Hot, poor, corrupt - and with glimmers of hope
13.04.2013 - 13.04.2013 97 °F
Cameroon is hot hot hot hot hot hot hot hot hot hot. The temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees and the humidity is about 85% and since there’s not much electricity, there is little air conditioning and running water and there’s a lot of jungle. The average income is about $1500/year and the government is corrupt and the roads are often impassable and the small Anglophone provinces hate the larger Francophone provinces and yet ... we are VERY glad we were able to come here.
One thing the corrupt government has done is to make much of the land into banana, tea, and rubber plantations. Apparently they don’t pay the workers very much, but they provide housing and productive work, and the land that is agriculturally developed is beautiful. We left the port of Limbe to visit the Tiko Banana Plantation (Hope loves factory tours) driving through miles of banana trees to a small set of buildings that receive hands (large bunches) of bananas that are slid along on metal conveyor racks that stretch through the fields. So (see pix below) little banana fingers grow on huge stalks that terminate in a mammoth (2 foot) gorgeous purple flower. The hands are all (maybe a million of them) tagged individually by hand to mark their age. When they are big enough, each hand is covered with blue plastic to keep insects from them. When ripe they are chopped down by hand, and carried to the conveyor rack and pulled by hand into a shed where workers wash them down, cull any with brown spots on the skin, cut them into bunches, pack them in boxes and load them onto a truck which drives to the port and ships them to markets in France and Belgium. The rejects are sold locally or made into chips. We really appreciate each banana we see now.
On our way to the Bimbia Slave Port, the road was impassable so we made a detour through the regional capital of Buea. Some of the middle class housing is pictured below. Really, these are not shanties but residences in the capital city. Cameroon is poor poor poor poor poor poor, and you cannot be there without wanting to help and not knowing how to help. Same thing with the slave port - you want to work to change something, fix something, make up for the inhumanity of chaining human beings to walls and selling them. You want to know what we are doing today that will horrify someone in 200 years and make them wonder how we could have been so self-serving and compassionless.
The slave port was a hard excursion physically and emotionally. We drove in a bus, transferred to 4x4s because the roads were poor and drove for 20 minutes which felt like 200 minutes as we jerked and rolled and lost ground and backed up and tried to make the climb again and again. Then we walked downhill about a mile through a bamboo jungle seeing the traces of the slave quarters, the office where the deals were made, the trough to which the slaves were chained and finally the cove where ships came to transport them away from their home. In the guides’ descriptions and in our conversations it was easy to call the people “slaves” as though they were a commodity, instead of speaking of the PEOPLE who were captured and enchained. Maybe calling them people makes us too ashamed. There was much to consider as we walked back uphill in the jungle heat.
Then lunch in a botanical garden with a show of wild native dancing that included bowls of burning hallucinogens and chewed herbs (to give the dancers strength, they said) and time at a wildlife refuge center, necessary because the Cameroonians eat bush meat (why? 1) tradition, 2) no cost and they are poor, 3) they like the taste). So locals hunt gorillas and chimps and duikers and bush bucks and leave the little ones orphaned or wounded - and the refuge center cares for them.
In our very brief experience, Cameroon is a “typical” West African country - poor, hot, and corrupt. Yet something here won our hearts. Maybe it was the way they cared for the slave port as a part of history that must be preserved. Or maybe it was the multiple nurseries along the roads, selling small shrubs and flowering plants and the little gardens lovingly planted - people who do landscaping have patience and hope and those values are both essential to progress in this country. Surely it was the way they cleaned up the garbage; even the poorest shacks have tidy dirt “yards” around them and the streets are free of trash.