Travel updates

An Unexpected Visitor

posted Mar 12, 2010, 3:14 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager   [ updated Mar 12, 2010, 6:37 AM ]

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.

A tiny visitor stumbles in through our gate.
 Under the chair...Lost, Cold, Hungry and looking for love (and fish)

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 :)

CoCo purring on my lap, after some fish, and all cleaned up.

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!).

CoCo spending a warm & cozy night in Brynne's room

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...

Today, Playful, Curious and Part of the Family :) (At least for a few days...)



We took coco to the local bar and she got totally wacked on smirnoff ice :)

The cat is out of the bag and into the bar.

Hmm... smirnoff... ICE...

3 minutes later.

Life's goooooood.....

In Cameroon, Balloon pops YOU!

posted Mar 3, 2010, 4:35 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager

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:

Balloons Exposed: Children under 80 beware!

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...

Paper Library vs. Digital Library

posted Mar 1, 2010, 8:30 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager

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 paper library


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.

The Bees Knees

posted Mar 1, 2010, 7:52 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager

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).

Mbingo Apiary

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:

worker bee feeding on honey

Bees on the landing board of the hive

Bees clustering on the side of the hive during harvesting

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!

Reinoud opening a hive
Joshua harvesting combs

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.

The smaller apiary in Mbingo. (The artist got a bit creative with the skulls&bones ;))

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!

Kenyan Top Bar Hive construction plans

Hiking to the Oku Crater Lake

posted Mar 1, 2010, 7:13 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager

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 Oku crater lake

The trek to lake Oku

So we started early that day by hiring 3 motorbike riders that could take us the journey uphill to the drop-off point near lake Oku. From there one of our bike riders was willing to guide us to the lake during a 1.5 hour hike through the forest.

Brynne and Amanda hiking through the forest.

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)

Hurrah! We reached the lake :)

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.

They came from the deep...

Interesting bugs and critters roam the forest around the lake...

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).

The view of Oku from our scenic picnic spot

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!

Cute puppy enjoying Alaskan Beef Jerky (TM)
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!

The water must flow...

posted Mar 1, 2010, 6:23 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager

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!

The 3rd and final water tap in Fuli

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!

You are invited!

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.

The women of Fuli, holding the traditional kalabash

After the welcome songs we were introduced to the village elders who gave several speeches including the main thank you speech.

Meeting the elders

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

Louise "the chosen one" in local Bene Gesserit fashion.

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.

The opening of the tap, the closing of a chapter

And the water flowed, and there was much rejoicing! (and it was high time Reinoud stopped making lame Dune and monty python references ;))

Life's a ball (game)

posted Mar 1, 2010, 5:47 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager

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.

life of a Cameroonian kid = school + soccer

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.

if kids can not afford a ball, they make one.
Such as this orphan did with some old rags.

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.

Kids playing with the ball in our front 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 :)

A kid returning the soccer ball in the 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:

Some of our after school students, playing around with the ball before class

Downside is: Balls don't last long - we are already on our third ball here!

A home for 2,400,000 bees

posted Feb 24, 2010, 8:12 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager

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.

A few African honeybees (they are smaller then their European counterparts)

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 RUDEC Apiary

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!)

The RUDEC Computerlab: Now open! :)

posted Feb 24, 2010, 7:29 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager   [ updated Feb 24, 2010, 8:10 AM ]

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!

the finished computerlab before the opening: 6 computers, wireless, GPRS internet access, printer, whiteboard, digital library, UPS, projector, and paper library. In total there is room for 12 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 :)

The after-school children checking out the brand new computer lab

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!!

  • Alex
  • Florian
  • Oxana
  • Sven
  • Pedro
  • Fili
  • Elena
  • Tilek
  • Manuel
  • Olivier
  • Sytske
  • Rob
  • Paulien
  • Juan
  • Gyula
  • And those who I forgot to mention (shoot me a mail if I forgot you!!)

The rainy season started early, but not a day too soon!

posted Feb 24, 2010, 6:18 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager   [ updated Feb 24, 2010, 6:39 AM ]

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!

some (welcome) clouds have arrived on the scene

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.

chilling out in the hammock on my porch during the early afternoon,
reading magazines on my ebook

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! :)

The evening sky right after a pounding tropical rain

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