My Pan-African Odyssey

5 May

By NWANATIFU NWACO

After passing through stringent security scrutiny with the migration officials at Arlanda Airport, Stockholm-Sweden, who could not understand why I had elected to cancel my residence permit application for Sweden. I finally went airborne with the memories of the time and beloved friends I had made and was now leaving behind in Sweden, probably to see them no more or whenever opportunity and destiny crisscrossed our paths again. The first rays of light glittered upon a gallant landscape of the Abyssinian highlands, as we dropped in altitude the first human infrastructure stretched before my eager eyes was the runway of Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa-Ethiopia, the de facto capital of Africa, the birthplace and seat of the African Union. The richness of its history breathed into me a sense of hope and a charismatic feeling of hope, far from the uneasy anxiety that hung over me throughout the second quarter of my sojourn in the Nordic lands. I had finally touched down on African soil and it did not matter if it was on my home soil of Cameroon or not.

Five hours of transit time left me awed with the splendour of the Ethiopian capital. Next airport of call was Aeroporto di Malabo. My flight to Malabo carried with it evidence of a new marriage to which Africa was wedded. There were many more Chinese nationals on the plane than there were Africans. As we flew over the Sudans, Central Africa republic, the northern tip of D.R Congo into Cameroonian airspace, the news flashes of the conflicts in these countries whizzed through my mind like a flash mob. Even at an altitude of 55,000 metres above Cameroon soil, I was gripped with a terrible homesickness which needed a parachute, as we flew pass the visible coasts of Douala, Tiko, Limbe and the super imposing massiveness of Mount Fako stretching into the ocean.

Out of the horizon far into the Atlantic popped out the antique island of Fernando Po, Malabo the capital of Equatorial Guinea. It radiated with the splendour of petroleum money, visible with the newly built porch neighborhoods in red roofs, streets lined up with royal palms and well lit streets. This Spanish speaking country of less than one million people was under intensive infrastructure development and investments. At touch down, I was welcome to the sight of Chinese construction workers doing some work on the airport tarmac. It is here that our Chinese ”development partners” disembarked while others embarked for transit through Cameroon to wherever it is they were heading to next. After two hours of wait in Malabo the next hub of the Ethiopian carrier was announced – Douala! Cheerfulness filled my tired body.

As we took to the air once more, I bid farewell to my CEMAC sister country turning my focus totally towards the thrills awaiting me once I reached the land of my birth. Flying at low altitude, the littoral of Cameroon gave me flash backs of my secondary school geography lessons with swampy mangroves, creeks, deltas and estuaries. It was nearing dusk by now as the last rays of the sun kissed the earth good bye for the morrow, their recession made the city of Douala blink with lights on the ground like stars did in the sky above the plane. At this point I pulled out my headsets and listened to Elvis Kemayo’s patriotic song “O’ Cameroun berceau de mon enfance…” As the air-bird hissed to a halt, the hostess announced that we had reached our destination. I sighed with relief, I was home at last.

Before I left the aircraft, I felt like I was going to kneel and kiss the ground once I set foot on it as the Vatican pontiff did whenever he visited Cameroon, but as I emerged from the plane I was blasted with an atmospheric heat of 35 degrees Celsius, I irritated and sweated instantly. I had already adapted to the cold temperate climate of the Scandinavia so the tropical climate demanded that I re-adapt to the equator, I totally forgot about my kiss the ground fantasy as I scotched in the heat and saw the ground littered with moss, I was not a head of state and could not expect that the ground be swept sparkling clean for my bowed knees and kiss. The first thing I observed was that Douala International Airport was undergoing some refurbishment, the lighting was poor as we walked towards a staircase to enter the security check hall via the back of the airport not through the tube terminal. My first contact with Cameroonians was with a mixture of police officers and customs officers who motioned me wordless towards the staircase from whence I came into a hall way that led into dark hall with long queues of passengers waiting to be cleared for entry.

After I had my passport stamped and personal data logged in, I proceeded towards baggage claim and it was here I felt and knew I was truly in Cameroon. Greeted by the rush and chants of porters and police officers alike. Everybody wanted to grab my bag under the excuse of helping me out for a small. I yelled back at them that I was no diplomat and could take care of myself just fine, this did not dissuade them, as they hanged on to my luggage as I proceeded towards customs checkpoint, unlike in other airports where baggage was scanned without being opened and hand searched, Cameroon customs ransacked my hard to pack bags before passing them through scanners. One handling officer even asked me to present the stump of the name tags on my bags, something that was clearly visible on my air ticket, but he insisted and threatened to impound my cargo, at this point he said I had to pay a fine (bribe) and I was quick to yell him down with defiance as I pushed my bags through towards the exit.

At the exit, I was almost rundown by vagrants who loitered there looking for an opportunity to snatch and runaway with some effects or out rightly begged for dollars and euros. Out of this chaos emerged my patiently waiting elder sister, niece and in-law, who helped me to their waiting car. Welcome Home! They exclaimed! To which I responded with a sense of total confusion. As we drove away from the airport through the chaotic and reckless traffic of Douala, I was gripped with the fear of an imminent accident. I had forgotten this aspect of Cameroon whereby everyone including here bikers, cyclists, drivers and pedestrians had total disregard for all traffic rules and highway regulations.

Gently I began to absorb the sight of Cameroonians going about their daily activities, life seemed faster and busier albeit disorderly here than it was in Europe, this was Cameroon in reality.Le Cameroun C’est le Cameroun! As we drove towards the coastal town of Limbe, palms, rubber and banana plantations rose and felle over the landscape like see waves, bringing with them all my past memories of the towns along the way. The first thing I ate was “Suya”, a locally made barbecue. Once we reached Limbe which is also my town of birth, I was greeted with the shouts and welcome of my three darling nieces and junior sister. Dinner that evening was my favourite traditional meal called Achu with lots of meat and garden-eggs. I slept in the guest room under a mosquito net.

The next day happened to be Labour Day and my junior brother arrived Limbe from the capital Yaoundé for their company match-pass. He had clearly outgrown me into a very muscular and tall young man with a very deep voice. He had also grown a beard and looked like a younger version of me facially. He had also become an accomplished driver too. We went out to party that night and it was just so amazing to witness nightlife-a-la- Camerounais(e) again. We departed a day after for Yaounde the capital where an odyssey of love awaited.

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