Cameroon / Yaounde 1972
THE AFRICAN CHAPTER
Three days later, I arrived once again to the Orly airfield...but this time, I was on time for my trip to Africa - my first overseas assignment.
Cameroon Airlines was the best that I have flown in. They had German cigarettes, German newspaper and magazines and even German beer... especially for me. This was all arranged before hand on my behalf and set on the table in front of me. All ready for consumption. The stewardess and the food looked very promising and served as an advertisement for my new destination.
Duoala, our first stop-over, was thronged with confused people who were flying domestic and international. This was my first time in a tropical climate and I was truly shocked. Once you come out of the air-conditioned Boeing 747 into the humid and hot climate, the shortsleeved shirt became unbearable to wear. I now understand why the women here go topless. They are probably from the outskirts of Douala.
The next stop was Yaounde, soon to be my new home. The touch-down was rough, leaving the Scottishpilot pissed-out of his mind. He had to be carried by his co-pilot out of the plane from the cockpit through the connecting passengers aisle. They boarded him directly into an airline car which took him to the lilometres North of Yaounde, the capital city. At the hotel, there was this huge bar with a twenty men band called The Kings but not a customer in sight. It was here that the Scottish pilot sought refuge upon his arrival at the hotel. The bar had a good stock of the local 33 beer, which he consumed at the fastest speed so as to get enough courage to flu for the next morning.
My arrival at the hotel was a little delayed because of the customs and immigration department. I was surprised to find such a beautiful hotel fanned with palms on both sides and a pool. The room which I occupied had a great VIP set-up offering a bottle of Chivas, beer, fruits and a welcome card from Mr.Birchal, the General Manager.
This kitchen brigade comprised of the highest quality and caliber of professors, masters, engineers and teachers. They were all seeking for jobs in an international hotel, because the salary was much higher than any of the other jobs. As a Chef de Partie, they made about 8,000 Colonial Francs which was comparatively higher than a Professor lecturing at the university who only made 3,000 Colonial Francs. I only earned 24,0000 Colonial Francs which would probably equal the payroll of the entire local kitchen crew.
Life was very cheap in Yaounde. A beer was only 5 Colonial Francs a litre, and a girl for a night would cost a breakfast and a few drinks. The Chef Gardemanger Josef of this hotel had previously worked as an electrical engineer and a teacher. He was the son of the former Foreign Minister. Josef was my guide in and around Yaounde. He was able to communicate in English and French. This helped a lot especially when Yaounde was the French speaking capital. At times, I knew not the difference between yes or no.
But in Cameroon, the biggest difference for me was the sexual approach or rather the open-mindedness towards it. Josef invited me to his home for familiarisation.
We sat around, drinking tea and chewing sugar cane when Josefs sister asked me casually (in front of her father and those around) if I would like to have sex with her.
I blushed as I was innocent an shy. Josef explained that this outright approach is normal and that there was nothing to be shy. I responded immediately. My first sexual contact.
What for way, nature can go. It is so easy and nice when a contract of marriage is not involved and social pleasure is really for pleasure only. There was no more loneliness after this incident. I learned to understand and accept this practice of the open-minded Cameroon people.
Words like "Chiki Chiki An Bon and An Besam" in Yaounde language still gives me the feeling of the warmth and open enjoyment that I had sampled.
For example, Princess Atangana, a real 80 years old royal, wanted me to stay in Yaounde and offered me choice of any of her grand-daughters.
It would have been a reason to live in this land forever but - my age, my willingness to learn, my drive for adventure.... and soooo made me move from time to time.
The cooking in Yaounde was quite different. There were no cooling trucks to transport meat and so we got the animals alive, every morning at 5.00am. First arrived the food for the staff canteen, alive cow (which got anesthesia from a big hammer). And then followed by the smaller animals like antelopes, porcupines, snakes, suckling pigs, monkeys and chickens. They were all butchered manually. Freshness was retained and the meats did not spoil from the terrible heat.
The small tidbits in the market will always be in my memory. Huge mountains of dried flies, all different kinds and each kind was on a different heap. These were purchased by the natives like we would purchase peanuts for consumption. The flies were priced according to sweet taste and quality. Sometimes a big cloud of flies would swarm outside the hotel and all the staff including the cooks, well-equipped with aprons and towels will be ready to catch them under the outside lantern. When caught, this delicacy will be put straight into their mouth.....fresh, sweet and alive.
All my friends in Yaounde called me brother and this meant that I was accepted as a local. It was nice to be a local. I understood their religion, culture, magic and racial differences by being a local. I was not insulted but pround and I learned much more about their way of life.
For example, the wife of one of my cook got ill and so he had to nurse her at night. At the same time, he was working as a part-time taxi driver on night shift. It was not possible for him to stay wit his wife and drive the taxi at the same time.
So, I took over and drove his taxi for a few days. Donned with a big hat, long sleeves and less talk with the passengers was how I succeeded. There were no complaints or any talk about the exchange of drivers and this meant that I was really local.
The best part of this job came towards the end of the night shift were I drove to the night club of Juliette, picked up girls and brought them to my house for a party. when this was over - my cook was very grateful. He saw me not only as his boss but also a colleague.
The new General Manager, Mr. Bos***t, arrived in November. They started to cut cost in every possible way and this caused them to be without an Executive Chef.
A few months earlier, he was forced to leave as he had punched a waiter and was branded as a racist.
One morning, I arrived in the kitchen and found all my cooks standing around in their private clothing. They were shouting and crying and told me that Mr. Bos***t had sacked all the cooks because business was very low.
I decided that very minute that my last days in Cameroon Sheraton Mount Febe were near. I went to Mr.Bos***t and suggested that I would be willing to leave before my contract expires provided that he keeps the local staff. This would have made the payroll even but he was against my suggestion.
Thanks to the Chancellor of the German Embassy whom I went to see and who also formulated a letter which made magic. A few hours after receiving this letter, Mr.Bos***t agreed to my suggestion.
He was glad because they would not be deporting him for being a racist and I was glad that my staff could work again. I had found a job in Singapore through the Union Helvetia Newspaper just a few days before leaving.
My cooks and their immediate families bade me farewell by throwing a huge party in town and praised me till 5.00am. The following morning, my flight was at 7.00am and I nearly missed it because there was another farewell at the airport where half of Yaounde was present to say good-bye. My heart was filled with sadness to leave these beautiful people and the country but the reasons for my departure made this move more worthy.
The local Recipe
WHOLE CAMEROON AT ONCE
POULET AUX ARACHIDES
CUT A WHOLE CHICKEN INTO EIGHT PIECES FOR THIS RECIPE OF CHICKEN IN PEANUT SAUCE.
SAUTE THE CHICKEN PIECES IN PEANUT OIL WITH WHITE ONIONS, RED CHILLIES, FRESH BAY LEAF, CHOPPED PEANUTS, GARLIC, SALT, PEPPER TILL ONION IS BROWN. FILL UP WITH CHICKEN STOCK AND BRAISE OVER SLOW HEAT TILL COOKED. TAKE OUT THE CHICKEN PIECES AND PLACE IN EARTHENWARE. REDUCE SAUCE TO A THICK CREAMY BASE. FOLD WITH FRESH COCONUT CREAM AND POUR THE SAUCE OVER THE CHICKEN. SERVE WITH COOKED PLANTAIN (STARCHY COOKED BANANA)