I had a killer week.
Hugging my trainees goodbye, I slid into the backseat of a beat-up Toyota, heart set on visiting friends near the Nigerian border. Unfortunately, my stomach was set on other things, like keeping down breakfast. As luxurious as it is having three people in a backseat the normally fits four, the extra room does nothing but taunt your equilibrium, sending you careening from one side of the car to another while you navigate the tell-tale curves of the Wum road.
Recovered, the following day we straddled motorcycles on the way to Lake Nyos, the world’s deadliest lake. In the mid-80s a massive low-laying cloud of CO2, prompted by God only knows, crept through the valley, choking everything in its path. Before, it calmly lay at the lake’s bottom, a product of natural means due to Cameroon’s
once-volcanic activity. In one fell swoop made its way to the surface and ended the lives over 1500 people.
The lip of this lethal lake is failing, a fact I only discovered through later research. In an effort to take pressure off the northern end of the behemoth body of water, a natural dam has been broken, allowing thousands of gallons a day to cascade into the valley below. This, perhaps, was why people had been verboten from entering the site or nearing the water’s edge. Money talks louder than legislative mandates, however, and for a dollar each we were granted an exception. We got so close we were able to wash our hands with the lake’s orange water, a baffling chemical holdover from the lethal belch of ’86.
Days later I endured a painful ride to the West region, fighting between the need for fresh air and the desire to keep my nose as far away as possible from the soiled baby between me and the car’s only open window. As my reward for what had to been a championship-worthy relay of breath-holds Kate and I had prepared a day trip to Foumban, a veritable crossroads of culture, known to be the only sultanate in the country.
A towering mansion greeted us, the only building I’ve been to in country that rightly deserves the title of ‘palace’. A happy and humble tour guide led us around the museum, explaining unbelievable artifacts dating back the first sultan’s rule in the 1390s. Here a robe used for crowning, restored but consistently worn for 600 years of ceremony. There, the massive walking stick of Foumban’s largest leader, a man towering over others at a height well above two meters. And in this room, the skull of the Sultan’s enemy, used as a drinking vessel.
Though the first skulls was jarring, the seemingly dozens that followed each dulled the sensation of seeing remains lovingly arranged in a glass case. Through several more complete skulls, a shirt made from only the hair of scalped enemies, guns manufactured by both Europeans and local means, and a calabash lavishly decorated so that the jawbones of the Sultan’s war prizes knocked rhythmically with each movement, my respect and understanding of the enormity of Foumban’s power rose. These people were in the business of kicking ass and taking names, at least until the 1890s when Germans kindly took the business of running Cameroon off their hands.
And now after killer lakes and killer kings, I battle a killer cold. My nose is suffering as I sniff halfheartedly, a useless effort but a habit that won’t die. I’m finally back in my own bed, alone for the first time in over a week except for this sickness sidekick. And sure, it isn’t breath-taking in the most sinister of ways, nor is it a ruthless conqueror hell-bent on take-over, but it it slays me none-the-less.
Look at this cool monkey named Dou-Dou we found in Wum!