Tuesday, April 17, 2012
“Merci. Grand Merci. Grand Merci.” He had been holding my hand for two straight minutes, which is the normal, awkward amount of time I had gotten used to in Cameroon. But it wasn’t the man-on-man hand holding that was getting to me, it was the fact that I swore this guy didn’t like me. Here was this 18 year old kid who rolled his eyes1 every time I asked him to fix something at my house and now, after 18 months of ignoring me, he was sharing the most private of family history. He had lost two nephews in in 2007, a sister in 2009 and had just come back from a funeral for his youngest brother, all from water-borne illness. He told me that he didn’t think I could actually do it. Their elites (leaders) had promised they would fix these wells for over 10 years with no results. People were skeptical when I arrived: I was a young, white guy, fresh from the west. I didn’t know Africa, I didn’t know development, I didn’t know them. He was right. I didn’t. But I stuck it out. I ate with them, laughed with them, and most of all, learned how to work with them. And now I was seeing the results of all the pain and sacrifice that comes with an experience like this. After a year and a half of setting up committees, organizing meetings, finding engineers and pushing people to know their responsibilities, we had working wells. We had water. We had life. The look in his eye as he was thanking me was best moment I have had in this country. It was a look of understanding, an understanding that life would be la little less filled with the misery of illness, the misery of small coffins and crying mothers, the misery of death. It was a look I will never forget.
It is finished! We have two functioning wells and a system by which to keep them maintained. The villagers seem happier and are starting to treat me differently. Like the kid from the story above, they had seen so many promises broken that they were skeptical it could actually happen. Now that it is done, they are starting to treat me like a village leader. This feels great in a way, but I have tried to stress to them that I am leaving, so they cannot come to depend on me. That’s why we have set up a system by which they can take care of the wells on their own. Many people complain that they have to pay a yearly maintenance fee to use the forages, but I think they are starting to understand that with this fee, they will have money to maintain the wells so they won’t have to depend on the elites anymore. Along with that, I paid to have two mechanics trained on how to fix wells, in order to make the situation more self-sufficient.
It’s a strange feeling to have it all done. We will have to make small adjustments to the wells over the next six months, so there is still more to do but the big part is over. It’s satisfying but also a bit frightening at the same time. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I leave, but I pray that they will keep them working. I have tried my hardest to make sure that will happen, but I am just that white guy, fresh from the west (well, I guess not so fresh anymore) So I ask anyone reading this to keep that in your thoughts and prayers.
Sorry that this is my first post in about 8 months, but I will try harder in the future :) Just wanted to let everyone know whats happening with the wells.