It’s hard to describe how this, my first full day in Yaoundé, unfolded. But one thing in my future is now certain: my sweat glands are gonna get a work out like none before.
Promptly at 8:00am there was a loud knock on my hotel room door. I awoke from a fitful sleep and answered cautiously. The hotel clerk said that the Director of the bank was downstairs to see me. How random, exciting and thoughtful! …except I was still groggy and in my pj’s. I threw on some clothes and had a nice chat with the gentlemen, who insisted I call him if I need any help, even in the wee hours of the night.
As I later walked down the stairs of my room at the Hotel Azur, I hadn’t made it one flight when I came upon my new Cameroonian b.f.f., Manga Francois. Last night this guy not only drove me the hour-long, super traffic-ridden route from the airport (on the cheap) but insisted on taking me hotel to hotel after I told him how much I had paid for Azur. He was determined to find a more reasonable place for my entire four-month stay. We also grabbed a bite of some local cuisine, a whole grilled fish with some plantains and a crazy vegetable variety whose name totally escapes me, and chatted it up with a couple of policemen. Everyone at the “restaurant” (outdoor picnic tables with bottle openers and empty beers scattered here and there) was gathered around a small t.v. playing a live news telecast of the Minister of Communication. Apparently some drama had recently unfolded where a woman claimed her newborn baby was stolen when in fact she got rid of it (later found buried in a dumpster) and had adopted another. Men and women were arguing with the story the Minister was dictating. My French is still a bit rusty so I’m sure I missed something, but the bustling arguments were incredible.
So because I did not have a telephone number he could call in advance, Manga had come (completely on his own accord) to pick me up and help me run a few errands. We tried finding a SIM card, but after several failing efforts he began driving farther away from town. We were headed to the stadium for his soccer match. This was delightful to discover, though my plan of finding an internet café to tell the fam I was alive quickly disappeared. We drove through traffic like I’ve never seen before (sorry, Central and South America… Yaoundé has you beat!) The pavement slowly began to disappear below us as we approached the neighborhood of Manga’s soccer game (“le football” or “le foot” in French), and all that was left was bright orange dirt. Of course, I didn’t have my camera for any of these moments. Manga brought this up as well and I hung my head in shame. We walked by his teammates, almost all of whom greeted me warmly before stripping into their soccer gear (look away!) and the match began. Dry, red clay was flying to and fro, and the opponents’ coach was yelling so fiercely I thought he might have an aneurism. In the car I could easily understand Manga’s French, but here with his comrades it was an entirely different story. I felt disappointed of all the years of language study under my belt and yet still having trouble understanding. “How am I going to work with a bunch of strangers at this bank if I can’t even communicate properly?” I thought. Doubts and fears of what I was doing here in Africa began flooding my brain and body, and I almost found myself tearing up. Ridiculous! I had had the amazingly good fortune of what might as well have been a personal assistant to me these past 24 hours, and I was watching a live, action-packed soccer game in the hills of Cameroon.
After the match we continued on our mission for the phone and internet café, both successfully accomplished. Manga introduced me to his cousin at the phone stand and his uncle-in-law on the corner where he insisted on buying me some yogurt. We went to a tiny chicken rotisserie (lots of bones and feet), and then I retired to my hotel.
As I write this it pains me how difficult it is to describe the scenery, both strange and wonderful, of this city. Hopefully with some more practice I’ll get better… with my words and with my camera.