Thursday, January 13, 2011

Days 9-10 Homeward Bound

"Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me"

Paul Simon

Today is the day to go home, but the plane doesn't leave until midnight, so we get the day to enjoy the scenery, buy some much requested souvenirs for loved ones, and in general, to bum around Doula.
After some minor delays, we said a final goodbye to our much loved Chariot hotel and headed for Doula. Mid afternoon, we found a great little market full of perfect souvenirs and loaded up on jewelry, soccer gear, paintings, etc. Elizabeth started as our negotiations coach, but, after quickly deciding that we were hopeless, she took over the haggling for us. We love Eli!



When we were all shopped out, we found a lovely restaurant on the coast and watched the sunset while eating perfectly prepared fire grilled fish, shrimp, and french fries. It was the best meal on the trip, and when we were happy, full, and peaceful, we headed for the airport.


Happily, there is not much more to tell. You want your +/- 30 hours of flights and travel, as well as your journey through customs, to be uneventful. Excepting a few security scares (we thought Wayne might have to stay in Cameroon), we arrived in Indianapolis where our wonderful spouses, children, grandchildren, etc. were waiting. Bless them—they were happy to see us in spite of our tired, filthy, and bedraggled state—and we were overjoyed to see them.


Stay tuned as we process our adventure and move forward to build African University!

Day 8 - The Embassy

No fooling around about time today; we had an appointment with the Ambassador in Yaounde, 4 to 5 hours from Buea. The meeting was more about information than approval, but was critically important to set the stage for University support in the future.

So this morning represented the first time on the whole trip that our planned for extra travel time was realized. Everyone was at the car and we were on the road first thing in the morning.

A few words about Yaounde … the city is the Capital of Cameroon and its’ second largest city (after Doula). It's easily the most cosmopolitan city in the country, and is the home to multiple museums, embassies, the presidential palace, etc. Perhaps most importantly, the national football team calls Yaounde home—Go Les Lions Indomptables! (The Indomitable Lions).
 Architecture and infrastructure in Yaounde is to architecture and infrastructure in Tali just as New York architecture is to Appalachian architecture—it really is a whole different world.

So back to the trip. I have previously mentioned the craziness of Cameroonian roads/ driving. Now imagine that you are on said roads, going 90-95 miles an hour, on the wrong side of the 2-lane highway, when your tire explodes. Kudos to our driver—we made it to the side of the road safely and no one was hurt. We were very blessed/lucky (depending on your point of view). Now normally, we would put on the spare and move on. Sadly, you may remember the spare tire was already flat, leaving us no choice but to take 1 car and 1/2 the people to try to find a town with a tire to purchase, and 1 car and 1/2 the people to wait by the side of the highway.



To make an exceptionally long story short, a lovely woman with a home by the side of the road brought chairs down for our waiting weary travelers. I'm not sure that would happen in the states. The travelers who went to look for a tire were dropped off (except for the drivers) at a French restaurant to wait there. I have to say, the French restaurant had the absolute best bread I have eaten in Cameroon … gotta love the French!

We were back on the road in 2 hours or so, using up every bit of our extra time and causing our drivers to go 100 mph plus. I would really be content to never drive on the highway there again.
We reached the embassy safely—and on time more or less—and were ushered into the USA. It was absolutely uncanny. Sadly no pictures were allowed, but it was as if building from the USA (in its entirety) had been picked up and dropped there. Things like a sprinkler system, video security, baby changing tables—even a toys for tots box in the lobby—were exactly what you would find anywhere USA. It was really a strange experience.

We met with Robert Jackson, the new US Ambassador, and several of his education experts. We told the story of the University mission, shared the master plan, and talked about our recent experiences in the village. It was great discussion, including valuable information/clarifications on how to be eligible for various resources and what the Embassy's role is in supporting education in Cameroon. Everyone was extremely helpful and gracious. As we move forward, we will definitely need a plan to keep the embassy engaged and informed.

We celebrated the successful meeting with a lovely dinner and drinks in Yaounde before getting back in the car for another 4-5 hour drive to Buea. As a side note, the restaurant (on top of a hill) actually had cell reception! Wayne, Corrie, Martin, and I all got to call home for the first time in days and days! It made us look forward to tomorrow. Our flight leaves at midnight!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 7 - Partners and Friends

Today's focus was connections.

First to William's family home—a lovely 2-story building within a walled complex. Buea is perched on the eastern slope of Mt Cameroon (the highest peak in West Africa), and is an active volcano (with recent explosions in 1999 and 2000). The streets and alleys in the William's neighborhood highlight this fact, and are littered with black volcanic rock.




William’s family prepared a feast for us—fish and chicken, fresh fruit, beans, bread, fufu eru, rice, etc.—a major undertaking, and an extremely gracious gesture to our large traveling party. Sadly, we couldn't stay too long as a portion of our group was to meet with a potential architecture and engineering partner in Doula. It's been said before, but worth mentioning again, that Cameroonian roads and driving styles are completely and totally terrifying—unlike anything I've ever seen. Rules of the road seem non-existent, and passing on the right at 95 miles an hour as you are headed uphill with limited (or non-existent) site lines is perfectly acceptable. If you think it's faster to travel up the down ramp on the shoulder, go ahead! On top of all that, you'll find many pedestrians—including very small children—walking on or right next to the road itself, an occasional herd of cows blocking travel, and (of course) randomly spaced speed bumps everywhere (including the middle of a seemingly empty highway). The drive between Buea and Doula is only 1.5 hours (nothing considering the driving we have been doing), but I am a complete wreck when we travel by car anywhere.

Upon reaching Doula safely, however, we felt right at home. It was a Sunday afternoon and the young architects were all at their desks, working on a deadline—made me kind of homesick!









The firm—AMA Consultants—is relatively small with about 12 professionals, but they had engineers, draftsmen, and architects, as well as a familiarity with education work. Interestingly, they have been in business since 1983, and have many completed projects, but they have almost no pictures of their work. Drawing and specifications absolutely. Building tours too, if we wanted to get back in the car; but no photos. They said that to photograph your own work would be egotistical. What an unexpected mindset! We could never get hired for anything without photos. We left feeling positive. AMA could be the local partners that we need to move this project forward.

All in all it was a good day. Finished with wine and Spaghetti (I know SPAGHETTI!) on the Chariot Hotel veranda and a good night’s sleep. Off bright and early tomorrow to meet the ambassador!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Day 6 - Travel back to Buea

Good news! The suspension on one of our cars has been fixed. Bad news, our spare tire has been used, and we now have a flat as a spare. I hope we don't get another flat tire.

Today, our quest was simply to journey from Tali to Buea. In the end, we prevailed, although several exciting moments consumed portions of the day. The major exciting moment was when we approached a quagmire in the road. A video is posted on the previous post. Our talented drivers got us through the mud hole and back to making progress.

By 7 pm, we had arrived in Buea at the Chariot Hotel. The hotel was paradise for us since we had spent several days in the bush. Each of us also had our 'private' space back. Many of us had been sharing living quarters while in Tali.

We are looking forward to our final days in Cameroon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Videos

video
Between each of the presentations by Corrie, Cathy, and Sarah, the African women performed a song that responded to our topics.
video
This is a video of the 'Right-of-Passage' cultural event we observed, as noted in the previous post.
video
This is the quagmire our drivers are studying to determine if we can make it through. 2 choices:
  1. Turn around and drive 6 hours back to the origination and travel the road we arrived on instead.
  2. Drive through it
"When you arrive to a place like this in the road, you for sure know you will be sleeping there."
- The Reverend
video
We made it through!!

Photos Day 5- It's all about the People

This was our last full day in Tali. The agenda for the day included a Woman's Forum and Cultural Event. It was this day that we were fully immersed in the lifestyle of Tali, Cameroon.
Woman's ForumSpeakers: Sarah, Corrie, Cathy
Attendees: Women from Tali and the 59 surrounding villages

Purpose:
Share our stories of being professional women leaders, the value of higher education, the balance of family and work life, and the importance of g
iving

At 10 am, we were served breakfast that included fried eggs with onions and tomatoes, sliced white bread, fresh pineapple, peppered coffee, local hot tea, Ovaltine/cocoa, and water.

After breakfast, Sarah, Cathy, and I (Corrie) were given traditional African dresses that were purchased by the local women. We changed into the dresses for the Woman's Forum, and drove a few minutes to the Tali 1 Town Hall. We arrived around 11:30 am. (The men stayed at the place of residence.)
Traditional African dresses given to us
The meeting room was not yet ready, and the women had just begun arriving. We were given chairs and asked to sit on the outside patio until the program was ready to begin. During this time, we were greeted and welcomed by women arriving. Each village had coordinated their dress attire to match. The women looked beautiful in the matching traditional dresses.
Attendees at the Woman's Forum

The school children were in uniform and very curious about us. I had brought silly bands with me, so I shared these with the children. For each shape given, I explained what it was and how it related to a professional career. For instance, a wrench would be used by a mechanic and an elephant might be protected by a ranger.
Government primary school children
By 2:30 pm, all the women were gathered in the hall and men had started filtering in. Finally, at 3 pm the Former Governor had given his approval to begin the Woman's Forum.
Sarah began by explaining how she was part owner of Schmidt Associates. She expanded by sharing what it was like to work at Schmidt Associates, how many employees we have, our training program, and the importance of servant leadership. I followed her up by explaining my role at Schmidt Associates, how I was raised on a farm, went to the university to get my masters while working and having a family at home, and sharing the importance of sending children to the university. Cathy closed for the group by telling the attendees about her role at CICF as an accountant and the importance of giving.

Once we were complete with our testimonies, the women had the opportunity to ask us questions. Some of the questions raised were:
  • How can we raise money to send our children to university?
  • Will electricity and better roads come to Tali with African University?
  • Our cocoas are becoming damaged before they can be harvested; will African University develop better farming techniques?
  • How much of the rainforest with African University take?
  • Will there be employment opportunities for us and our children at African University?
  • What language will classes be given in at African University?
We responded to their questions, and they presented us with several spices that a group of women had harvested in the rainforest. We were able to bring some of these back to the USA. Martin is planning to brew a beer with some of the spices.

Finally, William had brought along Verizon duffel bags as gifts for the women in attendance. We handed all the bags (about 150) out and ran out! William drove back to his place of residence and got more and we still ran out. For the women who did not get bags, Elizabeth served them lunch.
Women receiving bags
By 4 pm, the Forum was complete and the men (Wayne, Martin, David, and William) were whisked off to be dressed for the cultural event. Kathy, Sarah, and I were driven to a nearby community space. We were exhausted from the conditions and events earlier in the day. I saw our driver with a warm beer and immediately requested one for each of us. This was our first beer in Tali and very welcomed! Although warm, I have to say the beer was the most refreshing and best tasting I have ever had!
Sarah and I enjoying our beers

Cultural Event
30 minutes later, the men were dressed and we walked to where they were to take pictures before the cultural event started. Once complete, we were seated on the side of an open space before two buildings. The entire village had gathered for this event. Originally, we were to attend a cultural event that was put on for us, like theater. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we were honored to attend an event that would have taken place whether we were there or not.

Clutural dress for men


Chief elect-elect


By 7:30 pm, the pomp and circumstance was complete and the members of the club were absorbed in traditional activities in the clubhouse. The team was dismissed, and we headed back to our place of residence while in Tali.

At 9 pm, we were served 'lunch'. This included fried chicken and river fish, rice, tomato and green bean sauce, boiled yams and potatoes, fufu eru, fresh fruit, sodas, and water. After dinner, our stomachs were full and our bodies were in much needed rest. We retired to our rooms and packed for our departure the next day.


The event was a rite of passage for a man to be in line to become chief of the local club. Our understanding is that this club acts as a fraternity with rules of conduct, traditions, and a membership of only men. One of the rules of conduct is that a member cannot abuse a woman. The club has a current chief (who is the Former Governor that has been with us since day 2 of the journey), a chief elect, and a chief elect-elect. This event was to observe the selection of the chief elect-elect.

We were able to observe the phased entrance parade that welcomes a 7-year old boy to the clubhouse after spending 7 days in the bush learning the ways of the club.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Photos Day 4

After the intense planning meeting late last night, the team felt really prepared and anxious to accomplish our goals back out at the site. After the driving portion of our trek, we began the hike through the bush back to the site.  We were shocked to see that the jungle had already began to grow back over the path we cleared the previous day, and that new green shoots were starting to come up through what we had trampled down just 24 hours earlier.

Once we got to the site, we found a young, but established Bubinga Tree (same species as the "Big Tree").  We, along with the members of the Tali community that were with us, said a prayer and blessed the future home of African University.

Group from Tali (plus Brasil, our driver) blessing the site.
After this brief reprieve, it was time to get to work. The team began to measure, stake out, tape, and record the coordinates of the Phase 1 buildings and the central roundabout.


Bubinga Tree that is the Axis Mundi of African University.

Field Team around the roundabout.



Staking and taping the building footprints.


Corner of future dormitory


Footprint of first academic building


From left: David Russell, Sarah Hempstead, Wayne Schmidt


Wayne Schmidt & Martin Sams



William Agbor-Baiyee & Elizabeth

Once all the work was completed and we all took a few minutes to rest and rehydrate, we began the hike back to the vehicles. Along the way William, Elizabeth and our guides took some time to show us some of the useful and interesting flora of the rain forest.


Coco pod

The coco bean is under the white (tasty!) pith.


Wild pineapple

Willam showing us Eru, which is a very popular dish
 in Cameroon and is cooked similarly to spinach


Plant that may have properties that treat AIDS - 
The top of the leaf is green, but the underside is a dark purple

Elizabeth showing us a leaf that is used to wrap and serve food
At this point, I am seeing a Jimmy John's sub wrapped in this leaf!

Appreciating the fauna


Unappreciated fauna


Really unappreciated fauna