Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Arrival: Money changing and Mayhem

I thought that this being my second year with bees abroad in Cameroon, I would be prepared for the heat and humidity of Douala, but at 28oc, humidity higher than a sauna, and the chaos and noise that is Douala airport, it still hits you. But there is nothing so exiting as landing in Africa. We had to push our way through the crush to retrieve our bags and slowly edge out of the terminal, all the time hanging on to our luggage to stop one of the many young men swooping in to ‘help us’ carry our baggage for a fee.

It had been a long flight from Birmingham with a stopover in Paris but it felt good to be off the plane. Stepping out of the terminus the humidity was worse than inside, and whilst fending off more attempts to help us find anything from a cab to accommodation, we spotted our college from Bees Abroad Brian Durk, who had flown in from Accra the previous day. With him was Moses, a Cameroonian and the head of Forudef, the NGO we would be working with throughout the trip.

Forudef are an NGO working on rural development, so our beekeeping fits in with that. Moses and his family come from the Akwaya district in SW Cameroon, and although they moved away from the region some time ago, he set up the organisation to help the people living there, especially those in the rainforest where many suffer from great poverty. Their aims are not dissimilar to that of Bees Abroad in Cameroon, so the partnership has been a good one so far.

In our party this year is Gillean Johnson, a GP from the UK with whom I shared the flight, myself as an ecologist with experience of business development, and Brian Durk, an experienced beekeeper, founder member of Bees abroad, and head of the Cameroon project.

Before we could leave the airport, we had to go through the long process of money changing with three Cameroonians. One was in colourful traditional clothes and the other two in striking European fashion - one sporting the famous red Man United shirt and carrying a very flashy Samsung phone, which he offered to sell me for a good price when he noticed me admiring it.  

We swapped our British Pounds for Cameroon Francs, notably crisper and more pristine than any we will see for the rest of the trip. 
The transaction took place in a huddled corner of the car park of the airport, and the whole thing was a very serious undertaking. Moses looked on carefully and interjected to double check all the counting - very kindly looking out for us because the whole thing was about as far as you could get from the orderly bureau de change in Marks and Spencer.

Interestingly the only time that whole morning that we were not being bombarded with offers of help from the baggage touts and sellers that surround the airport was when we were changing money. For some reason at this point, we were given a wide birth

Once done we could load up our borrowed pickup and with Brian sitting on our bags in the back we set off. Moses clearly had no intention of hanging around - he swung the car out into the waiting line of traffic, barged through, and we were off through the streets of Douala ready to start our work in Cameroon!

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