“Excuse me,” I asked smiling to the ladies selling corn on the side of the road. “Can you tell me where to go to get to…..Mfou?” I loved pronouncing the name of the town, because it sounded exactly like “fool” to me in French, which is how I felt at that moment. There I was, in a corner of Yaoundé I’d never seen, traveling to a town in a direction I’d never been in before, to go to an even further village that definitely didn’t exist on Google maps. And yet, somehow, an hour and a half later, after a car ride, walk, and motorcycle trip, using a handwritten poorly drawn map that I had photographed on my phone, I arrived. As my moto pulled up to my Cameroonian colleague’s family’s house, which was about as middle of nowhere as you could get, my friends walked towards me with shocked looks on their faces. “How on earth did you get here on your own?” As I hugged them I smiled and said, “I just followed the advice.”
In Cameroon it’s hard to plan things in advance, especially when it comes to traveling. To know exactly how to get from one point to another, and by which time you will arrive is virtually impossible, with no bus time table or Google Maps app to guide you. As a seasoned public transportation user, this used to stress me out, not knowing how to get places, glaring at the roads without signs, and taxi stands that just looked like a bunch of beat up cars. But then I learned the secret. Just ask.
My trip to Mfou was probably the cheapest, smoothest trip it could have been, thanks to the people I asked. As the ladies selling corn directed me to the taxi stand, I saw a nice truck loading drinks and provisions for a party in the back. “Hop on in,” the driver said, cramming me in with the three other people in the back seat. As we drove along I explained where I was going and showed them the map, asking if they knew the place. “Ah, I can help you get a motorcycle. I know people who drive there.” As the driver dropped everyone else off he wandered until he found someone who knew the place. As I eyed him suspiciously, wondering if they were going to rip me off, he smiled and offered to take me for the equivalent of 2 bucks. “I’ll take you there, since I’m taking your friend’s aunt too.” The motorcycle driver told me. “You’d better buy some water for the road.” I took his advice, buying a bottle before we left. “You better put on your jacket,” the aunt told me as we piled on. “It’s going to get cold.” In the sweltering heat I put on my sweater, awkwardly holding onto my newly purchased water bottle, squishing between the aunt and a small stove attached to the very back of the moto, wondering if I was a fool for piling onto a vehicle with two random strangers, who were now driving off into the forest, taking me who knows where.
But as we drove, the wind picked up, and shade on the road made me shiver just the slightest amount, as I pulled my jacket closer around me. The aunt got off at her house, and promised to meet me there, taking her stove with her. The driver took me straight to the house, right in front where my friends found me. As I sat down my friends asked me how much I’d paid to get there. “Wow, that’s a really good price,” they said, shocked. “And you brought water! That was really smart. I wish I’d brought a bottle, since there’s none here,” my other colleague said, shaking her head. I sat down and took off my jacket, which had a nice layer of dust on it, which had protected my dress from the worst of the road. I guess I was surprised to realize I was better prepared for this event than my Cameroonian colleagues. All I had done was ask.