Jack Kerouac once wrote in his novel ‘On the Road….’ “The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.”
The road to Batoufam began with a group hook up in Dublin Airport at a time that was very close to being the middle of the night. People took photos, some more photos and then just a ‘few’ more snaps before we got on the plane. We were routed via Charles de Gaulle Airport and after a fine French breakfast stopover it was on to Yaounde in Camaroon. We arrived in the capital at night and after negotiating the customs check and yellow fever injections that seem all the rage there, we finally made it to our Hotel and a meeting with our head of security and his cohorts dressed in yellow hong kong fuey outfits, that immediately inspired an atmosphere of safety. The next day was up early for the road to Batoufam.
The pervasive smells of diesel and dust hang in the bright, clear sunlight of Camaroon. They are a backdrop to the colourful and engaging vibrations of everyday goings on in the basic buildings, streets, and roads. Our bus traversed the crazy traffic and madcap drivers of Yaonde to eventually point west towards the small village of Batoufam, where we were to spend working over the next 10 days. Along the way, in the main city and larger towns, billboards advertised the goods and styles associated with our western ‘white life.’ Other advertising hoardings show the ‘benign’ leader Paul Biya, who has been ‘democratically’ and continuously elected as supreme leader or president for the past 25 years, a testament to his resilience and obvious goodness and honesty? His billboard strapline reads “Force de l’experience” (force from experience) which gets us closer to understanding how he has held his position for so long, and brings his form of rule into sharp focus, especially when you can get the locals to open up about his tenure. These are not a free people, closer in fact to being oppressed rather than leading an existence closer to our own Island nation, they are in fact controlled; pschycologically, economically and physically. They ask very few questions about their condition, but smile a lot at the simple delights in life, which are entirely different to the things that excite the western mindset. All along the roads and thoroughfares which were littered with potholes , the locals stood on the side of the roads, almost in the way of traffic selling anything from handmade wooden artifacts, nuts and melons to freshly caught rat and the odd banana, for dessert, presumably. Trying to get money to buy food and simple staples for themselves and their families to simply survive. But smiling in many cases, none the less
The people of Camaroon walk lightly upon the earth, not necessarily by choice, but because this is all they know. They live simply from day to day and mostly in the shirts on their backs with mud and timber shacks that are their very basic forms of shelter. Changes to this way of life may, in the forms of the internet of things and advanced communications, turn this walk into a run in an attempt to catch up with our western way of life. It could be argued from their current predicament, this has already begun. These people are a delight in terms of their resilience and spirit. In the village of Batoufam the only person who lives a lifestyle resembling a western stereotype, is the King who is an intelligent and engaging individual. He describes his tenure as having ‘to be like a chameleon,’ always having and requiring the innate capacity to change his opinions and ideas, on a day to day basis. He holds his position through a blend of ancient African inheritance customs and his ability to charm supporters and opponents alike. He is the symbol of ‘living large’ in this place, an almost ubiquitous pschycological human requirement for existence exhibited in human tribes throughout history. Someone HAS to live in the house on the hill or in this case his palace, which resembles the set from an old James Bond movie…’Live and let die.’ This guy is the ‘Man’ and everyone makes sure he is kept very happy, especially his hundreds of devoted wives.
In Batoufam, and Bafousam where we were staying everyone ‘bedded’ in very fast (no choices here I am afraid, when confronted with the one bed in the room scenario, ( a necessary requirement and a further testament to human perseverance). The entire team got to work very quickly and soon melded into an efficient work force, everything from painting to hooking up banks of computers to the internet was achieved with maximum efficiency given the conditions and lack of facilities. Everyone made a great effort and within the allocated 10 days, and the results were there to be seen ( only made possible by the tireless work of the pre-trip administration team and the huge generosity of all that contributed in various ways to the equipment and money that was used to achieve these gains). Along with the dearth of basic conveniences and the lack of any real luxury or amenities, we all tried as best we could to clean the pervasive red dust fom the abundant soil of the area off ourselves and our clothing on a daily basis. An envigorating and rewarding trip was completed when we managed to clear out the Hotel bar of its minimal beer stocks on our last overnight in Yaonde, five or six bottes later and theh entire Hotel was cleaned out. A great trip, and one we will all remember. A great experience that taught us about all we have and all that they don’t. It was good to go and even better to return back to the comforts we take so much for granted. With a bit of luck and more generous donations to a worthwhile cause we can continue and further improve the lives of those that live well below our perceived poverty line next year, and for years to come.
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” Jack Kerouac. On the Road.