Cameroon. For us, it is the end of a long road. Since we left the U.S. in December, Dave and Megan have set foot in 13 countries, 11 in Africa. Our overland trek started in Casablanca and took us through Morocco/Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, and finally here, Bamenda, the capital city of the Northwest Province, altitude above 1000 meters, surrounded by mountains, green, lush, and yes, the beginning of the “light” rainy season.
Our arrival in Cameroon three weeks ago occurred in several stages.
• First, crossing the border from Nigeria to Ekok, Cameroon, a process involving conversations with passport checks by no fewer than 8 border officials.
• Second, discovering that the guidebooks had not lied, and that the road from Ekok to the next major city, Mamfe, is in fact “terrible.” We departed Ekok at about 5:00 PM, crammed into a car dwarfed by its oversized wheels, makeshift rear-wheel drive, and jacked-up suspension – and arrived, mud covered, via motorbike, 63 kilometers later, in Mamfe at about 6:00 AM. In between: a bonding experience with our driver-cum-auto-mechanic and fellow passengers, involving a borrowed battery, siphoned petrol from the tank directly into the carburetor, and hours of pushing and pulling (with a rope attached to the front axle) through a series of mud traps with 8 foot walls of mud on either side carved out by the rains and previous vehicles.
• Third, from Mamfe to Bamenda, another 127 kilometers on a slightly better road in a much better vehicle, we bore witness to the “raw power” of four-wheel drive beyond Jeep Cherokee commercials. We sat in the open-air back of the pickup with ten or so other passengers and, though the trip took another 12 hours, we were content with good company and fantastic views of farms nestled in the rainforest, and across the mountains we were gradually climbing. Midway, a tree with an 18-inch trunk blocked our muddy path, but through geometry, rope, and 8-cylanders, our Toyota managed to pull it aside – take that weekend warriors! Of course, it rained, and as predicted, the air turned cooler as we approached Bamenda, so that we were happy to arrive as night fell.
The folks at GHAPE, our host organization, had been awaiting our arrival for days, and Loveline, the field manager, rushed to the bus station to meet us, greeting each of us with a hug, and quickly scooped us into a taxi back to the GHAPE office/house compound. There, we were greeted by about ten smiling faces, mostly women of many different ages – from 16 to 70, we would later learn – and ushered into our apartment in the compound. For her part, Megan can honestly say that she has only experienced welcome like this from her parents when arriving home the first few times from college to find her room newly cleaned and rearranged, food specially bought for her consumption.
Our two room apartment was perfectly outfitted – tables and chairs, living room set, stove, dishes, pots, buckets for dish washing, broom, bed, wardrobe, radio, TV and DVD player. Within moments, we had guests in every chair of the apartment, were reviewing names for the second time, trying to guess just who-was-who and what role each played, and brewing a pot of tea on our stove. Learning that Dave loves eggs, a man named Michael (who we later learned is the brother of GHAPE founder Bernadette) practically snapped his fingers and two-dozen eggs miraculously appeared.
That was Friday night, and we quickly learned how hard-working GHAPE – and most of Cameroonians – are. Work began at 8:00 AM the next morning, with a meeting of all the staff: Loveline, field manager; Donald, Fointama, Mercy, Josephine, and Bridget, credit assistants; Calista, accountant; and two volunteer workers, Mr. Eric and Hostensia. At first we thought this meeting was specially called for us, but in fact GHAPE works not only a 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM week workday, but also a half-day on Saturday mornings.
Saturday afternoon and Sunday introduced us to our neighbors – the immediate, extended, and adopted family of GHAPE founder Bernadette, a mostly female family, led by “Mama,” a warm and hilarious septuagenarian. By the time we returned from the food market and Megan from the cyber, where she sent the requisite “we’re safely out of Nigeria and at home in Cameroon” email, the other ladies of the house were helping Dave to properly wash and prepare his vegetables for dinner-making. Pascaline then lent us a grinding-stone-cum-cutting-board and helped Megan to prepare dinner, including the new (for us) “bitter leaf.” By evening, we had 17-year-old Abigail and 10-year-old Fru sharing food with us in our room and watching The Gods Must be Crazy with us on bootleg DVD (thank you, Nigeria!).
Sunday morning, Megan was collected at a quarter of eight to accompany Pascaline and Mama to mass at the Catholic Church down the road. She had her first practical lesson in the local Pidgin English, listening to the Kenyan priest, himself not a native speaker, read the mass: “We be listen for we lord and he talk say he helup all he piking (children). We be thank he for we protect and guide.” Walking home, Pascaline laughed when Megan proudly announced that she could understand much of the mass, and explained that the priest spoke more slowly and clearly than any native speaker. She is right. If either of these subjects piques your fancy, don’t worry, as we will certainly be writing more on religion, which infuses every aspect of life here, and language, which fascinates at least one of us, in future chapters.
Send your comments and questions
(We promise to respond), and
Finance a loan for a GHAPE member
(We’ll write more about them soon)!
~Megan & Dave