As usually is the case, a break in blog posting means I was recently traveling. This time I visited the West region to meet the new Peace Corps Trainees and share some best practices. They are an enthusiastic group and I look forward to welcoming new volunteers to our region in November. After training on maternal and child health topics, I traveled north to Ngaoundere to do some work before coming back down to Danfili.
As I described in a previous post about travel, going anywhere further than an hour from Danfili means taking the Camrail train that connects the Adamawa to the rest of the country via Yaounde. This is mainly due to road restrictions put in place for volunteer security near the boarders to Nigeria, the CAR, and Chad. Many Cameroonians also prefer the train to the main road that curves from the central region to the west and then north.
We were advised during training to be patient while traveling in Cameroon. Buses and cars are often crowded and hot, the road is unpaved and very bumpy, and the trips feel unbearably long. Growing up, visiting family that had a gravel driveway was novel, like traveling back in time, but here it’s the reality of virtually all car travel. This article explains how less than 10 percent of roads in Cameroon are paved and maintained.
Some of you may have read about a recent tragedy in Cameroon concerning a train derailment. Less than twenty-four hours before, a bridge collapsed on the main (only) road connecting Yaounde and Douala-the political and commercial capitals of Cameroon. As a result of this road collapse, the train that connects the two cities was twice as full of commuters as recommended. I’m not sure of all the details, but when the accident occurred countless people were injured and killed. For the rest of the week there has been no way for people to travel between the two cities unless they fly. It is still unclear how long the road repairs will take. The train that I take is unaffected by the accident, but traveling home on Sunday the train was a little shorter than usual.
Traveling in Cameroon is always an adventure. Sometimes I find myself sharing the backseat of a car with four other passengers, sometimes I have great conversations with new friends, and once a goat strapped to the roof miraculously pooped on me through the window. After spending a year here I feel very lucky that those are the extent of my travel stories, and that I have no stories involving scars or bruises. In general the PCV community has a record of being safe during travel. We complain about the length of trips and the uncomfortable seats, but always make it safely from A to B. These recent accidents are a humbling reminder that we are still living in a place that lacks adequate infrastructure and maintenance. We need to be careful and take precautions to guard our safety.