Wednesday, Sept. 17
Dschang, Cameroon

I wanted to strangle the Cameroonian that sat in front of me during the four-hour bus ride from Buea to Dschang.

The middle-aged man had the energy of a child, jerking his head in one direction then the other, throwing his hands up in the air to emphasize each point, bouncing in and out of his seat. Because of the way he moved, combined with his appearance — shaved head, prominent jaw and cheekbones — he reminded me of Jim Carey in The Mask. I half expected his face to turn green.

Most annoyingly, he was loud. He shouted in conversation that should have been casual, during discussions when a so-called indoor voice would have suited just fine.

I should be used to this by now, loud West Africans. Because really, they are loud. Sure, it’s a generalization, but like most stereotypes, there’s a lot of truth to this one. Nearly all bus drivers, for example, turn the music on absolutely as loud as it can go immediately after thrusting the cassette into the player (tapes are still useful here), as if that were some rule of the road, forcing everyone in the car to yell at one another when they wish to communicate.

This driver was no exception, so I suppose the Mask Man had some reason to shout. Whereas in the States someone (possibly me) would have asked him to tone it down, in Cameroon raising one’s voice to that decibel is normal and socially acceptable. So I held my tongue.

When we had nearly reached Dschang, the bus slowed to a halt, and I noticed the Mask Man reach for his bag. We were dropping him off early! The driver shut off the engine and got out of his seat so Mask Man could exit the vehicle via his door — there was no front door on the passenger’s side.

I heard squealing from the side of the road and turned to look. Three young children had emerged from a house. The two youngest, just toddlers, waited on the front step while the oldest, a girl wearing nothing but saggy underwear, ran toward the bus, her arms outstretched.

My heart softened. Mask Man was a dad, or an uncle, or some other fatherly figure who had finally made his way home. He approached the child, broke into a huge grin and swooped her up in his arms.

Certain things, those that bring extreme joy (and likewise, terrible sorrow), remain the same no matter the city, country or continent.