Car and taxi quality

It’s busy on the street, cars everywhere, mainly the yellow cabs racing past us. We hear a loud bang, immediately recognizable if you’ve heard it before, but something we’re not used to anymore in Europe. A blowout, the tire of a taxi has burst. One of the yellow taxis heads for the side of the road. The driver gets out of the car to look at a tire at the back of the car, not much is left of it. The passengers just sit and wait, expecting it will be solved somehow.

The Mercedes is relatively new and looks pretty nice, but when it drives uphill, towards me, I hear from far a loud rattling noise. The driver begins to slow down a bit but doesn’t seem to be bothered very much. Just when I cross the street, the car still at a distance, I see a wheel rolling towards me. For a second, my brain refuses to register the fact and arrive at the logical conclusion of what must be happening, but the following thump leaves little choice. Cars don’t drive on three wheels. The driver of the Mercedes stays a few seconds motionless before getting out of the car to inspect the damage.

Safety belts are never used in the backseats of the taxis, and after one attempt, we leave it at that as well. After gathering red dust for years, they leave unremovable stains on your clothes. So the fact that this one doesn’t have any, doesn’t really matter. We can only get in at one side of the car because the door on the other side doesn’t open anymore. Again, that doesn’t really matter, because you don’t want to get in at the side of the road, considering the risk to get hit by passing taxis. When we want to get out of the taxi, we need the help of the driver because there is no handle to open the door with. The driver reaches to the back and magically a string emerges from underneath the little remaining door cover. When he pulls it, the door opens. Once we get back in, he jumps out, leaving us a little amazed. He opens the bonnet and rumbles a bit around. With a big smile, he gets in the car again and just tells us “it’s an automatic car”.


(Un)predictable public holidays

Yesterday at 9pm, we heard that today would be a holiday. Today is the inauguration of the new/old president, and to make sure that everyone would be able to cheer for him, he had decided that everyone would receive a day off.


In the Netherlands, we know years ahead when the school will be closed in a certain region, we are used to know exactly when the public holidays will be throughout the year. That way, we’re able to plan months before when we’ll go on vacation, when we’ll have to arrange baby-sitters for our kids, when we could organize a party. That’s not the way it works in many other places.

In Cambodia, many public holidays were known beforehand, but then again, they had 36 official public holidays. For a Buddhist festivity, many people travel back to the place where their ancestors come from, to honour them in the local temple. Often, that required a day of travel, so it was necessary to be able to plan early. Unfortunately, the Buddhistic calendar is not the same as the western one (or the also used Chinese one), so you had to take care with the planning.

In Rwanda as well, there was an official planning of the public holidays, but that was only respected by the offices and was less complete. Problematic were the Islamic holidays, where it was often unclear until the last moment when they would be, as it depended on the sighting of the new moon. With other public holidays, there was doubt around the weekends. Official rule was that when a public holiday coincided with the weekend, the next working day would be a day off. But what happened when the next Monday was a public holiday as well? In the end, Tuesday was free. And sometimes, like it is here, there was an extra public holiday for political reasons.

But South Sudan was the worst in terms of unpredictability. There it happened several times that I had been working for around an hour when a colleague came into my office to tell that he had just heard on the radio that today was a public holiday. After which all of us packed our things again and went away, until the next day.


My house has been flooded. No, I don’t live in that house on the beach in de beautiful coastal town of Limbe, as we should have been (still not safe enough to go there) and where a tsunami or hurricane could have caused damage. I live in Cameroons capital Yaoundé. And no, it wasn’t the rainy season that caused the water to stream from the streets into my house. Would be possible, as the streets are flooded regularly, but I live in an apartment on the second floor. It’s not a natural disaster that  caused the flooding.

On the roof of our building there are two big water tanks. Nice buffer in case there’s no water coming from the pipes. Less nice if the system that should indicate that the tank is full doesn’t work. Then the water keeps flowing into the tank, and the tank overflows. Which causes the water to run into the staircase, splashing down over five stories. Now I hear you think, that’s annoying, but it doesn’t mean your house is flooded. Right, but… there’s not threshold in front of the front door of my house (there is one in front of the balcony door, and one in front of the bathroom door), and the floor of the living room turns out to be several millimeters below the floor in the staircase. Hence, the water flows right into my living room.   If I visit at a ground floor house to see if I want to rent it, I do look whether there is a threshold to keep the rainwater out, but I didn’t think about this possibility.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t properly repaired the first time, so the next morning we heard the water splashing down again, and the morning after that again. They’re busy with a more thorough repair now, so I hope it was the last time!

I don’t think I’ll fancy visiting a waterfall anytime soon…

New adventure!

The next two years in Cameroon, of which at least the first two in the capital Yaoundé.

Fun on the water, Haarlemmermeer