Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hear about our trip to Tali live and in person!

Dr. William Agbor-Baiyee and Sarah Hempstead—two of the seven people from Indianapolis who made the trip to Tali in December—will be the guest speakers at ...

Indianapolis Rotary Club
Tuesday, July 19 at Noon
Scottish Rite Cathedral
650 N. Meridian Street
Indianapolis, Indiana

The presentation will highlight the vision of African University, and will give you a flavor of their exhilarating and challenging visit to the remote rainforest that will be African University’s home. Guests are welcome at the Indianapolis Rotary Club presentation. You can choose the soup and salad buffet for $13 or the full buffet for $15. To make a reservation (preferably by Friday, July 15) call 317.631.3733 or email

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!