Sunday, Sept. 14
Buea, Cameroon

Cameroon has two marked differences than the other countries I’ve visited: fewer tourists and more guns.

I’m off the beaten travelers’ path now, which is both a blessing and a curse. It means I’m hardly bothered on the street by strangers because there’s no culture of shaking down tourists for money. But I’m also on my own now for the most part, lacking the traveling companions that were easy to come by in Mali and Ghana.

Perhaps part of the reason why there aren’t many visitors here is because police, military and gendarmes (special police) strut around carrying huge guns. Not the kind you can stuff into a holster. Guns with shoulder straps.

I expected this, having spent time in Cameroon before. But it’s still shocking to have a uniformed man carrying a gun that would reach up to my waist sit down across from me for breakfast at an outdoor food stall. And it’s a bit scary when similarly dressed men, also carrying impressive weapons, ask me for my passport at a road checkpoint (You bet I had it easily accessible!). Last time I was here, I held my breath as an armed guard walked down the aisle of my host family’s church during an Easter service.

The Cameroonians didn’t even blink.

I’m inclined to call these weapons machine guns, or maybe rifles, simply because of their size, but the truth is I don’t know one large gun from the next. And there’s no way you’re going to get a photo here on this topic, because I’m not about to point my camera at an officer, knowing what he could point back at me.

Mom and Dad, take solace: As often as I’ve walked or driven by officers carrying guns, I’ve never seen any actually use them.