There aren’t many Westerners that come through Lomie, but from time to time one breezes through for one reason or another. And white Westerners – lest you had any doubt – are easy to spot in this neck of the woods.
There was Sarah, the American Fullbrighter who was here for a couple of weeks (and whom I never actually met)… There was Jessie, another American doing research on forestry and land use planning/management (I spent just one evening with her while she was passing through. We discussed our work here, upcoming theses, and the legacy of French colonialism over far too many ‘33’s)… And then yesterday evening while out for a jog, I met Arthur.
I’m always torn about whether or not to pretend to take notice or care who other white people are here. The truth is, we’re unusual in Lomie – and so one naturally takes notice (just as everyone else in the village does). And because it’s so far from where white people are usually from, it arouses curiosity. But another thing happens to me too: A counter-reaction to my initial reaction of “Who is this blanc(he) and what are they doing here?”, which is “But why should I care who they are? And why should I be curiously attracted to what they’re doing in my village? I don’t react like that to anyone else here without a white face…” I feel strangely self-conscious caring, but it happens anyway.
Anyway, back to Arthur.
Just as I was turning down a long dirt road, I spotted a sweaty, skinny, very dirty white man Little Engine That Could-ing his bike and lots of bags up the last hill that leads into town. Not only was I curious to see another foreigner, but a guy on a sweet bike with enough bags to suggest he was on one hell of a long trek. So I stopped and stared the way dogs do when you’re doing something peculiar that they can’t take their eyes off of. Arthur, seeing my tilt-headed visage, politely rode over and greeted me.
“Francais?” he asked. “Non, Americain” I replied. “Oh, then we can speak English” he offered. “And you?” I asked. “Czech.” I asked him where he was headed, where he was going, how long he had been riding, etc. He said he had come from Abong-Mbang (126k away), and was on his way south to the Congo, then DRC, then north to Chad. Jesus. Seriously? This guy is nuts, I thought. And awesome. So about 2 minutes after meeting him and exchanging the usual ‘who are you and what are you doing here’ info, I decided he was kindred spirit and asked him if he was staying in Lomie that night. “Yeah, I heard about a cheap hotel – the Capitol. Do you know it?” “Sure,” I said, “but why don’t you just crash at my place. It’s nicer than the Capitol, I have a spare room and bed… And you look like you need a good washing.” And so we agreed to meet in the center of town in about an hour, after I finished my run and after he had a chance to look around town. About an hour later I spotted him walking his bike and 50 kilos of gear around centre ville, earning similar stares to the one I had given him earlier.
After he unloaded and washed up at my house, I asked him if he was hungry. “A bit” he said. “Well I was going to grab a bite with a friend of mine, another volunteer here. There’s a cheap place with great food nearby” I suggested. “OK sure. I’ll probably just take a juice, but I can join you guys.” Bullshit dude, I thought. Needless to say Danielle and I both ordered large plates of beef and rice, hoping that he would take some. He did. And the next morning I made one of the biggest breakfasts I have ever made.
Long story short, Arthur is riding 5,000 kilometers through Cameroon, Congo, DRC, and Chad in an effort to expose the scourge of illegal elephant poaching in Central Africa. He rode 2,000 kilometers around Cameroon on a previous trip, where he learned about the problem. Now he’s expanding his efforts. He hopes to make a documentary about his adventure, and will be tracking his voyage through his blog at www.mikov.cz. (He said to give it a few months before he is back in a place with fast enough internet to upload).