Published: January 21st 2011January 21st 2011
We arrived into an extremely humid (from which I fear our hair will never recover) Douala at about 5am, a short drive later and we were at the home of our Cameroonian family. There were a lot of people there to greet us and having not slept all night it was very difficult to get to grips with who everyone was, it still is a bit. After having the tour of the home we were asked what we would like to do, it dawned on us that this was a normal time to be up and about in Douala so we quickly mentioned going to bed before we were roped into some activity or other! People it seems sleep for about 6 hours and this does not sit well with Daniel at all.
Later once we were up we had a proper look round the house and a better understanding of who lived there. The house is big and having seen quite a bit more of Douala now it has become obvious that “maman” (what we call the mother of the house which translates as mum, she refers to us as her children!) is pretty well off. The house has
big gates and high walls to avoid being robbed I suspect. We have seen quite a few houses like this and they sit right next to houses made out of wood and tin. The contrast reminded us of India a bit but perhaps not quite as poor. Living with us is maman, her daughter Lili who is slightly older than us, her housekeeper Marie Clare, Frank a 12 year old boy which maman has taken in and a rabbit which we have named Stevie, they don’t name their pets here but seem to love that we do, it caused much hilarity. Then aside from the people we live with there are numerous people coming and going all the time and numerous insects…cockroaches are a standard feature, lizards and I also found a frog in our room, it is a constant stressful affair for me. Maman’s husband died 19 years ago and she has never remarried, this is apparently because she is unable to tell what their intentions are as she is quite well off and therefore is afraid to lose it all.
We spent our first few days with other volunteers who were already here and the exchange managers
Akobe and Tako, they all helped us get an idea of the area we were in and how to get around and how to get to work. They also introduced us to “Bobs” which is a bar right next to our house which we have frequented quite a few times now… a litre of beer is 65 pence! We shared a few with one of the volunteers one evening and the next day Daniel swore he was never drinking in Douala again.
The taxi system is a bit like our buses at home, they will take 3 people in the back, 4 if one is a child, and then 2 in the passenger seat. Unlike home they don’t take you exactly to where you want to go, there are drop off points and they collect and drop people off on the way. So to get to work we have to take 2 or 3 taxis depending on how the driver is feeling and if he fancies taking us that little bit further! They cover quite long distances and they are really cheap. The traffic is crazy and the fumes are unbelievable, the sky is rarely clear. It is a really
lively city, people everywhere, music playing everywhere, there are bars everywhere, everyone greets each other whether they know each other or not, you will see raging arguments between people and then 5 minutes later they are the best of friends, everyone has very strong personalities and they love a good laugh and generally it has a very friendly feel to it. No one pays much attention to us, we get the odd “les blancs” (whites) shouted at us but not often. There is an area of expats, we met a couple of them, they live in the wealthy district and it is a bit like they are not really living in Douala at all. They have a supermarket there with stuff imported from all over…a 4 pack of Activia yoghurt was 6 pound!
The first Monday we were here we went to work to have a look around and speak to the staff there. We are working in one of the very few schools in Cameroon to cater to autistic, disabled and deaf children. Disabilities are viewed very differently here and therefore it is not government funded. The only money they get is from the parents of the children who come here and donations. There are a lot of staff and it is actually well run but they struggle to meet costs and therefore can’t take in any more children than they already have which is sad because there really isn’t many other places for them to go. The owner is German and her daughter is in the school and she was her incentive to start the place up. It was difficult for me and Dan to see what improvements we could make but upon talking to them about their finances it became apparent that the best way we could help was fundraising so that is what we are focusing on. It’s only been 2 weeks but hopefully as we go along we will get a better idea of the running of the place and get some more ideas. The kids are nice, they are quite interested in us as you can imagine. The first week we spent going to their classes and watching their routine, they do sport, crafts, hairdressing (a huge business here as all women have their hair weaved or extensions) and various other lessons. The deaf are on a separate floor learning school subjects. Dan told me one day that he was going to go with the older disabled children to do sport, while he was waiting to go he watched them have a friendly basketball game, although it wasn’t all that friendly, they are all big and very strong, he then turned to me and said “I don’t think I will go actually”.
We speak French all the time everyday, Daniel has had a few lessons already and is slowly picking it up. I have been struggling a bit having not spoken it for 3 years and their accent is quite hard to understand but I am sure as we go along it will get much easier. I have started teaching some of the staff at work English so that is light relief for me!
Apart from when we are at work, which is Monday to Friday 8 until 3.30, we spend most of our time with Frank and Marie Clare. Frank has taken a real liking to Dan because he likes football so much so they spend loads of time talking about that. He has also been teaching Dan some African dances, this has been my highlight so far, as Dan put it he has been “uniting us through the medium of dance” and they love it. Another highlight was when Dan accidently agreed to playing football with Frank, it’s pretty hot here and we are sweating profusely after just hanging the mosquito net so the prospect of football was a concern for him. He was worrying about it for days, Frank would come and ask him if he had a football kit and Dan was doing everything in his power to get out of it, fortunately for him it never materialised.