Hadn’t had me a good, touristy vacation in a minute, and what am I here for if not to parade around Cameroon on the government’s dime? Before you even mention the word “fiscal cliff”, don’t forget that Peace Corps Cameroon is quite literally the government’s dime; this whole program costs like half a Tomahawk cruise missile.
Anyways, I’d been doing training in Bafia, which was cool-ish. It was definitely interesting to be on the other side of things as a trainer for incoming PCTs, to see how I was when I was in training from the outside. Bafia is precisely as terrible as I remember it, however. The sun will beat you into the ground. You are gross, sticky, and angry at all times during the day. Some highlights included meeting some of our more cynical (Andrew-compatible) new volunteers, facilitating a pretty successful week of training with lots of information I wish I’d had going into service, a latenight chicken run, and revisiting my old host family.
Papa is doing great, mama is as hospitable as ever, and we had a lot of fun catching up. I was also able to pass on some gifts mom and Katie sent me to give to them. Mama was pretty taken with special American body cream, I didn’t get much of a reaction for Le Petit Prince, and Harry Potter in French…? Well, I’d had some doubts, as Cameroonians are still fully committed to the superstition of sorcery and don’t normally endorse anything resembling it. I pulled out the book and started to explain and Papa goes, “Ah! Harry Potter! We know that! Sorcery!” Wasn’t too sure if that would be OK or not, but I came back the next day and Milka had already finished five chapters! I was pretty excited.
Then it was up to the North. We took the train up from Yaounde to Ngoundere, the capital of the southernmost region in the Grand North, the Adamaoua. The train is by far the best way to travel in Cameroon if you’re a rich American. You and three friends split this little cabin overnight with individual cots, and you get to hang your head out the window and get too drunk and overall have an awesome time. Apparently if you’re not a rich American, however, it’s terrible. We were getting on a bus and someone tried to cram their eight kids into the row ahead of us with three other people (kids don’t count as a space here, and you usually don’t have to buy them a ticket). One of the women in the row loudly complained, “WHAT IS THIS, THE TRAIN!?” I guess second-class is the third circle of Hell.
In Ngoundere we ate a lot of beef, it was tasty, visited the market, it was cool, played Settlers of Catan, a lot, and hiked Mt. Ngoundere. Our goal was one touristy thing in each place. Check! Next it was up to Graham’s post, Guider, which is the farthest town North before the Extreme North… and it was amazingly beautiful. Sometimes you would look down a street and you’d think you were in an American suburb. Paved roads, trees lining the street… as long as you didn’t look at the ramshackle shanties on either side, you were golden. Our touristy thing here was the Gorges de Kola, the last thing I ever expected to find in the Sahel region of Cameroon, which were amazing. We had some really cool drivers who took us up and swam with us for almost two hours, which was a welcome relief from the ruthless Sahara sun. Also, I got sucked into a waterfall current and almost died, but one of the drivers pulled me out. Fun! Anyways, it was hands down one of the coolest things I’ve done in country. Finally, we went to Garoua for the fabled Garoueen (Halloween in Garoua), but first, we hit up our touristy thing in this town too… the Garoua Zoo. Which was depressing. Oh so depressing. A lion with a beer belly to make your Uncle Hank jealous from no exercise and no females. Monkeys in cages maybe three times their size. Alligators whom the guide would poke with a stick to make them do stuff. Yeah. Least cool thing of the three touristy things, but we did get some incredible close-up photos of some of the animals so… you win some you lose some?
Interesting thing about the North, it’s freaking poor. The big towns we visited – Ngoundere, Garoua, and Guider – were all gorgeous. Perhaps more developed than any places I’ve seen in the South. But in-between? Unbelievable. The North was kind of abandoned after Biya assumed power, but unlike my region, which was also abandoned, the North has no means to develop itself, being a desert and all. We would pass huge clusters of these tiny, round mud houses with thatch roofs, and I was gaping out the window like “Wow, I’ve never seen this before!” Graham looked out and asked me what the hell I was talking about, and after I explained, he commented, “Oh… that’s all there is in the North.” We saw a school about the size of a mobile home, made out of mud, missing one of its four walls, with a failing thatch roof. It was pretty amazing.
Definitely check out the pictures, they do the trip a lot more justice! You can find them HERE
(https://plus.google.com/photos/115147564677954797036/albums/5946476052053778897?banner=pwa&sort=1). I hope to steal some pictures of the zoo from a friend soon, and I have a few more posts in the chamber for the coming weeks!