Capture of Primary Biodiversity Data on West African Plants training course

Dear all,

I am writing this from Cameroon. As I wrote in my previous blog I had some other things in the pipeline after the disappointment in Congo. After leaving Congo I had some difficult weeks in the Netherlands. Moving back to my parents’ house and having to live in Millingen aan de Rijn again. Without a job and with my friends in Nijmegen and other parts of the Netherlands. Living in Millingen does not make it very easy to visit people. The bus line which runs between Millingen and Nijmegen was often mocked by my classmates in secondary school (It is yellow and it goes back in time? The bus to Millingen). So you don’t really meet up a lot compared to when I was living in Nijmegen. But still I managed to survive it (including an unknown tropical disease which kept me ill the majority of the time and made me go through all kinds of tests in the hospital)  and now I am back in the country I spend the first years of my life. During the week I will add several parts after the experiences during the training. So in the end you are reading a story written in over a week.

Here in Cameroon I will be a trainer and participant in a course on “Capture of Primary Biodiversity Data on West African Plant”. I will be responsible for the database management part and the explanation of the systems used by Naturalis. The course was scheduled to last six days, but prior to starting the schedule has already changed. Visa problems (or lack of organization?) caused the majority of the participants to arrive on a later date. Everybody was supposed to arrive on Saturday or Sunday, but at the moment of writing this first part Sunday afternoon I am sitting here in the hotel restaurant with the other foreign trainer (American from the New York Botanic Garden) and a Cameroonian botanist who took over the management of the training, since the organizer is stuck in Ghana himself. As someone who has visited a lot of African countries the only thing I can say about this is: “This is Africa” and shrug it off. You need to have a relaxed mentality and be able to work with slow changes if you want to work in this interesting continent. The plan is now that we will start on Wednesday and continue until Sunday. Which means the training will be one day shorter. But since I had some duplication in my presentations I will probably be able to reduce the time of my presentations and exercises.

Part two: Written on Friday

We have passed a working week since I last wrote something in this document. My plan to write something every day did not go as planned. After every course day I was completely tired and did not want to spend more time on the computer than I already did during the day. Today I am forcing myself to take some time to write everything down whilst waiting for our food to arrive at the hotel restaurant (which can take over an hour). So let’s take a few steps back and start where I finished in my last part. On Monday we visited the herbarium for the first time. It was situated on a small dirt road and the building is also rather rundown. Inside you find nice wooden closets containing approximately 60.000 herbarium specimens and the offices of the staff working there. We found out that we will be giving the training inside the herbarium. In the hallway next to the closets.

“The training room” in the herbarium (© Kim Watson)

But this first day we would spend to set up the equipment for the image capture in another room. So whilst Kim (the other trainer from the New York Botanical Garden) did that I had some time to review my presentations. During the day we got the news that the other participants were not going to arrive that day since they were waiting for a document which allowed them to get their visa at the airport. Finally the document came on Wednesday, but again another problem arose. There were no flights to Yaoundé until Friday…. So finally they will only be arriving tonight. Already on Tuesday morning we decided to just start the training with the two Nigerians and the local Cameroonian staff. Since we did not have the information from the third trainer (who was providing everything digitally) we had to improvise and change the schedule. In the end I had to keep the participants busy during the majority of the day. Exploring databases, database management systems and a journey through the Naturalis data. So completely knackered I arrived back in the hotel knowing that the next day would be a whole day of Brahms related presentations and exercises again. Oh I could not have been happier!

The dreaded day came and was again very tiring. Talking a lot and looking at faces that express a look of desperation. A lot of information and training to do in just this short amount of time. For some people the language was also a factor which made it more difficult. But I made it through the day and went to bed really early. Before I came to Cameroon I spend a day in the hospital since I have been sick for a while. Having recently returned from Congo, the first thing you think about is a weird tropical disease. So I had to get my blood tested for several diseases and make heart and lung X-rays. They did not find any tropical disease, so the doctor cleared me to go to Cameroon. However with the statement to rest a lot in order to get better. Until now I have not been doing that. So I have to make that up when I am back….

So still recovering from an illness I can be proud of myself what I have accomplished here in Cameroon. Now (Friday) I have finished the second training day filled with Brahms and I can relax tomorrow. If I would have been completely well this day could have gone better, but in the end we managed to get a lot done. Probably on Sunday we will have to give a crash course for the people who arrive tonight. No rest for the wicked….

The local participants find it really amusing that I spend the first years of my life in Cameroon. Now that we spend several days with them they are also opening up more. So today they even got us avocado’s to eat and in the afternoon they brought cacao to “eat”. Where we Europeans dry it and process it into chocolate here they have a different use. They open the pods and suck on the beans which are still covered in pulp. Rather sweet, but I think I prefer eating chocolate.

Cacao pod (© Kim Watson)
Cacao pod (© Kim Watson)

The last week the only places we have seen are the airport, the road from the airport to the hotel, the hotel, the road from the hotel to the herbarium and the herbarium. So we wanted to see something else. Today they took us to have a look at the University of Yaoundé 1. A huge complex with a lot of different faculties. After this visit they also promised us to take us in the coming days to other places to see more of Yaoundé and get to know the culture better. Including the food! Until now the only real Cameroonian dish that I have eaten is Ndolé. The people who have eaten at my parents’ house probably know it as Cameroonian spinach. A sauce with ground peanuts and a local leaf. Although it is not quite the same I must say I prefer my mothers’ Cameroonian spinach compared to the Ndolé.

Part 3: written back home

The training continued onwards until Sunday due to the late arrival of the Ghanaian and Togolese participants. So in the end we had to work more than expected beforehand. Thankfully the local staff found some time in between the long days to show us around Yaoundé. Some sites we visited: the National Congres center, the house of the President and several embassies.

Trip through Yaounde with local staff (© Kim Watson)
Trip through Yaounde with local staff (© Kim Watson)

Afterwards we enjoyed local food again (First “Soya”: meat kebabs and later smoked chicken with fried plantain). Overall I must say Cameroonian food is pretty fat due to the fact that most of it is fried). So I am happy to be back at home and eat more boiled dutch food and a lot of vegetables (Boerenkool!).

Eating
Eating “Soya” on the streets (© Kim Watson)

On Monday we had to fly back in the night. During the day we answered all the remaining questions from participants and tried to get them as ready as possible to work on data capture. With every training in Africa you need to be ready for a final group picture. Since they also received equipment for image capture we needed to make pictures with the materials given. But also with the participants and local staff. They wanted to do it “quickly” before lunch. In the end we arrived 1.5 hours late at our restaurant since everyone needed to make pictures with their phone or camera. Towards the end I was really tired of having to pose for pictures, so I am already looking forward to receiving the pictures from everyone. During the last 20 minutes a lot of them will have me on it while making some silly faces J.

After a quick visit to an Artisan market after lunch we went back to say our goodbyes and get ready for the journey back. I was travelling back together with Kim, the American from the New York Botanical Gardens. We would split up in Paris. Me going back to Amsterdam, she was going back to New York. Once we entered the airplane we did not meet again. She was seated somewhere else and due to a broken gangway in Paris we only disembarked after 20 minutes at the gate. I had to hurry to get my connecting flight to Amsterdam. I arrived at my gate at the moment they were already busy boarding. So I quickly entered the airplane and continued to wait for departure. However due to no-shows our flight was delayed (removing the baggage of the people not present). So in the end I arrived in Amsterdam a bit later. We landed on the Polderbaan, which makes the journey to the gate also very long.

Since I only slept for one hour in the airplane during the night I was completely tired and spend my Tuesday at home trying to sleep and watch some series.  Now on Thursday I finally found the power to sit behind my computer again and continue writing. I still need to visit Naturalis soon to discuss the progress made during the course and to give them some books on the flora of Cameroon which I took with me on behalf of the National Herbarium of Cameroon. So now back to work to wrap up the project and afterwards back to my job search abroad. Overall I am thankful for this opportunity and happy with how it went. I have gained valuable experiences which I can use in the future. I will keep you updated on my progress!

Greetings,

Yannick

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