Not technically a part of the south province (the closest border is about 40km away), Will and I had been annexed a while back, becoming members of the "Dirty South". There are many reasons we call ourselves that, and most of the connotations that come to mind are probably true, at least in part.
Every three months or so is a provincial meeting, and my (and several others') last meeting was to be held in Ambam, next to the Gabonese and Equatorial Guinea border. I left early Friday morning from Edéa and arrived without much difficulty late that afternoon. After arriving, we sat around catching up and drinking (the south province is REALLY good at the latter). I decided that with a long night ahead, I'd stick with Gold Bond and Pamplemousse (Gold Bond is really cheap whiskey sold in small plastic bags called sachets). I wasn't involved in dinner (it was well underway by the time I got there), but the folks who were did an amazing job, and we gorged ourselves on homemade burritos eaten by candlelight. It appeared for a while as though Jen's house (our lovely hostess) was the only one in town without electricity (even her neighbors had it), but soon everyone else's was out as well.
Well, what do you do when the electricity goes out at your house and there's lots of volunteers around??? The answer: find a bar that has a generator to provide you with music and cold drinks. Several drinks later, dancing broke out, and a good time was had by all. During this time, I got to know another ex-pat who lived across from Jen named Mathias, a nice Italian guy who also spoke good french and english. He's there working with some french NGO that I still don't know the name of... Anyway, he offered to take whoever wanted to go on an excursion to see a waterfall the next morning. I was interested until I heard that it was about two hours each way from Ambam. I politely declined, while several of the women showed interest. Somehow, we all made it back to Jen's house, found a place on the floor, and more or less fell asleep.
The next morning, Nicki's alarm went off early, waking most of us up. This was the call to go see the waterfall for those interested- except it was raining outside. Everyone who was interested decided it best not to go in the rain, so we more or less went back to sleep. A couple of hours later, the rain had stopped (it wasn't a heavy rain) and Mathias showed up at the front door with his pickup truck half full of Cameroonian friends of his looking for interested parties for a newer, closer excursion to hike up a small mountain. I thought it sounded like fun (potentially more fun than the drinking and butchering of pigs and ducks that would be roasted for dinner), so I climbed in.
The trip out turned out to be much further than advertised, including about 45 minutes on a dirt road of questionable quality. We arrived safely, however, found the local chief to ask permission, engaged the obligatory guide, and started up the mountain. It was quite a steep climb with many surfaces of almost sheer rock, but we all made up. For some reason (perhaps because I had neglected to shower that morning), the bugs (mut-muts) were quite heavy around my head, which was more than a little annoying. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful view, being the only rock to exceed the treeline for miles around. Nothing but rainforest. On the way back down, we even picked a couple of wild pineapples (much smaller and sweeter than their commercial cousins) for a snack. We made it back to the truck (a four-door pickup), thanked our guides, and headed back to Ambam. Everything was great for a while, and we were going back just as we had come. After a while though, a dark and ominous cloud began to come closer and closer, so we sped up to try and make it to the paved road before it came down hard. We didn't make it.
We stopped the truck to let in a couple of guys who were hanging out in the back inside and the dog who had been with us the whole time. Then, with the raining pouring down, we continued on, rather carefully, I thought. We came to a decline in the road, and for reasons I can't completely understand, we lost control, slid on the now muddy road, and the truck began to turn over. I think it turned over at least twice, but I'm also fairly sure I blacked out temporarily, so I don't really know. The next thing I know, I'm looking out the window on my left (I was sitting just behind the driver) and realize I'm upside-down and the window is broken. I see Mathias outside already brushing himself off and try to call him over to open the door. I guess he didn't hear me, and a terrible sense of claustrophobia was overcoming me, so I couldn't wait any longer. I grabbed the heel of my shoe and carried my foot out the window, which was luckily followed by my leg, then my head, shoulders and the rest of my body. The rain was still falling.
Once I was out, I turned around to help others out, but a woman I didn't notice before told me to go sit down. I figured I should take her advice, so I made my way to the side of the road. It was then that I started to take inventory of my situation. I was clearly bleeding, but not profusely) in several places, and I was having trouble breathing, with a sharp pain on my left side. After everyone else was out, it was clear that I and one of the women with us were the only ones obviously injured.
As luck would have it (good, in this case), there were two cars that had come down the road since our accident, one of them being a taxi. I carefully picked myself up and walked down to the taxi which (after a stop to let some mommies in the back seat out) arrived at a medical clinic not far away. I walked in, sat down and started discussing what happened and where it hurt. After a couple of minutes, they decided that they couldn't help me, and sent me on my way to the provincial hospital in Ebolowa. I was very lucky again, and the taxi was still there since one of the nurses was going to take it home and he was waiting. I convinced the nurse that I needed to leave immediately, and got back in the taxi, still bleeding. We arrived (still with the other woman) at the hospital emergency area. I walked in, the nurses looked at me strangely and asked me to sit down in the front room. I was told I needed to buy a carnet before they would look at me (a small notebook where they write all the nurses' and doctors' notes). Again, luckily I had a bunch of money with me (having already paid for our taxi) and got it out of my pocket.
The nurse then started writing down all my essentials, blood type, height, weight (which we guessed since she didn't want my muddy shoes on her scale, and I couldn't take off my own shoes) in the notebook. At that point, the doctor sat down and we did our little interview about what happened and where it hurt. He wrote a laundry list of things to buy at the hospital's pharmacy when I told him that I was not going to receive any injections or serious medicine before consulting Peace Corps doctors. After a little insistence, we called in a girl with a cell phone outside (at her call box) who came with her 2000 phone directory. We looked up the US Embassy number, and called (I didn't have my phone with me since I left it a Jen's house and hadn't memorized any of the numbers). I reached the marine on duty and told him the situation and that he should call the Peace Corps medical officer on duty. The woman who came in with me then took the list, went to the pharmacy and bought what I needed, which included gauze pads and iodine solution (yes, in Africa you have to buy your own gauze at the hospital).
After tending to the convict writhing on the floor supervised by two gendarmes with shotguns (apparently he ticked off some other prisoners and they beat him to within an inch of his life- he was in bad shape), the nurses finally came with their rusty bowl and started picking out pieces of glass, cleaning up and bandaging my surface wounds.
Just as that was finishing, Mathias came in. I don't know how he got from the truck to the hospital, but he was there with a Cameroonian friend who had his own car. Mathias was great and made sure I got something to eat and even went to buy a shirt and sweatshirt for me, since I was still wet from the rain and the shirt had already been half cut off of me. He had spoken to Peace Corps and Jen back in Ambam and I thought I might stay in Ebolowa that night since no one was coming to get me and folks were coming up from the meeting to make sure I was alright.
After an hour or so, we learned that there was a mixup in communication and that no one was coming up from Ambam. So, wanting to get to Yaoundé anyway, I took a taxi to the bus station where I got a bus to Yaoundé. Seeing I was in lots of pain, the folks kindly gave me "shotgun", which is by far the best seat in the bus.
Eventually, after a few more hours, I made it back to Peace Corps headquarters in Yaoundé, where the doctor was waiting for me. Since there was no one else around (including volunteers), she decided that it would be best if I stayed at her place for the weekend. I can't tell you how greatful I am to her for taking me in, feeding me and healing my wounds over the next couple of days.
Monday morning, we finally made it to the hospital for x-rays (there's only attending doctors on duty on the weekends, so tests and other things generally have to wait unless its a serious emergency). After a number of painful manipulations, its was discovered that I had two broken ribs, which nicely explained my pain, trouble breathing and all the rest...
There's nothing you can do for broken ribs but take pain medicine and wait it out. So, that's what I've been doing...