BootsnAll Travel Network

What I Like About Douala

September 19th, 2005

Douala isn’t really a tourist city. There aren’t any cultural attractions that I’ve heard of since I’ve been here. Not that I’ve really investigated a lot, but everyone always talks about going to Kribi or Limbe, not touring Douala. It is, however, a city of neighbourhoods that each have their own atmosphere and sometimes specific kinds of businesses.

We live in Makepe (the ‘burbs), pass through Deido, Bonamoussadi and Rond Point to get to Bonanjo (the city). Akwa is largely a shopping district right downtown. I like the people, mostly young men, who walk around with items to purchase in their hands and on their heads. Everything from candy and tissues to running shoes to handbags to peanuts to linens and pillows. There are also carts with hardware, shopping bags, pineapple, papaya, oranges or apples.

I like how the taxi drivers take their cars over the most daunting roads, braving things that look too big to be potholes.

I like the restaurants that put the day’s menu on a chalkboard outside and serve the yummiest food for $5 -7 dollars a plate.

I like internet cafes with English keyboards–for obvious reasons.

I like all the wonderful fabrics people use to make the clothes. Usually the women’s clothes are African style and very creative. The men’s are usually short-sleeved shirts that are worn large and untucked. Sometimes the men wear long tunics over pants and look very festive. Women tie their hair in the same or a matching fabric to their outfits.

I like that people say “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” to everyone when they get into a taxi.

September 22, 2005

I like that you can see people (usually men) making beds, armchairs, armoires, even the big iron gates at the front of people’s houses. There are parts of the city where you can see them when you are just driving by on the road. They make everything from woven rattan type furniture to upholstered sets in whatever fabric you choose.

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Whinging About Everything*

September 9th, 2005

* Disclaimer: I reserve the right to love where I am and contradict my opinion on any of these matters at my whim without notice.

September 9, 2005
I hate motos: they are the motorbike taxis that are everywhere in Douala. They spew noxious fumes, their drivers are maniacs on the road, and they want the same fare as cars while subjecting you to wind, rain and dirt.

People can be so rude and pushy and what’s worse they watch you to see if you’ll say anything. This of course is a pet peeve of mine and I think it might be an unavoidable experience of life in the big city. (A woman in Yaounde actually walked by five people, including me, waiting in line for the ATM and used it. I was so happy when her card didn’t work.)

I hate sitting in the front seat of the taxi because you usually have to share it with someone. And it’s a bucket seat in a Toyota. If you’re the person on the inside, your left butt cheek is hanging over the seat and you’re trying to stay out of the way so the driver can shift.

I hate people talking about me in French and thinking I won’t notice. I don’t feel bad about interjecting into the conversation (in French) as though I was meant to be part of it all along. The best part is when I only understand one part of something, but when I comment it makes everyone feel that I know what they’ve been saying all the time.

October 6, 2005
I’ve been saving this one for a few weeks . . . I really think it’s possible that the men of Cameroon, have an unacknowledged urinary infection–it is epidemic the number of them that need to pee at the side of the road in any given day. And I’m not talking you happen to see someone behind a large tree; I mean you are walking along the sidewalk and some guy has turned towards the wall and unzipped his pants. Strangely enough, women don’t seem to be overtaken by this bladder urgency . . .

What do these people have against toilet seats–even in quite nice hotels. I guess it makes the leaving it up or down a moot point, but it’s NOT RIGHT . . .

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Everybody in the Wedding Party

September 8th, 2005

The wedding planning is coming along nicely and we’ve reserved a great location for the reception. The Cameroonian custom at wedding ceremonies is that the bride and groom choose a fabric for close family and friends. Well, it’s assumed that the bride chose it, but the groom is in the store too. When you send the wedding invitations you enclose a swatch of the fabric, and people can choose to buy it and wear an outfit made from the chosen fabric to the wedding ceremony. The “uniform” shows that people are part of the ceremony and supporters of the bride and groom. Then, for the evening festivities, everyone shows up in their own individual finery.

Being the clueless foreigner, I chose a fabric that is outside the normal range of prices for such things. It’s 5900 CFA (about $13-14) for 6 yards of fabric, 45″ wide. To my Canadian viewpoint this is an excellent price for fabric. In Cameroon it is definitely the high end of the scale and the cost of uniform fabric is usually more like 4 – 4,500 CFA. However, everyone has commented that the fabric is lovely and it’s going like blazes.

I chose an red/orange/brown version of a pattern that also comes in violet/blue/black, and the version I chose has disappeared out of the stores. The people at the fabric store thought that people were buying it for our wedding. We don’t think so. So I’m keeping my eye out for another wedding in the near future, wearing MY fabric. Except for the people that bought in the very beginning most people will be wearing the second version. My mom will have something made when she arrives before the wedding as well. So let me know if you’re coming and we’ll set aside some fabric for you!

I’m excited to see what everyone makes of it. I can guarantee that there will be pictures.
Wedding Fabric

Wedding Fabric on Display

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Bon Appetit!

September 8th, 2005

I like food. I like people who like food–you know who you are. There are all the usual things: chocolate, cheesecake, blueberry pancakes, turkey bacon, butter chicken, the crespelle at Gio’s, etc. I am about to go on about the new foods (and new variations) I’ve discovered while I’m here. And if you think I’m going over the top, just think to yourself that I was originally going to write a whole post called “Ode to a Plaintain”.

About the plaintain–it’s the ubiquitous side dish here, like french fries or grits. It can be boiled or fried, green or ripe, pounded, eaten whole, sliced.

I knew I really liked Cameroon when I found out that my childhood favourite from Trinidad, fried plaintain, could be served with almost anything. Fried plaintain is usually made with a ripe plaintain that is quite sweet. The plaintain is sliced on the diagonal and cooked in a frying pan until the outside of the plaintain is brown and crispy and the inside is soft and yummy. There are lots of places to buy fresh plaintain and make it yourself. If you are in Douala, you take a taxi to COAF (quoif) and there’s a market there with all the necessaries. Green plaintain can also be boiled and eaten like potatoes as a side dish. You can also boil ripe plaintain and then fry it whole as a side, or just eat it boiled. (You get the idea.)

If you don’t like fish, Cameroon will be a very challenging and less tasty place for you. Cameroonians do many very yummy things with fish. The most popular types are mackerel, sole, bass and herring. Mackerel and bass are both used to make my favourite Cameroonian fish dish, poisson braisee. Mackerel is MUCH cheaper than bass and so is used more often. First, they take a whole fish and clean it thoroughly, then they use salt and an incredible rub marinade and cook the fish over a charcoal fire. William’s aunt has a place in Bonamoussadi that we usually go to and we get to sit in the cook shack. I like this for two reasons: it smells really good and the smoke keeps mosquitoes away. The fish is served with thin slices of onion, chili sauce and sides–either miandor (sp?) or fried plaintain. I usually get both.

Miandor is made from the casava or manioch plant. It’s in long strips and is actually kind of rubbery and tasteless, which makes it perfect for eating with savoury foods. I’ve never even heard of anything like it before. The process of making it is very involved, but in Douala it’s popular and usually available everywhere.

The other change my life dish is co-ci (ko-kee). Coci is like polenta, only I know it’s not made with cornmeal and it’s quite spicy. I was first served coci when I was in Cameroon last summer and William still laughs when he tells people how much I enjoy eating it. Because it’s so spicy, it’s usually served with something bland like boiled green plaintain or cassava.

My belle-souer, Yokoua, has made other dishes that I’ve really enjoyed. Fish can be served with sauce des tomates, which in Trinidad would be called “stew fish”, with sauce d’arachides and with mongo chobe (sp?). I’ve always loved stew fish and the peanut sauce is a very tasty variation. I enjoyed the mongo chobe, but it’s not going to appear in the top five anytime soon. Yokoua says that the main reason Cameroonians enjoy such a variety of dishes is the existence of the more than 200 tribes in the country. Each tribe has ways of preparing food that others made not have tried and the ones that become popular are known throughout the country.

The most challenging Cameroonian dish I have encountered is ndole (n-dolay), which is made with an extremely bitter plant that has to be washed and cooked and then mixed with a lot of ground peanuts to make a type of stew. You can still taste the edge of bitterness when you eat it. It sometimes has pieces of meat or fish in it for a full meal or it’s served as a side dish to a main meal. It’s enjoyable, but it’s not the kind of thing I could eat very often.

My willingness to eat so many Cameroonian dishes has made me a hit with the family, who are impressed with my openness to Cameroonian culture. My love of food has become an excellent way to overcome any language gaps.

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Route Taxis and Fake French

August 17th, 2005

In Cameroon (and Trinidad and many other countries I’m sure), the way to get around the city is by taxi. These aren’t the metered taxis you might first think of. These taxis follow a set route and you pay a rate for that distance and only for your own seat. This means two things: if you are going a long distance, like from Makepe to Bonanjo for example, you will have to take two taxis; and unless you are with four friends, you will be sharing the taxi with strangers.

The other thing that makes taking taxis challenging is that street addresses aren’t used here. Locations are given by landmarks, many of which are common parlance, that the taxi driver should recognize. When I want to go from Makepe, where I live, to Bonanjo, where Yonkua lives, I walk out to the side of the road where the cars are going in the right direction. I flag a taxi or one beeps at me, and I say, “ecole publique, deux cents.” Ecole Publique is the first drop-off point on my way into the city and it costs me 200 cfa (about $.50) to get there. I say this before I get into the taxi. If the taxi man isn’t on that route, he drives away; if he is going there, he gives a friendly beep on the horn and pulls over.

When I am let off at ecole publique, I walk around the corner where the cars are going in the right direction and I say, “bonanjo, ancienne poste, deux cents.” This car will drop me in front of Yonkua’s house, which is near an old post office. I have done this by myself and what I am most proud of is my fake French. As long as no one actually tries to engage me in conversation, I can fake the accent and attitude well enough to be ignored in the taxi. Of course, there have been the couple of times where someone tries to be conversational and I have to admit that I don’t understand what they’re saying to me.

But the most traumatic experience was the first time I had to get back to Makepe by myself. I had my fake French at the ready and I got to ecole publique without a problem. Except the taxi driver stopped at a spot I didn’t recognize and I had to admit I didn’t know where to stand for Makepe. That was easily solved and I confidently stepped up to a car and said, “Makepe.” Then the driver said (in French), “Where in Makepe?” I had no idea what to say, no one had told me there was more to say than just Makepe. The driver drove off in frustration and I was near tears.

I calmed myself down and decided I should call William. I had his cell number memorized, but I needed a phone. I knew what to do: I approached one of the many stands that sell phone cards for phones because they also sell time on the cell phone they have at the stand. It costs 200 CFA to make a call. I called William and got him on the third or fourth try. I choked out that I didn’t know where in Makepe to direct the taxi and he told me, very calmly, “lycée,” as though it wasn’t pivotal information in my life at the moment. Of course, once I knew it, getting home was as boring as it’s supposed to be.

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Elle est là.

August 3rd, 2005

I arrived in Douala on Friday afternoon with my six bags that had cost me a fortune in euros to get out of France. It turns out that Air France charges for each overweight kilogram depending on how far you are going. I ended up spending virtually all of my initial stake money. A hard lesson learned . . .

William, his sister Yonkua, her husband and her friend Mannette came to meet me at the airport. My bags were inspected at customs and we pushed and shoved our way outside to get into Yonkua and Patrice’s SUV. William was on the phone a lot the first few days telling people that I had arrived.

We confirmed an apartment that weekend and started furnishing it right away. All of our furniture is locally made–the living and dining room set, armoire, TV stand, bed. William had bought a cooktop with no oven, so we had to buy a cupboard/shelf for the kitchen that holds the stove and our gas supply. I think it must be like being at the cottage 24/7.

We slept on the mattress on the floor until our bed arrived the following weekend. William had already obtained some basics so we could limp along as we filled in the gaps. Yonkua fed us almost everyday (and continues to do so whenever we come into the city).

We live in a suburb called Makepe (Ma-ka-pay) in a group of 12 flats. We’re in the first level, second door on the right. We have two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a kitchen and living/dining room–but no hot water. Lots of room for company, but it ain’t the Hilton. For washing dishes I boil the water and when I have to have a warm water wash, I mix hot and cold in the bucket and use the dipper. (It grows on you.)

I am developing a new appreciation for all the modern conveniences we take for granted and I miss Toronto a lot. The language barrier is starting to make me frustrated because I can’t understand regular conversations and I can’t understand what people say to me half the time. My motivation to learn French is increasing everyday.

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Paris . . . but only for one night

August 3rd, 2005

I spent one night in Paris before I boarded a plane for Douala at about 10h30 the next morning. This normally boring experience was improved because I made a new friend on the flight over from Toronto. Susan and I started talking very soon after we sat next to each other on the plane. She is a teacher from Kingston, Ontario who is in France on a cycling tour. Of course, that led to lots of conversation, including my cycling tour in Vietnam.

When we got to Paris, Susan helped me find the place to board all but one of my bags, and then I accompanied her into the city where she had a room reserved at a hotel. Paris immediately had a new fan when we were able to take a train directly from the airport into the city. It was 8 euros (which we could pay with a credit card) and it dropped us off about 6 blocks from our hotel. The only difficulty was getting a heavy bag up and down the steps of the Metro–no escalators. I was able to get a room for the night, take a nap and then spend an evening in Paris!

Of course, almost everything was closed, but because we were together we felt comfortable walking around the city at night. Even what we thought was an uninspired choice of a chicken salad for dinner turned out to be exactly the right thing to eat. And it was delicious! I felt like I was living a French stereotype about simple food and bread being ambrosia.

We walked along the Seine and saw how Parisiennes use the space along the river to relax, socialize–even have a casual wine and cheese reception. At the Louvre, we saw the beautiful glass dome and admired the sheer size and beauty of the building. The Eiffel Tower was too far away to walk, but it was easy to see in the distance, twinkling and flashing like unending fireworks. We also saw the Arche de Triomphe (sp?), which is in a straight sightline from the Louvre.

Susan a full day the next day and she hadn’t taken a nap, so we headed back to our hotel, consulting our map the whole way. The streets were very small and definitely not laid out like our Toronto grid–more like a spider’s web. And just like London (England), two or three of them would have the same/similar name all in the same area.

I know I haven’t even begun to see Paris in all its glory, but without meeting Susan I wouldn’t have seen anything at all–except the inside of a hotel near the airport. Instead, I was a guest writer in her travel diary and we both had an amazing evening. Definitely an unexpected travel bonus!

Susan and Deborah in Paris

Susan by the Seine

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The More the Merrier

July 18th, 2005

Beyond the RSVP

Cathy, a great friend and amazing graphic designer (, is designing our wedding invitations. They are gorgeous and I can’t wait to mail them to everyone.

One of my challenges is (was?) deciding how to requesst RSVPs because I was worried about how much postage is necessary to send mail to and from Cameroon AND how long responses would take to come back. I suggested to William that we put my email and his cell number on the invitations. He flatly refused access to his cell and he introduced me to the world beyond RSVPs. And so in a new take on cultural relativism, I have gone from being a very laid back North American to an uptight African.

For your edification: when you are invited to a wedding in Cameroon you will not be expected to confirm your attendance and if you are not invited don’t hesitate to show up for the celebration, great food and dancing. William has even admitted that he has attended a reception or two just because . . .

Vive la difference!!

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Bon Voyage Bridal Party

July 10th, 2005

Some of my good friends threw me a combination Bridal Shower and Bon Voyage Party on Friday night. There were balloons, and a “wedding” cake for all the friends who won’t be in Cameroon. My Mom and my brother said really nice things about me and Andrea told everyone how William and I met (the PG version).

Then we had a little talk show about Cameroon. I, of course, was the “host” and took questions from the “audience”. Here’s my summary of the informaton: Cameroon is located in West Africa and has a population of 16 million people. The official languages are French and English. The capital is Yaounde and the largest city is Douala. Douala is a port city on the Bight of Biafra in the Atlantic Ocean. The average temperature in Douala is in the low 30s with high humidity. We will also be visiting Bafoussam and Banghate.

There is a large national park called Waza, with game animals and I definitely want to have a safari tour. My favourite Cameroonian food was lovingly described and I’m sure I’ll have many additional favourites over the next few months.

I received lots of love and support from everyone and it reminded me why I’m so lucky to know them.

Now if only I could get someone to pack up my house . . .
The first wedding cake

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Who needs Danielle Steel . . .

July 10th, 2005

In the fall of 2003 my friend Andrea and I were discussing a tour in southeast Asia with Intrepid Travel. We were considering a cycling trip in Vietnam or a climbing and wildlife tour in Sabah, Borneo. Our friend Shurla also wanted to come and really wanted to do the cycling trip, so Vietnam it was. We all put up our deposits and began preparing for 15 days on the road. Eventually Shurla decided that she couldn’t come and it was too late to switch our deposits to another trip. There were many hills in Vietnam where Shurla’s name became a kind of (affectionate? O:-) ) curse.

The food in Vietnam was awesome and so cheap. My most memorable meal was at a great restaurant in Hoi An. We had a cooking lesson that cost about USD$10, which included an awesome meal when our class was done. The lesson included a discussion of the importance of balance in Vietnamese cooking: variety in flavour and texture. Continue reading this entry »

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