1 May 2006
Travel by inter-city commercial buses in Cameroon sometimes brings you surprises. Recently I boarded a 28-seater Toyota Coaster Bus belonging to the VATICAN Express Agency on a trip from Bamenda to Douala. I arrived the Bamenda bus station at about 8 a.m. bought a ticket and took a seat in the bus that was partially full. As we waited for other passengers, an array of street vendors or hawkers paraded around the bus to advertise their wares to us. The range included; candies, biscuits, purses, watches, bags, calculators, baskets, radios and pharmaceuticals.
Being a pharmacist, I decided to pay close attention to those goods purported to have curative properties. “Paracetamol for waist pain” said a young man in his early twenties. “What makes you a man is your cutlass; (a farm tool used in this predominant agricultural country) I have brought a sharpener for that cutlass”. This advert was clearly directed to any man in the bus whose masculine prowess was apparently compromised by waist ailments. Next was another young man that proposed to sell me a packet of some medicines apparently made in China. The product called “Energin” had this apt photo of a body builder displaying muscles a la Schwarzenegger. “What is this?” I asked. “Ginseng” came the reply. “What is ginseng?” “It is energy medicine and it is good for sexual weakness.” I told him “no thanks” and he moved on.
“Shit blood, diarrhoea, waist pain” shouted another young fellow waiving a black powdery substance in a small plastic bag. “This medicine will cure chronic pile and waist pain in children and adults.” He had printed small pieces of papers containing the ‘therapeutic’ information that he readily distributed to those that needed more information. Here is what was on the paper:
‘Immediate Cure For Pile’
‘To mix with mentalanto’
‘To apply on the anus morning and evening’
The telephone number of a certain ‘Dr Hassan’ resident at Atuakom junction was also on the paper.
It was now the turn of a middle-aged man that stood close to the window of the bus where I was sitting. He was holding a small transparent plastic bag containing some whitish powder. “Shining shining Calcium for teeth”. “Only lucky people like you have found a solution to make your teeth shine white.” He said to the now full bus. Not to be outdone by the hawkers, one young passenger retorted; “But your own teeth are yet to shine white.” There was laughter in the bus as it was obvious that the hawker had anything but white teeth. The ridiculed man moved away after hurling abuses at the passenger.
By the time the next person started to advertise ‘Canda stick for cough and asthma’, the bus kicked off at 9.10 am for Douala (some 360 kms) away. I heaved a sigh of relief believing that I was done with these mobile ‘pharmacists/physicians’. I was wrong.
Barely five minutes after take off a young man possibly in his late twenties, stood up in the bus and wished everybody a save journey while at the same time requesting to talk to us “for ten minutes”. He started a long lecture on ginseng “Studies have shown that in Africa, ginseng can only grow in Ghana and Cameroon”. “The pant has salty leaves and a bitter stem.” He continued; “The Chinese are always fresh because they purify their blood with ginseng”. “Ginseng is used to treat loss of appetite, constipation, gastritis, dirty for belly, waist pain and corrects menstrual cycle in a week.” “ God moves from door to door at 5 am to distribute children.” “There are some men in this bus whose ‘massa Tom’ does not respond to this God’s knock on the door at 5 am”. Waving a coloured sachet, he added; “ginseng is the answer to your problem.” He continued haranguing us for close to an hour with obscene language in callous disregard to the minors that were in the bus. The climax of this obscene tirade came when in an attempt to showcase his masculine virility, he said; “If they were to measure the force of my ejaculation, my sperms can leave from here and even scatter the back wind shield of this bus.” He was standing about 4 metres away from the hind windshield.
I took a packet of the ginseng and this is what I saw as a label;
‘Ginseng Tea’ (Revitalization and Strength)
‘Helps regulate blood pressure, reduces excess fat, improves physical and intellectual capacity, reduce sugar and cholesterol in the blood’
‘Product of REPAMP CAMEROON’
4000frs cfa, N1000
There was a contact telephone number.
The most intriguing thing that I noticed was that the information on the leaflet supplied by the vendor about the product was grossly at variance with the label on the packet and obviously the (poorly written) therapeutic claims grossly exaggerated.
The leaflet claims that ginseng can remedy “gastro-intestinal ‘track’ infection, typhoid, malaria, yellow fever, joint pains, menstrual pains, lower abdominal pains, low sperm count, loss of libido, Poor sexual drive and ‘precorpulation’ ejaculation”. The leaflet continued saying ‘It helps to keep you internally pure’, ‘It fight against chlymadia’, syphilis and, chronic viginal discharge (sugar sugar).
The vendor succeeded in convincing three passengers to buy his ‘wonder medicine.’ He was now offering three packets of his products (carrying a price tag of 4000cfa each) for 2000cfa! By the time he was about to introduce another medicine called ‘German liniment’, he apparently realized that most of the people in the bus were fed up with his lewd medical practice and he abruptly stopped and disembarked the bus. He had talked for 55 minutes instead of the ten minutes originally requested from us. He was now waiting for another busload of potential ‘customers’ to embark and continue selling his ginseng.
Sitting directly behind me in the bus was an elderly Canadian citizen that was going to Douala airport en route back home after a few weeks’ stay around Bamenda. He confirmed to me that this Cameroon trip was his first ever trip to Africa. I wonder what was going through his mind when these charlatans were rambling.
N.B. It is worth noting that this type of 'medical practice' is outlawed in Cameroon.
Njei Moses Timah