On Monday I had a few hours of time on my own to explore the city of Bamenda, in the North West Highlands of Cameroon. Away from the steamy jungles of the South and Center, the North West has a cooler climate than the rest of the country, which contributed to my desire to get out of my hotel room and explore the city. I came to Cameroon expecting to practice my French each place I went, but found that Pigeon English was more widely spoken in this region than any other language. I never really got a grasp on it.
In the North West, the motor bike is king- the quickest and cheapest form of transportation around the city and a must-have for any young bachelor looking to find a date for the evening. I found a driver with whom I could communicate and we agreed upon a price for him to show me around the city for the afternoon. At the time, I only deemed my ride on the back of the bike, camera in tow, a small risk – one that was worth taking for the exhilaration of riding through the markets and neighborhoods of this dusty, sprawling town. Besides, everyone else was doing it.
At times we’d pause on the street and snap photos, chatting with the subjects. I picked up some new Congolese music for 50 cents a CD and a new pair of Ducci sunglasses. After a couple hours of riding, the chain derailed off our motor bike. We pulled over at the side of a large intersection and got to work on removing the chain’s metal housing.
As my driver, Frankie, was just getting his hands dirty on the greasy chain, we heard a loud crash in the intersection and looked over to see a large cloud of brown dust billowing from the road into the sky. A few seconds later, a man came running from the cloud saying something like “I tink go man die.” The Pigeon English took a second to process.
I raced to the accident. At first it was to see if those involved needed any help, but there was already a crowd surrounding the victims- the drivers of two motor bikes and a taxi cab, their faces bloodied and limbs contorted. The cab had apparently swerved into a bridge after hitting an oncoming motor bike. The driver was knocked from the car and into the river below. Camera already in hand, I continued to shoot as the taxis, which doubled as ambulances, arrived on the scene to transport the victims to the hospital.
Slightly delayed and perhaps not as shaken as I should have been, I made it back to the hotel in time for dinner with the crew. This is Africa, and this is sort of thing is commonplace.