Saturday, November 19, 2005

A very difficult week

This past week has definitely felt like one of the longest since I arrived here. After spending a long weekend with my friends in Moutourwa, thanks to the announcement lat Thursday night of a national holiday to mark the start of the three week long census (not that any of us even saw a census representative on Friday) I started the school week in good form.

Our monthly teachers reunion which was due to take place on Friday night was suspended as the host teacher's mother had passed away. A notice was given to the teachers on Monday to inform us that we were all going to pay the teacher in question a visit that evening to express our condolences, as is the tradition in Cameroon. After finishing school on Monday afternoon, I came home to eat and have a siesta before meeting the other teachers, only to receive a call from my sister to inform me that my uncle had died whilst on holiday with my aunt.

It's no surprise that following this news, this week has been one of the longest and hardest since being here. It's only now that I realise how far away from home I actually am and how difficult it is for me to get back, given the very isolated nature of the Extreme North Province. The guilt at not being at home at a time like this to be there to give support to the rest of my family is something that I find really hard to face up to.

Fortunately, everyone here has been immensely supportive and I feel that over this past week I have become even closer to my close friends here. Not only have they had to put up with my frequent teary moments but they have refused point blank to leave me spend an evening alone, instead making sure I am with them, even if they have just come round to sit with me. Fodjo has had me round for dinner every day this week, he has sat with on numerous occasions whilst I have been upset and he has cracked endless amounts of jokes in an attempt to cheer me up. The Principal has also been a great support. Initially, I was not planning on telling many people until persuaded by Fodjo that I had to and I was ultimately really pleased I did. The Principal reproached me for even considering not telling everyone else and explained I'm part of one big family in Moutourwa and that everyone is there to support me etc etc. He's also had me over for lunch and is taking me out for the day on Sunday in an attempt to take my mind off things. I'm just thankful that at least I have phone network here so at least I have been able to have some contact with my family even though I can't be there.

Tragically, the sadness didn't stop there this week. When I went to school on Tuesday, I was told that one of my A Level students had collapsed and died the previous night. He was fine in school on Monday, he was in top form in my lesson at 2pm. Apparently he went home from school and was studying in the evening when he said he didn't feel too well, went out for a run and collapsed and died on the way back home at 10pm. He was only 22. Like many students who come to school in Moutourwa, he was from a nearby smaller village and therefore lived away from his parents with his younger sister who also attends school. There is a lot of superstition here, especially surrounding death and consequently no time is wasted in burying the body. This is also influenced by the Islamic culture where the dead are buried as soon as possible, often even before family members have had a chance to see the body. The other reason for this is the fact that, in the villages at least, there is no way of conserving the body. Unfortunately, like the teacher situation, there is a severe lack of doctors in the villages in Cameroon and more often than not it is unqualified nurses who pronounce dead the bodies. This has led to many stories of people who have been buried but who have actually more than likely been in a coma. The reality of the situation here though is that even if that be the case there are not the medical facilities to deal with this scenario and therefore burial is the only real option. Andre was pronounced dead at 10pm and was buried back in his village at 2am the following morning. Tomorrow we are heading off to his village to pay our respects to his family.

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