Sunday, Oct. 5
Fongo-Ndeng, Cameroon

As Maurice and I drove the route to the village, we talked about how his family would react when I told them readers of this blog had donated enough money to send all the children to school this year.

“What about books?” Maurice asked, turning his head a bit to his right so I could hear him as he drove.

“Those are covered, too,” I responded.

“Oh, Alexi,” he said, smiling broadly. “Oh, they are going to be happy!”

My friend had borrowed a motorcycle for the 45-minute drive to the village. Maurice, 20, lives in Dschang, the city, where he goes to school. But when I visited his family six years ago, he still lived in the village on the Ndi Wamba compound.

Despite our age gap, Maurice and I became fast friends during my first visit. He had the same optimistic attitude as his mother, Katherine, and he had a way of making everything fun. The two of us were always laughing.

Maurice was immensely proud that I returned to Cameroon, partly, I think, because it validated our friendship. When he saw me for the first time three weeks ago, he held my hand (close friends here, even men, hold hands regularly) all the way to his house.

Maurices moto gets stuck in the mud on our way to the village. I hopped off to take this shot.

Maurice's moto gets stuck in the mud on our way to the village. I hopped off to take this shot.

I couldn’t help but tell Maurice about the surprise I was about to deliver to his family. I needed someone to share in my excitement!

We arrived in Fongo-Ndeng in the early morning, when just a few children lingered on the compound. Even though it was Sunday, most everyone had departed for the fields to cultivate.

Maurice raided his mother’s kitchen for the village food he missed — macabo mush! — and then we sat together on the stoop in front of Father’s house.

“Wanna climb the mountain?” I asked, looking in the direction of the huge green mass that loomed behind the compound. From there, the mountain God watches over people below, the villagers say.

“Now?” Maurice responded. “Sure.”

We had made the climb the last time I was in Cameroon, but it was so cloudy we couldn’t see a thing. Now we had sun and a clear sky, perfect for a view of Fongo-Ndeng. So we headed toward the path, picking up Regine, one of the oldest Ndi Wamba girls who still lived at home, along the way.

The three of us quickly made the ascent up the back of the mountain, me stopping every once in a while to catch my breath. Once at the top, what a view! We could all of the village, plus Dschang, 12 kilometers away, and then some.

Maurice and Regine descend the mountain. What a view!

Maurice and Regine descend the mountain. What a view!

To descend, we took the other side of the mountain, which was much too steep for my liking. There was no path, so Maurice and Regine bushwacked their way down and I followed, sometimes sliding on the seat of my pants.

About halfway down, Maurice cautioned me to avoid a bit of the path where he had just walked.

“Walk over there,” he said, pointing to my left. “Don’t walk straight ahead — There are fourmis.”

Regine and I on our way down the mountain. Shes wearing her cell phone on her head.

Regine and I on our way down the mountain. She's wearing her cell phone on her head.

“What’s that?” I asked, pausing for a moment where I stood. “I don’t know that word.”

Suddenly I knew exactly what he meant. “Oh my God, they’re eating me!” I cried in English. I scrambled to my left, stood in the weeds and swatted my legs, trying to rid my skin of the stinging ants.

Some had already climbed up into my pants, others under my socks. They were tiny insects, but oh, how they stung. Regine and Maurice ascended to where I stood and helped pick them off my skin, cracking up every time I yelped.

“You aren’t used to stinging ants!” Maurice said, as we both laughed. “They don’t have them where you live, do they?”