Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jungle Drums

Are you ready for another excerpt? We're on Chapter Eight now, which is the beginning of the section called Part Three: Cameroon Tales. The selection "Jungle Drums" describes first impressions of West Africa when we arrived there in 1977.


Jungle Drums

The following day, in living color and 3D, we had a striking introduction to 1977 Africa when our flight to Yaounde required a plane change at the international airport in Douala, Cameroon's largest city. The humid heat struck with full force.

"There's something wrong with this air," Dakota said, "I can't breathe it."

A monkey on the shoulder of a passer-by drew our attention to the riot of colors, odors, noises, and activity in the air terminal. Women wearing jewel-toned cotton print ankle-length gowns with matching head wraps swirled through the crowd of travelers dressed in drab neutral colors. Vendors sang their spiels like Sirens of the sea with rooster crows and monkey screeches in counterpoint. We four held hands and formed a tiny minority island in an ocean of inquisitive faces, all smiling with dazzling white teeth against purple-black skin. A few passersby tried to make conversation, but when we responded to their patois with puzzled expressions, they gave Dakota a pat on the head or ruffled Tina's hair and walked away. I knew I needed to dive into French lessons as soon as we checked in at Amembassy Yaounde.

My white knuckles showed what I thought of our chances of survival as our small plane bounced and skidded to a stop only a few feet from a steep drop into the jungle surrounding Yaounde's airport. An embassy official facilitated our passage through the formalities and a small group of embassy folks met us at the gate. Our entourage buffered us from the chaotic swarm of arrivals, departures, hucksters, and taxi hawkers. Our welcoming committee ushered us through pandemonium into the sanctuary of an embassy vehicle and swept us to our temporary quarters.

The cement block building squatted at the edge of a road that cut a narrow slice through the dense tangle of trees, undergrowth, and vines. Our apartment had that nobody-really-lives-here look. The smell made an indelible impression -- the tangy nose-crinkling mixture of propane, cleaning products, insect spray and overripe fruit. I followed the odor to the kitchen and pantry area where it intensified. I made a quick survey of the groceries provided by our sponsors. Good enough -- Cheerios with milk, a whole pineapple, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese would keep us going until I could go shopping.

The welcoming committee flocked around Fred, babbling, while Dakota, Tina, and I inspected the rest of the apartment. Fred reported later that this group of "young turks" tried to enlist him in their war against the establishment. Fred decided to stall them until he had a chance to talk to the "old guard" and figure out how he could best stay out of the political struggles entirely.

Twilight descended as the young turks left. I served bowls of mac and cheese on the veranda. Trees, green fading to black, filled the view. Vines intertwined everywhere. Jungle reached to the horizon. A few pieces of macaroni fell from Tina's fork and we watched the ants discover the spill. Within minutes no evidence remained, not even a grease spot on the cement floor. No doubt Cameroon had a lot to teach us about the job of insects in the tropics.

A few twinkling lights appeared among the trees that showed only their outline against the darkening sky. And the drums began. The hairs on my arms stood up. I thrilled inside with a shivery feeling of anticipation. Real African jungle drums! I felt as excited as a six-year-old watching "King Solomon's Mines" for the first time. The drumming grew more intense and I half rose from my chair before I realized that the louder sounds came from rain pounding on tin roofs as a tropical storm approached. When the storm reached its peak and the rain crashed on our own tin roof, it roared as if a locomotive were thundering overhead.

After the brief squall passed, we listened to the magic of the jungle drums until we could no longer keep our eyes open. Four sleepyheads stumbled to bed and all four hit the pillow snoring.###

Voluntary Nomads is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as Outskirts Press and Smashwords

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