Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Cameroon?

            Long time, no see. Today officially marks the two week point from my departure from Yaoundé. I am ecstatic to finish these weeks off strong and I have my trip to Buea and Limbe to thank for that possibility.

            Jamie and I left Friday morning for Buea. We had to take the bus for 6 hours, which if you remember from my previous post feels like eternity in the claustrophobic busses here. On the way to Buea, we passed through Douala, which is the other major city of Cameroon. It is also very humid, so passing through the city felt like we were passing through an oven. We also saw something very amusing on the road---an oil truck drove by us when I noticed something was on top of it. Yes, on top of the oil truck there was a goat. This had to be one of the more bizarre things we have seen on this trip. The poor thing must have been terrified.

            Buea is the university town of Cameroon. Much like a University town in the US, it is small and confined to mostly one street. We would stay in a small volunteer house owned by a volunteer coordinator from a partner organization of my boss. We were thankful for the free accommodations, except when we arrived we found ourselves in an extremely dirty house full of dust, spiders, black water in the toilet, and a missing mosquito net over one of the beds. There was also no toilet paper. No toilet paper. I will say it again. No toiler paper.
            What was the first thing Jamie and I did after putting our bags down? We bought toilet paper.
            We figured it is only five days, and it was free. Beggars can’t be choosers. The organization also agreed to feed us. We went to the coordinator’s house everyday for food. In my host family, it is very important to be polite to guests, which usually means feeding them well. However for breakfast and dinner every night, we were served one of two things: bread with chocolate or bread with tomato and cucumber.

            Now I don’t mean a nice sandwich that would fill a person. I mean slices of bread on a tray and some scattered veggies on the side. It wasn’t such a big deal to me because I happen to like those items, but I knew that my nutrition would be really low for the week and I would probably always be hungry. Jamie, on the other hand, is allergic to bread. She would eat it anyway, because it’s free (again I repeat the importance of free things on our budgets) but she would feel sick later. We also filled up on coffee to make the hunger pass.

            Two other German volunteers who work with the organization in Buea were staying in the other volunteer house. Theresea and Jacob were very nice and invited us over their place the first night for drinks. Their volunteer house was the same as ours in dimensions but was much cleaner.
            Because my bed didn’t have a mosquito net, Jamie and I huddled in one bed. The net barely fit over us anyway, so I eventually split into the other room on the third night but it was quite the funny sight to see us in fetal position, cramped side by side.
            Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip in Cameroon without the bumps in the road. Other than those nuances, we had a fantastic time. We went to Limbe and had ourselves a relaxing day on the black sand beach. Etisah Beach was a private beach, so we paid 1500 CFAs (or about $3) for access to a secured beach and a free drink. The beach was pretty clean and I had never seen black sand before. Because it was a private beach, the customers were mostly foreigners (French tourists). I had never seen so many white people in Cameroon at one time! The water was like bath water and though I usually stay clear of the ocean when I am at the shore, I took advantage of how nice the water was. In addition, there were no shells! It was a beautiful start to our trip, and Jamie and I appreciated the ability to just breathe fresh air.

            The third day, Jamie and I went to Limbe a second time for the Wildlife Center and the botanical gardens. The Center housed different species of monkeys who are endangered in Africa. We saw a variety of monkeys and, unlike the zoos of the US, the guard rail as not very high. You really felt you were in their habitat with them. I got some pretty funny pictures of drills (an endangered monkey) play fighting with each other. I also saw an antelope, which was sad because I had eaten some antelope meat in Bamenda. I apologized to the antelope for eating its mother, but assured her that if Bambi could do it, she would be just fine.

            The botanical garden was nothing too exciting, but the landscape was beautiful to walk around. I’ll skip the details of that as to not bore you.

            The grand finale was Mount Cameroon. One of Africa’s largest mountains at about 4095 meters, Jamie and I would climb about half on a one day excursion. I had no clue what to expect, since I had never been mountain climbing. I have ton my fair share of hiking trails so I figured it must be similar.
            It wasn’t. Within 10 minutes of our hike, we were both out of breathe---mostly because it has been so long since we had any cardio activity. It took us three hours to reach our summit, but the climb was breathtaking. We walked through so many different environments. One minute we were in a field, the next we were in what looked like a typical African rainforest, and then we were in a misty, moist forest, and finally walked through the harsh conditions of the savannah. The last few meters were extremely painful on my knees, but I was leading our group and pushed myself to just get to the top.
            We reached the summit and threw our bags down. Sitting on a large rock, Jamie and I sat in silence for a long time. I couldn’t believe I had just climbed 2000 meters and was now looking down this huge mountain. On the way done, I kept falling because the traction on my white (now red and black from dirt) Adidas shoes is completely gone.

“This is why I came to Africa,” I told myself as I began my descent. I had traveled all this way to challenge myself. If I wanted a cake walk, indulgent trip abroad, I would have gone somewhere in Europe. But that’s not what I was looking for. Instead, I searched for meaning and understanding of my current life and my future. Indeed, I have definitely been confronted by many tests here. Whether it was teaching a class, to the language barrier, the racial discrimination, or just eating bread for 5 days straight, I had accomplished more here then I have in any other two month period of my life.

And I was ready for it to end. Granted, I have always been ready to hop on the next flight to the US, I knew it was never actually time for me to leave yet. I have two weeks left, and I am happy to say that it is indeed time for me to peace out of this country. I look forward to just talking with you all over a drink or coffee. I look forward to eating what I want and when I want it. I definitely look forward to the gym.

But I know I still have time left here, so I will save the final thoughts until next week. After all, fourteen days is not a weekend. I still have time left. And not to my surprise, I returned back to Yaoundé a bit disappointed that there was still such time left. Then my host brother asked me to help him in the shed. Tied to a box, there was a rooster. He wanted me to help kill it.

Of course he knew I wouldn’t but I asked for time with the rooster. I named him Wesley and apologized to him that he was tied to a box and would soon become a tasty delicious piece of meat in my rice.

“Yep,” I thought to myself. “I am not done here yet.”

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