Monday, February 15, 2010
Brussels Airport, February 1st, 2010: The sun is just rising and the world beside me is a perfect mix of grey-blue dawn, white snow and sparkling airport lights and I am here in between, headed away from America, headed into Africa.
I've decided to take you along for the rest of the journey back to my village, so pack your resilience, flexibility and sense of humor and leave behind your concepts of time, schedules and order. Here we go!
Douala Airport, February 1st, 2010: The heat and humidity as you step off the airplane nearly knocks you over. You navigate immigration and the baggage carousel (all your luggage made it!) and head for the taxis. After about 10 minutes of negotiation you find one that won't cost you “an arm and a leg”, assuming it doesn't get into an accident. So you're off into the madness of this city, which sweeps you along to the familiar soundtrack of horns, Ivorian pop music, voices raised in laughter and deliberation. Then its onto the lovely, air-conditioned bus and you're flying past the jungle punctuated by roadside stands selling palm wine and “bush meat”, headed for Yaounde.
Somewhere in the Center province, February 3, 2010: Well now its nearly midnight and you are rolling along through the jungle under an ocean of stars, on the train headed north. With each stop new voices emerge from the darkness and pace below your windows singing their merchandise: Bananes! Bananes! Baton! Baton! Miel! Miel! Miel!. The 14-20 hour trip is much easier from your bunk bed in the sleeping cars than from a seat in first class, though the bathrooms are just as unpleasant. After nearly 17 hours (this time), you arrive into the warm African morning and join the crush of people and luggage trying to exit the station through 2 small doors. You quickly realize that apparently your rolling suitcase belongs on top of your head instead of behind you on the ground.
Garoua, February 4, 2010: After a much-needed overnight break, you're back on the road north and engaged in a battle with the people sitting behind you over your need to have the window cracked in the 90+ degree morning heat. The chickens under the seat are joining in the racket too but you scored a snack at the last stop from the boy who came by the window selling plantain chips, and the views out the window, lush fields and hills replaced by dusty open plains scattered with huts, the occasional herder guiding his cows, begin to look familiar and the road ahead doesn't seem as long as it could.
Mokolo, February 5, 2010: Nine hours or so of such bus travels sees you joyously delivered onto the streets of Mokolo, one little adventure away from being home. The motorcycles flying to meet the bus are the only thing that would separate this town at first glance from a frontier town in the American Wild West. You find a familiar face among the crowd of potential drivers, wedge you helmet on and hand your suitcase up front and then you're off towards home, clutching the motorcycle frame and rejoicing in the views whose beauty does not diminish no matter how many times you've taken this bumpy ride through the mountains to descend into the village and be welcomed back by the chorusing cries of the neighborhood children.