Plantains, chicken keep the luggage blues away

From inside a yellow taxi, I took photographs of the landscape. Already the exhilaration of arriving in Cameroon made me forget that my luggage was still stuck in Nairobi.

About two weeks ago, I visited Cameroon for the first time. The Goethe Institut had invited some cultural journalists from south of the Sahara for a meeting.

One of the first things I noticed as I came out of the airport was the lush green vegetation. Yaoundé is set in mountainous terrain.

Having not arrived with my luggage, I had to buy toiletries and a few clothes for the few days I was in Yaounde. I met a resident, Stephanie Djuka, who is a fellow journalist. She helped me brush up my French by giving me her book of short stories titled Aujourd’hui je suis mort.

After the first day of the workshop, I went shopping at 10pm. Stephanie kept warning me, saying, “Hold your handbag close, there are bandits here.” I wanted to buy a few long dresses or the batikkitenge type called deras, so I could pass the rest of the days in decent, affordable clothes.

As we walked around, I was struck by the similarity to the streets of Kariakoo in my home city of Dar es Salaam. There were small shops lining the sides of the streets with merchandise from China tailors sold readymade outfits of kanzu and trousers for men and deras for women. After negotiating with a few vendors, I bought two dresses and off we went.

Stephanie took me to a place where they were selling chicken. I was ravenous as I had skipped lunch. In front was a huge bonfire on a concrete slab.

Lined up in a square around the fire were grills with marinated chicken roasting on top. The chicken was delicious it was wrapped in a brown paper bag with a side of spices much like those used in pilau.

Over the following days, I enjoyed the cuisine that Yaounde had to offer — side dishes of plantains and what I came to know as “bolobolo,” a cassava dish.

Bolobolo is made by soaking cassava in water after which it is drained and pounded then boiled to make stringy rolls. Sometimes it is wrapped in banana leaves, or on its own resembling dough about to be rolled into a chapati. I love plantains I must have gained a kilo by the time I left.

One dish in particular had my mouth watering, and I had it a couple of times. It’s called DG Poulait translated as Director General’s Chicken, and is made of fried plantains with chicken in a thick gravy.

We visited the National Museum of Cameroon, which is in Yaoundé, although we weren’t allowed to take photos inside.

The museum had musical instruments, like the “talking drums” dating back thousands of years. There were houses from the various ethnic groups in the country, which consisted of homes made of bamboo, clay, some on top of water and some in the desert. Like Tanzania, Cameroon boasts of a wide ecological variety from semi-desert to equatorial climate, with a lush cultural diversity.

The museum, which was previously the state house, has details of the country’s history prior and post-Independence where the French Cameroon and Anglophone Cameroon came together to form the nation we know today as Cameroon.

I also had the chance to listen to two live bands, one at the Merina Hotel where I was staying, and the other at a cabaret club downtown.

If you’re ever in Yaounde, do try out the DG Chicken. It left me feeling like a director general.