I have finally returned to Fonta after a looong journey from the Far North. On the 2nd, I left Meena's house at 5:30am to walk to the Touristique Express bus station. The bus left at around 7:30am and I had managed to get good seats for myself and Rebecca's (another VSO volunteer) father. It was nice to have company for the journey — and of course it turned into a bit of an adventure! He also saved me from being cornered by a guy that Ruth and I had met while having a soda at the market in Maga, who I then ran into again at the Evasion bar in Maga and at the Touristique Express station that morning. Since I knew he was from Bafoussam, I was afraid I'd end up having to make the entire journey with him — a man who was nice on a certain level, but had already made too many personal inquiries about me for my comfort. Thanks Bob!
The bus trip was uneventful for the most part and we both managed to barge our way through the wall-to-wall porters blocking the bus door when we arrived in N'Gaoundèrè. I headed straight for the ticket window because I didn't have a reservation. Bob came, with a friend of Rebecca's who met him at the station, just as I was getting to the ticket window and he discovered that he also did not have a reservation. That turned out well since I was able to get us two seats together. Tickets in hand, we had a few hours to kill so we headed to one of the myriad of bars across from the train station with Sardi, a history teacher who used to teach with Rebecca up in her village and was this year reassigned to N'Gaoundèrè. That was quite nice — a couple of beers and some interesting conversation, including looking at some of Bob's photos from the village (and a video of the actual sheep throat-cutting at their Tabaski/Fete du Mouton celebration!).
The train ride seemed benign enough except that one door to our car was missing and another did not stay shut very well and it was freezing cold. Really. I was wearing a fleece and my new scarf (over my head — since you lose most heat through your head) over a shirt and a yoga top and I was really cold. I did not get much sleep. Around 2am, we pulled in to some station that must have been about halfway because the train coming up from Yaoundé was also stopped there. Most of my car woke up at that time and moved to the doorways and windows to check out the scene. And just as if it were 8am, there were women and children walking up and down between the trains selling all sorts of things — cigarettes and candy (which, like in India, you can buy one at a time), a bit of fruit, various deep fried bread items, etc. Phew. . . I'd hate to live in the village that has to do the train selling night shift.
All seemed well with the train and as we pulled into Obala around 8:30am. We were right on time and would make Yaoundé by 9 or 9:30am. But then we stayed in Obala for an unusually long time. Was it prayer time? No. The engine car at the front of the train had been removed and driven off to do some other work. . . Yes, seriously. Stranding the entire trainload of people about 35km from Yaoundé for an unknown period of time. (None of this was officially reported — I learned it from the Bafoussam guy and confirmed the lack of engine car with my own eyes.)
Bob and I tried to be patient for about an hour or so. Some people seemed to think that the engine would go down to Yaoundé and then come back which couldn’t really take more than an hour. But after an hour, the overall mood in Obala started to shift and we saw people trickle out of the station and hop on the back of motorcycle taxis. We tried to commandeer a car taxi, but the guy wanted 25,000 francs to go to Yaoundé! There was a guy talking about a bus coming that would go to Yaoundé for the regular price of 500 francs, but we couldn’t tell whether he was saying this was happening or he was trying to drum up business. In the end, we too hopped on motos which took us into Obala proper and to a bus agency. That was a bit of a scam, since there was no departing bus, but it only took about 10 minutes to get frustrated, walk down the block and find the place where bus after bus after bus was filling up and pulling out. I saw my Bafoussam friend on the back of a moto heading all the way to Yaoundé which made me think he was planning to get on a bus that day.
The bus left us somewhere in Yaoundé that I didn’t really recognize, but there was a nice young guy who was a fellow passenger who was also going to the train station so he took Bob with him. (Bob was heading to Douala to catch a plane and had already bought a ticket for a bus that leaves from the train station.) After a bit of effort I caught a taxi to the VSO office where I was going to stay overnight and catch the bus to Bamenda in the morning. (The whole trip — moto, bus and taxi — cost me 900 francs, which is why the 25,000 figure was so absurd.)
I stayed in Yaoundé an extra day because I needed to get money to buy a plane ticket to Togo for next week. That turned out great because Victoria, a VSO volunteer from Scotland who is teaching up north, was also staying in the apartment under the VSO office, so I got to hang out with her and get to know her a bit. And Danny invited me to his house for lunch and I got to meet his wife and children and ended up spending the entire afternoon there talking with them after Danny returned to work.
Saturday morning found me again trying to get a cab in Yaoundé — one stands by the side of the road and yells out where one is going as the cabs drive by and they beep if they’ll take you. It’s an interesting system. I finally found someone who would go to Etoudi, but when we got to the main intersection and I told him I wanted to go to Amour Mezam, he screamed and yelled at me for not telling him that before and he never would have agreed if he’d known, etc., etc. I argued a bit, but then just let him rant because a) my arguing french just isn’t that good and b) it didn’t really matter what I said he was pissed off *and* he was going to take me anyway. He charged me too much, but the road from the intersection to Amour Mezam really was pretty horrendous, so I understood his reluctance to go down there.
When I got to the Amour Mezam station, I discovered why Yusuf takes people to the *other* AM station in Yaoundé even though it’s farther from the office — that is where the nice, new, big, comfortable buses leave from. Etoudi is where the little, old, cramped buses leave from. In addition, I discovered later, the smaller buses are slower and they stop every ten feet between Bafoussam and Bamenda if someone wants to get off. Thirty five of us got on the bus (not counting small children who sat on laps) and only about 20 of us went all the way to Bamenda. When I came from Bamenda, the trip took 5 hours, this time it took 8 hours. So now I know.
School starts on Monday and so my bus was full of children going back to school. Not high school students, children — about 12 of them between 6 and 14 years old. One woman was sending off four and not riding with them. I was sitting on the bus when she gave them their departure lecture — this is your spending money, keep it safe; study hard and obey your teachers; avoid evil and cling to God and Jesus. It was an interesting speech delivered in that “repeat everything ten times in the hopes that they’ll retain something” sort of way some parents do. By the end of the trip, those four had hooked up with another 5, so I imagine they all got to their final destinations okay.
As we approached Bamenda, I could feel it. I knew when we were in Upstation a few miles before there were any signs. And I began to get excited. When I got the first glimpse of Bamenda down in the valley below (and only a glimpse because it was covered in mist), my heart skipped a beat. “Home, I’m almost home!” That was a bit of a surprise. As we drove down, I felt so happy to be back in familiar territory, to know what was coming around that corner and what was down that road and where the bus wa
s heading and even to see (well, mostly feel) that the road at the Cow Street intersection had not been repaired at all. It was so nice to get off the bus and know exactly where I was going. To walk into the Horizon Chicken Shack at Bambui four-corners and know that, yes, they had fufu corn and njama njama and a cold Amstel. Sweet. So sweet.
So I am back in Fonta now for a week. I have a bit of work to do for VSO, but mostly I need to wash clothes (and my backpack which was apparently under a load of leaky fish up on the roof of the Amour Mezam bus — yuck!), do yoga, run, back up my computer, practice guitar and just spend a week not traveling. Then next Saturday I head down to Douala and fly to Togo to spend a week with a friend there.