Our first night in Buea, we slept on a towel on the tile floor of our new house.   That momentous tile floor marked the beginning of our year in Cameroon.  But that tile floor was quite a challenge to get to.

If you rewind from the tile floor, you’ll see us in the back of a taxi from the Douala airport.  We’re slightly dazed, very excited, and simultaneously taking in the midnight view and asking Walters (YAN volunteer extraordinaire) as many questions as possible.  “Tonight, you will just sleep,” he reassured us, “tomorrow, you will learn all these things.”  We only had to stop once to pee in a gutter. 

Rewind further and you’ll see us flying over the Sahara, tracing an invisible line South from Casablanca, Morocco.  The screens on the aircraft tell us we’re 80 km from our destination, then 10 km, then 200 km—a conundrum of time and space that is resolved only when we touch ground in Cameroon.

Bear with us as we rewind once more to our 10-hour layover in Casablanca.  Here, we took a train into the heart of the city, strolled around a mosque with the 3rd highest minaret in the world (breathtaking), and wandered through a sprawling market with stacks of olives, figs, eggs, shoes. A man selling fried fish gives Josh a sardine and makes us sandwiches full of fried potatoes and hot chili sauce.    After a pot of heavily honeyed mint tea, our Moroccan afternoon is done.

Remember the tile floor?  Let’s fast forward, now, to our first Cameroonian morning. It was pouring rain.  As it turns out, Buea is just a small distance from the wettest town in all of Africa. Walters came over before lunch and we sat together on the floor, mixing safety rules and logistics with casual talk about ourselves, Buea, YAN, and the Red Sox (we brought Walters a Boston hat).   A few important details we picked up:  (1) we live near Pala Pala field, where traditional wrestling matches used to take place, (2) across the road Nelson runs a store and will always offer us fair prices, (3) 1.5 L of water should always cost 400 cfa (~450 cfa to $1), (4) Buea time is fluid and ungoverned by watches, (5) traditional breakfast includes a spaghetti omelet with beans.   When the rain subsided, we leaned how to gesture casually for a taxi and pack into the already full back seats.  On our first taxi ride we made a friend—Paluine—who immediately dove into a lively Cameroonian history lesson.   Taxi rides are charged per person and by the ‘drop,’ which means that long distances are always 200 cfa/person (about $0.40) and short distances are always 100 cfa/person.  Lunches vary in price as well—a “fancy” lunch of Ndole (bitter cassava) and fried rice we had after our taxi ride was $5/person, while a cheap dinner of puff puff (fried dough) and beans ran closer to $0.40/person—and was just as delicious and much more fun.

We have constantly encountered information like this over our first few days —specific ways of doing things, precise costs for different quality goods, and a way of completing everyday tasks—that has been far different from “business as usual” in the United States. We watched, for example, as Walters bargained for a blanket for at least ten minutes. After feeling different qualities of cloths, arguing, gesturing, and walking away twice, he ultimately succeeded at getting a good one for less than half the asking price. And thank goodness he did—nights in Buea are cold due to the elevation, and we’ve been sleeping with pants and fleeces under our brand spanking new blanket in our lovely new house, pictured below.

We’ve also managed to meet up with some friendly local expats in our short time here, and we’re so excited to work and spend time with the doctors, Peace Corps volunteers, and other dedicated individuals who have made Buea their home for the past months and years. 

It rained again all day today, so rather than go to the muddy market at Muea, we took a walk around Buea Town. The streets were calm in the afternoon mist, and the town was fairly quiet save for a few taxis flying by at breakneck pace, honking every hundred feet, and the occasional smiling kid yelling out “white man” with apparent glee. In spite of the wet weather and the unpaved streets, the women in Buea town were all dressed in their finest, and we passed older women in colorful local attire and younger ones with perfectly coiffed hair, slinky dresses, and five-inch heels. As dusk approached, the mist broke, and we caught a glimpse of volcanic Mount Cameroon, the highest mountain in all of West Africa, which had been looming over us, unseen, for all this time. Buea Town on this Sunday in September was beautifully peaceful through the descending fog.

Tomorrow, we have a big day planned—we’ll be meeting with the principal at the Lycee in Molyko to hammer out the details of our work there this year, and then it’s off to the market to buy one or two more items for the house. Every day this week, in fact, will be full of meetings with local education leaders at different schools, as we work towards expanding YAN’s program across the greater Buea area. We hope to work with several schools this year, moving between different locations over the course of the week so that we can teach our curriculum to several dozen students. There’s so much we’ve done that it’s hard to imagine that we’ve only been here two days. Then again, there’s so much we have yet to do that it’s hard to believe we’ll accomplish it in a full year. In any case, we have exciting things ahead, and we’ll be sure to post them all here before the week is through.

Written by Josh and Clara