Monday, June 17, 2019
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Spyglass: One Bridge For All, All For One Bridge 

By Azore Opio

On Monday, while the womenfolk laboured at how to make their lives better, business as usual set me on the road to Douala. Travelling to Douala, if you didn’t know, is much more than a tale of dreadfulness. Not much less is the fear of ending up as a heap of minced meat than the psychological jaunt into the corrupting influence exercised by even the noblest idea of the protection of the human life and property by the Knights of the Long John Silver Fraternity working on the highway.

Anyway, I was prepared for the worst – an unlovely, characterless sort of place, a positively vile, marshy, swampy gyre of potholed streets where sad little streams of filth seep into the Atlantic, and only one way in and one way out across the Wouri Bridge, or is it Bonaberi Bridge?

My premonition would be fulfilled with evil thoroughness late in the day. I have always sworn, though not by any holy book, that I wouldn’t dare board a "Clando" or the equally lethal "bendskin" to any destination, especially to or in Douala or vice versa, but circumstances, ever so often, force me to embark on one even if I know the creature behind the wheel is only half as intelligent as a monkey. So, here I was, by this absurd means travelling to Douala with a flatfoot driving.

I am not privileged to comment any further on the comportment of this fellow, but suffice it to say that he looked to me like Schwarzenegger out on a wrecking mission. As we approached Miselele; that spot famed for demolishing reckless motorists, I blurted; "can’t we see that we are heading for disaster?" An elderly woman, who sat next to me and who seemed to care for genteel manners, said; "if it pleases you chef, you could ease your foot on that pedal…""I get for hurry," the orang-utan hunched behind the wheel snickered, shot the speedometer needle to 140 kmph, "you no know say traffic jam de for Douala?"

"So na you go move am?" retorted the woman, now caring nothing for genteel manners. Her daughter-in-law (I later learnt) sitting next to her, said as a matter of warning that the traffic cameras would pick his high speed and the police would chase him. "Who go follow me?" the Hunchback of Notre Securite snorted. I think this guy didn’t have any idea that we all knew him to be a Buea-based policeman, who operates clandestine taxi in cahoots with park boys and taxi drivers while off duty, but whose conviviality evaporates on duty.
Anyway, at breakneck speed we sped on to Douala.

But before then, a Limbe-bound Clando driver stopped the orang-utan, who hit the brakes, burning tyres on the tarmac. "Sometimes," I said, "the pain of travelling to Douala is too much to bear."  "We are gonna make it anyway," a young man with a ring in his ear, sitting to my left, remarked with comfort as if nothing was amiss. "My driver’s permit has been impounded at the checkpoint after the Toll Gate. I beg got take it back for me," the Limbe Clando driver implored the Clando-officer.

"Pas de problem," he nodded and shot of and in less than five minutes, the bugger pulled over to the grassy shoulder of the road, leapt out without as much as an apology and crossed over to his comrades in crime fighting, haggled for ten long minutes, retrieved the Clando license. We burnt some rubber again and drove hell bent to Douala ignoring the famous Bekoko Checkpoint. After a surprisingly, relatively smooth crossing of Bonaberi, the polite woman and her son who had not said a word in the bloodcurdling drive, disembarked at Carrefour Texaco. As they stepped out, she murmured a prayer; "We thank God."  The Clando man snarled; "you thank which god?"

Driving in Douala was like participating in a high-speed chase in a Hollywood movie. Our driver, cursing and hurling obscene words at other motorists, ran into a police traffic control at the Y-junction in Bonaberi leading to the bridge. Unperturbed, he stepped out and I thought happily; they will nab the silly fellow. But alas! He patted the officer on the shoulder and we started on our last lap in the Grand Prix Race to Rondpoint at near 200 kmph with the last stunt that took my breath away; a sharp, sudden U-turn at the roundabout.

Douala undeceived and surprised me very pleasantly. A shower had sponged down the city centre early morning and now a slight breeze stirred the leaves and I felt the cool wind in my face as I walked from Poste d’Akwa towards Le Messager. Man! The streets are tarred, tidy! The nasty snarl-ups that used to molest the city dwellers were at a minimum and even you could see that the dwellers themselves were not the harassing and harrying types; a fair clue that they have begun catching on modern civilisation.

As I moved from Rue des ecoles to Beneficial Life to the Port, a break at the public park opposite the Appeal Court where I read a chapter of "The Professor and the Madman" in the shade of a tree as weaver birds chirped happily; a bendskin ride to Cite Sic, a quarter in which it is apparently far from uncommon for pretty women to be undressing at all hours, up to Bepanda and Deido where a thick traffic jam stopped me short;  Douala began to look and smell like a true city.  Of course, there are still the noisy, pithy and sulphurous parts of the city such as New Bell and Village hungering for Ntone Ntone’s scalpels and catguts.  

The nightmare that all but diluted my nebulous love for Douala began at Rondpoint Deido with a steamy jam caused by a truck driver who took a "shortcut" to the city centre and ended up in a watery grave. He and his trucked had to be fished out, anyhow. I had the rare honour of footing across the Wouri Bridge along with about two thousand other souls. For 56 years, there has been only one way for those without a boat to travel to Douala from the Southwest, West and Northwest and even some parts of Littoral Regions.

The bridge is an access point whose span was deemed structurally deficient and underwent several hundreds of millions of francs, re-decking? To extend its life. But one thing that has never changed, and might never, is that there is only one way on and off to Douala.

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