We’re sending this from nDjamena, capital of Chad, where we’re waiting for Heather to arrive. We’ve been told all is calm here at present, but there’s what looks suspiciously like a bullet hole in one of the windows of the hotel bar!
Here in Cameroon schools are supposed to go back on the first Monday in September. This year the first was, of course, a Monday. Perfect you might think. No. Here it was decided that the first was “too quick” and another week’s holiday was given. VSO’s partner in the education project is due to appoint new teachers on Saturday 13th so no rush then! The preparatory meeting for head teachers will take place on Friday,19th. I feel I am missing the point here.
I am now having the rôle of fairy godmother (I’m not sure what that makes Godam) as I distribute the books bought with money from Shona’s colleagues and friends. (The attached photo shows a group of grateful recipients.) Unfortunately she had to leave before schools opened their doors. Getting to two schools has become fairly hazardous due to roads breaking up after rain. It is impossible to go by car so Penelope Pitstop reappears! There are very few kids in one of the schools as it is still too dangerous for them to cross the swollen rivers now that the rainy season has peaked. At another of the schools there are about 800 pupils, 7 classrooms and 5 teachers. The head doesn’t know what to do so he closes the school at 10.30 every morning. I was there during a
thunderstorm the other day and realised how difficult it is to cope without electricity. It was so dark you couldn’t read the blackboard and it was all too easy to fall into one of the craters in the concrete floors, as I discovered to my cost! The deafening noise of rain on corrugated aluminium made lessons impossible anyway.
I have made a start on the new VSO programme and am well up to speed on proxy (or should that be poxy?) indicators and logframe indicators, not to mention the three-in-one job of facilitator, reporter and observer. HELP! Some of the work involves talking to groups of girls who were attending school but are no longer. When I asked one girl her name and age she told me that she is an orphan and has no name but she has called herself Suzanne. Suzanne thinks she is about 16.
Home turned into the centre of a whirlwind as Shona rushed about completing all the work she had set herself before departure. Now there are no more Zimmers, walking sticks or splints lying round the place. It was good for Hamish and me to get some practice in though! For Andy and Shona’s last night in Zidim, Lydia invited us all for a meal – a real treat as Cameroonians guard the privacy of their homes rigidly. We sat under the “awning” of millet stalks in the dark, eating her home grown sweetcorn, and traditional “boule” made from millet flour with a spicy meat sauce.
After the meal she asked us if we would like to see inside her mud hut – another real privilege. One half of the space was taken up by a huge mosquito net under which her beloved only child Edvige was asleep. Above it was suspended a large sheet of plastic to keep the rain off her. Unfortunately there is a huge hole in the plastic. Lydia and her husband sleep on a mattress on the other half of the gravel floor. The walls were neatly lined with her pots and pans, the suitcase for her clothes and thermos flasks (really up-market here). It was a fairly humbling experience for all of us except Hamish – he missed it as he had been called back into the hospital. (I think he arranged that as he hates boule!)
The usual assortment of hairy hooves, heads and tails with the odd bit of meat thrown in. Tomatoes are back and very cheap, along with aubergines and sweetcorn. Everyone’s corn has ripened at the same time and I am not having to buy it at all – on Sunday Lydia brought 5, on Monday the pastor’s wife brought 7, on Tuesday Thomas, our laundryman brought 7…… Recipes, please!
Were visited recently by a Keekeedourou(?!) – a mouse-like creature with pointed nose and bushy tail. The smell alerted us – they stink, dead or alive. Fortunately ours was dead.
Attempting to dry some leaves from my basil trees. There is not much sun at the moment so it is taking more than the usual few hours. Yes, Shona – I am still putting basil in everything!
Question: What do you call someone who sits watching TV stripped to the waist and wearing shorts for large chunks of the working day, too hot to work?
Answer: Acting Médecin Chef, of course!
Now that we’ve passed the one year mark, I suppose it’s inevitable that we’ll start drawing comparisons with our first year. The first thing that strikes us is that although the rainy season was slow starting it’s continuing longer than last year.Two weekends ago we encountered heavy rain in Maroua and discovered how opportunistic the locals are; the attached photo shows one moto driver washing his machine in a handy puddle!The main impact of the rain is on transport – for patients as well as us, as many of the dirt roads in the area become impassable. This may be part of the reason for the hospital having been quieter in the last few weeks.
Having said that, there are signs that things are getting busier again and I’m afraid Dr Djemba’s “petit déjeuner très rapide” may have to become even more “rapide”.On Wednesday, he’d been watching TV mid morning (the generator had been on for power for planned surgery) while patients were sitting waiting patiently (?) outside his office for him.He was ready to settle down once more when the generator went on again at .His peace was rudely shattered when they had to send for him to help in theatre as we had two emergency caesarean
sections to do at the same time and I was already assisting with one.
One of the down sides of working here is the appalling waste of life.Not only the vulnerable 0-5 year old children, who succumb to malaria and other infectious diseases, but also older children and adults who are victims of accidents.The number of serious injuries can become quite depressing and I’m very aware of my lack of skills for dealing with major trauma.
Enough griping!Heather arrives this weekend, unfortunately only for two weeks.We thought it would be a clever idea for her to fly to nDjamena in Chad which is only a 3-4 hour drive away from us.We hadn’t contemplated the difficulties we’d experience over visas.Heather eventually had to go to Paris to get hers.We also need visas to enter Chad and were told we could get them in just a few days. We thought we’d sent off the papers in plenty of time – five weeks ago.It turned out the Chad Consul was on leave and no one else could authorise visas in his absence.After an anxious few days we heard on Wednesday that our visas have arrived in Maroua, so all is well.We’re planning to
take some much needed leave while Heather is here to visit some of the sights with her.
Finally, our closest neighbours are very shy.They’re a family of verans, or Komodo dragons.We occasionally catch sight of them and at last I’ve managed to get a photo of one.This is a medium sized one, maybe about 2-3 feet from tip of tail to snout.The picture’s not desperately clear, but it gives an idea.We’re told they keep the snakes away, which is reassuring if true!I have seen one snake just outside our garden gate and it certainly was slithering rapidly away from where the verans hang out!