Saturday, September 01, 2007

On est ensemble

I'm back.

Back here in both senses of the word. Back in extremely northern parts and back on this patch of virtual real estate, peddling my intellectual wares in both. Most of it should probably be recalled for the toxicity of its garish paintwork and is almost certainly not suitable for children, but that's for someone else to decide.

Having left the verdant pastures of South Lanarkshire, itself basking in a somewhat tardy summer, it felt a bit odd stepping off the plane in the heat of here. The greenery that was so notable in its absence when I left has appeared with something that is definitely on the more aggressive side of avengeance. Mile upon mile of barren and lifeless desert has been replaced by fields of 10 foot high millet, corn and various of the other green staples upon which this country survives. The goats and donkeys which were free to wander wherever they wished in search of a succulent succulent or two are now tied down so as to limit their perambulating prandialising.

Dry river beds are now raging torrents by comparison and the roads bear testament to the pounding this country has received. The road from the airport is nigh on unpassable being more hole than not and scattered along its length are legions of Cameroonlets, frantically filling the holes with dirt, waving down the passing cars to get them to slow down and then asking for a 'cadeau' for their efforts. So wrong on so many levels. We're not talking provincial backroad here, we're talking arterial link between the capital of Chad, Ndjamena, the north of Cameroon, its more prosperous southern counterpart and the coast. It's basically the M74. And there are children mending it. Voluntarily.

Sitting at the bus stop in Garoua, being crawled over by lizards and approached by some of the world's more bizarre salesmen (one guy had a handful of sunglasses, a solitary tooth brush and an iron), I got talking to a guy from Chad. Told him what I was doing here and the struggles of teaching 180 students in one classroom and about life at school in general and he was appalled. He couldn't believe that the situation was so dire in a country that is, by comparison, so rich. You could rake and sift hell's ashes and still not find any hope for Chad's development: it's landlocked, perpetually on the brink of civil war, mostly desert, all but cut off from everywhere and apart from a puddle of oil has as many natural resources to exploit as a bucket of luke warm vomit ... not a nice image but fairly accurate.

It throws into sharp relief the massive disparities in wealth distribution in this odd country, something that was further demonstrated in a radio programme I picked up the other day. There are schools in Yaoundé, the capital, where parents pay upwards of 200,000 CFA per child, per year (about GBP200). Here, where school fees are a staggering 13,000 CFA (GBP13), most people can't afford to pay. And if they do pay, they then can't afford books, uniforms or anything else ... it stinks I tell you, and not just in an olfactory manner.

But still, as I said, I'm back. As unbusy as ever and therefore prone to sessions of soul searching. School starts on Monday and there's a hope that this might mean my mind is a little more occupied ... with 20 hours of teaching in theory, I can do little but keep my fingers crossed. Turns out there are going to be other teachers too which is nice. The thought of having to teach physics in French was getting a little scary!

Slave to my stomach that I am, lunch is calling and it would be rude to deny the grumblings ... on est ensemble, as they say, even if you are over there, wherever it may be, and I'm not!

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