Off and running

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It was not an uneventful trip out to Sam. First there was an annoying drizzle while loading the truck but we managed to get all the suitcases and provisions, including a wheelbarrow on top, tied down.

We stopped to buy fish and some “bush pig” on the way, and had lunch in Ndjole where they sell grilled, sliced beef (coupe-coupe) and grilled fish for lunch.

On our way out of town, we predicted an easy three hour drive when the phone rang. “Virginie,” our volunteer from Libreville, “has had an accident.” We turned around and drove back to Ndjole to find Virginia’s car on the side of the road with a piece missing from her front fender. Someone who said his brakes were not working had rammed into the corner of her car. Not too serious, but not the way Virginie, who had offered her pick-up truck, to our group, would have wanted to start. Nor the rest of us. Anyway, with the police report completed and an abashed, apologetic driver, we were on our way with the fender piece in the back seat.

We pulled into Mitzic a little later and ran into a few people we had worked with before, including our friend Nico who was going to help us again. Gassed up, we made the final leg to the village.

There we met with Boniface who is the village president of Sam D’Abord and made our sleeping arrangements. Beer and peanuts for dinner and we collapsed.

Sunday we spent setting up house. All seven of us from Encore de la Paix are staying in the same house we lived in two years ago. That helps since, even at our advanced age, we kind of remember the drill, in the kitchen, with the preoccupation with water to drink, to cook with and to clean, and in other assorted requirements like laundry and garbage.

We held an introductory meeting with villagers and explained our three projects, mosquito nets, school latrines and world map mural. Gaston, our main Gabonese counterpart from this region who spent his career in the Ministry of Health, was his usual indispensable self explaining in both French and Fang our plans, peppering with multiple thank-you’s for the welcome. And he’s right as people have dropped off bananas, pineapples, papayas, avocados and peanuts to stock our pantry.

We scouted our project sites, and we kept running into people we remembered, so it was really quite a joyous reunion.

Our PNLP colleagues from the Ministry of Health, arranged a “sensibilization” meeting for the village that around 100 people attended including school children. They ran through a quick primer on malaria prevention and their plans to conduct an assessment focusing on at risk populations of children, seniors and pregnant women for the initial net distribution. Some preliminary testing uncovered three people with malaria and the PNLP truck rushed back to Mitzic to get the medicines needed.

I knew this project was stimulating interest later that day when a woman stopped us exclaiming that no one had come to count her household and she had three children. We assured her the team was on their way. Sure enough, five minutes later they arrived to count her household.

On the latrines, the good news is that both pits were dug before our arrival. They are both too big, however, requiring a few adjustments to our design. No problem.

The school we had fixed up last time is holding up well. There’s a new school director, Marcel, who has been extraordinarily helpful in organizing the work site and in helping reinforce the mosquito net project.

Finally, for this letter, we made our protocol call on the sous-prefet, M. Ze-Ovono Emmanuel. He told us he grew up in Bitam, the same home town as Virginie. They knew a number of people in common. He proceeded to speak a little English and spoke fondly of his Peace Corps English and math teachers from 1981-1986. We asked for their names so they would know that how well one of their students had done. He remembered Mr. Arnold, John Sinamone, Miss Meany, and someone named Hild.

It was not the only time people spoke of former volunteers here. We have passed around photos that one volunteer, Tony Ware, sent us before we left. Even with 20 years intervening, people pointed out the names of friends and neighbors.

We’ve only had three days of work, but we’re making headway on both our goals to complete projects and to enjoy the company of our hosts.

The photo included here is of our entire group in the steps of the sous-prefet’s office.

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