23 Apr 2003
Visit to Paris en Route to China.
I left Douala with a group of pharmacist to attend a mostly French pharmaceutical manufacturer’s trade fair called Pharmagora on the 21st of March 2003. The trip was organised by Laborex (a pharmaceutical wholesaler) and partially subsidised by the organiser. France was the first lap of a visit that was to extend to a sight seeing trip to the People’s republic of China. Our departure from Cameroon coincided with the start of America’s war against Iraq and increased global concern about the spread of the new disease SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) especially in Asia. A trip that was planned purely for pleasure now had the element of adventure attached to it.
We left Douala aboard a Cameroon Airlines 222 seater Boeing aircraft and after a stop over in Yaounde left for Paris at 1.15pm for the six hour 20 minutes trip. The flight path of the plane took us through the vicinity of Ngoundere in Cameroon, Kano in Nigeria, the middle of Niger republic, Tamanrasset before crossing the Mediteranian sea around Cosntantinopole into Europe. The highest speed I noticed during the flight was 861 km/hour and highest height 10960m with lowest external temperature at –56 degrees centigrades.
We arrived Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and after going through immigration checks, we were directed to an exit from where we were to board a waiting bus. I proceeded at the head of the group and advanced a few metres before a policeman stopped us. He explained that there was an unidentified and suspicious luggage ahead and we have to wait for the owner to be identified or the parcel destroyed. After repeated announcements for the owner to show up went unheeded, a team of bomb disposal policemen came and used an explosive device to destroy the bag. We were then given the green light to proceed after waiting for about 20 minutes. It later turned out that the destroyed bag belonged to one of our colleagues. This incident demonstrates how jittery western authorities have become following many incidents of terrorist attacks.
We checked in at Citadines Apart’hotel where a one bed single room costs 158 euro (about 103,000 cfa) including breakfast per day. It is a hotel equipped with all kitchen appliances for the customer to prepare own meals. I could locate in the room a kitchen, fridge, dishwasher, microwave oven, grill, ceramic hob, electric kettle, toaster, a television and radio. According to a leaflet by the management, the hotel is “located on the Seine embankment in the prestigious Germain-des-pres district, just a stone’s throw from the cathedral Notre Dame and lively Saint-Michel area.” The Saint Michel area comprises mostly of old buildings (3 to 6 storeys high) and very narrow streets (only suited for the toy-like cars the French are fond of driving). It is a predominantly white district with many restaurants to take care of some of the millions of tourists that visit Paris annually.
The following day we had to attend the trade fair. We had to use the underground railway services popularly known as metro. Many Parisiens prefer it because it is cheap and efficient (can hardly wait for a train for more than 3 minutes). A metro ticket costs roughly one euro compared to the outrageous taxi cab fares applicable in most European cities. I was unfortunate once to take a taxi cab in Paris as I had to cough out 45 euro (30,000cfa) just to move from one point to another. I had to take a walk along the river Seine for about one hour on a Sunday afternoon. I noticed that the colour of water in the river had a greenish tinge probably due to the presence of algae or other pollutants. I hardly noticed a black face among the teeming population of sight seers attracted by the river. On Sunday March 21st, Laborex organised a gala night for Pharmacists from various countries aboard a boat on river Seine. While we were being served dinner in the approximately 200 seat mobile restaurant, the boat moved up and down the river Seine enabling us to appreciate the beauty of the neighbourhood through her glass walls at night. There was lots of fun and music for dancing pleasure from the band aboard the boat. Even though I am a teetotaller, I had to take a glass of French wine on that occasion. It would have been impolite to refuse French wine in the very heart of France, I reasoned.
The following day I visited the Eiffel tower. This giant wrought iron structure of about 300 plus metres high is said to be constructed in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel for the Paris world fair. With a fee of 10.20 euro I was taken by an elevator to the third and highest platform (about 300metres high) from where I could see practically the whole of Paris. The tower stands on four immense arched legs (about 85 of my steps) apart from each other. According to statistics I obtained from there, 6.1 million people visited the tower in 2002. A few surprises for me: It cost me 1 euro in a cyber café to surf the internet for ten minutes. In Cameroon, I will use that amount for more than one hour. I was accosted on the street one morning by a young white lady begging money from me to go and purchase medications.
(See photo of Eiffel tower at this link)
I was particularly not comfortable with the biting cold on certain days. I really sympathise especially with European women who can not put on their trendy clothes most of the time because of the intruding cold.
Copyright ã 2003 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]