Walking on the wild side in Douala

It was humid and chaotic on the streets of downtown Douala. A congregation of SUVs, Mercedes, rusted dented cars and twice as many motorcycles all driving in their own invention of a lane without any traffic lights, made crossing the street a dangerous challenge. I realized that only street vendors,aggressive boys driving motocycle taxis, and poor workers pushing carts actually walked on the streets. Everyone else parked their cars as close as they could to their destination. There were no real sidewalks, just pieces of cement randomly connected in places until they ended suddenly and I was back in the dirty gutter dodging cars and motorcycles. I had to look in front and behind me to avoid getting run down. I assumed it would be easy to find a decent place to eat but most of the good restaurants were in Bonapriso, the wealthy suburb of the city. I decided to go to the four star Hotel Akwa Palace hoping for an outdoor cafe. I found a beautiful olympic size pool hidden away behind the hotel with water falls cascading into the pool. There were three white males sunbathing and two young African women probably looking for foreign men or they already found them and were enjoying the fruits of their success. The pool and surroundings reminded me of a photograph taken by a famous Magnum photo journalist so I snapped a few shots of parts of the pool and water falls. I had decided to eat lunch by the pool since most of the restaurants were dark dungeons with stale air conditoned air. On principal, since I had just spent six weeks living in a village where the people I knew struggled to earn a dollar a day, I could not pay ten dollars for an ice cream soda or twelve for a sandwich. I went inside to the cafe and decided to have the buffet lunch which seemed like a better choice; But I realized too late that for fifteen dollars I had a choice of rice salad,potato salad, tomato cucumber or lentil salad. These were the vegetables that most of the village people ate everyday and cost pennies to buy. I was about to grab a beautiful fruit cocktail and a creme caramel when the waiter informed me that was not part of the buffet. I soon learned that living in a village in Cameroon was a different world than traveling around the country.
As I left the hotel cafe I crossed the street and from the MTN cellphone office,I took a picture of the rundown hotel Parfait Garden to show the delapidated condition of a three star hotel with a price tag of ninety dollars a night. There was a big comotion behind me so I turned around and I was grabbed by a guy in uniform.He was yelling at me and grabbed my small Canon G9 before I could respond. Why had I taken a picture of that hotel, it was against the law to photograph without government permission, and the best comment was I wanted to show how poor people were in Cameroon which was a lie. I tried to play down my French skills but finally I realized these guys were abbusive. At one point a tall aggressive very black soldier with my camera pulled out a pair of handcuffs and demanded my identity card. Remembering I had written the American consulate number in my mini notebook, I was shaking as I dialed the number. As usual they were almost useless except the police didnt know that. The woman who answered the phone,even after I told her the police had confiscated my camera and were threatening to arrest me,asked for a number they could call me back on. I repeated loudly the situation I was in and she repeated the same demand for a callback number. When I got off the phone I told the police someone was coming from the American consulate; I also added that I was not a tourist and I had been teaching in the northwest for six weeks. They seemed less aggrressive and left me alone for awhile. I called the consulate again and they told me someone was on the way over and to stay in front of MTN. Suddenly the Ide Amin guy came back with his superior and they told me all I had to do was erase the pictures I took and I could have my camera back and leave but I should call the consulate and tell them there was no longer a problem. Forty five minutes had passed and still no one had come from the consulate. I was imagining what if they had arrested me,I would be long gone from the scene of the crime. This was not the first time the American embassy had been useless. I called them back and told them I had resolved the problem and if they were ever coming not to bother.
When I told the story to Rachel, the Cameroonian friend who works at the Baptist mission,her reply was they wanted you to pay them off but when you called the embassy you screwed up their plan. They could lose their jobs if you reported them for harrassing you. I have been threatened by the police in many countries from Yemen to Cuba and now Cameroon.
Someone is obviously looking out for me somewhere in the universe. But
I decided not to press my luck and stopped carrying my camera in Douala.

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