Thursday, January 13, 2011

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!

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