In 2012, My friend Lisa spent 4 months in Cameroon teaching violence prevention to girls so they could be leaders in their own right It was an amazing thing to do but it meant we missed her like crazy. Lisa’s mom is a Lutheran Pastor and had been supporting women in Cameroon to become pastors, which was no easy task. So in May 2012, with Lisa in Cameroon, and the Cameroon Lutheran Church ready to ordain women pastors, Lisa’s mom Carol was able to go to Cameroon. I of course decided I would go to, obviously.
This was my first experience flying Air France. I flew Air France from Montreal to Paris, and then from Paris to Yaounde. I t was going to be a lonnggg flight. Luckily for me Air France serves champagne, wine and cognac with every meal, even if you are in economy. and very fresh bread. Ahhh. Carol wasn’t really in a cognac mood so she asked for a tonic water. The flight attendant was amazing but he brought her back a bottle of gin with a straw and set it on her tray table and left. She eventually got her tonic as well, which it as it turned out we would need as we diverted to Douala for a few hours waiting or a thunderstorm to pass. Welcome to Cameroon in the rainy season.
We finally arrived in Yaounde after a very long flight and quite honestly I wish I could remember it more but the only thing I truly remember is our trip coordinator telling us we would be flying to N’Gaoundéré tomorrow. To say I was relieved was an understatement. I had heard Lisa and Carol’s stories about the train. Technically it took 12 hours but often could be closer to 24. Lisa had never flown to N’Gaoundéré, only the train which she believes is an essential part of the Cameroon experience. She is right and she has lots of amazing stories (and video!) of the train but I was glad to miss. At first
The next morning we made our was to the private airfield to take our 6 seater plan to N’Gaoundéré. despite my hesitations about the train, I was privately hoping for the train at this point. Taking a tiny plane in a country I knew nothing about? huh, not so sure. One of the other passengers echoed my sentiments when taking a look at the plane said ‘I like 2 pilots and 2 engines.’ Me too buddy, me too.
However we sucked it up and got on the plane. The journey was smooth and countryside beautiful. I soon fell asleep and when I woke up I could see a very very angry looking rainstorm to the north, where we were headed. then lightning. I hoped my shaking wasn’t visible. I needn’t have worried, my 2 pilot friend was shaking Carols seat so badly she felt ill. Our pilot announced we would be landing at the Banyo airport tonight and we would make it to N’Gaoundéré tomorrow. So I guess the flights were 24 hours too albeit much more comfortable.
the airport turned out to be a strip of red dirt that the local kids chased the cows off of so we could land. the hangar turned out to be a patch of trees and 2 men were going to have to sleep in the plane in the thunderstorm as security. This made me feel incredibly guilty as it should. I was headed for a warm dry bed.
Banyo doesn’t have hotel so we were staying with the local doctor and his wife. Despite being happy to avoid he the thunderstorm, I was feeling incredibly sad about not getting to N’Gaoundéré and seeing Lisa. But that’s the thing about unexpected detours, you don’t know what you are missing and I would have never seen Banyo otherwise. And Banyo is incredibly beautiful. the mango tree lined streets, the beautiful flowers, the banana trees, it was all stunning but nothing compared to the warm welcome we received. In fact this incredibly warm welcome was repeated in N’Gaoundéré as well. Especially in the current political climate where there is much rhetoric about restricting people from entering nations of great wealth, I am even more amazed that we were welcomed so warmly and everyone was so willing to share whatever they had. This visit and its welcome stands out today more than ever. We toured the town, visited the local radio station that the residents had recently built. One of the DJs was pretty young ( 17 or 18) but was so happy because his parents in Nigeria could now here him on the radio (Banyo is very close to the Nigerian border). We toured the hospital, met more residents and came back for a dinner of pasta and salad. fairly non Cameroonian but with Cameroon mango so delicious that even 5 years later I am still disappointed by North American mangoes and bananas too. Cameroon bananas are amazing.
Unexpected detours make for strange bedfellows as well. Literally. One of the other women on the plane (KIm) was on her way for the women’s ordination as well and had lived in various African countries. she became my roomie for the night as Carol bunked with Bishop Elaine ( the female bishop! from Winnipeg). I would have never gotten to know Kim otherwise and she had a fascinating stories from her time in Africa and her current work and so on. After the very best shower of my life in a beautifully tiled bathroom we boarded the plan once again. This time we made it to N’Gaoundéré in time to see Lisa jumping up and down on the tarmac. I was thrilled to see her but now I wouldn’t have traded my night in Banyo for anything.
N’Gaoundéré is another blog in itself and I will reference wine but suffice it to say, the best wine was on the Air France flight.