Cameroon Task Force

2012 Trip: Part 1 of 5

Laura Knapp is an active member of the CTF team. She traveled with the group four times (2010-2017). Knapp has offered to share her journal from the 2012 trip with everyone.

Africa, Here We Come...!

(Trip 2012)

Air France

After fifteen long hours of flying in the stratosphere (not including layovers), mom and I arrived in Paris, France. Our 4 seventy-pound bags filled with PET parts, sewing machines, medical supplies, and a microscope arrived with us – whew! In an interesting turn of events the airlines checked two bags to Douala so we only had to deal with the two that were checked to Paris. We found the storage place at the airport (Luggage du monde) to keep our bags overnight. We still had 75 pounds of carry-on bags, and a roll of posters to schlep, so storing the heavy bags for $30 and not having to deal with them on the shuttle to the hotel, was totally worth it.

A Little Lost:   We stood in the wrong place for about half an hour before someone took pity on us and directed us to the right place. Then, the “free” shuttle from the airport took us directly to the Premiere Classe Hotel. We travelers were booked into two hotels right next to each other – and it was so wonderful to see Jody, Gail, Jo Ann, Tom, LeAnn, Bonnie and Kelly. Some had arrived the day before us (and were a little more alert); We were the last ones spending the night, to arrive. Christi would meet up with us at the Charles de Gaulle Airport the next morning. Jeri is flying through Brussels and will arrive a half hour after we get to Douala, Cameroon. Cathie, Jay, Issak and Eli and the Essim family are already in Cameroon. From this point on, we will continually “count heads” of both people and baggage to make sure nothing and no one is left behind. It was an exciting greeting in the hotel hallway knowing that we have made it this far safely!

Bag Problem

Our flight to Doula would leave at 10:30 a.m., so we left on the 7:30 a.m. shuttle, just to be sure we had enough time to pick up luggage and get checked in. We (Jody, Gail, mom and me) picked up our 70-pound luggage from the storage and went as a group to the Air France ticket counter where we found Bonnie and Kelly in line. Their ticket agent cleared their four medical bags to Douala without any problems – phew! But ours was a different story.

Unfortunately, the woman working our line was sticking to the rules. First she said we’d weigh our carry-on bags. We got worried because we had a lot of heavy stuff in these bags. After one look at my carry-on bag she announced it was too big to take on board. The fact the bag had made it from Anchorage to Paris in the overhead compartments on two different airlines was not important to her – it was frustrating. She even walked us out and showed us that it didn’t fit into their model-sized contraption. Mom assured her we’d take care of it.

More Troubles Ahead

Jody’s husband surprised her with an upgrade to business class that started in Paris – so she saved us with her increased baggage allowances. She and Gail traded carry-ons so Gail could to meet the carry on weight requirements.

Because she came from Anchorage with a 50-pound bag and could now take 70 pounds, we emptied my carry-on into one of her suitcases with extra space. There we were in the Paris airport dumping my underwear, jump ropes and personal items in front of the rest of the check in line. We left the bag there for someone else who may need it. If it hadn’t been for the coincidental change, my items would have been distributed here and there amongst all the medical and carry-ons, or we would have been charged $285 for the extra bag.

After that unpleasant ordeal with the Air France check-in, my red bag was sent to baggage heaven. We had only one incident getting through security and it was pretty funny. Mom was carrying a half-size plastic, human skeleton for the nurse’s aide training center. The screener indicated she needed to see inside the Styrofoam box. Mom kept repeating, “there is a skeleton inside” but the screener didn’t seem to comprehend what she said. When she opened the package and saw the skeleton she threw up her hands, jumped back, and shrieked. She quickly realized it was all plastic and laughed. Her reaction was a totally priceless, laugh-out-loud moment…haha. “For high school biology class,” she stated, and then motioned for the other screeners to see what had caused the commotion. Mom nodded, picked up the package and moved out before there were more questions.

Security Issues

It had taken an hour and a half to get thru check in and security. We arrived at the boarding gate at 9:05 a.m. where we met up with Christi (she and I are the official trip college students). Arriving in Paris on a flight from Seattle about an hour prior, she was very relieved to see our faces. She’d was travelling alone and it had been a long time since she’d seen a familiar face, and was a little panicked at the thought of flying to Cameroon herself.

They announced boarding for the flight to Douala before everyone else was at the gate. We had to board the buses that took us to the plane out on the tarmac. We knew everyone except Jeri was supposed to be on this flight – but there were only the 5 of us were at the gate. We went ahead and boarded, and mom stood guard at the airplane door – counting each person who got on. The crew became interested in our story and helped us as we accounted for all of our friends. When the last bus from the terminal arrived and we were all accounted for, we sat down and we left for Douala – as excited as kids boarding the bus for camp.

Welcome to the Republic of Cameroun!

(Trip 2012)

Christ's Bag and Missing Jeri

We left Paris at 10:30 a.m. on Air France flight #958 and arrived late afternoon in Douala. A lot of the flight covered the Sahara Desert – it is huge. When we stepped off the plane I immediately felt the atmosphere which was incredibly hot and humid – just how I remembered from the first mission trip, but this time it was light outside. We were greeted by Madame Pauline Nzameyo, our Cameroon lead project director, Cathie, Jay, and two Kribi friends Jon, and Joaz. We began picking out our bags, putting them on carts and lining them up along the wall. Then we each had to identify our bags to make sure all arrived. We worried that our two bags checked through to Douala, that spent the night in the Paris airport, might not have been put on the right plane. They made it! But Christi’s personal bag that went directly from Anchorage to Douala was missing. We assumed it was due to her tight flight connections that left little time for luggage handlers to sort the bags.

Jeri was supposed to arrive 30 minutes after we got in; but Jeri was not on the plane. Unfortunately, her first flight out of Anchorage was delayed, which set up a chain reaction of missed flights, and ultimately causing her to miss the Brussels flight to Douala. We set up a plan before leaving Anchorage – if anyone missed a flight or for any reason could not make the Douala connection – they were to call Cathie’s mom in Anchorage and she would contact Cathie. That’s exactly what Jeri did. Jeri spent the night in Brussels (and the airline paid for it) and would join us in Douala the next day.

A Joyful Dinner

That evening, we had an outdoor banquet with Madam Pauline, Phil our interpreter, Pauline’s daughter VaVa and baby Joel and the rest of our extended African family. The celebration was in a restaurant in an open yard just across the street from our hotel, the Serena Palace Hotel. Getting there was a little scary. It was dark, with few street lights. We held hands, spotted a break in traffic and ran like crazy across the busy road. Traffic is discombobulated in Douala where there are few stoplights. Thankfully, we all made it across with no incidents.

A Special Reunion

Dinner was a joyful time. VaVa kick started the event by leading us in the well-known Christmas tune, “Joy to the World”. She knew we all could sing the song and its simple melody and lyrics expressed our combined joy of being together again. Pauline made a welcome speech stating how grateful she was for our safe arrival, excited to see new faces, and eager to see our cultural relationship blossom through the projects.

After our evening festivity, mom and I had a surprise visit by Seraphin (aka mom’s son that she shares with his African mom, Olieve). For the past two years we’ve been exchanging emails now-and-then about our lives. He offered apologies for missing dinner – he is a college student going for an MA in business, specializing in project management and he is taking an English course this summer to improve his speech and articulation. His pleasant greeting was a great way to end the day. We all hugged and smiled a lot.

Hello Kribi!

(Trip 2012)

Terrible Traffic Jam

Our first morning in Cameroon was amaazziinnng! We had all hung mosquito netting the night before, and maybe that’s why Mom and I slept rocks. At the hotel restaurant bar, Cathie made an updated announcement about Jeri’s trip. She would arrive from Brussels, spend the night here at the hotel with Jo Ann and join us tomorrow in time for church.

Messing Traffic:   After breakfast, the hotel and bus staff loaded our luggage on top of the mini bus that would take all of us from Douala to Kribi. Getting out of the main center of Douala proved quite difficult! Traffic was terrible – much worse than the congested Los Angeles rush hour. We got into a huge jam and quickly discovered the source of problem. Two large, broken-down trucks had obstructed both lanes; one had a flat tire and the other had a dead battery. I spotted a man standing in the middle of the road directing traffic. With much patience, we made it through.

Heading to Pauline's Home

Despite a huge down pour of rain, two and a half hours later, we made it to Kribi in good condition. When we got Pauline’s place, I had expected to see the children running toward us with excitement like they did last time, but none appeared :-(. I found out they were still in school and wouldn’t be joining us this week. It was quite a bummer as I had looked forward to doing string games and jump rope activities with them.

Pauline's Home

(Trip 2012)

Lunch at Pauline's

To begin the lunch festivity, the Kribi women sang a beautiful, joyful song. It was incredibly moving listening to their deep harmonies and rich tonalities. At the buffet table, the hard-working cooks served us a life-time supply of their well-loved Cameroonian dishes. The cuisine included: Ndole (aka Bitterleaf Soup of cooked spinach, crawfish, and ground nuts), fried plantains (a staple food for any meal), fufu, beans, bass, French fries… and of course, fresh pineapple and watermelon slices. Oh, my – they were all soooo yummy.

A Safe Haven:  Pauline’s home is like a women’s shelter and home all rolled into one, offering a safe haven for women and children. Our transportation for this visit were two, large vehicles. Jay and Cyril (Phil’s cousin) were our designated drivers. Jay drove a good-sized, 7-seated Jeep vehicle; and Cyril drove a snazzy Honda minivan with automatic doors and air conditioning, both were arranged by David Essim. I found this transportation much more efficient (in terms of air ventilation) than the 2010 approach – cramming 10 people into a 5-person mini Toyota car or 16 into Pauline’s 7-seat minivan. And of course, we chose not to take the common mode of Kribi -travel, the motorcycles, because there was no safety gear.

Let's All Cram In

We left the medical luggage in a locked room in Pauline’s home and took the rest to our hotel. We spent the rainy (but still hot and humid) afternoon getting reacquainted with the Coca Beach hotel (our stay for the duration of the trip) and acclimating to the time change: 9 hours ahead of Alaska. Jody, LeAnn, Tom, Christi, Issak, and I went for a long stroll along the sandy beach. We discovered miniaturize sized sea shells, geckos, an old central IV line wrapped around a branch, and African crabs running all over the sand. We walked past the hotel where the Essim’s were staying, which included a swimming pool – wow! As tempting it was to jump in the pool or the Atlantic Ocean, we chose not to due to the angry clouds that looked like they could break into thunder and lightning at any moment.

Read part 2

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