Thursday, August 26, 2010

End of first week at Post

DISCLAIMER: the views expressed are my own and not that of Peace Corps

Milestone! As of today, I have been at post here in Bandjoun for one full week. It has been a fun and interesting week as I've been able to furnish my house (more or less), hang out with other volunteers in the West, meet some of the people I'll be working with, and start getting the computer lab at the school in order. I don't have any new photos to post, but I wanted to get some initial impressions down.

First, the computer lab at the high school: I first saw it in early July when I just walked through and saw a huge pile of broken monitors in a corner, and 28 PCs all set up - 10 connected to a network. I thought that was great. Then on Tuesday, I returned to the school to meet the principal and find out my class schedule. The latter wasn't ready (though they told me I would be teaching 6, 5 and 2 - the equivalent of 6th, 7th and 10th grade in the US system), so the proviseur gave me the keys to the lab and wanted me to start putting it in order right away. So I briefly tried each machine and found that the vast majority had issues ranging from broken mice and/or keyboards to having bad hard drives or not booting. There was a printer in the server room that responded to a print request, but ejected a blank piece of paper. Toner was 0% on both cartridges! The modem that is supposed to connect the network to the internet did not respond at all. So I decided to return later and inventory the whole situation.

So that was Wednesday: over 8 hours, I managed to fix 15/28 of the computers to the point where they would at least start and run Word and Excel, in some cases scavenging parts from the other 13 broken boxes. The others I relegated to a pile sorted by make and model and plan to part them out later on. Today, I went to Bafoussam to try to get some RAM for a 16th machine that will not start or even run Windows setup because it only has 32 MB presently! I tried to find toner for the printer, but I may need to order it: the shop I went to didn't seem to have that particular type in stock, but there are more shops to check I suppose.

So... with around 11 days til school starts, I have some things in order, and a lot of work left to do. I haven't even started lesson planning yet, though I have already decided to spend a bit of time on keyboarding and security. Only one box has AV software (and thanks to it is too slow to be usable) and I also noticed that that free product didn't detect the viruses that are actually present in the lab(!!) Curses to whoever wrote Tazebama and its kin. t

Sadly, my USB key also got infected while I was using it to fix the lab machines. That gave me a scare, but thankfully the AV product I was using on my laptop caught the problems right away and I was able to fix them manually.


I've already been to Bafoussam probably 4 times in the last week. It's surprisingly easy to get around, as long as you're going between the center of Bandjoun and anywhere on the road to Marche A. You just grab a taxi in Bandjoun, and 10 minutes later you're in the market. My postmate was kind enough to show me around on Saturday so I could get some stuff in the "Frip" (not sure if that's the spelling), a more informal market area behind the main market in the center of town. You can get pretty much anything there, mostly used stuff, and all obtainable really cheap if you bargain aggressively.

Now that part is very hard: I got a guy down to 5,000 CFA for a blanket, but my postmate's reaction was so indignant ("more like 1,000!" she muttered at him), I just walked off and got a similar blanket for 3,000 across the way. They seem to start at least 4x the actual price, but there's also a "foreigner price" aspect you can't detect if you're new at this, as we all are. I still haven't quite figured out the bargaining thing. I just know you lowball, seem disinterested and be prepared to walk away. It's exactly like buying a car, only doing that exact dickering for every item you need in your life (other than most food) - ugh. At least you don't have to sign papers or talk to the manager.

Marche A is really impressive, especially after spending 11 weeks in the residential part of Bafia! It's almost like a mall in the sheer volume of people, stores and stuff you can get there. We walked through a hundred yards of shops selling electronics, then a long stretch of housewares, then clothing, then pagne, and it just goes on and on like that. Most of it is at least partially covered, though the passages between them are generally open-air.

Even neater than that is sitting in a sidewalk bar or restaurant, and the street vendors come up to you, one after another, selling any type of merchandise that can be carried. Here's a list of stuff I've seen sold by wandering vendors: men's suits, children's shoes, bras and panties (not kidding), screwdrivers and hammers, cigarettes, toilet paper, tissues, sunglasses, watches, jewelry, and many, many items of food: peanuts, popcorn, shish kebabs, cooked potatoes, fried plaintains, bread, beignets, "plums" (a meaty purple relative of avocadoes). Who needs to go out when you can drink a beer or a coke and the salesmen come to you??

Overall, tis has been a rewarding and fun experience already. How else can you have this type of adventure, other than being given a difficult job with limited means in an exotic country, with a tiny amount of money and a near-empty house to furnish?

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