This place is like a hive. Alive, rhythmic, and moving. I’m on a balcony overlooking a section of town in a valley. Drums and bass drown the vocals being played through loud speakers down the road at the bar with the florescent pink light bulb. It’s late. People are drinking and dancing in a low lit foggy room, laughing with each other. I feel the bass in the ground as the music is turned up louder with a new song, listening to the people sing. Then, the power goes out. A large moan erupts from the bar.
Power goes out every night here in Kumbo, because the Cameroonian government sells it’s own electricity to Nigeria and Chad for profit rather than save it for their own citizens. Capitalism. Power went out earlier tonight as well, at the usual dinner time. I filled my plate with chick peas, vegetables, and pasta, sat down with my fork in hand and…the lights went out. Lanterns, candles, and matches are always kept close by.
However, this late power outage is happening hours after dinner…and my bedtime. You see, it’s a national holiday and the locals don’t plan on getting much rest tonight. It’s just before midnight and the lights turn on again. It takes a few minutes but soon I feel the bass and hear the muffled vocals floating upwards again. Party on.
This place is like a hive. Intermingled highways of broken gravel and red clay roads intertwine and intersect through rolling hills dotted by lights. There are people everywhere, always moving throughout the night in cars with broken mufflers and motorbikes; their engines popping as they come down the hill. I hear mumbles of foreign tongues and see them by foot, noticed only by the soft light they carry bouncing on each step.
Nature is kind enough to put on her own firework display for me tonight. Lightening flashes again and again through morphing clouds over the hills in the next valley. Above my head the stars are gleaming; the sages forever keeping a watchful eye. My heart swells. This is the second time in my life that I am close enough to the equator to witness both the North Star and Southern Cross constellation in the same sky. I imagine being out at sea in old times, a salty foul mouthed bushy eyed ‘ol captain, humming a mantra of the sea and navigating its cross-currents using these celestial points. I wonder how much different the night sky must have looked then…
A well lit and colorful motorbike goes by. The driver, blends in with the surrounding darkness, revealing the handlebars — lined with cool blue lights with a red blinking square in the center. The exhaust is bathed in green ethereal light and the tail end is lined with brilliant yellow bulbs. Wow — a blur of colors with no one driving. Must of come from by the stars. More otherworldly looking machines come humming by with their engines exploding down the red road. What a sight to see.
Lightening flashes closer and the winds begin to pick up. A few people down the road take note and decide it’s time to skidaddle out the bar as they hop onto their hazy rainbow bikes and start their journey home. Here comes the rain. A crack of thunder makes the baby goat tied up out front bahhh and bah. I’d be scared too tied up to an old army trailer under that pelting rain and fierce lightening.
It’s true we have a goat. One of the residents here named the goat Cletis. Cletis also happens to be the name of the store owner I buy poor quality plumbing parts from down the road. He’s a good man. And I won’t call the goat by his name. Instead, I will call it…Goat. There’s no confusion that way.
Someone brought Goat from the Palace here a few days ago. Today we were told it’s ours to take care of. How do you take care of a goat? Shit. I’d probably eat it like the locals if I could. But I’m living in an ashram with practicing yogis who are all vegetarian. Bahhh. Did you say Palace? Bahhh. Drops of rain start swinging my way. I pack up and head inside as I hear a couple yelling and running through the rain. Oh they’re having fun.
There is a Palace here in the center of town. It’s ruled by a King, or Fon, as he’s called. You ever see that movie, “Coming to America?” Yeah, it’s like that. But rather than meeting James Earl Jones, I end up meeting the real King in person.
I learn he operates with the Government but is independent. When locals have disputes between each other, they go to the Fon, the King, for mediation. If the Fon feels the government oversteps itself with poor policy that affects his tribe, he does not have to obey. He also has ten wives. It’s good to be King.
This place is like a hive. And we are it’s macrocosm. You may get stung if you are an outsider, but once inside it is so sweet, so peaceful, and so beautiful. The people’s smooth flawless black skin mirrors back the sun’s own shine itself and it is enrapturing.
In this community, everyone has a role to play. Whether they’re selling cooked meat out of large stainless steel pots being carried on their heads, or pushing wares in a street side market, each person’s duty brings cohesion to the collective. Everyone functions because of each other.
Here various Christian and Muslim denominations get along; they get along just fine. You see, that religious conflict we see on our TVs here in the west, is a lie. It’s not religion that makes people bat-shit crazy, but climate change destroying the livelihoods of farmers and foreign disruption leaving behind dead children and a vacuum of power to be filled. Those who fill in the graves are often those who fill in the vacuum for power.
But this place, Kumbo, is like a hive, untouched by the madness surrounding its borders. It may be poor but there is perfection within these people busily buzzing to their own rhythms. The center of the wheel contains the hub that is their rich black culture with a history eternal as the stars above; connected are turning spokes, the people all rolling on red clay.