Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Just a family holiday in Cameroon

The ocean crashes on the black volcanic rocks. From the Gulf of Guineas the tropical wind blows through the windows. Replacing the smell of Camroon’s many fire kitchens* and diesel engines. It’s the raining season and the weather is living it up to the season’s name. In the Ambas Bay the lights of an oil rig are the only things to see nearby. On the horizon through the rain are the lights of the Chinese fisher boats and oil tankers. A desk with a sea front view in the 101 years old run down building of the Atlantic Beach Hotel. A room with two 2-persons beds, a clean bathroom with hot running water and friendly staff. On the desk an iBook laptop and a bottle of red wine. No horns, no blasting televisions and no radios. Left the iPod off. In front only a big black nothing. After all the pot-holes negotiatings, Nan Fangs and political b’s, this is what it makes it all worth. Cameroon: adventurous, enjoinment and relaxation: holiday!

Speeding: biggest farce in African time

After a day driving from Bamenda in the North-West Provence to the beach town of Limbe in the South-West, all six of us finally check in at the Holiday Inn Resort. We did survive a Jeannot Express mini-bus. It came up in the wrong lane climbing up the mountain while we were rolling down with a gentle speed. According to our professional driver he can do Bamenda-Limbe in four and a half hours. I point out if he would have been the one driving, we all would be now in the hospital, at least. Not just missing the Jeannot after an emergency stop, but going straight through it with the speed of an express liner. He replies: “Indeed the time you win doesn’t help in the end, if you kill your self speeding.”
My father in law insisted that we took his professional driver because he knows how to drive in Cameroon. For safety reasons I parked him on the back-seat and took the wheel my self. “Small, small. We are not in an hurry, safety first.” Speeding to win time is the biggest farce in African time. The last leg, after two gentle and friendly police roadblock and one small bribe, near Douala, my let the driver drive. A black guy behind the steering wheel attracts less attention than a white guy. At the beach my driver confessed that it was the first time he travelled that comfortable to Limbe. “And yes, we are still alive”.

Enough racism in my life

The next day we moved to the Atlantic Beach Hotel and booked two rooms for a week. Spending the days swimming at Semme New Beach, taking lunch at Victoria Bakery and diners at Suzanna’s Corner with it’s excellent chef Nouga Ndjip Jean and welcoming it’s owners Suzzana and Albert, in Church Street. And a morning at the Limbe Zoo, one of the world few primate sanctuaries. As my son and wife still have a Cameroonian passport, they only had to pay CFA 300,-. Me as non-Cameroonian was asked to pay CFA 3000,-. My wife and son went in, I sat down on the steps. When asked why I did not go in I answered: “I had enough racism in my life. I will fight it at home and abroad, surly not going to pay to supported it.” That was the opening for a nice and inspiring conversation. In the end they said. “Go in for free. Your my brother. Your Cameroonian and we need you.” Hey, normally my big mouth it gets me in trouble. Guess this was the exception on the rule.

Two days later we made a stop at the 1999 lava flow (mile 11). The guide/guard on duty displayed a most impolite way of asking my attention. George, my colleague and family member who was joining us on this holiday: “He wants you to come into the office.”, “I understood that one. But I don’t like to be called like I’m a dog.” In the same rude manner he showed me the price list. For a Cameroonian CFA 100,-. And for me, what a surprise, CFA 400,-. Already irritated by his impoliteness I replied him: “I’m not going to pay for racism. Fuck you.” We left, leaving him confused and with a big smile on George’s face.

Mount Cameroon

The ship journals of the powerful ancient city-state Cathage (814 BC, near present day Tunis) are the first known written reports about the Ambas Bay. The journals speak about ‘mountains of fire’. More than two thousands years later, in 1472, the Portuguese sailed around the West Africa corner. Recognizing the huge potential and feeding their greed, severals different European powers had their try to gain from these shores. Standing at Down Beach the skyline is simply impressive when Mount Cameroon and Etinde clear them selves out of the clouds. As impressive it must have been when my fore-fathers saw it. I stand here with my Cameroonian born wife and son, the moment is magical.

Rudely awakened out of a moment of thought by the plain dirt and filthiness of the place. The fishers quarter raises just above sea level. Making it in the raining season a real wet place and dangerous for any stronger than average storm. Knowing that there is no sewer to flush the shit and piss away or any water drainage, I conclude I’m standing in an open sewer: a source for deceases and plagues. Why doesn’t the counsel built a proper water and road infrastructure and provides decent housing? Why not? Are the problems of this village so different than any other fisher villages in Europe, before they became ‘rich’? In Europe they came up with a solution all by themselves, why can’t the population here do the same? The counsel does pay effort to clean Limbe and the boulevard. Still can do a lot more. But that’s not an excuse not to take care of cleaning your beaches. Do people really need to be hand held, depending on others, to take care? It’s a shame but it isn’t mine. I’m just passing, while you all sit in the Off-License and churches.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.

The local fishers fish in small and a bit bigger boats. Offshore there are the modern boats. Chinese boats with Chinese fishers. Some gentle elderly could not remember there where any modern Cameroonian boats before the Chinese came, when I inform about it. “They are supposed to fish in the deep waters, only. But they fish now in the shallow waters, too. Where our fishers need to fish. Our small boats can’t go out to the open sea.” Putting one and one together I asked: “How do you feel about that Chinese are fishing Cameroonian fish and then sell it to Cameroonians?” To keep it short: they are angry about it.

Going to the Port Authorities to see what they say about it, I put it plain and simple: “They sell you what is yours in the first place. As men of respect and honor in uniform, officials of the Cameroonian Republic, how you feel about it?” Their mouths spoke the diplomatic language, couldn’t say anything about it, I should go to Yaounde to ask. Their eyes displayed a damaged honor and anger. The Europeans had theirs and sill try and now the Chinese have their turn. If Cameroonians don’t stand up, they easily will be colonized again by America, Europe or China. As the quest for natural resources and markets will only grow with the days to come, as the strong will feed from the weak. When will Cameroonians get up and stand up, live up their potential?

Bribing and speed breaks: it slows down

On our journey back to Bamenda, we got stopped four times by the military. It would have been irritating, if we did not made fun out it. At the potential fifth stop we scarred, accidently, the shit out of the soldiers. At the first stop the uniform wanted to see all documents. Demanding to see what is in the booth. Three of us got out of the car, we showed him: “Suitcases”. Particular what’s in the suitcase totally behind all the others. Simultaneous we said: “A computer”. Still demanding we opened the case and showed him, we started to making fun out of the situation. “If there was anything in it we want to hide, we would already have paid you some bribe, or not?”, “Maybe it’s not a computer but a nuclear bomb”, “Want to be here when I fire it?” And pointing it out that we had all the time in the world, but how longer he occupies himself with us, how less cars he will stop who he can bribe. Finally I open the case: “What a surprise: it’s a laptop. Want to buy it?” The poor soldier gave up. Starring at all the cars driving by who he could have bribed.

We moved. Just some hundred meters away. Again the whole show. Around the corner, again. At the fourth I thought I could pass. No. Totally exited to see a white man driving, a soldier enthusiastic ordered me to stop. So I did. Hit the brakes full speed while steering into the military. Scarring the living soul out of his colleague. Got out of the car. Got all my papers and pushed them in the hands of the uniform next to the car. And exclaimed my irritation: “Again?! What else do you need?” Taken a bit off guard about the change of initiative, the man looked at me, a moment of recognition. It was the one in charge, who we bribed with CFA 1000,- on our way to Limbe. Both had a small smile of comic relief, hey each his job. No harm, we all could continue. The fifth we run into, I was concentrating if they would order me to stop or not. Just in time to see they placed them self technically just in front a speed-break. How nice, if it’s not a bribe it’s a break that slows us down.

Raining Season: a detail I missed

Why a holiday during the raining season? Well, simple, it’s all in the detail. Where we live, The Netherlands, the schools have six weeks of Summer Holiday right now. As the tickets to Cameroon are so outrages expensive, we want to get the max out of the tickets. Christmas Holidays are only two weeks compared with six weeks Summer Holiday. Next to it, Dutch summers are often full of rain while it should be sunny. So we took all our savings, booked three tickets and off we went to tropical sunny hot Cameroon! The raining season was just that detail I missed, my bad. Of course my Cameroonian wife didn’t say anything, happy to see the family. “Didn’t you know?”, she asked with those innocent eyes of hers that made me fall in love with her in the first place. Damn, never saw that much rain in my life.

*Fire kitchen: a closed room with an open fire, wood lighted with rubber, and no chimney or any form of channeling the smoke out.

The Vanguard, national independent newspaper Cameroon
Special report by: Auke VanderHoek

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