Showing posts from 2009


In Cameroon there is quite a large amount of hunting for what is known as 'bushmeat'. Basically anything that moves in the forest is considered fair game for the dinner table. Now that the larger animals in most parts of the country are gone ('got finished' in the local pigion english) the main targets are smaller.
Around Belo children hunt for rats and small types of cats. On my visit to Gabon many months ago there were teenage boys on the side of the road offering up their latest catches for sale.
So I guess there is not too much hope for conservation in these parts until the poverty levels are raised above just subsistence living?


My latest little orphan friend is Kelvin, a little three year old I come across on Tuesday after his uncle come to see me. His mother died a couple of weeks ago, leaving him and his two month old sister to be cared for by their crippled grandmother.
There is a big difference between living with HIV (the case now in the OECD countries with access to effective anti retro virals) and dying of AIDS (mostly the reality for the rest of the world with no access to any medical care). Kelvin is definitely in the later, and fits the perfect model of an AIDS orphan who should now be dead himself. Maybe he still won't make it, but at least he will have had a shot at it with his admission to a nearby hospital on Wednesday. He's got advanced pneumonia, a massive thrush infection of the mouth and throat, and is severely malnourished.
After a couple of days care he now has the strength to sit up and seems to like the special therapeutic food which tastes like peanut butter and milk power combin…

Typical Weekends

Elodie and I have been visiting each other in Yaounde and Belo respectively, generally just alternating weekends, and travelling on the night buses to make the most of our limited time together. 'Garanti Express' generally makes it through the seven hour ride without too many breakdowns.
In Belo we generally get in some walking in the amazing hills in the region. Andy, an returning volunteer from Scotland, showed us a great spot last weekend. A hidden waterfall complete with wonderful swimming hole, hanging vines and private rainbow!
In Yaounde the supermarket and fast internet are two major draw cards. I do seem to be jinxed when it comes to visiting the local money zoo, which is just outside the city. On my first attempt the place was closed to visitors as some of the monkey's had escaped and keepers were trying to get them back their enclosures. The second try was scuttled by a policeman trying to find fault with the papers of the vehicle we were using. All turned out ok …

Ups and Downs

Working in any organisation entails getting along with many different people, all trying to work towards various common goals. Unfortunately, when working with completely different cultures, sometimes attitudes about what is right and wrong can clash. It seems that I have ended up in the middle of many different issues, many involving different volunteers that have worked in Belo over the last months, and of course the root of all evil - money.
Accorded to the Wikipedia corruption perceptions index New Zealand is ranked number one while Cameroon comes in at place 146. I think if I had really known the implications of this difference in attitudes before I started enquiring about finances, things might have gone a little smoother than they have. All that can really be said is that all I suspected in my first weeks has turned out to be true but worse after my many months. Accounting is poor or non existent, there is no understanding of transparency, and one staff member was simply pocketi…

Mt Cameroon

Elodie and I, along with four other great friends, spent three days climbing Mt Cameroon, which stands well above anything else in west Africa. We first spent a few days on the black sand coast of Limbe, before heading up to Buea, the starting town at about 1000m.

With the required (compulsory) guides and porters, we set off up the steep trail. Day one really did just consist of gaining lots of altitude so as to provide a great view for the night at 'hut 2'. We could see the coast and the lights of Douala (Cameroon's largest city) laid out below.

The next morning dawned fine and clear in spite of this still being the west African 'wet season'. We really did get lucky with fantastic views from the summit at 4095m. It was then a long wander along the massive bulk of the mountain to the far southern end, where we descended past the still warm eruption craters from 1999 and 2000.

The last night was spent tenting at the place called Mann Spring (more of a muddy dribble), b…

Motorcycle Exploration

I rode a motorbike a little as a teenage on a farm north of where I grew up. That little experience seems to have given me enough of the bug to do a bit more while here in Cameroon. Another volunteer Lance, only here for four weeks, turned out to be a motorbike mechanic, which was a huge opportunity for me to learn as much as I could.

One weekend after work we headed off around part of what is known as the Ring Road, which circles the main range of mountains in this north west region, for a complete distance of 367km. Due to the rains and unreliable bikes we just did a small section, but this still included a lot of technical rough riding, a fairly serious river crossing, a fantastic waterfall, and a visit to the local chiefs palace.

On the way we had various fuel leaks, my clutch not working for half a day, one flat tire, and a chain coming off three times. I only crashed once, we only got lost once (ended up in the middle of a farmers field after the river crossing somehow), and only …


Wow, bit of an epic trip to the hospital with a bunch of orphans today. It appeared quite a nice catholic setup with clean-ish buildings and a fairly well run out patient department at least. The doctor was much as could be expected though, fairly grumpy, bossy and unfriendly, but at least apparently very busy.

The real issue was eight year old Stephan's reaction to having some blood taken for a CD4 test (counting white cells). I expected the little guy to be a pro at it, even if nervous. He took my hand on the way to the lab and I chatted away about this and that. Once inside though things turned bad with wailing and crying and squirming.

But that's not so bad. I got Immaculate who was also up for some blood to go first and chatted about it some more with Stephen, and started to think I had cracked it. Then it was back into the hot seat and melt down again. However this time the lab technician said and did things I can't repeat here, I'm still in shock I think. In the h…

Sponsor an Orphan

The full update, for those interested, is that I am now project supervisor for an orphan sponsorship project based in a little town of Belo, in the middle of the north west region of Cameroon. The project is under an local outfit called Berudep, but is run sort of independently, with the main aim of the game being 100% of sponsors funds reaching their target orphan.

A little website I set up gives you the general outline and also a look at the orphans involved and their wonderful names.... Immaculate, Precious, Elvis, Godwill.... check it out for yourself:

So far my job has involved sorting out the numbers, that is the rather involved and complicated accounting system here, but also getting out and seeing how things are in the homes of some of these kids. There is a wide variety, from Stephen (see the previous post on jiggers), to Joy the little baby, to Immaculate who is twenty and learning to sew.

The traditional set up here is very rural, basically subsis…


The end of my first week and so much is running around inside my head. Much of the time when arriving somewhere is sorting out who is who, what the most important parts of the project are, and what the next most urgent steps are. Looks like some improvements to the accounting system, and some teaching lessons for me might be order. More on the project another day, as I want to share all about ‘jiggers’. These were a bit of a shock to me, but are in fact ‘sand fleas’ which live in dry dusty sandy areas in tropical areas.

According to the internet “tungiasis” is an infestation of the skin by the sand flea. The pregnant female flea burrows under the skin, sucks blood, swells, and releases hundreds of eggs. Apparently “…complications, though rare, may involve ulceration, gangrene, secondary infection, tetanus, and death…”. Well, totally destroyed feet are certainly another complication of at least one of the orphans here! He’s had so many jiggers in his feet, especially around his …

Introduction to Belo

I’m now writing from the village of Belo, which sits in amongst the rolling green highlands of inland Cameroon, by the light of a flickering candle, using the last of my laptop battery before it, like me, falls asleep.

There is a small project here working with orphans that I will be helping will for the coming little while. I’m taking over from an English guy, Niall, who has been here seven months and was very happy to get my email saying that I would be happy to try and help out as he leaves in a week.

Today, as an introduction for me, we visited a local school for ‘graduation’ day, with two of the projects sponsored orphans dressed to the nines. It was a great way to get a feel for some of the issues presented with lack of resources and difficult conditions for children with little support, but also a celebration of life with singing and drumming from the school kids.

Express to Gabon

After four weeks of various attempts, I tried a final time at the immigration office for an extension or conversion of my Cameroon visa but to no avail. It was time to put plan B into action so I grabbed my book and toothbrush and with plenty of time to spare (well, seven hours) before my visa expired, managed to get across the bridge separating Cameroon and Gabon hanging onto the back of a motorbike.
From here things didn't quite go to plan as I had studied well the 300km route from Yaounde south to the boarder, but only guesstimated the rest and messed up by a factor of two. But, having come this far the only option was to sit and wait for the next transport to continue my way 612km to the nearest Cameroon Embassy in Libreville to reapply for another visa. I hoped for something better, but ended up travelling most of it in a 10 seat toyota minivan with 17 people on board, plus luggage, which took the entire night to reach our destination, with multiple comical army checkpoints (…

Hash House Harriers

We have had the luck to come across an excellent group of people all belonging to what I thought was a long past colonial relic, the Hash House Harriers (HHH). It turns out this concept is alive and well around the world, usually in places with large expat communities. Here in Yaounde every Saturday at 3:30pm, a group of around 30 or 40 takes off into the green hills around the city for an hour or so run and then some social drinking afterwards.

Last week was a little damp and therefore muddy, with the allocated trail leading through fields and and up and down muddy slopes. The route for the run is laid out by some volunteer 'hares' in the morning using some standard little markings at junctions. The 'harrier' runners come along and have to search and find the correct route. This means lots of extra running and searching for the fitter and faster members, and a more social slower time for those bringing up the rear.

Turns out that the concept started in Kuala Lumpur in M…

Welcome to Cameroon

Elodie and I have landed in Cameroon, with the rolling green hills of the busy little capital city of Yaounde all around us now. It is hot and humid and we have been spending our first forty eight hours here tapping away at a long list of jobs including getting sim cards for our cell phones, sorting out our house, hunting down internet, supermarkets, and money changers.

Elodie will be working on an HIV study based at the main hospital here and concerned with a new 2nd line drug and its effectiveness and side effects. I will be visiting MSF and other organisations in the coming days with a view to a similar position as in the past, non profit logistics or management.

We are living in a basic three story building run by the organisation Elodie is working for, in one of four flats run for expat students and research workers. We are sharing with two others, one French woman studying for a masters, and another Swiss woman undertaking research into condom use and acceptance. The place is a bi…

Dad's Ironman Weekend

As a retirement type activity my father Laurie Wesley took up doing triathlons. Some swimming, a little bit of cycling and then a run. The biggest granddaddy of these events is called the Ironman, so what better for a grandfather of 72!?!

The last time I was a spectator for my Dad in the 2006 Ironman the weather decided not to play ball and the swim part of the event was cancelled. Luckily I found myself still in New Zealand this year and so joined mum, my aunt and two sisters, as the cheerleading support crew for the 2009 Taupo Ironman, Dad's eight event.

The swim start certainly is an incredible sight, with the 1400 competitors all in the water for when the cannon goes at 7am. It is like a giant school of fish all thrashing around in the water, arms and white water everywhere. Even a third through the 3.8km swim though the line of swimmers is well spread out into a long even line.

Then it is onto the bike for the 180km out around a course that requires two laps. We managed to time…