Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Just before I left Cameroon someone asked me what I’ll miss. As I thought about my answer it seemed that most of the things I’ll miss have a counterbalancing thing that I won’t miss.
I won’t miss open garbage. The way rubbish is dropped on the streets, although it does form a rather interesting mosaic when mixed into to the red mud.
Every first Thursday of the month is ‘Clean-up’ day. I was happy when I heard that it was a day for making the environment more beautiful. But sadly it seemed to only apply to people’s cars, frontages and homes. The communal areas remained neglected.
I won’t miss open urination by men – however much rain there is. Neither will I miss outside toilets. Although I’m no stranger to doing my business outside (years of hiking in Britain) I prefer not to be exposed to the elements in the middle of the night when I need to go. It’s one of the reasons camping has never appealed to me.
I will miss the intense cleanliness of the interior of people’s houses. It seems as if there’s one rule for the inside and another for the outside.
I will miss the ethos and practice of sharing. I witnessed children who barely had enough for themselves sharing with those who had nothing. There’s a line in a Bob Dylan song that says ‘people who suffer together are more connected than those who are most content.’ It was certainly in evidence in Kumbo and in Mbosha. I can’t speak for the rest of Cameroon.
Whenever I visited a home I was offered food. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if the family had enough for themselves so I would only take a small amount. ‘Add more,’ they’d say. I was warmed by their generosity and hospitality.
I will miss the thirst for education and the extent to which people will go to secure a good education for their children. Education is not compulsory so school fees are applicable to all children. Many families make great sacrifices to enable their children to go to school. Some children walk for up to two hours to get to school in the mornings, and repeat the journey again at the end of school.
I will miss the way the children were responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of their school and did it willingly. There was a rota for cleaning each class at the end of the day, and for sweeping the school yard.
I will miss the enthusiasm with which the children at the school help with the building work.
I will not miss those who are still arguing for girls to be married as soon as possible which curtails their education as early as ten years. I applaud the young women in my sixth form group who made impassioned presentation for the right of girls to be educated in the same way as boys are.
4. Connection to the earth
I will miss the connection to the earth that people have. This is maintained in several ways.
- Walking barefooted maintains a constant connection with the red earth and its constant nourishment.
- Growing food locally and eating it fresh. Lack of fridges means that food is cooked and eaten fresh each day. More of the life giving energy is made available to the body. Meat is also freshly killed. There are no microwaves to annihilate all nutrients from food.
- Living with the rhythms of the days and the seasons. Being woken by the cock’s crow.
I will not miss the 5 a.m. Muslim call to prayer every day of the week, or the fact my neighbours began their day at 6.a.m. with dance music.
I will miss the trust people have in each other to do the right thing. This is because they trust in a higher power, an all seeing power who will right all wrongs. I first experienced this the day after I arrived. It was my birthday and I went to Squares for a meal. We bought the food from a street vendor who brought it to us inside a bar. She was not affiliated to the bar and no one came to collect money for the meal. When I enquired of my colleagues as to how to pay they informed that we pay on the way out.
‘But we could just walk away without paying!’ I exclaimed.
‘I guess we could, but nobody here does,’ she replied, ‘it’s a trust thing.’
I will miss the way Muslim, Christians and traditional spiritual practices co-exist in harmony.
I will miss the sense of family. People here know who they are. They are firmly grounded in family and have a strong responsibility to their families. A family member is an extension of oneself. There would be no question of one member having a lot and someone else in the family going without.
A young man of 25 years that I got close to became the head of the house aged 15 when his father died. For the last ten years he’s seen it as his responsibility to ensure his mother and younger siblings are taken care of.
When I mentioned this to one of the teachers at the school as an exceptional case, she shrugged and said ‘that’s not unusual here.’
That sense of family is one of the things that systematic attempts were made to eradicated out of the Africans who were taken as slaves to America and the Caribbean. It was successful in part; especially the part where the men do not have the same sense of commitment to their children. Note I say only in part because some men are still very committed to raising their children as a family unit.
I will not miss the custom of girls being married at a very early age (I met two mothers who had their first child aged 12, and by age 28 had five children). There did not seem to be any religious leanings toward this practice as one was Muslim and one Christian.