This is how Africa churns one's soul......I got angry with 'it' today!

"Into Africa" More than a Motorcycle Adventure
Howard Fairbank
Tue 25 Mar 2014 10:44

05:48.50N 008:51.28E




23rd March 2014.


I think it all started building with dinner last night:  The hotel I stayed in was well above the normal ‘African’ standard I have been often forced to stay at, Bafousam is a big town, and I had choice. The hotel was newly constructed, and looked quite upmarket from both the outside, and the inside, with tastefully tiled, and furnished restaurant and bar area next to the reception, and then the twenty rooms upstairs.


All the lights were off downstairs, the curtains all closed, and the only light came in through a few un-curtained, glass doors, that also had tinted glass! This dark, cutting out nature,  style seems to be a cultural, and /or aspirational look and feel, in many of the places I have been.  The TV was blaring in the reception area, with one of the staff, I’d soon find out, was a waitress, lying on the couch watching some mindless, western franchise, programme. I asked if the restaurant was open and she pointed to go through, and then yelled, at the top of her voice, something towards the bar. There was nobody else in the place.


A few dim lights flickers on in a corner of the restaurant, and I took a table right under one of them. A timid looking waitress appeared, with a menu and asking me what I’d like to drink? This looked promising


Not having had a glass of wine for weeks, I saw wine by the glass on the drinks list, and so asked for a glass of red. Well, I could have been asking for a bottle of Sahara desert oasis water, as the waitresses looked at me with a blank look. I tried some more, and eventually she yelled for her friend to come and help her with this man from mars! It turned out they had no red wine, so I asked for white wine. Nope none of that either. I said I’d then go for a cold beer, and they asked me which brand I’d like? I asked them if they had “cold’ beers, and they nodded, but with the level of confidence I have begun to understand as ‘worrying’, and that usually follows with my disappointment.  Trying to help me and them minimise the trauma of the disappointment, I made it very clear that ‘coldness’ was more important than brand, and that they should chose on that priority.  The timid one left to work on the challenge. The other one, who was quite attractive, and had a waitress charm that indicated she may understand the basics of customer service, waited asking me what I wanted to eat? Well it seemed that there was quite a lot of choice, until I started choosing..!  I pointed to a starter that seemed simple yet fairly enticing, but no they didn’t have that. “OK, a tuna and avocado salad.” She looked at me as though I was reading from a different restaurant’s menu. I pointed to the dish, and she took her pen and tapped it at each of the words of the dish, then biting on the end of her pen. I asked her if there was a problem with that order, and she did the pen tap move again, and then slowly wrote it down, and said that was OK.  Hmmm, warning bells! 


My beer arrived, and I could see from ‘its look’, that it wasn’t cold! I felt it and it was barely a degree below room temperature, so technically ‘cold’, but they both knew there was a huge expectation gap disappointment. The more confident waitress dealing with my food order, took ownership. She said they could go and put the beer in the freezer for a while, if I was OK with that?  No choice really, this is what Africa is about no choice, and how many live their lives! The timid one was instructed to go away and put the beer in the freezer, and ‘we’ continued with the food order.


Time for main course choice. It finally turned out from all the dishes, and their fancy names, there was only “fish”, “chicken” or “beef”, done one way…! With that I could have chips, rice or vegetables. Ok, I’ll have that, chicken rice and vegetable, and for now, it was now waiting, and managing expectations time.


I got on with my ‘writing’, and was quite pleased on how I’d taken all this, comparatively in my stride, and was now moving into a more reflective state. I wasn’t in a hurry, waiting the 30 minutes was almost a forced, reflective luxury.


First up was the starter, and from afar it looked pretty amazing, nicely presented. On closer inspection the tuna turned out to be tinned sardines, but I could easily deal with that, without protest.


I asked for my beer, and that soon came with a better than expected, increased coldness, for the short time it had been away. With the beer came some sliced up baguette, and things were turning around!


By now the timid waitress had been moved out of the firing line, and I was only thankfully only dealing with someone who could seemingly rise to a challenge. In trying to encourage the improvement journey, I complimented her on the starter, as she took the plate away. The main arrived, and I could see this was not chicken with rice, but rice with a chicken source…..! There were no vegetables, but I just wanted peace now, so thanked her, to enable her to move off, so I could get back into my, multi-tasking, writing and dining world! I was now alone in the dimness of the restaurant, just the background noise of the TV breaking the solitary silence.


Probing the three, butchered, chicken pieces, I felt mainly bone and cartilage, and concluded that yet again, it was a randomly chopped up foul, and I’d somehow ended up with knuckles and joints, scant on flesh and sustenance. The source was tasty, and well, yeah the rice was rice, and so it was a virtual vegetarian dish! As usual, there was enough of ‘it’ around, that if I finished ‘it’ all my stomach’s volumetric capacity was utilised, my basic dietary needs would be satisfied, but my ‘culinary delight’, needs were still seriously deprived. It was just about switching the mind to adventure food, sustenance mode, expectations. and I’d move to being a totally satisfied boy! 


I was long finished my main course, when the kitchen door opened and my waitress arrived with a plate of vegetables in her hand. Well, I couldn’t believe it, and she couldn’t believe I was not ecstatic? I told her it was too late, and I didn’t want it now. She returned to the kitchen, probably totally confused, at what she had done wrong? So often on this expedition I see that the concept of an eating ‘experience’ seems so foreign, that I have to remind myself that eating in its most basic form is a pure functional activity. What’s IS all the fuss, how, when, and where you get the food, the important thing is that you get it! 


Next up I thought would be desert, as the menu suggested a few offerings, but on asking to see the menu again, she told me they had no deserts to offer. Oh well, that would have only been an ‘eating experience’ item, and my functional needs were satisfied, so no big deal.


The bill came, included the vegetables, and I only pointed this out to try and get her to put 2 and 2 together, and then I had to deal with the daily debate on tipping. Guilt and altruism voted strongly for a tip, but the more courageous path of trying to teach of the harsh realities of value add, self-sufficiency and how it connects to personal survival, won.


I have been through this routine so many times on this Africa expedition, and depending on where I am in my headspace, I just accept, that this IS Africa and embrace the experience. Other times, like last night, I was demanding of what ‘the brochure’ marketed, and  but sometimes my frame of mind and expectation, because of my tough day, or whatever, makes it difficult to deal with this lack of brochure delivery! There is all the altruistic stuff, that then kicks in: Maybe I’m seeing ‘the brochure’ from my cultural perspective, and totally over the top in expectations? I ask myself what the providers of the service see the brochure promising from their perspective? Often I don’t think they have even though about it the fact that there is a ‘brochure’.


Anyway, after paying the bill, I went to bed, and this set the stage for a cracker of a day today!


It was Sunday, and I stayed until checkout time, finishing my previous blog posts. They were ready to send, so I went down stairs to use the internet that had been working the night before, and no it’s not working. The TV is still blaring, the staff all standing outside, chatting and laughing loudly, with not a worry in the world. Life is about living in the now, and not wanting to be in the future, or to even contemplate what a better future could be like? It’s well known, if you don’t expect, you’ll never be disappointed. Well I was expecting the internet and I was disappointed! OK, this is a story of everyday, and I’ll have to wait until the next time to send the posts.


I was soon on the road, riding through the town, and my African disillusionment journey continued, today I just noticed the bad things: Once one gets into that frame of mind in Africa, it isn’t about a critical eye, or searching for the rare bad things. It is about needing a very efficient filter to avoid disillusionment overload. Everywhere I looked I just same, broken down, tardy infrastructure, organised chaos, lack of discipline, dirt and destruction. This is the stuff that African travel guides often glamorise as being the uniquely, ‘African experience’, needed to be experienced to be appreciated….! Well here I was today, doing exactly that!


Even though it was Sunday, the road was busy, and every road user seemed to be in a hurry, trying to beat the other for the minutest gaps, but where were they all going, and for what purpose? There couldn’t be some grand longer term, ‘anthill’ building scheme that was in mind: There was no evidence of the solid anthill foundations, nor of a communal vision or purpose, of a scale and time fame needed for the construction a proud, legacy anthill.


There was no doubt that the community was living in the moment of ‘the today’, dealing with all its harsh realities, in a seemingly joyful and content, communal way. In many ways that made me feel vulnerable, as I wondered at the worry free mind of living without care for the future, or the dilemma of choice. But as I reflected, I knew, that a life exclusively lived in the now, is directionless and devoid of one taking up the gift, and our unconditional responsibility for a journey of personal betterment. A individual gift, beyond generic human instinct, that differentiates us human from our planet’s other living inhabitants.


Once out of the town, the road climbed to 1900m, but around me was a thick and almost dirty, smog that screened the beauty of nature’s, clearly, once magnificent, landscape. Was it pollution or was it nature’s, natural, mountain fog, curtain? I couldn’t be totally sure, but in my African disillusionment mode I chose it to be smog, blaming the human inhabitants for the total annihilation of Nature.


The road, although tar, was in places in very bad condition, and on coming up to the next large town, Batcham, it was reduced to a shared single dust road, full of craters, with impatient, instant gratification, motorcyclists, getting their kicks for the day, by taking gaps and short cuts that brought stress to all other road users. Being midday the air was hot and sticky, and the dust seemed eager to rise up and enrich the stifling recipe. It was helmet visor, full down, and mere hope for section of road where Nature had a fairer deal in the tragic competition.


Well the road started it’s long gentle decline from the mountains, and Nature’s was able to show me her grandeur. The pollution cleared and the forests appeared in their awesome beauty again. This respite, only served to increase my level of anger at how bad ‘we humans’ have converted pristine wilderness into visionless, overpopulated, cesspools. The change of scenery respite, didn’t last long, as I was soon coming off the escarpment down a steep windy pass into the next, embarrassing, human legacy of Bamenda. One reads about the rapid rate of urbanisation, and how by 2050, more than 80% of the, by then, frighteningly huge, world population, will be living in urban environments. In Africa I can see this shift happening, and the results are these visionless anthills attracting people from the rural areas.


By now I was in quite a state, looking for how to blame for all this, and asking myself what the hell I am doing about it, or how come I am so holier than though? This is where the real rubber hits the road on a trip like this: It makes one look within, and question very deep things, about oneself, one’s responsibility to others, the world, and who the world belongs to, and what patch is one’s own patch, where nobody can mess with it…?  Who can tell how, what’s good and what’s bad? I f people are happy with their cesspool, why should we care? If people choose living in the contentment of the now, versus struggling and striving for a future of betterment, who are we to judge? Should some of ‘us’ taking it on ourselves to try and change others, so hep them see a ‘our’ betterment that they are blind to today?  The answers aren’t easy, but today, like a few other days I have had on this long expedition, I felt that this Africa was also ‘my world’, and I feel some earth belonging, and responsibility for how it progresses. I felt angry that I had woken up to late, that so much of this continent is already damaged beyond repair, and the people around me don’t even see it nor do they care. The sense of pride in delivering that special ‘dining experience’, making sure the tuna IS tuna, beers ARE cold, the vegetables do come WITH the main course. Years ago, this all could have been blamed on ‘poor Africa’ and a lack of resources, but most of what I am talking about here is not about a lack of money or other resources it’s about a mind-set. A mind-set of just living in the freedom of the now, with no commitment and dedication to some future, personal aspirational goal. The feel good of being immersed in a similar thinking, socially supportive, now-living community, seems to make the suffering and struggle of attaining more worthy personal height achievements a masochistic, path away from the simple, content life.


This ‘rant’ above, is not just about Cameroon, where I am, but rather a more pervasive perspective, however the vision-less leadership of the Cameroon, could quite well have something to do with the precipitation of thoughts today.


Some 15 kilometres out of the chaos of Bamenda I was on the new road to Mamfe, completed by the Chinese just last year. The road is virtually the only human intrusion into the great forest that is the home for the remaining Cross river Gorillas. I was in one of Nature’s legacy areas, pristine beauty, and my imagination ran wild, thinking about what this area was like before man ‘got involved’, but also what it must be like deep within the forest, even today. There must no doubt be reasonable populations of all the exotic Cameroon primate wildlife, where no humans have been. I felt quite deprived that I was here, but I wasn’t quite here, in that to really access Nature’s offering would require more than the short term gratification, superficial experience I had signed up for.


I arrived in Mamfe, a much more positive boy, and knew that my anger excursion was a very necessary and freeing journey, that being out here alone facilitates. I was expecting more at Mamfe, but realising that a huge forest barrier, separated Mamfe from the rest of Cameroon, made me realise I was at quite an isolated town. The Chinese road had made my journey simple, and I reflected on the stories I had read about the old road, and how many days the trip toady would have taken me. My plan was to get to Ekok, the border town, some 65 kilometres from here, and based on discussions I had had days earlier, I assumed that the Chines road went the whole way there?


Well it started off with a new tar road, that deteriorated, until after about 15 kilometres I was riding on tough construction roads, that paralleled the new, ‘work in progress’, road. Lots of dust, and some very rugged sections, but after about 2 hours, I finally arrived at the iconic, last outpost, border town. Lots of character, and surprisingly busy with trucks, after checking out the two or three options, that weren’t really options, I soon found ‘my hotel’ for the night.


It was simple, and the welcome I got from the landlord and landlady was all I needed to enable me to proudly call the place home for the night! A few beers, and I was soon fast asleep…


Nigeria tomorrow, and I wasn’t sure how I was feeling about that….? There was definitely excitement, but also some apprehension about how hostile and unsafe it maybe. I’ll soon be immersed in it, and be able to have experiential perspectives.


Sorry no photos today….. Not sure why, but the camera didn’t come out that often! Maybe the lack of inspiration, or maybe the fear of a police intervention?

PS:   Every day I get firmer and firmer on the belief that altruism and sympathy is the enemy of Africa. The people are mostly not behaving as though they desperately want personal betterment, life is almost too easy and good. It as if they think there is some simple model to success, that is free of the need for hard work, dedication and commitment……