The seed of From Here 2 Timbuktu was sown in a remote highland community on the Cameroon/Nigeria border called Esu.
Life was at a crossroads, my marriage had fallen apart and I needed new life purpose.
Back in 2004 my brother Felix was running the Limbe Wildlife Centre , a gorilla and chimpanzee rehabilitation project in Cameroon. Perfect.
His home was in botanic gardens looking out over Limbe bay, Mount Malabo out to sea and Mount Cameroon behind.
This equatorial paradise was a welcome release: the chimps and the gorillas were fascinating; trekking up Mount Cameroon exhilarating; the sandy beaches and warm surf a sensual delight; the fresh fruit and veg, fish and meat more tasty and more “organic” than anything back home.
And yet something was still missing.
I needed the Africa of my past travels, Africa of the open road. I needed to wander and to see where fate took me. But where?
I asked my friend Adela, who worked for my brother, where she came from.
“The fongom of Esu.”
“Where is Esu?”
Adela traced her finger across my map form Limbe north to the highlands of Bamenda, around the “ring road” – lined green on my map for “route of outstanding beauty” – and off on a spur road from Weh towards Nigeria. Her finger stopped at Esu. I noticed the road stopped too.
“What is a fongom?”
“Like a kingdom. Our chief is called the fon, so it is a fongom.”
I could see it was a valley, and from Esu north, nothing until the Nigerian border.
I’d never been anywhere where the road just stopped. No going forwards, left or right, this was it – from here you stayed, or turned back.
To the bewilderment of Adela – “but they are just poor people, there is nothing” – I went to Esu, the kingdom at the end of the road.
After two days of travelling – a long bus ride, a squashed mini bus ride, the back of a motorcycle – I reached the end of the road.
I was in a beautiful fertile valley, out of time, with a pleasant climate, a people warm and welcoming, a strong culture with a clear sense of itself – proud and open. I befriended the Fon, who taught me their history, and I lived with Adela’s family”Have you come to help us?” they asked. “Not really,” I replied sheepishly, thinking: “you are more likely to be helping me!”
“What is your mission?”
“Well I don’t really have one… yet.”
“Do you know Pastor Felix from England – he was the last white man here 8 years ago?”
“Well I know Felix, but he ain’t no Pastor! In fact he was kicked out of the church choir!” (I didn’t tell them that.)
They took me in and made me one of their own.
The chief invited me back to witness his 50th jubilee. On my return they gave me a name, Kedze, and made me a prince to the Fon.
When I left I felt at one with the world again, my perspective on life rebalanced, priorities realigned.
I returned to England. The next couple of years were tough but there with me on my shoulder was this other world – a more real world, a humble world, a proud and beautiful people in touch with their environment, secure in their identity and their community and, most strikingly, fundamentally happy.
Esu and its people and the sure knowledge that I would return gave me a solace which I realised Africa had always given me throughout my life.
From Here 2 Timbuktu grew from the seed of a thought in Esu and developed over the next few years travelling west Africa.
Let me show you the Africa I found and in a small way together we can help some extraordinary communities.