Day 13 (June 28, 2010)
“Brandon!” Nado exclaimed.
“Nado!” I returned cheerily. It had become our typical greeting whenever I came to his shop to buy bread, some eggs, or maybe just a bottle of water. Often I would feel lucky and venture to ask how he was feeling that day or how things were going. To date I’ve never gotten a response other than his wordless smile. I think one day I fancied he may have said “good” but I can’t be certain.
Today Pascal came by. He had come by multiple times the past few days actually but I had always been too busy to go out with him. Today the internet was being particularly frustrating and my work troublingly slow so I decided to just forget it and head out with Pascal.
“Where are we going?” I asked as I tugged my backpack onto my shoulders. Pascal smiled, a bit awkwardly.
“I was thinking we’d go to Malyko.”
“Yeah? Sounds great”
We stood there for a bit, me staring at him and he smiling awkwardly (but genuinely) at me. Somehow I seem to end up in this situation often. I smiled a little awkwardly as well and made a move towards the door.
“Yes, yes” he said, darting out in front of me. As we approached the road, I recalled our last jaunt together…the lengthy one.
“How are we going to get there? Are we going to take a taxi?” I asked, trying to gauge his intentions early this time.
“We can take a taxi…but it’s not that far. We could walk.”
“Yeah, why not take a taxi.” I looked up into the sky.
Oh man, what luck!
“See, it’s about to rain, we probably shouldn’t walk…” I trailed off, desperate on the inside but trying to appear cool and open to either option.
“Ok, let’s take a taxi then.” We quickly pulled one over. As Pascal opened the door, he held it open for me to get in. I peered into the car and saw a rather large lady on the other side.
This should be good., I thought, squeezing in. As the car rolled on, I stared out the window.
There’s always a bit going on here—people on the side of the road doing funky stuff. Hah! Even a basketball court there. I’ll have to remember that, not that I would play or anything…
This continued for some time.
How long has this car ride been? What?! Pascal! “Not a long walk”?! I thought, staring incredulously over at him as he smiled amiably at me.
“Yes Brandon?” He asked, curiosity all over his face.
On my right a weird site of maybe 60-70 people all surrounded with food, plates, and other merchandise came into view. It didn’t quite seem like a market—those usually had stalls of some sorts—but they clearly seemed to be waiting for something.
“Pascal, why are they all just sitting there with all that stuff?”
“This area is called ‘Checkpoint’” he explained very seriously.
I still don’t get it.
I stared out the window some more as I passed another group of them. I became even more curious then.
“So why do they call it Checkpoint again?” Pascal turned to me and laughed.
“I have no idea why. Ever since I came to Buea, they called it Checkpoint. So now I call it Checkpoint too.”
We had a good laugh after that, the mystery of Checkpoint drifting further behind us and equally fading from my thoughts.
I had been to Molyko before in my first couple of days in Buea. It is a lively area, perhaps the liveliest area in Buea. We really didn’t have much of a purpose for being there, we just walked along the street, seeing what we saw and me asking questions…more often than not he provided a steady stream of answers whether I had asked a question or not.
At some point we passed a bakery and I couldn’t pass up the chance. It wasn’t that exciting really. Most of what they had was muffins, cakes (so they called them. These were hand sized things, no icing, and sweet but not that sweet. It more reminded me of store-bought cornbread), and a few other things that looked shamelessly like just plain fried dough. There was a big bin of it actually and I had seen them sold on the street before by men wheeling mobile carts around.
Nothing sells like butter, sugar, and oil.
“I’ll take a cake, please.” I bought one and immediately split it in half as we left, giving the other half to Pascal. It was common for me to split everything I bought with Pascal whenever we were together. It just didn’t feel right to eat and indulge in front of him and it wasn’t exactly costing me much so why shouldn’t I offer him some?
“How is it? It’s good?”
“Yes, it’s cake” he said, not looking up from his cake.
Wait, what did that mean? Was he simply telling me that it’s cake? Or was that sass?!
“Yes. It’s cake” He repeated, this time with a little more emphasis, if you will.
Yep, that was sass. Textbook sass, I thought, laughing to myself as I wiped my hands on my pants. Napkins aren’t really big here, and by that I mean that they’re non-existent. The closest things you can get are the torn strips of paper (they tear it from the paper bags they sell in supermarkets but I have no idea where they get it from since it’s very uncommon to shop at a supermarket here…they’re only 2 in the whole city!) which are usually used to wrap things (usually cooked meat) at the market. As I was thinking this, we passed one of the two supermarkets. I waited politely for Pascal to finish explaining something, and then asked, “Can we go in?”
“Oh,” he said, looking up at the store and then a little confused. “In the supermarket?”
“Yes, is that alright?”
“Yes, yes,” He said, quickly changing track.
As we went inside, it was a little refreshing to see a well tiled floor that was completely clean.
Clearly the term Supermarket is being used a little liberally here.
Some light classical music was playing overhead and there were perhaps 5-6 other shoppers in the store. The store had perhaps 4 aisles, each very lightly stocked with seemingly randomly selected.
So many pancake mixes? I thought, after seeing the second aisle of it.
Perhaps Bueans love their pancakes. I’m quite partial myself, I thought before losing myself in thoughts of pancakes. They are quite good and I resolved to make a trip to IHOP when I get back, perhaps first thing. Pascal was oddly quite behind me so I thought I’d ask him why there were so many pancake mixes when I noticed a lady worker standing behind us looking either really frustrated or really bored.
Ah! We’re blocking the way! I pressed up against the shelf next to me (an odd assortment of plastic knives) trying to make room for her to pass. She did not move.
Ah! She must want THIS aisle! I darted to the other side of the aisle, pressing up instead against the toothpaste and lotion (I told you it was random). She moved to the other side of the aisle and stood there, picking at her fingernails. Confused, I looked over at Pascal who seemed quite alarmed (and probably disturbed) by my darting about.
Perhaps I’ll just… I thought, walking normally down the aisle. Peeking behind me, I noticed the lady shift along in the same direction.
Is she following us?! I thought, finding the situation a hilarious now.
Perhaps if I… I quickly started darting up and down the aisles (paint, pancakes, dish detergent, and packs of gum) at a rapid pace just below a run, Pascal and the lady rapidly jogging after me to keep up—it must have been a rather funny-looking scene to the rest of the store: me darting around aisles and the two of them running after me. But indeed, I did make sure that she was in fact following me. I assume the temptation to steal may have been common given the limited means they had of keeping track of inventory.
I stopped abruptly in front of the perfume, pretending to take interest in it as the lady, looking furious, stood a few meters off. Pascal stood next to me, silent, but looking positively bewildered. I wasn’t sure if that was because of our little adventure around the store or because I had inadvertently stopped in front of the female perfume aisle. I quickly turned around and began, slowly, to walk up another aisle (hair products), inquiring calmly about the supermarket as though the last 45 seconds had been perfectly ordinary.
Pascal explained to me then that people in Buea don’t like shopping at supermarkets often because the prices are fixed and one therefore cannot argue with the seller to lower the price. I’ll bet, I thought as I looked at the 8,900XAF price on some olive oil. In retrospect, perhaps this currency exchange has spoiled me as 8,900XAF is less than $17 and the bottle was rather large.
We left without buying anything (much to the workers’ frustration) and milled about Malyko a little bit. Pascal told me about a Russian girl online that he had met. It was a bit of a sad story. The two had hit it off on some website (I never understood what kind it was) and exchanged emails. At some point he asked her for some money and she refused to return any of his emails or text messages after that. It was a decision he clearly regretted and he swore to me many times “If I could go back, I would never ask her anything! Anything! Ever again, not anything!” I felt for him. Who hadn’t said something at some point that they regretted or even ruined their relationship with someone? This case was, though, another reminder of the lack of savvy that most of the Cameroonians I’ve met have with the internet. I only hope that my Internet course is able to help some small bit for that small number of people I’ll come into contact with.
Yikes! My Internet course! I thought, signaling to Pascal that it was time to go; Work waits for no one.