On a typical school day where I only have classes at the Middlebury center and not at UCAC (Université Catholique de L’Afrique Centrale), I wake up at 6am. The rest of the family has been up since 5:30am or sometimes even 5am. Because of the traffic, we have to leave the house very early. Often, Sandra gives me an avocado, a papaya or some bread to eat at the center on my way out, and I walk down the hill to meet Arjun outside his host family’s house. We line up with the other Cameroonians on the side of the road on the hill and yell out our destination as the taxis roll by. Usually it’s “Polyclinique Tsinga, deux places, huit cent francs”, but if we don’t get any takers, we raise the price to “mille francs”. This is still a taxi ride that costs under $2. It’s always tempting to grab one of the MANY moto-taxis, but we have been strictly forbidden to take one since there are no helmets and thus many horrible accidents every day. We have seen moto-taxis with up to five kids plus the driver, moto-taxis carrying live goats, freshly killed pigs, newborn babies and store window mannequins complete with outfits. They are often stacked with towering piles of plantains, wooden plants or sheet metal, defying the very laws of gravity as they dart between cars and fly down the bumpy streets. There isn’t really anything a moto-taxi can’t transport. The drivers of the moto-taxis are often dressed head-to-toe in ski gear, apparently it’s cold here (?), and sporting fur hats and women’s sandals. Crushing gender norms!!! It takes about 40 minutes in the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced (absolutely no rules, signs or traffic signals will do that) to get to the center and we drop off our bags before heading out on a run or a hike. We’ll run in the street until we get to a wider road which may have sidewalks. It’s a little hairy; we’re avoiding cars, motorcycles, kids walking to school and vendors setting up shop. But at 7am it’s relatively cool so it’s the best time to go.
After half an hour or so, we’ll be back at the center where we can shower and eat breakfast (hooray for consistent running water and electricity!). Breakfast there is whatever we bought at the supermarket earlier in the week. Maybe yoghurt with chocolate cereal, maybe baguette with avocado or chocolate spread. But always Nescafe instant coffee and some sort of fresh fruit juice. We have class there starting at 9am. We have Cameroonian literature for two hours with Professor Ngabeu (Ariane) and then history and culture of Cameroon for two more hours with Professor Fofack (all in french of course).
For lunch, our favorite spot is on the corner of the street where the center is located. Hassan is the chef and he whips us up individual spaghetti omelets (I know what you’re thinking but these are the BEST). He also pours steaming cups of chai with condensed milk for sweetener. We sit on the benches attached to his little cart and chat with him or the other people eating lunch there. It is a popular afternoon destination. Then it’s either back to the center (if, like today, it’s downpouring) or we’ll explore another area of the city for a few hours. There’s always the Marché Centrale to keep us occupied, selling everything under the sun and situated in the center of the city. It has many stories and it situated in a circular building. Upon arrival, a man quickly attached himself to us and became our tour guide. His name was Rasam. We expected him to demand money for his help afterwards (as is the case sometimes), but he was genuinely just trying to help him out. Arjun got a traditional Cameroonian football jersey at less that half the suggested price (Hooray for bargaining!) .
Other afternoon activities may include: exploring the Brique, or Briqueterie, which is renowned for it’s fabrics, trying a new restaurant (Chinese, Turkish, Vietnamese, etc.), going for a walk to buy street food (meat on a stick, sugar cane, tiny doughnuts, plantain chips, etc.).
We usually grab a taxi home around 4pm and it’ll take longer this time of night because everyone is headed home from work. It takes around an hour with traffic and if we have a taxi driver who insists on stopping to get grilled street corn and to chat with his MANY friends along the way. Once back in our neighborhood, Montée Jouvence, we go to our separate homes and will relax, do homework and eat dinner with our families around 8pm. Families head to bed early here because of the early mornings, so we’re usually in our rooms by 9:30pm. Especially for me, because my family is young, the girls go to bed pretty early. It’s actually nice getting to sleep early and waking up early! The crazy birds here wake you up at the crack of dawn anyway.