restricted access Epilogue
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104 Epilogue Nigel Weban-Smith eflecting on his Cameroon experience in retirement, John sought to place it in the context of his later African wanderings, most importantly those entailed in producing, for the BBC, a televised version of Basil Davidson’s History of Africa. Why not seek out Nigel, who had shared so much of that adventure? And so it came about that two senior citizens, who had not met for 43 years, ventured once again to Cameroon. Three weeks was all too short a time to grasp the immensity of the changes. With Yaoundé as our point of entry and departure, travel to and from Wum stole time away from any deep investigation of life off the main roads. But our harvest of impressions and questions was more invigorating than frustrating. In any case, John envisaged the journey as reconnaissance for an eventual television programme. With a little help from the Rough Guide, full of admonitions about the problems of local travel, we invested heavily and wisely in city education by taxi, as well for some longer trips. Locomotion was least of the problems their resourceful drivers solved. The inter-city bus services in turn provided another course (fortunately not a crash course) in survival skills, as we shared the trials and tribulations of local travellers, quite different from those familiar to us both, as expatriate inhabitants and observers of many parts of independent Africa. Yaoundé to Bamenda; Bamenda to Bafoussam; Bafoussam to Limbe (erstwhile Victoria); Douala to Yaoundé: Garanti Express got us there. Time, of course, was only loosely linked to money, while brilliant organisation was disguised by the appearance of shambles. Once we had picked a bus out on the city perimeter and paid our fare, some hours would elapse before actual departure. It would after all be silly for a bus to leave unfilled; and ‘full’ was a concept unfamiliar to people who knew only London’s rush-hour. We would pick our places, leave a garment there with equanimity, buy a snack, return in good time as passengers began to embark in greater numbers. With all fixed places filled, dicky seats were unfolded in the aisles and, with these filled, serious loading began of the most ample ladies, one to each row…. Cameroonian men and the two Brits glanced nervously at each other and sighed as the compressibility of finite space was demonstrated anew. Meanwhile, we gradually learned to relax at the fate of our baggage. Magically, it seemed, containers of all shapes and sizes, not to speak of goats, were humped up onto the roof in an order which ensured that those to be unloaded at each intermediate stop could be taken down from the rear. And, in all the hubbub of waiting, loading and unloading, nothing went astray. Good humour prevailed as we sped along generally good roads and, once we had all shaken down, loud gospel music was silenced for a different entertainment. A smart young man would explain in detail, amid much disparaging banter from the passengers, the marvellous medicine he happened R 105 to have brought, available for free trial by this exceptionally lucky crowd. It would work for tooth-ache, stomach cramps, sore limbs, and—banter now replaced by rapt attention—every, lovingly described, sexual and reproductive disease or inadequacy. Free samples were offered (one surely an industrial solvent), then low-price special offers and, when these ran out, ‘limited’ fullprice supplies to meet the pent-up demand for the salesman’s remaining stock. The intermediate halts at roadside markets provide opportunities for al fresco refreshment and relief. And there were several other halts, less agreeable, on each journey, at police check points. Some of these took place at inter-provincial boundaries, judged suitable points for the payment of ‘customs dues’ by the driver, after negotiations out of passenger ear-shot. Others were more in the form of spot checks of travellers, making sure that all had their identity cards or, in our case, passports and yellow fever certificates. The latter (all of which are nowadays phoney and supplied only for such occasions) required especially close examination. What was striking was the unspoken bond of empathy among all the passengers and the collective relief, once the icy stare of Authority turned away. We paused for a night at Bamenda, in a sad ridge-top hotel, close to an equally sad, veranda-ed building, once the Bamenda Club. Power, such as remained to West Cameroon, had gravitated to the market...


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