Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fishing Season

Before arriving in Mbakaou for my service, I learned that Mbakaou was a major fishing town and that fish would be an essential part of my diet.  I was very concerned.  At the time, I was in training in the small landlocked village of Mengong, and I ate fish every single day with my host family.  They were good cooks but the quality of the fish was decent at best and I was eating EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Thus when I first learned I was going to cattle country (Adamawa is Cameroonian cattle country) I was very excited, until of course I found that the town in particular was the center of the regional fishing industry.  I didn’t know if I could do fish every single night for the next two years.
 However my concerns were soon washed away.  First, it’s still cattle country and beef is always part of the local diet. Second, when fishing season did start (last February, but really in full effect the last month or so), the Fish was amazing!!! On top of that, the fish is unbelievably cheap (even compared to other regions).  If I wanted a fish for lunch, namely one that had been caught that morning, I would go to one of the fish stands, choose my fish, watch it get grilled and then pay $0.40 to $0.80 cents for it!  For a good sized delicious fish!  Yes, translated into US dollars!  Also, it is well prepared healthy fish.  It’s not like other cheap things that seem too cheap to be considered healthy.  Like the vodka in Russia I heard about when I was there that costs less than a dollar.  STAY AWAY FROM THAT!  Like other seemingly innocent things in Russia, it could kill you.  Thankfully (and hopefully I am not jinxing myself), it is not the case for the fish of Mbakaou, Cameroon.  On top of that, mango and avocado season coincide with fishing season, which is a good sign for nutritional intake in town.
Despite the nutritious fish and increased incomes in the town, the fishing industry also has a few negative impacts on the area as well.  To start, many young men who would otherwise attend high school drop out to work in the relatively profitable fishing trade, much the same way several decades ago in the American rust belt, young men would drop out to work in coal mines (as a broad example).  This may provide immediate income for their families, but it is seasonal still relatively low income, and deprives both the town and Cameroon of educated individuals.  Also there are other negative effects to making one industry the center of a town’s economy especially when that industry is (legally speaking) seasonal.  Farming is also important, but aside from cattle raising it is often subsistent farming and is not as large as the fishing industry. 
Recently, I have also been learning more and more about the high HIV relevance in the fishing villages because of men who travel to the lake, fish and have relationships (or other sort of connections) with local women and then leave them behind. 
Finally, another concern has been raised in Africa in general and was particularly brought to light by a New York Times article, is the use of mosquito nets as fishing nets.  I have heard of it used in lake Mbakaou yet, however I have not seen it, but their use raises a lot of concerns.  First, people are not using their mosquito net to protect them from mosquitoes.  Living by a lake only makes them more vulnerable and most families only have one.  I am already having trouble convincing people to use their net primarily for their young children and pregnant women, who are the most vulnerable to malaria.  Moreover, while the nets are very effective in scooping up many fish (sometimes too many), they kill many fish because of the insecticide they use on the nets and they leave those toxins in the lake. 
All in all, fishing is an essential part of the town’s economy and lifestyle (including cuisine) and these problems need to be overcome so we can continue the fruits of the lake without major consequences.  I hope you are well and eating good food too!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bushman, Beekeeper and Survivor of a Thirsty Land.

Yes this is a grand overstatement, but it sounds better than: a peace corps volunteer who goes to remote villages for health animations, attends a beekeeping conference and is experiencing a drought.  Honestly the last one is worst than it sounds.
I was back at post for only ten days after the Inter-Service Training conference before going to a beekeeping conference in Ngaoundere.  In that short period of time I was able to hit the countryside and do a series of malaria and nutrition animations in very small villages on the lake and out in the bush (the countryside).  One of the villages Housseini and I visited in the bush looked like it was out of a Discovery Channel show with it’s painted houses that I never saw in the villages that sit on the road from Mbakaou to Tibati.  The villages by the lake are also important to visit, because I found, to my surprise, that many of the locals are still lacking a lot of information on malaria despite their close proximity to the lake.  On top of this they are a fair distance from the nearest health center making a visit expensive, difficult and often done in only extreme cases.  This is a major problem for healthcare in rural Africa in general.  A round trip motorcycle or car ride to the nearest health center plus the cost of treatment, can be a major blow to the family budget of a farmer or fisherman.  This is why prevention (especially with malaria) is so important and why I believe these odd little visits to villages are absolutely worthwhile.  I just hope the information is well received.  It can be a difficult sell convincing people to do anything different in their personal lives, especially if the information is coming from an outsider who does not even speak Fulfulde/Hausa/Gbiya.
Regarding the second overstatement, I recently attended a bee keeping conference.  As you might have deducted, income (or lack of) is a strong detriment of proper (or any) treatment.  Upon hearing of the conference, I saw the production of honey as a possible income generating activity in the surrounding communities.  My before mentioned counterpart Housseini runs a local agriculture group in the small town of Bolinting.  We are planning on starting the project with them.  As someone who use to be afraid of bees, this conference posed some challenges, but with a rudimentary bee keeping suit (a wide brimmed hat, raincoat, jeans, hiking boots, gloves and a mesh around my face) and lots of smoke derived from leaves, branches and cow poop, we were able to protect ourselves.  However now my hat smells like smoky cow poop.  The conference was interesting and I hope to keep you all updated with the project as it comes into being. 
Finally, the biggest problem I have been facing recently has been the lack of rainwater.  It is the end of dry season however rainy season is coming late leading to many of the wells drying up.  Worse, of the five pubic water pumps in town (many built by foreign NGO’s and corporations), only one works.  There is another one but it is privately owned.  There is a well in my compound however it is almost completely dry.  When I throw the bucket down to fetch water, the side of the bucket hits the bottom of the well and it usually brings up muddy water.  I do have a water filter that cleans the dirty water, but it often means not having very clean showers and buying lots of bottled water too.  It is a worrying concept and it surprises me that people seem so less concerned than myself.  The problem is also affecting cities and other regions.  In the regional capital of the Northwest, Bamenda, water has finally started running through the pipes after not working for three weeks!  And this is a city!  It does rain occasionally and when it does it rains hard.  But it is a troubling development if it does not start raining regularly soon.
That is all for now!  I hope you are all well!