Everyday Buea Part II

Here’s a second round of photos capturing some of what every day life in Buea is like.

Markets:

Markets are where you buy almost everything in Buea. There are permanent shops along the road that offer clothes, electronics, pharmaceuticals and hygeine products; however, every time we have asked, “Where can I find ______?”, the invariable answer given has been, “In the market.”  The markets are where you go to get your fresh produce, meat (which we have decided to abstain from), spices, cleaning supplies, imported second-hand European clothes, pirated dvds, and almost anything else that the Cameroonian economy has to offer, at the cheapest price. Each market is set up for a couple days a week, and most vendors will take their wares from one market to the other throughout the week. So, if there’s some shopping to be done or anything we need, we just go to the market in the area that is set-up on that particular day and scour the many stalls until we find what we’re looking for. The market is a noisy, crowded, and often aromatic place that is getting muddier and muddier as the rainy season sets in. It is Cameroon’s version of the supermarket, and it’s amazing how you get used to it in time.  It’s incredible to see how different people set up their shops and goods in such as way as to stay dry, stay off the ground and fit as many items as possible into a tiny amount of space.

"What would you like? Skin. Tail. Lips. Head. We have many things."

A nice day at Munya Market.

Not quite Aldo.

Great Soppo Market. Just a short walk up the hill from us.

Roadside Advertising:

One of the most interesting things about going up and down Buea’s main road each day is taking in all the different advertisements, shop names, goods and available services painted on an endless number of small signs lining the street. Every barbing saloon, photocopying centre, restaurant and even funeral home will have a custom, hand-painted sign beckoning for your attention or providing some sort of advice or instruction. We keep noticing new ones all the time, and it keeps the ride interesting and is a welcome distraction from the jerking and endless honking that is thrown in free with each taxi ride.

The best thing about Barbing Saloons are the signs out front.

One of Buea's more enigmatic signs. It advertises "ambulance service", but the sign is actually only promoting funeral services. Also, "Destiny" seems to be a cynical reminder of our inevitable need for their services.

Plastification can be done almost anywhere.

Good to see that the school has a lasting impact on the community.

Home:

We’ve had a few requests for a tour of where we live. So, here’s a few photos capturing the most exciting elements. By ‘exciting’, we mean character-building.

Our luxurious shower…more commonly known as a bucket.

Home.

'Running water' most often looks like this in Buea.

As the rainy season progresses, out backyard becomes more & more like Jurassic Park…

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Nutrition as development in rural communities

Although Cameroon is a developing country, it is not in the category of destitute countries.  For the majority of the population, though they may not have much, there is enough to eat.  Because of the fertility of the land and the climate, Cameroonians are different from poorer neighboring countries in that they have a diversity of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes available to them regularly.  We knew a bit of this before arriving, and so expected to spend our time working on health or educational initiatives, sectors where Cameroon isn’t as wealthy. However, one of the first things we noticed when we arrived was that malnutrition was not uncommon, and in fact, shockingly frequent.  On our first extended trip to the rural villages, we noticed that the further away from the cities we travelled, the more significant the signs of nutrient deficiency became.  It was especially noticeable in kids- their bellies were more distended and their limbs skinnier as the villages became more isolated. Children had discolored (orange-ish) and patchy hair and skin rashes. This was confusing to us, because in each of these communities, there were also papaya trees, pineapples, chickens, and many other nutritious-looking options.  We were more surprised to find that just outside of Buea, a regional capital with a university and multiple research institutions, malnutrition was evident in these villages as well.  Nearly every child that came to their door to yell, “White man!” had the unnaturally large belly and skinny limbs of a kid that’s not getting enough of what they need.

Children are often the reflection of the health of a community.

FORUDEF has considered malnutrition one of the bigger challenges that they see in the areas they work in, and have been wanting to find a way to teach and empower villagers in nutrition and health.  Seeing so many kids that looked like they were experiencing famine in a country abounding in fresh produce put nutrition as a top priority for us.  We quickly realized it could be a simple way to improve the health standards and quality of life of rural Cameroonians, and began working on a nutrition program that would be relevant, sustainable, and would hopefully solve some of these village level problems.

We soon discovered that although there was food variety in every village, not all, or even many of these, were eaten.  In villages, we observed kids eating plantains with palm oil for both of their daily meals.  In discussion with FORUDEF staff and villagers, we learned that plantain, cassava, and cocoyams, a root vegetable similar to a potato, formed the staple of village diets.  This was sometimes supplemented by bush meat (porcupine, monkey, or whatever else could be caught), green vegetables, or fish, but not regularly or in much quantity. As a result, many children were experiencing significant protein deficiency, as well as other vitamin and mineral deficiencies from a lack of fruits and vegetables.  In response to our questions as to why they didn’t eat more of the other foods growing or living around their villages, we found that there were a number of reasons, and that we’d have to address each of them for a successful program.

The villagers were aware that carbohydrates make you feel full, and their belief was that to be full is to be healthy, regardless of what it is that you’re filling up with.  For this reason, they based their diet around heavy carbohydrates like plantain and felt it was sufficient.  Another reason was that plantain and cassava are prolific, and don’t require much time or energy input, and so were efficient crops to live on.  We also found out that there are a number of traditional beliefs about foods that significantly influence diet.  Avocado for example, is considered deer food in some villages, and so is not thought to be appropriate for humans.  When we asked some villagers whether they eat avocado, they seemed a bit puzzled by the question, maybe the same as if someone asked us if we eat cat kibble.  Pineapple isn’t eaten often, because the belief is that it will sour a palm wine harvest, which is very bad news, especially for the men of the village.  When we discussed milk, there was definite hesitation…then, a woman explained that they had heard that to eat products from a cow would make one begin acting like a cow.

Carbohydrates, of which cassava is most abundant, make up the bulk of a village diet.

Of course, the villagers also know a lot about the foods they eat and grow, and have a lot to share with us about diet and nutrition from their perspective. We have put together a nutrition program that we hope encourages this exchange of wisdom, and allows for learning on both sides.  We figure by better understanding what their nutrition decisions are based on, we can better encourage practical or relevant ways for improvement.  We have begun with a nutrition workshop, where we meet with groups of women (women are more likely to have organized themselves into Common Initiative Groups -CIGs- in their communities, and are therefore easier to work with) in villages and spend a couple hours over a few days introducing some basic ideas of nutrition, primarily that eating a balanced diet is more important than simply being full.  The workshop identifies carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins and minerals as being the three types of food that make up a balanced diet, and emphasizes the importance of protein and vitamins and minerals, the types of food that are not regularly eaten.  We have run the workshop in two villages around Buea so far, and have been impressed by the discussion that has come up in these workshops.  The women have been incredibly keen and willing to adjust their diets for better health.  These workshops included discussion components where the women shared their ideas on growing and cooking with groundnuts, beans, and vegetables, and how this would affect their family both in terms of culture and health.  We learned that they do know how to grow groundnuts and cook a variety of dishes using different vegetables, it was simply that they didn’t know it mattered if they did or didn’t.  In discussing the importance of eating fruit, which is so varied and abundant in this region, the women of Tole village came up with the idea of eating one piece of fruit after every meal.  Maybe because this was a practical and easy way to improve their nutrition they latched on to this idea, and in follow-up visits, proudly informed us that they were still following this rule.  Also in Tole, the question of allocating scarce meat came up.  Traditionally, if there is any meat or fish in a meal, the male family members will share it.  When the women learned that children especially need protein, they were indignant that this protein goes to the men, and not the children who need it.  The women discussed this cultural norm, their feelings on it, and what practically could be done.  As a group, we decided it was best to focus on other proteins that were cheaper and could be shared equally amongst all family members, such as groundnuts or beans, and leave gender roles and culture for a later program.

In spite of preconceived notions or cultural conceptions about food, once the women saw that certain foods or types of food were good for you and your family, it seems it was quickly embraced as being an essential part of a healthy diet. Following what we hope was success in the first phase of the nutrition program, the next step is to follow up the theoretical with some practical components.  With the women of Mamu and Tole villages, we will demonstrate some ways to add beans, groundnuts, and green vegetables, three foods that can be grown easily, to recipes that they already know and use.  The women, in turn, will show us how to cook some of their traditional dishes.  We will discuss the cooking techniques used and ways to make meals more balanced based on what was learned in the training workshop, and share the foods together.  After the cooking demonstration, we plan to help these women add groundnuts and beans to the crops they grow on their farms by instituting a seed bank, where these seeds will be loaned in kind. This way, the women will have the resources and capacity to take ownership of nutrition and health in their families and communities without any added cost.

As we finish the next phases of the nutrition program, we’ll let you know how it goes, and what we learn in the process.

Participants of the nutrition workshop in Mamu village

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Our Buea favourites

Some of the things we like the best about Buea are the things we don’t often see in Canada. Here are a few.
Resourceful inventions:

In an economy where the limited supply doesn’t meet the many demands, Cameroonians have needed to get creative in filling some of the product gaps. We’re continually impressed with their resourcefulness and use of the items that are common, to improvise the items that are not.

Getting a good TV signal is a priority in every village.

Some of the best:

– Women habitually sell grilled corn or plantain along the streets. There aren’t any barbeques here, so the food is cooked on a grate placed over an old car wheel.

– After it rains, an impromptu carwash appears wherever there is a low enough spot for a large puddle to form.

– Household brooms are made from palm branches and a tin can.

– The average hair salon has one electric clipper, which is used to administer all styles of haircuts, and as a razor for giving shaves as well.

– TV antennas attached to the outside of houses are made of anything long enough to pick up a signal. Usually, it’s bamboo, scrap wood, or disposed shafts of shovels or hoes bound together with electrical tape or wire, and what appears to be a hanger and a pop bottle on top. We’re not sure exactly how this all works together, but it must somehow, because nearly every house has some contraption like this.

– Using sardine cans, water canteens, the foam from flip flops, rope, and some sticks, kids have made some great toys. We’ve seen very few, if any, actual toys, but kids have found ways to use what they can find to make cars, dolls, balls, and of course, guns…

– Fridges that no longer work, or are not being used for the primary function of a fridge, become shelving units or storage spaces.

– Plastic bottles are coveted, we think because they can fill a number of different product gaps. More than our computers or camera, people have been most interested in our water bottles. Any time a plastic bottle becomes available, there is a bit of a scramble for ownership of it. The bottle will then resurfaces in one of its multiple new uses- as a scoop or ladle, Tupperware, a hose or connector of some kind, funnel, or as part of an antenna.



Obama-mania:

No matter what his reputation may be in other parts of the world, Obama’s popularity is alive and well here. There seems to be much pride in his heritage, and maybe there is also a bit of a hope that by selling or owning some Obama paraphernalia, or naming a shop after him, one will acquire some of his success. Either way, Obama is probably the most common face in Buea, and is definitely better liked than Cameroon’s president.

In Buea alone, there is both the Obama Restaurant and the Obama Café, as well as a clothing shop with a big painting of Obama on its sign. In the markets, we’ve seen Obama t-shirts, flip-flops, underwear, pens, clocks, framed portraits, board games, and shopping bags. Some of the school soccer teams use jerseys with Obama’s picture on the front, and a bakery has an Obama logbook to record its sales. Even in the remote village of Ote, far down the road to Akwaya, we counted 3 different Obama t-shirts. If Cameroon’s opinion held any sway, there would be no doubt of a second term for Obama.

It was a tough choice between the Obama briefs and the pair of Obama Air Jordans.

Acronyms:

For organizations and businesses we understand the usefulness of the acronym, and before coming to Cameroon, we thought that its usefulness had something to do with making communication easier, shorter, and more convenient or adding that excellent category to the newer versions of Balderdash. However, in Cameroon, brevity and the acronym have nothing in common. Maybe the strong presence of the UN in Africa and their love affair with lengthy letter combinations (i.e MINUSTAH, UNMOGIP, UNFICYP, MONUSCO, etc.) has served as inspiration for other organizations, or perhaps a long title is reflective of a sense of importance and professionalism -whatever the reason, the long acronym is the norm in Cameroon and a source of everyday entertainment for us.

A few of our favourites:

– GRAGOPF (Grace of God Philanthropic Foundation)

-SOCAPA (Soppo Car Park)

-SOBINAPS (Sound Bilingual Nursery and Primary School)

-SOWEBEFU (Southwest Bee Farmers Union)

-REO (Reach Out. Really? Is the acronym even necessary?)

-BULIFAC (Buea Livestock Farmers Cooperative…Our definite favorite. Just listen to the way it rolls off your tongue.)

-HOTPEC (The Hephzibah Handicapped and Orphanage Training Production and Ecstasy Centre.  No comment…however, this is the one acronym that is shorter than the actual name.)

Taxi wisdom, prayers, proverbs and advice:

Taxis in Cameroon offer more than just a jerky, cramped and sometimes prayer eliciting experience. They also offer a wealth of tips, aphorisms, quotes, statements, bible verses or jokes, plastered all over the exterior of the vehicle. From the dashboard to the bumper, almost every taxi will have something to say.

Here are a few things we have seen painted across the bumpers of Buea’s taxis:

-HELP ME JESUS (In huge letters)

-Ruff Riders

-Don’t Ask Why

-God Knows Why

-I Need A Girl

-The Hunter Has Become The Hunted

-No Food For Lazy Man

-Fear Woman

-A Driver With A Difference From The Others

-More Risk More Money

-Take Life Easy

-Fresh Prince

-No Repentance In The Grave

-Love All Trust None

-Hard Body

-Have A Nice Day

-Man No Fit, Move Trousers Wear Skirt

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

On small loans and big change

In passing conversation, our boss at FORUDEF commented: “Economics in Cameroon is made of hands and mouths; we must try to make the hands equal to the number of mouths.  The problem is that there are always so many mouths.”  This statement also provides an effective lens for viewing development- how do we increase the number of hands while decreasing the mouths? It seems that this is a question that governments, multilateral aid agencies, and non-profit organizations, as well as ordinary individuals around the world have been asking for as long as there has been need in the world. There seems to be a theory for every possible opinion, and endless plans and programs for ending poverty- plans to increase the number of hands while decreasing the number of mouths.  Some work and some don’t, depending on a number of variables, the impacts of which are also continuously debated.  In more recent years, micro-finance, the idea of extending small loans to the world’s poorest, specifically women, has been at the forefront of development initiatives.  In some ways, this strategy has been different than most- its impact has been impressive in increasing the hands and decreasing the mouths simultaneously, and most parties agree that this impact is significant.

 

In many ways Cameroon is similar to and reflective of many developing countries; as a result of the success of micro-finance thus far, these institutions are everywhere. In every city and town that we’ve visited, micro-finance institutions are prolific and varied, second only to Obama paraphernalia (t-shirts, flip-flops, pens… we’ll explain more later…).  The idea behind micro-finance is that people living on less than a dollar a day are stuck in a cycle of powerlessness and dependence.  By increasing their access to financial resources, they are able to build their small businesses or increase farm production and generate more income, which reverses the cycle.  Micro-finance has been generally so well received, in part because it has worked, and in part because it is empowering.  Micro-finance gives ownership and responsibility to those who use it, enabling them to improve their own quality of life, instead of relying on an externally imposed program that may or may not fit the culture, gender roles, income levels, or even needs, of the target population.  Further, it promotes gender equality, something that the international development world has long hailed as key in overcoming poverty, but has been difficult to encourage.

Recently, we have visited a few of the micro-finance institutes in Buea to understand a bit of what micro-finance looks like in Cameroon.  It still is not easy to get a loan if you are poor- one must have collateral, which may be difficult if you don’t own property and certainly don’t own a car, and a potential borrower must also first buy shares, usually for 25,000 or 30,000 francs, about equal to an average half month’s wages.  However, we’ve been told that because the interest rate is less than that of banks and moneylenders, and because the micro-finance institutions are willing to offer much smaller loans than a bank is interested in, these conditions are still better than the alternatives.

So, for residents of cities and towns, micro-finance is a viable way to slowly improve one’s quality of life in countries where few economic opportunities are available.  However, if you don’t happen to live in an urban centre, you may not even have this choice. Similar to other amenities and opportunities, the remote villages of the Akwaya sub-division are not serviced by a micro-finance institution of any kind.  Early in its work in Akwaya, FORUDEF realized the significant deficiency of a financial institution, and the potential for increased development it could offer these communities.  It seems that micro-finance institutions are abundant in cities and other highly populated places, but in the difficult to access regions where there is even less money and more need, they are not available.

FORUDEF plans to offer this opportunity not only to those that have never had the chance, but also to some of the poorest residents of the Southwest province who stand to benefit the most.In 2006, FORUDEF created the Agri-credit Fund, a small micro-finance institution to provide credit specifically to those in rural areas with no other access to loans or other financial resources. A fundamental aspect of micro-finance is distributing loans to groups instead of individuals.  This encourages accountability, and provides the support and community needed for managing a loan and expanding a business.  In the four months that we’ve been here, we are continually encountering groups in villages throughout the Southwest region that FORUDEF supports.  These groups, called Common Initiative Groups (CIGs) are very popular and seem to form a social foundation in Cameroon, as most people belong to one. Usually, groups are formed around gender and a common economic activity, such as beekeeping or farming.  FORUDEF is slowly introducing the Agri-credit Fund to its partner CIGs, starting with those that are the most isolated.  When a group puts forward an idea for a possible income generating activity, the Agri-credit Fund provides a small loan, usually between $150-200.00, to the group.  The group may decide to use this money for a common activity, such as expanding their CIG farm, or they may give the loan to one or two individuals for a personal project; in either case, the CIG as a whole will remain responsible for the loan.  In the years since FORUDEF started its micro-finance program, they have experienced a 98% re-payment rate, and have helped to purchase beehives and cocoyam seeds for a number of different groups.

The womens' CIG in Bachuo village

Micro-finance is an approach to development that we’ve really admired for many reasons- it encourages the creativity and ingenuity of the individual, promotes gender equality, gives ownership for development to the people and communities in poverty instead of to the program or international stakeholders, and stimulates long-term growth and change on both the individual and community levels.  We have subsequently enjoyed meeting with CIGs in partnership with FORUDEF to discuss their experiences with the Agri-credit Fund or their interest in partnering with it.  When we ask groups what they would do with a loan, it’s been amazing to hear the ideas they have. A woman in a remote village knows that rice is popular amongst her neighbors, but due to the distant location of the village, it is a rare luxury.  She told us about her plan to buy rice in bulk in the city and bring it back to the village to sell (or, more likely in this village, trade) for a good price.  Another woman wants to buy a small freezer so that she can prepare and store cold drinks to sell along the road.  In another group, a man with a small number of chickens wants to work together with some others in his CIG to build a chicken coop and expand his chicken farming.  There seems to be no shortage of desire to make a better life for oneself and one’s families, or of good ideas for income generation.  We were also impressed with the recognition these groups showed of the long-term impact of greater access to money.  We asked group members what they would do with the profits if they were to receive a loan.  Sending more children to school, and saving to be able to give birth to future children in a hospital were common responses, especially amongst women. The overwhelming impression we’ve gotten from every CIG we’ve met with is that the interest, capability, and, above all, the need for micro-finance exists, if only the opportunity presents itself.

FORUDEF’s goal for the Agri-credit Fund is to expand its services such that every village and rural community, regardless of how far in the bush it might be, has the chance to access credit.  Seeing the degree of poverty in some of these villages has emphasized for us again the potential for micro-finance to act as a catalyst for other improvements in health, education, and infrastructure.  Seeing the potential for micro-finance firsthand, we believe in the power of this idea even more, especially in the rural areas where it is still withheld.  As part of our work with FORUDEF, we have been researching ways to expand the financial base for the Agri-credit Fund, so that it is able to offer more loans to more groups, and in time, can hire a staff member to specifically manage the program.  We will continue to work on this even after we leave Cameroon, and are continuing to search for funding sources, both publicly and privately, for a small, grassroots program that we absolutely believe has the potential increase the number of hands in an economy where there are currently so many mouths.

**In the search for funding, it seems there’s definitely something to be said for networking.  If you know of an individual or company who is interested in development though business or micro-finance, we would really appreciate passing that on to us.  Thanks for your help.

Meeting with the Bojongo CIG

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“You are not connected to the internet.”

The technological experience in Buea would be an easier one to manage if you came to the area with no expectations. Not too long ago this would have been the case for us; however, with high speed internet appearing in almost every country these days, we had some hope that we would find something somewhat mid-speed, or at least not dial-up speed, in Cameroon. We had also heard that there were cyber-cafes on every street in the cities and that there were a few different internet providers in the country. So while we tried to temper our expectations beforehand, there was some optimism that getting connected would not be too much of a problem. Four months into our time in Cameroon, we’ve had enough adventures surrounding the internet, and technology, that we can write an entry about them.

Once we realized that relying on Buea’s abundant cyber-cafes would require more patience than we were capable of on a daily basis, we needed to look into getting internet for ourselves. First, there was the decision of what internet provider to go with. In Buea there is MTN (which stands for the very creative Mobile Telephone Network), Ringo, Orange and the government-operated Camtel. The easy one to rule out is Camtel. Government-operated in Cameroon is not a good thing if you’re concerned with efficiency, innovation or reliability. MTN was the most expensive option, so we thought we would go with the slightly less-expensive Orange (we now realize that most expensive is always the ‘best’ choice regarding technology in Cameroon). Orange provides you with an internet key that you plug into your USB port and it supplies you with a form of wireless internet. The problem with this option is that it most often didn’t work, and when it did, it was slow enough that it took most of the evening, and a lot of patience, to send a single email. The days of dial-up seemed like a fast moving dream. We returned the keys to Orange after two weeks of this, where we were informed by the staff that actually, it was “our fault” that things were working slowly, which convinced us that another company couldn’t be much worse.

While searching for an alternative, we were serendipitously directed to an MTN office where we met Cliff, quite likely the best internet technician in the country. Cliff has been like the happy ending to a bad dream in our technological lives.  Just when we were sure the virtual world was pretty much out of reach in Cameroon, Cliff suggested Hotspot, a new service of MTN that provides hubs of wireless connectivity.  No other interns, Peace Corps volunteers, or locals had told us about it to this point; we didn’t realize high-speed wireless was even an option.  Since much of our work is dependant on internet research and finding international partners for FORUDEF, and given that watching play-off hockey on-line in the middle of the night is integral to the well-being of our souls, the $60 per month suddenly seemed like a deal.

So a couple of days after meeting Cliff, the house without an address at Bonduma Gate became the newest center of wireless internet in Buea. Since then, using the best service in the country has been great, and all has been bliss…

…Aside from the following:

-Every time the power goes out we get locked out of our wireless account.

-Since getting Hotspot at our house, power has cut out at least 3 times every day.

-Sometimes the power cuts out while Cliff is resetting our account, and before he fixes the problem we have to call him again.

-There is a weekly “general issue” in which internet service in the entire area is down.

-Every week the error message “unable to connect to the Internet” appears for a litany of different reasons.

-Sometimes there just isn’t a connection…at all…even with Cliff in the house with all his equipment trying to figure it out.

-Hotspot at the office doesn’t work 80% of the time, mostly for unknown reasons not listed here.

-Sometimes we can see that we are connected but “the template” fails to load (whatever this means).

-A connection late at night is never something you can be sure of…unless there’s a critical hockey game on, then you can be sure that there will not be a connection.

We don’t mean to be cynical, and for the most part we are thankful for the internet service we do have; this is just an honest account of our challenges with technology in Buea so far. However, there is much to be grateful for in spite of the test of patience and character that the internet saga has given us. First, we have found high speed internet in Cameroon, which has allowed us to stay connected and make our time at FORUDEF productive. Second, Cliff has become our closest friend outside of work. Sure we call him every day and at all hours of the day, but we’re also pretty sure he likes us. Third, we occasionally do get to watch playoff hockey. And finally, the connection has been regular enough lately to help up set up a website for FORUDEF.

Check it out:

www.forudef.org

While things have gotten much better lately and we can now almost depend on connecting to the internet every day, we still have to make the occasional call to Cliff and have days where we’re sure that if technology was a person, he must clearly be fascist. Moreover, the onset of rainy season appears to be another dynamic in the technology adventure. Last week our house was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, sending a mild shock into the unlucky chump typing these words, and a major one into some of our essential electronic components connecting us with the outside world.

And so, the adventure continues.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Everyday Buea

Home:

While we technically do live in the regional capital city of Buea, we more specifically live in what used to be a separate village called Bonduma. We don’t actually have an address that we’re aware of, but do we know that all our neighbours claim to live in the village of Bonduma, and we guess that would be true for us as well. Either way, we’re just off of the main street of Buea, and about a 400m walk up the dirt road. We’re the 4th or 5th house on the right, just across from the banana trees, close to the goats, past a couple of provision shops and just north of the football field. If someone ever needs to find us, they just exit a taxi at Bonduma Gate and ask for directions to the “white-man’s house.” Seriously…this is what actually happens.

Bonduma Gate. We're located just a few minutes walk up the road.

The soccer field is close to our house, and there’s a game being played almost every evening.
Electric clippers are the tool of choice and for 60 cents you can get a haircut. An extra 40 cents will get you a shave…also with the clippers.
A local restaurant, and the place where we most often watch soccer.

This is one of our favourite provisions shacks. It seems that most of what’s sold here is in
‘sachet’ size, including butter, whisky and soap.

The dirt road at Bonduma Gate on a normal day.

The road at Bonduma Gate when it rains.

We often have visitors stopping by. Sometimes it's just to chat, but sometimes there's a most interesting reason. Mole rat for dinner was being offered on this occasion.

Work:

When we’re not out in the villages doing field work, you can find us up the road in FORUDEF’s main office. Here’s a little glimpse into what our day usually looks like.

This is how it all begins. Yes, that is 4 people in the front seat of the taxi.

Since he helps us finish any unidentifiable parts of our lunch, we consider him a colleague.

Representing FORUDEF at a training session in Limbe town.

Who knew we’d pass a ‘Wal-mart’ every day on the way to work?

Like most places, FORUDEF's office doesn't have a physical address, but, 'Down the street from Wal-mart and next to the goats', is about as close as you can get.




Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Introducing Garri: A dish with the potential to do more than satisfy your hunger.

Garri for sale in Buea's Sopo Market.

Who would have thought that something that needs to be harvested, washed, peeled, grated, pressed, fermented, dried, sifted and fried before it is even edible (due to high levels of cyanide in its raw state) would become one of the food staples of West Africa and a thriving industry in Cameroon?  Garri is just one of the many products that can be made out of cassava, a starch-rich and intensively cultivated perennial tuber, and is a daily meal for upwards of 100 million West Africans every day.

Before coming to Cameroon, we had witnessed cassava processing in Vietnam and, at different times, had tried a few of the African dishes in which it is used; however, we had little idea how popular cassava was, not only in Cameroon, but in the rest of the world as well. Native to South America, cassava has been cultivated throughout tropical climates around the world, with Nigeria being its biggest consumer, and Thailand being its biggest exporter.

In Cameroon, garri is the popular final product of a long list of processing steps used to transform cassava into a daily meal. Garri can be eaten at any time of the day, served hot or cold, and can be the base for many sauces and stews. We describe garri as being a kind of mash, with a consistency similar to a combination of mashed-potatoes and corn meal, having a slightly sour and roasted taste. This may not sound like the most appetizing description, but garri is definitely something to try in spite of its unfamiliar taste, and is sure to satisfy a hungry appetite.

Frying garri. One of the many steps involved.

We have discovered a newfound appreciation for garri since arriving in Cameroon, not because we have made it a staple of our diets, but because we see the potential for its production to transform the lives of individuals and entire communities. Travelling to Ote, one of the objectives we had was the identification of an income generating activity that could enhance the economic prospects of the women in the village. For the women of Ote, income-generating opportunities are limited, and most of the women earn just enough to get by through the sale of farm products or non-timber forest products collected in the surrounding area. The income they earn is a pittance, especially when considered in comparison to the labor and strain that these types of activities require. The production of garri is an income generating activity that has the potential to transform the economic situation for these women, giving them access to resources and markets that have the potential to substantially improve their quality of life.

We have started planning towards implementing a small-scale mechanized garri processing operation in the village, which will be run and managed by the local women’s group. This mechanized system will enable the women to produce much more garri than they currently are able to do by hand, and will dramatically lessen the strain and labour required to produce a marketable product. Most importantly, however, the women of Ote will be empowered with the tools necessary to improve their lives, maximize their farm products, access new markets, and radically improve their income earning potential.

We are currently creating a business plan to implement this project. We have been talking with local machinists about building the processing equipment, and meeting with farmers to discuss the sustainability of such a project in their communities. The women’s group in Ote is excited about the possibility of having this operation in place in the near future, and our job is to find the resources, expertise and funding to make this opportunity a reality.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments