It’s been a while since you got updated on my daily ongoing here in Cameroon. Last update, I left you at the visit of Paula, the Mexican girl. It’s been quite busy since then so there is much to tell.
The 8th or 9th of December, Sr Caro and I were planning to travel to Mamfe for the 60 years’ jubilee of the first girls’ college of Cameroon. The Bishop of Mamfe is a cousin to Sr. Caro, so that’s why we were invited to visit for the weekend.
That week, however, the strike that has disturbed the country for quite a while now, had reached a climax in Bamenda and Kumba, taxis were not driving and it was unclear if it was really safe to travel through Bamenda to reach Mamfe. One person said it was fine, another one told us not to travel at all. In the end, we arranged a private car and driver and on Friday around 2 pm we took off to brave the roads.
Because we left so late, it was already dark when we passed through Bamenda and everything was very calm so our perseverance on going was rewarded. After a long journey, we finally reached Mamfe around 10 pm, just in time to enjoy some late dinner at the pastoral centre.
The morning after started with a jubilee mass at Okoyong college, a little distance outside Bamenda itself. For the occasion, mass was held outside and everybody was dressed up nicely. All ex-students were invited and lots of them now have high function in Cameroon, Nigeria, USA, … so it’s clear that the college is held in high esteem. Here, I could wear my African dress for the first time and this meant lots of compliments, because people all seemed to like it very much indeed.
After mass, there still was a long program for the feast, but most things were of little interest to me. Sr. Caro was also leaving to visit her mother so I was left to my own devices for the afternoon.
I needed some things from the market so I decided to explore Mamfe on my own. Mamfe is still a village, but it’s distinctively different than Sabongari, both in size and atmosphere. I had a nice and relaxing time there, eventually getting some drinks with someone I met there and going around town.
Because the internet is better in Mamfe, I wanted to try and see if I could skype with my parents in the evening. We succeeded only partially since there was little sound and my webcam wasn’t working, but at least we could chat a bit and it was still nice to hear their voices.
Sunday was a relaxing day were the Bishop was so good to take the time to show us around his farm. That farm is a good 35 ha where he cultivated palm trees, oranges, mango, corn, … and it was nice to see how they cultivate these things here, even though there was nobody at work since it was a Sunday.
Monday, first thing in the morning, we left back home. We had hoped to do all kinds of business on the way back, but the strike again disrupted our plans even though it was very calm in Bamenda. Instead, strikers had moved on to Kumbo, which meant that we couldn’t buy anything there and we even had to make sure to take a route that they hadn’t blocked. By evening, after a beautiful scenery trip, we safely reached Sabongari, taking with us a sister who is going to spend holidays with us.
The next few days were quite calm. Only a handful of students are left in school so Christmas holidays seem to have come very early this year. Paula is still here, so I spent some time in the sewing workshop.
As you could already read in the last blog, this was also the week that some girls were testing the first sanitary pads, unfortunately with disappointing results.
We also had a meeting with father Johannes, the principal of St Rita THS in Nkambe. This is the second school that is closely involved in the CamePads projects and we had some things to discuss. He invited me to come to Nkambe for the weekend and after the low spirits of the last few days, it was a nice and welcome distraction.
So, on Friday the 16th I left Sabongari on my first solo trip, braving public transport on my own. If anything, traveling here just is a whole experience on its own. The 7-seat family car that took me for the first half of the journey managed to mush together 14 people in that one small car. I was sitting in front, together with the driver and two other passengers, meaning that I was completely seated on the drivers’ seat as well. As you can guess, it was not the most comfortable ride I ever experienced.
Feeling dusty and dirty, I arrived at St. Rita in Nkambe, ready to just relax a bit. On Saturday, a jubilee for a sisters’ congregation took place, which again meant a long mass and after some celebrations, food and dancing. It also meant I could wear my African dress again.
For Sundays’ mass, we went to the military centre, were father Johannes is actively involved. Because French is the military language in Cameroon, part of mass was in French and most military high ranks are occupied by francophones as well. Thus, parts of mass were done in French and after mass we went for dinner at the French speaking commandants’ house. A good opportunity to practice, but also to realise how poor my knowledge of the language is at present.
In the afternoon, I met with Peter, one of the CamePads coordinators for St. Rita, to discuss some things. Afterwards, he took me to meet up with the youth choir he is involved in. They were just about to bring a small Christmas concert at the mayor’s house and I could go and listen as well.
It was really nice hearing all these Christmas carols and the evening ended in good spirits, with some snacks and drinks and some dancing. The people in the choir all seemed to enjoy themselves and it made me want to join them for choir practice when I visit Nkambe again for a longer time. All in all, a nice and relaxing weekend.
I stayed until Monday afternoon to discuss the project a bit more with father Johannes. In the afternoon, someone was leaving for Kumbo so that meant an opportunity to take private transport for half of the journey, which I gladly took.
Tuesday passed without much happening and on Wednesday, I travelled once more. We wanted to go to Bafoussam and see if we could find better materials for the sanitary pads and do some other shopping while there. We were lucky that father Herman agreed to be our driver, so we didn’t have to take public transport. It was still a good 6 hours’ drive, so even with private transport, it was going to be a tedious journey.
Alas, after that long drive, Bafoussam turned out to be quit a disappointment. The market was very unorganised and we didn’t find anything that we couldn’t find in Bamenda. We had planned on buying gifts and other stuff as well, but even for those things, we didn’t found all we were looking for. We did pass through a large vegetable market and were able to find courgette and aubergine there, which made me very happy.
We decided to return through Bamenda to continue our shopping there and then spend the night in Kumbo at the Bishop’s house. Because we had been so busy, we hadn’t taken time to eat much that day. An empty stomach combined with the usual motion sickness I get, made me very nauseous on the way from Bamenda to Kumbo. It was a very unpleasant drive and I was so happy to finally be out of that car and to be able to go to bed.
After some extra business in Kumbo on Thursday, we returned home, all feeling very dirty and tired. Some serious relaxing was in place, so Thursday afternoon and Friday was spent leisurely, working only a little while for the project. It’s almost Christmas, so for once, I don’t feel too bad taking time off from the project. I also took the opportunity to cook some ratatouille for myself with the vegetables we bought. The sisters didn’t seem to like it, but I really enjoyed eating something familiar even though I quit like the food here as well.
And so, two weeks have again passed. I’m already over one third of my stay in Cameroon, time goes by so quickly.
Next time, I will share my Christmas festivities with you but for now, a merry Christmas to you all and a happy New year.