Today was a travel day. Guy came to take us to the airport at 10:00. he was feeling rested, he said, which was good. We drove to the airport where we said our goodbyes. Then we ran the gauntlet. Put everything through a scanner before entering the terminal, shoes and belt off, the whole nine yards. Then we stood in line to check in with ASky airline, code-share partner with Ethiopian Airlines, but based in Lomé. Then on to emigration. We showed our passports and, on our smartphones, our exit visas. Yes, since going e-visa, Togo now requires and exit visa to be filled out online. It doesn’t cost anything, but it’s another thing to do: go online, fill our forms submit information. We are be monitored more and more closely, all the time.
Then we go on the real formal security check where we do everything we did a half hour earlier at the entry to the terminal, electronics out, belt off, shoes off, etc. Then we’re in the terminal. We wait for an hour, pacing and reading. I’m reading TED Talks by Chris Anderson, about how speakers in that program prepare. It’s quite interesting and some points are adaptable to my work.
As we boarded I got behind a man who had not bathed for a long time. I had never encountered that particular odor until I began to travel in Africa. To be fair it’s rare even here, but when it hits you, woah! A human being can smell so strongly it can make one ill. This was the case in Europe for ages. When in historic movies you see characters bowing and making a circular motion with their hands, they would be waving little pouches of perfume to ward off the whiff of their counterparts.
Even when we moved to France in the 1980s some people smelled very strongly, but in my experience, that has since changed completely. Hopefully it will disappear here too, and soon. It’s not really a matter of not being able to bathe or change clothes. If someone can afford an air ticket they can buy soap, it’s just habit. You don’t smell yourself, or your clothes.
In any event, I hoped very strongly he would not be seated near me. What would I do on a 90-minute flight? I was thankful to find he was not.
They served a full meal on the flight, which African airlines always do when they can. It’s not to be taken for granted here that everyone has been able to eat before flying.
On arrival in Douala, we ran another gauntlet. In the jet bridge we had to show our boarding passes to prove this was our destination. Then we had to fill out a health form, so we could be found in case of a COVID outbreak. Then it had to be verified, copied and stamped. Then we had to take a COVID test. Then we had a long walk to another health desk where we had to show our yellow fever card. Then we walked to immigration where we filled out an arrival card. Then we moved to the desk where our visas were checked, we were photographed and had our fingerprints taken electronically. Then passports in hand, we moved to baggage claim. Our suitcases were already there, the previous processes had taken so much time.
We had to put our luggage though a scanner. The agents asked me if I was an optometrist with all those eye glasses. I explained. She waved me on. There was a man from the Akwa Palace hotel where I reserved a room, holding up a sign. He took us to the shuttle, where we waited for one more passenger. Then we made the drive into the city. The Akwa Palace opened in 1959 and it’s right in the center of Douala, so the scenes one sees from it are very striking: death-defying traffic, the hawkers, the beggars, the money changers, the coffee carts, the street sweepers, it’s amazing.
But this is Sunday, so the movement is a low ebb. As soon as we arrived in our room, I walked down to the street and attracted the attention of a money changer. This is the best place I know of in Douala to get a good rate. The young man asks how much I have to change and in what form. I tell him the amount in new 100-dollar bills (the favorite denomination in sub-Saharan Africa). I ask his rate. He said 635 francs to the dollar. I counter offer 650 and he agrees. The official rate is 600. He tells me to wait in the lobby; he will bring the cash. I find an inconspicuous corner and wait until he returns. I show him the amount on my phone, he agreed, and handed over the stacks of ten bills, then stacked into larger swaths held by rubber bands. Methodically I count each bill. The boss is sitting close by, watching the transaction. He has plausible deniability.
When the count is good, I hand over the Benjamins. He counts them. It takes much less time. He asks me if I am military, I say no. He asks if I want his phone number. Again, I say no, I won’t change any more money during this trip. He leaves and I go back to my room. An hour later Christian and Severin arrive. We are going to look at a hotel that we might use for the start of the holy days. Christian stops a small yellow taxi driving by, and negotiates a price. We embark and make our way east. Since its Sunday, traffic is light. During the week, movement would be much slower. We drive out to a place called Carrefour, on the road leading to Yaoundé.
We stop at the Goshen Ra Hotel where Christian has negotiated good prices for rooms and meals, and for a meeting room we can use for the Passover and the holy day service. We look at three rooms, they are very nice. The restaurant looks good and so does the conference room, so I agree to the proposal. I’m prepared to give a down-payment, but the owner is not in because it is Sunday. So I will pay on Tuesday.
Christian tells the driver to drive back by way of Ndokoti, a famously chaotic intersection usually crowded with bouncing, bellowing, belching, traffic. It’s Sunday night, so things are a little less frenetic than usual, but still colorful. This brings back many memories. I first made my way through this place nearly 30 years ago.
Finally, at the hotel, I invite the men for a cold beverage in the garden behind the hotel. We talk about world events and the situation in Cameroon. They ask if they should come get me before we meet on Tuesday. I tell them I can find my way, no need to make the extra trip. We say goodbye and they depart.
Marjolaine and I have dinner in the hotel restaurant. It’s quite good, but we’ve decided to change hotels. The swimming pool is being repaired and is empty. It makes a huge different for Marjolaine’s health to be able to swim each day, so I try to include that in my hotel searches. We’ll go to my usual hotel in Douala, the Ibis, which has a medium size pool.