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Monday, July 19, 2010

20th Stop - Douala, Cameroon

Avoid the equator during the rainy season
I started to worry at the airport, “What if they realize I left my car here? Will they prevent me from leaving?” No problems, made it through customs. I think I was having another bout of good luck, this time brought on by greeting everyone with “salem alikum” and a smile. I even got an exit window seat on the plane to Douala.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I got to the airport. Germain from JCI Cameroon had helped me make a hotel reservation for my visa back in May. But I was showing up earlier and really hoped to stay with and meet some JCI members. So a week ago, I sent a message to Roland Kweiman, this year’s JCI world president who is from Cameroon and told him about my project. He initiated a chain reaction of email forwards until Ghislain, a local president in Douala offered to host me. This chain reaction took some time and nothing got nailed down before I got on the plane, meaning I didn’t have Ghislain’s number nor address and had no idea how to find him once I got there. Stay positive, right?

I got my bags and made it through customs without having to pay an “expedited” service charge to a local entrepreneur whose brother or sister works as a customs officer. It was 5:30 in the morning and when I got out to the taxis and didn’t see anyone holding a sign with my name on it, I started to think about what to do next. Just then, someone approached me, “Are you John?” Yes! Thank you ever so much Ghislain for coming to the airport to meet me! It turns out, Ghislain had been there since 2 am and had no idea what I looked like. When my plane arrived, he saw looking a little dazed and confused and when I looked closely at the sign someone was holding, he said to himself, that must be him.

We took a taxi back to his place and as I put my things down, Ghislain asked, “Do you play ball?” Meaning football, or soccer. Of course I do. “Great, we got a game going in less than an hour, get laced up!”

Generally 2, sometimes 3 per bike
We hopped on some motor bikes and went to the soccer field. Ghislain plays with the Veterans, an older men’s league for locals from the same neighborhood. This league is actually an association of about 40 members who play against each other every Sunday. There was a great warm-up and stretching that reminded of high school soccer days. We played for a couple of hours, then went for a lunch of hare, chicken, rice, and macuba with Hervé and Achilles. The food was delicious.

Our day with the Veterans had just begun, however. After lunch, we went to the réfuge, or clubhouse, to talk about the game and other pressing issues the association had to deal with. Oh, and sing a modified version of the Marseillaise and drink some beers (Allons enfants des brasseries / Le temps de boire est arrivé / Nous buvons jusqu’à la dérive / Nous buvons jusqu’à la dérive / Le temps de boire est arrivé / Le temps de boire est arrivé / Buvons... Chantons / Jusqu’au matin / Le temps de boire est arrivé...). After a while of listening to everyone discuss health insurance issues, it became clear that the Veterans could benefit from a training on parliamentary procedure. This would help them take democratic decisions in a timely and efficient manner. I proposed a resolution to do this training with Ghislain next week and it was unanimously approved... Rendez-vous next week for more soccer, training, singing, and drinking!

Les Amis du Dimanche
The general meeting ended around 3 pm, so we went back home, showered up and went into town for another meeting. This time with the Amis du Dimanche (Sunday Friends). This is another association similar to the Veterans but whose main function is to provide solidarity among members in times of need. Every week, members meet and pay dues. Then they discuss what is going on in the neighborhood and how they can help each other. They also share a meal and drink together. I told everyone about why I was in Douala and they were very happy to hear about what I was doing to help fight malaria.

After the meal, we excused ourselves to go to Ghislain’s mother-in-law’s home. She lost her husband last year and the entire family was there for the one-year anniversary of his death. My sincerest condolences to her, Annie, Ghislain’s wife, and the rest of their family.

Storytelling with the Amis du Dimanche
It was getting late and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep my eyes open. We took motorbikes to the main road, then got in a cab and I fell promptly asleep. I didn’t even realize when Ghislain stopped to buy some fish for dinner. We also got some insecticide to spray around the apartment. Hopefully, this will keep the mosquitos at bay until I get my hands on some anti-malarial medication.

One last delicious fish meal with fried plantains and it was time to hit the sack.

To be continued...


  1. HI! Know what? I played soccer with the vétérans too! Oh how I loved it... I have been in Douala 4 times in the last 2 years and I really enjoyed it, I consider that my second hometown. Thank you very much for having written so much about that place and folks I love. Greetings.
    Roberta, Rome Italy

  2. Hi Roberta,

    You should check out the video here:

    You may recognize some people!



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