Having spent the best part of 42 hours on the road there’s little doubt that the bitter sweet perspiration deposits with which I was tastefully encrusted were probably not that far from evolving into entire new life-forms. Combined with the accumulated crumbs, stains and dribbles that are an unavoidable hazard when every meal is taken in an as minimally invasive a manner as possible - itself a far from easy feat given that you are sitting microns away from a potential paternity suit which is to say approximately within the person/people nextoinfrontofbehind you – while your chosen form of transport jiggles, jiggers, judders, wibbles, wobbles, clatters and clunks its far from stately way along its piste of choice.
After dragging oneself off an intercontinental flight there’s little in this world more satisfying than a good wash and brush up … leaves one feeling more on the sapient side of humanoid. Buses, trains, taxis, more buses and then another taxi have a somewhat similar effect but all without the dubious benefits of recycled air and air-conditioning. And so it was in a far from fragrant cloud approximately 42 hours in size that I wend my way into town to meet with my hosts for the following days – not that I knew it at the time but then I have the splendidly marked beast known as retrospect with which to toy so, nah.
Having been here for the best part of 11 months, it’s easy to convince yourself that you and Cameroon are on more than just speaking terms. You like to think that you’ve got the country pretty taped and within the confines of your own village or neighbourhood there are moments of solitude, of tranquillity, peace and calm where if you close your eyes against the iridescent glare cast by your own skin, you could almost say that you’re close to fitting in. It’s only when you remove yourself from this comfort zone, where people know who you are and, for the most part, have your well-being in mind, that you realise that this Kansas is a very distant and not to say very different reality. Dorothy and Toto knew nothing.
This was, despite all those hours cutting my teeth on the sandy streets of the North, my first foray into the wilds of southern Cameroon; my first venture up and over the Adamawa plateau; a natural demarcation that neatly clefts the country in twain, from the Chadian border in the East to the Nigerian in the west. Renowned primarily for its banditry and high quality of riffraffery and rapscallionry, it is more than just a physical border, stopping, as it does, the train and seemingly most information destined for these northerly parts.
The south is as green as the north is not but the biggest difference is not only the sheer number of cars and apparent wealth but also the general permanence of the place. The North and Far North provinces look, to all intents and purposes, like one good heavy downpour and every building will dissolve into the ground from which it was sprung. Don’t read too much into that. I’m not saying the south looks fresh, new and well-tended; far from it. It suffers the same fate as everywhere here which is never looking new, in fact it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when any of the buildings were pristine and clean with shiny newness.
Limbe is no exception. When Alfred Sacker rocked up and adopted what many would avoid calling a missionary position, he set a trend which I feel flies something in the face of his monotheistic Baptist bent. Visit some Cameroonian towns and you are obliged to drop in on the Chief and present him with both yourself and, occasionally, a bottle of something. Visit Limbe and it seems you have to establish a mission in order to appease local dignitaries.
At the last count there were approximately 48,974*. It goes without saying that all the big boys are up there in each and every one of their numerous guises: Who needs polytheism when you can have one word of god and just read it in a million different ways. Cuts down on printing costs. And think of the environmental benefits. Every church and mission has a timetable outside so you can plan your week accordingly. Was intrigued by the concept of ‘Spiritual Warfare’ but, alas, was not in town on Friday. As for what exactly the ‘Wailing Prophetic Mission’ are, or indeed do, I can only guess and even then I suspect I’d be wrong.
(*A wild, inaccurate and hyperbolistic estimate at best. At worst, a collection of random single-digit numbers arranged in a manner that implies a large quantity.)
The abundance of god aside, Limbe I have to say was a very pleasant first step on the coarse carpet of Cameroonian caravansary upon which I was endeavouring to itch the tickle that had been building since I arrived. Miles of dark-chocolate sand coloured beaches, freshly cooked fish, cold beer and fine company aside, it was, as you can imagine, tough. When your neighbour is a 6 month old gorilla orphan and the biggest decision you have to make is weather it’s too early to have a beer, life’s rough edges tend to be smoothed down fairly swiftly it has to be said.
The fact that it was Christmas would almost have passed unnoticed were it not for the valiant attempts of those amongst whom I found myself to ensure that the festive season was just that. Carols from Kings Choir, mulled wine, turkey, tinsel, presents and the tinny twang of a thousand novelty black Santas did their best to convey and promote feelings of festive cheer but there’s something not right about Christmas in the heat. It’s all very well and good but it’s not overly conducive to the outright gluttony and over-indulgence without which Christmas is just another day.
And so four very pleasant days were spent languishing away the time, eating, drinking, making merry and generally recovering from the mental and physical assault that was the trip south. The 27th December saw the initial departure from Limbe, on the first of many journeys that would absorb the following weeks in a far too swift and satisfying manner. Tempus well and truly fugited, as is its wont but then when you spend 16 nights in 14 different places, encompassing 7 out of the 10 provinces that make up this least touristically prepared of countries, using every conceivable form of transport and scaling its highest heights, lowest lows and many of the bits in between it doesn’t give you a lot of time for not being the subject of times often flighty ways.
So as to give your eyes, brains, fingers, computers, bums and sanity some relief, the rest will have to wait. It’s where the fun starts so it would be inconsiderate of me not to let you regain your strength.