Cameroon


Wow, where has the time gone. I can’t believe yesterday makes our second month here. It is crazy! I’m saddened when I think that I only have three months left. I can remember in the beginning when I thought 5 months would be an eternity. So much has happened since the last time I wrote. Since then we have gone to Limbe, Buea and attended women’s day. Two weekends ago, while at Limbe and Buea, we stayed at a place that was called the Holiday Inn Resort. It was really nice. There was a pool and restaurant and best of all, air-conditioning!! We went to a botanical garden that had a plant that cures HIV and Aids but sadly is also poisonous to humans. Despite the plant being poisonous, its fantastic that they were able to find such a plant and that they continue to work towards a cure of such a devastating disease. We also saw a wild life zoo where we got to see gorillas, chimps and monkeys. In addition, we saw a snake, crocodile and a thing that looked like bambi. It was great. I found that I really love gorillas and would love to be Jane Goodall. Who knows, maybe I’ll look into being an anthropologist. Later, we got the chance to walk on a lava mound that erupted a few years ago. Finally, and probably the best part of that particular day in Limbe was the trip to Seme beach which is also a brand name of water here in Yaoundé. Seme beach is amazing. It’s similar to a resort. The beach is made up of dark brown sand and bright green grass and there are trees on the beach that would be great for a photo shoot as well as just great trees to climb. Best of all, I got to ride a horse on this beach during sunset, a dream or fantasy most people have but never get the chance to do. It would have been even better if I was with a spouse or respected other, but beggars can’t be choosers. Also, I got to play soccer on the beach with Cameroonian’s and I played the best game I have seen so far in my life. It’s called Human Baby foot and is basically a human version of foosball. I know it must be difficult to imagine such a game, but it was amazing. The Cameroonian’s were much better than me but nonetheless, I enjoyed playing soccer again.
The second day in Limbe was not so good. One of the people on the trip became severely ill so we had to limit what we could see that day. However, we did get to see the famous Mt. Cameroon race since we were in Buea on that particular day. I forget the exact length of the race but all participants run up the hill and back down. To me, it’s basically like if someone were to climb up and down Mt. Everest. The best finish in five hours while some finish in two days. We also got to see the University of Buea which is an Anglophone university. Sadly our voyage in Limbe and Buea was only for a weekend. But I would love to go back there any day. It was truly a great experience and place to visit.
All of this week women have been gearing up for the annual International Women’s Day. Despite this holiday having the word International in its title, it is only celebrated in some parts of Africa. Every year there is a new Women’s Day fabric so that women can all be in uniformed cabba’s. A cabba is a traditional African dress. All the girls in the group had one made. It was a great day. All the women in Yaoundé go to the center of town and march with signs and with organizations. This year’s theme was men and women come together against domestic violence. It was interesting seeing how men and women acted on this day. Some men were angry and asked why they didn’t have a day. To me, this is ridiculous because seeing how most of Cameroon is a patriartical society, everyday men are given a privilege so allowing women one day of freedom from their duties to celebrate some sort of equality should be praised and not questioned. It can’t go without saying though that some women are this day go a bit crazy. I mean they drink and dance a lot which you wouldn’t think is bad but I went to our local bar yesterday to get something to eat and it was turned into a night club. It was overwhelming and surprising. My Cameroonian girl friend accompanied me to the bar and she kept on saying this is crazy. I asked her why and she said because these women are acting crazy, they are drinking and dancing and they are out of the kitchen, not cooking for their husbands. I responded by saying, women deserve this day especially Cameroonian women. I was a bit irritated at this comment because women here don’t even see the inequality this society imposes. Even on a day that is supposed to be meant for women to rejoice in whatever they want to rejoice in, they are expected to cook and clean and if they do not do these things for one day, they are seen as crazy. I can’t help develop a bit of feminism here in Africa. It drives me crazy that men here are given such high privileges just due to their sex. I have been having conversations with men who supposedly say they respect women and agree that they should be given the same equality as males yet they believe it is taboo that a woman not cook or clean for them. In addition, they say they help or and clean but that they simply let the women do it because they enjoy such tasks and men would be ridiculed if they did such things. Even writing about such absurdities, irritates me. It seems Cameroonian culture attempts to give women equality in a contradiction. Those that say they give women respect or equality follow with chauvinistic comments or actions thus contradicting any actions they supposedly say they upheld. These societal and cultural differences are really helping me find who I am as a person and what I expect for myself as a women and individual.

Wow. Five weeks under my belt, and I still feel live I’ve just gotten here. My how time flies! My classes are going great, though my Religion and Culture professor did manage to insult my faith the other day. I believe the words he used were “proselytizing,” “self-righteous,” “xenophobic,” and “doctrinaire.” It’s very clear to me now; Cameroonians do not mince words, and they most certainly say what they feel. I will admit, I did not feel up to the task of defending the foundation of my life to the entire class and an articulate sage of a professor. True, his comparison of Western, Abrahamic religions to African religions was very telling. African religions, according to our professor, do not seek to convert. They do not claim epistemological superiority. They do not have a set of rules to follow. ANd they do not have an institutionalized place of worship. I do not know our professor’s claim to faith. Or if he has one. But I do know that most attempts of scholarly analysis or delineation of religion do not do them justice. Our professor is Western-educated, so he certainly exhibits some of what I would call an Afro-Occidental paradox, which I explored in my last blog entry. But his ideas on religion were definitely European-secular, if with a touch of pan-Africanist pride (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Perhaps the church as an identity can appear “xenophobic,” or “epistemologically arrogant,” or whatever. But most people who ascribe to most faiths cannot fairly be described as such. As a Christian, I would argue that faith comes with a noted measure of doubt. Also, the only real rules I follow as a result of my faith are that I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ His Holy Son Our Lord; and that God is Love, so we should seek to love one another as much as He loves us. I don’t think those “rules” are so bad. It just so happens that the Ten Commandments stem from those beliefs. If you break one of the Ten Commandments, it’s most likely because you’re not really making an effort to love others. As far as “conversion” or “proselytization” goes, my only acts to that effect are to try to share God’s love with others. Is that so bad? Oh well, rant complete. I guess it’s good to know that even Africans make generalizations.

On to other things. Two fresh tidbits to say about African culture: people are more than comfortabke with silence, and you will (unfortunately) not survive here unless you master “the fine art of lying.”

I am not particularly ok with silence. I think it may be safe to say that most Americans aren’t. I don’t know why this is exactly; are we just so accustomed to noise? Do we innately believe that silence equates to a lack of interaction or connection? Or do we assume that it means uncomfortability or incompatibility with someone? In any case, Africans do not ascribe to such beliefs. They can sit for hours in silence without a) feeling uncomfortable, b) falling asleep, or c) getting restless. I suppose we Western folk often associate silence with inaction or laziness. We have to keep busy, and say everything, because otherwise we “won’t have time” to get everything done or say everything that needs to be said. One of our professors here once explained to me why this is the African way: “Why do you Americans always think you are running out of time? Time does not run out. It just keeps going. We humans exhaust our bodies, it is us who ‘run out,’ but time goes on.” I think this perspective is indicative of how Africans live their lives, and why they’re fundamentally comfortable with silence. In the same class that my professor unashamedly bashed my faith, he talked about African religion. I am beginning to think he may have idealiwed it a bit in his explanation, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important are two major foundations of African religion that I derived from his lecture. #1, everything has a soul. That includes inanimate objects, abiotic nature and flora, and non-sentient organisms. In other words, there exists the capacity to communicate or commune with the world around you, even if there’s no one nearby. And #2, the dead do not die in the way that most other religions claim, where the person or soul is removed from the earth. Instead, they remain among us. So now I begin to understand why Cameroonians are completely comfortable with silence. They make use of it, and take the time to interact with those things, those souls, that are unseen. I love it. I wish I could learn to use silence, not as an awkward period of uncomfortability, but as a time to contemplate God and His Spirit that runs through all his creative works. Not a wasted moment.

I suppose the other things I want to talk about is not so inspiring. In Cameroon, it is an unfortunate truth that sometimes you have to lie to keep safe or avoid trouble. Such phrases as “I’m married,” “I’m a student, so I don’t have much money,” “I don’t have a phone here,” or “we’re only here for a few weeks” have to come naturally. Otherwise, you may get mugged, beaten up, followed, or otherwise taken advantage of (for money, time, or other resources). This is one of the realities of the collision of cultures we experience as strangers in a very foreign country. In a country stricken with poverty like Cameroon, white English speakers are presumed to possess a degree of wealth and status as citizens of the industrialized, developed world. I wish there was another way to avoid such problems, but it is extremely difficult, nigh impossible, to change the norms and stereotypes of the “global village” that we live in.

What else can I say? I am settling down into my classes and internships right now. My four classes are: Contemporary Cameroon; Environmental Processes and Rural Development in Cameroon; Négritude, Francophonie, et Mondialisation (roughly translated as The Essence of Being Black, the French-Speaking World, and Globalization); and African Culture, Religion, and Philosophy. My two internships are at the National Commission for Human Rights, and the United Nations Information Center Yaoundé branch. All is well and I am continuing to try to live every day and mae the lost of the wonderful opportunity I have here in Cameroon!

To avoid even more delayed blog entries I have decided to just skip over some of my adventures in order to catch up and get back on track. Valentine’s Day just past two days ago; it is common place in Yaoundé for the men to break up with their girlfriends to avoid having to purchase a gift for them or even spend the slightest bit of money. Not to worry though, today, being the Monday after Valentine’s Day is the day when they rekindle the flames. This is one of those cultural experiences that the boys in our group would like American culture to acquire. I think it is ridiculous as is the overall celebration of Valentine’s Day. I don’t believe that one should celebrate their love for one another for a specific day. I believe if your relationship is one full of love, in which is a relationship most desire, it should be celebrated everyday.
 

Also, recently I have received two internships. One I might have already mentioned in my blog previously but it is called Africa’s Action on Aids. It is an NGO that brings awareness to areas such as villages that might not already be predisposed to education about HIV/AIDS as well as malaria. With this internship we will go to villages and install portable water stations used for hand washing and for clean drinking water, a privilege that is overlooked greatly in the US. Furthermore, we will be giving presentations to local schools about safe sex practices through films and group discussion. Shockingly and some what embarrassing for me, we will have to demonstrate how to use a condom and will be responsible in telling them where to purchase these condoms and what the purchasing price will be. The tricky part to all of this is that it has to be in French. Yikes! Here goes nothing.
 

Consequently, this presentation will happen this Wednesday. I forgot to mention, Ruth the lady I work for with AAA has a historic husband in Cameroon. He was the first lawyer in Cameroon and served as a Cameroonian Ambassador and now currently serves on the International Court. In addition, he is an Olympic Gold Medallist who was a participant during the times where there were discrepancies with participants competing for countries other than native countries. Since he was studying in England at the time, he was forced to compete for Nigeria. When I am around him I feel like I am in the presence of someone great.
 

My other internship is with the United Nations Information Centre. We will be in charge of creating and revising press releases and the UNIC’s regional website. The best of all is that we might get the chance to travel to Gabon for an outreach program to promote the Millennium Development Goals for 2009.  I say ‘might’ because it still needs to be approved by Teku, our on-site director and Dickinson. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed on this one. I know it would be a great experience. So far my internships are full of work and have allowed me some great interactions with Cameroonians. My French class, even though an annoyance most of the times, has become a class where I learn the most about Cameroon’s culture, tradition and society. Each day I learn brings a new shocking fact.
 

Today, we discussed politics which especially interests me as a political science major. While listening to what constitutes Cameroonian politics, I was filled with anger, frustration and depression. As some may know Cameroon is considered a “democracy” with free and fair elections, or so one thinks. However, once you come to Cameroon, it is evident that Paul Biya is despised and there is consequently no way out. Looking in from the outside no one would ever know such facts because Cameroon is still classified by organizations such as Transparency International as being a democracy with free and fair elections and having little to no corruption. I can tell you now from personal experience and in-depth conversions with Cameroonians that this is completely false.
 

Cameroon, like most other African countries is filled with corruption, perhaps it’s corruption doesn’t appear as evident as say Nigeria or the Congo but Cameroon still is in large part corrupt. On Valentine’s Day we were stopped by a police officer or a gendarme as they are called here and were asked to give him 30,000 CFA’s. That is $60. To me this is absurd and I would definitely have problems living in Cameroon and tolerating such acts of corruption. But here, even though most are angered by these incidents, they are left helpless and must bargain there way out.
Cameroonian politics consist of two major political parties, despite the 200 registered political parties. I believe they the two dominate parties are CPDM and SDF. I forget what these acronyms represent exactly but Biya belongs to CPDM. Despite the Biya’s obvious loss in the 1992 and 1997 elections, he refused to step down or surrender the power to the opposition. Yes, I said he refused to lose. How can this be legal you might be asking, which I too question. It is legal because he has changed the constitution so that he can basically serve as President until he dies. He can also refuse such overthrow because he controls the military and civil servants. It is a policy known as “if I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”
Biya has appointed certain people to certain positions so that he can guarantee their support. These individuals even though they clearly are in disagreement with the way Biya is running the country, are forced to adhere to his policies and support him or otherwise face unemployment or worse, death. One student asked what is the hope for Cameroon if any? The professor responded with prayer. Another hope and desire for Cameroonians is for Biya to die so that they can have the possibility of a good president. Simultaneously though, they fear Biya’s death because the aftermath is unpredictable and most think it will turn into a civil war for the presidency and a dominant political party as well as a possible succession by the Anglophones. This absurdity that they call democracy lacks in what actually defines and entails the word democracy. On a more positive note, we leave for Limbe on Thrusday which is a beach located in the southwest region of Cameroon. YAY!!! I am certainly enjoying this side of Cameroon.

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