Sunday, November 8, 2015

Back to Africa – Douala first impressions

Douala is not the same as when I left it over twenty years ago. The city has sprawled, rather than grown upwards; what used to be almost countryside, is now covered with construction, unfortunately mostly without any design process. Architects are perceived to be expensive, so any neighborhood, sometimes self-proclaimed draftsperson, will do the job of drawing up a building and finding a way to obtain a building permit (or not).

Almost every square inch of sidewalk is taken up by tiny businesses. There is so much unemployment that it is totally understandable, and I salute the young person with a technical degree in electronics selling peanuts from a wheelbarrow. He is trying to make a living on his own, rather than sit home and ask for funds.
Motorcycle rider with bags of bread

Motorcycles are everywhere, and beware when you cross the street. The bus agency closed years ago, and now motorcycles are many people's preferred mode of public transportation: inexpensive, and they can squeeze through traffic jams. Of course there is, it seems, a section of the hospital, just for motorcycle injuries. You'll find mom, dad, and two kids on a motorcycle; a vendor juggling a basket of wares on their head; another with two large bags of bread, one on each shoulder. 

A colorful note of whimsy
On the other hand, some things don’t change – friendship bonds first and foremost. I rang someone’s bell at 9:30 pm – I hadn’t been in touch with this person in 20 years – as
Douala's favorite dish: N'dole
soon as he realized who it was, joy and bear hugs ensued! (And the next day, a wonderful lunch...)

As the spouse of a Duala, himself born and raised here, and having lived here for over a decade, I am happy to return, despite the challenges and the ever-tenacious insects (especially the mosquitoes). It is not easy to be the lone pale face; everyone notices you, and little kids stare. Fortunately, you can also make a crying child smile, just by waving to them, as they are not expecting it!