What Are The Hardest Adjustments To Make When Visiting Cameroon?
I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. I moved to the US last year, and whenever I get on the phone to talk with my parents and siblings, I have this lingering thought that it would be amazing to go back and hang out.
One thing I can say for sure in my case is that of all the things I miss about Cameroon, it’s the people I miss most. I wish I could say the food, the culture, or something more exotic, but living in America exposed me to who I was and what really mattered.
I’ve also had the chance this past year to see the way Americans live, and compare not just the cultures, but the physical space and even the stark financial differences of both countries.
If you’re just visiting Cameroon, there are things you have to keep in mind to make your stay worthwhile. In fact, if you don’t know these things, you might go through a really, really hard time. Not because Cameroon is bad, but because it’s a place that has unwritten rules as well as written ones.
I’ll breakdown the adjuments into two parts: stark (written) adjustments and subtle (unwritten) adjustments. Because they are many, I’ll only point out 4 that should allow you to enjoy your stay and still come out completely awed at the most beautiful and (some) unnerving experiences.
One adjustment which doesn’t fall in any of these classes is the assumption by many people visiting Cameroon that everyone they meet is “Cameroonian”.
However, there are over 230 different tribes that form this bilingual nation. Each tribe has a language and culture that can be so different from the next in a way that two people, who look like each other, may never see eye to eye or even understand each other.
Most people think Cameroon is French-speaking because a majority of the country was previously under French rule, but that is not the case. The official languages are English and French.
Cameroon’s history is a rap sheet of political rigmarole, confusion, blood baths and a teetering democracy that has left its population with no hope for anything that involves a vote. The result has found its way into the culture and even the larger mindset of how to be Cameroonian.
But that’s not why you’re here today. Today, we talk about adjustments. Oui?
Let’s do this!
A) Stark Adjustments:
1. Weather, Climate, and Geography
Depending on when you visit Cameroon, you may either meet the rainy or dry season. You may be surprised to find out that different regions of the country have different times during which these seasons start and end, and varying amounts of both sunlight and rain. This, of course, affects the crops grown in each area because of the soil type. Up north, for example, is much drier and arid, down South flourishes almost all year round. Where the West is known for food crops, the Southwest has the oil refinery.
Cameroon’s climate can be pretty confusing if you’re moving from one region to the other. Without understanding the geography of a place, you might be surprised to believe you’re in the same country.
This is then important to know to plan, not just your attire, but where to visit as some places might be locked from circulation if you don’t plan right.
Find out about where you’re visiting. There’s a lot of content online about Cameroon. My friend Emma who runs a listicle based YouTube channel made a video about the top 10 touristic sites to visit in Cameroon. It’s a good place to start your search and then maybe read about the weather and plan better.
I wanted to start with this one but I thought you’d be better off knowing where you’re going before you think about how to get there. The roads in Cameroon are mostly bad. I am not trying to be angry here. When I compare to what I see in the US ( which I know is totally inconsiderate), I can’t help but wonder why it’s not just the width of the roads, but the state that bothers me. And this is not just a Cameroonian thing, it seems. I haven’t been to other African countries, but I have Nigerian friends who equally complain about the strange inability for local and national governments to use taxes citizens pay to repair roads.
What this means is that a lot of your trips will be bumpy. Even if you can afford to hire a vehicle, get ready for long rides, jostling trips, and sleepless journeys.
If you’re from a place where you could easily board a plane to get anywhere, this may even shock you more: the main airport in the country may look more like an oversized bus top strapped with a green screen where pictures of airplanes rotate.
However, there’s something about the strange travel aura in Cameroon that builds a certain kind of resilience for the uncomfortable. I don’t know if it’s just that Cameroonian ability to look at the bright side of nearly every terrible thing — especially since with the government we have, there’s little brightness left -but some something about traveling within Cameroon will leave you more grateful when you get back to where you come from.
And that’s if you can go back. Which leads to the next group of adjustments, the subtle ones.
1. Money and Culture around it
If you have money in Cameroon, there’s little you can’t have or can’t do. But if you come from a place where money can get things fast, that’s where it gets tricky.
In America, for example, Uber is only as far as how much you have. In Cameroon, you could have enough money to buy a car, but the traffic, the roads, and some other things won’t let your life go on.
Money is only as worthy as the person talking. Although I wanted to separate that cultural aspect of it, I thought it would be better for you to realize that you could have the best experience in Cameroon because you have money and the currency is pretty low, and you could also have the worse experience because you didn’t know how to talk when you had money.
This one is a little hard for me to explain simply as bribery and corruption or just plain old greed. It has something to do with the pride of a beggar and the hate that comes with watching someone who has more than you do. Cameroonians ( I am generalizing here), tend to hate someone who is more successful than they are. Plus, you don’t get to decide even if you’re successful, no, we — Cameroonians- do.
So, even if you’d saved from your job to visit the country as your personal gift or something on your bucket list, they (we) don’t care. You’re simply a ‘bushfaller’ and they’ll ask, and ask, until when you have nothing left to give, they’ll turn on you-hater.
The adjustment you need to consider is this: are you willing to risk losing your hard-earned money by betting on the chance of finding a Cameroonian who will help you navigate the country? Because there are many such Cameroonians. My father, before retirement, worked with many people around the world, having them visit for work and run projects. The first time I watched How I Met Your Mother was from this cool french dude who spent 6 months under our roof, eating my mother’s food.
There are many Cameroonians who will make you feel welcome and loved. What you need to keep in mind here is that you can’t trust anyone until your gut, and their actions, tell you too.
And if you think this is confusing, I agree.
This might be the biggest adjustment so far and I could write a whole book on this alone: the Cameroonian mindset is baked in a culture of inequality, mental health illiteracy, financial myths, and a long colonial history whose impact and mocking legacy is a country at odds with itself, a people fighting each other without a plan or long term goal. The book, Scribbles from the Den, by Dibussi Tande ( Cameroonian Blogger and Journalist) although written in 2010, captures a lot of the root cause and course of the current awful political climate.
It’s hard to be a cool-headed person in Cameroon and not see how much work the nation has to rebuild and restructure to meetup with contemporaries. And how can we, when we’re still hooked to France through our currency.
Depending on how long your stay is, you might not experience this much. But if you spend a couple of years, you will be able to pick up the pessimism and drooping shoulders that seep in nearly every part of the country -except, of course, those who run it who take, take, and threaten anyone who dares ask, like Oliver Twist, for more crumbs.
This mindset will have people blatantly ask you for money and suddenly insult you if you don’t have it. It will also have them singing your praises and doing anything-anything-just so you can pay them.
For some, this is truly how they earn a living, doing anything they can. Some have built whole lives by being forthcoming and direct. A few have even successfully and their lives transformed and they’ve returned to help others.
The mindset of the average Cameroonian is defeatest. It’s hard to live in a country like Cameroon and not be defeated.
If I have convinced you at this point to not visit Cameroon, just… hang on a little bit.
My best friend is a Cameroonian. He’s the smartest person I know. He’s aced international exams and has the most loving mother and sister I know. My father never intends to live Cameroon. He’s working on his projects after retirement, he’s built his home and intends to visit me in the US on his own dime. The friend Dzekashu Macviban is changing the landscape of Cameroonian literature almost single-handedly, exporting the brand new voices of Cameroon’s literature. My friend Olgha is a talented singer and songwriter whose day job allows her to visit places in Cameroon I never have and she showcases these places on her Instagram. Chouchou Mpako paints a colorful image of this triangular nation in a way that makes me want to go back home. The pictures I used in this article were all by journalist and photographer Edward Tamba.
And these are just a few.
What’s my point?
I answered this question by comparing the Cameroon I know, to the America I now live in. I also did it without mentioning: Trump, gun violence or any other ‘American’ topic. This is because for all the things Cameroon isn’t, the thing I miss about Cameroon and the thing that gives me hope — no matter what- is the people.
Where there are people on the negative extreme of these adjustments, there are others who will embrace you, give you a home, spar intellectually, surprise you and make you want to come back.
I urge you to visit Cameroon by yourself and not let some angrier than thou internet guy convince you not to.
If I had read all the things written about America and believed them, I would not be having the time of my life.
Originally published at http://quora.com.