Bamenda Trip II
In this second segment on our Bamenda trip, we will show you the east side of the ring road and some nearby scenic spots. There are literally dozens of crater lakes in Cameroon. You will see pictures of two of them (lakes Oku and Awing) among this week's selections. All crater lakes are very deep, and relatively small if you are used to seeing the large TVA lakes in East Tennessee. The biodiversity of these lakes is unparalleled anywhere. Lake Oku, for example, is close to 7000 feet high, surrounded by dark forests, and the area is full of different kinds of birds. We, as ignorant as one can get as far as birds are concerned, could feel the difference here as the birds are every where. You do not have to find them. According to our guidebook, two kind of birds, Bannerman's turaco and the banded wattle-eye, are unique to this area. But we are unable to tell you if we have seen them or not. What we could tell you is that we saw some large and some small birds with a variety of colors. There was a group of bird watchers from the US staying in our hotel. They must have felt that they were in seventh heaven as they got up every day before 5am to go out "birding". We never could catch them to ask them questions.
This side of the ring road is more rocky. We went over Sabgo Pass which has splendid rock formations. Then we saw valleys with very fertile farm lands. Corn and potatoes are the main farm products. Fruit trees are seen every where, surrounding the village houses and/or huts. Kids holding fresh mushrooms along the road would love you to stop so they could get some cash for their work. Tom did order some mushroom omelets one morning. They were great!
When we got to Kumbo, we asked one local youth to be our guide and lead us to Oku, as we had heard that there would be special celebration of traditional dances in the village during the Easter week. We finally found the Palace of the Fon of Oku (the head of the Oku people) and met with him for a short time. He told us that the dancing would be in the evening, which was not possible for us to see, and give us permission to visit Lake and Mt. Oku. This chief governs 34 other village chiefs and controls a total population of over 100,000 people. He settles all disputes in the villages, and has absolute power over his people. For example, if he is interested in one of his village girls, his man would leave a marker in front of her house. In a few days, they would come to collect her. The only way the girl could avoid the chief's control is to move out of his villages. We met one of his daughters with her son. We also met his queen who looked as young as the daughter we met. Apparently the older queen passed away, the young one had just been promoted. Unfortunately Tom did not get a chance to take a picture of the Chief to share with you.
There was not a single paved road among this Chief's villages. We could hardly imagine what the place would be like during the rainy season when the water pours out of the sky day and night for months. We had a hard time in some areas just to get the four wheel drive sports utility car through the mud - and we were there at the end of the dry season!
Cameroon is the only country in Africa that uses two official languages, English and French. There is definitely a gap between Anglophones and Francophones. While we drove in the Bamenda area, we had to stop many times to ask for directions, as there are very few road signs. We could see clearly that people in the Anglophone area are very polite and happy to assist us. According to our escort and driver, this is not true in the Francophone area." They just can not be trusted", "I am glad that we were born in the Anglophone area" were some of their comments. We did not have the chance to confirm their statements, for obvious reasons. However, it is interesting to us that Anglophones in general are proud of their "British" background and feel that they benefited from the colonial experience. In any case, you can certainly imagine the complications involved in a bilingual society. We have experienced a couple of times, during faculty meetings, a situation where someone suddenly switched to French (even at an English speaking University). In addition, the two areas have different educational systems, with the Francophones emphasizing rigorous mathematics and the Anglophones more interested in a strong general education. It is also true that, whereas most educated people speak both languages fluently, the rest of the population has problems with one of the languages. Whether this situation will expand into more serious problems for Cameroonians remains to be seen in the future.