Hitchhiking in Cameroon

I sent a text message to Mollie the other day on my way back from visiting our post in Nkongsamba. It received a lot of laughter and comments by our fellow stagiars in Bafia who were just preparing to depart for their own site visits.

The message was simply informing Mollie that the local transit station I was at had ran out of buses for the day and I would instead have to hitch hike on to Bafoussam.

Now you might be thinking hitch hiking in Cameroon sounds a little dangerous; and you would be right. But in reality it’s not anymore dangerous than if I had caught a bus from the transit station.

You see, here the ‘buses’ aren’t really busses at all, but instead hollowed out vans that the driver try to pack as many people as possible into while driving between point A and B. The only advantage of catching a bus at the station is that it will be ‘express’ meaning that it won’t be stopping to pickup and drop off other hitchhikers the whole way.

You see most people here live outside of the larger cities and have no access to convenient forms of transportation. So if they want to travel into a larger city the only option is to walk out to one of the few major roads that are actually paved and flag down a car. The cars moving between the cities here are happy to cram in as many of these people as possible as the more passengers you have the more money you can make on the trip.

Which brings me to my next point. Travel in Cameroon is awful! As if settling into a hollowed out van without any suspension with 20 other Cameroonians for several hours on the terrible roads here wasn’t bad enough it is compounded by the fact that we are stopping to drop off and pick up new passengers every 10-15 mins. This can easily turn what should be a short 2 hour trip into a 5 hour ordeal.

It is not however without it’s comedy and it is these little things that help keep you sane when you are stuck between a car sick kid and an oversized mama who seems to buy something to ear off of the head of every child that knocks on her window.

At one point I counted 24 people (27 if you count the babies being passed around) packed inside our van that is at best made to accommodate 15. Being as large as I am I’m lucky enough to never have to be the 5th one to cram into the drivers seat. A position that is lovingly referred to here as ‘petit chofer’. I have also been fortunate enough to never be given a baby to hold for a portion of the journey.

Between the many amusing things you see along the road side here, such has children holding up “bush meat” or dead rats for sale. Along with the complete absurdity of the overall transportation system here you can not help but laugh. In fact it is about the only thing you can do because if you can’t laugh about it you probably won’t be able to make it long here.

That said I just want to assure everyone reading at home that I had a fantastic time out in Nkongsamba. I am very excited at the potential for our next two years here and am Mollie has told me she is feeling the same this week there. While it was a bummer we couldn’t go together for our visit it may turn out to be a benefit as we get two weeks rather than just one to get things done at site which is important when you take into account how long it seems to take to do even the simplest tasks here. For instance opening a bank account something that might take all of 30 mins back home is a full 2 day process here.

We will follow up shortly with a full report of our new house as well as pictures of the city once Mollie returns to Bafia.



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