Every morning it’s an early start. We quickly realize that its long days if we want to meet our ambitious targets. The hotel is a 2 star with all the luxury you would expect; occasionally very hot water in the shower, though mostly cold and the mixer doesn’t work, its one or the other. There is a bucket below the shower (a nozzle in the corner) which can be also used to flush the toilet if it’s broken. Some are. The toilet seats have all being removed, apparently a collector’s item. Though a new experience for most, nobody complains. We are living in luxury compared with the conditions the locals have to endure.
Breakfast is coffee, fruit and bread and occasionally eggs. It’s always a good laugh. We quickly learn that a plan to leave at 7 is sometime after 8 (we’re on African time, we were warned) so the agreed start time gets earlier as the week evolves.
The drive from out hotel in Bafousam to Batofam where are project work is based is a 45-minute drive. We are mostly based in the “Ecole Catholique St Andre” primary school next door to the church. Our computer room is about 200 yards away and the hospital a 5-minute drive.
Over the week we get to know Jo Jo our bus driver, who must have been sent to us by God. He speaks very little English, though a few of the group can converse with him in French. He becomes an important part of the team effort, totally dependable and honest. He uses his bus as our delivery truck collecting wood, building materials and paint whenever required. He’s also our bodyguard. On one very dark night, on the way back to the hotel after dinner with the King, the bus gets a puncture and for some reason the security guys were not with us. Not ideal, though Jo Jo kept his cool, calmed the girl’s nerves (the lads were all fine!!) and we were on our way again within a few minutes.
On our journeys through the city and out into the country it looks like organized chaos. So many people. All fighting for a little bit of space, everyone selling something; bananas & other fruit, meats?? (really not sure), every type of household item, phone credit/money literally from behind cages, clothes, jewelry. So many sellers, of every age, though I did not see anyone buy anything. Cameroon is a country where the vast majority just survive. Most farming is subsistence.
Finola, Ursula, and Yvette, our 3 nurses, firstly sorted all the medical supplies and distributed them to local hospitals, who were incredibly appreciative. Through the week they combine their nursing work with painting the school and supporting the building team.
Nick with Paolo and Thays set-up the computer room. One of the locals provided the free use of a retail unit near the school and has tiled and painted the room. While the computers are all pretty aged, they are a god send to the community. One of our core goals is to support education in the village. When their computer work is done for the day the guys join the painting and construction teams.
Micko is heading up the painting team at the primary school “Ecole Catholique St Andre” supported by everyone who is available including 5/6 locals who turn up and enthusiastically contribute to the team effort. On Micko’s first paint buying trip the quote was €400, in the next shop €80 for the same materials. It can only make you wonder. A part of the challenge at the school is that there is no electricity, toilets, running water or any form of sanitation.
Tom and Brendan tackle a 3 class-room classroom renovation in the school, with only mud floors, block walls and no windows or doors. The first assessment is that the structure is unsafe, so the lads set about undertaking much needed work to stop it falling in on the kids who are schooled there, before moving on to putting in a floor and windows.
Lunch is cereal bars we have brought with us and the generosity of the priest and the locals who bring us fruit, nuts and cake.
Most evenings we dine with the King, a welcome feast (though most of us go vegetarian) after a long day in the heat. Then Jo Jo brings us back to the hotel. Every night we have a few hours of beer, wine, pringles, stories, jokes, singing and speeches in the small bar. Well you have to………
It’s too dangerous to go outside without the security guys though everyone is happy to stay in as the nightly session is a real blast, an opportunity to get to know everyone and relax after the intensity of the day.