Where I Lived in Cameroon

I realized today that I never did post a good description of my surroundings in Buea, Cameroon where I spent my summer volunteering. So, lazy man that I am, I will now post such a description. But I didn’t write it, Mirte did. Mirte is another volunteer who lived in the same house as me. She had been in Buea for a month before I arrived and who is still there for a little while longer – talk about dedication! Here is a really good description of where we lived, from her blog which is now in both English and Dutch, at http://mirtebijuac.waarbenjij.nu/.

“The main street of Buea (there is only one) is paved (asfalt), but most, if not almost all other streets are unpaved. “Unpaved” here ranges from incredibly muddy and bumpy (like the road to Mamfe) to stony and trash belt like. The street in front of the volunteer house that I am living in is a combination: it is very muddy, has many bumps and parts that have been cut away by the rain, and at the entrance has something that truly resembles a trash belt in the sense that you’ll be able to find objects ranging from the rather ordinary bags, can and half-eaten food to used condoms, shoes, t-shirts and bra’s. If you end up in there at night wearing flipflaps you definitely will want to go and wash your feet!

If it rains (which is does, a lot), the street transforms into a muddy little stream – resembling the ones that I used to be so excited about when I found one at our campsites as a kid: “Look Mum, we’ve got our own RIVER!” We have a complete duck family living around the corner, six ducklings and one mother, and there are a few more down the road. Need I say more?

At the side of the road you will find countless little stands selling anything from airtime (in the absence of fixed payphones, people offer their mobile phone for usage against payment) to roasted peanuts, oranges, coconut sweet (cut and fried coconut) and soya. The latter is as far from vegetarian you can get: it’s a stick of meat from the fire, and truly quite yummie!

At night, this scene transforms into a lively and cosy place: the sellers continue until approximately 21.00 or even 22.00, and all the bars open their doors to allow the inhabitants to engage in their favorite way to spend time: drinking Castel (local beer) or Guinness. Everywhere you go, you’ll see the little parasols lit up by lamp bulbs indicating someone’s presence as a seller, the music of the one trying to outweigh the music of his neighbor.”

Big thanks to Mirte for that neat description of where I used to live!

Us volunteers eating soya at our favourite hangout, ‘Abidjan’ (photo taken with Bram Stelt’s camera)

Creature Photography

Over the course of the three months I spent in Cameroon, I managed to take a few photos of strange creatures. It was rainy season, so there were not as many opportunities to take wildlife photographs as one might expect. I was also living in a densely populated, garbage-strewn city, so there was not so much wildlife right by my house.

Geckos are of course everywhere in Cameroon, and the more the merrier – they keep the mosquitoes at bay and they make no noise and no mess!

Various types of lizard also live all over the place, like this one near the ceiling outside one of the school buildings on the new site:

I really liked these colourful lizards. The males were colourful like this, the females rather dull and smaller. This one is near the beach:

Centipede on the path at the new school site, with size perspective from someone’s hand:

We found this guy sitting on the root of a tree at the beach:

This is the inside of my bedroom door. This beast didn’t live to see this photo unfortunately:

We couldn’t identify this species, but she was very cute and cuddly:

These guys liked to chill outside my house, which they were not allowed to do:

Maybe an anthropologist knows what this is? I don’t, and I’m the one who made it with my food…

This skink decided to visit us on our table on another beach trip. It seems every beach trip (I only went 3 times the whole summer) resulted in neat little creatures showing up! Seems he was interested in reading my book, Globalization and its Discontents, by Joseph Stiglitz.

The colour combination of the plastic bag and tablecloth, combined with the effect of the maximum possible aperture of f/4.0 on my lens, created a neat effect in this one:

To get Mr Skink back off the table and into his natural environment (and also to take a nice photo) I carefully got him to climb into this empty glass for transport:

100 km/d

On August 3rd I left Buea for a short trip with Sam. Sam is a Welsh medical student who was doing some volunteer work at the local hospital and health clinics, and we decided to go on an adventure down to the south of Cameroon to Campo Ma’an national park, famed for its gorillas, elephants, and strange creatures.

First, we got on a bus from Buea to Douala. We were lucky to find a bus that was already nearly full, so we only waited a few minutes before the bus left. Our luck soon ran out when the bus began to make strange noises and broke down. The driver managed to get us a certain distance at very low speed but eventually we had to get out and wait for a passing bus to pick us up. Of course the passing bus was already full so adding several people from our bus made things all the more “cozy.”

We arrived soon after in Bonabéri, described by one blogger as “an over-populated, under-developed urban slum section of Douala.” We both knew where we were and it was midday so it was fairly safe, though I did have to remove one young guy’s hand from my pocket and slap him on the wrist for it, as did Sam. The pickpocket didn’t realize the pockets he aimed for were empty – we’re not that dumb. Got a bus-taxi from Bonabéri to the Akwa area of Douala, a very central area of the city. The driver told us that, from where he dropped us off, we just had to walk about 5 metres back to the corner for the bus company we were looking for, Jako Voyages. I persuaded him to give me my proper change before getting out, and we quickly realized he was lying – Jako Voyages wasn’t there. So we asked a kid on the street, paid him the equivalent of 20 cents Canadian, climbed onto the backs of motorcycles and got driven through very busy midday traffic to the bus office for the next leg of our trip.

The ticket-seller told us we’d be leaving in 45 minutes so we decided to eat some food at the station. Without even finishing our drinks the PA system came on and told everyone for our bus that we had to go outside. So we did. And then we waited. And waited. And it started raining. And we waited. Finally after an hour and a half waiting and being pushed and shoved by the crowd, they began calling out numbers. When they finally decided the bus was full after an hour or so of number-calling, the last person to get on the bus was number 9-22. I was 9-23 and Sam was 9-24.

Back inside we waited again, the ticket-seller told us 45 minutes again til the next bus, and we realized he says that to anyone who asks, no matter what. We got on a bus eventually, though I had to dig my elbow into a woman to get her to stop blocking my way and pull myself onto the bus with a lot of force as so many people are competing to get on the bus. They don’t understand that the driver only lets you on when he calls your number, so there’s always a huge shouting match where the driver and a few reasonable passengers yell at the unreasonable passengers trying to get on before their number is called. So I had a bunch of people yelling on my behalf to let me on, while a bunch of other people thought they should get on before the people with lower numbers.

The bus took a few hours to get there, but it was comfortable enough and the road was pretty good. We arrived in Kribi just after 10pm – so much for making it all the way to Campo in one day. Sam had been to Kribi before so he knew exactly where a cheap hotel was located, and after a 2 minute walk we were registering at the reception.

The next morning we each ate two fresh baguettes with La Vache Qui Rie (Laughing Cow) cheese which was heavenly after the previous day’s severe lack of food. We looked around for a bus to Campo and paid at the only company that seemed to be going that day. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Several hours later, the company told us to get off the fairly empty bus and get into a smaller bus – a new driver was arriving and we were to leave shortly, as the normal bus was not going to fill up and they didn’t want us to be stuck. We left, and after about half an hour we stopped in the middle of nowhere. The guy in front of me got out, climbed onto a motorcycle driving in the opposite direction, and took off. We drove a few more minutes then stopped in a tiny village. We got out. We waited. And waited. And waited. The guy returned on another motorcycle – he had forgotten his jacket at the bus station in Kribi and had gone back to get it.

The road to Campo is not good, and it was a tough ride which ended after 7pm when it was already pitch black. Not knowing where to go, we just started walking and asked some ladies at a food stall where we could find accommodation but they wanted money for it (a lot of money, around $5 Canadian equivalent) so we walked off. Some guy came out of a restaurant and told us he could help us. Very sketchy, but what other options are there? So we told him we knew there was some kind of beach hotel we had been told about, and he took us there, the one we had seen in photos. We booked ourselves in then he took us looking for food. We ordered antelope from a food stall but when we sat down at a restaurant to eat the antelope (we were sitting at the restaurant because they sell drinks and allow people to bring their own food) we realized it was stone-cold even though we asked for it to be really hot. So we both gave our meat to Samuel, the local guy who was helping us. He was amused that he and Sam share the same name. We ate the cold white rice plain and had a couple of beers before heading to bed.

And that’s how it took 2 full days to travel from Buea to Campo, a distance of 209 km as the crow flies. In the next blog entry, you’ll get to see why we made this trip, and why the rough travel conditions were worth it. It will also be a rare occasion when I post a short video!

Grand Opening Ceremony

On July 30th we had the official opening of the new vocational unit building that I mentioned in the previous post. Here are a few of the students:

The crowd gathered for the event:

George showed the chiefs the puzzles made by students in woodworking class to sell:

Rosemarie and Bram, the two Dutch volunteers who led the fundraising effort for the vocational unit, were of course the guests of honour at the ceremony and went through a little ritual cleansing before the ribbon was cut from across the main doors to the building.

Students watching from the other set of stairs:

Henry, who played a huge role in coordinating the builders and keeping close tabs on the budget and work schedule:

Rosemarie and Bram again:

Touring the new building:

Everyone went home happy (and full, after a big meal)