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« Update from Doumbouo, and Keuleng Kid photos. | Main | Headed back to Cameroon »

Homecoming to Dschang, red dust and all.

After nearly two full days of travel, I arrived in my "hometown" of Dschang yesterday in a cloud of red dust. After a long and cramped bus ride from Douala to Dschang, it was nearly dusk when my moto taxi sped across the abandoned and now-overgrown airstrip that leads to Keuleng. Along the way, I passed an elated Paul Sonkeng, a beloved friend of School for International Training students who've passed through Dschang, and father to a 2-year-old boy, Ange, who will start school at Keuleng's new preschool next September. Upon arriving amidst the construction site, I was greeted by an equally ecstatic chief, proud to show me the progress made thus far.

The dry season has arrived in full force, and though the pervasive dust is a nuisance to anyone wishing to keep their clothes (and lungs) clean, the dry weather is a boon to the construction crew at Keuleng. Since construction began just under two weeks ago, hundreds of cinder blocks have been molded and dried, and the walls are steadily growing in height.

At noon today, I met with Paul Zangue, our project manager, Tadjete Calixte, the head technician of the project, the Chief of Keuleng, and both the President and Vice President of the community Development Committee. Because construction was started so early in the dry season, the price of materials remains at the lower rainy season prices. The team expressed relief that we would succeed in buying all the necessary construction materials before the peak of dry season, which is when the majority of construction takes place in Cameroon, thus causing the cost of building materials to rise.

That said, Monsieur Calixte expects to finish raising the building's cinder block walls by December 23rd, allowing his work crew to take vacation the week between Christmas and New Year's. He expects to begin erecting the framing for the roof just after the 1st of January - once everyone has recovered from all their celebrating. (New Years is arguably Cameroon's second biggest "fête" (holiday/party), following closely behind the La Fête Nationale on May 20th.)

In other news, I had a joyous reunion with la famille Nana today, my old host family. The two oldest daughters are both in the northern city of Maroua, pursuing work as a teacher (Clemence) and in information technology (Rosine). Rosine's daughters, Lindsay (3) and HŽlne (16 months), are home with Maman, who has admittedly lost some weight (much to her dismay, I'm sure) in chasing the two kids around. It's believed that children take on the personality of their namesake, thus I am routinely blamed for the fact that the child named after me is such a handful. I think I owe both Madame Nana and my own mother an apology for being such a pain in the !@%. I'm not sure how comforted Maman was when I told her what my own mom's dear friend told her 20+ years ago - that Lindsay's temperament would serve her well in the future. As I said that, however, Lindsay, freshly bathed and in clean clothes, was tearing around the dusty-filled garden, ripping leaves off of perfectly healthy banana trees, and feeding those leaves to the hungry and sharp-toothed hogs caged in the yard. When told to stop, she cackled and darted between trees. It probably didn't help that I laughed.

Meanwhile, Delmas (9) is doing well at Rainbow School. I brought him two books from home - Blueberries for Sal and Where the Wild Things Are - which we read together while I quizzed him on English words (he's good!) and Lindsay tried in vain to wrench the new books from our grip.

(Favorite comment of the day from Lindsay, while pointing at the bird-like claw of one of the Wild Things, was "It's like a snake's foot," to which we replied, "Snakes don't have feet." Deep, concentrated, silent, and frustrated thought ensued.)

Martial (13) is enrolled in a technical high school to learn construction work, which I think will suit him well. Valerie (21), for lack of school fees, has begun the process of enlisting in the military, but we talked today about trying to get him back to school first to finish his degree in carpentry. Marinette (19) is in her second-to-last year in high school, but has been out sick a lot. Unsurprisingly, Papa has neglected to provide a single franc to send her to the doctor, so she and I are going together at the beginning of next week when she'd done with her midterm exams.

Regarding Marinette: Thanks to a very thoughtful gift from a Breaking Ground donor, I am reading a new copy of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky. Kristof and WuDunn highlight a widespread global health crisis: the fact that families around the world seem to prioritize the health of their sons and neglect or hesitate to provide their daughters with crucial medical care. Maman reports that Marinette has been sick for more than a year now, but that when Papa learned that she'd have to receive some non-routine testing, he refused to pay. Kristof and WuDunn describe this sort of discrimination in detail:

The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine "genercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century. (xvii)

True, Marinette does not seem near death, but she is sick enough to be missing out on crucial years of her education. And that, too, is a crime.

That said, regarding health, I just had a heartening meeting with two teenagers from Keuleng who are the organizers of a local HIV/AIDS youth group. They've received formal training as ambassadors of sorts, and they train and organize teams of youth to speak in schools and at community meetings regarding both protection against HIV/AIDS, and community acceptance of individuals who test positive.

Tomorrow, I head to Doumbouo to see my old colleagues (and amazing friends) from l'ƒcole Publique. Just as I couldn't have been happier when yesterday's overloaded bus from Douala began the strenuous assent into the hills of Dschang, I can't wait to climb on the back of a moto tomorrow to sputter up dusty hills of Doumbouo. I'll be there just in time for school recess.

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