Wednesday, Oct. 16
After traveling through a handful of African cities during the past three-and-a-half months, I figured the traffic in Yaounde (Yah-ewn-day) wouldn’t terrify me like it did the last time I was here.
But the roads are just as scary as I remembered, with taxi drivers darting in and out of imaginary lanes, driving just inches away from one another, creating a traffic free-for-all. Within seconds of climbing into the front seat of one yellow cab, I reached hopefully for a seat belt over my right shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief that it was there. I was probably the first person in weeks, possibly months, to use it.
I have a habit in Africa, kind of a morbid one, of looking for an escape route every time I’m packed into a vehicle. I check for windows that work – or, even better, ones that are stuck open – and people who are small enough to climb over if we get in a wreck. Sometimes, in un-Lexi-like fashion, I pray.
But in Yaounde, there’s rarely time for all that. If a taxi driver accepts the location you shout at him as he passes, and the price you’re willing to pay, you jump in quickly before he changes his mind. So when the driver hits the accelerator when he should hit the brakes, I find the best strategy is to close my eyes.
During one of those closed-eye moments today, I realized I had gone about a month without riding in a car, since motorcycle taxis have taken over as the main form of transportation in Dschang.
Before traveling to Yaounde, I detoured to Bafoussam to visit a bank, then back to Dschang, which I have used as my homebase for the last month. There I delivered, courtesy of an over-generous reader of this blog, enough money to pay for much of my village family’s school fees for next year! Benoit, the family’s eldest student, is opening a bank account so it can gain interest until next fall.
For the entire duration of the ride to Bafoussam, I held a tiny black baby in my arms. I had noticed her mother struggling to hoist herself into the van while holding the newborn, and I instinctively held out my arms to help her, like I had seen so many other women do in Africa.
She handed me her child, but when she got settled in her seat she made no effort to take the baby back. Instead, she put my red backpack on her lap. So I craddled the sleeping thing, shielding her face from the hard corn kernels that flew in through the window from an open bag on the roof.
When we arrived at the mother’s stop an hour later, she retrieved the baby, gave me my bag, and left without a word, like the baby was as much my responsibility as it was hers.
The eight-hour trip to Yaounde was unremarkable other than the huge mama in an African dress who sat next to me and forced me into a corner of my seat (shout out to Ed here, since being squished by African mamas is one of his favorite past-times), the small cockroaches that crawled in and around the seats, and the police checkpoint upon our arrival in the city during which every person on the bus, about 80 of us, was required to get off and show an identity card to a uniformed man with a huge gun.
Any travel hassle was offset by a discovery I made today: Just down the street from the church mission where I’m lodging is a pastry shop that sells ice cream.
I ignored the man at the counter who said he’d like to marry me and bought a cup of chocolate goodness. It was expensive, the equivalent of more than two dollars, a third of my nightly bed fee here, and I tried to eat it covertly during my walk back to the mission. Ice cream, no matter how heavenly in it’s first bite, is significantly less enjoyable when you know the people on the street who see you eat it couldn’t afford it themselves.
So I hurried back to the quiet street that crosses the church grounds, and there, relishing my solitude, I licked my spoon guilt-free.