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saturday 25 april

It has small complaint—

Somewhere around six-thirty last night the sun disappeared in a golden peach swirl of storm clouds over the Bay of Guinea and into Nigeria, apparently so to my internet connection from the Hotel Marimare.

In less than a month here I have come to accept that, complaining does no service, because no one here really has come to depend on it. It’s purely and simply a luxury from another world. Like so much from The North, Europe, and America, it’s a promise that comes and goes, no one depends on it for anything other than a few moments of entertainment.

So I retired to a small table by the sea that was enjoying a solid wind connection andediting off-line and writing up my endless scribbled notes of the last week.

This morning I woke, wandered to the restaurant thinking it would be back, it wasn’t. I discovered, it had no way of coming back, the modem was literally gone. Had it gone to Nigeria?

With the arrival of morning tea, I asked, where’s the internet? “No, no, it has small complaint” she said indifferently, her voice trailing off as she walked away to attend to more important matters — my plate of beans and spongy donut hole looking things. Usually that means they need to reset the router. I got up to look—there was no internet. “see” she said as she lazy-strolled past me. The small shelf where once a modem and router sat, was dark, no small flickering blue light pulsing to the heart beat of an outside world. I was definitely now alone in Cameroon.

Alone in Cameroon for a day is maybe not such a bad thing. I’ve been here that magical three weeks. If only I had noticed it yesterday I could have foretold this coming; without much thought I did laundry yesterday. Years ago I determined to start to know a place I needed to be there long enough to do my first washing of clothes, for me that’s three weeks. It was the minimum time I needed to get over and past the world from which I had just come, and into the world I needed to be a part of, at least enough a part of to begin a perspective shift. In this case understand what it means to be Cameroonian and have your world in shape-shift all about you and not see it.

I have been told there is a 20-year plan, perhaps more a dream, to see Cameroon a global economy akin to what Brazil is becoming. Most Cameroonians don’t know about it, nor would they know exactly what it would mean. How could they? Let’s face it no equatorial African nation has yet pulled off that magic trick. What is clear is even the attempt at that dream will have irreversible landscape-changing impacts. Those have already begun with the leveling of huge swaths of forests east, central and west; and inevitably that mean life-changing impacts.

I try to imagine Cameroon becoming America-like: its wildplaces reduced to less than 5% of its landscape; remaining major land mammals sequestered to a handful of national parks; oil platforms dotting the south coast; major river damned twice for power and irrigation; a third and fourth crowded, infrastructure-taxed Douala on the horizon; illegal immigration pressures from its neighbor; increasing Chinese debt. The dream of the north.

I tried to imagine where that modem and router have gone—the actual shop. I’ve seen such places in nearly every small town and crowded side street I’ve passed. The place is probably ridiculously tiny, an over-sized closet by western standards. Squeezed between two other shops of equally diminutive size; one selling all manner of small goods like soap, sweat biscuits, tin fish, plastic cups and bowls, bottles of palm oil and shampoo, and small one-dose packets of medications that no one can afford bottles of. The other shop hawks motorcycle parts where tires hang colorfully foil wrapped from their birthplace in China, and every small item from mirrors to pedals to signal light covers is jammed in the unlit recesses.

It’s between these two worlds a young man in his late 20’s sits in a vortex of broken digital devices—wires and circuit boards, the skeletal remains of monitors, hard drives, modems and the like. It’s likely he learned by doing, the way most things in a new world are done. Unbelievably it’s from here that a little blue pulse from the world to the north will return. Something feels post-apocalyptic about it.

A flickering blue light reaching out to a broken world for answers.



2015-2016 Global research and reporting on great apes made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Philadelphia Zoo

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