universe, everything, we'd disagree on an awful lot of things and I may find many of your views offensive but who am I to say that you are wrong and that I am right; with freedom of speech, after all, comes the freedom to offend.

Oppression is something that we, the global North, have only relatively recently seen as being an overcomable affliction. For centuries it was seen as part of life. It made society what it was. Society, that huge organic organism of which we are all a part; it grows, it changes, it develops, it evolves, just like everything else. As those first primitive life forms dragged themselves from the primordial soup, breathing raw air for the first time, nobody could have known, least of all them, that we'd get to here and possibly further.

Yet we did ... it took time but we got here. Society has done the same: it dragged itself through its own primordial soup albeit at different rates and in different directions the world over. It adapted to the environment it found itself in. It evolved to where it is today. Society isn't technology: you can't very well throw it away when a new and purportedly better version is developed, particularly when the infrastructure isn't there to support it.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are different enough and they're only 50 miles apart, and they've got their own share of troubles, yet here I am trying to instill Northern social mores on a people and culture who have ones of their own.

If someone is right does that mean everything else is wrong? That big sea of greyness is swallowing me up again ... alas the light drizzle is conspicuous in its absence.

This weekend I are be mostly seein' elephants and giraffes ... which reminds me: mustn't forget to remember not to forget the drugs.

* B A N G *

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:42 pm

    This does not sound like a ringing endorsement of Cameroon enthusiasm for its own education system! Heat does oppress almost as much as Government/ society/ culture/the economy can I guess. What about a small airconditoner by special delivery? At least the nights would be cooler even though the day boils the brain.

    As you say activity is a great diversion for discomfort. 12 weeks of activity out of 52 does not sound like a recipe for sanity.


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