Yesterday evening, one day before I will leave Belo, we had an unexpected visitor. I was at the RUDEC guesthouse teaching some girls (Rose & Queen) how to check their email on the internet when we heard a tiny heart-wrenching little whine. I looked around to see where the sound was coming from but did not see anything until I saw a really small kittens head peeking out from under our gate.. It was a tiny kitten that obviously lot her mother and was totally dirty, wet and skinny. Apparently it had fallen into a big puddle of mud, was finally able to crawl out and decided to head to our house for help. It limped in and sought refuge under one of our chairs.
We initially thought the kitten was not going to live because it looked diseased, was skinny to the bones, could barely walk and was shaking all over. So the first thing we had to do was to get it warm and dry. We warmed up some water and cleaned the fur of the kitten, after which Brynne kept it under her sweater for some time until she was dry. The Cameroonian girls set out to buy some milk powder and fish to feed the kitten, while I researched how to take care of 3 or 4 week old kittens online.
Luckily the kitten was able to eat the fish (It was so young and small, we were afraid it would need mother milk exclusively), and in fact totally gorged on it. After that it was totally happy, safe and satisfied :)
In the evening Brynne made a nice and cozy nest for the kitten to sleep in, and this morning the kitten, who we decided to name CoCo (after the coconut curry we were about to prepare for dinner when the kitten walked in), was exploring the house and playing around with strings and bottle caps happily. Brynne totally fell in love with it and is currently out to the market to buy a basket to carry her around (even to the beach in Kribi!).
One problem: I'm leaving tomorrow, and Brynne is leaving next monday.. what to do with the kitten? The locals don't really care for pets (certainly not in the house) and we will be gone. Brynne is thinking about taking it back home to the US. But with a stop over in London it is not going to be easy...
Update: We took coco to the local bar and she got totally wacked on smirnoff ice :)
Now, I've always suspected that behind every playful & colourful balloon there lurks a dangerous and dirty secret.
Finally, Last week when I was blowing up some balloons for the computerlab opening, my fears were confirmed by a brave balloon company willing to expose the awful truth, and say it the way it is:
So next time you are playing with Balloons, think twice: Instead of you blowing or popping the balloons.. the balloon just might pop you!
And If you still feel like handling balloons after reading this post, make sure you are under senior (and I mean SENIOR) supervision. Don't say I didn't warn you...
In the RUDEC computerlab we now have a paper library as well as a digital library. The paper library is small but takes up a lot of physical space, while the digital library is huge but takes up very little physical space.
As a consequence most people don't even realize it is there or if they do how to get the information they need.
Just for fun I used a free tree mapping application called Sequoiaview to visualize the content of the digital library for easier comparison to the paper one:
The digital library.
Note: each cushion square is a separate file, each pixel in the enlarged version (click) is approx. 3MB, orange is video material such as documentaries, green is audio material, purple and green is textual material such as e-books.
Winner: As of yet undecided.
Last Thursday it was time for the 2nd honey harvest. This time we went to a small RUDEC apiary near Mbingo were Joshua has 5 colonized hives. During the first harvest a couple of weeks ago I was a bit anxious about getting stung since I did not know if I was allergic or not. Well I did get stung and I am not allergic :)
So this time I could go for the full Monty and be there to harvest as much honey from the hives as our bucket could hold (and the state of the hives would allow for).
Amazingly the bees in these hives were much less aggressive then the hives I encountered last time so I had some time to get up close and personal so I could study their behavior a bit and snap some nice pics:
By the end of it all, we ended up with 15 liters of sweet golden natural honey...hmmm.. I'll bring some back to Europe!
In other bee-related news, some of you might remember our plans to build a large RUDEC apiary that can house up to 30 hives in order to generate sustainable income to support the orphan project and provide some salaries for our Cameroonian field-workers.
Well, good news because Tilek gave us a sizable donation with money he raised through his Kyrgyzshop. Thank you! This means we can now definitely purchase the land for the apiary and be able to build 7 additional wooden KTB hives.
So this Saturday I'll hike to Baicham (the village nearest to the apiary) to close the deal and construct and install some new hives!
This Saturday I hiked to "lake Oku" with Brynne and Amanda. Lake Oku is a beautiful crater lake surrounded by the Kilum-Ijim rainforest and is around 5 hours of hiking away from where I live in Belo.
The lake itself is quite a spectacular view, and is considered quite safe in comparison to some other lakes such as Lake Nyos that are also situated on the Oku volcanic plain. (A pocket of magma lies beneath the lake and leaks carbon dioxide into the water, changing it into carbonic acid and killing all animal life once in a full moon)
By the time we reached the lake we ran into a class of schoolkids (class 6) that were on a field trip to the lake. They had a great teacher who explained them all kinds of facts about the lake (for example that all the plants around the lake are medicinal, but that they don't really know what each plant will cure exactly. or that you cannot swim across the lake because the circular flow of the lake will suck you down in the center). They all went into the lake for a group picture and after that we had the lake to ourselves.
After the lake we though we had enough time to reach the nearby village of Oku, since our driver had told us that the village was only a stone's throw away. Asking for more details he told me "45 minutes!". So 1 hour of hiking later we asked another passerby on the road to get the answer "1 hour".. hmm. Finally we just decided to have a nice picnic along the road with a great view over the Oku landscape and enjoy some slices of bread with crunchy peanut butter from Bamenda and Beef Jerky from Alaska (courtesy of Amanda's husband).
During the 5 hour trek back to Belo we ran into a small rural "village" with one bar where all the local men hang out to do ... well nothing really.. just hang out. This got us quite upset because all along the road we encountered women and grandmothers working on the farm and carrying heavy loads.
There was also a really cute puppy there that looked like it was about to pass over into dog heaven. Amanda quickly embraced the pup to prevent it from meeting this fate by feeding it some delicous left over beef jerky. Once the dog got a sniff of the Jerky it totally came back to life!
In the background men doing... nothing.
At some point down the road we passed by another motor taxi, and we were able to get a lift back to 3 corners in Belo for 700CFA (about a euro) with all three of us on the back seat of the motorbike!
Back in late 2009, RUDEC Sent a third stage Field Navigator to Fuli to demand details from the Quarterhead. The water must flow...
A beginning is a very delicate time. But it so happened that a project came to life to bring water to the people of Fuli, living in the remote hills of the Belo region. The volunteer (Gonzales) that stated this project last year worked with a group called "the project solution" to raise funds and install a water pipe on the hill near the quarterheads compound. As it turned out, after the first tap there was money left for a second one, and even a third one!
My fellow RUDEC volunteer (Brynne Weeks) is aiming to become a water engineer, so she picked this up as one of her main projects while in Cameroon. She was able to complete the 3rd tap early last month and thus it came to be that we were all invited for the grand opening of the water extension project in Fuli last Friday!
We set off with Joshua, the other RUDEC volunteers (Louise and Sian) and the 3 French boys from Berupdep (a partner NGO) to visit the quarterhead and get seriously drunk on palm wine!
After the 1 hour trek up the hill we arrived at the location of the celebration to be greeted by the women of the village holding the traditional kalabashes and singing a welcoming song.
After the welcome songs we were introduced to the village elders who gave several speeches including the main thank you speech.
In case you are wondering, the thank you speech was titled "The dream unfolds." and basically boiled down to this:
The water extends life, the water expands consciousness, the water is vital to space travel. (OK, skip the space travel bit ;))
Since Brynne herself could not join, we needed someone to take her place in the ceremony. Luckily our fellow volunteer Louise was willing to be the chosen one and be accepted into the Bene Gesserit of Fuli
After the speeches, there were foods and spices including fufu, katikati, jamajama and of course lightly fermented palm wine! When we were all fully satisfied and wondering if we were still on planet earth it was time to move to the water tap for the formal opening and at the same time the formal closing of the celebration.
And the water flowed, and there was much rejoicing! (and it was high time Reinoud stopped making lame Dune and monty python references ;))
Here in Cameroon, the life of the average schoolkids seem to gravitate around the (soccer) ball. Any spare time they can find will be used to play soccer on a local field. no exceptions.
One of those local fields happens to be our front yard (It is nice and square with grass) so we purchased a ball we can give to the kids to play around until it becomes dark. Since most kids are unable to buy a ball of their own, our place quickly became super popular, with kids asking for the ball and playing all the time.
Since some kids seemed to be skipping school in order to play with the ball, it quickly became clear that we needed to set some stricter rules: You can only play after school from 3 to 6, and on after schooldays from 5-6. This improved things a bit until our neighbor became very angry at the kids walking over his cocoyams (a kind of local potato/root) in his garden whenever they accidentally kicked the ball out of our yard.
So now the kids run around the area in search for new fields to play on (and new neighbors to piss off ;)), but they always seem to find some place to play. One day we gave the ball to a kid that didn't bring back the ball to our house in the evening.. the next day we were walking down the road and saw a bunch of kids walking around that clearly had skipped school. When we asked why they were not in school it turned out that they were on a manhunt to find the kid that stole the ball, reclaim it and bring the thief to justice (by beating him))! Hmm.. this was also not what we intended initially. We sent them back to school but by the end of the day they came to our compound with the little 'thief'. Joshua was around to give him a good verbal pounding (we volunteers are way to soft with the kids apparently) and since then the ball is returned every evening :)
Because the kids are spending every free moment playing soccer and doing other ball tricks, I thought it was a great idea when Manuel pointed me to this new site where they want to create a soccer ball with an integrated power system that can charge using kinetic energy (basically the kids kicking the ball). I don't know how much energy will generate but it must be a lot! You can check them out on: http://www.soccket.com
Downside is: Balls don't last long - we are already on our third ball here!
With the Computerlab project almost finished, I've started working with Joshua to see if we can do one more project before I leave: Setting up a RUDEC apiary that can host up to 30 hives.
The fist step was to find good land, with good meaning: 1) suitable for bees with nearby water and an abundance of flowering plants, 2) affordable and 3) not too far away to hamper frequent visits and harvesting.
Joshua was able to find the land we were looking for in the nearby area of Baicham. This is where the father of our cook (Victorine) is the local chief and after a couple of meetings he agreed to sell a small plot of land (180 m^2) on a gently sloping hill side. In the end we were able to buy it for 40.000CFA which is roughly 0.35 EUR per square meter.
We measured the land by using my android phone with GPS to get the corner coordinates and measure the general outline of the land:
The next steps will be to construct the (30) beehives and install them on the land. Also we need to purchase seeds for trees and flowering plants to improve the suitability of the site even more. For this we are still looking for donations to purchase the wood necessary for construction so if you feel like supporting this project we would really appreciate it :)
It will take some time for the apiary to start producing honey, but once all the hives are installed and colonized it should provide up to 300 liters of natural honey per year in a sustainable way. This income we will use to fund RUDEC projects (such as the orphan project) and pay for field staff salaries (the aim is to pay staff around 1000CFA per working day, or about 1.5 Euro/day).
Oh, and if you are wondering about the title: A typical African beehive will contain a bee colony of around 80.000 bees, so an apiary of around 30 hives will support a total population of around 2.4 million bees! (phew, that is almost a country!)
So yesterday was the big day, the culmination of a lot of my efforts in Cameroon combined with the many monetary and hardware donations from friends and family: The RUDEC Computerlab for kids!
We decided to introduce the children that visit our after school program fist, by taking them to the lab after school on Tuesday and letting them have a got on the computers! Unfortunately it had just rained very heavily, which is always a bad sign for our after school class (this week were were teaching maths) as many children go home.
Luckily some of our die hard pupils stayed around (There is this kid called Didymus for example, he is so smart and enthusiastic about leaning everything!..but that is another story), so in total we had around 8 kids. Some weeks earlier we had introduced them to computers by bringing some of the donated OLPCs to the classroom, but the children had to share one laptop between around 10 students. So now the kids were really excited to hear that there were 6 computers in the lab and they could use one all for themselves this time. Even better they can now visit the lab every day after school! You should have seen some of their faces :)
We gave them a brief overview of computers and their components, the rules of the computerlab and an introduction to the Internet: The kids really liked to search on Google images for their favorite soccer players, animals, and all the different kinds of food they dreamed of eating ;)
Overall this has been a very rewarding project for me, as I know this will make a big difference on these kids lives. Soon we will create an email address for each of the students and who knows where they will take it from there? We have only one rule: If one of the kids is ever caught scamming (as many adults do in the internet cafe's) they are never allowed back into the computer lab.
We (RUDEC) hopes the computerlab will be a resource the kids can use to educate themselves in areas of their own interest, and so I was very happy to see a whole bunch of kids coming in today during their 12AM-1PM lunch break to use the lab! As the word spreads I'm sure this lab will become very popular!
Not only is the computer lab room useful for children, our NGO can now use the room for our organizational meetings with volunteers, and we are also thinking of providing small evening courses for adults.
Finally a big thank you to all who have helped to make this lab a reality!!
In Cameroon the dry season generally lasts until the end of March. But last week suddenly clouds started to appear, humidity levels skyrocketed, and before long the rain was pouring out of the sky in typical subtropical monsoon style!
It had not rained a single drop since I arrived in Cameroon on January 5, and the roads and fields had become very dry and dusty. Now it rains every day in short strong bursts (usually near the end of the day) turning the roads solid again, and the fields green.
Personally, I love swinging lazily in my hammock on our covered terrace during the late afternoon and listening to the rain pouring down on the corrugated zinc roof (which works as an excellent amplifier) with the occasional muffled sound of rolling thunder in the background. When everything dies down the air smells really fresh and crickets start a large chorus all around us. Wonderful! :)
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