Concealing three computers in my small carryon luggage, I expected to have problems when I reached my final destination, Cameroon. Instead before I even boarded the plane in Seattle, the woman at the United counter threatened to send my suitcase through as luggage if it didn’t comply to size regulation. After repacking, stuffing my shoulder bag with books and sandals and leaving a purchase from the Goodwill on the floor, the bag fit in the overhead compartment and I was on my way to Africa.
Three flights and thirty hours later, I arrived at Douala airport. Most of the passengers were Cameroonians who live abroad and return to see family and throw money around. If Zurich airport was state of the art with gourmet snack bars and designer shops, Douala airport was dark and dingy like East Germany during the cold war. At the arrival gate the entire corridor floor was torn up and we dragged our luggage over stones and cement dust. The 25watt light bulbs added to the war zone effect. The large Cameroonian man sitting next to me on the flight agreed to share a cab with me. I didn’t want to take a cab ride alone at 9pm in Douala with all my luggage, computers and cameras. As we drove into town, the streets were deserted and the buildings were still in varying stages of decay. Not much had changed in a year.
The choice of hotels in Douala was either $70 dives or $200 Hilton hotel copies unless you had done some research. I had luckily found the two best deals in town on my first trip to Cameroon in 2009. The European Baptiste Mission and the Seaman’s Mission. Both names are misleading. The first caters to foreign NGO volunteers and the second to foreign business men who want a taste of Africa. The mission attracts a Christian element while the Seaman is a varied assortment of travelers, researchers, and international corporate employees.
There are few positives to say about Douala except for the mouth watering pastries and fresh bread at Zepol, a Greek owned bakery that has been around since 1968. Excerpting the Bradt guide to Cameroon, Douala is a perfect example of urban sprawl out of control. There is inadequate infrastructure, pot-holed roads, a high crime rate, chaotic drivers and few traffic lights, dull architecture and thousands of people living in slums without water or electric.
The available public transportation is almost non-existent except for the train from Yaounde, the capital, to Ngaoundere in the north of the country. The train route used to extend to Maroua, a lovely Muslim Foulani town in the far north. But I was told by a friend here that the government didn’t want to pay to maintain the route to Maroua so the service was canceled. Now access to Maroua is via the dusty, non-descript port town of Garoua on poorly maintained, overcrowded mini buses owned by private companies.
As well, my choices of transport to Fundong were either the miserable mini buses or hiring a private car. After my first ten hour endurance test by bus in 2009, I decided to pay whatever I had to for a driver. This ranged from $110 to $160 as compared to the bus ticket for $20. I had to buy two seats to avoid people sitting on my lap. Unless you drive 100km an hour on curvy roads and through small villages, the trip to Bamenda takes 5.5 hours. We were pulled over twice by militant policemen looking for bribes. They have a get out of the car or we we’ll drag you out kind of attitude. Most Cameroonians are afraid of police or government officials. I’ve noticed how subservient they become. My driver was an exception. He was accommodating but friendly. We got away with a $2 payoff.
Bamenda is the largest town in the northwest region. It is the salvation of the expat community with several supermarkets selling imported basics like olive oil, cheese and cookies. There is also a huge vegetable market with almost as much variety as we have in the states but seasonal. Arriving in town at 6 pm, I had one hour to buy a gas cooker, tank and food to last for 2 weeks. Patrick,the school principal from Fundong, had come to drive me back to Fundong, another 1.5 hour car trip. The village was dark when we arrived so I knew there was no electricity.
Return to Cameroon, I knew I had arrived.
What has been accomplished
Since my last visit to Fundong Cameroon in 2010….having endured bad food, electric blackouts and water shutoffs, all my suffering has been worth it. The government high school of 1600 students has water flowing from outdoor taps.
The village of Ngwainkome has been funded as well by One Family International and is in the process of actualizing a large water project. The public water taps in Fujwa and Fundong village, which are owned by a private company, a French-Moroccan corporation, had been turned off because the community council, supposedly elected by the two villages, didn’t want to pay the bill.( I am still investigating this situation).
My brother donated $4000 and the taps were turned back on before Christmas, with
an adjusted bill of $2000. The two women’s groups I started were still functioning and my neighbor, who we funded $300 last year for her doughnut business, was able to feed her two sons everyday. Before I left the States in February, my friends donated $825 to support my projects. I had also contacted an NGO in Michigan, littledressesforafrica.org and Rachel the founder, sent me 30 lbs of clothing her organization had sewed for young children.