Tuesday, March 06, 2007

And so it begins ...

The sleeves are rolled down, I've doused myself in deet and have braved the swarms of mozis and, more surprisingly, bats - not little ones, great big fruit bats and literally thousands of them - to find myself firmly wedged in the middle of a trio of transatlantic types who've just had the good grace to inform me and the rest of this particularly hot and sweaty part of Africa that "No Scrubs" by that bastion of R & B brilliance, TLC, is without doubt their combined favourite track when it comes to number one songs to hear in a taxi.

What, by the way, is yours? What do you mean you don't have one?

'Perplexed' is, you'll be glad to hear, the word of the day. 'Discombobulated' was vying for a position at the top of the chart but my no(i)sy transatlantic neighbours may have taken umbrage at its syllable count and we don't want to go around upsetting people willy-nilly or we might force them do something they'll come to regret.

I shouldn't really be surprised to be fair. Not about them doing something they might come to regret but about the omnipresent bamboozlement. The omens were not that auspicious: by which I mean that my journey began with a conspicuously unintentional couple of laps around the visual delight that is Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2. Got the distinct impression that the pilot was looking for a parking space nearer the terminal but, as is so often the case, the only free one was everything but. Thankfully all was not lost. He did find one somewhere near the Belgian border. (An ex-employee of Michael O'Leary's perhaps ... old habits die hard.)

A mad dash ensued as time was something of the essence and so it was I parked my dainty hind-quarters in a sea of Saga-esque norweigan types whose female components sported such variety in the hair highlighting department that it looked as if they had been set upon by a gang of poster-paint wielding delinquents.

Question: Why is it that people who choose to sit in anything but aisle seats have the smallest bladders? And more to the point, what exactly did they find to do in the 14 hours they had sitting in the departure lounge? Is there something wrong with terrestrial toilet facilities that they feel they can only wee when they're in international airspace. Perhaps it's some kind of Duty Free thing. Can't say I was aware of having to pay tax on bodily excretions or have I been doing something wrong? And what's more, why do they all have bladders the size of thimbles?


"Shaken or stirred?" "Do I look like I give a dam!" I wasn't expecting you Mr Bond, but I have to say you were very welcome.

Now if I must be folded into a seat barely big enough to seat an anorexic Oompa Loompa, for 8 hours, unless me and my neighbour are on intimate terms then I think it's only right that the space afforded to me is mine and mine alone. Sadly my scandi-neighbour-ian nemesis was not of the same belief and managed to increase my discomfort further by insisting on peering over my shoulder to watch my showing of Casino Royale.

It was only through the medium of an Air France spork to the kidneys that I managed to persuade her she could actually watch it, or any number of other films, in her own language on the small screen, almost but not quite totally identical to mine, that had been kindly placed in the seat back in front of her by the good people at Airbus. The fact that the person in front of her seemed determined to soak Mme Norway with every liquid presented did take the edge off things slightly but, I mean, honestly: Can't they implement airline etiquette tests? When I'm King, ra ra ra

As flights go it went and that's the main thing. Immigration was a walk in the park. Albeit a dark park with a history of muggings and improbable geological traits and were it not for a vicar clearly unversed in the art of queuing there would have been little of note to report on.

So here I am. Cameroon's great and glorious capital. And what a capital it is.

Rome's got 7, Athens has a few, Edinburgh's got a handful and La Paz is surrounded by them but I don't think I've ever been to a city that's quite so hilly. I'd like to say mountainous as that sounds dramatic but it's difficult to get any idea of scale when visibility is as hampered as it is. Got driven up a hill to see the view and alas all that was to be seen was a large amount of haze and a Swissish type with a motorbike and pocket New Testament, perched in a manner that would make a Danish pine. [N.B. This is neither a tree nor an emotional cinnamon swirl ... think Copenhagen]

Pictorial evidence provided. Of the haze that is. Not the Swiss. Much like many things of Swiss inclination, he was a little too holy ... pun very much intended. Oh look, the picture has arrived ... aren't you lucky. No it hasn't, or if it has then good, if not then blame technology ...

Drove through the kind of crazed markets you don't believe exist until you find yourself in the middle of one in a white van that could so easily have been stolen from a UNICEF documentary. All it needed was Angelina and Brad, and Bob would have been your uncle, albeit only by marriage, and possibly only through an obscure semi-aunt who became part of the family by mistake.

[serious moment]
One of the things that we took in during our grand tour of Yaounde was the zoo. Now, I'm not going to moralise on zoos as in some very rare cases they can be justified, but sadly this was one example of what happens when things go wrong. Don't worry it's not going to cloud my judgement of the country as a whole as I'm sure, in its heyday, it was an entirely different experience.

The image though that will stalk me until my dying day is, somewhat ironically, that of one thing that probably would do just that in the flesh. The lion enclosure was noteworthy primarily for its size. As I've already said, no moralising but seriously: there's swinging a cat and there's housing a pair of adult lions.

The most distressing thing of all though, was the state of the male. While the female, stomach distended, languished in a soporific haze of recently consumed herbivore, her cage-mate, while mimicking her languishing, laboured under pained breaths, his pelvis, ribcage and spine making a bid for freedom through what was left of his skin. A haunch of the aforementioned herbivore lay at his feet but he didn't have the energy to even sniff it, let alone eat it, and it looked like that wasn't his first missed meal.

Distressing doesn't go nearly far enough.

Zoo aside it was quite a tour. Barely a ministry passed without being pointed at, and a smile flashed across my face when I noted that the only one that wasn't situated in the kind of tottering monolithic edifice so keen on crashing to the ground in an apocalyptic manner was that for the Ministry for Health and Public Safety: itself a somewhat modest single storey construction. Irony is clearly as wasted on the Cameroonians as it is on the rest of the world (says he in his lofty British manner.)

The folk so far have been welcoming without being in your face and the staff in the Programme Office have done admirably, fetching, carrying and hosing down when required. As for my fellow volunteers, at this moment we are three: a Parisenne, a Mumbai-ian and li'l old me ... the absent two arrive tomorrow before the sparrows have even thought about farting. Four of us are destined to depart for Extremely Northern climes on Thursday; One of us heads coastwards. Til then we do what we must and twiddle our thumbs when necessary.

Today, I have to admit has been tough. We were meant to be busy with bureaucracy but because of the absence of 40% of our number, such excitement was postponed. Idle minds tend to wander where they shouldn't and mine spent a large part of today reminiscing about where it was this time last week and wondering why exactly it was here.

When you rationalise it and put it into the context of first day in a new job life becomes that little bit easier ... besides, it's self inflicted.Can't wait to get to where I'm going but have to admit that a little over 24 hours in, can't help but wonder whether my jaw is up to the work.


  1. Christo6:25 pm

    Not wanting to feel left out I have just played catch up on the blog and realised that it is now bed time. I have missed the last tube home, supper is in the oven, and my wife has already left for work again.
    How you waffle (sometimes I just got lost but then I realised it was you and found myself ever so simply drifting back to reality and somehow could understand perfectly what you are on about) but waffles are good. I am a particular fan of them with baked beans (heinz variety not baked green ones).

    I didn't realise you had som many words that were so eager to come out. I do like the fact that despite the keyboard anomylies you still managed punctuation. Great improvement.

    Missing you, but will keep communicating this way. I will give you a wave when we fly over...


  2. I think a warning in the first line: SUGGESTED READING TIME: 40 MINS
    I have started twice and got confused. I'm glad the chemicals/shots/malaria hasn't interfered with you mind yet. And nice to see there really are communication possibilities.
    I've got a job too, slightly tamer than your adventure (although commuting through the 'burbs can be quite exciting). And so far so good. Haven't made it onto the washing-up rota yet but otherwise seem to be integrating nicely. Keep up the good work Batman.

  3. I was wondering why you slipped into italics but then realised your computer was probably at a tilt - we should just be glad that you managed to write anything at all I suppose.
    Glad your brother did his best to make you homesick in the first week with talk of waffles and Heinz beans, what a supportive chap he is.
    Look forward to the rest of the adventure Al and keep a torch with you, it's a dark continent.

  4. Thanks chaps ... any words is good words ... otherwise, as I'm sure Cas and Um will both atest, it sometimes feels like you're doing the graveyard shift on local radio with only perverts and weirdos for an audience ... don't take it personally people. I know I didn't, but then again perhaps that's just me and the other members of the naked but wearing a beheaded chicken on your elbow club ... fk-fk-fk-fk-fk'ers ... as they say.


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