2. Enlightenment
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28 2.enlightenment or the first Public Enlightenment Campaign we PSOs had to go ‘on trek’. This phrase simply meant that we would have to walk instead of driving around in our Land Rovers, and, like the use of the word ‘bush’ to describe the surrounding countryside, the word ‘trek’ was a hangover from German colonial rule, prior to the First World War. In the early 1960s there were still a few old men around with a smattering of German, but the lingua franca everywhere in the Southern Cameroons was pidgin English. We were told at the time that there were more than thirty different languages in the territory, and I suspect that there were more like three hundred, because many of the dialects were mutually incomprehensible from one valley to another. So pidgin English served as a vital means of communication, not just between the handful of foreign nationals in the country, but between the Africans themselves. However, not everyone spoke pidgin, and all the information relating to the plebiscite had to be translated into the local vernacular. So when Pius, Daniel and I set off in the Land Rover for Bum, only about thirty miles to the east of my base in Wum, we took with us an interpreter named Stephen, who had been born and brought up there. Stephen was a large, ungainly man, with a straggly beard and a permanent frown. He wore a red handkerchief knotted around his head and carried a ‘cutlass’, a machete as long and heavy as a short sword. He would not have looked out of place on a pirate ship, but despite his villainous appearance he was actually rather timid, starting apprehensively whenever I spoke to him and staring at my feet whenever he spoke to me. I did not have total confidence in Stephen, so I was mildly surprised, when we arrived at the turning in the road for Fonfukka, to find that his advance arrangements were in order and a team of young men were waiting to carry my gear. Pius had supervised the packing of the equipment, and as we unloaded the back of the Land Rover I was embarrassed to see how much stuff was supposed to be needed to keep me safe and well on my travels. Tent, chair, table, bed, cook box and clothes had all been bundled up into separate loads, and these lay in a heap by the side of the road, while Stephen and Pius haggled with the boys who were to carry them. I say boys, because most of them looked about eighteen. Their feet were bare. They were dressed in shirts and shorts that had seen better days, and they all looked pleased at the chance of making a little money as they lined up, a bit awkwardly, to say hello and shake my hand. I said goodbye to Daniel the driver and arranged to meet him at the same spot a week later. I must confess that I felt a slight pang of apprehension as the Land Rover disappeared down the road, but the sense of being alone in an unfamiliar place was quickly dispelled by the realisation that I was not alone at all. On the F 29 contrary, I was surrounded by an almost excessive number of other people, all of whom had a vested interest in my welfare. With surprising ease, the young men lifted their clumsy parcels up on to their heads and prepared to set off down the track to Fonfukka. Stephen took the lead, swinging his cutlass and swiping at the grass as he walked. This did not look strictly necessary, but he said there were often snakes on the path, which may or may not have been true, but certainly helped to set the atmosphere. I followed, Stephen and Pius came next, carrying a small bundle of his own. Then came the six carriers and a flotilla of small boys, who had appeared from nowhere, as small boys always do in Africa, and, as we threaded our way through the tall elephant grass on my first real working assignment for the plebiscite, I felt as absurd and anachronistic as some 19th century explorer in search of the Nile. The primeval beauty of the surroundings reinforced this sensation. The path wound its way along the edge of an escarpment, up and down the ridges on the hillside. In places there were huge rocks hard up against the path, and all around us...