Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Eye Opening Experience in Cameroon

By Angeline Bandon-Bibum

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday season, my husband, our children, and I traveled to Cameroon. Visiting Cameroon was an eye opening experience for me, even though I had traveled there twice before this trip.

The Republic of Cameroon is a country in central and western Africa. Compared to many other African nations, Cameroon has a considerable degree of social stability. The natural landscape of the country of Cameroon is beautiful. It is a fertile land filled with a plethora of banana, palm, and coconut trees. The climate can rage from warm to hot to cool, depending on the location.

One can find many modern, paved roads in Cameroon, and one can also find even more rural, stony, dirt roads there. Cameroon has several modern cities, such as Douala, Yaounde, Limbe, and several others. It also has many rural villages, and small towns.

Cameroon has a growing population of young adults, ages 18-25. They long for better economic opportunities. Many work as taxi drivers, private security guards, domestic help, restaurant and hotel staff, and farmers. Wages are very low compared to American standards. The currency is called C.F.A., Central African Franc. The CFA franc is the currency of six independent states in central Africa, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

The struggle for survival is labor intensive for the vast majority of the population, most of whom do not have the access to washing machines, indoor plumbing, or other modern conveniences that we in America take for granted. For example, imagine washing your clothes, and your entire family’s clothes, by hand on a scrub board, or cooking your family a meal over an open fire, while fueling it with wood. Also, imagine that a live chicken, or goat, in the backyard will need to be slaughtered and thoroughly prepared for the evening meal, that is, if you can afford that.

On the other hand, in Cameroon, there are wealthy African people, who have access to the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing, television, and other luxuries. Their homes are individually designed and often surrounded by palm trees. They have house help, people who clean their homes, cook their food, and assist them with the care of their children. However, Cameroon is not entirely a country of haves and have-nots. There is poverty. However, there is a middle class, whose standard of living is more like our working class, or poor. Many of these people may have low level government jobs. (Those with high level government jobs tend to fall in the upper class strata.)

Being in a society where everything is being run by black people was interesting for me. I have not asked my children about this, so I do not know what their take on this is. The Cameroon government, banks, stores, and many other establishments were run by black African people. There, a black person certainly is not a “minority”. However, on the other hand, it seemed that the African people themselves did not see things the way I, an outsider, did. They are aware that they are black. However, to them, being black in a predominately black nation is no notable thing. Nor did they seem to have an affinity toward one another because of this shared “blackness”. Language and cultural affiliation (i.e., tribes) are the main basis for affinity. There’s a broader, official, affinity that is a national identity as a Cameroonians. Cameroonians did not appear to be comforted by and appreciative of their common “blackness”, and I found this interesting. Then, I realized that this was my perspective as an African American. It seems that African people do not commonly share this “blackness” perspective.

In Cameroon, people are not as brusque or busy as they are here, not yet, anyway. People often say “Good Morning” or “Bonjour, Madame”. It seemed like people were almost always staring at us. My kids really noticed this. Sometimes folks just openly gaped at us. I guess it was obvious we were visitors.

The fashions worn by Cameroonians are often similar to what we in the U.S. wear, American and European style clothing are popular there, though some must buy used and cheaper versions. There are many who still wear traditional African clothing that is custom made by local seamstresses. Also, another thing that I noticed in Cameroon is that women and girls, generally, have their hair together, both the rich and poor. Some wear braids and some have relaxers, but most have a good hairstyle.

Cameroon is still a developing nation, so, in terms of infrastructure, it still has a ways to go to catch up with its western counterparts. I for one hope that bathrooms and toilettes become more available to the larger population in Cameroon, and not just as a luxury household feature of the upper middle class and wealthy. The lack of modern toilette facilities is one of the inconveniences that stood out for me. We noticed that even some very good restaurants in the larger cities lack really modern style bathroom facilities, and have instead old, outdated bathrooms.

Christmas Day in Cameroon is a day for attending church service (Cameroon has a large population of Christians.) and visiting family and friends. Many Cameroonian families, those who can afford it, have adopted the practice of putting up a Christmas tree. Most of these trees are artificial, with a few plastic ornaments. However, there were no gifts under the tree. I distributed gifts to my husband, children, and in-laws, gifts I had earlier purchased in the U.S.A.

My mother-in-law announced on Christmas Eve that we would all be attending the 8:00 a.m. mass, which would require us to get up at 6:30a.m. (We normally attend 12noon mass in the U.S.A.) The church was packed full with people for the Christmas mass, and only those who were timely could hope to find a seat. Standard Christian hymns were sung, accompanied by an African beat. The air seemed to get warmer by the minute. The father’s homily was in Pidgin English. On Christmas evening, I heard crowds of young people reveling and walking up and down the streets, or dirt roads, as the case may be. People generally do not spend much time indoors in Cameroon. The exceptions are the wealthy people, who have televisions and cable service. The wealthy, whose homes are surrounded by big concrete walls, or fences, spend more time indoors.

New Years Eve in Cameroon has the same festivity that it does in the U.S.A. In Cameroon, one can hear fire crackers going off and crowds of people outside in the neighborhoods and streets, talking loudly and reveling. New Years Day, like Christmas, is a day for church attendance and family visits.

While in Cameroon, we traveled around from city to city visiting my husband’s family members, attending business matters, and social occasions (a wedding and a funeral). We stayed in several very nice hotels while traveling in Cameroon, Awka Palace, Mont Febe, and Fini Hotel. Mont Febe was our favorite, a lovely resort style hotel with a swimming pool and tennis courts. The cities that we visited were Yaounde, Douala, Kumba, Buea, Muyuka, Limbe, Bamenda, Bafoussam and others. We passed by many small towns, too.

The road that leads to Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon, is paved and relatively modern, as is the road that leads to Douala, the commercial center of Cameroon. However, there are other roads that are very uncomfortable to drive on, like the ones that lead to Muyuka and Kumba, Cameroon. These are mostly dirt roads that have huge potholes and craters in them. Our driver, my husband, children, and I shook like we are in a blender, when we drove on those roads, like the Tombel road.

My own perspective on Cameroon is that, like many African nations, it is still experiencing the after effects of colonialism, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I believe the effects of these historical events, which occurred over the course of several centuries (16th through 19th) affect African populations in so many ways, economically, socially, psychologically, etc. That does not excuse African people themselves from their own problems and role in historical events, but it does make the reason for those problems more complicated than many realize. However, I am digressing.

There were moments when I was afraid that my experiences during this trip would deprive me the vision of Africa that I had as a youth. I had viewed Africa as a continent raped of its natural and human resources by people outside of Africa, a land of mostly good natured, though misguided, people. In some ways that vision was modified and put more into focus, as I accepted that people are people all over the world.
© Copyright January 2008


Tangang Ebogo said...

Angeline, I can see that your stay in "Cameroun" was really great. I like your analysis and your presentation. It also sounds great to see that you criss-crossed the Country with a view to better understand the land, the beheviour of the people, their culture and way of Life.

I still cannot immagine how the degree of corruption, bribery and pilferege missed your eye. I can also see that you spent time staring the beauties of the Big Cities- Yaounde, Douala, bamenda, Limbe, Kumba etc. These are towns where the Nobles and the Priviledged Middle Class settle in. Even within these towns, go to Brequeterie, Etoug'Ebe, Efoulan, Obili in Yaounde or Bonaberi, Rail Bekoko in Douala or Sisia Quarters in Bamenda and the suburbs and Villages in Cameroun and see how the peasants who make up the majority of the population live. The gap between the rich and the poor is so wide, the peasants could barely eat. Believe me or not, on the average a Cameroonian live on less that $1 for 2 Days. I trust my judgement right that your husband hails from Cameroon, did he not tell you of the difficult and harsh growing up in Cameroun (ie if he wasn't born with a silver spoon).

You also forgot the excessive consumption of beer (alcohol)in Cameroun in your write-up, especially among the youthful population.

I challenge you that when next you come to Cameroon, check out "The Marginalisation of the Anglophones", "the Alarming HIV/AIDS cases", "Human Right Abuses" etc.

You failed to tell if you tested "Achu" in Bamenda, or "Kwakoko" in Limbe or "Ndole", "Ekwang", "Koki", "Mbongo Chobi" or "Fufu and Eru". If you did, I guess your kids will never stop sending you to the Afro Resteaurant to get some for them du to the nostalgia.

All the same, I see you had a nice time. I hope You'll make it a habit to visit Cameroon at least once in two years.

Farrah Rochon said...

Thank you for helping to open up my eyes, Angeline, with your fascinating account of your time in Cameroon. How lucky your children are to have that experience to share with their friends, as well.

Tula Neal said...

Hi Angeline what an interesting account of your visit. I've never even thought of visiting there but I can see that you really enjoyed yourself.

See you around on