As Victor and I sat in the car, waiting for the others to come back out of the hardware shop, we had just enough idleness to make us mischievous. “If I had known how long we had to wait, I would have walked,” he sighed. “Let’s go! You know the city, I know how to drive.” As we started plotting how we would drive away with Madame Janet’s car, she came back with Mr. Joe just in time. Because if you knew Yaounde, and knew my driving capabilities, you would immediately realize what a bad idea it would be for me, or any American straight from the states to drive in this city. Well, except for a New Yorker.
I think my favorite part about living in a big city, even for a month, is the chaos. It’s almost like an equation – the bigger the town, the more traffic, and therefore the crazier the drivers. You start to learn the telling signs, when within a matter of seconds, a taxi can stop a whole lane of traffic by stopping in the middle of the lane to let out passengers, followed by the loud melody of a hundred horns of angry drivers, stuck behind. Or the fact that sometimes even a stopped taxi can’t stop people from finding one way or another, to snake around, somehow avoiding the large trucks driving the opposite direction. Or driving on surfaces you never thought were drivable.
But my favorite is of course the motorcycles. Even if it took us 20 minutes to get to the bus station by taxi, when Janet forgot some pencils at home to give to her son in Bamenda, she managed to leave and come back in 15 minutes by bike. The way they can weave in and out of cars, passing the cars dead stopped in the middle of the road makes it the sure way to get somewhere on time. Or if you’re me, it’s the best way to get to school on time, thanks to Mr. Moses, the elementary school teacher who also happens to have a side job driving people around town on his prized possession, “the white horse.”
As we weave through all the drivers, who honk, yelling out “ma cherie!” and “la blanche!” it’s always quite the adventure getting to school. By the end of it we’re both annoyed with all of the attention (one time he even had a taxi driver tell him to be sure not to kidnap the white lady). Not to mention it can be harrowing to just barely avoid other cars and traffic, as we plunge through the chaos, somehow untouched. I have to admit, I do enjoy riding through town because unlike in a car where you look out on the world from behind your window, on a bike you are part of the world. Rather than hiding, you feel part of it somehow, participating, talking to people, taking in the air, feeling as if everything around you is real.