The Colbert Factor:
My Trip To Bertuoa, MTTB
Muteff was’nt particularly a Christian community like Njinikom where names like Peter, Paul, Jacob, John, etc, could abound. That didn’t mean the village lacked its fair share of imported names. That’s how one could hear names like ‘Ibo’, ‘I Think’, ‘Fine Boy'(brother to the famous Tella Kfvumte), ‘Amphalia’, and a lot more. Such nicknames either captured foriegn lands the persons had visited in the course of their exploits to eke out a living for themselves or just English expressions they picked up in the course of their journey and came back to mesmerize villagers with.
Before my father became a convert and picked up the Christian name Jude Thaddeus, he was known throughout the community simply as ‘Bafia’. The sobriquet name given to him by villagers due to his constant narration of jaw breaking incidents and challenging experiences overcomed during his numerous trips to Bafia, a community in the Centre Region of Cameroon, virtually submerged his surname and/or forename, Fulai Biyong. Because he could raise enough income from his adventurous trips to Bafia, raise a family and build an estate, he proudly and gracefully welcomed the sobriquet, Bafia, as a form of remembrance and endearment.
Virtually everybody in Muteff in the 50s that was the first to set foot in a foreign land outside the North West Region, was named after that discovery. Unfortunately, most of them that undertook such adventures were mere Muteff villagers/poor Africans. Otherwise, history would have recorded that bobe Fulai Biyong discovered the ‘foot route’ to Bafia, in the then Centre/South province of Cameroon; while bobe Yem discovered the one to Ibo in Nigeria; in much the same way we were given to understanding in Primary school Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India. When in effect, he never overcame the same challenges my father and others in Muteff did.
And so, animated by the same yearning, I recently took off for a voyage of discovery to Bertuoa. My trip to Bertuoa (no links to the famous ‘My Trip to Buea, MTTB), came after years of wasting the energy of action in the energy of the resolve. The events at Matazem check point that used to remind every passenger one was transiting from one country to another were absent this time around as one of the checkpoints was dismantled, apparently following a Colbert Factor recommendation few months ago. Since that recommendation, I had not passed through that road again.
I had slept off like Rip Van Winkle in the American short story by Washington Irving, only to be awoken to reality that the checkpoint was merely shifted to the hinterlands of Babadjou. But, unlike Rip Van Winkle who slept for 20 years only to get up to the realization that although the name of his famous pub had changed from King George to George Washington, things still remained the same as during the era of King George, I realized passengers now gained more time traveling in and out of Abakwa.
Let me spare you the content of ‘My Trip To Bertuoa, MTTB’. That would be the subject for another day. Suffice to note that truck loads of timber take off from that region on an hourly basis. Competition as to which timber exploiting company deplets the forest faster, is stiff. I would spare you the sorry picture of how Cameroon has auctioned out all gold deposits to chinese companies. That’s a story for another day.
As I returned to Yaounde, en route back to Abakwa, and waited patiently to grant audiences to some friends and colleagues at the bar opposite Amour Mezam agency (in our university days it used to be known to kom people as “Major Bar, for very technical reasons), I was treated to one beautifully scintillating bitkusi piece ‘Azombo’ by Amel Diamand’. The lyrics spoke directly to the soul. Fear ye whom music does not please. The conflict might have taken the joy of bitkusi music out of most of us, but this time around, I could not resist the sorting appeal flowing from Amel’s musical piece, ‘ supportez’. Even as I enjoyed the music, many things rushed through my mind, including the highly ‘consonanted’ languages and music from the North West and the fact that although Amel Diamand is admonishing us to ‘supportez’, the famous OTS is calling for another teachers’ strike come September.
One thing you can’t fail to notice when you travel out of the two English-speaking Regions into the French speaking regions is the amount of bilingual or supposedly English primary and secondary schools and colleges, sprouting up like mushroom. Hummmmm.
As vehicles began signalling take off time through incessant hooting, and as discussions with friends over drinks became sweeter ; they started discouraging me from returning that night. They wondered why someone would be hurrying away from peaceful and lively Yaounde to a restive smoking guns zone like Bamenda. I had to remind them of late Peterkins Manyong, Publisher/Editor of Independent Observer’s narrative to the effect that although the devil knows how beautiful life is on earth, immediately s/he finishes with his/her mission on earth, s/he rushes back to hell because that’s where it belongs.
Like the devil, people living in the conflict-ridden zones of the North West and South West can once in a while move out for business in the other peaceful regions, but must return because that’s where they belong. And here one must fault the Prime Minister’s skewed conclusions at the recently-held fourth assessment meeting of the implementation of MND resolutions that life was returning to normalcy in the two English-speaking regions because more and more people than before were going about their business, when in effect people have rather just decided to be resilient because they have nowhere else to go.
As our car drove pass Ebebda toward the bridge, I recalled as young excited university students yearning for genuine democratic change in Cameroon, we used to join the long convoy to escort SDF National Chairman, Ni John Fru Ndi out of Yaounde, and to that spot, each time he came to Yaounde for his party rally.
Half awake and half asleep as we raced across the Sanaga river I wondered who in hell might have strangulated Bishop Jean Marie Balla of Bafia, dumbed his body into that river, while leaving a note ‘Je suis (plonge) dans l’eau’? I wondered why the choice of that metaphorical phrase ‘Je suis dans l’eau’, which may ostensibly mean, ‘I am in a messy situation’? I also wondered why Cameroon’s commissions of inquiry never produce any results. In fact, I wondered if my father were alive, he would have still been proud of being called ‘Bafia’ by his fellow kinsmen, following the brutal elimination of a man of God of such high standing in Bafia. While thinking about all that, my mind raced back to our Primary School days to wonder the relevance to us today of the fact that we needed to cram and reproduce the fact that River Sanaga was the largest while Wouri bridge was the longest in Cameroon; in much the same where we were told Mungo Park discovered River Niger while Menchum Falls could generate electricity for the whole of West Africa. All that today sounds to me like the Tamfu and the sheep story.
I then recalled that before the construction of the bridge over river Sanaga, it was a ferry that used to transport passengers and goods over the river. They story was the same like ‘Mamfe go down’, ‘Mamfe come up’. As my mine raced towards Bamenda, I recalled crossing over river Sanaga was just like moving from the land of the living to the land of the dead, with the agency I was in playing the role of the ferryman, Charon, in Greek mythology, whose duty it was to be transporting people from the land of the living to the land of the dead.
Unlike Charion, the ferryman, whose payment was a coin pushed into the mouth of the dead person before s/he is buried, I had personally paid for my 5000 frs ticket at the agency.
This, I had to do to escape the overwhelming questioning about happenings in Bamenda from those who since concluded Bamenda was unliveable. And each time they see you in Yaounde looking fresh, they actually wonder whether you are coming from Bamenda. Like Thomas in the biblical story who insisted on touching the wounds in Jesus’ hands after his resurrection before believing, they would really want to see a sign.
*Colbert Gwain is digital rights advocate, author, radio host and content creator @TheColbertFactor
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