Pictures coming soon.
Doula-Bafoussam-Batoula-Bafounda-Mbouda, Cameroon, Africa
Today was not very eventful. We got up early, had eggs for breakfast, then packed our van again and set off due north towards the mountains. The drive was so long. The road was winding, forever and ever and ever. Cars would pass when they felt like passing, and we would pass them when they were too slow. As we moved out of Douala, the population density changed. We began seeing a lot more villages and farms with shacks lining the roads. The trees were mostly banana trees and the soil was noticeably red. Houses were typically made from mud bricks and topped with corrugated steel sheets. Everywhere you looked, women were wearing the same brightly patterned fabric as they did in Benin. The only difference is, this time, the men tended to wear dirty street clothes and not so much traditional African outfits. We swerved a lot of potholes and picked our speed up significantly on straight stretches of hills. Periodically, we hit a toll booth or had to slam on our brakes to go over speed bumps as we approached a new town. The scenery was fairly constant, so distinguishing one village from another was generally only possible by noticing flocks of people selling goods in markets or along the speed bumps in the road. They loved taking advantage of toll payers, too, whose windows would be down and whose cars were idling. Bunches of bananas were shoved into our windows along with strips of fermented foods wrapped in leaves, drinks, and green oranges. It was no different than Benin.
As our drive continued, the air temperature became gradually cooler. The climb got steeper and I looked around as the villages thinned out a bit. There were some banana plantations and avocado farms. The largest of these farms had plastic bags protecting the bunches of bananas from bugs. We stopped after about 3 hours of driving and Elvis and Guy bought us some bananas from a group of women huddled along the highway. The bananas didn’t look ripe, but they were the sweetest bananas we had ever tasted. You can’t get bananas like that in Benin. They cost not even 10 cents apiece.
Another periodic encounter was police checks. Fortunately, we weren’t pulled over as often for our paperwork as we were for our van documents. A lot of vehicle smuggling and theft occurs, so the police in Cameroon frequently check for rental information, etc. I got a kick out of this considering I had just signed that document for Ryan back in Benin. I realized how chill Benin is in comparison to Cameroon. Also, I was noticing how much kinder and friendlier the people – police included – are in Benin. Knowing someone gets you far in Africa, but not nearly as far in Cameroon as it does in Benin. Cameroon’s police force is corrupt, so any involvement with them generally spells trouble, especially for a foreigner. Every time I was asked to show my documents, I was afraid they would be taken, I’d be told they didn’t know where they went and that I was lying, and that I would be arrested. It may be difficult to believe, but the possibility was extremely high. We were fortunate to have Guy with us. He can smooth talk us out of anything, and he did on several occasions when we butted heads with the police. We made one quick stop in the busy center of Bafoussam to pick up our cook, Aylynn, and our new driver, Zefere, then we were off on the last stretch.
At last, our van slowed down and pulled slowly to the right without there being a checkpoint causing our stopping. It was close to dusk and we had finally arrived at the village. Our van drove extremely slowly over a road that had once been soft soil, but was now extremely compacted ripples. Driving over it was extremely unpleasant. “Tomas always has his driver let him out here so he can walk the rest of the way to his house, it’s so unpleasant,” someone commented about the road. Tomas was our host for our stay in the village. I had heard a lot of rumors about this man with his numerous Italian leather shoes, enormous house, and suspicious Mafia-like activity. Yet we were staying with him? I guess he was threatening enough to keep us safe. Sure enough, as we pulled to the end of the bumpy lane, I saw a large salmon wall barring us from what was inside: Tomas’ mansion.
The other two women aren’t expected until tomorrow, so we took our things into the house and waited on some fancy leather couches to meet Tomas. “His sister has just died,” Guy warned us, nodding his head towards some large portraits of a young African woman that were lining the walls. I looked around. There were lights, marble floors, sofas, TVs, and two floors above us. His compound was enormous, even for most American households. Some men around the ages of us students were running about, doing chores – “pool boys”, as Eric fondly nicknamed them. Then Tomas came in. We stood and greeted him. When he spoke, I was startled. His head was shaved and he wasn’t a very large man, but he looked athletic. He had a large scar running along the sides and bottom of his neck and throat. His voice was raspy, deep, and barely comprehensible. He sounded like Darth Vader.
Kate H. was the only one present in our American group who had met Tomas before because she came on the last implementation trip with Kate J. and Emily. She did the introductions in English (Tomas is bilingual), and then we were let to go upstairs to drop off our things. The boys were led to one room, us three girls were led to another. “So, five of us in this room?” I asked. The guest rooms all had a door to a balcony, a bed, a night stand, a bathroom, and a window, but our floor space wasn’t enough for two mattresses, assuming we could fit three to our bed. “Let’s look at the boys’ room,” Kate said. There floor space was larger, so we switched before unpacking. I expected all three of us would sleep in the bed that night, so I set my stuff up there. Kate and Amy took the two mattresses on the floor instead. “I have a feeling this isn’t going to work out,” Kate warned. “Why not?” I asked. “Well, I’m fine with it,” said Kate, and I could see Amy wasn’t having an issue. “The problem is the other Kate. She’s… a bit of a diva,” she chose her words carefully. “And yet she’s here in Africa?” I asked. “Just wait, you’ll see,” warned Kate. I had met the other Kate briefly once, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. “Let’s go look at the site before dinner!” said Kate, so we gathered up the guys and went outside.
Kate remembered fairly well how to find drilled well. We followed her down a dirt road and then through some trails around farms. “Bon soir,” said every person we saw. Usually they would wave their arms wildly, throw kisses, shake our hands, embrace us, and repeat “Merci, merci!” several times. They clearly knew we were here to give them water. There were chickens and hogs dodging through the brush everywhere we turned and frequent clusters of small children balancing gasoline cans full of water that were much larger and heavier than they were. When we finally arrived at the site, the well just looked like a covered PVC pipe sticking out of the soil. There were trees overhanging the system and we realized our well would be in the front yard of an elderly man who was watching us suspiciously from a log on his stoop. Satisfied that the well indeed existed, we packed it up quickly to join Guy, Zefere, Aylynn, and Paul Dennis in a town just north called Mbouda.
In Mbouda, we stopped at a bar to have a meal and some drinks. I quickly learned of Eric’s love for beer and told him what I knew about African beer. We ordered Castels. The others ordered sodas. Then we had large dishes of food. The others ate a meat dish, but I had salad and pasta with fries – typical modern African fare. I had had it so many times in Benin by now, I was beginning to expect it. We sat in a loft above the main bar. The floor was surprisingly weak and, as a group of primarily American Civil Engineers, its lack of integrity made us a little nervous. Washing our hands before eating was a bizarre process because the sink we used was along the wall in the main bar and the soap was a dirty bar. In so many ways, African establishments are way below American par in terms of health standards. That much has become evident.
When our meal was done, we returned, got ready for bed, and decided to start our day at 6AM. Aylynn agreed to have food ready for us. We had a long day ahead and were relieved to finally lie down, even if our mattresses were questionable and pillows were apparently now bygone luxuries.