Since I have arrived here in Cameroon, there have been some obvious cultural changes. Luckily. I am currently in the honeymoon stage, so I am still finding many things to do with Cameroon romantic, new, and exciting. It’s only when I’m reminded of my life back home that I get moved by just how far away I am from people like my family, friends, and especially my boyfriend.
First of all, if anyone from my life in Cameroon is reading this, you have been nothing but welcoming to me since I came here, and I appreciate it so much. It is not an easy transition, but I am doing my best (and my French will improve, as I have said many times). All of Emmanuel’s family, Frédéric, Ginette, and Blondine, have been especially helpful and kind. Now I have been in Cameron for almost two weeks. For about a week of it I was in the capital city, Yaoundé. This is where I did training at the Cuso country program office for my placement at Cameroun Ecologie (Cam-Eco). The weekend before training began, the other volunteers and I were toured around Yaoundé with the chauffeur who picked us up from the airport, Yusuf, and François. Now I have seen the monument that commemorates the reunification of the French and English parts of Cameroon, the Parliament buildings, a Mosque, and La Roche de Paix (which is basically just a big rock that says Paix on it and has a great view). I have also dined at one of the most luxurious restaurants in Yaoundé, and stayed in a couple hotels that were themselves different from what I was accustomed to. For one thing, you have to give your key in to the front desk each time that you leave.
Training was difficult and exhausting for me because my French was (and still is, though less so now) very poor. I was able to understand a lot of what was said, but couldn’t fully participate in discussions the way I could at the English training session in Ottawa. It takes me too long to put a sentence together with the proper grammar. It also meant that each night, after I got back to the hotel, I would do almost nothing but study French. Frédéric was with the other two volunteers and I for most of the process. He is a volunteer himself for the same organization that I have a placement with, but he has been in Cameroon for 6 months already, and has made many connections here. He was mainly the one to show me the ropes, and it is a huge help that he can also speak in English. However, he is from Québec, so it is not his first language, and I look forward to when I can speak French fluently enough to joke around with him in his native tounge just as he does in mine.
I want to share some of the things that I’ve noticed about Cameroon since coming here. I have only been here a week and a half, so my knowledge of why things are the way they are is lacking, but I will do the best I can to be objective.
- My coworkers at Cameroun Ecologie are very friendly with one another, and many of them know each other’s children. Patricia (an amazing and kind woman and colleague) has a couple children of her own that come to the office sometimes after school. One of them is about ten, and the other is a baby boy named Majesty that is almost always in her office with her.
- Cam-Eco houses a very productive group of people who operate on a less structured schedule and prioritize relationships over the time of day. Work also generally gets done slower here, leaving me more time to catch up on my French. One of the main things that Frédéric has told me since the beginning is that Cameroonian time is different, it’s slower, and everything takes longer than in Canada. You can’t pressure people to do something now, but they will usually do it. Another thing is that arriving at 8:00 (for example) does not always mean arriving at 8:00. Often it is within more or less a half hour of that time or longer.
- My co-worker, Blondine, has been extremely helpful since arriving at Cam-Eco. On Tuesday, I wanted to get out of the office for a while, and I thought I’d go and check out the bridge that Edéa is famous for (the Japoma Bridge). It’s practically right next to the office of Cameroun Écologie. Blondine was outside with me taking photos, and then I thought she would go back to work with Martin on one of the projects that they lead together, but instead she offered to accompany me to the bridge and show me the athletic facilities that I had expressed interest in to her the night before. Because she came with me to the bridge, she worked for quite a while longer with Martin after I had left to go back to chez-moi. Once again, an example of how people here value relationships more than those things we sometimes forget are not the first priority in Canada (like checking things off a to-do list).
- I live right next door to Emmanuel, who works with me in Cam-Eco, and is my connection to the Cuso in the office. My neighbors live less than a meter away from me, and I mainly see Leone (Emmanuel’s wife), Albert (his son), Tatiana (his daughter), and a few other younger daughters and sons. Emmanuel and his family are always there if I have any questions about how to adapt to daily life in Cameroon. In fact, last night Leone and Tatiana showed me how to prepare a chicken. It was about a 2 – 3 hour process but the chicken was better than any other chicken I’ve had in Ontario. Leone est la cheffe de la cuisine! My first or second night in Edéa, Leone came over with her little girls and we talked about a few things, but somehow got onto the topic of church, and she offered that Tatiana, her daughter, take me to church on Sunday because I told her I was Protestant. I was very happy to find a church that I had a connection with and could trust so quickly. On Sunday morning I went to the French service with her at 8am and went to the Market afterwards. But this coming Sunday they want me to go to the service in Bassa (their local language), where there is more singing and dancing…and way more people. I won’t be able to understand a thing. But it was hard to understand the service in French anyway, and I think they just want me to be there to see their preferred service. I can’t wait.
Balance as a Way of Life
- Emmanuel told me yesterday when I asked if the lizards were dangerous that I did not have to worry about them. You cannot fight nature here in Cameroon because parts of it are always surrounding you. Even if you are in a locked house with firmly closed doors and windows, you are not isolated from animals like lizards and mosquitos. And you don’t want to be. If you were isolated from the lizards, for example, they wouldn’t be there to eat the mosquitos. Ultimately, as Emmanuel explained it, you wouldn’t be a part of the circle of life, and that’s necessary. Here, sometimes letting nature take its course ultimately helps you stay safer. However, just be sure to also take your own necessary precautions, like putting on bug spray, and tucking in your sheets every morning when you make your bed so the bugs don’t crawl in. Nature will run its course, but it’s not there to protect you.
Red Tape in Cameroun:
- Basically none except in terms of military and turf. Let me explain.
- There are almost no regulations here in terms of who can sell what, or maybe there are but the rules aren’t upheld. Frédéric didn’t even know what the drinking age was here when I asked (I looked it up, there actually is none here). On the other hand, areas that are protected by the Government (few and far in between) are extremely strictly regulated. For example, there are many people who just sell beer from their homes without any kind of a license to do so, and the same groups of people visit these establishments regularly. In terms of the bridge, however, you are not allowed to take photos in front of it or of it.
- The typical mode of transportation here is by Moto Taxi. Basically this means you call over a guy on a motorcycle and hope that he is a taxi, and then you tell him where you want to go and they will take you there for 100 FCFAs if it’s close and 200 FCFAs if it’s a little further. They will try to charge you more if you don’t know what you’re doing. I haven’t called a taxi on my own yet because I don’t know what to look for in a Moto Taxi to know if it is one or not. They are supposed to wear a vest, but they don’t always. Blondine will call over a taxi for me usually, or I will get a ride with Emmanuel’s son, Albert, in the morning, and back home after work.
La Vie au Bureau:
- Blondine and I share a small space in the front of the office that I call the “Le Coin de Communication” (Communication’s Corner). She was here for most of my first day on Monday, and then on Tuesday we worked together for most of the day. Monday night was especially important because she came over to my place to work on things that we hadn’t gotten a chance to do at the office. I convinced her that Squarespace would be a good option to move Cam-Eco’s website to because it will be more easy to update after I am gone.
- My first project here will therefore be to move the website from WordPress to Squarespace, but I want to make sure that Blondine is here when I start that process so I can tell her how things are going as I do them just to make sure she is in agreement with what I am doing.
- After I move the website to Squarespace by digging into the DNS and making a couple phone calls, I will work on their Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This should be easier than moving the website over because I must find out what words are most commonly searched for, and I can use those for meta-tags and within important descriptions on Cam-Eco’s website. Then, I will move onto the most fun and easy part: social media page creation and teaching people how to use the social media pages, update them, and what content is best to post. The final work that I will do here throughout my six month placement is look into which government funding programs would be most beneficial and appropriate for Cam-Eco to apply for, and maybe put together some sort of rough grant application for a project if they think it is appropriate.
That is very roughly what has happened so far, but I learn new things about my work here and about Cameroon in general everyday. Not to mention I learn a little more French too. I just hope I can be fluent by the time I leave. I think a successful completion of this placement would open many doors for me in the field of communications and beyond. For example, if I so choose, in the future I would be able to comfortably attend a Masters program taught in the French language (and maybe even in France), or live in Québec where there is freshly baked bread around almost every corner. I hope to look back on this blog post, reflect on everything I learned during my time in Cameroon, and be satisfied and proud to have helped in whatever way they end up needing my skills here.