Clean Water

A watertank under construction

Day 1: Arriving in Cameroon

Arriving at Yaounde airport, the first things I noticed were the sounds and smells of a tropical night. Even at the airport, the noise of cicadas was audible, from just outside the reach of the building's lights. As soon as we were out of the arrivals hall people approached us offering taxis rides or money changing. Avoiding these, we were met by Emanuelle who had arrived to pick us up. After a short journey towards the centre of Yaounde we reached the Hotel Prestige at about midnight. We asked about buses, and Emanuelle said we ought to be at the bus station by 6 to be sure of getting tickets. This didn’t leave us much time for sleep after a long flight! I set up my mosquito net, filled up and chlorinated my water bottles (the water in Yaounde has a reputation for being horrid) and went to bed.

The next morning, we left on the dot at 5.50 for the bus station. It was only a 10 minute car journey, but we drove past the National Assembly (essentially the equivalent of the houses of parliament) and one of the president’s compounds. I was surprised that the streets around these two seemed just as dirty as everywhere else.

At the bus station there were already lots of people milling around waiting to buy tickets, and we joined the throng. Roadside stalls and street vendors started working from about 7, but the ticket office didn’t open until nearer 8. We could have had another hour’s sleep, and breakfast! When it did open, we had our introduction to Cameroonian bureaucracy: it takes a good few minutes to buy a bus ticket, you need your passport or some form of ID, and the tickets are written out in triplicate! Eventually, we bought our tickets and were under way on the bus.

The sides of Cameroonian roads are littered with all kinds of rubbish, from plastic bags to rotting food. Buses must make a significant contribution to the mess: even before we’d started moving, people began eating and throwing their rubbish out of the bus windows, without regard for the location, or the type of rubbish.

We’d hardly been travelling for 10 minutes when we came across our first roadblock. These are ubiquitous throughout Cameroon, and are set up by local police, gendarmes or affiliated groups for the purpose of extortion. These were already a common sight to us by the time the bus stopped at a market town called Makenene for a break, perhaps two hours into the journey.

Finally, we reached Bamenda, capital of the North West region. It was raining and we were two hours late, so we’d missed the bus to Kumbo, our destination. Instead, we took and ‘Africa taxi’ for the 3 hour journey. For those not familiar with an Africa taxi, the concept is simple: take one car, add as many people as want to travel (usually at least 7). We left Bamenda with a load of 7; by the time we’d reached Kumbo, we’d picked up another three!

We arrived at the Life Assured Programme centre at about 9pm. This is a health centre run by a baptist mission in Kumbo, which has rooms for their workers which are also available for public stays if they’re not otherwise in use. It’s nothing special, but it seemed a veritable oasis after our journey!

Day 2

© Aidan Reilly 2013