Ghana flashbacks, as we start a good 2 hours later than we planned. Guess we’re on Africa time now? On the way we hit an impressive internet café, lots of small form factor Dells and a vsat (satellite internet connection, quite pricey) out front for the most reliable connectivity one will find pretty much anywhere on this continent. But I’m almost boring myself, so on to the interesting part of the day: the drive.
Or, more accurately, the stop-and-go. The drive ends up something like 6 hours to cover maybe 2 worth of road. The roadstops are sometimes within minutes of each other, almost as if they’re competing to see who can be the most discouraging of tourism, aid, or most else that might improve this country.
My favorite is when I wake to some skinny guy who I could probably beat in a fight. He’s in military fatigues and demands “You! Why are you naked?” I reply by thinking “shut the fuck up, you punk little asshole on a power trip.” Fortunately, I say what I usually do when I think things like that: “sorry, sir.” “This is not how we do things in this country. Put on a shirt at once.” “Sure, no problem.” It is an exercise in frustration and self-restraint to keep from making many smartass comments. In the end, the shit bureaucrat gets all of 500 francs ($1) from us for his trouble.
Other than frustration at the power that assholes, especially those with guns and/or something to gain from harassing you, can have over me, I actually have a productive thought from the encounter. How amazing could it be if a country currently developing and corrupt were to simultaneously strictly prosecute and publicly condemn anyone accepting or paying bribes and reassign all nonessential police/military forces (those taking bribes) to a massive WPA-style program of building roads, schools, computer labs (my personal favorite), and other public infrastructure / enablement of homegrown private enterprise measures? Add some incentives for the previously useless bribe-takers to excel in their new jobs and I wouldn’t be surprised if a country could double its GDP in 5-10 years.
So some more naps and stops gets us to Mbengwi, the city where we’ll be spending most of our time in Cameroon. We’ll be staying in a monastery. Yep, monastery as in monks. In fact, monastery as in please be in your rooms by 8 pm, the monks get up at 2:15 AM(!), repose begins at 7 pm, and “the Great Silence lasts from after Compline until after Mass the next day.” In other words, these dudes aren’t supposed to talk between the hours of 6:30 pm and 6:15 am every day. Wow. Sitting in my, well, monkish room, I can’t help but thinking how many of my friends are hanging out at school after graduation, having a great time drinking for days on end before facing adulthood or at least a realy fun summer. Well, I’ve been there done that during senior week. Staying in a monastery is definitely at least something new. Fortunately, our host is the mayor of Mbengwi. Smart hospitality on the part of the head monk gets rid of our 8pm curfew.
We go next to the mayor’s office, meeting many people whose names I forget and tasting more mystery foods. Then, the fun: Dr. Fonjweng and I had driven 30-plus boxes of computers and monitors across Pennsylvaia to Pittsburgh for shipment to Cameroon (long story), and they’re waiting in a stone room with large, unfinished wooden desks that wil soon be a computer lab.
Or so we hope: there are some serious power issues going on. We find this out the hard way, almost blowing out the lights when we try connecting a printer, computer, and monitor to power simultaneously. We’re promised that an electrician is coming to fix everything tomorrow, but it’s Cameroon Unification Day, apparently the equivalence of Independence Day in the U. S., so I’m more than a bit skeptical as to whether he’ll actually show.
Realizing we’ll be drastically more productive if we actually have working power and that I’ve brought an inadequate supply of power cables to complete the project, we call it a night after unpacking the computers. I’m basically hanging my hopes for getting this lab up and running on one kickass electrician helping us out majorly tomorrow.
So back at the monastery (that definitely doesn’t sound right) we decide to watch the mot inappropriate movie possible. Lacking a copy of “The Exorcist,” we settle for “The Exorcist II.” Not nearly as good, but still sufficiently creepy that walking through the dark hall with only my groovy headlight is more than a bit disconcerting. If the cross in my room had been turned upside down, as in the movie, I probably would have dropped dead of a heart attack on the spot. Well, now to attempt to sleep!