On Thursday, I (along with Joost and Panjam) took the bus from Bamenda to Yaoundé and in a couple of hours we, along with the other volunteers from the North West, South West and West, will take the train up to N'Gaoundéré for our All Volunteer Conference which starts Monday morning. The train runs at night and the ride takes something like 11-14 hours. Looking at a map, it may seem odd to come down to Yaoundé in order to go up north, but the road between Bamenda and N’Gaoundéré, although it exists, is very bad and rife with “coupers de route” (highway robbers).
This gave me a chance to visit with my friends Viateur and Annonciata whom I know from Rwanda. When I was there doing research for my master’s thesis in the summer of 1998, Viateur was a priest in Butare and Annonciata was heavily involved in the Mother’s Union. Shortly after that, Viateur was recruited to come to Cameroon and get a Master’s degree in order to go back and teach at the University in Butare. After his masters, they decided they really needed more PhDs, so he is now working on his dissertation on remebrance in the Old Testament. They have been here for 8 years and will probably return to Rwanda next year sometime. It should be an interesting transition. Partly because I think a lot has happened in Rwanda in the past 8 years and partly because none of their children have been back to Rwanda in the past 8 years and only their oldest has fleeting memories (he was 3 when they left, their daughter was newborn and their younger son was born in Cameroon). The University in Butare is a nice place, though. Considerably more progressive in its thinking than some other institutions of theological education. The man who is the Dean of the School of Theology wrote an interesting book that I read the table of contents of about applying Paul Tillich’s ideas about God to preaching in the African context.
So, I’ve spent the last two days staying here at the Faculté de Theologie Protestante in the Etoa-Meki quarter of Yaoundé. One thing which I think is quite different about a graduate school in Africa vs. the US or Europe is — children! Tons and tons of children. Because virtually everyone at the post-graduate level is married. And I think that a fair number of children are born while people are in school. Hence, there is one floor of housing for single students and multiple blocks of apartments for families and a family gets assigned to a particular block depending on the number of children they have. And in the evenings and on the weekends, the place is literally teeming with primary and nursery age children. It’s quite a nice place to be a kid, too. The school is enclosed, so they can all run free, which is quite a luxury in a big city like Yaoundé. It has been a very nice place to stay — I can go out and be in the hustle and bustle of the city during the day (which is refreshingly exciting compared to Fonta!) and then come back to peace and quiet in the evening.
Took my first taxi rides yesterday. I’ve taken a couple of motorbike taxis around Bambui, but I’ve never needed to negotiate with a taxi before. The most difficult thing here in Yaoundé is making sure you are standing in a spot where a taxi going where you want to go will come by. When you are totally turned around in a new city (as I am), this is a challenge. But with the help of an older man in a passing taxi, I managed to get where I needed to go. Being in Yaoundé makes me see just how much of a small town place Bamenda is. In Yaoundé you can literally buy anything, just about anything you can buy in the US or Europe. New Nike shoes, Adidas clothing, Crest toothpaste, soy sauce, cat food (wet or dry) — these things do not exist in Bamenda. Of course, the prices are the same as in the US, which I could never afford in my current circumstances. Besides there’s a bit of fun in hunting down a $3 pair of practically new Levi 501s rather than paying $60 to buy them off the shelf.
Ran both mornings here and sweated like a pig. It is hotter here than in Bamenda, but mostly it is so HUMID! It’s just like Florida actually. So I go out running in shorts and sleeveless top and within 1 mile I am completely drenched. It’s a good thing I like to sweat. There a few hard core everyday exercisers here in Yaoundé — some runners and a couple of bikers. Friday morning, I’d say I saw 30-50 people along my 10K route. But the weekend warriors are infinite! This morning, rather than taking that last hill towards the base of Mt. Fébé, I turned and went towards the Palais de Congrés and when I got there — there were literally hundreds of people jogging around, stretching, etc. Several teams were working out together and there was a group of women selling food and water (never miss an opportunity to sell!). The Palais de Congrés is a lot like the Museum of Art in Philadelphia (remember Rocky?) there is a large set of stairs that *the* place to exercise. But alas, that was the turnaround point for me, so I didn’t do the stairs.
Must finish re-packing. Later.