I came to Cameroon almost 17 months ago to the day. It’s funny now to think about my expectations on that day. I was just coming out of University, excited, nervous and anxious about living in Africa. I’d traveled before and my learned experience was to travel with as few assumptions as possible since they’ll undoubtedly be turned upside down. Still, we all have an image of Africa. The media shows us the famine, the desolation, the war, and a mental image is made.

Villages, huts, guns, violence, no electricity, water from streams, etc.

Upon coming to Cameroon, my mental image was of course shattered and reformed, which is normal. However, what I remember sticking most was the technology.

I’ve always had a knack for computers, I’ve been doing it since I was a tyke, even before I had one. I never thought I could help people, my real passion, as computer techie. I opted out of a computer science program at the University of Washington solely because I wanted to go out in the world and help people in person.

The irony is this: Technology is everywhere. If your image of Africa/Cameroon is mud huts with no power or running water your only partially right. Some of the extremely rural areas are like this. But I assure you, every other mud hut has a cell phone in it.

The center of the culture, the cities, are now robust with all the computers and tech that we westerners scrapped in order to get the next fresh piece of tech. My Cameroonian roommate is studying computer science at the University of Buea and told me about a classmate with Sony Vaio that has finger print identification on it. I’m learning about growing tech even here.  It’s funny really, I thought I’d be without internet at home and reading books all evening.

There is a catch though, as much as technology has come to Cameroon. The inefficiencies are profound. Power cutting out several times daily makes the running of desktops very frustrating. As the picture below shows you, it took some work with string and nail to find the exact position for internet (via phone) and even with that it cuts out every 5 minutes from a lost signal.

Worse yet is the people’s computer aptitude. You get a sense the second you stick your USB into someone’s computer and later discover 321 new viruses. Cameroonians are a bit like the older western generation, they didn’t grow up with this technology. They’ve got no sense of computers like we naturally do, growing up with it. Further, they don’t have anyone to teach them. On the western front, we’ve got peers, teachers and youth to teach us (I find my nephews often know more about new tech than me) .

Cameroonians have only trial and error. Sure there’s someone that can fix your motherboard, he’ll open up the CPU and try soldering this and that until it comes on. He’s never had any technical training, where would he get it (this is the first year University of Buea started their computer science program, and it’s in need of a lot of work).

Well, I guess that’s why, despite my focusing on public health and sociology in school that the skills I’m constantly using and teaching are computer related. That is my personal irony, the best way I can help people here is through the technology I shunned for its inability to connect with people on a personal level. Boy, was I wrong.

This is the beauty of what we do at the Bilingual Grammar School. Instead of simply throwing students at the computers and letting them play around, we give them a guiding hand as they play. The same hand I had from my teachers as a youth. (shout out to Mr. Smithers)