Douala, I think it would be fair to say, is not counted among the world’s foremost cities. It has all the historic charm of Harlow New Town combined with the aesthetic pleasures of a poorly managed landfill site, enhanced by, to name but a few things, peddlers of hardcore pornography, prostitutes, humidity levels a few percentage points short of soaking and the all pervasive smell of pollution, body odour and corruption.
Breaching the outer limits of Cameroon’s economic capital is one of life’s smaller and less publicised pleasures and for obvious reasons. The actual amount of pleasure derived is directly proportional to the quality of the transport in which you arrive. The bus that bore these Scottish loins from the peace and tranquillity of Limbe into the sprawling mass of humanity that is Douala was, so far as I could tell, held together by little more than the collective wills of we, the people, ‘securely’ enveloped in its rust riddled cadaver.
We were stopped a mere 6 times in the space of an hour as various officials tried in vain to extort money from anyone who may have been foolish enough not to remember their identity card. The fact that mine has been folded into one too many pockets, has officially expired and subsequently been ‘officially’ extended with the word “RETRAIT” drawn on in crayon, always gives a slight frisson of excitement as the unshaven, unkempt and generally rotund satraps who stalk these parts cast their greedy eyes over it in the hope of a small cadeau from the unsuspecting nasara.
The city’s southern bus terminal is situated in what I suspect is the built environment’s equivalent of the primeval ooze from which life dragged its sorry loins. Shacks lurching, gasping, choking in what seems like a futile attempt to fill their primitive corrugated iron and off-cut built lungs with the smog thick air. Wallowing in and trying to stumble from the cloying filth and accumulated detritus of humanity’s more recent victims of brightlightitis.
After such an inglorious benvenuto, willkommen and bienvenue the centre of town is almost a pleasant surprise which is to say it’s not pleasant in any way at all, nor is its unpleasantness wholly surprising. The government incumbent seem to be of the opinion that infrastructural improvement is a waste of money, whereas a new presidential residence and t-shirts decorated with party slogans and “VOTE RDPC” is not. Ah, the joys of corrupt African autocracies.
Douala was, or indeed is, just one of those things that has to be endured and I can forgive it a multitude of sins for its ability to furnish me with anchovies and crisps. In many ways it’s a bit like Newport Pagnal service station: given a choice you wouldn’t stop but you need a wee and they might just have Tangfastics. What’s more, it was to be the staging post for the travels proper and a certain someone was arriving in to its pitiful excuse for an airport and for that alone I will willingly forgive it.
A brief interlude with the promise of more to come ...
On the more current side of things, life goes on. A minor character assassination a couple of weeks back finds me plotting my return to green and pleasant with something akin to religious fervour and I have to say the prospects are exciting in many ways. It'll be good to be able to go drink things with people without having to plan a decade in advance ... spur of the moment, on a whim, those are the things I miss most. Obviously not entirely true but it'll do for now.
For those of you who care, if you look to the right of this page you'll see a thing called Dobbin's Gob ... a smart little feller who lets me update him from wherever I happen to be ... sentences charting my mental state in the absence of the diatribe that usually spews unrelentingly! Crazy stuff this technology lark!