Over the weekend I went to stay with Victor Nto Nto and his wife Ndome Julette Ebongue in the port city of Douala. It was a long journey, with Vatican Express, a curiously misnamed company in more than one way. The route is through beautiful country, the road being fine in some places and very poor in others.
Victor and Julette live in very modest circumstances, but they shared with me what little they have. It was a privilege to share their lives, albeit briefly. They have very few possessions, no computer, no car, no hot water for washing themselves and no luxuries except a black-and-white television. Victor earns the tiny salary of a schoolteacher, and Julette is unemployed, in a society where there is no social security system. Ah, the next time I hear teachers in Wales complain about anything, I’ll get very cross. I made a brief visit to the school where Victor teaches. The classrooms have no windows and a bare uneven clay floor. The pupils sit on long wooden benches. The only audio-visual method is chalk and talk.
I was able to hear some fine live music in Douala. I’m collecting languages like mad, and at one cabaret the songs were sung in Douala and Erewondo.
Worrying that I might fall prey to sundry ne’er-do-wells, Victor put me in the care of a soldier riding shotgun on the return journey, in the way that you might put a small child in the care of a guard on a train. This soldier took his duties very seriously shadowing me and enquiring how I was from time to time. He felt his country’s reputation was at stake. This big man even bought me a beer. On this very long weary 7½ hour trip from Duala to Bamenda, at a refuelling stop, I ate grilled goat’s meat, served in a piece of old newspaper. Very tasty, until I went round to the back of the stall, where the goat’s head and feet were laid. The head seemed to reproach me.
Today I went to meet the mayor of the nearby town of Santa. That reminds me of some other strange place names. On the road between Yaoundé and Bamenda is a village called Tonga. There’s also a place called Bali. And don’t mention Menchum.
The pictures here (from the top) are of:
1. My bodyguard on the bus. You wouldn't argue with him!
2. Victor's sister washing clothes in cold water in their courtyard. Her smile says it all.
3. View of Victor's school and a classroom
4. Lizard in Douala
5. Boatmen ferrying dredged sand on the river at Douala