In the pursuit of fried snails’ eyes in Cameroon

 

My friend told me: “Douala is a very dangerous city. Even myself, I am African and when I need to go there I choose to do my chores during the day. A lot of dangerous people live there. Trust me, you don’t want to find yourself alone at night-time in Douala.”

I was already nervous about the trip. He just made my thoughts be more perplexed and tangled. Seeing it on my face, he offered to help me.

“I will call my friend to wait for you at the bus station if you want.”

Of course I said yes.

The next day he went with me to Dschang bus station and wished me good luck and bon voyage. Soon I was left alone in a small van full of Africans sitting five in a row of four. It was so crowded and chaotic, like every other transportation you take in Cameroon. I had luck to have had Anglophone neighbours who asked me thousands of questions during the trip. I told them that I was just going back to Europe for two weeks because my grandpa got sick. Our little bus got down the narrow, wet road slowly leaving behind the Menoua region, home of Bamileke, loud, warm-hearted people. As we advanced through landscapes of green vegetation often shod in low clouds and brick-red soil I found out more about Africans and their way. “We, Africans, are strong. That kind of food is for you, white people.” Stated my neighbour indicating that he eats only meat for what he needs strong jaws to chew. I perceived a note of bigotry towards my kind. I told him my parents taught me to love all in every shape and color so I couldn’t make a difference. During our conversation he started to change his opinion. Our second neighbour was very clamant and gabby. Thereupon, most of the times I had to ask my first neighbour to repeat himself. He told me he enjoys fried snail eyes. But the street vendors could only make one portion from two hundred fried snails.

“When you fry them, eyes fall off and they collect them after and sell them separately.” He was explaining.

Even though I was disgusted, I tried to help him find it. As I was sitting next to the window, every time we stopped I waved to the vendors with big, metal pots to approach and show us what they sell.

In Cameroon you have a lot of stops along the way. In every town or a bigger village you have a ramp where you pay a car fare or get stopped by the police for documentation check.  Every time we stopped, the van would be hastily encircled by a flock of by-the-road vendors offering fruits, roasted corn, meat on sticks or fried snails. Every time we asked for snail eyes, the answer was “C’est fini!” They’ve already sold everything. My first neighbour would gasp out with discontent.

Our garrulous neighbour was eating a pineapple which was dripping all over his lap.

We stopped again. This time for the police check. The policeman wanted all of us to show IDs or passports. I inaptly dug out my passport from my bag beneath the bench we were all sitting on. He looked at it and returned it. “Put it back right away.” My neighbour advised me. “People here steal passports.” I already knew that. After I finished my struggles to restore it, I realised that a fight was  taking place above my head. The policeman was shouting at the loud neighbour guy who didn’t want to show his documents. The policeman got furious in seconds and he was yelling  from the outside getting dangerously close to my ear. “Get out or I will come and draw you out!!” Is what I understood with my beginner’s French. His neck veins got tense and easily noticeable under his sweaty, dark skin.

“What is going to happen now?” I asked the sane neighbour, the one that gave his ID.

“Oh, nothing.” He explained calmly. “They are just going to beat him up until he pays the bribe.”

I looked at him instantly shocked.

“Oh, but we don’t call it bribe anymore.” He said in an attempt to console me. “It’s a normal, everyday thing.”

I looked back through the rear window, trying to distinguish something in between mud stains and a crowd of people and policemen that was tightening around the chatty guy.

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