Okay okay, less than a month late this time! So I recently celebrated my birthday on Friday April 26th and boy was it an adventure. I travelled to Nkongsomba, Littoral to help another PCV-Bridget- move into her new post, since her original post was shut down. She could not arrive until Friday afternoon so I hung out with the other PCV’s until she arrived. I arrived Wednesday afternoon and the other PCV’s and I went to the famous Nkongsomba waterfalls, which were gorgeous. Rumor has it the First Tarzans filming was at the waterfalls.?
Luckily it is the small rainy season and the waters were rushing heavily. There were four chutes and normally in the dry season, you can only see one chute. I heard you could walk down to the bottom of them and being the adventurer that I am, I began to trek down. It was about a 10-minute journey down a very bushy area leading me through mud, rock, thick grass, and not to mention the humidity factor from all the mist of the falls.
Right before you reach the bottom of the falls the grass opens up to beautiful, lush grassland that overlooks the falls. I stopped for a while to catch my breath snap some photos and continue to go and bathe in the pool. Wading in the pool, I could not help but think about Niagara Falls and the “Maid of the Mist”. The falls here were much smaller, but the scenery surpassed that of the Niagara Falls! Not to mention I was in Africa and only paid 2500CFA (5dollars) to visit. This was a great beginning to a birthday week full of celebrations, scenery, and great time with amazing friends.
After the falls we went out for supper, this is where we met up with another group of PCV’s from Bangem, and I found out I would be travelling with them in the morning. Only shocker is that Bangem is Anglopone, since leaving my post I was in a French speaking area. Within a one-hour travel time, I went from speaking my not-so-good French to speaking Special English, which is also “not-so-good English.” Nkongsamba is a lot lower than Bangem, so when I heard I was heading to high elevation I was excited to be in a place where I would not be sweating constantly. Another quick surprise was finding out we would not be staying in Bangem that night, but continue to travel to a remote village that cars and motorcycles cannot pass, so we would really be trekking to this remote village. This is where Joe Cutler, a third year PCV is doing fish studies in Lake Bermin (Bo-me). Yes, it is spelt Bermin but pronounced Bo-me. I am not the one to ask for an explanation!! From Bangem we took an hour Ocada (motorcycle in pidgin) ride down the mountain to where the bush became extremely dense. Here we (Jess, Joe, Brian, Mia and I), were welcomed by many drunk individuals two of which were racing bikes on very slippery mud. One came flying down the hill and hit the back break too hard, the back end fish-tailed, and he went face first into the mud. He popped up noticeably embarrassed, but unhurt and ended up a great laugh for everyone. After this little incident is where we began the trek (hike) 5KM (3.2mi) to our destination. Once again, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous as we passed many bridges and a river to arrive to the first village. Per usual hospitality were the magnificent and amazing people~ how people drop all their night plans just to assist us. After our introductions of all the PCV’s,~ where the kids repeated our names, saying “ME-OW” in the cutest cats voices for Mia, we headed to the nearby stream too bathe.
The stars and moon were out in full force that night and we did not even need any artificial light to help us get to the stream to walk or bathe. Bathing under moonlight, walking 5KM through jungle, and eating the local foods, on some of the most comfortable wooden chairs capped off one of my favorite days in Cameroon. I am sure being in the bush with zero amenities had a great effect on the start of my birthday adventures.
The next morning Joe and his counterpart shared stories, and we took pictures. Good-byes are always so hard and seeing the sadness on the villagers face made it very difficult, even for me, especially since only knowing them for one night. Sometimes I ask myself is it worth the mental drain becoming so close to people knowing them for such a short time knowing it will all will be taken away? The answer is always an astounding YES! The stories, friendships, experiences, and life learning lessons acquired always beat out the emotional stress one receives upon leaving a village.
We all packed up, BUT before leaving the village we stopped by Lake Bermin and went for a dip. The lake is not just out in the open, you have to walk down a pretty steep incline for roughly fifteen minutes where out of nowhere the brush opens up and the absolutely stunning lake appears. We went for a small swim and paddled out on the logs the locals use as canoes. The canoes are just fallen trees that float, but they shove two sticks in a crack down the middle to use as handles.
While swimming we saw many of the species of fish Joe had been studying and at one point two eagles circled above the water looking for a mid-breakfast meal. Unfortunately, the eagles did not dive into the water, but just seeing two eagles looking for food, I cannot complain.
After swimming in the village we had to trek back the 5KM (where the man fell on the motorcycle) and choose a different path to the next village walking roughly 3KM more to the next village, Ebasse-Bajo.
In this village, Joe and Jessica are constructing a water project to bring fresh clean water down to the villagers from the nearby mountain. When we arrived the Chief welcomed us and we all sat and relaxed after the mid-afternoon trek under the beating sun. Chief Sammy was very hospitable, as all Cameroonians seem to be, and offered us two of his rooms in the palace to stay that evening. When his daughter, Martina, arrived from the farm she was very surprised to see us there “so early.” I guess Chief Sammy told her we would be arriving on the 28th not the 25th. This stressed her out immensely and she apologized for not having anything prepared for us to eat or anyone to welcome us on our arrival to the village. She immediately left us as she had to go inform the nearby villages about the date change and found a chicken for us to eat that night. Martina might be one of the loveliest women I have had a chance to meet. Everything from the stories Joe told about Martina were so true! The hospitality she showed us after working 12 hours of hard labor in the farm making sure all our needs and “demands” were met. After the greeting from Martina and Jessica’s counterpart plus a nice relaxing refreshment, we headed to the nearby stream to bathe.
There is nothing more fulfilling than bathing in a freshwater stream and looking at God’s creation all around. One farmer harvesting cocoa gave us a few so while waiting for the Cameroon’s to leave site we munched on cocoa and took in the beauty around us. It is amazing how many different shades of green and different patterns nature exhibits. Everywhere I go I am continually blown away at the beauty and stunning landscape Cameroon has to offer.
After the bathe, I was extremely exhausted and took what I wanted to be an hour nap, but after 1.5 hours Joe came and woke me and said the fete was about to begin. When I arrived out in the parlor, it was crowded with many villagers crammed inside due to the heavy rains that had begun. Under the rains the roar of the generator powered the lights in the parlor and Martina brought out the delicious rice and chicken she prepared for us. I must give kudos to Mia for bravely killing the meal with a very dull machete. After dinner Chief Sammy and the elders made statements about Joe and the progress the village has shown the previous three years and then Joe was given the Chiefs blessing.
By now the rain has slowed to a sprinkle and still under the power of a generator the dancing and singing began. Opposed to “us” in the Northwest where we dance with a stagnant upper body, shake our booty, and move our legs. The South Westerners bend at the waist and furiously shake their shoulders and arms up and down. Both dances are pretty impressive, but the South’s is very comical, at least to this American! We danced until my birthday came around and danced and drank some more. Around 1 A.M., we all decided to hit the hay, but when I entered from “easy-ing” myself up to go to bed, Martina was up cleaning the bottles and arranging the furniture back into order. Of course I could not let her do it alone so I joined and we began conversation. Sitting one on one listening to her tell her life story from trials and triumphs was definitely the highlight of my birthday. We chatted for a couple of hours until it I had to call it a night.
Whenever I know I am travelling the next day I can never sleep so I awoke at 6 and went outside to read. Martina was already in the kitchen washing the previous nights dishes and making breakfast of all of us. As usual I should never be surprised at the strength of the women here, but she told me she averages 4-5 hours of sleep a night so only having two will not be too much of a burden. She did mention a siesta was in store in the afternoon. J After everyone was awake and had breakfast I was going back to Nkongsomba with Jessica’s counterpart, Martin, but we only made it 15 minutes on the motorcycle before it broke down. Of course, I was not too please, but what can one do when they are on the bottom of a giant hill, no phone service, and still 10KM from the closest town with a new bike?? Instead of getting upset, I looked at it in a positive that I needed to burn some of the calories off that I most likely would consume in alcohol and that I had not exercised in a few days. So, Martin and I began trekking and about ¾ up and an hour into walking we got some cell service and called an Ocada man to come pick us up. We continued walking another 20 minutes until we met him; dripping in sweat I happily climbed the bike to continue to Bangem. When we arrived in Bangem, I had a nice cold Brewski waiting me, and from there the rest of my travels were met with good fortune.
A lady was going straight to Nkongsomba, we partnered up and instead of having to take public transportation and paying some FCFA; she had a friend waiting and when we arrived at the next stop, she had a private car and it took me all the way to my stop for half the price!
Reaching Nkongsomba, I was filthy and sweaty and immediately went to shower thanks to the kind hospitality the Nkongsomba cluster shows. After showering, those I left a few days before, I again met up with, and we went to the bar to begin birthday celebrations (again). I wanted a chill night and other than the rowdy crowd for the first hour, the five of us just sat and chatted while I retold the stories of the past couple days. Around 5PM Bridget arrived to her new home, although she still did not have a house, for her yet, the 5 of us picked her up from the bus station and dropped her stuff of at the main house. We went back to the bar for some “chop” (dinner) where I received a call from my mom and grandma on my real birth- day! After talking to my mom and grandma, the now six of us headed to Katie’s house to stay the night. I was worn out and was ready for a good night’s rest but then out of nowhere Katie came out with a cupcake and began singing happy birthday. This took me completely off guard, was a great surprise, and made my birthday come full circle.
Being away from home, I did not know what to expect from my birthday, however, thanks to the Nkongsomba cluster, my birthday was a great couple of days. I did become a little homesick, but the hospitality and love I received from both Cameroonians and Americans in Africa shows how great humankind can be towards others. If only everyone tried to reach out and help others, the world be a peaceful place.
After this trip, I challenged myself to try to be as welcoming to villagers entering my home as the two Cameroonian households and the two American PCV’s were to me on my birthday. So next time there is a guest at your door, I challenge you to greet him/her with open arms and a glass of nice cold water.
I wrote this on Memorial Day and I want to thank all our military men and women, active and inactive, fallen and wounded for their service to keep our country safe. They have allowed and given me amazing opportunities, I will take full advantage of the freedoms their sacrifices have given and the best 23 years a man could ask for. Until I post again~ be well and enjoy the beauty and people around you!