WMD (The Unfortunate Acronym for World Malaria Day)

View from Mt. Ngaoundéré

April 25th was World Malaria Day (or, more unfortunately, WMD) and fellow health volunteers in Ngaoundéré who are part of the Malaria Committee set up a large testing campaign in front of the Grand Mosquée de Lamidat in order to raise awareness and perform 500 free malaria tests to the most at-risk populations. Given that I’m currently awaiting a new village and new work assignment, I figured I had nothing better to do than to take the 24 hour bus to Ngaoundéré from Lomié and participate in the big event.
Training Wednesday 

Wednesday the 23rd was the training for all those who planned to volunteer during the event. There were local Red Cross volunteers, staff from the District Hospital, and many PCVs including Elijah, Genevieve, Alexi, Aly, Aliz, Hannah, and Rachel, just to name a few from our stage. We spent 4 hours on Wednesday going over the game plan for Friday and delegating our various tasks for the big day, not to mention enjoying copious amounts of the best chai, beignets, and bouille I’ve tasted yet during our pause café. At noon we were released and given Thursday to relax before the big day on Friday.

While Thursday was supposed to be a day of relaxation, a group of us decided to partake in a nice hike up Mt. Ngaoundéré. Everyone assured me that it was an ‘easy’ ’15 minute’ hike up to the top, and it looked pretty simple from the view from our case. Given that I brought no workout clothes with me to Ngaoundéré, I wore a skirt and flats, since this was, after all, supposed to be an 'easy stroll'. Ha!

View of Mt. Ngaoundéré from a Distance

While granted, there are two paths up the mountain, Brian Dunn (health PCV near Rachel) led us up the difficult path rather than up the easy path. We unknowingly followed him and our 'easy' hike quickly turned into rock climbing and scaling large boulders. As we huffed and puffed in the bright sun, we slowly climbed all the rocks and did some pretty amazing feats of acrobatics. I thought the rock climbing was fun and not too terribly strenuous (although quite a great thigh workout), but I soon learned that a skirt and ballet flats were perhaps not the choice attire for such a climb. Next time I come to Ngaoundéré, I will be sure to pack tennis shoes and running clothes, which will undoubtedly make the climb a heck of a lot easier.

After the 20 minutes of rock climbing, we reached the top, which was amazingly breathtaking. The sky was clear, allowing us to see for countless miles in all directions. The city of Ngaoundéré sprawled out before us on one side of the mountain, while the vast Adamawan plains stretched out in all directions on the other side. We sat, soaked in the view, drank copious amounts of water, and continued on our way down.

View from the Top of the Annoying Boulder
On the hike down, there was a nice large boulder that Aly, Rachel, Brian and I were tempted to climb. While we thought this might be an easy task, like everything in Cameroon, it turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. In order to get on top of the boulder we had to climb into a small cave/alcove between two other boulders, shimmy our legs up the boulder walls in the middle splits position, and push ourselves up through a tiny opening all the while still holding ourselves between these two boulders with our legs. It took a few tries for each of us, but we finally made it, and making it to the top felt like being on top of the world – or at least on top of Ngaoundéré, which I suppose we were.

Friday came and Genevieve and I volunteered to go to the Grande Mosque early to set up tables and such. By 12:30 nearly everything was organized and all the volunteers for the event started to arrive. Between 12:30 and 1:00 the courtyard in front of the Grand Mosque began to fill up with people preparing themselves for the 1:00 prayer. The mosque filled to the brink and so did the streets and courtyards surrounding the mosque. Hundreds of people gathered and waited silently until 1:00. 

At the top of the hour, the Lamido exited his house draped in white garb from head to toe and shielded by a large parasol. Men with large, ornate swords and other cultural accessories thronged around him as he made his way to the mosque. I've never seen anything like it. When he entered the mosque, the prayer commenced and the loud speakers began receipting verses of the Qur'an. It was perhaps the most beautiful thing I have seen yet in Cameroon. The sight of hundreds of people praying, bowing, standing, and receipting the Qur’an at the same time was nothing short of spectacular. The only awkward bit was that Mecca happened to be located behind where we had set up, so during their entire prayer, everyone prayed to us and our malaria posters as if they were devotedly praying towards ending malaria.

Mobbing the Registration Desk
The prayer ended and the Lamido returned to his house among a throng of dancers and drummers. It was like a mini celebration, but it happens every Friday! The moment midday prayer ended, throngs of men bombarded the registration tent where Rachel and I were in charge of recording all 500 participants’ names, neighborhood, age, and other supplemental information. While it was great there was such interest, men are not considered the most at-risk group for malaria. While we tried explaining to the men that we need to take women and children first, many didn’t understand, so what ended up happening was that Rachel registered all the men and I registered all the women and children in hopes to at least get 250 women and children tested all the while appeasing the men.

I should probably note that Cameroonians don’t understand the concept of orderly, single-file lines. Even though we put two Cameroonian Red Cross volunteers in charge of crowed control, those waiting to be registered mobbed, pushed, and shoved their way up to the table, at times threatening to push our registration table over. Once Rachel and I entered them into the database, they then began to crowd behind us as they waited to be let into the testing and sensitization area. In essence, Rachel and I were surrounded on all sides by shoving Cameroonians with a mob-like mentality in the midday heat. Needless to say, Rachel and I began to feel claustrophobic, hungry, and just a tad overwhelmed.
Genevieve and Brian Working Hard

Once we finished registering the participants, they were let in the testing area in groups of 5 where other PCVs and Red Cross volunteers took their temperature, performed the test, and then educated them on the importance of malaria and how to prevent it. After going through 4 different educational tables, each participant collected their results. Fortunately, very few participants tested positive for malaria. Unfortunately, this perhaps meant that we didn’t reach the most at-risk and already sick target population. But that is merely an improvement that can be made next year.

This was the first event of its kind in Ngaoundéré, and with that in mind, it was a success. We had DJs, radio spots and interviews, and we completed 500 tests and educated 500 of Ngaoundéré’s population on the truth of malaria while dispelling many rumors. The sun set and Rachel and I finished our registration of participants not long after and had to turn everyone else away. We packed up, exhausted from hunger and a hard day’s work while feeling generally productive and successful.

A Horse out of a Fantasy that Spencer and I saw
Not long after the malaria testing began, Spencer surprised me with a visit from Garoua and ended up being the unofficial event photographer and media person for the day. When we both finished our jobs after 6pm, we went on a much needed grilled fish and baton de manioc date, followed by a movie together in the case. It seems like every time Spencer and I are together, we are both pretty sick, this time I had worms and Spencer had some type of food poisoning. We are quite the cute, sick couple, I must say! We spent all day Saturday recovering from WMD by watching movies, TV shows, and reading (we are both currently reading the Game of Thrones series) and on Saturday night we went out for a nice date at a local Lebanese restaurant near the case for some fantastic hummus and spaghetti bolognese.

Tuesday brought some bad news for me when I found out that my potential village of Idool fell through, which means I'm back to square one with waiting for a new village assignment. I won’t lie and won’t sugar coat it – I’m terribly discouraged and depressed and I am dying from lack of work. The thought of returning to Lomié where I can barely leave my house saddens me. But, what can I do. I’ll try to bide my time in Lomié and fill my days doing something or other, and likely making frequent trips to Bertoua and Ngaoundéré for the beekeeping conference that I’m organizing in Bertoua for the month of August. Also to fill my time I’m streamlining all moringa and soy documents and making one giant soy and moringa manual for all PC-Cameroon PCVs. So, all-in-all I’m glad that my position as Vice Chairperson on Food Security Committee is keeping me busy, but that doesn’t make the fact that I’m in limbo, have no work, and anywhere from 4 to 20 hours from the nearest volunteers.  This trip to Ngaoundéré came at the right time. It was amazing to spend a brief time with Spencer and to spend a week with some of my closest friends in country all the while keeping busy with some work.

Hopefully things start looking up soon. Until then, I’ll try to keep ya’ll updated, and will likely be spending the bulk of my time visiting friends and finding some work in their villages. A la prochain

Morning Chai in Ngaoundere

1 comment:

  1. judy snyder29.4.14

    I'm so sorry your possible posting fell through. Hang in there and hopefully you will get to put your many talents to good use soon! I sure hope that you and Spencer will both be well the next time you see each other!


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