Author, The Happiest Man in the World: Life Lessons from a Cultural Economist
Mbingo and Banyo, Cameroon, Africa: February, 2004: Dave, our African bush pilot, was going to fly me from the grass runway of the mountain community of Mbingo, Cameroon, to the dusty metropolis of Banyo. I never did get the brand name of the airplane, but it was an old 1950s model, and supposedly there were only six or seven vintage models like it still in existence. It had a single engine, four passenger seats, and front seats for the pilot and co-pilot. The wings were very stout and quite short, and the wing flaps were manually cranked down and back up by what resembled an automobile window crank located on the ceiling of the cockpit.
The plane had been flown for many years, I believe, in South America. Then recently it was completely rebuilt and sent to Africa. Its specialty was the ability to land and take off on very short and unpredictable runways. The Mbingo airstrip was short grass and was laid out in a very frightening design.
At the airstrip in Banyo we were met by Dr. Jim Smith, a retired medical doctor from Colorado Springs. Dr. Smith had been Project C.U.R.E.’s contact in getting us to travel to Cameroon. Dr. Smith and his wife were longtime acquaintances of our dear Colorado friends and Project C.U.R.E. supporters, Paul and Marjorie Lewan. Paul had brought Dr. Smith to Project C.U.R.E.’s offices and introduced us. From the get go, Dr. Smith began pushing our offices to schedule needs assessment studies in Banyo and Mbingo.
Banyo was not the vacation haven of the world. Banyo was hot and dusty. The wind during the dry season would pick up dirt and sand from the northern desert and cover Banyo with a film of grit and fill the sky with a reddish brown haze. The continual haze made for some pretty spectacular sunsets but that was about the extent of Banyo’s positive selling points. Banyo bragged of a population of 18,000. That was a pretty good-sized village. But the catchment area population that used the clinic was more like 50,000 with people even coming across the Nigerian border just 25 miles away.
I loved the story of the Smiths and their involvement in Cameroon. The Smiths moved to Banyo about two and a half years earlier. They had been praying with their church missions group in Colorado Springs for the Lord to choose and send someone to Cameroon who would take the responsibility of leadership and the duties of a full-time doctor at Banyo. They all prayed earnestly every day and one day just like God said to the children of Israel parked along the shores of the Red Sea, “Quit your praying and start moving.”
God showed the Smiths and the others that their prayers had been answered – Dr. Smith and his wife should go to Banyo. So, with spirits of obedience and excitement, off they went to Africa. They arrived at the partially civilized area of Banyo and found that the clinic possessed only two pieces of equipment: one old microscope with a mirror that had to be tilted toward the outside light and an oxygen generator that someone had recently brought with them. The Smiths then bought a nifty little hand-held ultrasound machine. And that was the sum total of the pieces of medical equipment on the property when I arrived for the assessment.
Dr. Smith had quickly determined that the clinic needed to expand into a full-fledged hospital to meet the needs of the growing client base. To start, he was begging Project C.U.R.E. to send him a very simple, but complete surgical room, supplies of every kind and an x-ray machine. A few months down the line he would need beds, dental goods, and everything else for a start-up hospital.
We completed the needs assessment, and over an African lunch we discussed logistics and priorities regarding the container loads of medical goods destined for the new “dream hospital.”
Our little specialty aircraft lifted quickly off the hot runway with brown clouds of dust rolling everywhere in our wake. It took us about two hours to fly from Banyo back to Mbingo.
Tuesday, February 10
I had been greatly looking forward to Tuesday. I would be going home. I had endured enough mosquitoes carrying malaria and enough African wash areas standing stark naked scrubbing shampoo out of my hair with one hand as I dipped my plastic pail into the barrel of rusty water with the other hand and poured its contents over my dirty head and body. There would be electricity at home, a real bed, a snuggling wife, and a cup of real English tea. I could almost smell how clean it was going to be at home. I had eaten enough plantains, rice, and mostly cooked goat meat for another African trip. I was ready, Tuesday, to be home.
Vincent was once again assigned to drive me. We would return to Douala airport where I would catch my Air France flight to Paris. After seven hours of riding the Toyota 4x4 back down to Douala, my bottom end was tired and I was ready to call it a day. Vincent swung into the parking area of the Douala airport, and I grabbed my luggage and made a quick dash into the terminal. I turned to wave goodbye to Vincent and headed for the Air France check-in counter at the end of the front terminal. As I arrived, I was met with the startling news. The Air France flight from Douala to Paris had been cancelled. We were to leave and return at the 11:15 p.m. time the next night to see if it had been rescheduled.
I went into survival mode. Vincent had already gone. I had no Cameroon money and no phone numbers for Vincent to catch him in his Toyota. I was in trouble.
Next Week: I Just Need to Get Home
© Dr. James W. Jackson
Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House
Dr. James W. Jackson often describes himself as "The Happiest Man in the World." A successful businessman, award-winning author and humanitarian, Jackson is also a renowned Cultural Economist and international consultant, helping organizations and governments to apply sound economic principals to the transformation of culture so that everyone is "better off."
As the founder of Project C.U.R.E., Dr. Jackson traveled to more than one hundred fifty countries assessing healthcare facilities, meeting with government leaders and "delivering health and hope" in the form of medical supplies and equipment to the world's most needy people. Literally thousands of people are alive today as a direct result of the tireless efforts of Project C.U.R.E.'s staff, volunteers and Dr. Jackson.