this is anywhere – TIA

This week, we lost a friend in a bush plane that crashed in the remote jungle along the Congolese-Cameroonian border.  We will miss his thirst for life, fun and frolic.  As a security consultant to the mining industry, Jeff Duff assumed and accepted a certain level of risk.  It proved an ultimate price, but we know he saw opportunities before him and he was doing what he wanted to be doing.  While the outcome is heartbreaking, we respect his decisions.

When confronting a strange or risky situation, sometime both our Cameroonian and foreign colleagues shrug and say, “C’est l’Afrique:”

This is AfricaTIA

The way we prefer to look at it, TIA could equally stand for “This is ANYWHERE”.  After all, you can find risks and opportunities ANYWHERE.


There is a certain amount of risk of simply living and working in Africa – Cameroon specifically – but there are risks everywhere in the world.  Here, we mitigate what we can, refuse what we must and accept what we cannot change.  But in the end, we too have to accept a measure of risks.  By the same token, opportunities abound around us.


RISK: Hop on a motorcycle-taxi and think about many things.  Is the guy drunk or stoned?  If so, get off.  Uncertain?  Tighten you helmet and try to relax.  Mototaxis are the only means of public transport in Maroua and if we decided to walk everywhere, most of our days would be spent baking in the sun rather than working.

We accept this   –  TIA

OPPORTUNITY:  Despite its dangers, each moto ride is an opportunity to meet neighbours (drivers all seem to live nextdoor!).  “Class clowns”, entrepreneurs, social activists, HIV+ fathers – we never know who we’ll meet.

We relish this  – TIA

RISK: Obviously, car travel is more comfortable.  But safer?  It depends.  Travelling in a sturdy SUV complete with seatbelts is somewhat less risk-prone.  But if you have a sedan and 9 people to move from point A to point B, with no speed limits, no road signs and no other option… then yes, we get into some rather risky business.

We accept this  –  TIA

OPPORTUNITY:  Occasionally we are lucky enough to venture out in a VSO vehicle with VSO staff.  We share stories, discover shared passion for development and learn about the place we now call home.

We relish this  –  TIA

RISK: For intercity travel road-weary buses are often all there is.  Shunned and disposed of by more safety-conscious European countries, these vehicles are not the vision of comfortable travel.  So we negotiate on our risks – we won’t take a night bus.

We accept this. TIA

OPPORTUNITY: These dubious duck-taped contraptions open our eyes to the world around us in a way that a “safety certified” private jet never could.  Stunning scenery.  Tranquil savannah villages.  Incredibly amusing (and misguided?) itinerant medicine salesmen.

We relish this  –  TIA

RISK: The train?  Well, guess what… it derailed once again this week.  But mostly we worry about how long the trip will be.  14 hours or 20+?  Bring lots to occupy yourself with, watch the scenery, wave to the kids on the side of the tracks and brace yourself for sudden stops.  What else can we do?

We accept this. TIA

OPPORTUNITY: With so many hours to while away on the train, why not pull out a cross-stitch project that has been on the go for 13 years of marriage?  It has proven an amazing opportunity for Caroline to make friends with the lively ladies of MTA who feed us rubbery chicken and greasy croissants on warped plastic trays.

We relish this  –  TIA

Of course, we know our families might prefer that we stay in our safe little bubbles.  But it’s not conducive to living the life we wish for, or to following the dreams that have led us here in the first place.

This is Africa.  This is ANYWHERE.

We play it as safe as we can.  We celebrate the good days, small achievements, a-ha moments and everything else that reminds us that taking some risks is worth it.  We make the best possible choices for the best possible results.  We know we always have options – protective bubble included!

We – like our departed friend Jeff – decide what are acceptable risks for us.  Why?  Without taking some risks we cannot seize the opportunities we seek.  Jeff’s passion for life did entail risks, but without this he wouldn’t have been in Cameroon.  Without this we wouldn’t have had the honour of his friendship  –

We accepted and relished this  –  TIA

Note from Caroline to Jeff:  Your acceptance of risk means you have forfeited your chance to a re-match in our games of chopstick pick-up sticks.  You have rendered me, forevermore, the paramount champion of this distinguished duel!  🙂  Thank you friend.  Enjoy the other side.

~ by Caroline Spira on June 24, 2010.

9 Responses to “this is anywhere – TIA”

  1. Just WOW!

  2. I spent my last week in Mongolia trying to avoid dangerous things so I could get home to my love in one piece. I walked long distances and avoided getting in vehicles. It made me laugh secretly, because accepted early on that “death is death” and to accept it as it comes. I have a few friends who have died early now, and none expected. To attempt avoiding dangerous situations in Mongolia is a bit of a joke.

    This year in the Mongolian countryside poor herders lost everything to an extreme cold, all their animals which are food and income. When I questioned them they simply said “animals die”. Period. Nothing more. It was a zen moment.

    I wish the world could be a bit more this way because the stress of other’s worry is crippling at times. In Mongolia it became impressed on me that Western culture invests too much energy in fear and worry. I think my beloved country, the USA, takes the cake here. We joke that fear and worry is an illness. Then we market and sell things for it.

    Live happily.

  3. Greg amd Caroline,
    Your lists are amazing – risk/response (this is anywhere), 36 things, etc. The heat stories sound amazing.
    I offer you and especially all your neighbors our most heartfelt consolation in Cameroon’s elimination from the World Cup. I’m sure expectations were very hight and now disappointment sets in.
    Keep up all your good work – and your good communication.

  4. So sorry for the loss of Jeff. Love the way you look at life!

  5. Great description of the risks and rewards, Caroline. I can echo the same sort of things in our experience. Sorry to hear about your friend.

  6. Note from Ailing to Jeff: In addition to forfeiting the Chopsticks pick up sticks title to Caroline, you have also given up the opportunity to ever beat me in tennis…but let’s be honest, that was never going to happen.

  7. Guys, this entry is great. I am very happy you wrote something about Jeff and wrote about the reality that risks are everywhere. Better to live life risking what might happen, than to not risk what might happen and not live life. I am still in shock about his death. While I “know” there were no survivors and all bodies were recovered I cannot bring myself to “accepting” I won’t see him again. In any case, he lived his life as he wished. What an honorable way to pass knowing that the last breath was pursuing one’s desires. RIP.

  8. Caroline and Greg;

    What appropriate comments. You both have great perspectives, and I don’t know if this has been learned in Cameroon, or if you had it before, but keep on living.

  9. I was a friend of Jeff years ago. He was my first love. Years have past since we have communicated, but there has always been a place in my heart for him. I search for his wandering soul every once in a while and I am saddened, but not suprised, to read of his death. -AJ

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