13 August 2015

Nous sommes arrives!

We are now ensconced in Douala, gradually getting settled in before starting staff meetings on the 17th (school begins on August 24).

As a city that has a larger population of the entire African country I last lived in (The Gambia), Douala is a busy place. We are in a relatively less crowded neighbourhood, although it still pretty built up. Travel within the city is quite easy (we missed some rains that flooded parts of Douala earlier in the rainy season), and within walking distance we have discovered preferred vendors of fruit and veg, hardware, and liquor bottles of nuts.

While French is the official language of most of Cameroon, there are large numbers of English speakers (many from the Anglophone, formerly British-administered west) and many people are bilingual. We are still getting plenty of French practice, though. While Douala was originally settled by the Douala people (fancy that!), urbanization and migration – and Cameroon's cosmopolitan population with nearly 300 different languages – mean that there is no local/indigenous lingua franca. So people in the largest cities tend to speak French or English with one another.

Germany controlled the colony of Cameroon until World War I and the Treaty of Versailles when it was split between Britain and France. Approaching independence, British Northern Cameroon opted to join Nigeria while British Southern Cameroon merged with French Cameroon. This was meant to be a federation but over time the French portion of Cameroon (the seat of national government) has centralized authority, thereby marginalizing Anglophone Cameroon. Many of the school's staff are of Anglophone extraction so I will solicit their thoughts on the arrangement.

Proof that we are “being treated like kings” (with a nod to my friend Alicia):

 We procured a Louis Vitton
individually-crafted wooden ironing board.

Further innovations: Flip-up umbrellas on moto-taxis for when it rains (which is often).

Ollie's Odyssey Begins

As you can see from these pictures, Ollie was not particularly enthused about her impending move. She also experienced several courses of rabies shots, a microchip implant, and USDA-notarized paperwork. Despite our only having a three hour layover in Brussels, she had to meet onerous EU standards (Cameroon's were not as strict – really just the rabies shot and confirmation).

On the road, though, she remained quiet, if not still, when confined to her soft bag (with “privacy flaps”...). Life outside the bag was more stressful, including when I had to carry her through the metal detector and was also selected for TSA extra screening. Once I walked through the metal detector, an agent called out “I need a hands check” (to inspect my hands for chemicals) so I waited with Ollie writhing in my arms as the agent became increasingly curt (“I need hands!” “Hands!”).

After a few minutes someone came to check my hands (as I swapped Ollie between arms) then we proceeded to collecting my carry-on. After conducting a chemical(?) check of the bag, Ollie was allowed to return to her sanctuary. This was followed by searches of my checked bags, a body pat-down, and the brief sequestration of my shoes for further scanning.

At this point the hardest (or most entertaining, from Blair's onlooker perspective) portion of the trip was over. Before landing in Brussels we noticed on a stub with our boarding passes that ALL flights to African countries depart from something called “Terminal T.” No, Brussels Airport isn't that large, these were just leftover gates from Terminal A that were redubbed Terminal T gates and partitioned away from the rest of Terminal A...

Terminal A: Shengen destinations
Terminal B: International (non-Shengen) destinations
and then there was Terminal T: Africa.

Guess which terminal has one cafe and one duty-free shop...

I carried Ollie through one more metal detector and asked whether we needed to present her paperwork anywhere. Nobody seemed terribly concerned so we proceeded to our gate.

This we discovered after sitting in a waiting area with the other passengers travelling to various African countries (along with flights to Washington, DC, and New York City) and taking a shuttle bus to the T portion of Terminal A.

Onwards to Douala. Ollie would occasionally push around in an attempt to escape (reminiscent of the “breakout” scene in Alien – the bag, after all, was not much larger than she was), but remained quiet so the passenger seated above her was none the wiser. Good thing too as one of United/Brussels Airlines requirements was that your pet “may not annoy other passengers.”

Upon entering Douala, officials were similarly uninterested in Ollie's arrival (the school thought there'd be a vet on hand to inspect her and her paperwork). Nobody even bothered to stop us at Customs and we were on our way to Ollie's new home!

Ollie scouting out new spots to sleep in Douala.