Friday, January 11, 2008

The Travels of Hans and His 3 Wives

December 28

There is nothing more certain to be unpredictable than traveling in Africa. Sonya, Liz, Hans, and I headed off for Cameroon the day after Christmas, in hopes of making it to the Koza Adventist Hospital that evening. Before we even left, troubles began. Well, I shouldn't call them troubles because changes and different circumstances tend to make life more exciting. We had hoped to leave by 6 o'clock in the hospital truck which would take us through Kelo, on to Bangor, a border town. However, Liz and Sonya had worked that night and their replacement did not show up on time. While we waited, the truck driver decided that the oil filter needed to be changed. While we waiting for him to finish, Andre, the hospital administrator, decided he needed to go to Moundou, the opposite direction from Bangor.

Eventually we got underway around 8 o'clock with the driver, Andre, the 4 of us, Gary (in case the truck broke down along the way), and George, who wanted to just ride along for fun and visit some markets. We had hardly passed the river when we came upon a whole group of hippos lounging around by some water! Being the first time we've seen some here in Tchad, we excitedly jumped out to take some pictures by the water's edge. A man tried to convince us to get closer in his canoe, but seeing it was half-filled with water and remembering the fates of some people that ended up at our hospital, we decided to continue to look from a distance. Gary acted as tour guide, informing us on many interesting facts about hippos (sometime, ask me how they poop), and then we were on our way once more.

Once we bumped and lurched into Kelo, we headed to the post office to pick up packages! Piling them into the back of the truck and telling George to guard them with his life, the 4 of us headed off to find public transportation while the hospital truck continued on to Moundou for Andre.

Lucky for us, a "bus" was almost filled for Bangor. We took the last 4 seats on a bench facing backward, squished behind the driver seats, expecting to leave any moment. Now I must describe this "bus" to you. It is about the size of a van with racks on top to carry luggage. They add a bench behind the driver where we sat and a long seat in the back where the trunk is. The goal is to fit as many people as possible in order to make the most money possible. Besides looking like a piece of junk patched together on the outside, everything is stripped off the inside leaving just the metal frame of the bus and seats. Pieces of molding foam were hanging off the ceiling, and windows were smashed out, leaving just tape covering them.

Eventually they were ready to go and attempted to shut the side door by Liz. While trying to jerk it closed, the top runner came out, the only part connecting the door to the bus. They put it back in, but could only get the door half closed, where they tied it with a rubber strap. Then came the problem of getting the bus started. We could hear the engine grunting and hissing, but not starting. A bunch of people outside started pushing us down the road, faster and faster, but still it wouldn't start. We rolled to a stop and the 4 of us were asked to get out so that they could get to the engine under us. The engine finally roared to life and we all scrambled back in quickly as they took off.

We got a good breeze from the open door for the 3-hr. trip. Sitting facing everyone, we felt like the travel entertainment. It wasn't very far into the trip that we realized how much we looked like Hans' three wives since it isn't uncommon in this culture to have many wives. This was confirmed many times when people asked us if he was our husband. I always just answered, "yes," figuring they'd mess with us less if they thought we "belonged" to him as the culture sees it.

Rumbling into Bangor, we made a quick jump onto some motos waiting and headed for the border. We stopped to register at a customs building, hoping we could actually go across the border. We assumed we'd have to buy visas for about a week, but who knows how much they would try to charge us, or if it was even possible. It ended up going very well. Elise, the lady we went to talk to, was very friendly. She was excited to hear we were from the Bere Adventist Hospital and gave us her address and number so that she could have a hospital built in her village. She stamped our passports and charged us only 1000 CFA each, about 2 dollars. Excited over how well it went, we were off again.

Our motos stopped again by a building saying we needed to check in there too. We could see Cameroon, just across a river. Going in to see the military men, we figured it would be a quick stop since we'd worked everything out at the last place. The man looked at our stamps, questioned us a little and waved us on, but as we walked out, an Arab man stopped us asking for our passports. We know not to just give them out to any military man, because the government is corrupt and many will make you pay to get them back. I only brought my passport and visa copies for the trip instead of my original since Gary had told me that was all that was needed. So we refused to give the man our passports and tried to leave. He was persistent, though, and kept asking, grabbing Hans' arm to get him to stay. Hans told him we had already been cleared, but the man became irate. He yelled at Hans and Hans yelled back for a while until I was tempted to just run across the border and leave the screaming man :)

He started telling us that he was with some anti-espionage group and that we were American spies. We wanted to laugh at that, but he was serious. (You know our favorite thing to do is go to Cameroon to set bombs and spy on their amazing military techniques to take back to the States!) Eventually the man we had checked-in with came out and told us that we couldn't leave and needed to be questioned by this man. Hans acted very mad, because usually if you push & bluff your way around, they lay off, but this man was very adamant that we were spies. They took Hans over to a grass shack with a bunch of men while Liz, Sonya, and I waited by the road.

We waited and waited, hearing a very heated conversation going on in the hut. We prayed constantly for Hans, hoping they wouldn't take any of his stuff or charge him an exorbitant amt. of money. After an hour, he came out, looking quite shaken and walked over to us quietly saying, "I don't want to get shot here. Give me your passports." We quickly handed them over and watched him walk back, realizing possible more was at stake than our money and belongings. Not too much later, he came striding out, telling us to quickly get our stuff together. We quickly hoofed it down to the river and crossed the border in a canoe before they changed their minds.

Hans relayed all that had happened. The Arab man kept screaming at him constantly that we were spies and Americans are horrible...on and on. Hans said he looked like he wanted to kill him. Hans explained what we were doing in Tchad & Cameroon and that he had #s for the doctors at both hospitals to confirm if needed. They argued continually and then eventually said they wanted to interrogate us girls one by one. Hans wisely played off of their Muslim beliefs and told them that he was responsible for us. It wouldn't be expected of their woman to appear in front of strange men alone. They could talk to him in regard to us. They agreed and that's when he came to get our passports.

Relieved to finally be across, we made it through the Cameroon registration points fairly easy. Amazing that we were allowed to travel in Cameroon with no visas, just a stamp saying we were leaving Tchad & entering Cameroon! Greg says most of the military men can't read well enough to tell. You could put any stamp on a paper and call it something without them knowing the difference.

We found a driver to take us into Yagoua to catch a bus to Maroua. We looked out, amazed at the difference from Tchad. So many nice houses and power lines! We had to wait 4 hrs. for a bus to finally come to take us to Maroua. We got there at 11 pm and proceeded to try and find a place to stay the night. Greg had arranged for us to stay at the Baptist Mission after hearing we'd be late, but there was some confusion and they wanted 15000 CFA! Thirty dollars for just 6 hours of sleep. So we ended up staying on the floor of a room in YaYa's house. A man Greg arranged to pick us up at the bus station.

It was a sleepless night with lots of mosquitoes. We were up early and on our way on another bus to Mokolo. It is so beautiful in Cameroon with mountains and agriculture. In Mokolo, we jumped on some motos for the last leg of our journey to Koza (after negotiating the price for a while). It was a fun trip up and over mtns. into the town of Koza. We arrived at the hospital by 9:30 that morning, seeing Audrey & Greg running out to meet us. Time for a vacation...

1 comment:

  1. Hey Sissy,

    We're on our way to Wyoming. We are in Twin Falls, ID tonight and will go the rest of the way tomorrow. Tried to call you this morning before we left home to see if you were feeling better, but couldn't get through. Send us an email (use usual email addy) and we'll get it while we're gone. I forgot to put your new one in the address book of the laptop, so will have to use this method until we hear from you.