Monday, May 27, 2013

Arrival in Cameroon

Lauren and I arrived in Douala, Cameroon around 11:10 p.m. the night of May 7--right on time according to our flight itinerary. Overall, we had been traveling for about 29 hours. We left Pittsburgh at 6:09 p.m. the evening of May 6, flew a quick US Airways flight to LaGuardia Airport in New York, took a 20-minute taxi to JFK Airport, then hopped on a Turkish Airlines flight that brought us first to Istanbul, Turkey for a layover, and then finally landed us in Douala, Cameroon. (The picture posted below is one taken from my airplane window of the coastline as we crossed over the Mediterranean sea into Libya, very near the city of Tripoli.)

A picture of the Libyan coast from my airplane window.
The first thing I noticed about Cameroon was the heat. The minute I walked off the plane I knew I must be in Africa because the heat that night was unlike anything I had encountered before. It was humid, too. Our bags had been kept in the temperature-controlled storage areas of our airplanes and then were exposed to the humidity of Douala with such immediacy that they were covered in dew. Once we had left our plane and walked through security, it was in the baggage claim area that CFDP greeted us. It was great to finally be on the ground in Cameroon and to receive such a warm welcome from the people we had been waiting to see for some months now. Justin and Wallace, a CFDP management team member in Kumba, came to greet us, along with Biggie, CFDP's personal bodyguard for all undersized people associated with the organization. I knew that Lauren and I were pumped to finally be in Cameroon, but to see how excited Justin, and especially Wallace and Biggie, were to meet us made me immediately feel comfortable in my new surroundings. One thing I have noticed so far during my first week in Cameroon is that the people here are very welcoming. Everyone shakes my hand, seeing that I am a "white man" they welcome me to Cameroon, and remind me that I will love it. When I have traveled in my short life, naturally, I tend to evaluate places based on the friendliness of the people I meet there. So far, Cameroon is good in my book.

Once in Douala, our next destination was Kumba, a mid-sized city in Cameroon's South West Region where CFDP is based and where Lauren and I would be spending the majority of our time here in Cameroon. Wallace, Justin, Lauren, and I--Biggie stayed in Douala--packed our seven bags into Wallace's small car and squeezed our bodies into the space that remained for what would be between a two and three-hour journey from Douala to Kumba. Since it was night, it was dark out and was difficult for me to observe my new home for four months on the drive. I would say, though, that there still were a few memorable moments during that drive that I will always remember as my first in Cameroon. The first was when we hit a police checkpoint and had to pull the car over to the side of the road so the policeman could check our documentation. Now, I must admit that I am heavily influenced by newspapers, and in the news lately there have been many stories about civil wars ,rebel-controlled areas, and police corruption in various parts of Africa, namely Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo. With these news stories, you will often see pictures of men dressed in police uniforms, carrying guns, patrolling designated areas. So naturally, matching these pictures in my head with the horrible news stories I've been reading, you might be able to picture me sitting there in the car while Wallace and the policeman argue over a few things, my mind racing, thinking, "Holy shit, what's this guy going to do to us?" But thankfully, Cameroon is not like that. The policeman ended up being very happy to welcome Lauren and I to Cameroon. We made it through the checkpoint, our bags, and ourselves, okay. There was another, less frightening moment on the drive home that I also recall very well. Just as I was telling Justin that I was hoping to see some cool wild animals while I was in Africa, we drove up to a herd of wild cows. They were huge. And there were about 10-15 of them. Wallace called them "cows," but they were nothing like the white-and-black-spotted, milk-bearing hunks we call "cows" in the US of A. These were some serious African "cows." They each looked about the size of a moose and had these long, thick, curly horns like mountain goats. We just drove right on by. African cows are sweet.

When I finally arrived to my house in Kumba, I slept for four days. See you next time.

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