We have arrived in Bouar! Yes, the long way. I realize, again, how fortunate and privileged I am to had this option.
First, think of the cost. I bought diesel fuel for the trip from Garoua Boulai to Yaoundé (and later will pay to go back) not to mention the cost of running the vehicle. Sure, I could have taken a bus – cheaper and the way most Cameroonians would travel, but I have a car. And, as we in the USA know well, driving is more convenient, faster, and less crowded! Privilege.
The next day Willie and I took the train from Yaoundé to Douala. Yes, I had to stay overnight in Yaoundé – fortunately at Anne and Willie’s. Then we had to get dropped off at the train station and there was the expense of the ticket. We got first class tickets – 9,000 cfa (about $18) instead of 6,000 cfa (about $12). It was comfortable. (I didn’t see the second class so I really can’t compare effectively.) We were served water and a sandwich. Willie tells me that 1st and 2nd class riders get food. Ah, to be able to afford a comfortable seat without having to drive. Privilege. OK, so we ran about a couple of hours late, but we didn’t have a meeting set or people waiting for us.
We stayed at the 3-start Planet Hotel in Douala – 55,000 cfa/night (about $110). It was a beautiful place to be. Very comfortable with free Wifi – like (or better) than many hotels where I have stayed in the USA, but this price is too expensive for most people here. Privilege.
Both hotels had a Gideon Bible in the rooms. This made me think of my Uncle Gordon and Aunt Elaine (may she rest in peace) who are/were active in US branch of the Gideons, providing Bibles to travelers and others.
Then we flew from Douala to Bangui and later Bangui to Bouar. Privilege. The cost is out of the range of what most Central Africans, or Cameroonians, could pay although both flights were about ¾ full. I am thankful that we could pay and use this (longer) safe way to travel. Both flights ran about an hour late. The flight from Douala to Bangui was with Karinou Airlines (a company from the CAR!) I had not heard of them before. We had an interesting snack: 4 pieces of whole wheat bread with no crust and tuna salad between the layers. Not 2 sandwiches – tuna between 3 layers! It looked like a brick of bread! It tasted fine, but looked strange to me. (It was served with soda and water.) I enjoyed hearing announcements in Sango, French, and English.
I am grateful to Lutheran World Federation staff in Bangui who helped us in various ways: their driver picked us up at the airport, had made us reservations at a hotel and for the UN flight to Bouar, and drove us to their office. Staff also helped us get internet credit, find a place to eat in the evening, and put us in contact with a reputable taxi driver. Hervé (the LWF driver) also picked us up in the morning (at 6:10!) to take us to the airport and shepherded us through the first part of the check-in process. They will also help us out on the way back. Many thanks!
We had little time in Bangui, but we did stop to visit St. Timothy Lutheran Church, which is next to the airport. They have a beautiful church building, parsonage, and a school within in their compound. Since all of the recent troubles started, they have also been housing internally displaced people. The structure you see in the picture and the water bladder were provided by UNHCR. Pastor Paul Denou said that they are now “down to only” 93 adults and children. Imagine. How many of our churches could pick up this work and sustain it for more than two years?? It was a privilege seeing Pr. Denou again and seeing a bit of the work – even if it was only for about 10 min. I like the sign they have next to a huge bladder of water: “Everyone has the right to water, but no one has the right to waste it.” We should all take this to heart.
The next picture is Willie talking on the phone as he studies the menu in the Balafon Restaurant in Bangui. We were drinking, Mocaf, the Central African beer! It was a great place. We were told later that is very popular with humanitarian aid workers. They even have karaoke on Friday evenings! Everyone needs time to relax and get away from strife and work, but how many Central Africans (not working for an NGO) could afford to come often to a place like this?
It was a first for me to take a flight within CAR. Currently flights are run by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service. It is present to assist UN and NGOs personnel get around more easily. Our flight was to fly to Berberati, Bouar, and Bosangoa. Another flight went to Kaga Bandoro and Ndele. A third goes to Bambari and Bangasou. We were told to report to the airport at 6:30 for an 8:30 a.m. flight. Airline officials arrived at 6:45…
I know we talk a lot about White privilege in the US – and probably not enough (nor have we done enough to equalize things). I know, too, that I benefit from White privilege here as well – and in ways that are even more obvious than at home since I am part of a small minority.
What we experienced this morning was privilege, but not just for Whites – of the 75 or so people travelling only 5-6 were White, but humanitarian aid privilege. So, here’s the dilemma: when a country is in crisis, NGOs and others come to help. They need to be able to move around the country, but sometimes roads are not safe or are in very poor condition and sometimes people want to take less time traveling between places. The UN has a Humanitarian Air Service to help out. To use their service, one must be a humanitarian aid worker, have an “Ordre de Mission” (official letter stating where, when, how long, and why one is traveling) and a badge (or passport). This is not a commercial airline; they can’t take anyone who wants (and can afford to) go. But that sets up another inequity among those who come to help and those who live in the country where there is not commercial airline that operates within the country. I am sure good work is being done, but how much say does the population have? Are the “saviors” again coming with the answers to problems or are local people being empowered, trained, and supported? This one example certainly lends credence to the tendency of aid workers to bring the plan, what they need for their comfort and work, and “do for” the “poor, suffering” people. There were Central Africans who took the flights – those working for NGOs, but I was uncomfortable “qualifying” for the flight (since EELRCA is a member of LWF) while at the same time I appreciated the safe way to get to Bouar.
Much of the flight we couldn’t see much of the ground – no surprise since it is the rainy season with lots of clouds. In fact, we were to stop in Berberati before Bouar, but couldn’t because of heavy rain there. As we approached Bouar and came below the clouds, most of what we could see was green – forest, bush. There were a few houses and buildings. It was an interesting phenomenon to approach the airport and run way seeing nothing by green! I never really paid attention to other cities where you see airport buildings and buildings of the city as you approach. I had confidence that the pilot could see more than I could (like the runway…) and he could, but it was a bit disconcerting and felt like we were setting down in the middle of nowhere. This feeling was increased when I saw that the first half of the runway was dirt! It was wide and flat and clear, but not paved. Closer to the airport there was paving. It was no surprise that the airport was a sign saying “Aerodrome de Bouar” and one building. Lots of NGO cars were there to meet the travelers. (We were met by Antoine and out-going President Goliké.) The drive is about 12 km. on an unpaved but leveled road (no doubt done by the UN).
It is good to be in Bouar and among colleagues. As one person said, if there weren’t so many trees, we could see Garoua Boulai from here – too bad I had to come by way of New York! It was the long way, but it worked.
Note: UN troops are now stationed in a couple of villages between GB and Baboua. They have also gone into the bush to disarm some people. Some bandits have been killed or arrested. The road is safe again, they say. (Great, but we’ll go home the same privileged way we can – we have tickets after all!)