Travel Journal Cameroon and Kenya • Page 2

This is the travel journal of Chuck Cavanaugh's visit to Cameroon and Kenya.



Chapter 2 : Parties, Shopping, Visit to Karib on the Beach

In this chapter I visit the surprisingly pretty beachside town of Karib, Cameroon.

Douala, Cameroon : January 23, 2007

Dining with Diplomats

It’s a party tonight! There are a number of foreign consulates here in Douala, the commercial center of the Cameroon, and every month one of them plays host to the others for dinner and drinks. This month, it’s the Nigerians’ turn. That’s good. Because Nigerians are always a Hoot! I knew a lot of Nigerians when I lived in Washington, DC.

On the way to the restaurant, we drop someone at his hotel. He’s visiting from Washington, taking a tour of the region to visit all U.S. properties. At one point, we are stuck in what New Yorkers call gridlock (and Cameroonians call typical) when we have a slight difference of opinion with the driver of a Mercedes Benz. The visitor then informs us that such aggressive and inconsiderate driving habits are typical of members of the M’benzi tribe.

M’benzians, I learn, are unique in that they are to be found in every sub-Saharan country. They are well represented in both government and the private sector. The tribe has a highly developed social welfare system which assures every member of the tribe the wherewithal to afford to drive a Mercedes Benz (ownership of which car is in fact the tribe’s sole defining characteristic).

*The preceding paragraph contains a joke, in case you didn’t notice.

And, speaking of Consulates, the USA has a new one being made ready here in Douala. We visited the new location under construction, the entire top floor of a building above a bank. All the windows have heavy metal grates. It looks like a city jail. But I suppose it’s inevitable. Here are photos from inside and from way up high.

We are greeted warmly at the restaurant by the Nigerians, and others. The Nigerian ambassador has come here from Yaoundé. Rob introduces me as a visitor from Las Vegas. It’s good to be from a famous city that everybody knows and holds an opinion about. They ask if I will visit their country. As it happens, I have just this very morning noticed a new travel advisory at the State Dept. website, this time warning against travel to Nigeria. Bombings, kidnappings, violent crime. The usual. I tell them, sorry, no, not this trip.

There are representatives of various other nearby African countries. The Lebanese and the French are absent. We gossip about the French with a Brit and a Nigerian. It’s always fun to make fun of the French! The consensus view is that Rob’s recent party was such a smashing success that the French feel they can’t top it, so they’re in hiding. Rob’s party was the last time they were seen in public!

We are seated at a long table that’s mostly French speaking at one end and mostly English at the other, with bilingual people gathered at the middle. The gracious Nigerian ambassador welcomes everybody using both languages. He looks to me like just like an African Ambassador is supposed to look. Large and gregarious. And he makes a point of welcoming me as a special guest from Las Vegas.

USA Consulate Douala

One of the dishes is curry, and we ask the wife of the Consul from India to comment. She says it’s pretty good. She goes on to mention that there is not even one Indian restaurant in this city, which I find unbelievable. The party is interesting in that these people are all important, well-traveled, well-educated, and very classy. I feel much out-classed. And yet, at the same time, they’re also playing around together like kids! This is a good party.

Father and 3 kids on motorcycle

 

I’m surprised that the Nigerian near me has never heard of Senator Barack Obama. The Kenyan’s adore him and the Nigerians are not even aware of him? It really does seem very surprising that a credible presidential candidate with African roots is not universally known and admired across Africa.

After dinner, there is an awful lot of the kissing of both cheeks. Well, not actually kissing, more like brushing of cheeks. More than I ever saw in my whole life together I think. Diplomats are way into that stuff.

On the way out of the very classy and expensive restaurant, there is a huge pothole at the gate. I thought that a shiny jaguar with diplomatic plates might get stuck in it. Why in the world doesn’t the restaurant do a little more work on the outside, I wonder?

We got through the whole evening without repeating the new Mbenzi joke. Our dinner companions may not all have enjoyed it as much as we did.

That evening, back at the house, I notice a mosquito for the first time. It’s time to spray again!

I’m surprised that the Nigerian near me has never heard of Senator Barack Obama. The Kenyan’s adore him and the Nigerians are not even aware of him? It really does seem very surprising that a credible presidential candidate with African roots is not universally known and admired across Africa.

After dinner, there is an awful lot of the kissing of both cheeks. Well, not actually kissing, more like brushing of cheeks. More than I ever saw in my whole life together I think. Diplomats are way into that stuff.

On the way out of the very classy and expensive restaurant, there is a huge pothole at the gate. I thought that a shiny jaguar with diplomatic plates might get stuck in it. Why in the world doesn’t the restaurant do a little more work on the outside, I wonder?

We got through the whole evening without repeating the new Mbenzi joke. Our dinner companions may not all have enjoyed it as much as we did. lol

That evening, back at the house, I notice a mosquito for the first time. It’s time to spray again!

Douala, Cameroon : January 24, 2007

Sleepy in Douala

And the insect people come and do the yard this very morning. As soon as they leave, I notice a gecko running around in my bedroom. It has fled indoors.

Rob's Douala house lizard

Nothing else happens the rest of the day, except I work on a new web site for somebody and I sleep a lot.

Douala, Cameroon : January, 25, 2007

Office of U.S. Vice Consul

Rob invites me to visit his office, which is something less than a complete Consulate here (because they do not issue visas). It really is a dump. It’s been in use for 16 years. They’re in the process of moving, but there is a lot of work to be done yet on the new office, which is much more spacious and much more secure. 

Lunch is at a cozy little Arab-run restaurant. On leaving, I notice somebody wearing a t-shirt from Idaho, which is where I’m from originally, so I speak to him. He’s from Twin Falls, Idaho. I’m originally from Meridian, Idaho. We are both amazed. Small world.

We’re planning dinner out with a local banker tonight – but first it’s time for a quick trip to the nearby art market.

We’re walking?? But it’s almost dark! Nothing to worry about, says Rob. I’m skeptical but I love African art, along with Haitian art, so I put my camera in a pocket and off we go. It’s just one block up and one block over. 

The place is a real dump. What’s that expression for treasures found in unlikely places? Well, whatever, this is the most unlikely of places and the things here are all wonderful.

I bought this stuff then gave away

Rob keeps asking, do you like this? What about this? Of course I like it. I like every one of these things. I’m not going to win a prize for effective bargaining. I didn’t hide my enthusiasm.

I ended up buying two pairs of masks (4) and two sets of hardwood coasters. The total came to under $30. I’ll buy lots more another day.

The cost of buying this stuff is nothing. The cost of shipping it… that is pretty considerable. It’s cheaper to buy this sort of thing here than to buy it in Kenya. So I’ll probably carry it all with me back to Kenya, and back to the USA, paying the airlines for extra baggage.

Here is Rob’s delightful maid, Marie Claire, with my favorite mask. Marie knows very little English so I practice my French on her. She irons my t-shirts.

Douala, Cameroon : January, 25, 2007

Lifestyles of the Cameroon Elite

We tear ourselves away from the shops in time to arrive only a few minutes late to our dinner appointment. Our host is the managing director of a big bank here, and he and his wife are from Gambia. Their house is decorated entirely with real African art, so now I’m embarrassed by my enthusiasm for the ordinary stuff.

We dined with a wealthy banker
We drink South African wine and talk about all kinds of things, including the differences between Kenya and Cameroon. This region of Africa, reports our banker, used to be called the “White Man’s Graveyard,” on account of tropical diseases, and so the impact of European culture was less. Meanwhile, over in East Africa they had a lot less trouble with disease, notably malaria, and so Europeans stayed longer and contributed more to bringing modernity to those countries.

But the Europeans still had considerable impact even here. In discussing how Cameroonians are not so friendly as some of their neighbors it’s mentioned that this may be partly attributable to the French influence upon Cameroonian culture.

They tell us the story of their arrival to Douala airport with all this art. “Commercial quantity. 300,000 CFA!” The Customs officials would not listen to any argument and demanded to be paid the duty on imported art. It’s only $600 so he said, fine, he would pay it. And he could see the officials eyes light up. Pay day! Clearly, the payment was certainly not destined for the government coffers. But then he added that he would require an official receipt, and their mood crashed.

The wife tells us about how her daughter was just 13 when she said, “Democracy can work in other places, but not in Africa.”

After a lot of wine, now it’s time to go to an extremely upscale restaurant. Rob knows the chef who is from France, and so does the banker. The place is small and very elegant. There is a little bar on the way in and we sit there and chat with the chef who takes our order himself.

Later, at dinner, we hear stories about the world of banking. After dinner he just signs the US$400+ check when it arrives and we are good to go – I don’t even think I’ve ever witnessed that before! He has got a ‘tab’ at this restaurant. I am so seriously out-classed here. People back home think maybe I’m wandering in the jungle fending off cannibalistic pygmies with a stick, and eating lizards and bugs. The reality is a lot different.

Centers for Disease Control Research Facility : January 26, 2007

The Birthplace of AIDS?

Rob’s duties include looking after Americans in this area near Cameroon’s largest city. He’s the sole foreign service officer in the country not based in the capital city.

Today, he has business to attend to, he needs to pay a visit to the CDC facility. They’ve been setting up the facility for over a year – these things take much longer in a place like this. We’ll have lunch at the beach and I’ll take lots of pictures. I grab extra batteries for the camera on the way out.

We encounter a solemn funeral procession coming the other direction. It must have been somebody important to this community. In the distance, I thought it looked like a marching band. Turns out it was both.

Rob tells me the CDC is studying the possibility that the AIDS virus got started in the immediate area of this facility.

Of course, I’m sure I don’t understand the theory at all, but it rests at least partly on the fact that there are more varieties of the AIDS virus circulating in this area outside of Douala than anywhere else in the world.

The leading cause of death here is AIDS, followed by malaria. We Americans and others in the developed world have it real good. Communicable diseases caused most deaths from the dawn of civilization up until recently.

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Just as we arrive at the CDC I take one last picture and the camera shuts off. It turns out that BOTH sets of extra batteries are no good. Very bad news. There will be no pictures from inside the CDC facility. I am saddened.

The CDC administrator explains that the Baptists have got a place here where they treat pregnant women so as to prevent them transmitting HIV to their newborn babies. The treatment is successful only 50% of the time but that’s 50% better than the alternative. The CDC’s job here, I gather, is strictly about tracking, studying and shipping home the various strains of the virus.

He says these two facilities are a good match for one another. The sought-after blood samples deliver themselves.

The actual laboratory is small but, among other things, they’ve got an expensive high-tech blood analysis machine, a high-tech refrigerator, and a high-tech freezer. There’s also a sealed room. I take seriously the things labeled BIO-HAZARD.

The concern here right now is mostly security. They are completing a wall to help prevent burglary, robbery and terrorism. I find the worst case scenarios discussed even more disturbing than the biological hazards, such as what people working inside will do if bad guys scale the walls and fire rifles at the grated window. Uggh.

Inside are lots of sealed rooms and containers labeled with the universal symbol of a bio-hazard.

@ET-DC@eyJkeW5hbWljIjp0cnVlLCJjb250ZW50Ijoic2l0ZV90aXRsZSIsInNldHRpbmdzIjp7ImJlZm9yZSI6IkFuZ3UgV2FsdGVycyAiLCJhZnRlciI6IiBTdXJyZWFsIGFuZCBhYnN0cmFjdCBhcnQifX0=@

Then it’s time for lunch and we go with the administrator of the CDC to the Fini Hotel on the beach. They’ve got a big dining room out over the beach, very nice. Would be nicer but for the dust out here!

I don’t have the correct spelling but they call the dust something close to The Harmiton, which is pronounced frenchly. The dust in the air continues to bother everybody. Everywhere, the sky is always far from blue and outside of the city the otherwise gorgeous views are greatly obscured. It’s worse this year than usual and ought to be ending soon. It hasn’t rained at all in weeks here.

There are two more seasons, including the rainy season when the whole country is under a constant downpour that begins in late July and goes non-stop for weeks. It’s for this season that one sees deep trenches alongside all the streets in the city sometimes covered and sometimes not. Rob says cars rarely fall into them, which I find surprising. Right now, those with puddles that don’t drain completely have frogs and tadpoles.

The other season is just all the rest of the time, with nothing special going on weather-wise. Equatorially hot and muggy with a more-or-less ordinary amount of rain.

We visit two homes that are leased for use by CDC officials here. On the way to one of them I’m very impressed by the neighborhood. It looks to me like the people have little or no more money than those I see living in view of the highways – but there is clear evidence here of pride of ownership. No litter! Their simple homes are well maintained – though in need of paint. And I notice a little bar with outdoor patio with lots of people sitting around and enjoying themselves. For the very first time, I’m tempted to want to stop and visit with some average Cameroonians!

But there’s no time today. Rob looks at the two houses and we head back in order to arrive back in the city before dark. We see an accident along the way, a truck has run over two motorcycles, the drivers of which must either be dead or exceptionally lucky. It only dawns on me a little later that we drove past too quickly for me to even notice if there were bodies lying in the vicinity. The traffic just rolled right along – no rubber-necking! Death and destruction don’t hold the same fascination here as for American drivers.

But there’s no time today. Rob looks at the two houses and we head back in order to arrive back in the city before dark. We see an accident along the way, a truck has run over two motorcycles, the drivers of which must either be dead or exceptionally lucky. It only dawns on me a little later that we drove past too quickly for me to even notice if there were bodies lying in the vicinity. The traffic just rolled right along – no rubber-necking! Death and destruction don’t hold the same fascination here as for American drivers.

Rob witnessed a woman here attempt to run across about six lanes of highway. Lanes can really only be estimated, as there are seldom any lines drawn, and the drivers just weave their way forward as best they can. She was bounced off the front of three cars before her body was thrown clear of the road. Nobody even stopped. Rob didn’t stop either. Life is cheap and death is common here.

Once again, after it’s dark in the city I am appalled by the number of vehicles driving without headlights. Not only motorcyles but even trucks. I want to open the window and yell at some of them. But I restrain myself.

Among the photos that I missed getting today is of a roadside car wash. Which amounts to a stream which has been dammed with a few rocks to create a pool. And several taxis are down there parked in the shallow water and getting wiped off.

Then there was the man crossing the 2-lane highway wearing a bath towel and holding a bar of soap. There was a stream on the one side of the road and some shacks on the other. I also glimpsed a woman bathing beside the highway, but the pool was barely visible in the foliage (I would not have taken her picture in any case!)

A stream in the jungle
Near to the CDC facility there was another of those schools that looks like a row of barnyard stalls. I absolutely must get a picture of a school like this. I’m sure they’re plentiful here.
Douala, Cameroon : January 27, 2007

Out on the Town

It’s Saturday and Rob takes me on a tour of some of the more photographable sites around Douala. Some of these pictures link to large versions.

Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement celebrates the 24th anniversary of the ascension to power of President Paul Biya. All the people of Douala support Paul Biya. That’s what it says here anyway. The CPDM is the president’s political party.

President Biya banner

After lunch by the pool, I take a nap. We collect an Italian aid worker for dinner. He doesn’t do the actual aid work, he just works for one of the organizations here, and he travels a lot throughout Africa. He was home for the holidays, at his family’s olive oil farm? olive oil orchard? He lives in Cameroon but he doesn’t like it very well. He likes other African countries better. He doesn’t hold out much hope for the future here. Other countries are doing much better, including Gambia. He’s got high hopes for Nigeria too.

There isn’t much to do in Douala, apparently, except go out to expensive restaurants. This one’s run by another Lebanese. We have timed dinner to end just about the time the live band begins performing in the bar area. They’re really very good. It’s jazz for a while, then a woman joins them to sing Sade and Tina Turner songs. Proud Mary was great. I suggested to Rob that he tip her a U.S. visa. We’re quite content until we get bothered by so many prostitutes, so we go to a disco.

OMG, on the dance floor are at least 20 hookers and two fat white guys. The women are dreadful. Utterly obvious. They’re clearly not dancing for pleasure – they’re auditioning. About 2/3 of the patrons here are hookers. Rob says they;re sometimes charged 5000 CFA to get in. US$10. The hooker cover.

Probably because they can’t afford to drink! All the drinks are either $10 or $20. Even a plain Coke is $10. So, the thing to do is buy a bottle for $70 and then you get all the Coke you want free. Rob buys a bottle of Johnny Walker Red and we begin watching the horror show.Our Lebanese Shiite Muslim friend Bob joins us, wearing a shirt with the word Orgasm on it, with the “O” as a target. He’s 24 and is not a devout Muslim. And a Canadian woman with her Australian friend and his Indonesian wife. We’re a very cosmopolitan group. It’s somebody’s birthday but the music is so loud I sort of miss whose exactly. The club brings us a cake with a candle.

We leave to another club, with the Lebanese driving. He enjoys driving with diplomatic plates past a police check point. We see these once in a while here.

There are not quite so many hookers here and we settle into a booth. Somebody else buys the bottle this time. This time it’s the Black Label (more expensive, I think). We wave to our French chef from a few nights ago. This is one of those cultures where it doesn’t matter if men dance together, or women together. It doesn’t mean anything at all. The Italian insists that Rob dance with him. Maybe to keep away the prostitutes.

It’s a good thing it doesn’t mean anything because homosexuality is a serious crime here. Earlier, at dinner we heard a story about a gay male Cameroonian hustler who claimed to have been seduced by a white guy, which story the authorities readily accepted and the white guy was arrested. His embassy got a doctor to claim the white guy needed to be let out of jail for medical treatment and then they smuggled him onto an airplane and out of the country.

Our Lebanese friend Bob
I can’t remember the last time I drank whiskey. My memory of events later in the evening are hazy. I do remember we got another birthday cake here. And the Lebanese Muslim friend did a little strip show for the ladies (only removing his Orgasm shirt). We get home at 5am.
Douala, Cameroon : January 28, 2007

Home Security in Cameroon

Not much happening here today. We went to the vegetable market. That’s about it. And watched some DVD’s. I think I’ve forgotten to mention green beans. They’re the best. Who knew they could be so very good? Cameroon exports them to France and elsewhere. I’m going to miss them.

Neighborhood vegetable shop - always soak in water + bleach
All the mansions are walled off
I had a brief conversation with the guard at the house. The “daytime” guard, that is. He speaks pretty good English, certainly better than my French. They’re not armed but they do have radios, and can summon help. They carry one of those batons so they could slow somebody down if they need to. He works for Wackenhut, an international security service, and the Embassy pays them.

Rob got it put into the contract that they need to be paid “a living wage.” Previously, they were paid $100 a month, which is considered the standard wage here, and guards were often fired because they had to work a second job and would fall asleep at this one. Now they’re paid $250 a month, which is good here. There was a big fuss in Washington over the issue but Rob’s argument prevailed. Not all U.S. embassies have adopted the practice of paying higher than the standard wage.

The neighbor across the street heads the Cameroonian operations of a big international company. He’s got two guards at the gate, one inside the property, two dogs at night, and a lot of extra razor wire at the top of the fence. He’s got small children and worries about kidnapping, among other things. Security is a big industry here.

Sidewalks generally are used for everything except parking.

Right after New Years in Yaounde there was a home robbery/murder. A French woman was dropped at her home late at night by a friend. She came through the gate and found the guard tied up, he indicated that the bad guys were still on the property. She ran back to her friend’s car and as they drove away another robber shot and killed the friend. You’re supposed to call your guard as you approach the house and if there is no answer, or if it’s the wrong answer, then you’re supposed to stay away. Rob doesn’t bother doing that.

Douala sidewalk - not for walking
Douala, Cameroon : January 29, 2007

Clean Tap Water a Luxury

Rob is very excited. Even the maid, Marie Claire, jumped for joy. It’s got to do with clean water. There is a city water system, including water treatment, but the trouble is the pipes have got leaks. And then the potentially deadly ground water can get into the system. Consequently, you always want to have a distiller which cleans up the city water. We already had that.

But you needed to go out to the garage and fill a container with drinking water. Until today. Now the distilled water gets pumped to the refrigerator so we can now use the water and ice cube dispenser in the door of the refrigerator. Monumental achievement.

Whatever they’re using on the insects, it works very well. I never see mosquitos. So I never use the mosquito net on my bed anymore. However, I do still bolt the steel door at night.

… tonight we had dinner with a woman from the CDC who just arrived here. She’s doing work here on measles. We talked a lot about corruption. Cameroon is rated the most corrupt country in the world by people whose job it is to know such things. Nigeria always used to top the list but Cameroon has now acquired that dubious distinction.

Caribe, Cameroon : January 30, 2007

African Near Death Experience #2

I’m invited to ride along with friends of Rob – an American, a Canadian, and the American’s Cameroonian driver – to the seaside town of Caribe, also spelled Karib. Popular place. The husband of the American is Dutch, and his company has recently leased a house there for use by their employees as a weekend getaway. We’re going to have a look and on the way out of the city I grab some more pictures.

The American has lived here for about 10 months, but speaks no French. Her driver, Laurent, speaks English well enough. She is amazed by the motorcycle cabs here, which can be seen transporting all manner of merchandise. My reliable witnesses report observing a motorcyclist carrying a toilet on his head, and another time a satellite dish. I am skeptical but I don’t say so aloud.
Christians advertising god
I'm back in the Cameroon jungle

Traffic is heavy all through the cholera-afflicted area which I saw earlier. As soon as we leave the city, Laurent speeds way up. I notice he tends to drive 140km/h but can go over 150km/h at times.

This would be problematic even on proper roads but here we’re passing inches from children walking beside the road at speeds over 90mph. I am disturbed, but it’s clearly perfectly normal here. Laurent is a far better driver than many I’ve seen here but that only raises another issue. Driving this fast, you’re relying not only on your own skills but also that of other drivers, and their own prudence. I’m sure we’re going to come around a bend here and crash head-on into another car passing an oncoming truck. It’s only one lane in each direction the whole way.

At one point, we are behind a truck and a car. The car passes the truck even though there is traffic coming up fast in the other lane. So the oncoming car squeezes to the far side, and the car passing takes the middle. Insane.

Somehow, we arrive safely to Caribe. First stop is a guest house available for rent. The grounds are so beautiful. The inside, not so much.

I like the natural aspects. The use of stone, grass, logs. It’s a beautiful place for a holiday – and it can be yours for only $150 / night. Prices here make little sense. Next, we’re looking for the house leased by the Dutch company. We get lost.

Eventually, we find the right house. It actually turns out to be the next house down the beach from that of the President. We are afraid to take any pictures of the president’s property, for fear of being shot, but when we notice there is nobody at all in sight, we go ahead and take a couple of pictures discreetly.

Presidential beach house
Presidential beach house

The house we are here to look at has got a big gate at the street but no front of the house to speak of. It’s all about the ocean view and the grounds in the back. Beautiful place.

There are three Cameroonians on the property. It looks like they’ve got the place all to themselves during the week and then, at the weekend, one of the Dutch company’s employees comes here with their family. This place is a perk. And, evidently, this beach is clothing optional judging by two fellows on the beach just beneath the house.

We drive south a few miles to a beach hotel, and the road changes from nicely paved to just gravel and dirt.

The poverty around here is not terrible. Elsewhere, I’ve seen mostly very wealthy and grinding, desperate poverty. This is different.

Just as we’re pulling up at the restaurant I watch a hawk casually glide down and collect his lunch, a lizard, from between two palm trees. There are so many lizards, I think the hawk must have a pretty easy life here. Alas, I don’t get a picture of that scene. Doesn’t matter. I guess I’ll see much better wildlife scenes than that when I get to Kenya next Tuesday.

This is another extraordinary restaurant, including a bar and a small boutique hotel – which is always booked full. We pass through the bar first. In back is the restaurant and a small hotel. You could come here and forget about the world for a week or two.

Both the bar and the dining room are open air. Birds and lizards roam freely. It’s all right. Everything is perfect here.

Well, nearly perfect. It’s humid and hot which is only to be expected a stone’s throw north of the equator.

Then we notice that Laurent has on a long sleeved shirt. He thinks it’s a bit cool. We beg to differ. We go on to describe snow for him. I ask, “Have you ever been cold?” He says yes. But I strongly suspect that he has no idea what real cold is like.

After lunch, we meet the owners, a French mother and daughter. They seem proud. And rightly so.

Now it’s time to go visit the nearby waterfall!

We turn off the main (dirt) road and onto a side road pointing at the beach. It’s really not very promising, so far.

Because we’re in a comparatively remote stretch of road, the most remote that I’ve been on here, I think, I ask about snakes. Where are the boas and pythons and mambas? Laurent, the driver, says he can find me snakes if I want, but he asks in such a way as to suggest that it would be sort of crazy to deliberately seek them out.

We park and pass a group of people sitting in the shade by the shore. They offer themselves as tour guides, and we decline. And there are a couple of art vendors.

Beyond them is a small inlet with the waterfall. One of the natives claims this may be the only waterfall in the world which falls directly into the ocean.

I doubt that – I think I saw a bigger one in South Africa that drains to the ocean – but I let it go. This is a pretty place. We look at some art and head home without buying anything.

Rob said there might be some real-life pygmies here but I didn’t see any.

It really is hot here. Laurent says it’s a little too cool and he’s wearing long sleeves. I’m in front with him and he’s got the air conditioning directed only at the back seat. I think every Cameroonian dislikes air conditioning. I ask him about snow and he says he’s seen pictures.

He drives even faster on the way back home than on the way out. And I’m amazed watching him flash his headlights on and off rather frantically when, very rarely, he sees an approaching car with his headlights on in the daytime. If I were driving this road then I certainly would turn on my headlights so that other drivers could see me more easily. But Laurent considers this a waste of electricity.

I expect to die today. I fall asleep.

Douala, Cameroon : January 31, 2007

Gone Shopping

Rob came home early from the Consulate. Why? Too much traffic. So they closed early. This makes no sense until he clarifies that the traffic is in the capital, Yaoundé, because the president of China is visiting. Lots of streets are closed. So the embassy is closed. And when the embassy is closed then the consulate gets to close, too. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it makes more sense.

So we pay another visit to the shopping place around the corner.

Then I notice some brightly colored cloths hanging outside. Rob says they can be either wall decorations or table cloths. In the latter case, there are matching napkins. I love them, of course, like I love all African art.

The great thing about these cloths is they’re easy to pack! Shipping is such a problem from here.

The great thing about these cloths is they’re easy to pack! Shipping is such a problem from here.

I will leave Monday night to Kenya, where souvenirs tend to be a lot more expensive.

After shopping, we’re off to yet another diplomatic shindig, this one at the British consul which is located right upstairs from the holiest shrine of the M’benzi tribe. The local Mercedes Benz dealership. This event is to promote a local artist. I love his paintings. I

I spot a short guy and ask Rob and a Brit if that’s a pygmy. They say no. Not short enough. And pygmies don’t get out much. Pity.

After that, we go to a bar, where it’s mostly Brits and Lebanese. A good time was had by all. Bob, our Lebanese friend – who has given me permission to use his name – says that he’s coming to visit me in Las Vegas next year. I’m looking forward to it! He’s never been to the USA. He tells me he lost his “orgasm” shirt at the disco the other day.

Douala, Cameroon : February 1, 2007

Diplomacy and Dentistry

Dentistry is far cheaper in the third world so I make an overdue visit to the Belgian Consulate, which also serves as a dentist office (most peculiar, that, but he comes very highly recommended). I get a filling, and the only interesting thing is he only accepts cash. It’s very much a cash-based economy here.

Then I get a haircut. Maybe the woman has an accent that’s easier for me or maybe my French is getting warmed up. Whatever, we communicate pretty easily. (This has happened to me before, in France and in Scotland, where I’m just beginning to get good at the local language and then it’s time for me to leave).

I have just enough Cameroon cash left to buy this beautiful tablecloth as a gift. I think it’s fantastic. I hope it’s the right size. Three meters long with 12 matching cloth napkins for $30. And easy to pack. What a bargain.

I bought this as a gift, it's 3 meters long and gorgeous.
Close up. It comes with 12 matching napkins.
I’ve gotten a total of five mosquito bites so I’ve begun taking the malaria pills. We had people over from CDC / World Health Organization over for dinner. I learned more about malaria. One of our Lebanese dinner guests has had it five times! But a doctor who spends much time in all sorts of junglish places has never had it. They promise I’ll get over it quickly if I do get it but I much prefer to avoid it in the first place.

They are strangely happy to learn of a reported confirmed case of Avian Flu in Lagos, Nigeria. They explain that it was always widely believed that there were cases in Nigeria but they could never be confirmed. With confirmation may come some action – better late than never.