Monday, December 27, 2010

Rich equals distance

The flight from New York to Zurich was uneventful. With the precision of a Swiss watch they managed to get us in the air despite high winds and runway closures at JFK. We touched down in Zurich only 10 minutes late. On my flight to Douala Swiss put me in business class. Sitting in my reclining chair, legs up, comfortably, served food with real silverware…. My Cameroonian friend only on row in front of me is too far away to keep chatting. Thus I am sitting here dining by myself, indulging dill marinated smoked salmon, fennel and saffron sauce – and that’s only the appetizer…. I will have fillet of beef with Alpine herb crust, roasted potatoes, aubergine and tomato confit…. Never mind followed by assorted cheeses topped by famous gourmet Swiss chocolate mouse. Now I just pray that the airline will do the same on my way home…? They pampered me all right, but I missed company to chat away the time. I am consoled by the thought of four weeks of devoted loving Cameroonians, their constant presence that keeps me company until I board my next Swiss flight. And guess what, the guy in first class was completely alone since there was no one else flying first class. Poor soul!

How to be successful in Cameroon

I have three back-up plans for each task. That’s a lot of planning, but it works for me. With the exception that this trip, I had to employ this strategy long before I left the US. Four days prior to my departure I felt like Africa while I am stil in the US.
What exactly happened?

In May this year the Cameroonian Embassy in Washington DC got word from the Ministry of Territorial Integrity in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon that I had applied for an NGO status of AIDSfreeAFRICA. Dutifully, Charles Di the Cultural Attaché at the Embassy called me and invited me to a face to face meeting. Of course I obliged and rushed to Washington. Besides the warm welcome it turned out that Charles was keenly interested in AIDSfreeAFRICA’s work. At the end of my visit he told me that my Cameroonian ID card allows me to travel to Cameroon without a visa. I never believed him, but maybe just enough to be a little careless, procrastinating I mailed the visa application rather late and started worrying about not getting my passport back even later. Friday before departure on Monday afternoon I did two things. I asked my mail carrier Linda if I did not get any registered mail, which she took the time to explain to me how to track it, and I called Charles at the Embassy and said my German Passport with the visa is missing. His first question was more a statement saying, but you don’t need a vias? The post office’s electronic tracking showed that the letter was never delivered to the Embassy but did not give a clue as to where it got lost.

I started calling and e-mailing my Cameroonians for help. I thought I should get a “visa on arrival”. The responses were warm and caring. Only three people actually went into action and checked and called and despite all conflicting responses and statements that “visa on arrival” was not granted any longer, one of my collaborators e-mailed me saying he did secure a visa for me. I breathed easier from then on.

Charles finally had me talk to a person in the Visa department at the Embassy, he reassure me that my Cameroonian ID is not merely a “drivers license” that proofs my identity but that it is related to a permanent resident or green card. That satisfied me. At the airport, not only were there no lines, they accepted my over the weight limit luggage and put me into business class! Bon Appetite!