I surprise myself by how happy I am to see city lights and hear traffic. Not to say that I don’t enjoy the quiet of village life but I am equally able to appreciate the hustle and bustle of a city.

Mostly I have seen but a tiny corner of Yaoundé. RainForest International School (close to where I’m staying) used to be at the edge of the city, but now buildings have grown up on all sides of it. Nevertheless, the area is not densely populated: in every direction I look, pockets of green separate the rooftops. There are even small cornfields between houses. The Yaounde I’ve seen seems relaxed, sprawling and affluent—only the second, no doubt, is true for all of town.

I have no illusions that we’re in an ordinary part of town here. The houses, according to the standard of the village, or even what I’ve seen of Kumba, are palatial. It’s wonderful to see multi-story buildings again, showing an attempt at architecture. (Most buildings in the villages, even in Kumba and Bamenda, exist to be buildings, not to be attractive.) By outward appearances, the missionary’s house I’m staying at is the least grandiose of the lot, and if a stroll through the neighbourhood is any indication, the neighbours are nearly all African, not white, so my guilt at dwelling in such splendour is assuaged somewhat.

All these horror stories I’ve heard about how hot it is in Big Bekondo have still come to naught. They say December is the worst, so I guess it’s still to come, but so far I’d say cities are hotter. All that vegetation in the rainforest mitigates the heat while the concrete in the cities retains it. The days I’ve spent in Kumba and Yaoundé have by far been my hottest and stickiest in Cameroon.

Downtown Yaoundé is bustling and hot but after 2½ months in the village, everything seems modern and luxurious. The groceries stores I visited (with the designated hostel kitchen shoppers) were European in flavour, but frequented mainly by middle and upper class Cameroonians, and ex-pats, they don’t represent “the real” Cameroon.

Traffic weaves in and out without controls of any kind. Though busy, and moving in a manner incomprehensible to my regimented North American mind, it is neither frantic, nor even chaotic. There’s a method to the madness, an order to the disorder, which allows everyone to get where they’re going without stoplights or other traffic signals. Not that I’d ever want to driver here, though.

On our way into centreville, I saw furniture shop after furniture shop, selling beautiful reddish-wood beds, cupboards and tables, and plush chairs and sofas with gleaming wood frames. Who buys all these things, I ask myself, showing that I am still a small-town Mennonite who can’t comprehend the population of cities, nor the compulsion to buy new things to keep up with styles, regardless of whether the old was worn out yet.

Across the valley behind these shops, though, I caught a glimpse of another Yaoundé. A long row of shabby houses with rusted and derelict zinc roofs clung to the hillside as piles garbage tumbled down the slope behind them.


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