On sick leave in his native Tirol from his mission in (anglophone) Cameroon my classmate, Fr Hermann Gufler mhm, recently returned to Cameroon for a final farewell. He sent this diary of his emotional ‘exit’. (Fons Eppink)
Part III. Farewell
The following day, Sunday, I still celebrated Holy Mass at the main church in Elak. In the afternoon Fr Poulson took me to the Mill Hill House in Bamenda-Nkwen. It was only when we passed Lake Mawes and descended the hill from the forest down to Ibal that I began to realise that this was my final “exit” from Oku. It will take time for this to fully sink in. At that moment, I was not sad. A feeling of gratitude filled me for having been able to work for more than fifteen years in this most beautiful Oku country.
When I arrived in the Mill House in Bamenda-Nkwen, I was tired but at the same time I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders. The occasion was over and I had survived! The next day, Monday, I rested and on Tuesday we left for Douala. I had no idea, but when Fr Richard Njoroge mhm told me that we would go down to Douala via Widikum, Mamfe, Kembong, Nguti and Kumba I was excited and extremely happy. All these places I still knew from the time when I had been stationed in Widikum and now after about 45 years I was to see them again! It was a fitting “exit” from Cameroon. Most of the places I would not have recognised any more but the bigger places like Widikum, Okoyong, Mamfe and Kembong I still recognised although they had changed a lot.
From Kembong, a parish which now has been given to the Mill Hill Missionaries in Mamfe diocese to look after, we reached Ossidinge right in the thick of the virgin rainforest. We continued through thick forest till we finally joined the main road again at Nguti where we entered heavy rain – and this at the end of October! From Nguti down to Kumba, Muyuka and Tiko the traffic got heavier and heavier. When we reached Muyuka it was already getting dark. I was getting more and more worried about how on earth we would reach Douala airport in time for my flight. The worst came when we crossed the new Bonaberi bridge. It was there that we got into the most terrible traffic jam. Nothing moved. I already gave up and resigned myself to sleeping at the Douala Procure. When we finally reached the airport – I still don’t know how – it was already past 10 pm. The departure time of the plane was 10.30 pm!
Outside the airport I got hold of a porter to take my big suitcase. I carried the small one myself. I said goodbye to Fr Richard and thanked him for having brought me to the airport. Then I ran into the departure hall. To my considerable relief there was still a line of passengers in front of the Brussels Airlines check-in desk. Only when I had joined the line was I sure that I would leave Douala that day. After checking in, I passed the security checks, the hand luggage and body checks without trouble. Finally, I reached the departure lounge. The place was full! After only about fifteen minutes, we were already told to board the plane. When I reached my seat on the plane I put my rucksack in the locker above, then I sat down and fastened my seat belt.
I had a window seat. I would have preferred a seat along the aisle. I refused the food offered. I was not hungry. I only asked for something to drink. Then I prepared myself for a long night. I knew that I would be unable to sleep. To watch a film on the TV monitor in front of me I was too tired. I pulled the thin blanket over my head and settled into my seat. As I had feared, I didn’t sleep a wink. I had a severe pain in my left big toe because of an ingrowing toe nail. During my stay in Elak I only wore sandals but for my trip to Douala I had put on shoes. Since I had put on my shoes on Tuesday morning the pain had increased. On the plane I couldn’t stand it anymore. I removed my shoes. That was one of the main reasons I couldn’t sleep. When I reach Absam, Austria, one of the first things I have to do is to see a doctor.
Everything has an end and so also this night flight to Brussels. At four o’clock the lights went on and we got a cup of coffee with a snack. When we touched down in Brussels it was still dark. I tried to find my way to the departure lounge for my connecting flight to Munich. We did not have much time to spare. On the way we had to pass another check of the hand luggage and a body check. Here also, we could hardly sit down in the departure lounge before we were told to board the plane. It was a short flight of only one hour and fifteen minutes.
When I reached the luggage carousel I soon got my small suitcase but there was no sign of my big suitcase. I waited till the conveyor belt stopped before making my way to the complaints office. There I was told that my big suitcase had broken open and they had tied it together with plastic tape. I was told the place where to find it. When I reached the place, I saw my luggage straightaway. A quick look assured me that nothing was missing. Luckily, I managed to lock the suitcase again with the key. I walked through the customs alley to the arrivals hall.
After orientating myself, I headed straight to the taxi counter. As I arrived at the counter of the “Four Seasons Travels” the man behind the counter called my name. He knew already that I was coming. The Rector of our house in Absam had already booked me for the minibus from Munich airport to Absam, Austria. Within half an hour we were in the bus. We were four passengers who got off at different locations along the way to Absam. By eleven o’clock we were already in front of the Mill Hill house in Absam. Fr George Hanser mhm opened the door and helped me carry my luggage to my room.