"Transport is necessary in achieving a wide range of objectives including economic growth, personal welfare, governance and empowerment as well as security." ~ P. Njenga & A. Davis, Drawing the Roadmap to Rural Poverty Reduction

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rainy Season

Cameroon is quite different in the wet season. I think Jess described it best by saying, 'the desert came to life'. I wish I could upload a picture right now for comparison - I will do so as soon as I get home - because the contrast is startling. Everything that was brown on the previous trip is now bright green. There are new animals and insects everywhere (especially mosquitoes), and it rains about every other day. This is nice for several reasons: the nights it rains I actually feel cold. It's much easier to keep a full cannerie out front, and Jess and I collect rainwater in buckets for bathing and laundry.

Rainy season has its downsides, however. Humidity can be extreme at times, making a slightly hot afternoon unbearable. Also, as we are in a very rural area, power goes out from time to time as storms 20 miles away knock it out. Mosquitoes, absent in the dry season, necessitate much more precaution now, as I am not about to sign up for a dose of malaria.

Speaking of sickness, about a week ago I began to feel a bit funny inside during lunch. Before I could say jenesaisquoi, I was shivering on the couch, feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. Luckily for me, fever, nausea and severe joint ache/headache only describe about 75 percent of the serious illnesses I may have had. We took a blood smear for malaria testing, but 25 trips to the bathroom later we surmised I probably had dysentery. The hospital confirmed this the following morning, and 48 Ciprofloxacin-filled hours later, I felt fine.

Beyond the dysentery, it's been a great trip so far. I've had the opportunity to look at some local farms, watch more village activity and understand applications and needs for my project work. Jess and I have been able to talk about our projects at length, and it's been fun to see her work and mine collide. We both become rather animated at the discussion of farming/life in Africa.

There is enormous opportunity here.

Much like Ghana, a typical farmer will only own a hectare or two (half an acre to an acre, roughly) of land, usually split into four or five different pieces in different places. Here in the mountains, continuous, flat land is a rare commodity. Bicycles and hand cycles are used very widely here, by both genders and all age groups. After talking to Jess, it seems there is some good ,etalworking capability nearby. in Tokèmbere. While we were there, I saw several skilled braze welders and some extensive bike/moto repair. I'm excited to see what Maroua has to offer.

As the project is beginning to evolve into something real, I'm beginning to feel the same excitement I've felt in the past, but with the even greater happiness of being able to work alongside my future wife.

Friday, July 13, 2007

'Give Me Some Money'

While it's true that every project needs money at some point, the common misconception is that money is what people in developing countries need. I was startled yesterday when not once, but twice in the same morning, I was directly ordered 'Give me money.' The disturbing part wasn't being asked for money - after a while in West Africa, one almost gets numb to it - it was the sense of entitlement with which the orders came. I can understand the common (albeit totally incorrect) assumption that because I'm white and American, I have money growing out my ears. It worries me, however, that of the little English the people spoke, 'Give me money' came just after 'Hello' and 'Goodbye.'

As I was walking to photograph the worksite from our previous stay in Maase, two children carrying trash to the trash pile about 50 yards away spotted my glaring white skin. 'Hello!' one hollered. 'I echoed 'Hello!' with a smile and a wave. 'Goodbye!' the other yelled. I again replied in like fashion. As I continued down the path, they simultaneously yelled 'Give us some money!' What ideas are being passed form one generation to the next that the children would say those three phrases, in that order, to a complete stranger?

As aid has been provided in the form of money for many years in such areas now, the giving of it seems to have become an expectation. Even now, as EWB works with the village elders to build their building, they expect us to pay for it, even after we agreed otherwise. One of the village leaders here has repeatedly tried to get me to call Jeff and tell him we (EWB) still owe $3000 to the project.

Of course, the money has to come from somewhere, right? And, of course, we put our own money into these projects. The common school of thought here seems to say we are endless money piles, and our travel here is rather easy. At one point, when I got an incredulous look for saying I didn't have much money, I finally pulled my airline ticket stub to show Kwabenah what it cost. It wasn't until I explained that it took the cost of the house (30 million cedis) just to fly me, alone, over here and that it had all but cleared my bank account, that he seemed to understand the sacrifices we make for our work.

Where I come from, most people are too proud to outright ask for money (although I completely understand that poverty is not so prolific, and I've been asked for money plenty of times in the US). I honestly believe that what has established the United States as the power that it is has been the determination of the American people to bring themselves up by their own bootstraps. Solid capitalistic economies are not established by donation. They are founded on the fundamental principle that one's financial responsibility lies only with oneself.

Just as a responsible parent must, at times, force their children to depend on themselves to establish independence, so must a more developed economy, at times, force a less developed economy to stand on its own two feet, rather than on a crutch. Without this, there is little hope for financial and thus political independence. While I will no dole out money to people who want it, I'll gladly pay a little bit more for some goods and services from Africa. This is the relationship that has to be developed, one where the money is earned by the people.

So, we'll continue to buy our airline tickets and small parts/materials for our projects. We'll continue to leave our Ohio University t-shirts with our friends, but when a call comes 'Pay my tuition', 'Bring me a computer', or 'Take me to America', we must be cautious about the long-term implications of our actions. We measure our success in requests such as 'Teach me to do this' and 'How does this work?'.

I've decided to start a small fundraiser where I will buy some African art (mostly paintings and carvings) and auction them in the US. Every dollar (even the ones I spend) that it brings in, will go towards funding our engineering projects. Then, we are no longer donating money, but simply using globalization to open a market that can help these people earn money. If you're interested, please email me.