After all - Central Africa is a wonderful place
You can wake up in the morning happy or sad, and in either case it will affect your day
Well, well, well, I can't thank you all enough for all the support from the mad escapades of the last blog I posted. Thank you!
That blog was only posted a few days ago so not much has happened. And yet I could write an entire book about all the little conversations, all the handshakes, the people I see walking by, the man selling meat, the barber who waved me over...the life that goes by. I saw two tourists yesterday! How do I know they weren't residents? Well they both had hippyish long hair in man-buns, sunglasses on their heads, one wore shorts (which is a dead giveaway) and they were both wearing beach sandals. I sat by the window of a café and observed them from above. They were trying to hail a taxi, but clearly didn't have the expertise in how it is done around here. So it was fun to watch. Perhaps they were French? Perhaps something else..? They were probably on an adventure far from home which they will talk about with great expertise for years to come. I don't see many tourist these days. I mostly see expats or locals. There is no reason not to be a tourist here...Central Africa and especially Cameroun is a great place to visit. Just keep in mind that organized tours and using airplanes makes it all a lot easier! ;)
I spent the first few nights back in Yaounde in a part of the city called Madagascar. It's known as a rough area and a place where you as a foreigner should hold on to your bag. No matter who I tell, that I'm staying in Madagascar, I always get the same reactions: Lifted eyebrows.
It's really not that bad. Or at least it hasn't been for me. When I look around I see people going on with their lives. The kids wear school uniforms and carry their backpacks decorated with Disney's "Frozen" or Marvels "Spiderman". People hop in and out of taxis, fruit and vegetables are sold from small stands next to the sidewalk, the shops and stores are open, people are shaking hands and laughing. You look around and see people on their phone or texting something - sometimes taking a photo with their smartphone.
The very first time I arrived to Yaounde was back in late August 2015 (which kind of speaks to my lack of recent progress). In the bus I arrived with, I met Emanuel who brought me to a guesthouse in Madagascar. I generally stay in the simple rooms. I always decline air condition and rarely have a mosquito net. But I usually have a toilet, a shower (or a bucket with water), a bed and sometimes even a chair and a table. That's what you get for around $9.00. You can find cheaper rooms, but safety also has value.
Amazingly as I returned to Madagascar lots of people remembered me...even by name! Tons of handshakes followed and I sincerely felt welcomed! That was so nice and so comforting. I naturally went to see Emanuel who was very happy to see me. I spent some time at the nearby cyber cafe which provides high speed stabile Internet for less than a dollar per hour. And I dropped by at this great little wooden shack, which has been painted in this light blue color and really mostly resembles a bar. But it's a restaurant and almost all the meals consists either of eggs or pasta or a combination of the two. For a dollar you can have an omelette with 2 eggs and some spaghetti mixed with spices. And it comes with a cup of coffee. Above the stove where the cooking is done there is a small shelf with a television set.
While I waited for my food I watched the news which was generally a typical update on world news which would repeat itself every 5-10 minutes. Among the stories there was a story about how people have been enforced to passport control when crossing the bridge between Denmark and Sweden. Many Danes live in Sweden and many Swedes live in Denmark and they travel back and forth with the train across the bridge nearly everyday. Some for work, some for school and some for other reasons.
I believe that a significant part of the great social and financial prosperity which is measurable in the Northern European countries comes from trust. It believe it is deeply routed in hundreds of years of good open relations, commerce, tolerance and some of the lowest levels of corruption you will find anywhere on earth. We grew strong as nations because we didn't build up great walls between each other. So suddenly observing that checkpoints and passport control has become an integrated part of life in the high north of Europe is not a promising thing to observe for me. And I'm not alone in feeling so.
But that's a part of the headlines here in Cameroun. Surprised? Don't be. People are well update on the current affairs. People here are fairly much like you. They are waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones and they watch and share the same videos you laugh about on Facebook or YouTube. People debate whether iPhone is better than Samsung. People here in Central Africa go to the cinemas, they buy smart clothes and go dancing in the club, they invent clever pickup lines and listen to all the same music you do. I would actually argue that many here are listing to a far larger variety of music than most western countries since western counties hardly listen to any of the West- or Central African pop. The music scene in e.g. Nigeria is a billion dollar industry and it is very influential around this part of the world. It all sounds the same to me though...its just dance music and the videos here also feature half naked women who are twerking or people in fast cars. It has to be said though, that I'm not very refined on the subject. I can hardly make out the difference between Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus ;)
So if people aren't that different for us in the western world then why are their lives yet so different? Well, they certainly share the same taste for social media, entertainment, luxury, fashion, information, education, technology and much more. And for most of that the standards meet ours too. But a country like France is well over 1,000 years old, Denmark too...most of Europe has had much time to develop. Even North America appears old in comparison to these countries. The mismanagement and the distribution of power in Central Africa has a long way to go. While a country like Cameroun is relatively prosperous and enjoys a large amount of export to the neighboring countries it still seems that much of the revenue remains to find its way into different places such as road construction, maintenance, education, healthcare, stadiums etc. and yet you will find a good hospital, good roads and great universities some places...so it really isn't black and white.
But if the goal is to be exactly like some of the best European countries then there is really a long way to go. So for many people here in this part of the world it means to grow up with the knowledge that it is not going to get significantly better in their lifetime...or even their children's lifetime. Can you imagine how hard that must be? You never did anything wrong. You just drew the short straw in terms of were you were born. And you have slim chances of getting away so this is your life: Looking at the news, looking in magazines, watching movies and series, seeing pictures and videos on social media and dreaming of a future which may very well come to your country some day, but which other countries already enjoy today!
I would argue that most people here are at least as smart as people anywhere else in the world. A lot of people here master several languages including 1 or 2 international languages. If something breaks then it gets fixed. It doesn't matter if it's high tech or low tech. Art, history and politics get debated on equally high (or sometimes low) levels as anywhere else. But really, if your country is only 50-60 years in development then there are certain things in society which have not turned optimal yet.
Every country in the world has problems. I can guarantee you that. But the level of problems and the way they are dealt with ranges widely from country to country. I believe that as humans we have the opportunity to be better tomorrow than what we are today. It is not all creatures on this planet which share that ability with us. And since that is out privilege then it must also be our responsibility. You could say the same for a country.
After the last few weeks hardship I have had a need to repair myself. And a solid internet connection along with Skype and some very good friends have been paramount to restoring my mental health. It is amazing what good friends can mean to ones life in a time of need.
This weeks administrative tasks have gone well. I made my way through the paperwork of getting a 7 day exit visa which as the name applies gives me 7 days to exit Cameroun. I have also applied for, paid and received a new visa for Gabon and a new visa for Congo. So tomorrow morning I'm set to go again. I plan to get up at 04:00am and head for my 4th attempt to cross the border to Gabon.
So wish me good luck (if there ever was such a thing) ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - ready to go at it again ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga