|So it is Sunday evening (26th April) and I have just arrived back from an amazing weekend in Babungo. It has been a weekend of cultural sensations to say the least. Sherry (another volunteer) and I left Bamenda Friday afternoon, in a privately hired car with Shamsul (another volunteer from India who has been here over a year). We were headed for Shamsul's house in Babungo, a village, about an hour and half from Bamenda. We had been invited to stay and go to the Fon's (traditional leader – still very powerful) 10th Anniversary and the 10th year since his predecessor died. We set off with a few things of our own for the weekend and around 50 bottles of water for Shamsul and his neighbours and a boot full of spices and vegetables that he couldn't buy out in the village. We had to go via the food market on the way out of town for some fruit as well and that is when the rains decided to come. Poor Shamsul was stranded under an umbrella at the pineapple stand while the rains hammered down – and hail appeared – yes hail!! - I couldn't believe my eyes it had been a sweltering day. The rains subsided as actually left town which was a good thing as it is not good to travel in the wet as the roads are bad enough on there own without adding bad visibility.
The journey to Babungo was spectacular, large mountain peaks across an expanse of flat plains, too difficult to describe but very different to when I took the same road out to Kumbo in my first week. The start of the rainy season has meant that everything is much greener and lush (not in the Cardiff sense of the word) and the air is clear. Previously the mountains had been shrouded in mist and the air filled with dust so the view was just haze.
We arrived in what we described as Paradise. Shamsul's house is one of four small dwellings in a row, just in front of a very large mountain, from which flows a large waterfall (during the height of the rainy season). There were lots of palm trees and flowers and vegetables growing in front of the houses and more mountains in the distance. It was peaceful and tranquil. We spent the evening sitting on his Dutch neighbours' veranda drinking wine talking to her sister and mother and watching the fire flies that light up the trees and grass surrounding us! Shamsul then cooked us an amazing vegetable curry with popadoms – an Indian feast was had before we retired. One of the weekend's themes was great food. We woke up to a wonderful breakfast of omelet, an Indian semolina and raisin concoction, toast tea and pineapple. We then set off for the celebrations that lay ahead.
As we arrived in the palace Shamsul was greeted by many local dignitaries and we were ushered over to a small spectator stand where there was an American family from Yaounde. It became apparent that this was the stand for all the visiting Fons and us – so it was a great honour to sit there. A few Fons arrived and people rushed around covering their chairs with special cloths and we stood to greet them. We were then moved to another stand by the Dutch woman we had met the night before. She has been in Cameroon a long time and is greatly respected by the village, she has been named Mange (after the woman who the villagers believe came out of the water fall behind the volunteers' houses with her family and started the settlement) she is given great respect and honour. She was also the very first volunteer in the village. Her name is Yolander and now all the children in the village do not shout white man when they see one but shout Yolander instead as that is what they think we are all called! Anyway she suggested we move because the celebratory shooting would be too loud where we were. We moved to seats with a better view but didn't escape the noise of the guns, there was a lot of shooting in the air as a sign of celebration. There was also decorated horses ridden into the square at speed, that pranced and rode up. There was a character covered in leaves and branches. Some traditional dancing and singing and a parade of the Fon himself with the elders of the village and members of the secret society which is an important part of the Palace and its decision making. After a while Ju Ju's arrived, there are masked dancers that also terrorise people! They are kind of like court jesters but masked and with big sticks.
It was a very interesting day but quite long without any sustenance and all pretty alien. For instance, we were glad that we had not gone for a quick pee behind where we were for instance because we discovered, just before we were going to do the deed that that was the secret forest which women are not allowed in, in fact only members of the secret society are allowed there.
As we left more people greeted Shamsul and asked if they could have one of his 'wives' for African consumption!!!
The next day we went to visit a local tea plantation. It was about half an hours drive, again through spectacular scenery that just improved as we climbed to 2000ft altitude. The atmosphere, architecture and environment was quite different at the plantation. Around 2000 people work at the plantation. There is a large palace in the centre where the owner of the plantation sometimes lives, he has built his own Mosque and owns hundreds of horses, cattle, Ostrich and peacocks (all of which we saw). The plantation itself was immense and we were taken around it on bikes and we drove some five kilometres from the palace and we hadn't touched the surface of the place. We also met a three of the five Indian families who live and work there. Some have been there five years or so. Most giving expertise in tea growing. We were very kindly and unexpectedly given more wonderful food, jipatti and curried fish and good tea – it was quite strange a culture within a culture.
Now back to reality and my last week in Bamenda. I will be working with the new Volunteer who has arrived and handing over the work I have been doing for her to put her mark on.