I’ve had my first African experience, and I haven’t even left the States.

To obtain a three-month tourist visa for Cameroon, I need a letter of recommendation from a Cameroonian. Without the letter, I’m eligible only for a one-month visa, a detail I learned after I had booked flights in and out of the country two months apart.

So I asked a Cameroonian journalist, one I met by fate several months ago at a health journalism conference, to sponsor me. We already had planned to meet up in the country’s capital so he could show me around the state-sponsored newspaper where he works.

He agreed, promptly sending me the following letter, which drips of grandiose Cameroonian culture. Reading it reminded me what I learned six years ago when I first visited the country: almost everything is exaggerated. I quite like the person I am in Martin’s letter.

To Whom it May Concern:

I hereby write to recommend Alexis Grant as a committed tourist, who loves Cameroon so dearly. Alexis visited Cameroon in 2002, and impressed many local communities by rapidly speaking their tribal languages, adapting to the taste of their traditional dishes and working hard on their rice and cocoyam farms. She also rapidly acquired the skills to write and speak French, a quality which gave her easy access to several spheres of Cameroon life.

Alexis’ next visit in September 2008 will not only stir great excitement in her former communities in the West and North provinces, but would also take her to other touristically vibrant communities in the North West and South West provinces. I would personally guide her to the great lakes, seasides, reserve forests and traditional palaces of the North West and South West provinces.

To discover this second phase of Cameroon’s touristic haven, Alexis Grant needs a tourist visa lasting for at least two months. We strongly appeal to the consular office to grant her over two months to enjoy a facinating summer holiday in Cameroon.

Who could say no to THAT? (And what’s a cocoyam?)