Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bad Request (Invalid Verb)

That's what it just told me ... no idea what it means but seemed to be asking to be a heading.

Sitting here in the canned cool of one of Maroua's more exclusive hostelries pondering, not for the first time, my usefulness. Pondering, indeed, to such an extent that I've just 'penned' a letter to the country director to see if he can help. Idle minds have to keep themselves occupied, particularly minds like mine; minds that don't like sitting still.

Of late my mental facilities seem to have been surviving on a diet of e-numbers and tartrazine which has done little for my sleep pattern and even less for my enthusiasm for the job in hand. I'm not about to throw it all in and leave this peculiar country to its fate, but it has got me asking things.

Such things may be natural after a few months in placement; perhaps everyone goes through this questioning stage. The rose-tinted, wildly optimistic, and generally blinkered enthusiasm and excitement that keeps the adrenalin up during the pre-departure weeks and the first months post-arrival have been gradually eroded by the realities of my chosen role (English teacher as opposed to cheese'n'pickle, though what I'd do for a slab of cheddar and a generous serving of Branston ... or perhaps a spot of Lime pickle ... ).

"What do you mean? You haven't done anything yet!" and hence the reason for my not throwing in the towel. I haven't done anything yet, aside from see how it works in other places, ask questions of the school's 'Elite' and see what types of things they want from me that doesn't fold. The teaching hasn't started yet and I know that that will keep me occupied, but in the background will be the perpetual thought: "what's the bleedin' point?"

Is that really a questions someone fresh to the world of development should be asking? Doesn't sound very altruistic but at the same time it's been asked and there's no taking it back. After 2 years, what is going to have been gained by my having been here? Yes there will be a handful of Cameroonian teenagers who will understand the different uses of the present perfect, but aside from that I find it difficult to see that anything else I do will be sustained. I may be all puppy dog enthusiasm for this that and the other but if there isn't someone here to keep it/them going then give it a year and it'll all have vanished beneath the ever thickening layer of red dust that covers everything else.

The most disheartening thing is that I'm not entirely sure anyone - my director, the school 'Elite', the community - actually gives a shit. Strong words I know, but truthful me thinks. Volunteers are measured locally (not by VSO I hasten to add, but by the employers and their legions of yes men) by what they achieve at a physical level i.e. what gets built with foreign folding stuff. Buildings though, aren't the issue. It's teachers, it's school books, it's pens, pencils, rulers. It's desks and chairs. We've got two fairly well maintained blocks, 2 classrooms in each block. It's not a lot, and it's a bit of a squeeze but compared to some we're not doing badly.

Ask the 'Elite' what they want to see in the immediate future: a computer suite.

Great! Good idea! Any thoughts as to what might be more important than a computer suite?

An office for the director and a staff room?

Ok. Anything that might, perhaps be more benefit than either of those? I'll give you a clue. It falls from the sky in the wet season and everything on this planet depends on it for survival.

Yep, we got none water. I take three litres to school every day and would take more but for the fact the toilet facilities are a little on the exposed side and 420-student induced stage fright tends to put paid to any peeing efforts. Explodingbladderitis: not very nice in any language. On a good day, the students might get half a pint each. Most of the time they get nothing. There's a well half a mile away, but that apparently is enough.

Also, the fact that the school doesn't have electricity you would have thought might be thought to be a key part of the computer lab dream, but apparently they hadn't thought of that.

So, I don't know. It all seems a bit useless at times but I'll stick it out until such time as I can make a more educated judgement. It may just be the lack of sleep that's giving me these outbursts of soul searching and cynicism but I don't think so.

Oh, and just so you know ... 9 June 2007 ... that be the day upon which I reach green and pleasant lands. Until sometime mid-end August ... If you're about would be spiffing to see you.


  1. 2 in the space of a very short time. either the electricity is improving or judging by the verbal ramblings there are currently very few outlets for you to try your mother tongue on (I better correct any thoughts that this is anything but English I am talking about!).

    I have done some extensive research and the Bacon Index does exist but I have discovered that it has something to do with the works of Francis Bacon and something philosophical... I quote from some Leeds University writings: "So, for Bacon, science has never been done right. We must forget how it has been done since the time of the Greeks and the Romans, and start again from completely new foundations."

    I have also found some fascinating information on Kevin Bacon under the title "The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia" and the average Bacon number is 2.961 (no details on how it is calculated).

    In my extensive Bacon index research I have discovered that for $7.95 you can buy a Bacon Wallet with the tag line "Yes - they are gross looking. But… you know that is the perfect gift for that weirdo in your life." I am not sure who this weirdo in my life it refers to but imagine the shock on a Cameroonian face when you pull a wad of Bacon out of your pocket!!!

    see you on the 9th. Cannot wait. I'll put the bacon on.

  2. Anonymous8:54 am

    I smell sizzling!! A point (spoken wiz a Gallic shrerg)asyermightsay. Hope the country director takes le aformentioned point. How about the local self help approach - ownership of the problem and self help may work quicker and enthuse locally. Or is that Cornish pasty in the Ulu?
    Saving your........
    ..........'n tomato sarnie
    Bringing home the.......
    ..........and eggs
    its .......... hot outside today
    ........ tin

    How other countries see it:
    Arabic: لَحْم من فَخْذ الخَنْزير
    Chinese (Traditional): 鹹肉, 燻肉
    Indonesian: daging punggung babi yang diasin

  3. Yo, Wee Ec!
    Been following your blog since the outset, and fascinating it is too, so thought it was about time I let you know! Also, I bring news of indices.
    The Kevin Bacon index (of any given actor) is the number of degrees of sepraration between said actor and Kevin himself, as in the party game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon". I kid you not.
    In economics there is also the concept of the Big Mac index, whereby instead of measuring prices, salaries or whatever using a conventional unit of currency, you measure it by the number of Big Macs you could buy with that value in the country under examination, thus excluding currency factors from the equation. Or something like that - it's been a while since I studied Bigmaconomics. Not quite a Bacon Index, but near as dammit.
    Anyway, hang in there and don't despair - my work is way more pointless than yours and I don't even have the kudos of doing it for the good of other people!
    Keep the aspidistra flying,

  4. Hi there!
    Followed the blog, spoken to you but shy of responding here. Look forward to talking to you on your return. Have some social entrepreneur sites that may be useful connections for you. Meantime take good care, it sounds tough although your humour and ramblings may suggest either great survival skills or a slope into something else. 'God love you' as they say here at home. Look forward to catching up with you. No reference included re the bacon index or any other index for that matter. Love to you,
    your old auntie Tess

  5. 9th. Coolandthegang. I'll shout you a pint of whatever you crave if you hang about for a moment. Unless it is bacon because my blender is on the blink and it would be a bugger to whisk with a fork. We moved out of N/C last weekend so will are rooted in London for now. There was an unusual evening of OH-ness and a surprise £44 round of drinks which I'll fill you in on later Think there is a movie too with a face or two that might ring a bell will email link (the bells....). Shake n' bacon

  6. Anonymous7:47 am

    Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

  7. Anonymous4:54 am

    You have to express more your opinion to attract more readers, because just a video or plain text without any personal approach is not that valuable. But it is just form my point of view


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