From 26th April to 13th May 2019 Cameroon Catalyst’s design manager Leigh Jones visited Eastern Cameroon for an exciting and varied trip including a wedding, catching up with old friends and supervising the early stages of construction of the latest CamCat funded well in Petit Belo. Here is his personal account of his trip:
The main purpose of my visit was to attend Pat’s (CamCta’s co-founder) wedding to Paule-Henrie in her home village, about 100 km from Yaoundé. It was fabulous. I don’t think Malcolm (who came on last June’s trip to Cameroon), David (“Dad” from Pat’s time in Moscow), Jacquie (Dad’s partner) or I will ever forget it. Pat was marvellous and Paule-Henrie radiant.
After Pat and the others had returned to England, I travelled with Sandrine, Jones (two of Pat’s sisters) and Rodrigues (our excellent driver) to Bertoua. My room was much more luxurious than the one I had shared with Malcolm at the monastery hostel we stayed at during our visit last year. The only trouble was, though, every time I flushed the loo, I got a shower!
I first went on the site at Petit Bello for the “start-of-work” ceremony on Wednesday (8th May). It was well into the afternoon when we arrived as we had been held up for about two hours at a police road-block. The villagers were very pleased to see us, as no work could commence until we arrived. This included the Blessing of the Site and the cutting of the first sod.
The workers then set to work (in bare feet) wielding picks and shovels. Unfortunately, though, there were no concrete rings on site (they hadn’t even been cast yet). So I asked Contractor Laurent to dig a trial pit, with battered sides, no more than 3 metres deep, for me to inspect on the Friday. I also gave him a sketch of the planking and strutting that he was to install until the rings were ready, and promised, as a present from Cameroon Catalyst –in the interests of santé, securité et bien-être (SSB) (health, safety and welfare), I would buy the workers some casques, bottes et ganes (helmets, boots and gloves).
We then went on to Garoua Yaka, to have a look at the well there.
In return for the CamCat gift of the PPE for his workers, Laurent promised, free of charge, to relocate the spoil tip on the north side of the well to the west of it, to divert any surface water run-off around the well.
Also the new latrines buit by UNICEF, that risked contaminating the CamCat well, had been newly painted and spruced up. I was assured that these latrines were not used and the painting was simply window-dressing for UNICEF’s PR purposes, but I had my doubts
We also visited the Bambouti Health Centre and school.
But, come the Friday, instead of the trial pit I had asked for, Laurent had dug a hole 5 metres deep, open and unprotected, with kids playing ring-a-ring-a-roses round it!
I was livid and told Laurent in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t do something about it “PDQ”, I’d stop the work and go straight home. Jones (Pat’s sister) got all upset and and was practically in tears because I’d got so angry, but it seemed to do the trick. Laurent found some suitable timber to board over the hole and fence off the area, and promised he would plank-and-strut the hole before letting the men down again. I had my doubts but took him at his word.
On the Saturday, Jones and I went to the market and bought the protective boots, helmets and gloves (PPE) for the workers. (The salesman had wanted 25k (~£34) francs per set but I managed to beat him down to 15k (~£20). To his claim that I could well afford the higher price, I paraphrased one of my many film quotes (Lawrence of Arabia) “ Yes, I have money, but I am poor, because I am a river to the people of Cameroon”. Pretty apt I thought, until Jones said I was an idiot –if I’d left up to her, we could have got them for 12k!)
In the afternoon, we went for a swim at the pool in Bertoua, where I was left in charge of (all?) Pat’s nieces and nephews for the afternoon (so, drinks, chicken and rice all round!).
By the Sunday, Laurent had come up good. He had fenced off the site, put a waterproof covering over it and had planked over the hole. He assured me that the timbering for the planking and strutting was on its way, and no more hole-digging wouId take place until it was in position. Sandrine would be able to verify this when she next visited on the following Wednesday (15th May). With that, I gave the PPE to the workers, telling them, in my appalling French, that CamCat took SSB very seriously, for the workers’ sakes, that of their families, for Contractor Laurent, the village of Petit Bello and the state of Cameroon (which got a round of applause); that I didn’t want to see the PPE for sale down the market next time I came (to knowing laughter); and that I wanted to see them wearing their PPE in every progress photograph that was sent back to UK.
I went on to promise an SSB cup and a prize if, when the students came in June, there had been no accidents, not even a cut or a graze! –which seemed to go down quite well. Moreover, if the student team had no adverse criticism of the work in general, Laurent would get a special pair of tooled rigger’s boots (my own rigger’s boots that Laurent rather coveted, I had given to the chef de l’ouvrage). (I also asked Sandrine to buy a pair of ordinary yellow Wellington boots and a blue helmet for the watchman who had felt a bit left out. Well, time would tell if these gifts bear fruit…)
As ever, a combination of stick (in my case, losing my temper) and carrot (CamCat’s gifts of the PPE and the promise of an SSB cup and some financial reward for good safety and quality performance) seemed to be the best way of getting cooperation from everyone concerned.
BonBons for the children (Pat’s nephews and nieces and the village youngsters) seemed particulaly popular. I even taught them (the children) the CamCat marching song (about the only French I remembered from my schooldays). It goes:
J’ai perdu le “do” de ma clarinette
J’ai perdu le “do” de ma clarinette
Oh, si Papa savait ça, tra la la
Il me tapp’rait sur les doigts, tra la la
Au pas camarade, au pas camarade
Au pas, au pas, au pas camarade
Au pas, au pas, au pas!
By the end of my visit, everyone was singing it, so the students were given a special a special performance when they visited in June!