Suddenly, A Very Busy Day

Wednesday, January 04, 2023
Douala, Littoral, Cameroon
Today was my first very busy day on this trip. About 08:00 I received a text on Facebook Messenger. It seems to be the easiest way to communicate here, it’s free or very inexpensive. It was Jean Sévérin who had taken the first bust from Yaoundé to come to Douala and help me with arrangements for the weekend. He said he had arrived in Douala and would come to my hotel. On arrival about 9:00 we discussed what we need to do in preparation for our meetings. We need 5 rooms at a hotel, meals for everyone, and a conference room.
As we finished, he headed off to a hotel we have used in the past. We agreed to stay in touch via Messenger.
I was working in my room when my phone blew up. Jean-Sévérin began texting me from the hotel we intend to use, sending me photos of the conference rooms and hotel rooms with prices. Rooms $25 a night, meals $4 each, but the small meeting room $500 for two days (in my view outrageous, but that seems to be the going rate in Douala).  Then someone else in Cameroon texted me on Messenger about coming to visit. Simultaneously another member began texting me from the Congo on WhatsApp. He’s studying medicine in eastern Congo on the Rwandan border where war is breaking out. Congolese forces are attacking M 23 rebels, supported by Rwanda, who are, or claim to be, protecting the Tutsi minority in the region (and helping themselves to the precious metals – if you have a smart phone, you have small pieces of eastern Congo with you). He told me he was hearing gunshots, including automatic weapons. Bullets were whizzing by his room regularly. I encouraged him to get to a safe place and told him I would add my prayers to his, which I did immediately.
I had never before conducted three text conversations at the same time, on two different apps. Tatiana might be proud of me (but probably not, child’s play for her). After a few minutes it was back to just Jean-Sévérin and me. Then the phone rang to tell me a visitor had arrived. It was Blandine, who I baptized about 4 years ago. I went down to meet her and was surprised to see her with a baby. When last I saw her she had been seriously interested in a young man in the Church, and I knew he wasn’t married. I waited, trying not to jump to conclusions. We sat in the lobby and began our conversation. The baby was restless and crying. “She wants to sleep” Blandine told me.
We walked out to my usual table by the pool and sat to talk. She explained to me that she had married and this was her second child. But she hadn’t married the young man in whom she’d been interested. Her parents were violently opposed to the match, and that carries more weight in Africa than in the West. If the family is opposed to a match it can ruin your life, and won’t hesitate to do so. She had fought them, even moving to Nigeria for a while to get away from the pressure, but in the end, it was too much. So she finally broke it off.
I asked why her parents were so opposed. “My father is Bamileke and my mother is Bamum” she said, “when they found out intended was Bassa, they said no!” The Bamum are a sub-tribe of the Bamileke, which come from the north-west of the country and which is the largest tribal group in Cameroon, large enough that they don’t all speak the same local language, but they know of what tribe they are.  The Bassa are part of another tribal group, from the coastal area around Douala, which is named for the Duala tribe. There is a hereditary dislike between these tribes. There is no physical difference between them in height, corpulence, coloration or anything. They can’t tell each other apart by appearance. I often hear Cameroonians asking of what tribe others are. So, it’s only a cultural, linguistic and historical difference. But, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, there’s a hereditary antipathy. I was sad for her. She’d passed up a marriage to a man who shares her beliefs, for one who doesn’t, although she said she was happy in her marriage. I wished her all the best. Family can be a blessing, but it can also be other things.
The first part of our conversation was difficult because the baby kept crying. Finally, she left briefly to breastfeed the baby, which then fell promptly asleep. We talked easily afterwards. We talked about an hour before she needed to leave about 12:30. Job was supposed to arrive any time. He had texted me at 11:00 to let me know he was leaving to come and see me. I waited in my room until 1:00, then I texted Job to ask if he was still coming. There was no immediate answer, so I went down to have a bite of lunch. Just as I ordered, I received a response that he was almost at the hotel. I quickly cancelled my order and waited t meet with him. He arrived a few minutes later.
Back at my table outside we caught up on his news. The Church has been helping him pay for his studies. He’s about to finish the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He hopes to get a scholarship to continue on for a Master’s degree. We caught up on his news and we discussed the situation in Cameroon and in the local church. He shared his opinion on what it is needed.
We talked for an hour before he left. I asked him how long it had taken him to come. He replied “four taxis” which is how people in Douala measure time and distance in the city. Most taxis run predetermined routes. So people travel from point to point, this taxi, then connect to that taxi, then connect to another, and so on. Four taxis is a long route. It had taken him two hours to go 10 or 15 miles.
After Job left, I sat down for a plate of spaghetti. Jean-Sévérin texted again, he was still at the hotel waiting for my decision to accept the offer or not. We didn’t have enough time to make another arrangement, I will look more next time. I agreed. We needed to put down a deposit to confirm the reservation. I asked him to come to the hotel at 3:30.
He arrived very close to 3:30. We took one of the hotel taxis. These taxis are linked to the hotel, so there’s less chance with them of any shenanigans. They’re more expensive, but are air conditioned and in better shape that street taxis. The driver’s name was Jules, and his French was slurred to the point of being mostly incomprehensible. At least he could understand me. I told him we would need to go to the Akwa Palace Hotel area to change some money, then go to the Menfis hotel and then back to the Ibis. We agreed on a price, and off we went. I started rolling up my window so we could start the air conditioning, it was then Jules disclosed that it didn’t work. Ah.
Jules called a money changer he knew, who, he said, was trustworthy. We agreed to meet by the Akwa Palace, and he was there when we arrived. He got in the back seat of the car so as not to attract any attention. Changing money like this is not illegal but there are thieves everywhere. He handed me the CFA bills, which I counted twice, then I handed him the dollars. He counted and we agreed. I stuffed the wads of bills in several pockets and off we drove through the terrible Douala traffic to the Menfis. A few years ago, a great effort had been made to resurface the streets of the city, which had been notoriously bad. They were quite good for a couple of years. Now they are getting quite bad again. I commented on this. Jean-Sévérin said it’s because of all the garbage in the streets. There is in fact a horrible amount of garbage in the streets. When it rains, which is does heavily here, the plastic bags and bottles and other detritus clog the storm drains. Water backs up and begins running down streets like rivers, which degrades the pavement. This leads to potholes, washboards, and whole sections of missing street. All because people won’t put garbage in bins.
We arrived at the hotel and spoke with the owner. We went over the figures, agreed on amounts, and I gave him a down-payment. Jean-Sévérin stayed at the hotel to oversee preparations. Jules and I drove back to the Ibis. I had the salad bar for dinner.

Photos & Videos



It suddenly went from slow to very fast and busy. The pictures, both word and photos, create a sense of tension even in reading.The members must greatly appreciate your attention, words of hope, and facilitating their hotels and meals. Sad to read about the marriage restrictions. Interesting that travel time is measured in number of taxis.

Tess Washington

Thank you for the very busy blog & interesting photos! Sad to read about Blandine's forced marriage even though she said she's happy in it! I wonder if she chose to stay unmarried, will she also be put under pressure?