We met on Easter eve in the police transit office of Cameroon’s Douala airport. Both of us had overnight connections and needed visas to reach our hotels.
I had an easy go of it, she, after exhaustive travel from the US was given the run around because her itinerary was printed on a boarding card and the police a full sheet of paper.
I saw the destination Bangui on her card and didn’t yet know how important that would become.
We both got our visas and were at the same hotel so chatted on the shuttle. Former Peace Corps from Benin, now in public health and epidemiology, she is working for an aid organization in one of the most unfortunate of lands. We had a quick bite to each and would be on the same morning shuttle for our respective flights, me to Libreville, Gabon, her to Bangui, Central African Republic. At one point she mentioned CAR no longer requires visas of US citizens.
Easter Sunday morning I walked Douala and stopped in to a church service. Then headed to the airport to find Camair wasn’t going to operate for the holiday and of the few flights, the best solution looked to be Kenya Airways to Bangui, rather than sit in airport transit for 24 or more hours, denied an extension to my transit visa.
I hustled to the massive check-in line, the airport’s systems down so all was manual. I asked, “So, if I go to CAR, will I get in?” She thought so and I bought the ticket.
On arrival, and this a person who never met me until the day before, and herself was exhausted and needing to get to work, today being the legislative election day and the place on high security, she spared no effort to help.
She talked me through visa-less immigration.
She gave me ride to three hotels until one had a room available.
On the way she and her driver even gave an impromptu tour, including the Muslim area and its until recent DMZ, unblocked in part by Pope Francis’ fall visit where he visited the mosque and the residents marched out behind him to rejoin the city across what had recently been battle lines.
At night I was included in dinner with her and a UN worker at a beautiful French restaurant filled with people trying to help a country get on its feet. Listening to their stories and seeing their commitment was humbling and inspiring.
Meeting people such as the Easter Angel of Bangui is the magic and joy of travel.