Sunday, Oct. 26
The man working behind me at the Internet cafe confused me.
He looked African and he spoke Pidgin, one of the local languages here, with the owner of the shop. But when he conversed in English — we were in one of Cameroon’s two English-speaking provinces — he sounded American.
I wanted to know his story. And I didn’t have to look hard for a reason to talk to him; the two of us were the only clients working in a small, unventilated room designated for laptops when the power went out in the cafe. We sat there together in the dark, both of our computers glowing with battery power but no Internet connection.
“Guess that’s it for my work,” I said. And then, “So, where are you from?”
He was Cameroonian, he explained, born in the English-speaking northwest province, but went to high school in Scotland and university in the States, in Maine. Now as he spoke I could detect a bit of a Scottish accent.
But wait… backtrack. “Maine?!” I exclaimed. “I went to Colby!” I knew he would be familiar with my alma mater since he had spent time in the state. He had graduated, he told me, from the University of Maine.
And so I had found another Mainer. Mathew and I left the pitch-black cafe together, feeling our way along the walls to find the door, and crossed the street for a drink at a bar. Even without electricity, it was open for business.
There we reminisced about New England and talked about my experiences in Cameroon. It was odd, conversing with someone who sounded American, who understood American culture, who didn’t invite me for a beer solely because of the color of my skin, but who also understood the nuances of Cameroon. He had a unique perspective of his country and was happy to share it with me.
When I told him about the news story I’m writing on polygamy, he responded with tales of growing up in a two-wife household, explaining that even two women didn’t satisfy his father. The man also had two girlfriends outside the home.
Mathew and I parted ways that night, but met up again in the morning so I could meet his wife and daughters and explore his side of town. It was one of my last days in Cameroon, and we spent it well.
First we drove to took to one of Limbe’s beautiful black-sand beaches to complete a fun errand, collecting rocks for a friend of Mathew who was building a garden. He had requested stones from Limbe specifically for two reasons: they’re a beautiful dark color because of a long-ago volcanic eruption, and they’re wonderfully smooth from the pounding of the waves.
Next we made our way to the site of Limbe’s lava flow. We hadn’t planned to visit the area, a popular tourist spot, but we passed it on our way back from the beach, and Mathew suggested we climb up on the lava.
The flow, a result of Mount Cameroon’s 2001 eruption, had snaked its way down the foot of the mountain, creating a massive pile of black soil and rocks. Lava soil is quite fertile, Mathew explained, which is why there are plants growing out of the pile.
To top off the day, Mathew treated me to lunch at one of his favorite spots, a strip of restaurants that specialize in bushmeat.The meal of the day there depends on what hunters catch in the rainforest around the mountain.
Bushmeat didn’t sound incredibly appetizing to this reformed vegetarian, but I agreed to give it a try. I watched as the waitress lifted the top off a large pot so we could see what was inside. Porcupine, she told us.
Bush porcupine is bigger than the small animals we’re familiar with in the States, Mathew told me, but they still have plenty of prickly pointers. (After speaking French for so long, my English is going down the drain, and I’m at a loss for a better word than “pointer.”)
My meat was served alongside boiled plantains. I’m certainly no meat connoisseur, but I thought it was pretty good, quite tender actually, tasting a bit like a cross between chicken and pork. It was spicy, of course, keeping by the rules of Cameroonian food.
I ate around what I thought was a thick slab of fat, but when I offered it to Mathew’s cousin he informed me it actually was porcupine skin.
Either way, I told him, I’d pass.
The afternoon was a fine way to finish up my time here in Cameroon. Tuesday night I’ll catch a long flight to South Africa, where I’ll have four nights in Cape Town and then one in Johannesburg before departing for Madagascar.
Two more months of wandering await!