Cameroon, Africa..Going Back To My Roots

I’m 50 percent Cameroonian.  My father was born in small village three hours from the capitol, Yaounde.  I never knew to much about my Cameroonian heritage and met very few of my relatives.  My sister and brother went to Cameroon in 1997. Being young I couldn’t go and I always felt like I missed out.  I heard crazy stories like my brother losing his virginity to a prostitute or eating snakes and various beast of the African wild.  I was intrigued and with the baptism of my cousin’s son coming up, I finally had a reason to go. I had no expectations,and an open mind.

I flew to Sub Saharan Africa from Paris making a layover stop in Casablanca. Almost everyone in the airport was Black, it was like an Atlanta Greyhound station. The food on the plane to Cameroon was lemon chicken and peas with lots of turmeric. The lady next to me was so massive that she lifted the arm rest between us and her excess spillage was seeping over to my side and was pressing and conforming to my body like a shard of warm cheese. After landing in Yaounde, a man in a track suit picked me up.  He presented me with a photo of myself…. This one.

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He drove me to my aunt’s house. It was a cozy home with exotically carved elephant tusks adorning the living room. Her husband is the minister of all the gendarme in Cameroon. Gendarme is military police. I slept all day in a bed with mosquito netting. I had bouts of lethargy and deep surreal dreams. The house is filled with servants. There are even four 24 hour gendarmes that guard the house and it’s 7 foot perimeter wall, feels like a compound. At the house there was this vivacious three year old kid who kept climbing on me. I showed him pictures of camels in Egypt and he said “Je croix ca”. Cameroonian hospitality is more than I could ever expect. I moved from my aunt’s to my cousin’s house on the other side of Yaounde. He digs for gold with an excavator. His partner showed me photos. It’s a pretty intensive process where you have to dig deep to reach the mineral rich layer.

Driving through Yaounde is nuts, no stop signs or traffic lights. Horrible roads with fruit vendors everywhere. They sell papayas,oranges, pineapple and these delicious kass mangos that taste sweet and sour. People carry bundles adroitly on there heads as they seamlessly multitask. It’s dusty, bustling, organized chaos. They don’t have refrigerators in most places so in the main street the butcher slaughters pigs right on the spot. They sell hunks of meat sloppily measured on a blood splattered scale. All this on a dirty wooden table. The meat stagnates with viscous blood oozing from its flesh. The dust being kicked up from cars and settling like snow added to the image seared in my brain.

At my cousin’s apartment I met my guide/translator for the week. He looked like Flo Rider had sunglasses on, a tight polo with a popped collar, a paunch belly and lots of machismo. I tried in vain to like him. He had the habit of saying the same thing three times in a row. “You know that’s your uncle? You know that’s your uncle right? You know that’s your fathers brother?”.

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That day I met my uncle for the first time he’s 20 years younger than my father and a entire foot shorter than me. He coaches soccer and used to be a division one soccer player and loves to drink Guinness. We went to a barbecue spot. It smelled delicious, up close it looked like unidentified meat shrapnel. They served us what was in fact a steaming pile of barbecue cow intestines. You eat it with a brown sugar, a liter of cola, and a tooth pick among buzzing flies and candor. Tasted like delicious oysters.

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That night my uncle, the translator, a gendarme and I drove to a small village outside the Pygmy border. We ate a feast that the captain of the gendarme prepared for us. He was friendly and had the appearance of a wet seal in a bulls jersey. He served us barbecue grubs that were chewy on the outside and crunchy on the inside. He served us fish, antelope, and armadillo. He showed me some dead animals the village kids trapped and sold to him. A dead monkey with contorted expression on his little face and a viper.

That night we partied at a local club. We had a table loaded with beer,whiskey, and Johnny Walker. The gendarme followed me every time I took a piss which made me a bit uncomfortable. Some dude came up to me asking if I was “La Fouine” a French rapper. The gendarme was super chill he had the demeanor of Shaft with a black uniform (equivalent to army special forces), a pistol in his belt, and red beret. People were just staring at us. This 4 foot drunk Pygmy girl was shamelessly flirting with me giving me unrelenting doggy bowl dinner eyes. I’m amazed at how much Cameroonian’s drink. Beer doesn’t come in 12 oz cans but 22 oz bottles. There are no shopping malls or movie theaters in the country. All there is to do is drink, especially in the villages. They do have Raw Cocoa where chocolate comes from, its delicious.

We partied and danced to African music and it was cool hanging out with my uncle for the first time he really did remind me of my father in his mannerism. I went to sleep early and the following day we went to the Pygmy village. Pygmies are indigenous Africans that live in thatch and mud houses with reed roofs. They subsist on bushmeat in the jungle. Since people donate them clothes, they have the most bizarre ensembles. Tuxedo shoes and sweatpants is no exaggeration, the “mayor” of the village had on swishy track suit pants, a tweed jacket, and a yellow Lacoste shirt  faded and dirty. He was gentile and offered us beer and Palm wine. Palm wine looks like watery milk and taste vaguely of sugar cane. Our gendarme consumed two litters of it. I watched his rigid manner became droopy and he had a far away look into his eye.

I wondered off into the village on my own and became surrounded by teenaged Pygmies. I ask them in my broken French about what they like to hunt. They said they hunt everything, monkeys, gorillas,antelope, tigers, snakes, lions and elephants, their jungle is vast and rich, the second biggest in the world next to the Amazon. It was secluded. The only thing coming in or out were 18 wheelers loaded with trees with massive trunks every hour… Deforestation at its worst. They liked watching my expression as they explained the rules of engaging man eating anacondas and what do to when you encounter and angry Gorilla, which is never turn your back or they will chase you and kill you. Just raise your hands look at them and slowly step back. They even lead me to this canvas bag they had full of bizarre dead animals they captured that morning, all of which were exotic: a baby tiger and dead monkey (they insisted I held), A porcupine, a fawn and a type of armadillo. They described them all as very good meat. I was a horrified and that amused them.

We returned to Yaounde and I went to a cabaret club with my cousin. We drank Jack Daniels and a bottle of Gold Label. We sat with my cousin’s friend who looked vaguely like Celo Green. He was sagacious and matter of fact. He used to live in the USA and is now part of a company that sets the oil prices in Cameroon. We talked about corruption in Cameroon and how it’s the second worst in the world. I heard some crazy stories about it. The gendarme with us started showing me videos of the Boko Harem sawing off heads of Cameroonians with a machete as if they preparing a chicken. It was the the single most disturbing thing I’ve seen.

The next day we took a four day sojourn to rural Cameroon to meet my other aunts and uncles. On the first day we met my father’s older sister. We stayed there for the night and I met my little cousins who were curious and clamoring as we looked through old photo albums. There I took an African shower. I went to an outhouse with a bucket of hot water got naked and squatted down over a shit hole and washed myself. It was interesting but it sucked. I gave each of the kids 5,000 francs then we left to meet one of my younger uncles. His house was made out of thatch and had dirt floors. I gave him my Colombia jacket and a pair of sneakers. He was very friendly after we drank palm wine or chapalo as they call it. You know it’s good when there are a bunch of dead ants floating at the top.

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That night we arrived at my other uncles house Roger, it’s where my paternal grandmother lived. I never met her and she died in 2005. The first thing he said to me was “your father is rich and we are poor” then he asked for 50,000 francs. he had a sense of entitlement that shocked me.  Everyone in that village was pandering me for money. I brought clothes, soap, and matches that they needed. The kids at that village were awesome. They were the only ones actually curious about me. None of the adults asked me anything about myself, all they did was talk about themselves. One of my cousins was 16 and pregnant. She excitedly asked me if I ever knew Rihanna and that her dream was to move to the USA and sing like Rihanna. She asked what “no flex zone” meant. She sang beautifully and told me she was going to name her baby after me.  After doling out over 70,000 francs, they had the nerve to ask me to buy them alcohol that they had already made. I was done, I went to sleep.

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The next day we went to my fathers village. One albino villager said “ahh the money has arrived”Another dude asked me for my Smart Phone. I saw my grandfather and my great uncles grave, I got my middle from my great uncle Papa Nkoulou, he died at 41 from Tetanus in the 60’s. His wife is still alive and is over a hundred years and looks every day of it.

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That night we feasted and all the villagers came we all got drunk off palm wine and beer. We danced around in a circles while others people banged on drums chanting in Bulu, the local language. They next morning we went deep into the jungle and saw the farm where we harvested some plantains and papayas. The farmer explained that he loved seeing black mamba snakes the most dangerous in the world. He chases it with his machete because he loves the meat.

We returned to the village with our bounty. I chased the pigs around the property and fed the dogs. I called them le pauvre. They had a pathetic look and holes in there ears and flys buzzed about them.  On our way back to Yaounde our gendarme “Byby” got agitated about something pulled out his gun added some rounds in the clip, cocked it and placed it next to him. He drove very fast. I met my fathers younger sister and more cousins. We watched Nigerian dramas dubbed in French and ate plantain dumplings.

A few days later we went to Kribi, Its a on the Coast of the Atlantic Ocean and had incredible black sand beaches.  There we ate Poisson Braisse which was the best grilled fish I had ever eaten.  Africans eat almost the entire fish, not wasting anything, including the eyes.  Watching Africans go fishing was also very unique.  They paddle out in a hollowed out tree and use a trawling method that employeed many people pulling ropes from shore.

We Drove to Bemenda the English speaking part of Cameroon. It took us 8 hours to get there on the worst roads imaginable. Due to the lack of light pollution you could see every star in the sky.  We saw a wild brush fire that scorched a hole in the mountain side. The fact that it was so dark outside made it a sight to behold.  In Bemenda someone on a scooter told me go home white man. I turned around and realize he was talking to me.  Although I had a great time, I was very happy to leave.

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