The two white spies and two black guys, riding through the forests on motorbikes..

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Africa » Cameroon
September 20th 2011
Published: September 20th 2011
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all these birds around, and it's so difficult to find out what they actually are..! We only have a book about African mammals, and they are the ones you see the least.. People can tell us the french and local names, but it doesn't really make it any clearer :)
Due to break in internet connection this blog update is a bit longer..! Now we’re back in Campo again, after finishing two areas, Nyète and Akom 2, north and east of the national park. We had a day in Kribi town, too. It’s really turning into rainy season now, roads getting worse and travelling on moto (or by car) more tricky. With a small vehicle it might still be most easy to get from place to place, so we’re planning to rent one for the last 10 days of our fieldwork.

In Nyète and Akom 2 arrondissements we started to get a real feeling of the dynamics that exist between people and nature here around the national park. Nyète is dominated by the HEVECAM, which stands for hevea Cameroon. Hevea-plantations are main source of income and employment there, and take up a big part of the former forest. In Akom 2 there are community forests and lots of plantations around. The two areas thus have high number of people who need food and money, and who enter the forests for gaining these.

We first stayed for almost a week in Nyamabande, village of the Bagyeli pygmy people. We interviewed one hunter there, and more in nearby V12. Most villages in Nyète were planned solely for the people who came to work at the hevea plantations. They’re often named by just a number: V12 stands for village 12, and there’s 16 villages named the same way. To visit the villages, we usually went by mototaxi. We slowly get more used to them, and a car could not reach all places.. it’s a bit scary, but there’s something about it I also enjoy.

People in Nyamabande were amazing. We didn’t really speak their language, but it was lovely to see their habit of living very tightly in a community, and the atmosphere in the village was peaceful and content. Those people practice some small agriculture, but they especially collect the wild plants, fruits and animals for food and raw materials. They own things like pots and clothes that other Cameroonians do, but many of them also like to stick to their traditional habits. We heard stories and learned a bit about their beliefs and traditions. They get up and go to sleep with the rhythm of the sun, as it often seems to go here. Makes sense of course, we’d probably do the same if it was possible..! Different animals and sights in the forest have mystical meanings for them. There was always some noise in the small village.. children crying or laughing, dogs barking, people walking and cutting firewood.

In the village we did some cooking, veggie-stew á la Miila & Linda, and boiled rat, porcupine and fish á la Roger & Cyril. The boys couldn’t really understand the concept of meal without meat, but our stomachs don’t fully agree with the very meaty diet we’re following here.. During our interviews we ask the hunter about the taste of different game species. Roger is a former hunter himself, and he’s eaten almost everything in these forests. He said he has actually never eaten caiman, when we asked about it. Weird thing, who would never have eaten caiman meat, now. Some specialities on sale in Akom 2 kitchens were more endangered mandrill and cow-like sitatunga.. among other monkeys, antelopes and rodents. My moral didn’t let me try all dishes, but still we’ve eaten so many varieties of meat already that I guess in the end we could almost make the taste exercise ourselves!

In V12 and other villages of Nyète we experienced for the first time real suspicion against us. We’ve been explained that because we are white we are sometimes mistaken as spies, and people are afraid that after our visit, someone will come to arrest them and put them in prison. It happens.. there’s a “war” between the state – eco guards – and poachers who hunt in the park especially, so people are often scared of the officials. There’s lots of frustration, too, with lots of people coming to these villages asking questions a bit like ours, talking about conservation and benefits that it could bring to the locals. But in the end it has brought nothing than restrictions and limitations to them, that’s how they often see it.

That is sad to see and hear. In Akom 2, after Nyète, our impressions about these issues deepened further. We discussed with Luther, one of the eco guards. We learned that it is only in Campo sector that the people currently see some benefits of conservation, not only limitations, due to small scale nature tourism. In Nyète, Akom 2 and Ma’an, this is not really the case yet. Many people explain how they used to hunt and travel far into the area of the current park, but today that is not possible anymore. How are they supposed to feed their families? they ask. To us it seems that they’re eating much more meat than they actually have to. But still it’s what they’ve traditionally done since who knows how long, and without alternatives, how could they abandon this source of income. Yep, that’s what we always conclude after these discussions, like they usually conclude elsewhere with these issues. And the next step is what, that’s always something to ponder on..

The eco guards told that their job is not easy, either. They’re supposed to control poaching in the park, but there’s only 35 of them altogether.. It’s not enough, the government is not always supporting them enough with resources, and it’s more a job which requires motivation that is sometimes lacking because there’s not really any career prospects there. However, at least Luther seemed very motivated about his work and concerned about the difficulties of integrating conservation and development in areas like this. It was always great talking with him.

If people were a bit suspicious in Nyète, they were multiple times so in Akom 2.. yeah, me and Linda very obviously are hard-core spies, ready to lock in prison all unfortunate poachers, or planning to traffic gold or people or something, as apparently was the case with some frauds here before who happened to be white. In the end we got a letter from the regional head of office of Forestry sector, to confirm we are students collecting data for our theses. That proved to be a bit useful, and we had some honest respondents. I think. Some hunters, though, were clearly lying. And who could blame them.. but it feels so ridiculous to be misunderstood and even feared of. In the end we have been lucky and thankful that there have been a few “big” hunters who were willing to be honest and share their time and knowledge with us. Sometimes we have such interesting discussions with them!

We realized we’re always surrounded by men. All our respondents are men, they’re surrounded by other men of the village, our two companions and the eco guards are men, and it is generally men from whom we get most attention wherever we go. It has plus and minus sides.. There’s really cool guys we meet, like some hunters, motomen or eco guards, and we’ve made some friends, too. But some people are just rude.. I’ve been told countless times that someone loves me or that they want us to spend the rest of our lives here in Cameroon with them. If you hear that or other suggestive comments once or twice, it could maybe even feel flattering, but since it’s only because we’re white and it really happens all the time, not always in a nice way, it sometimes makes me reach my limits. I’ve been angry here quite a few times at some people who really act as jerks, and usually it takes quite a lot for that to happen..! Luckily, we mostly meet great people and most of the time we can just laugh about things. And that in the end seems to be something that often gets you the furthest here.

We’re kind of missing in nature tripping now.. we see the beautiful, cloudy forests and hear and feel them on foot or on motorbikes when we go from place to place. But we haven’t really had many chances to go IN to the forest yet. We thought it’s better to concentrate on the actual work first, and then organize some real trips here in the national park and elsewhere. And we’re seeing some nice birds, lizards and insects of course, even some monkeys.. now it’s just mainly about people for us. However as long as it keeps this interesting, I don’t really mind! I go for walks when I can, something that I’ve noticed I really need for myself. The others think I walk too fast though, so going alone is sometimes the best idea.

Linda was not feeling good for some days in Nyète, and we went to visit a clinic run by the catholic church. The doctor and his wife offered us a place for night in their lovely, small house. We’ve stayed with people quite a lot now, and I’m always amazed, and so thankful, by how warmly they welcome us to their homes. Linda had a tiny malaria parasite in her system so she got medicine for that. She got better in a few days, and even though it wasn’t too serious, we were happy we went to check for it.

An interesting fact: Cameroon seems to be the one rare place where my name is easy to remember. There’s a famous football player who almost shares my name, and so every time I introduce myself, the first reaction is, “Miila? Like Roger Milla?!” and then they laugh a lot.. So at least that doesn’t cause too much trouble!

Soon, off we go to Ma’an with our team.. “the two white girls and two black guys”, as they apparently started to know us in Akom 2, where we stayed in an auberge in the center, in the middle of things and under scrutiny of watchful eyes. But before Ma’an, a few days of eating some more “normal” food, going to beach, putting in data and being virtually a bit connected.. It was good to be able to e-mail and call again, and wish happy birthday to my little brother.

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