Have You Ever Been Lost In A Foreign Country?

I’ll preface this story by first revealing that it happened a long time ago, in 1997, before cell phones and the internet swept the world. My brother Chad was getting married in Cameroon, and my husband and I were planning on backpacking around West Africa for a few months after Chad’s wedding. First we had agreed to make the 5-tier wedding cake in a handcrafted, woodburning oven, but that is another story, which you can read on Frugal Travel Guy.

My brother’s fiancee, Mireille, is from a tiny village close to Dschang, which is in West Cameroon. To get there, we flew into Douala, then took a bush taxi from the airport to the village (for six hours). So it was kind of a long journey.

cameroon airports

My mom had arrived a couple of weeks before we did, and my 2 younger brothers (who were 17 and 18 at the time), were on a flight that arrived a couple of days later. With each flight, a few kind souls from Mireille’s large family would make the trek to the airport to welcome and gather the new arrivals. The airport in Douala was slightly overwhelming to my husband and me, even though we had each traveled around the world, and I spoke fluent French. It was filled with con artists and scammers, officials expecting bribes, and unscrupulous and unsavory characters of all sorts. So it was a relief to see some friendly faces in the crowd. Indeed, Mireille’s family alternately ignored and chastised the assorted airport rascals, and efficiently whisked us away without any issues.

It was lovely, and we felt like VIPs.

Two days later, a welcome party left the family compound to fetch my brothers. My husband Josh was with them, because he needed to secure visas for Benin, and the embassy was in Douala (we had decided just that week that our plan was to fly over Nigeria and land in Benin after we traveled around Cameroon). Plus, both Josh and my brother needed a suit and good shoes for the wedding. (I have no idea know why they didn’t just bring them from the States, but they didn’t. Husbands.)

In the meantime, all of the cake making duties fell squarely on my shoulders. This would have been a huge job as it was, but the task was compounded by the fact that the welcome party never returned. They just didn’t come back. A day passed, and then two, and no one had heard from them. This was unusual, even for Africa, and people began to get worried. But there was not much we could do about it, because we didn’t have cell phones or the internet. So we waited and worried, and I baked and cried, and all around me, the entire village was preparing for what would be the biggest and most important wedding the town had ever seen. (Sidebar: my sister-in-law is a princess in her village, for real. And the fact that she was getting married to my brother, the handsome American, was a jaw-dropping, OMG event.)

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all of us, here’s what had happened: my brother Chad had sent the welcome party to the wrong airport. My two younger brothers were flying into Yaounde, but in all of the wedding prep, Chad got confused, and assumed they were arriving at Douala. So Josh and Mireille’s relatives waited and worried, and then they figured out what had happened, but there was not much they could do about it, because they didn’t have cell phones or the internet.

So they hopped on a bus. Yep, a bus. That’s how they had to roll. It took them several hours to journey the 150 miles to Yaounde (the bus broke down, there were a million stops, and the urgency of the situation was lost on the driver and the other passengers). By the time they got to the airport, my brothers were gone.

Gone.

Gone. They didn’t speak French, and it was their first time traveling outside of the States. The bedraggled welcome party had no idea where they went, and they didn’t have any leads. Needless to say, it was a stressful situation. But they worked it. They canvassed all of the porters and airline employees and taxi drivers. They bribed and pestered. And finally they found someone who had seen my brothers leaving with a couple of young porters, several hours ago. Not much of a lead, but it was the only one they had. So they decided to get in a taxi and start driving around the city, searching.

And this was where the miracle happened: after 2 days of searching, they found my brothers. They randomly saw them in a car, with the young porters. In a city of 2.5 million people, this was truly a gift from God.

My brothers told them later that they had been scared, but the porters befriended them, and fed them, and tried to speak English with them. And after awhile, my brothers decided that instead of waiting in vain outside the airport, they were going to go and party with the porters. So they did.

Everyone arrived safe at the family compound with hours to spare before the wedding. It was a joyful reunion, with a few tears and lots of hugs.

I’m not exactly sure how to end this story, because actually it was more of a beginning, for all of us.

I wish you all happy and safe travels.

Note that I am traveling this week (I’m at family camp, woo hoo!) so I don’t have access to the internet, which means that I am unable to respond to emails or comments. I’ll be back soon!

Comments

  1. Yikes, what a frightening story. I would have been sobbing for two days if I were you. In fact if I were one of your brothers I would have been sobbing in a corner of the airport until I saw a friendly face.

    And, of course, I’ve been lost in a foreign country. You know, as in got off the wrong underground stop in London, or something minor like that. I’ll never complain again as I think of your brothers in Cameroon. 😉

  2. Points Pixie says:

    Anne – I think time has erased a lot of the scariness for me. Now I just remember what a miracle it was that we found them!

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