Cameroon / Cameroun: Country of Contrast
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

  Dispatch 2 - Mbouda  

Douala to Bafoussam (by bus) ‑Mbouda (23km, 14mi)  We start in Bamileke country, with its distinctive architecture and rich culture.
Points of interest: Bamileke architecture and crafts. Chute de la Metche.
Cycling conditions: paved, hilly


After bicycling to the edge of the increasingly sprawling Douala, we escaped the humid coastal plains to higher, inland country, by bus.  Our group pretty much filled the last remaining empty seats in the bus so it was it just another hour before the bus pulled out.  Some of our travel mates had been sitting on the bus for four hours wait for the bus to fill.  The engine is left running the whole time (not to run the air conditioner -- there is not), but the bus hadn't move an inch.  At one point after every seat on the bus was taken and when the conductor tried to add another traveler things started to get a bit testy passengers.  When the show finally seemed to be getting underway we drove across the road and spent another fifteen minutes fueling the bus and who knows what else.  If you sense there are some disconnects here, you are not the only one.

Limbe-Douala road: rubber tree planationTo the west of Douala, a vast swatch of low lands were taken from the local people by German companies in and after 1885 to become agricultural plantations.  Then in 1946-7, the private plantations were confiscated by the government (British) and leased to the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC).  Some of the crops that the CDC is involved with are Del Monte banana plantationrubber, oil palm, pineapple and bananas. The sign here indicates the Del Monte is now also a partner in the banana project.  A tell-tale sign of high end banana productions Del Monte banana plantationis the banana stocks wrapped in blue plastic.  The plastic is generally removed before the bananas are exported.  Some of the multi-national banana producers have policies for gathering and recycling the plastic.  Del Monte banana plantation: sign warning of aerial spraying.There was no sign of a plastic recycling program, but there were also no signs of a veneer of tattered blue plastic bags littering the countryside.  So the good news is the seem to at least being collected.  But not is all sweet on the environmental front.  A prominent sign at the entrance reads "Aerial Application Warning: This plantation is occasionally applied with fungicide by air.  Please do not enter the farm when the aircraft are applying."  Though it is worth noting (and to the cynic, surprising) that there is at least a sign.

A notable feature of the aspect of the bus trip into the interior was the number of police check points -- there could be several per mile.  The driver didn't exhibit any surprise, disapproval, fatigue or any other emotion at any of the stops. Typically, as he got out of the bus he grab some papers and a small bill or some change.  If the stops were to see if his papers were in order it would seem that given the number of times that he had been up and down the road he would know what was expected and would have been able to get his papers in order.  Or maybe the bureaucracy and red-tape for getting the papers in order is to time consuming, expensive and arduous that it is just easier to disperse a little change at each stop than engage the bureaucracy.  Or maybe his papers are in perfect order and the gifts are just part of the ritual for doing business on the that road -- it is worth remembering that Cameroon it at or near the top of annual lists of the world's most corrupt government officials.

We disembarked from the bus near Bafoussam and headed towards Mbouda.  One of the results of a bus trip in Africa is it make bicycling seem so much nicer.  A couple miles up the road we stopped at Chute de la Metche (Falls).  It is only fifty meters off the road but hidden from view and probably unknown to most of the people who pass along the road.

An interesting pursuit and challenge in Cameroon is to make sense of all of the languages.  That academics list over 200 languages in the country -- mostly of the Niger-Congo group.  Map of major language groups in AfircaTo help put this in context, there are four major language groups in Africa: the Niger-Congo, Afro-Asiatic, Nilotic and Khoisan.  It is believed that the Niger-Congo once were concentrated between the two river of these names and a couple millennia ago started to spread to the West and to the East and South.  It many branches now stretches from Senegal to South Africa.  Four of the better know language of the Afro-Asiatic group are Arab, Hebrew, Berber and Amharic.  Speakers of this language group are most in the northern quarter of the continent and the northern third of the Cameroon.  Here they speak Hausa and derivatives of Arabic.  The origin myth for most Nilotic or Nilo-Saharan language speakers has their ancestors coming from near the confluences to Blue Nile and the White Nile, in Sudan.  In the last few centuries they and their cattle-culture have expanded south into Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.  The Maasai are probably the best known speakers of a Nilotic language.  This are represented by only a small number of speakers in the North.  And last is Khoisan.  These are the languages with a variety of click sounds.  Language from this group were once spoken from throughout east Africa from Kenya to the southern tip of Africa.  There are still a couple of pocket of Khoisan speakers in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana. There are no concentrations of these speakers in Cameroon. 

Languages of CameroonCameroon Language ChartIf you diagram the language (based on academic sources) of greater southwest Cameroon you get a chart that looks like the images to the right.

Disembarking from the bus east of Mbouda we first encountered the language of Ngiemboon.  As with all of the languages we encounter, the academic classification for Ngiemboon starts Niger-Congo>Atlantic Congo>Volta Congo>Benue-Congo>Bantoid>Southern.  From there it is classified as Wide Grassfields>Narrow Grassfields>Mbam-Nkam>Bamileke -- a group of eleven language.  Before we reached Mbouda the local language changed to Ngomba (also in the Bamileke group) and Befang (classified as Wide Grassfields>Menchum -- for which it is the only language in the group).  Because Mbouda is a relatively big town and attracts people from the surrounding area there are probably additional  languages spoken in some of the neighborhoods in town.

It is interesting that even though all the languages in the area are Niger-Congo languages, none of the are closely related to original Niger-Congo languages of the area.  All of the languages migrated away centuries ago and then encountered other dynamics and pressures with over centuries pushed them back again to where we find them today.  Most of the languages in the Bamenda highlands and Grassfields trace there origins to the north.  It was a process of one group attacking or encroaching on another, they would in turn relocate, which would encroach on another group who would in turn relocate, and so on.

Mbouda: new motorcycle taxis, cell phones and constructionThis picture seems to have many of the elements of contemporary Mbouda: Gaggles of motorcycle taxis, signs advertising cell phones and a building under constructions. Outside of the big cities private automobiles are rare and so are taxi cabs -- most vehicles are company or commercial.  Motorcycle taxi are filling the niche and have proliferated in the last decade.

Mbouda: marginal employment - boy selling sundriesWhile the generally statistic for economic growth`(4%) are fair, not everyone is reaping the benefits and job creation is very slow.  Figures for unemployment (13-17%) and under-employment (68-75%) are still high.  The tend to always be a lot of men in the 'public square' (and multitude of bars) with a lot of time and little purpose.  And it is common to see young boys, clearly of school age, trying to make a go of it walking the city with a platter full of dry goods on their heads.  Girls are common as well, but more often with platters of fruit or cosmetics.  With all of the competition and profit margins as low as they are, even if they turned over their entire stock in a day in is unlikely that after they restocked they would have enough in change to buy much more than the simplest meal of rice and beans, let alone enough to grow their business or support other members of their family.

Despite the appearance of shenanigans at the check point while riding in buses on the roads of Cameroon, in over a thousand miles of bicycling in the country our groups have never been shaken down at a check point.  Mostly we are just waved through with a  pleasant greeting.  On there rare occasions that someone is stopped it is usually out of curiosity about where we are going by bicycle, and then after an expression of surprise and disbelief, curiosity about where we have come from in such a fashion -- which is followed by more surprise and disbelief.



Next dispatch.



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