If you’re reading this, try to remember that I’m writing this after the fact, I couldn’t find internet access anywhere in Kenya… that’s not exactly true, but to find it where I could post information was nearly impossible. I was also having some problems with my battery so I couldn’t write “on the go.”
Well, we head out for that night, all of us in good spirits, and although I can’t speak for anyone else in the group I think there was a mixture of pride and apprehension in what we were going to be doing.
It was a normal flight with all the great things like takeoffs and landings, and the annoying things like jostling with the person next to me for a small portion of the armrest. About half way through the flight I decided to find somewhere else to sit so I could have the armrest to myself… I know, it’s a petty thing but the woman next to me actually had her arm so far onto the rest, that her elbow was jabbing me in the ribs. No lie. For some reason though, it didn’t seem to matter to her. Anyway, I found a seat in an empty row at the back of the plane, grabbed a blanket and managed to sleep for a couple of hours.
We landed in Douala about 10 or so and stepped out of the plane into warm humid temperature, very much like Dubai, but not a warm. The place was dreary, and even through the darkness of night I could see buildings that were not kept up. We made our way to the passport control area. There was probably about a total of 20 people that were going through the line. When our group got to the start of the line, Jim went through, and I think Sareh, but then someone got hit with the news that no visa-no entry. That’s not what we were told by our contacts in Cameroon. Anyway, from that moment on things moved really fast, see, there was eight of us traveling, out of the eight three had letters of invitations, which we thought, or rather, we were told were sufficient to enter Cameroon. Unfortunately according to the rather rude guard dismissing our explanations, no visas are issued at the airport.
As you may have guessed right now, I was one of the three members of the group that had the Letter of Invitation instead of the visa. ☹
So the rude guard that I was talking about earlier asks for my visa and my letter and asks me to step to the side, when he was sure that there were only three, and we are separated from the others he asks us to follow him. That’s when Jim and Sareh went into action. Jim first tried to reason with the guy, and then headed to find our contact that was meeting us in Cameroon, and Sareh tried to explain the situation to the guard. Now you have to imagine this place, it’s old, it’s dirty and to top things off, it’s very dark. That kind of dark that feels like the lone light bulb hanging by it’s cord in the middle of a large room. So we follow him, kind of laughing as we go, I think partly because of nervousness, but it was also kind of fun. I had no worries that anything would happen to us, and I was convinced that we would get our visas. I thought that we may have to pay a fine/bribe or something, but we would get them.
We end up at the detention center of the airport. I keep wishing that I had taken a photo of it, because I don’t think there is anyway that I can explain the place. It was something straight out of the hell (almost). There were a few people around, some that left an office and some that were doing other things. At one corner was some decorative concrete or metal bars, that created a cell that held I believe one person… but as I write this I think I remember there were more people sitting on a bench inside the jail. Right below this guy was two people sitting on benches that rested against the wall of the jail, and not far away was a desk manned by a female guard/officer, who for some reason didn’t seem to mind that this one guy/prisoner/detainee was visibly trying to get his body outside of the bars and doing a pretty good job at it. There was a couple of motorcycles in the room which to me was confusing, I guess they were shipped or something, but we were like in a room inside the airport, it just didn’t make sense that there would be motorcycles there. The guard that we had followed to this area told us stay at the one spot and proceed to enter the office to talk to a commissioner, he comes out a few minutes later and then Sareh starts going at him again. I look over at the jail and the detainee that has managed to get his chest outside the bars signals me to get the attention of the two girls that I’m with… yeah, like I going to suggest they go talk to the guy. The guard at the desk is just staring straight ahead… not even at anything, just peering off into the distance. I’m telling you it was like this totally surreal event.
Christian shows up with another guy, both are our contacts while we were in Daoula and were the ones that were responsible for us during our stay in Cameroon. They had been waiting for us to arrive and when they heard from Jim what had happened they came up. It was pretty much “fun” for me up until that moment, like I said I thought everything would be straightened out and the two girls and myself would be on our way. That was until the customs guy barked an order at Christian and I saw the fear in his eyes. It was then that I started to think there may be more to this that I thought. I can honestly say that I didn’t really do too much studying up on Cameroon. I read most of the Lonely Planet stuff, and the Wikipedia entries, but I didn’t really know anything about the government or political environment.
Maybe 10 minutes have gone by since we’ve been waiting in the detention center when a official shows up, he’s not in a uniform, but everyone is giving him respect. He’s got our passports and paperwork with him and he tells us to follow him… or someone tells us to follow him, I can’t remember. We are winding our way along the corridors through the airport until we’re back outside next to the plane that we had just arrived on. The plane is full, there are flight attendants, guards, officials, and other assorted individuals all waiting for us. Meanwhile Sareh is not stopping, she’s fighting everyway that she can to convince the official to rethink his decision. He’s not budging, but she won’t give in and I have to say it was remarkable how she kept trying. Eventually though we stepped onto the plane and made the long walk down the aisle past all the staring passengers to empty seats in the back of the plane.