It's Friday night and I am in the nearby town of Mora with a couple other volunteers. We are helping my friend Liz move out of her house the next morning and have just finished a week-long camp for her primary school girls. We are all exhausted, and some of us are sick and lying on mattresses on the floor. Claire and I volunteer to make a run into the market to pick up omelet sandwiches for dinner.
It's light when we leave, but is starting to get dark by the time we arrive at the market. The power has gone out, and by the time we find an omelet stand, most of the light is coming from motorcycle headlights driving by. We ask if we can order omelets, and the man at the table says yes, but there are no eggs. Can someone go get eggs? Yes. Is there spaghetti (a standard component of a Cameroonian omelet)? No. We give up on the spaghetti, take a seat, and order a glass of hot, sweet tea while we wait for the eggs to arrive.
There are a few other men sitting around the table, drinking tea or having dinner. As Claire and I converse, the man next to us starts listening in. British or American? He asks us in English. It turns out his name is John, and he is from the southwest, an anglophone region. He has just arrived in Mora a few months ago, and seems relieved to find others with whom he can speak English. He has a job doing some kind of environmental protection, and speaks passionately about how Cameroonians need to care more for their environment. I try to quash the bitter part of me that wonders how much of his words will actually turn into action. My phone dings, and I have a text from the others at the house that says, “Where are you? Also, bring toilet paper!!”
The eggs arrive, but now there is no gas for the little stove. Our chef borrows some coals from someone cooking nearby, and starts fanning them vigorously with a plastic plate. As they heat up, someone comes over with a bucket of spaghetti, and it is added to the omelets. Claire shines the flashlight on her phone over the fire to help the cook. It turns out it takes a long time for an omelet to cook over a fire.
After two hours, all of the omelets have been finished, covered in mayonnaise, and stuffed into baguettes. My phone rings, and it's Emily at the house. Are we still alive? Also, can we please not forget the toilet paper? We pay and thank the cook and say goodnight to John. We dodge motos in the dark as we cross the street and pick up a roll of toilet paper. A man outside the boutique shouts “hee haw” at us – a Cameroonian interpretation of a Chinese greeting, and their favorite way to harass Chinese people. Claire and I are both blonde.
We find a motorcycle to take us home, as we don't want to walk home in the dark. A crowd gathers to watch us climb on, and people start shouting “Sarkozy” at us. Apparently now we are French. The moto is large enough to carry both of us and the driver, but has a mysterious number of pedals. Claire's feet end up underneath the feet of our driver, and my feet are balanced precariously on pedals of different heights. As we leave the market, the lights suddenly turn back on.
We pull up at Liz's and give a couple coins to our driver. As we walk successfully back into the house, Claire and I agree that buying dinner in Cameroon is a whole lot more interesting than going through the drive-thru.