Writing Creatively With Spirit

A journey of psychic discovery


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Cameroon Update – Chicken Celebrations

Sunday 23rd February 2014

So, the last nails were hammered in and, as is traditional, the roofers have to be thrown a chicken to mark their achievement in bringing the building to this stage.

Last nails going in

Last nails going in

Fred throws the chicken up to the buiders

Fred throws the chicken up to the builders

They have to catch it and bring it down to be cooked and shared with everyone as part of the celebrations of the fact that the building has reached a definitive stage.

Nearly there

Nearly there

Safely caught - let the celebrations begin

Safely caught – let the celebrations begin

Fred sends his sincere gratitude to all who have helped to get the school to this stage. Wish I could have been there to share in the celebrations. Settled for a glass of wine instead.

While this is a significant achievement there is still much to do, but for now we can all give ourselves a pat on the back for getting this far.

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Cameroon Update – The end for the roof?

Friday 21st February 2014

Just a bit more to go on the roof

Just a bit more to go on the roof

 

 

 

 

 

Fred’s comments says it all.

Hello Predencia (Bongkiyung)

What a great move?. We got the money and did not get to the office. We passed straight through the building material shop and bought one and half bundle of zinc which is now completing the roof. It wonderfully appreciated and a surprise to many.

The roofs will be completed today and we will throw a Chicken up to the carpenter as a tradition before he would come down from the roof. This is a sort of celebrating an achievement of the roof being completed. The chicken will be eaten at the site. I am sending you the progress pictures and  will send to you the completed one later.

All filled in!!!

All filled in!!!

I am just very excited as I cannot wait until it is finished this afternoon before I get to you. You are really a star. God has given you a wonderful gift for fund raising. I cannot imagine that only three of you raised that huge sum of money. If you did not come to Cameroon who would have done this to us? God alone knows why he really directed you to SeReP.

I will use the other 5000frs to buy the ceiling to cover the veranda, as you can see from the stair way in front of the office. The one which you supported to be put into use last time. We really thank you so much for what you have done. I hope others will follow and get on with the ceiling, plastering, fitting of the windows and doors, painting and so.

The students will have to welcome you at the bus stop if you will be coming in November in the morning. May you really be blessed.


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Cameroon update – The work goes on

Boy working outside the building soon he will be working inside

Boy working outside the building soon he will be working inside

Tuesday 19th February 2014

I’m very excited and bowled over by the way this project has touched people. I was able to send a donation of £450 to the SEREP (Self Reliance Promotors NGO) yesterday – thanks to some very generous donations. Thanks a million CH for stepping at the last minute.

I’m reliably informed by Fred the director that this should be sufficient to complete zincking the roof.

They will also be able to provide a kind of awning that will protect the roof from gusts of winds which could take the zinc off from underneath. (I am no builder but some of you may understand what I’m trying to say).

I was able to speak briefly to one of the pupils at the school. She said they’re very excited by the progress. Soon there will be no risk of the rain coming into their classrooms.

It’s not time to break out the champagne yet, but I did have a wee glass of wine. Thanks again to all who are supporting this project.


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Cameroon update – Nearly there with the roof

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to post these pictures that Fred, the director of SEREP (Self Reliance Promoters NGO) sent me a couple of weeks ago. The progress has been very rapid, but they need another £350 to finish the roof. It would be great to achieve that before the rainy season returns.

Shiney new roof

Shiney new roof

Hei Predencia,
It is my pleasure to update you again.  You can now see that the upper front has been roofed and then part of the upper back part almost half way gone.  
Only a bit more to go

Only a bit more to go

 
Yesterday we had a staff social and send off for Niki and I passed your greetings and all what you have done to make the roofing go up to this level. They were all happy and send you greetings to extend their appreciation to the donors.
 
Your efforts has given us a lot of hope and bright future for this project.
 
As soon as we get more zinc to continue, I will still get back to you with the progress.
 
Yours sincere.
Wirkom Fred

Please let me know if you would like to contribute to this phase. To nick a well know supermarket’s phrase… every little helps.

Cameroon Experience – Reflections – What I will and won’t miss

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Wednesday 23rd October 2013

Just before I left Cameroon someone asked me what I’ll miss. As I thought about my answer it seemed that most of the things I’ll miss have a counterbalancing thing that I won’t miss.

1.     Cleanliness

Garbage waiting for the council to collect

Garbage waiting for the council to collect

I won’t miss open garbage. The way rubbish is dropped on the streets, although it does form a rather interesting mosaic when mixed into to the red mud.

Every first Thursday of the month is ‘Clean-up’ day. I was happy when I heard that it was a day for making the environment more beautiful. But sadly it seemed to only apply to people’s cars, frontages and homes. The communal areas remained neglected.

Garbage waiting to be trodden into the red earth

Garbage waiting to be trodden into the red earth

I won’t miss open urination by men – however much rain there is. Neither will I miss outside toilets. Although I’m no stranger to doing my business outside (years of hiking in Britain) I prefer not to be exposed to the elements in the middle of the night when I need to go. It’s one of the reasons camping has never appealed to me.

I will miss the intense cleanliness of the interior of people’s houses. It seems as if there’s one rule for the inside and another for the outside.

2.     Sharing

A school girl offers me some of her lunch

A school girl offers me some of her lunch

I will miss the ethos and practice of sharing. I witnessed children who barely had enough for themselves sharing with those who had nothing. There’s a line in a Bob Dylan song that says ‘people who suffer together are more connected than those who are most content.’ It was certainly in evidence in Kumbo and in Mbosha. I can’t speak for the rest of Cameroon.

I was always offered food

I was always offered food

Whenever I visited a home I was offered food. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if the family had enough for themselves so I would only take a small amount. ‘Add more,’ they’d say. I was warmed by their generosity and hospitality.

3.     Education

The long road to school

The long road to school

I will miss the thirst for education and the extent to which people will go to secure a good education for their children. Education is not compulsory so school fees are applicable to all children. Many families make great sacrifices to enable their children to go to school. Some children walk for up to two hours to get to school in the mornings, and repeat the journey again at the end of school.

I will miss the way the children were responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of their school and did it willingly. There was a rota for cleaning each class at the end of the day, and for sweeping the school yard.

I will miss the enthusiasm with which the children at the school help with the building work.

Educating girls

Educating girls

I will not miss those who are still arguing for girls to be married as soon as possible which curtails their education as early as ten years. I applaud the young women in my sixth form group who made impassioned presentation for the right of girls to be educated in the same way as boys are.

4.     Connection to the earth

Cooking food fresh every day

Cooking food fresh every day

I will miss the connection to the earth that people have. This is maintained in several ways.

  • Walking barefooted maintains a constant connection with the red earth and its constant nourishment.
  • Growing food locally and eating it fresh. Lack of fridges means that food is cooked and eaten fresh each day. More of the life giving energy is made available to the body. Meat is also freshly killed. There are no microwaves to annihilate all nutrients from food.
  • Living with the rhythms of the days and the seasons. Being woken by the cock’s crow.

I will not miss the 5 a.m. Muslim call to prayer every day of the week, or the fact my neighbours began their day at 6.a.m. with dance music.

5.     Trust

I will miss the trust people have in each other to do the right thing. This is because they trust in a higher power, an all seeing power who will right all wrongs. I first experienced this the day after I arrived. It was my birthday and I went to Squares for a meal. We bought the food from a street vendor who brought it to us inside a bar. She was not affiliated to the bar and no one came to collect money for the meal. When I enquired of my colleagues as to how to pay they informed that we pay on the way out.

‘But we could just walk away without paying!’ I exclaimed.

‘I guess we could, but nobody here does,’ she replied, ‘it’s a trust thing.’

6.     Tolerance

Muslim mosque

Muslim mosque

I will miss the way Muslim, Christians and traditional spiritual practices co-exist in harmony.

 

 

 

Traditional juju man

Traditional juju man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Kumbo Catholic cathedral

Inside Kumbo Catholic cathedral

 

7.     Family

Father and son

Father and son

I will miss the sense of family. People here know who they are. They are firmly grounded in family and have a strong responsibility to their families. A family member is an extension of oneself. There would be no question of one member having a lot and someone else in the family going without.

A young man of 25 years that I got close to became the head of the house aged 15 when his father died. For the last ten years he’s seen it as his responsibility to ensure his mother and younger siblings are taken care of.

A welcome embrace

A welcome embrace

When I mentioned this to one of the teachers at the school as an exceptional case, she shrugged and said ‘that’s not unusual here.’

That sense of family is one of the things that systematic attempts were made to eradicated out of the Africans who were taken as slaves to America and the Caribbean. It was successful in part; especially the part where the men do not have the same sense of commitment to their children. Note I say only in part because some men are still very committed to raising their children as a family unit.

I will not miss the custom of girls being married at a very early age (I met two mothers who had their first child aged 12, and by age 28 had five children). There did not seem to be any religious leanings toward this practice as one was Muslim and one Christian.

2013-10-05 19.46.40AMost of all I will miss the way they accepted me as one of them. Gave me a new name and treated me as a long lost relative.

 


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Cameroon Experience – Reflections – Teaching love not fear

Tuesday 22nd October 2013

As I write this I’m reflecting on the fact that this time last week I was still sitting on a coach which was by then 3 hours late getting from Bamenda to Douala.

MAC cafe and bar Birmingham UK

MAC cafe and bar Birmingham UK

I’m writing in the MAC (Midland’s Arts Centre) Cafe, one of my favourite places in Birmingham. I’m not the only one using this place as a writing haven, there are at least five other people with laptops and coffee.

Last night, at their request, I did a presentation of my experiences to my ACIM (A Course in Miracles) study group. An hour was nowhere near long enough to share more than the highlights. Even so it was enough for those who had not followed the blog to get the general gist of the organisation, their approach, my brief spell with them and what they have left me with.

I was able to share some of the videos with them, including the one of Fred (the director of SEREP) thanking them for their donation to the school building project. They were visibly moved and spontaneously applauded.

‘Your words drew us in,’ one member said, ‘but seeing the video of the children singing made them real for us.’

I’ve still to upload the video of which he speaks, but one thing at a time.

I had no idea how exhausted I was. I’m just now coming back to my normal levels of energy so it may be a few days still before I get the videos uploaded.

Sometimes I’ve lain on my back looking up at the ceiling re-running conversations in my head. One that stands out boldly and gets a few replays is the feedback session with Fred on my last day at the project. Particularly my feedback on the school.

There were three practices which I’d been very uncomfortable with from the start. These were;

  1. Use of the cane.
  2. The practice of calling children ‘criminals’ when they had committed a misdemeanour and also being ‘punished’ for their ‘crimes’.
  3. Being called ‘bad’ when they broke school rules.

Being aware of possible psychological damage these practices can have on developing minds I endeavoured to operate differently in my teaching methods as a means of demonstrating a different approach.

I therefore never called a child ‘bad’ or ‘criminal’ and I never threatened the use of the cane or any other form of corporal punishment. Instead I appealed to the children’s better nature, asked them to put themselves in the place of the other person if the misdemeanour was related to another person. If it was a refusal to participate in an activity or to carry out a request I would find out why and try to work towards a solution that was acceptable to all.

Of course it took longer to gain compliance this way. My approach was tested by some of the more challenging children, but eventually they realised that I was not going to revert to corporal punishment. They recognised that I was genuinely interested in them and their reasons for non-compliance, and that I care about them.

What I got in return was disciplined lesson which came from diligence to the task in hand rather than from threat of retribution.

2013-10-13 14.55.54I’m in no way suggesting that the current staff group do not care about the children – I believe they care very deeply, and I believe they use the methods they do to instil the discipline they know the children need in order to succeed. Indeed the school’s motto is ‘No success without discipline.’ The teachers were simply using the methods that were used with them.

I shared my concerns with Fred at that last meeting, because not only had he observed my methods, but had sent others to my classes to watch me teach.

I was expecting strong resistance to my suggestions that the use of the cane should cease, and at least some resistance to the use of ‘bad’ and ‘criminal’ to describe children.

I was astonished by Fred’s willingness to agree to my requests once he understood the potential damage. As he is the main user of the cane (teachers refer misbehaving children to him) he was willing from that day to begin to look for alternatives to caning.

He would also be ceasing the use of ‘bad’ and ‘criminal’ and would be encouraging his staff to do the same. Although he anticipated some resistance there he was prepared to give it a go.

I suggested that maybe when I came next year that I could run a workshop for his staff on the issues I’d just discussed with him.

He reflected a moment.

‘The problem is that it isn’t just our school that uses these words about children, or that uses physical punishment. Calling children criminals is rife in the society, and also in other schools. Would you consider including other teachers from other schools in such a workshop?’

My mouth fell open. This was beyond my wildest expectations, and had I not been leaving the next day I would have begun the planning straight away.

I think it’s brilliant that Fred will be trying something different in his school. Hopefully by the time I return to run such a workshop he will have the evidence that this approach can work in African schools. When we teach from a point of love rather than from a point of fear anything is possible.

This is the same message I’m preparing to take with me to Barbados next month. Hopefully I’ll have the course for the polytechnic on effective parenting completed by then.

 


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Cameroon Experience – The return home

Thursday 17th October 2013

The day began at 4.50 a.m. because Emmanuel (my staff escort) and the taxi were coming to pick me up at 5.30.

Emmanuel - my staff escort

Emmanuel – my staff escort

Although I’d prepared my clothes and pretty much packed everything before I went to bed it was still a struggle to find everything by torchlight, as very heavy rain in the night had caused a power cut. I just about managed it, but decided to do my make-up later as I’d need three hands to accomplish that feat by touch. Next time I’m going to bring one of those torches that also acts as a lantern – like the one Charlott (one of the German volunteers) had.

Emmanuel was on time but the taxi was about 15 minutes late. Chima had woken up to see me off and helped to carry my bags out to the taxi. There were already five people in the taxi, two in the back and three in the front (including the driver).

He had to make space in the boot for my two large suitcases which meant moving a few other bags around. Also the live chicken which one of the passengers was carrying to Bamenda. Emmanuel and I squeezed in beside the man and woman in the back and so the tight fit began for the three hour journey to Bamenda.

About an hour into the journey I became aware of an intense headache and a very nauseous feeling in my stomach. Emmanuel later said that he too had the same symptoms, and blamed it on the chicken which was continually using the back of the car as a toilet.

It was lovely to be leaving Kumbo by daylight, and I even remembered some of the villages from my journey into Kumbo just four weeks ago. Then I was so fatigued I could barely take it all in. Now I was fresh. Squashed but fresh.

Piling the mini bus high at Bamenda coach station

Piling the mini bus high at Bamenda coach station

The pot-holes didn’t seem as intense or as frequent – or maybe I’d become acclimatised to them after a month. The trip to Bamenda was therefore fairly uneventful and it wasn’t until we all got out at the coach station that I realised that the leg that had been most tightly squeezed next to the woman on my right was covered in sweat from my thigh to my knee.

I can’t explain the feeling of revulsion as I realised that I’d have to keep my jeans on for the whole day, at least another 25 hours. But I’m pretty quick at making the best of a bad situation, and even the 90 minutes delay of the coach leaving didn’t faze me too much.

I did, however, feel a lot of sympathy for Emmanuel who was still feeling nauseous. He was even persuaded to buy some strange looking powder from a vendor who told him it was good for stomach aches. He also told me it was good for reproduction and offered some to me. I assured him that my reproducing days were well and truly behind me, and he moved on muttering something that I couldn’t quite understand.

Although Emmanuel tried to persuade himself that the powder was working I could see that it clearly wasn’t, and by the time the coach was ready to leave he was desperate to sit next to the window. Unfortunately the window didn’t open by our seat so he swapped with someone behind us.

This is how I came to be sitting next to the ancient gentleman who looked and smelled like he’d not quite managed to make it to the toilet in time. He tried to talk to me in a language no one around me could understand, and I have to confess to reverting to a technique of not engaging in conversation. I got my headphones out, plugged them into my phone and began listening to music. It was the first time I’d done this since arriving in Cameroon.

By the time the smell really began to bother me it was about 12.30, and as it turned out there was still another eight hours to go. The journey which should have taken 6 hours took 9 hours. Not only that, but when it rained the water came in just by where I was sitting. I had to rescue my bag from the floor in front of me. I moved it to my lap as it contained my laptop, but it wasn’t safe even there.

Fortunately I had my raincoat in the bag. I whipped it out quickly and it was this which protected my bag and its precious contents.

There were many stops to allow food vendors onto the coach, and each time that this happened the floor became filled with more and more garbage. The man next to me was one of the main culprits.

After about five and a half hours the bus broke down. It needed a wheel change. I used this opportunity to try and find a toilet as there had been no toilet stops on the way. There were no toilets and I didn’t feel like joining the men who seemed happy to urinate into the canal opposite the market place – in full public view.

By the time we set off again I was beginning to get stomach cramps and realised that I would soon be smelling like the man next to me if I didn’t get to a toilet soon.

I focused all my thoughts on finding a toilet asap. Each time the coach bounced over yet another pot-hole that sent most of the passengers at the back bouncing up and down like a fairground ride, my stomach cramped and I felt my sphincter muscles groan under the strain.

I was on the verge of going to demand that the driver stopped when he pulled into the side of the road to let some passengers get off.  I ran to the front of the coach, got off and told him I needed to use a toilet.

He looked around and said there were no toilets and I could not use the side of the road as it was in a built up area. I was panic stricken. I looked around, willing at this point to drop my trousers and do it in front of the whole bus if necessary.

It a then I saw the garage across the road with a sign that said ‘Toilets’. Not even stopping to ask the driver how long we were stopping for I headed in the direction of the sign.

‘Madam!’ I heard a voice call.

I looked up. It was one of the garage workers.

‘Damn,’ I thought, I haven’t brought any money to pay for the toilet.

He came running over to me and held out his hand.

‘You’ll need this,’ he said handing me a key.

I smiled my gratitude and carried on my flight in the direction of the sign. I opened the door on what was a ceramic plate on the floor with a hole at one end. It was luxury compared to the alternative I’d been contemplating, and I was mightily relieved.

Only afterward did I notice that the water over the sink did not work and there was no way of flushing the toilet.

There was a knock on the door, which in my haste I had not locked.

‘Coming!’ I almost screamed, only to find the same member of staff standing there with a bucket of water. He smiled at me and left. After flushing and washing my hands I returned the key to him. He did not ask me for any money.

It happens like this in Cameroon sometimes. In the middle of a bad situation someone’s kind response changes everything.

Faye and JC

Faye and JC

I got back onto the coach and sat through another three hours of the bumpy ride before arriving in Douala. It was too late to meet with Fay and JC at their hotel as planned. They were also travelling back  the same night. Our flights were within an hour of each other. The plan had been to meet up and share a meal together and then travel to the airport in the same taxi.

As it was, I just made it to the airport in time to have a brief discussion with them before needing to check in. Stepping into the airport provided the first feeling of order for the day. Stepping onto the aircraft was going into another world. A world without live chickens, or garbage on the floor, or smelly people sitting next to me.

Emmanuel Faye Emmanuel and JC

Emmanuel Faye Emmanuel and JC

A world in which a complaint about the seating would be taken seriously, unlike on the coach when a woman complained about the way the seats wobbled when we went over a bump (and there were many bumps). The conductor sat in the seat while the coach was stationary and told her there was nothing wrong with it. A world where the rain wouldn’t come in and threaten to ruin your valuables.

Emmanuel Faye Me and JC

Emmanuel Faye Me and JC

I finally relaxed, and apart from a brief conversation with my fellow travelers I slept most of the way. The connections at Charles de Gaulle were smooth and effortless, as was the taxi ride home.

Twenty-eight and a half hours from door to door. Two continents – worlds apart. I need to rest and reflect on what I can take from each for my own growth and development.

Although I slept for 13 hours yesterday, I still need more sleep. Maybe as much as 28 hours.