I’d like to start off by apologizing for not posting sooner. The past few weeks have been a little hectic. Between lockdown due to presidential elections, most of my electronic devices deciding to test my patience, writing and grading exams and a friend’s moto accident- I’ve had little time to compose my thoughts. But let’s back track…
Wednesday October 5th: Teacher’s Day!! Yey me and all the other teachers out there; new and old to the field. Here in Cameroon this is our day to shine. Usually on this day teachers dress in their ‘teachers day pagne (this year it was bright green). My Proviseur gave me 3 yards to get a dress made, ample time since he had handed it to me mid-September. Unfortunately for my tailor I came walking into her workshop with pagne in one hand and a J. Crew dress design in the other 2 days before Teacher’s Day… oops hehe. Although she had to rush the dress, it came out rather nice, who knew I’d actually like to wear green… bright green- pictures coming soon-
As per tradition on this magnificent no school day, the festivities usually commence with a parade first thing in the morning. Those attending- the teachers of the villages and those neighboring. Then followed by meetings and speeches by those head of the academic department in the schools. Afterwards, we feast!! Unfortunately this year due to the elections the parade, meetings and speeches had been cancelled. So I was given rendez-vue to meet my fellow colleagues at the local bar… in my bright green dress at noon. I showed up at 1230. On my walk over, students I passed were waving and yelling “Bonne fete Madame” Others shook my hand and complimented the dress. As I walked through centre ville I began to notice the population expanding and the mix of two different colors of the same pattern. Last year’s teacher’s day pagne was bright red and some even wore brown which had been the color of a couple years back. Once I hit centre ville I stopped at Estelle’s bar to say hello. Her bar was already poppin with folks drinking beer, whiskey sachets, laughing and smiling, cheers-ing ever time someone said something funny. I walked to the back as I smiled at the people to my left and right. Estelle reached out for my hand and game me the friend ‘shake and snap’ hand shake and said Bonne fete, are you ready to celebrate?! We chatted for a few before I headed back on my original path to destination. Passing bar after bar, I realized that people had began drinking at least for a couple hours. Everyone looked so happy. I finally reached the bar and walked in to find 2 of my colleagues present. One in which was feeling quite gay, not able to sit still as the music played in the background. I noticed to empty whiskey sachets on the table where he had sat. If you want a quick and cheap buzz, whiskey sachet is the way to go. He greeted me with a hop over into my personal bubble, gave me the same ‘shake and snap’ that Estelle had just done and excitedly said “ca va comment!? I see you are on time as usual.” My response- “umm not really. But I know how punctual Cameroonians are so I didn’t want to keep anyone waiting.” I said with a grin. He laughed and nodded as we both looked around to see that no one else had bothered to show up yet. So I took a seat and watched my colleague sing and dance around the bar grabbing the barmaid and provoking her to bust a move.
Around 130, ironically right after ‘La fille du Jardinier’ ended – a terrible Mexican soap opera dub in French that Cameroonians literally glue themselves to the tv to watch. The rest of the crew showed up, with food. We drank our 24oz beers and ate grilled fish, manioc and bush meat. The Proviseur said it was hare with hesitation… I was hungry so without questioning his statement and I dug in. After we ate the meal, took some photos and drank the beer my colleagues began to slowly disperse. I noticed the diminishing number of teachers, confused. I thought the festivities were an all day affair but it seems as though everyone was saying their goodbyes. So I followed thanking the remaining group of administration for the food and drinks and headed home with a pit stop at Estelle’s.
I reached her bar and turn the corner to walk inside. The place was steady with teachers everywhere. Estelle was back and forth between customers so I took a seat amongst the crowd and watched. Moments later 3 military guys walk in; Marines, later informed me that their presence was to keep the peace in case a riot broke out seeing that this was a politically sensitive time. They stepped over to my table and politely asking if the seats next to me were taken. I reply no as they sat down and offered me a beer. After a couple hours, a few beers, a “do you need saving” glances from Estelle, I felt like the day was actually going quite well. I was having fun, making new friends and wearing a bright green dress lol. As the sun set, I decided it was about time for me to head home. I was not prepared to stumble down a dark, muddy road surrounded by the bush. Michael, one of the Marines asked me if I was hungry. Mind you about an hour into conversing with these new friends the chief had left to buy some street meat across the way where the 3 old men stat day after day next to this hand crafted grill. He came back with meat on a stick. I pick one up and took a bit recalling the first time I tried it with Estelle. I told the guys, “this is really good beef.” My new friends watched me devour the rest of that ‘beef’. They then each grabbed their share and casually mention “today its goat”… I paused for a second to recall Joanna’s not so good experience in Bafia and Michelle’s a couple weeks ago with goat meat. I then grabbed a second stick, shrugged my shoulders and smiled- “number 2 bush meat of the day- goat”
As I watched the sun slowly sink in the background, surrounded by the bright colors of pagne, I got ready to part ways. Before I had time to stand I realize the beer Estelle had just put down in front of me… that must have been my 5th… 24oz beer. With all eyes on me and my freshly opened beer, I watched the chief raise his glass. I simply didn’t know how to refuse so I raised my bottle and cheered. Around 7pm, the sun was long gone, the music was blairing and the crowd was joyfully singing and dancing the night away. My 3 friends had then invited me to a neighbor’s house for some dinner. Since I had been sitting there for a few hours drinking they must have thought that goat just simply did not suffice for a meal. After briefly discussing this with Estelle and making sure it was safe, I grabbed my beer and walked over to the house. It was a cute little mud hut of a family of 4 or 5. The kids had been in the living room playing but cleared the room as we set foot inside. We sat down with plates in hand and 2 big pots sitting on the floor; one with boiled plantains and the other with meat. It smelled amazing. Michael served me with a chunk of meat, a couple plantains and an excessive amount of red spicy tomato sauce on top of it all. He asked if I had ever tried porcupine. My first initial reaction was to look directly down at my plate without saying a word trying to process the connection between the question and what was possibly sitting on my plate. Reading my facial expression Michael chuckled and said “well there’s a first for everything.” I smiled back, stuck my spoon into the meat and took a big bite. Third bush meat of the evening- porcupine. It was pretty good. Unfortunately the sauce was overwhelmingly spicy so I began shoving plantains in my mouth to calm the burning. By the time we finished we had demonstrated our liking to the common meat of the East and set foot back to the bar. As we headed back to Estelle’s the streets were only illuminated by the bars around the centre. I then remembered that I still had to walk home in the dark and teach the next day at 730. I thanked the Marines for the food and beers, searched for my phone to use the built-in flash light to guide my steps on the muddy road home. I turned and waved and noticed the music, laugher and lights began to fade the farther I walked. To my relief I made it home in one piece but on that walk home I couldn’t help but wonder about the creatures that lived beyond the bush on either side of the road. I decided the silence and darkness was not a good combination so I picked up the pace. I made it home, feeling accomplished and satisfied. I changed into my shorts and t-shirt, crawled under the mosquito net and into bed, drifting away into the world of dreams… ahem ahem –mefloquin.
Now let’s fast forward a bit to Michelle’s moto accident. It was late afternoon; we had met up in Bertoua before lockdown officially started. We needed the necessities: apples, honey and canned tuna. The lockdown was to last 3 weeks so we needed our provisions to last. We sat at the usual spot for spaghetti omlettes and coffee when we noticed the rain clouds in the distance. We quickly finished eating said our goodbyes and jumped on the motos to head home. About 45 minutes into my ride the rain appeared like waterfall from the sky, it almost felt like a movie set where the director signals for downpour in one specific spot. In my case, it was the spot between me and home. Immediately my moto guy hauls to a stop we both rapidly jumped off the bike to seek nearby shelter. The lightening was so bright it hurt to look at the sky and the thunder was so loud I could feel the ground below my feet as it vibrated through my body. It gave me the chills. We noticed the distance from our current location to Diang was only a 10 minute ride but decided it was best to wait out the rain. I pulled out my phone to text Michelle about the torrential downpour I was just caught in and noticed a message. I t was Michelle; she wrote “I was in an accident, we hit a car”. Immediately my heart started pounding, dialing her number hoping she would answer -“hello…” “Michelle, oh my god are you ok? What happened?” She sounded shaken up; I could tell she was still in shock. She said a car pulled out in front of them and the moto hit the car t-bone style throwing both her and the moto guy off the bike. They had barely made it out of Bertoua. After she explained her location I told her to hold tight, “I’m coming to get you.”
After explaining everything to my moto guy he willingly offered to take me back to Bertoua and then to Dimako; Michelle’s village. We looked back at the road which looked nothing more than a red muddy river as the rain had slowed its pace, never really stopping. Despite the rain, the moto guy could see the urgency in my facial expression as I looked at the sky then back down to my phone. He stood up, grabbing my backpack and we set off for Bertoua. About an hour later we reached the scene of the accident, Michelle was sitting at the bar where her moto guy left her to wait. I saw the blank yet worried expression on her face. She was in shock, not really knowing what to say or do. Thank God she was ok, just a few bumps and bruises, no blood, no broken bones. It could have been so much worse. Another 20 minutes went by where I just sat and listened to her tell me what had happened. I didn’t know what else to do. I felt guilty for not waiting to make sure she had gotten on her moto to leave before I did. Eventually, the rain finally stopped and we set off for Dimako. I decided to stay with her for the night, luckily my classes didn’t start until 1030 the next morning so I had plenty of time to get home, change and head to school. After another long moto ride we made it to her house. We both walked through her front door completely soaked and covered in mud –pictures coming soon. Despite the unfortunate event that had just occurred a few hours prior, we made it safe and sound, took one look at each other and bursted in laughter.