Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Travel in Cameroon

Its ridiculous, crazy, and something else entirely. So much that it gets its own blog post. The reason for traveling? I received my post last week! Its Batouri in the eastern region. There are 3 SED (small economic development trainees posted in the in the east, all of whom girls. Coincidentally, 3 Education trainees received posts in the east...all girls as well. All the men volunteers who have finished their service are getting replaced with woman. Random, yes. And for the least developed region of Cameroon an interesting choice.

So traveling. Its been full of its moments of culture shock. My sunday, the 4th of July for my American counterparts, was spent immersed in learning this new way of travel. Every trainee traveled with their community host. Each community host is from the city/village where we are all posted. They are given the responsibility of making sure we meet people and get integrated in the society. So sunday morning Elizabeth, Patricia, and I traveled with our counterparts all the way from Bafia to Bertoua. Bertoua is the biggest city in the east and travel time is 8 hours away on a GOOD day. We met at the bus station 8:00 am where there were already a ton of organized chaos going about. Once you pay for your ticket you take your bag to your bus where they will put it on top of the bus for you. They always wait for the bus to be full before they will leave so Even when you think the bus is full its not. Last second it always fills up with more. Where the aisle is there also fits a seat. So comfotably seating 3 now with the aisle seat becomes 4 but its full when there is 5 seated in one row! There was a pig tied up laying next to the bus that people kept kicking as they walked by. When a lot of men suddenly surrounded it and then came a bunch of squealing. The 3 of us panicked thinking they were killing it, but no, turns out they were putting on the top of the bus. Yep, we had carried a pig with us for 2 hours all the way to Yaounde. With all of us packed in together, I still find it strange that Cameroonians no matter how hot it is hate wind. They were getting after us to shut the window but Patricia said she was in need of air and could vomit if she didn't have any. That put all the complaining to rest.

That was Bafia. When we arrived in Yaounde we had our biggest scare. We had to take a taxi to catch our next bus to Bertoua. As we neared the bus station all of a sudden the trunk of the taxi opened up and guys started grabbing for our bags. Thinking they were trying to steal them we hurriedly grabbed for our bags and yelling at them to stop. Our taxi driver got out to tell them to quit, and as it turns out thats what they do when you know you're going to take a bus. There are two bus companies competing for business so if they can grab your bag and take it to their bus company thats what they do. But of course scaring "la blanche" (the white girls) is something they would get a kick out of to. It was supposed to leave at one, but it didn't feel up until 2 but for a 6 hour bus ride on what we as Americans consider a normal bus (and complete with air conditioning!) was pretty decent. The only difference, bathroom breaks by the side of the road where you just find a spot wherever. Where we might like to find a private spot, nope they would line up relatively near each other.

Can there possibly be more? Definetly yes, but to keep things short let me skip to the next day and talk about my prison bus trip from Bertoua to Batouri. Its was supposed to leave at 1 but we didn't leave until 3 so I got some good reading time in. I can't give any decent description of this and will have to post a photo just for accuracy. The chairs are like folding metal chairs put together to form a bench. One on each side and of course don't forget the metal chair that folds down on the aisle. It was rickety old bus that you pray doesn't break down during the 2-3 hour (on a good day, 4-? on a bad one) bus ride over a dusty, bumpy road. It took 3 hours to go 90km. There are different and even better buses to take, but I just happened to have gotten the prison bus transportation as my first ever visit to my post. The roads are better than they have been so its not always prison bus transportation like it used to be. So (mom) I don't want to give you a worse impression than it really is. So as not to be claustrophobic I sat next to the window. Luckily no one told me to close it but as I was sitting on the left/drivers side I arrived in Batouri with a nice layer of dirt on my face. So right side it always is! If not just for the dirt its also for safety. The east is rich in natural resources and there is constantly logging trucks on the road bringing in logs from the CAR (Central African Republic). This hasn't happened in forever, but its been known to happen that a truck sideswipes one of the buses and that would affect anybody seated behind the, yah, again right side it is! We did break down for about 20 minutes and as it was nearing night at this point I was praying it to be a quick fix. Just for this reason, the Peace Corps advising volunteers not to travel at night so as if the bus breaks down you are not stuck spending the evening stuck on the road.

Its was an interesting journey from Bertoua to Batouri. I've been in sort of a PC bubble being in training and it was good to see other parts of Cameroon. The towns I've been in so far (Yaounde & Bafia) seem a lot more plush to me know. Yes, I know I'm in Africa, but it came to me on another level when in Bertoua I saw a lot of different Aid Development organizations and their cars driving around(i.e. World Food Programme, UNHCR, UNICEF,etc.) There is nothting between Bertoua or Batouri except really small villages with mud huts. Its a lot of the Africa/African poverty seen in photos. There are signs for almost all of these villages that describe different projects that are being sponsored by these organizations. Mostly clean water projects. It was very thought-provoking to see all of it, let alone see the recognition on villagers faces when they realized a white girl was in the bus. PCV's have been referred to before as dusty-road diplomats. I was thinking of that on my way to Batouri that with the PC we live like a local, whereas other AID organizations even are own embassy stay behind their walls and leave them in their SUVs to make "field visits." I may not be doing much with international developement, BUT how interesting to say that I like live, live in Africa. I live like a local, shop like a local, soon hopefully to speak like a local. With my site visit lasting 3 days, I left already speaking some Fulfulde (local ethnic language). It was interesting to think about it just on the basis of how important an understanding of culture is and how much i'll be able to understand that having have lived like a Cameroonian for 2 years.

Coming back has been much easier. Traveling will be much better when I know more what to expect. Tonight we are in Yaounde at the Peace Corps house that they have here for volunteers right next to their offices. Its funny that I'm only a month in and i'm already rejoicing over the little things. Tonight I was able to have my clothes washed and dried by a machine! Not by hand or line-dry. Although ridiculously over-priced, I had pizza for dinner. This is followed by some stable internet, watching TV, ....and a shower with HOT WATER!!! Tommorow back to Bafia it is.