Everyday Stories

Every evening my neighbor’s two sons knock on my door, leave their torn rubber flip flops outside and take a seat at my shaky roundtable. This is possibly the high point of their day. They have come for a glass of hot chocolate before they go to bed. Their shared bed is an old piece of foam which caves in the middle. The smoke from the wood fire where mom cooks, is in the same room they sleep. The walls are made of mud bricks and the floor is dirt. Recently Vivian, their mom, had electricity connected so now there is a light bulb and an outlet. Before they used kerosene lamps. Each evening when the boys come to visit, I play music from my iTunes collection or invite them to talk about their lives and what they learn in school. I was shocked when I asked Remi who is thirteen, if he had ever heard of Russia or the Soviet Union and he said no. The primary education here is pathetic. But it does benefit the people at the top. Keep the masses ignorant and poor, without jobs and this country remains one of the most corrupt in the world. I convinced my neighbor to spend 4000 franc or $8 and buy her son a portable radio. Explaining that it is a source of education for language, current events and music, she finally agreed. Her son who walks around all day carrying the radio, admitted when I asked him that before I made my first visit to Fundong two years ago, he and his brother never received a toy, a gift on their birthday or had enough food to eat. Shocking and sad, ignorance and poverty are so closely connected. The day before I left when the two boys came for their hot cocoa, I asked Remi what he likes to do and he immediately blurted out “read books”, especially novels and poems. When I was on my way to Douala the other day after finishing my 5 1/2 weeks in the village, I bought three books for him. They were edited for young adults. Three Shakespearian comedies and Pride and Prejudice. He called me before I left Cameroon to tell me he was already reading one of the books.

I had vowed that I would avoid the public bus service from Bamenda to Douala. A five hour ride became nine, with three people on a two seater. Even if I bought two tickets, I was still at the mercy of the transport companies who treated the people like cattle. Hiring a private taxi will cost $120 and this is without air conditioning since gas is so expensive here. A gallon of petrol is almost 2400 cifra {$5) in a country were so many live on less than one dollar a day. This amount of money does not guarantee me a comfortable car, only one with an engine. The roads are narrow, the passing trucks drive in the middle of the road and there are speed bumps everywhere. On the ride to Douala, the temperature in the car was at least 32 C or 90F. I suggested he open the back windows to bring in a breeze. He had electronic windows and said he had disconnected the wiring because people complained it was too windy. I got no reply when I asked him about the people who complained about the heat .The driver, who intended to drive back to Bamenda the moment he dropped me, was going over 100 km an hour on curvy roads and each time I saw a possibility for a photo, he was racing so fast it was impossible to stop him… His usual workday was from 6am to 6pm.. He drove between Bamenda and Santa, thirty minute trip. He made four roundtrips, with seven people in the car, four in the back and four in the front. One sat on his seat with him and one on the steering column. Each single trip gave him 3500 cifra ($7) and if he could fill the car eight times he would gross 28000 franc. He spent most of the time looking for passengers to fill the taxi so driving time was minimal. After paying gas, and bribing several different policemen for carrying 7 passengers, he usually came out with 13000 franc for twelve hours. The exchange rate fluctuates between the dollar and cifra but recently it was 460 for a dollar. So everyone do the math and see how much this man earns for a twelve hour day. The high point of the trip was buying twenty mangos for $1.50

The other day in Fundong, I had taken a motorcycle and driver up a mountain road to photograph. As we left town, I saw a crowd gathering around a youngish guy on a huge motorcycle. We were going so fast that by the time I realized it, he was already out of site. A quick glance was enough to guess he was Latino especially since he looked like Che. We were on the road to Liacom, the village where the Fon or prince lived. This is a very old tradition in Cameroon which must come to an end as soon as possible. The Fon is thought to be a spiritual leader of the people and this tradition is only in northwest Cameroon. My biggest problem with the Fon concept is that this less than impressive man ( I have met a few) can take up to as many wives as he so desires. A typical number is ten and since the people in this country have 6-9 children, multiply that by 10 and that means an obscene amount of children. And as they get older the new wives are still pubescient. Back to the road and the motorcycle. While I was searching for something interesting besides trees and mountains to photograph, a infant walked out to the road, completely naked. He had a distended belly and at that moment my mysterious Che like stranger appeared on his cycle. I was torn between the naked child and the fascinating stranger. We compromised, the traveler was a Mexican lawyer exploring the world and he thought the baby had worms. My moto driver went to relay this information to the father who was outside the house. I stood and compared stories with this fascinating guy who had crossed Siberia, Mongolia, Turkey, eventually sailing from Spain and driving alone down the coast of West Africa. He was on his way to South Africa traveling across Gabon, the DRC(Zaire) and Angola. I am also on my way to South Africa tonight, however by plane, spending six days in Cape Town, one of the must see places on my list. From there I will fly from Johannesberg to Mozambique. Until my next post…

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