“Africa is harder than expected” – Part VI of My Story

“Erreur for mboutoukou na dame for Ndoss Cameroonian proverb (the dumb is food for the cops… something like that)

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Presidential palace. Yaounde

When I landed in Yaounde, I felt overwhelmed. I came two hours later than my friends because I booked a flight from another airline company, but their family waited to welcome me.

It was my first time in Africa. And it felt like a dream coming true.

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The Reunification Monument. Yaounde

On my first day there while driving to the house of my friends’ parents, I was looking everywhere, trying to capture every sound, every smell, to catch every image and I promised to myself to lock these memories in my head and never forget them.

But I knew I had so many biases towards Africa and I was a bit scared not to be able to adapt, and I must admit that I had a really hard time at the beginning. After the first week, I even wanted to buy the next flight ticket back home.

Africa was harder than expected…

I missed Europe and its comfort, its subways, buses, and air conditioners.

I didn’t bear the side-effects of the tablets I took for the prevention of malaria so I stopped after five days (and ended up catching it in Douala three weeks later, but I found the effect of the actual disease a lot more bearable than the side-effects of the tablets to prevent it).

I became conscious of the advantage of having an efficient public transport system and the freedom it offers to move at any time, wherever you want.

In Yaounde, to move in the city, you can choose to drive your own car, at your own risks knowing that the traffic regulations are rarely respected, or you can take a taxi or for the bravest a “taxi-moto”.

With hindsight, I find the taxi system really great. It is somewhat like an African Uber pool except you don’t need a phone or internet. When you want to take a taxi you have to wait on the side of the road and tell your price and destination to every taxi driving in the direction you want to go. If it fits the taxi driver he stops, and you can get into the vehicle usually already full with six other people. You know what you will pay upfront, it is good for the environment, because you use the car to its (real) maximal potential and it is cheap because the fees are shared.

But, like I mentioned before, driving in Africa is pretty scary and taxi driver doesn’t seem to be a very regulated profession so your trip can drastically change from one taxi to another.

The most annoying thing for me was not to feel free anymore. I was hosted by my friends’ parents who are very protective, but especially towards me because they didn’t want anything bad happened to me. The truth is even if I am black I didn’t look like a local . My clothes, my natural hair, my French accent, all that betrayed me. And my hosts were afraid that people might take advantage of the fact that I am a stranger. Therefore I couldn’t go anywhere unaccompanied and I had to be home at 7 PM the latest. Living alone since I was 18 years old, these rules were really hard to apply even if I understood the concern of my host family.

Moreover, there were several power cuts and for most of my stay in the capital city, we didn’t have running water.

Water cuts are regular in Cameroon and to palliate to the problem most houses have an independent water tank to use during these cuts.

When the tank got empty, and we still didn’t have running water, we had no choice but to fill this 1000 liter container with water from a neighbors’ well.

I tried to help as I could, but after the third 20L bucket of water that I had to bring to the neighbor, fill with water, put in a wheelbarrow, climb with on a ladder and pour inside the tank, I was nearly dead. And the water level didn’t seem to get higher at all.

It took me and two friends and a whole morning to fill the quarter of the tank.

Vivianne, the cleaning lady who was working at my friend’s house saw our distress and laughed at us while we were preparing ourselves to eat. After lunch, after a well-deserved nap to avoid the hottest hours of the day we decided to go back to our labor. Yet, we discovered that the tank was already full. Vivianne filled it alone and did more than we did at three in twice less time. She became my super heroin. I was amazed by her strength.

Then came the most heartbreaking moment of my stay : the day we went to visit my friend’s uncle who is imprisoned in the country’s main prison : Kondengui.

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The day before the visit, we collected money to buy powder milk, bread and sardines cans to bring to him.

At the moment it really felt like a small gesture. But, I felt so guilty because while we were giving him everything we brought, there were prisoners at the gates from inside the prison asking the visitors for food or money.

My friend’s uncle told us that they had to pay to stand next to the visits place, to have the chance to receive money or to add a little food to their daily rations thanks to the visitors. He told us he was lucky to have a family because some people just ended up there with no hope to get out. They are fed to the minimum, once a day, and never receive any visits.

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The prison is overcrowded, dirty,  diseases spread like wildfire and the prisoners rarely have money to get medications. Some of them die there and they have to wait days before the prison administration removes the corpse.

He has a family who cares about him and comes to visit him, even from Europe. And just for that, he doesn’t feel the right to complain.

It was kind of life changing visit for me.

I realized that I had so much. I thought I had hard times before, but I actually had a very protected life, allowing me to feel free, to travel, to learn so many things from so many different people. And I was whining about a bit of lost of comfort?

From this day, I decided to stop complaining about what was wrong, to enjoy my stay and to be attentive to every lesson I could learn on the way.

To be continued…

Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :

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