>Hello again from Kumba, Cameroon!
We had a kink in our plans this past week, as Wyatt, my work partner, became sick with malaria. He had been battling a cough for 2 weeks before checking in to the local clinic over a week ago on Saturday. He is fine, he has been using his medicines this week, and is now nearly fully recovered.
This sickness limited what we did this past week, unfortunately. With our other partner, Mark, visiting other ETHOS students placed in Togo, it was just myself who was able to travel. We will have to reschedule our second visit to Ediki Mekoli Mbonge, as we cancelled that trip. But I was able to make a trip to the village of Big Ngbandi this Thursday through Saturday. Settled on the top of the Cameroon Range, you can see for miles from the top of the village. If the term “village” is appropriate, as it is a population of somewhere around 15,000 inhabitants.
The trip brought home to me the importance of farming and the transportation of goods for Cameroonians. Nearly every family farms in this region, and the main cash crop is cocoa. Selling at 1,500 franks per kilogram (roughly $3 per kilo), this product drives the economy from what I can tell. There is much work that can be done on a cocoa farm, from spraying the farm with pesticides, harvesting, and the constant process of drying the cocoa before selling.
However, it is nearly impossible for farmers to sell directly to producers, as the cocoa is passed through several hands. The cocoa is passed from the farmer to the helix truck driver, to Kumba, to the port city of Douala, and then to producers in Europe and/or the United States. With so many hands buying and selling the cocoa, the farmers see very little of the cocoa profits, and the price for cocoa is marked up repeatedly.
The transportation of goods is incredibly difficult in some regions. The road to Big Ngbandi is a dirt road, and it is incredibly rough. The trip is estimated to be about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles), but the trip takes a long time in the rainy season. It took us about eight to nine hours for our trip. You wouldn’t have been able to tell that work had been done on the road just three years ago. Hills are hard to climb without men pushing the vehicle, and the drainage of the roads is nonexistent in many areas, with the trucks diving deep into mud puddles. There are many areas where there trucks will get stuck in ruts deep enough to pin the entire side of the truck in, perhaps 4 feet deep or so.
The road is almost entirely one lane, and if two trucks were to pass by one another, it becomes sort of a dance. Trucks will have to back up or carefully pull off to the side to let the other pass.
I’m constantly amazed at what a helix truck can do with a small army of men determined to push their way through.
Wyatt and I are excited for the next week of our journey, as we will be traveling to Yaoundé and bamenda with the University of Dayton Immersion group. This is a group that spends four weeks touring the country, spending two of those weeks living with a host family in Kumba and working in the city. The trip is promising to be lots of fun, although I’m sure I will get through lots of reading, as we will be in a bus for a long, LONG time.
Until then, short time! (That’s some light pigeon English talk)
Geoff Holmes, Civil Engineer, FE, University of Dayton ’10 graduate