Wednesday, July 04, 2007
“I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free, living under a system of Law, without systemic corruption and I can blow stuff up for fun, not for survival.”
Such a uniquely backfiring setup was responsible for the world's worst library. A few days after I arrived in Cameroon, I visited one of the country's most prestigious private schools—Cameroon's equivalent of Eton. The school boasted two separate library buildings, but the librarian was very unhappy. I soon understood why.
At first glance the new library was impressive. With the exception of the principal's palatial house, it was the only two-story structure on campus. Its design was adventurous: a poor man's Sydney Opera House. The sloped roof, rather than running down from a ridge, soared up in a V from a central valley like the pages of an open book on a stand.
When you're standing in the blazing sunlight of the Cameroonian dry season, it's hard to see at first what the problem is with a roof that looks like a giant open book. But that's only if you forget, as the architect apparently did, that Cameroon also has a rainy season. When it rains in Cameroon, it rains for five solid months. It rains so hard that even the most massive storm ditches quickly overflow. When that kind of rain meets a roof that is, essentially, a gutter that drains onto a flat-roofed entrance hall, you know it's time to laminate the books. The only reason the school's books still existed was that they'd never been near the new building; the librarian had refused repeated requests from the principal to transfer them from the old library.
This is a long article, going into detail about the systemic corruption in your typical African nation, and how difficult it will be for Cameroon to pull itself out of its death spiral. It's well worth reading, and a reminder of just how good we have it here in the west, where we can blow stuff up without worry …