Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Youth On the March

If you want to learn about another country, I think there is no better way than by attending one of their national holiday celebrations. You can immediately learn how they celebrate, what they prioritize, and what they eat and drink, and so much more. I have recently attended two big national Cameroonian holidays: National Youth Day (February 11th) and the 50th Anniversary of the Reunification of Cameroon (held on February 20th). 

Youth Day
My Day (since technically "youth" can be anywhere from 12 to 30) started early in the morning, since the music-filled bar celebrations lasted all night and my counterpart Delphine began banging on my door before 8am. I had been invited to go to the administrative center of my town to join the biggest and best celebration by the Sous-Prefet, but I decided to stay at Bansoa Chefferie; everyone I knew was there, students and teachers and neighbors and friends. After prepping myself to face the day, I joined Delphine to help with fĂȘte preparations. We hung up paper flowers and garlands, set up chairs, and watched the men raise the flag pole in the middle of the soccer field, where the parade was supposed to commence at 10am sharp. Of course, we were running on Cameroonian time, so that didn't happen… Instead, the celebratory even started around noon with the raising of the flag by the Scouts -- supposedly a Cameroonian version of boy scouts, but for both boys and girls, and appears to be connected to the national police force… In a parody of precision, three adolescent boys marched up to the flag pole, positioned themselves on three points of the compass, and raised the flag with the jerky motions of arms locked straight. Then someone sang the national anthem with a microphone scratchy and half functioning, the way microphones can always be expected to work when they are most relied upon...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Story Time!: History of the Bapi People

Yesterday, I went to BAPI to visit fellow PCVolunteer Cloud. She took me on a tour around her village, which was so different from mine (it was quiet and little, a very nice change). I got to meet her friends, her mamas, her little neighbor children, and her counterpart Emmanuel. He came later in the evening with his wife Clementine to visit us, and after a long conversation about how youth today are delinquent and impolite and don't respect their elders (sound familiar?) I got him to tell me a story : l'histoire du peuple Bapi.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

American Individualism and African Solidarity

Probably most of you know already that generally Americans are, at least relative to most of the world, very independent and individualistic. We seem to enjoy living alone and protecting excessive amounts of personal space. Perhaps more importantly, we are adamant that "What I earn is mine." This results in a general American resistance to raising taxes or social policies of wealth redistribution. (I suspect that it also contributes to several eccentricities of American politics, including the popularity of the Tea Party, the inability of Congress to compromise, and insistence upon a foreign policy of national interest rather than human interest. But that's just my opinion.)

In contrast, many Cameroonians I've talked to are very proud of their "African Solidarity." This phrase refers to the fact that life is much more communal here, bound by familial, tribal, national, and even apparently continental ties. This is demonstrated by the Cameroonian tendency to live in large family groups, have many children, share everything that is earned with the family and neighbors… There is a culture here of giving (and asking for) gifts. If you show up unannounced at someone's house at dinner time, they are culturally obliged to feed you. There even appears to be a sort of "social contract" in which the rich give money to the less fortunate through direct gifts, road building, school support, large parties with free food at Christmastime, etc. And in exchange, the less fortunate will unquestioningly do most things the "grands" ask of them, from fetching water to carrying furniture to finding a beer… 

It is a difficult transition for me as an individualistic American to live and function in communal Cameroon. I dislike being directly asked for gifts, I dislike the assumption that I am absurdly wealthy because I am white, and I dislike feeling like a weirdo for living by myself, unmarried and childless at the ripe old age of 23.