Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Ultimate Obstacle Course


I've been dreading to write this post on the difficulties and pure ridiculousness that we went through for those 23,000 books to arrive. After the past two weeks, the only thing I want to do is rejoice in the success, not revisit the frustration. However, yesterday I came to the realization that my time in Cameroon remains only 3 precious months. I became nostalgic for these past two years and frankly, quite sad. I need to write about the obstacles in order for me to appreciate the efficiency that I will undoubtedly face in the "real world". It's human nature to reminiscent over an intense experience and think of only the peachy parts, yet the details of the trials and frustration is equally important and merits documentation.

In January, Books For Africa gave us an estimated arrival date of February 22nd.

The week of February 15th, I communicated with Peace Corps staff and he informed me he received a call that the container will arrive on the 26th. A week later, he informed me there is a slight delay on the paperwork.

March 2nd - informed by the Embassy that there's been a change in policy and they can no longer clear the container for us! Attempted to meet the governor but was told to come back.

March 3rd - received a call to go meet the govt the next day. Théo in Douala finding out information on private clearance.

March 4th - hauled ass to Bafoussam so I was on time for the 9am meeting. Ended up only meeting the Secretary General, and he told me we need a list of invitees ready and the speech for the governor written. Why couldn't he tell me this on the phone and save me a trip to Bafoussam?

March 5th - no progress, but Books For Africa found out about our problem via my blog post & came to the rescue for additional fees that incurred via private clearance. It pays to blog & complain!

March 6th - Théo worked out the company who will clear the container.

March 9th - in Bafoussam by 8am to transfer money with Théo and had many phone calls to find out how to get the container/books to Bafoussam. Met with the Chief of Cabinet for the governor's office to get the key to the warehouse. No key. Was told the guy is on his way and to come back the next day.

March 10th - problem at port. Need additional paperwork from Peace Corps. Théo happened to be in Yaoundé to meet with PC people and they worked things out with Embassy people in Douala to help us out. 

March 11th - Container finally cleared through port. Still no key for the warehouse. Was told the truck would leave Douala this evening or the next morning with books. 

March 12th - Arrived to the governor's office and found out no one knows where the key to the warehouse is. Books were suppose to arrive later that day. Chief of Cabinet finally called the guy who built the building and found out they key is STILL in Yaoundé! (It's important to note that we've been asking for this key since January and time and again they assure me there is no problem.) Builder in Yaoundé sends his brother with the key to Bafoussam. We met him in the late afternoon, and he told us after the building was built, he was in Bafoussam for 2 weeks trying to give the key to whomever responsible, and no one would take it. Meanwhile, truck in Douala didn't end up leaving until 3pm. We had to reschedule our team of help 3 times. Finally decided we will proceed early the next morning. 

March 13th - 7am - we were waiting by the warehouse. Was informed that the truck is in Dschang - a city an hour away from Bafoussam. This would mean that by 8 or 9 am at the latest, the truck would arrive. No, 11 am - the truck finally arrives. 

March 14th-19th - the team of volunteers working during most daylight hours to unpack 577 boxes of books, arranged them by level and subject, and repacked them according to establishments.

So, there you have it. The mishaps during this entire process could easily be avoided by some better planning and execution. Luckily or unluckily, none of these problems were within our control, which makes me, who has a bit of control-freak tendency when it comes to work stuff, wanted to scream, a lot. The phrase I hated hearing during this entire process was "ça va aller" (it'll be okay). Don't tell me that it will be okay, tell me HOW it will be okay. Now that this is all over, I've learned a lot and I am pretty sure no problem is impossible to handle.

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