Cultivating Leaders, Changing Lives ...
We're designing a brand new university campus in a rain forest in Africa. This blog follows Schmidt Associates' journey as we visit the site in Cameroon for the very first time, and will continue as we progress.
The university must be totally sustainable—producing its own food, generating its own power, and handling its own waste. The new campus represents opportunity for the people of Cameroon. Please check back often as we share this adventure!
After the harrowing trek into Tali the night before, morning over the rainforest was quite the sight. For me, opening the shutters and looking out upon the fog shrouded forest was one of my fondest memories of the trip. I even found it in my heart to forgive the rooster that had been trying since 4:00 AM to get me out of bed. Although I particularly enjoyed the next meal that featured chicken.
After breakfast, we ventured out to the site. To get there, we drove about 30 minutes in the 4x4's through the jungle before we had to get out and hike for about another 45 minutes to reach the location of the proposed Phase I site. Many of the men from Tali joined us, and helped clear the path with their machetes. I was humbled by the work that they had put in prior to our arrival to make the site accessible. Along our walk, we finally got to see the much hyped "Big Tree". We had been hearing about the "Big Tree" for months prior to the trip. Usually in a sentence like, "Oh yeah, I remember that. It was just South of the Big Tree." This lead to much knee slapping among those of us who had not been to the site. After all, it is a rain forest, and the "Big Tree" doesn't seem like a very useful wayfinding device.
And then this ...
US: "Um ... That IS a Big Tree!"
And this ...
Who's laughing now?
Wandering off the path was never really an option since the density of the rain forest made this bad decision impossible. This density is also what makes the work the people of Tali accomplished (clearing the path and the Phase I site) so incredible.
African University Field Team
Aside from locating and marveling at the Big Tree, we did manage to get some real work done. We asked the team in Tali to stake the boundary of our property, to drive a steak every 100 M, and then to stake out a tighter grid inside the purposed Phase I site. We used the handheld GPS to record the coordinates of these stakes so that we would have accurate site data that could be uploaded to the computer and Google Earth.
Welcome to Campus!
As tired as we all were, we still had more to do. After dinner, we went to the Tali Town Hall for a meeting with the village. Wayne and William both updated the village on the progress of the project and the purposed Master Plan. Also, the village Chief presented Cathy (Treasurer) with a monetary donation that the people of Tali had managed to raise. This was a very heartwarming moment, and illustrated the commitment of the people to this project.
At the start of our second full day in Cameroon, we were all very excited to be heading into "The Bush" to get started at the African University site. As our luck would have it, a new tire was required on one of our vehicles, and supplies for our stay had to be acquired. Our early morning departure became an afternoon departure instead.
University de Chang
Along the way to Tali (location of African U.), we stopped in Dschang and quickly toured the University de Chang (pronounced Chan). This was in a more agrarian setting than the University of Buea and was split almost in two - one campus on the top of the hill and one campus in the valley below. We ate in Dschang and got back on the "road".
We all knew that this was going to be a brutal travel day and that we would be in the car for 10 hours, but we had no idea of what was to come. The first few hours after Dschang were on red dirt roads. The dust from the car in front made visibility for the trailing car very difficult. Especially at night. The last stretch (last 3 hours) was spent on very treacherous roads that our drivers needed everything out of the 4x4's to navigate.
We arrived in Tali around midnight and were greeted by the local Reverend. Both the men and women were shown to their accommodations, and we all got to experience "off the grid" for the first time.
On our first full day in Cameroon, we were forced to rearrange some activities since our luggage being a day late forced us to stay in the vicinity of the airport. Our hosts were very accommodating, and we managed to still have a full day of progress despite the delay.
In the morning, we made a site visit to the University of Buea, a very urban campus with a large number of students commuting (mostly by foot).
Del Monte Banana Plantation
Along the drive to and from the airport in Douala (about 1-1/2 hours each way) and to Limbe in the evening, we were first introduced to Cameroon's rich agriculture. Basically, if you are a plant this is the place to be. Coco, Coffee (arabica and robusto), Bananas, Plantains, Mango, Pineapple, Yams, Coconut, Rubber Trees - all these plus more are grown here and sold as exports. Most of the Banana Plantations we saw were owned by Del Monte. A former Governor of one of Cameroon's regions has joined us on our travels, and is teaching us many things about the country. For instance, Cameroon's Department of Agriculture has found a way to grow these crops so that they produce more fruit and are shorter so that they are easier to harvest. Very fascinating.
William presenting to the Rotary Club of Limbe
The Rotary Club of Limbe was gracious to host us a week early and let us present to their group on short notice due to the luggage mishap. It was a great meeting, and we were even able to switch to our Plan B fairly seamlessly when the converter we brought with us turned out to be the wrong one and our technology went down. The group was clearly interested in the idea of a new university in the country, and asked great questions of our presenters. At the end of the meeting, flags of both clubs were exchanged.
It took us 10 hours to get to the bush.
7 people now in the car.
2 dead chickens on the roof.
1 gorilla heard in the bush making calls and thumping his chest.
2 full days in the bush.
2 buildings staked.
Miles walked - who knows.
1 stream driven through + 1 mud pit.
Number of palaces available for the women to sleep in - 1
Number of beds the women (3 of us) slept in - 1
Number of homes being renovated available for the men to sleep in - 1
1 cultural event, possibly 1 additional dead chicken after that
1 bucket available to bathe in for 1 man
1 shower available for the women
Snails eaten - 4
1 women's forum - 100+ women in attendance from 20+ villages.
1 5' snake along the road. Dead, for sale.
Celebration drinks to be consumed - TBD
Amazing, generous people - countless
3 days left in Africa, lots of work still to do. Having a great time and making progress for African University!
Total Travel Time - Indpls to Buea = 28 Hours
Total Miles Traveled = 11,500 Miles
Number of Loose Chickens in Airport = 1 (that we saw anyway)
Number of Bags that Arrived with Us = 6 out of 14
Dolly Parton/Kenny Roger Songs on the Radio = Too Many
Fantas Consumed by Group = 7
Cow Tail Eaten = 2
Cow Tails Regretted = 1
Phones Working with International Plan = 1.5
Universities Toured (University of Buea) = 1
Hours Anticipated to Reach Rain Forest Today = 8 or more
Number of People per Car = 5 or more
Exchange Rate = 430 CFA's per $1, (official location)
470 CFA's per $1, (guy in airport)
Average Hours Slept per Night = 3.5 or less
Average Temperature so Far = 85F (but now we head to the hot spot)
Number of Trips to the Airport = 3
Number of Snakes per Square Mile = Virtually Unlimited (Wayne has snake proof socks)
Anticipated Days until Another Internet Connection = +/- 4
Ready or not, here we go! I just finished packing the majority of my stuff and I feel a lot better. I'm sure I will have forgotten at least one major thing, but what can you do? There are Targets in Cameroon, right?
I will be so relived to get this trip underway. The anticipation has been building for months now and the last week has been particularly hectic. With all the stress of the holidays on top of the stress of preparing for a major trip such as this, just sitting down on the plane will be a relief.
If you had told me a year ago that I'd be going to Cameroon for a project, I would never have believed you. Yet here I am. This project (and this trip) is such an incredible opportunity. Establishing a new university in a place where higher education is a privilege shared by too few, will be a great experience for us all. I am really looking forward to being in a new culture and a new environment. Traveling always seems to give me a clearer sense of perspective. It is easy to get caught up in my day to day life, but traveling reminds me just how big the world really is and that my problems are just a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things.
As a designer, I am really looking forward to being influenced by a new culture and seeing what Cameroon architecture is all about. Just going to soak it all in.
We are leaving tomorrow afternoon. I am testing this post from my phone.
We have one suitcase packed full of drawings, charrette tools, electrical converters. Right now it weighs 42.8 pounds.
Personally, I have not packed yet. I will be sure to pack a rubber snake since Wayne is fearful that we will run into snakes in the jungle. The area is known for it's snakes and leopards!
I will post tomorrow to share our experience of getting through airport security.
We have been steadily preparing for this trip over the past 3 months and it is now fast approaching. In 2 days, we will be aboard a flight headed to Atlanta - Paris - Douala, Cameroon. What have we been doing to prepare? Good question.
Our packing list includes everything from malaria pills to drawing markers. We have filled one entire suitcase with our supplies (markers, measurement tools, solar chargers, electricity converters, and so on) for the trip. Individually, we are packing clothes for 3 different types of occasions: field work in the jungle, meetings with diplomats, and travel days.
Yesterday, Martin purchased the book "Indianapolis Then and Now" as a gift for our host. Rain gear for our trip was just delivered to the office. We are continually scratching things off our list as they get delivered.
All of us have gotten medical shots. Today, some of us started taking diarrhea pills, and tomorrow all of us will begin taking malaria pills. We have purchased travelers insurance, and have informed our medical insurance that we will be traveling abroad.
I don't think any of us have packed yet. Most likely, we will be crossing the last items off our list on Saturday morning. We fly out at 5 pm.