Saturday, March 3, 2012

First Few Days...Buea and Beyond

From the airport we headed out of Douala on the road for Buea, a town about 2 hours slow driving west of Douala. The town in perched 950m up, on the side of Mt Cameroon, the biggest volcano in the country. The temperature and humidity dropped off rapidly as we climbed until on arrival it felt like a pleasant English summer evening. That night we stayed in the hotel Mendoza, and old British army officer’s mess, which feels as though nothing has changed since the 1960’s (although these days it is a whole lot dirtier).

My first night was a comfortable one and sleeping late till 11am I sadly missed going to church - although I’m not overly religious, it always promises to be an amazingly colourful and soulful experience. Everyone wears their best clothes and it is usually quite an occasion.

We had our first, albeit short, meeting with the Forudef team - being a Sunday we were on limited time. We needed to catch up with beekeeping in Buea as we helped one of the Forudef team last year and wanted to check on their progress, and we also had to set some time aside to prepare for our trip north to Akwaya district.

We shared news with the teams in Beau and heard about the work that Forudef had been doing over the past year. One of our major concerns from last year was the nutrition and health of the people living in the rainforest, which is one of the reasons that Gillean had agreed to accompany us this year.

Last year we had travelled with two Canadians, Mischa and Matt Taylor, who were staying 6 months in the region and had decided to focus on nutrition and diet when working with Forudef. They had set up a great program in Buea, which Forudef were now continuing. They had aimed to teach people about basic nutrition and ways to maximise this through cooking and farming techniques, because in the rural areas the diet is often very limited to what is readily available, and even then many cooking techniques lead to a loss of nutrition, Matt and Mischa have a fuller tale of this on their blog.

One of the techniques that they had been focusing for maximising the nutrition from the food had been the attempt to retain the water used in cooking to make sauces rather than throwing it away and loosing the goodness. Although it’s a simple thing, ideas like this can make a huge difference when diets are so limited.

We met a school in Akwaya last year that had wanted to do something similar, and so we sent seeds and tools to help them start a similar program to this one. The school is also somewhere we are hoping to have to the time to visit later in the trip.

Along the same lines, last year we took a trip to Ote village and noticed that the stock of chickens was very poor (they were incredibly scrawny and small!). We had talked about buying a cockerel and some hens to take to them when we visit next week, in the hope of increasing the diversity of chicken stock and improving the gene pool in the village. This idea was welcomed by Moses and he is on the case, looking for the biggest strongest hens he can find!

I know that all these programs aren’t about beekeeping, but from spending time in these villages it has become clear that the help they need is much broader than what one program can provide, regardless of whether it’s beekeeping or food initiatives. The villages have also been very generous when hosting us so we want to give something back in return, and these things seem like simple, long-term provisions that we and others (including the local people) can build on in the coming years. 

We spent so long in the office catching up on all that had been going on, and planning the work that we would do this year that we left the office too late to find food at the restaurant in the hotel. We walked down to the roadside stands to buy barbecued fish with hot sauce and sat to eat it on a rickety bench next to immaculately swept roadside - so delicious(!) - and then headed to bed.

the markets are colourful and you have to bargain but each stall holder only has a few goods to sell

ground pulses and grains are a staple

The next day we busied ourselves getting supplies for the journey north while we waited for German bee worker Leon Biermann, who was working with GIZ. He was to accompany us to the rainforest and was currently climbing Mt. Cameroon up to Buea. We were hoping to be ready when he arrived, but as we would be away for about five days we needed to collect provisions. We set out to get tinned tuna and corned beef (Brian’s ideas) but instead came back with dried fish, beans and chillies.  We could not take fresh foods as they will not keep.

dried fish is one of the cheapest sources of protein. It also keeps  without refridgeration 

Thank goodness for Moses daughter Ruth! She’ll be accompanying us on the trip to her ancestral area, which is just as well because her ideas on supplies, camping and travel in this part of the world seem very different to ours. Although collectively we have camped and travelled in many places, our experiences are mostly informed by wet weekends in Wales! This, she informs us, will not do! Moses wanted to arrange stoves and transport large bottles of gas with us, but we decided that cooking on fire like everyone else was fine – besides, it’s a lot cheaper and easier!

We met a nice guy called Ezra Gentleman who is a Canadian working with The Humanity Exchange from Canada. Ezra has a Masters in Development Economics, and is working on microcredit in the Buea area.  He was hoping to come with us to the rainforest but leaves in just over a week and so is short of time (everything can take a little longer than expected out here!).

Once we had all the supplies, we just had to wait for Leon to finish his hearty climb and we would be ready to head north and into the rainforest.

There hasn’t been much talk of actual beekeeping yet(!) but that’s coming in the next post, I promise!

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