Another Africa: Cameroon
I had pushed my departure date ahead a week for Cameroon, having used as an excuse unfinished work at home. But I was lacking the passion and excitiment for this trip. I had committed to come over and help a young Welsh guy run an environmental project he had started last year,located in a small town in northwest Cameroon. Believing I was a seasoned traveler, having visited over 60 countries in the last forty years, I was confident that this would be no more difficult than my trip to West Africa last year. This unfortunately proved to be an incorrect assumption.
On the plane from Paris to Doula I felt fortunate to meet an Canadian engineer who had permanent residency in Cameroon and offered to help me find a place to stay for the night. We landed after dark, always an undesirable time to arrive in a third world country. The airport, with dim fluorescent lighting a architectural relic of the fifties, was in a state of chaos. The luggage had been thrown off the baggage belt and lay in piles all over the floor. It was impossible to tell the difference between the passengers and the young guys who were trying to grab the bags to take outside for a tip. I found my bags before the engineer who was traveling with a young male Canadian volunteer. They had some association with the Cameroon Baptist church which gets support from the American Baptisite Association in the States. They had come to install electrical systems in the north west part of the country and offered me a seat up to Bamenda later in the week.
As we were gathering the bags, Rachel Tim from the mission, had come with a van to met them. I was packed in as well but when we arrived at the Mission Baptiste Europeanne where they were staying, there were no extra rooms. I knew my next choice was less than great.
They drove me down the street to the Catholic Mission, obviously not getting the same donations as the Baptiste guest house. The interior of the building was reminiscent of soviet style government offices with the peeling grey paint and fluorescent lights. The supervisor,a Dutch man, told me he had been living in Africa for forty years, a difficult concept if he had been living in this type of environment . I gave him a twenty dollar bill for my room. He stressed the fact that it was unsafe to go out after dark. So I survived the night in my cell like room, accepting the fact that I would be fasting until morning.. Seeing Douala by day confirmed that I wanted to spend as little time here as possible. Besides the abusive humidity and gas fumes from leaded petrol, the city was rapidly or slowly falling apart; it was hard to tell since I had no comparison. The main roads that were paved were full of potholes and cracks; the unpaved side roads of terra cotta colored dirt were like driving over small hills. Within a few minutes walking, my clothing and body were covered in red dust. I had arranged with Rachel,the woman from the mission, to travel by public bus to Bamenda,not wanting to wait three days for the van.
We arrived at the bus station, a big open field with little wooden shacks selling food, and anything else people would buy. The Cameroonian,Leo, who I was going to work with in Fundong,a small town 1 hour from Bamenda, wrote advising the Amour Mezam express,was the best bus company. Climbing on the bus, I could not imagine what the worst companys buses looked like. Once we sat down I remembered in Africa, unless you want someone in your lap, you must buy two seats for yourself. So Rachel organized the purchase, even though a angry passenger was moved from his seat so we could have three seats together. The five hour ride became nine as we had to sit in the bus for almost two hours waiting until the bus was packed to capacity,not to lose one CF franc. The express bus suddenly became a local and we must have stopped ten times in every town to let people off and on. Finally at 6 pm we arrived in Bamenda, another chaotic, dirty, crowded African town located in the Anglofone part of Cameroon. Rachels husband offered to drive me to Fundong when he saw how beat up I looked. I called Leo to arrange a place to meet him in town. His only transport is by motorcycle so we hired a second bike to carry my suitcases who followed us down a long dirt road to the house Leo had picked for me. Tired, dirty, hungry and not having many postive thoughts so far about Cameroon, the final coup was the house he had rented for me.
We drove up to a large stone home with a big patio and then we walked down the side of the house past the chickens and garbage,to a side door that opened into
a hospital green colored room with a single table and two chairs.There was a bed in a tiny alcove off the entrance, with rough stone walls and broken plaster, with an ajoining bathroom,probably the best room in the place. There were two fluorescent lights in the place and hanging wires on the ceiling over the bed. I was outraged.I asked him what he was thinking when he rented this place, with no kitchen as well.
He said I could buy a gas burner and propane and wash the dished out side. After he realized how distressed I was, he suggested tomorrow we start looking for a better living situation. He still had a hard time understanding why I was not happy living in a dark, dank, basement with two light bulbs and no kitchen. But we started searching the next day.. and the saga begins.