Thursday, February 20, 2014

2/20: Finally Settled in Douala, Cameroon

Quote of the day: "I can't believe all of the wonderful things there are about living in Africa!"
Ruth said this today after we went for a walk in Douala and brought home some delicious breads, pastries, fruits, and vegetables.  The breads and pastries were just like we remember from Paris, except cheaper.  We bought the fruits & veggies on a street corner and were prepared to haggle, but were surprised at the low price, so we just paid it.  I think that it worked out to about $1/pound, which is much cheaper than the supermarkets here.
Washing Produce in Bleach
In Kinshasa we were never allowed to go for a walk.  We were in the car or a guarded compound 24/7 once we left the airport.  So we were happy to be told that Brazzaville is safe enough, and while we were there we strolled up to a park.  For dinner there Jeff had fish (complete with head & tail) and fried bananas.  They were delicious.  Ruth had steak & fries.  The hotel was very nice and we were treated like royalty.
Fish & Fried Bananas
Our plane to Cameroon was 3 hours late (hey, this is Africa) and we had to circle for 30 minutes due to a presidential visit closing the airport.  One of the passport checking guys in Brazzaville asked us to pray for him and his co-worker so we were happy to stop and pray with them.  A security guy checking Jeff's baggage stopped in the middle and let us go when he found out we are ministers.  The Brazzaville airport is incredibly modern compared to the dirty, 3rd world airports in Kinshasa and Douala.
Surprisingly Modern Brazzaville Airport

Once in Douala we met the Mission President, who took us out to dinner along with the Gaileys, who were going  home.  After a short visit, President Cook flew off to his next zone conference and we began learning our responsibilities for the next year-and-a-half from the Gaileys.
Dwight & Jan Gailey with Us
Several branch families dropped in for tearful goodbyes that night and the next morning.  For 24 hours we went over 6 pages of instructions, copied files, met people, and toured all of the most important places in town.  Thankfully, Elder Gailey had drawn a map so Jeff could follow along, because there are no street signs.  You just have to know your way around and recognize landmarks.

Last night we dropped the Gaileys off at the airport and suddenly found ourselves feeling very alone.  Here we are, in a poor African city, in charge of 8 missionaries, with nobody to turn to if we have problems except Africans that we just met or missionaries without cars or senior missionaries at least 3 hours away.  It's an eerie feeling.  And next week the only other missionary couple in Cameroon is going home.  We're going to take the 3-4 hour bus ride to Yaounde on Monday to spend a night with them before they leave, in case we need to cover for them until someone arrives to take over in Yaounde.

Is Douala modern or backward?  Here are my initial, superficial impressions:
Modern:  Folks here commonly wear western clothes, as opposed to the beautiful African fashions we saw in Kinshasa.  Some high-priced stores seem quite modern and there are many cars and even more motorcycles.  Most of the main streets are paved.  Our home is quite nice, with a washer & dryer, microwave, internet, air conditioners, 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and a common swimming pool.  The electricity hasn't failed in the 2 days we've been here although the water pressure is sometimes very low.  Isidore is our friendly guard and opens the gate for our truck.

Backward:  Many streets are dirt and almost all homes appear to be barely liveable.  The downtown gutters are 2-foot deep concrete channels that are incredibly hazardous.  Deep potholes are common.  Some traffic lights don't work at all.  Wikipedia says there are about 2 million people in Douala, which has a diameter of about 10 miles.  I don't know where all of those people are, since there aren't many tall buildings.  They must be crowded into the many tiny shacks, or homeless.  Unemployment is high.  A lot of commerce seems to be done by folks selling food that they carry on their heads or in small roadside stands.  Traffic is almost lawless.  The mass transit system is a bunch of beat-up minivans packed with people.  And please don't send us anything bigger than a letter.  The post office charges customs fees to pick up packages.

The branch members that we have met have all been very warm and supportive.  And we're just getting started on this mission, but we're loving it so far.  Knowing that he would be too busy driving to take photos after the Gaileys left, Jeff took a bunch of photos during our tour of the city.
Motorcycles Commonly Carry 3, Sometimes 4

Carrying a Bucket

Carrying an Ironing Board

Most of the Downtown Streets Look Like This

Another Load on Head
This is Really a Very Common Sight
Banana Carts

An Upscale Downtown Street in Douala

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