Thursday 22nd November 2018, Dublin Airport. So here we are, 12 in the travelling party and a multiple of emotions sprinkled across the team, with excitement and fear mostly top of the list. We’ve had two volunteer drop outs in the last week due to the kidnappings of some school children though this was is in the English-speaking area of Cameroon about 80km from the French speaking town of Batoufam where we will be staying.
Everyone is sympathetic to our friends who have made the difficult decision not to travel, though happy enough with the security arrangements we have put in place including hiring armed security who will meet us at the airport and accompany us for the next 10 days.
On the stopover in Paris it’s lovely to see the bonding has begun and everyone is more relaxed. The jokes and slagging is giving us all a laugh. Yvette our nurse from Cameroon is regaling us with stories of the local King (and his 10 wives) whose community will be the primary beneficiary of the work we are planning to undertake.
Our little team is a real mix of personalities and backgrounds. Finola and Ursula (St Vincent trained nurses), Julie (Mrs. PR), Tom the Architect, Brendan our only tradesman (Carpenter), Nick, Micko and myself (the painters and labourers) and our younger team; Kamila a graphic designer from Poland (runs RippleZoo day to day), Paola a kindergarten teacher from Mexico, Thays an environmental engineer from Brazil and Yvette a nurse from Cameroon, working in Ireland, who has helped in setting up all the locals relationship with Kamila.
The last 9 months has been frantic; volunteer meetings (are you in or out?), fundraising, planning the projects and collecting medical supplies, computer equipment, hospital beds and all sorts of related accessories. We sent off a full container in June with over €100,000 of donated supplies from so many generous businesses and people.
On a slight sour note our container will not be released from port unless we pay more than double the quoted cost…. (ransom more like). We will come to learn that Cameroon is a mix of the good and the not so good; mostly an incredibly welcoming and appreciative people though there are a few living well off the labours of the many who are corrupt.
We touch down in Yaounde the capital City of Cameroon at 7 pm. Thankfully we all had our little yellow book confirming our vaccinations, or we would have been carted off for a forced injection. You cannot enter the country if you haven’t proof of the required jabs.
And what a welcome outside from Yvette’s sister Fidelie and family & friends outside the customs hall. Amazing. A photo taken this morning of the travelling team at Dublin airport features on a banner made up locally that day.
The drive in from the airport gives us a first insight into the poverty of Africa. Not a traffic light in sight, no road rules, a few near misses and a lot of honking horns. So many people on the sides of the road sitting on boxes amongst the rubbish, chatting and watching the world go by.
Our first few hours have been an eye opener on all that is Africa and we haven’t yet left the city where we’re overnighting before setting off into the wilderness. The noise, mayhem, chaos and culture are new experiences for most of us, so different from home. Though tired. we have mostly left fear behind us and are excited about the adventure ahead that awaits us.