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Livejournal reloaded – transportation in Cameroon June 7, 2011

Posted by therealtinlizzy in Uncategorized.

So while I’m no longer active on Live Journal, it was my initial foray into blog-type writing years ago. For the most part left off with LJ circa 2007, an amicable parting of ways due mostly to life shifting and my writing attention wandering off, but given the posts remain out there on the interwebs I still get notifications of comments, which these days are almost exclusively compliments of spam bots, and primarily Russian ones at that. Gone are the Red Dawn days; the Russians of today are going to take over the world not via super-seekrit paratrooper attacks on a school, but rather with spam:

Subject: Все отлично сделано!
Познавательно, но не убедительно. Чего-то не хватает, а чего не пойму. Но, скажу прямо: – светлые и доброжелательные мысли

I have no idea what that says – I trust it’s about Viagra on-the-cheap or penile enhancements. Anyway, the springing of this comment into my email this morning prompted me to read the post to which it was attached. I then thought that given my dearth of posting these past couple months, and that really everyone should have the opp to know about the alt universe that is driving in developing countries, I should for funsies re-post that entry here, and maybe dig thru old LJs for any other posts of particular interest to re-post. Maybe it will even help kick-start my writing again. But I promise I won’t go too overboard in re-posting old stuff.  😀

So from Aug 2006, after returning from a 3 week trip to Cameroon:

I was back escorting at the clinic this morning after a few weeks away, which is one thing I’m enthused to be getting back to. I had the luxury of a couple other folks I’ve gotten to know a bit helping to escort this morning, and the one was inquiring about my trip. She asked me if I rented a car or what to get around while I was there.

Ha. Did I drive in cameroon?

Let me talk a bit about transportation in Cameroon, particularly because it’s such an integral part of the whole experience of Cameroon rather than just an afterthought or a means to get from point A to point B. Although that’s probably just the case for an American rube like myself traveling in Cameroon for the first time. To a Cameroonian, the uniquely-Cameroonian modus-transporti is as much of a taken-for-grant afterthought as getting in the car and driving across town is for us. Although more accurately perhaps is that it’s not that the transportation is uniquely Cameroonian so much as it uniquely developing-country.

As an aside, so far “developing-country” is the best term I’ve found so far that fits my understanding of a country like Cameroon. However that doesn’t exactly fit my preferences either because it seems to express a certain innate value-judgement which assumes Western/capitalism-philosophied countries are soooo the pinacle of evolved/advanced/superior/[insert other patronizing term here] and the assumption is that everyone should and wants to be developed like us. But given other options like “under-developed” (which is even more-so patronizing and presumptive) or “3rd-world” (which is so 1980’s, I mean I doubt even Sally Struthers still has that in her active lexicon), it seems “developing country” as a descriptive phrase will have to do for now. Any other suggs out there?

Maybe I’m just too PC-minded, and maybe there’s just no getting away from comparing and value-judging when you’re comparing and describing cultures and standards-of-living because we understand things in terms of associations relative to what we know, culture and living and technology and transportation we know and how other things are similar or different to what we know. human nature and all that.

Anyway – back to transportation in cameroon. There was defiance of the laws of physics which really made me start to question the sorts of preconceived notions I’ve always had of physics. Like car crashes. I mean I’ve seen supposed footage of them and heard second hand of them supposedly happening, but I’ve never been in one myself. But after seeing the sorts of speeds and maneuvering done by cameroon moto/taxi/van drivers with a complete lack of stoplights/stopsigns/traffic-rules/speed-limits and around blind corners and with the sorts of unbelievable loads or baggage/livestock/people they manage and not having see/experienced a single accident, I’m starting to question how we Americans can still supposedly manage to get in traffic accidents here with all the prohibitions we have that are supposed to prevent/minimize accidents.

That said, about my observation that there seem to be nonesuch in the way of driving laws/rules in cameroon, there do seem to be a few incidental rules-of-thumb you can count on. For one – while there aren’t any formal speed limits as such (that are actually enforced anyway), there are some factors that do at times limit traffic speed. Neither pedestrians or other vehicles are included in this list of factors that will slow traffic down, but it does include: 1) gaping vehicle-jolting pot-holes (which are the rule vs the exception), 2) occasional speed bumps thrown along the road randomly between towns 3) the effects of hill incline and enormous weight of loads piled onto/into vehicle overpowering engine horsepower.

Another general rule of thumb is driving on the right side of the road/street. People generally drive on the right side of the road, except when it’s more convenient not to. And I mean that in the most promiscuous, exaggerated way of understanding possible. If there are pot holes on your side of the street, it’s perfectly acceptible to careen over in front of on-coming traffic to avoid them. If someone stops in front of you or the truck/car/moto in front of you is going slower than you’d like, you can just drive around them – anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

Another rule of thumb – intersections are just a look-out-for-yourself free-for-all. There are no stop lights or stop signs or the MN-nice kind of your-turn/my-turn, tho there is the occasional roundabout. Generally everyone just goes, all at once, all the time, darting and budging in between and around each other, moto-taxis cruising past in the bare inches between opposing lanes of traffic. It’s complete anarchy chaos, but strangely enough it works. Not perfectly smoothly or fluidly perhaps, but people keep moving. It’s certainly no worse than traffic jams here, where people are too polite (or you know, afraid of getting pulled over I supposed) to just jump the clusterfuck and go around.

And in all my time spent in taxis and on motos, there were no accidents or even fenderbenders. It’s like cameroonians drive according to another set of physics entirely. I mean I don’t but have to jump out on a freeway any given day to see an accident or fender-bender around here, but 3 weeks in cameroon and experiencing no end of what seemed to me close-calls and near-misses and running a la Frogger when crossing any given road and I didn’t see any accidents. I’m not kidding when I say that taxis and motos would pass each other and people walking along the side of the road within a hair’s-breadth of each other, and it just worked.

And that’s not even talking about the between-town van rides we would take. I laugh to think about all those silly vehicular laws and regulations we have over here – things like seat-belts and passenger restrictions, and all the fuss made over vans and jeeps and SUVs that were supposedly too tippy and had to be re-engineered. Cameroonians would laugh in the face of such nonsense, and after my experiences I’m starting to as well.

The vans weren’t altogether different than or altogether much bigger than VW buses, into which we were packed four-wide and 4 deep, sometimes more if there were children or an extra guy scrunched on the engine block between the front and second rows. The 4th and sometimes 3rd rows were only accessible by lifting up the jumper seat on the right end of the row in front.

Also livestock is acceptible both inside the vehicle as well as on the luggage rack, depending on where they will fit. On our foray from Foumban to Bafousam we had three goats behind/beneath our seat (megan – “hey is that a goat up against my foot?”, me – feeling below the seat “yep, feels like it”, megan – “hope it’s not dead”, me – “nope, just felt it move”) and a pregnant one on the roof rack with the rest of the luggage.

On our trip from Bafousam to Kumba there was a woven grass crate containing 4 or 5 pigs that made the 5 hour trip on top of the van. When we arrived and I got my backpack from the top of the van, I quickly became convinced it had come into contact with substantial amount of pig urine. I mean who would expect pigs in a crate piled on top of everyone’s luggage on top of a van not to urinate for 5 hours? I mean I was riding in the van but at least got to pee along the road at one point when we all had to get out and walk (because the road was too rutted and the overloaded van couldn’t get up the hill with us all inside).

But the physics-defying part really was the breakneck speeds these ridiculously top-heavy (due to the ridiculous amounts of luggage and cargo they piled on top) vans traveled on these spaghetti hilly up & down crazy roads where at any given time there might be a rather steep hill off the side of the road sloping down and away far far below or hairpin turns that the driver might slow down just a smidge for at the last minute or a big burly lumbering Mutzig Beer truck to pass wildly around a blind corner or over a blind hill. Speeds and maneuvering and cargo-loading feats which would’ve been ridiculous in a low-rider car on nice straight visible stretches, but which under these conditions I can only describe as physics-defying and thus conclude that the laws of physics in Cameroon are entirely different than those that operate here in North America. Friend Angie has corroborated my assertions with her stories of traveling in Egypt, so I don’t think I’m too far off base here.

And while there may not be too many Cameroonians here in MN, there are a lot cab drivers who learned to drive in some other developing country approximating conditions in Cameroonian, and I no longer wonder at the feats of speed and maneuvering of which they’re capable, and how they’ve come close to killing me on my bike so many many times, but always seem to miss me by just a hair’s-breadth.


1. Preflash Gordon - June 8, 2011

According to Google Translate your Russian friend says of your Livejournal post:

“All perfectly done!
Informative, but not convincing. Something is missing, but what I do not understand. But, frankly: – Bright and benevolent thoughts”

Bright and benevolent. I think (s)he knows you pretty well. 🙂

therealtinlizzy - June 9, 2011

I have to say that’s rather adorable. Maybe the Russian spammers have truer and more beneficent motives for their spamming? Perhaps they come in peace. Perhaps they’re draping chains of daisys on the rumbling tanks in the warzone that is the interwebs.

Perhaps I’m one of the most metaphorically nonsensical people I know. Literally. 😉

2. Stefanie - June 8, 2011

Was Cameroon that long ago? God I feel old.

therealtinlizzy - June 9, 2011

Indeed! Nearly five years older are we! 😀

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