I once took my car to a carwash in Small Soppo in Buea. It is conveniently located not far from a bar from where eardrum-bursting music poured out of huge speakers, one of them standing outside below the window sill, and could be heard miles around.
Four elderly customers were comfortably seated at a table with empty bottles of beer already joggling for space at one corner of the table even though we were still in the early hours of the morning. One really cool thing about Cameroon west of the Mungo River is that people always greet each other, even if they have never met before. As I took a seat on one of the empty tables, the four gentlemen at the adjacent table called out their greetings. “Oga, ashia-ooh! Come good-ooh!” I responded in like manner.
It did not take long for the men to confirm, through their loud discussions, that they were retirees drowning their boredom and idleness in the froth of beer. As it is almost always the case in such circumstances, their discussions revolved around women and below-the-navel activities. Each time a girl, or a young woman, walked past by to the small convenient store next door, the men shouted lewd jokes and catcalls above the music. One of them, already in an advanced stage of drunkenness, started shouting: “Smol, smol ngondereh!” and the others chimed in, “big, big boobi! Wandafull”. This went on for sometime, as they high-fived each other.
I thought it was unfortunate that men of their age, seemingly 60 and above, and of a certain level of education, could spend their day in a bar, drinking themselves silly and taunting women as they went about their lives. Even young school girls, who came to buy something from the store, also received catcalls and obscene jokes from men the age of their grandfathers.
From what I could eavesdrop from their conversation, they had all worked for the West Cameroon government before Ahidjo violated our constitution by unilaterally dissolving the federation and many of them, who worked for the West Cameroon government, were transferred to Yaounde. There, they were forced to communicate in French, a language few of them could speak or understand. Lingering in their conversation was the all-too-familiar expression of frustration and humiliation many of them suffered, especially in the infamous school of administration – ENAM – where they were forced to take courses in French. There, before me, sat the casualties of the Ahidjo-imposed so-called ‘United Republic,’ which saw West Cameroon lose its autonomy with the abolition of the original two-state federation.
They were happy to be back in Buea where they had built their careers working for the local government before being dislodged and sent to Yaounde, which remained foreign territory to many of them. They spoke dreamily of the days when Dr. EML Endeley was in power; how he lost power to JN Foncha and how peaceful the transition of power was. They spoke with admiration of Augustine Ngom Jua, the no-nonsense prime minister, who succeeded Foncha; and how Ahidjo tossed him into the dustbin of history in favour of the more malleable Solomon Tandeng Muna. Nostalgia floated thick and heavy in that bar.
It was not long before the sweet smell of grilled meat floated into the room from outside. “Dat magida don begin bon meat?” one of the men asked the car washer. The answer being affirmative, he shouted: “Magida, meat don done?” “Smol time, patron,” came the answer. Soon four women, apparently well known to the men, walked in and were warmly welcomed, each man raising his bottle of beer in the air to celebrate their arrival. One of the women then sat on one of the men’s lap, and I heard another man protesting that it was the same lap she had sat on the day before. What of his own lap? Laughter filled the room and before long, a woman was perching on each lap. As more bottles of beer filled the table, the ‘magida,’ grilling the meat outside, came in to say that he was ready to take their order.
Just then, the car washer came to tell me that my car was ready. As I walked out, one of the women grabbed me by the arm and asked, “Oga, you di go. You no go give me something for cool ma heart.” I said I had nothing for her. Her friend said, “Lefam make he go. I sure say na some chicha dat. Chicha dem hand trong soteh!” That was followed by a roar of laughter but I did not wait to hear more.
As I was driving out, I saw two other men of similar ages, accompanied by two younger women, going to join the chorus. Those men were probably going to spend the whole day and a good part of the night in that bar and, before long, those women would empty their pockets of the remnants of their pension. Some of them might go back home dead drunk to beat their wives and shout obscenities at their children for not serving them good food, even though they never leave food money behind. The free woman and the bottle are definitely a deadly combination for men, especially those on retirement.
What is the solution? Well, Buea is a university town. There are numerous libraries where these men and women could spend their time refreshing their minds with books. Buea has many institutes of higher learning. That is where our retirees should spend their retirement money to enhance their knowledge so they can function well in this computerised and digitalised world. What of volunteering their time to do some charitable work in their respective churches, for orphans, for those older than them who are home-bound by illness? They can do something useful for humanity, not bury their heads in the beer bottle in a bar and fall prey to the roving fingers of free women. Sad!