Saturday, March 17, 2007

"IMI INAO" (Bad Water)

You never heard of anyone going to Hitawa or Hidowa very often if ever. Why that was, we didn’t know. Maybe it was that the two villages are Maffa, not Hidé—the majority ethnic group in Tourou. Maybe there’s not a very good market in the area we thought. Both these observation are partially true. But like so many instances in Cameroon, it’s the road that prevents sound communication and commerce, as we found out first-hand. From Tourou Centre it’s six kilometers to Hitawa. Go back into the same mountains after reaching Hitawa for another kilometer and one is in Hidowa. Descending on motorcycles on a road K (or better, trail) that is challenging to hike down surprised even our Tourouian motorcycle drivers. When we arrived, no one was expecting us so like normal we search for the village chief (or lawan). This day the lawan was incredibly busy and discussing how to punish children who were stealing goats. But finally, two-and-a-half hours late, the meeting started under an enormous African mahogany—not an uncommon venue for these meetings: Men on one side, women on the other.

It’s completely necessary to separate the two, because often, women will not speak their minds when men are around. This is a common technique with any sort of village appraisal regime in developing countries. What’s most important is that the women and men see what the other saw as important in the community and how those needs are prioritized.

Once men and women are separated we ask what their health needs are and vote as to rank them in terms of most relevance for the community. After health we ask them to do the same thing with agriculture. It sounds simple, but when the groups have to vote, it’s more challenging that one would think. Being for a democracy that is more the 230 years old, Americans get voting. For rural Cameroonians, whose country is only 40 years old (1961 was independence), and democracy only 22 years (1985 President Paul Biya officially brought democracy) it’s a bit more challenging. Ordinarily, people are able to vote for three of the seven listed problems. Leah and I have had to adapt, because they’re always the people who don’t understand the three vote limit and vote for everything. It all works out, since not everyone votes for EVERYTHING and we can then eliminate certain problems from the list. Below is an example of the needs ranked by men and women:

1. Chest and stomach pains
2. Gastro-intestinal worms
3. Pregnancy
4. Insects « under the skin »
5. Bad backs
6. Women who don’t have patience (mental health ?)
1. Water
2. Lack of hospital
3. Chest pains
4. Malaria

1. Bad soil
2. Insects eating crops
3. Weeds
4. Seeds that don’t germinate
5. Wild animals (that eat the crops or goats)
1. Lack of chemical fertilizer
2. Lack of insecticide
3. Lack of farm animals
4. Seeds that don’t germinate

What’s common is that men rank big things like chemical fertilizer and a lack of medicine and facilities first, whereas women talk more generally about the things they are dealing with daily—things in the home, things that affect children.

A 2004 needs assessment done in Tourou Centre by a former Peace Corps volunteer showed that water was by far the highest priority, what was interesting for Leah and I am that only one village mentioned water as something that would hinder agriculture. The others didn’t bring up the issue at all, because the millet and beans grown by almost everyone in Tourou is rain fed during the wet season. Having gardens or tree nurseries isn’t even on the radar screen for all but maybe a handful of Tourou’s 46,000 residents. Instead, water is considered a health issue. Often in the minds of Tourouians, water quantity and water quality are not separated but are, together, simply “imi inao” (EE-mEE EE-naw-O) or “bad water.”

Right now in March and April, wells are drying up requiring extra effort by the women to find water elsewhere. When the rains start to come little by little in May, the wells begin to have water. It would seem like something positive. However, drinking the little water in the well can give someone cholera, typhoid and/or other serious waterborne diseases.

This year AVISE is focusing on putting in four new wells. But for next year, Leah and I are hoping to try and shift people away from feeling like they need new wells and encourage them to dig current wells deeper and properly arrange them to reduce contamination by adding a lid, a four-foot apron to prevent mud and animal dung from seeping in and an exterior wall to prevent animals and small children from being close to the well at all.

With wells reparations next year, Leah and I expect to have well reparations come just after we conduct presentations on water sanitation. Because a new wells means nothing if the well isn’t managed, and if the users store water improperly in the home. Nevertheless, for this year it’s absolutely imperative to address severe water shortages that are year-round in the four chosen villages within Tourou.


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