3/19/13 – Getting Ready To Leave Cameroon
I’m meeting Regine, the only female coach of Breaking Ground Football (the women’s soccer league I’m here to research) at the university, where she practices soccer and plays on the university team. My journey to the university involves exiting the house, walking down an alley, turning left at the street, heading down to the intersection, hailing a small yellow hatchback (these are taxis meant for transporting people farther out), squeezing into one with 5 other passengers, riding 45 minutes to what feels like the edge of town, and then transferring to a university taxi that picks people up at the entrance and ferries them to wherever they’re going on the sprawling campus.
I chat with Regine while she’s waiting for some of her teammates to arrive. She tells me she wants to play soccer internationally; that she’s already played for the national women’s team and traveled to Morocco and South Africa with them, but would like to go all over Europe and to Asia. She’s 23, and has had the insanely good luck of having landed a government-sponsored job teaching high school sports in Ngaoundéré. She’s the only female I’ve met, of any age, that has a salaried job. She’s from the Southern city of Douala, which is a huge coastal city. She misses the faster pace of her hometown, can’t get used to the conservative culture of Ngaoundéré, and doesn’t like the omnipresent dust here. She says she’ll stick it out for one more year, then hopes to transfer home.
While Regine is practicing, I wind up chatting with a couple of university guys; one a law student and the other a Master’s candidate in French literature. Both are excited at the opportunity to talk to an American. They want to know which state I’m from, whether it’s true that everyone in the U.S. is happy and wealthy, and how I came to be in Ngaoundéré. I ask them where they’re from in Cameroon, and what their plans are when they’re done with their studies.
The law student wants to become a high-level government administrator and work on behalf of his country. He’s frustrated that Africa is viewed as a general region rife with hunger, war, and disease (Cameroon doesn’t really fall neatly into any of these categories). He’s also frustrated with Cameroonian corruption, and poverty, and the resulting brain drain. He listens with interest when I tell him corruption and poverty exist in the U.S. as well, though in somewhat different forms. He remarks that he’s always been impressed with the way people in the U.S. display the country’s flag; he sees it as a sign of national pride. He tells me that Cameroonians would never do such a thing because Cameroonians would never say ‘I love my country’. More specifically, he says Cameroonians would sooner say ‘I love myself’ than they would say ‘I love my country.’ I don’t have the heart to tell him that that holds true for a lot of people in the U.S.
The literature student is in a bind with his advisors because they are asking him to declare his thesis in the field of Francophone Studies, whereas he wants to declare in the field of French Literature. To him, there’s no difference between them; but to the faculty, French Literature is, well, exactly what it sounds like, whereas ‘Francophone Studies’ refers to French literature as seen through an African lens. He adds that he’s often criticized for wanting to study ‘white’ or ‘foreign’ literature, and for preferring an unadulterated version of French literature. He comments that he’s not interested in the African literature that’s available because it’s ‘all colonial.’ Both of them explain that there is no African literature published prior to European colonization.
We talk about the Obama election; they tell me that after he was elected, Africans had assumed that the U.S. would be more involved in Africa. When it didn’t happen, they saw Obama anew, not as a man of African heritage, but as simply another American.
We talk a little bit about opportunity; about how it exists in the U.S., and how there’s a lack of it in Cameroon. The literature student comments, “In Cameroon, one must have money in order to have love.” I’m not sure I hear him correctly, but he says it again and there’s no mistaking it. He wants to leave Cameroon after he gets his Master’s, and he has his eye on Québéc.
We talk about Black Muslims; they ask me how they’d be viewed in the U.S., and I tell them I think they would be less likely to be discriminated against than if they were Middle Eastern Muslims. I also mention to them my ongoing bizarre experience of being treated as a white person in Cameroon.
I’m leaving in a few days and have been thinking about visiting one of the two really big mosques in town. On my way back from making my reservation for the overnight train back to Yaounde, I have the moto driver drop me at one of the Grande Mosquées just in time for 1:30 prayer. I can hear the call to prayer as we’re pulling up; it is so full of people that folks have lined up outside the mosque and are praying there. I stand in the shade of a wall, alongside a man and his young son. I look around. I’m the only female (and only Nasara) here. I don’t know the prayer, but I copy the others’ movements.
There is a practice game set up by Abou Bakar at the Place de l’Independence between the girls and a team of young boys. I am able to film most of the game, but there are some things the camera doesn’t capture; like the way one Christian girl signs the cross before the match, or the way a Muslim girl arrives fully covered, and removes her ensemble to reveal soccer clothes underneath. Abou Bakar is screaming things like “Do you want to keep playing soccer?” “Do you want to eat cous-cous tomorrow??” at the girls in an attempt to motivate.
I speak with several of the girls about the soccer program. Most of the girls on this team are Christian. They’re boisterous with each other, and polite and shy with me. Almost every girl says it is their dream to play soccer.
In light of my impending departure I’ve asked Mairamou if I can make dinner for the family. Even though I’m paying them a weekly amount for housing and food, this feels somehow more appropriate. I buy $10 worth of rice, cabbage, carrots, ginger, garlic, onions, eggs, tomatoes, fish, scallions, bell peppers, basil, and parsley (basically, whatever I see at the market) and spend the night before the meal in the yard, cutting up veggies. Yasmin and her sister Soureya, who’s 7, help me out. The next evening, I cook for three hours and end up with enough food to feed the 20 people who have gathered. They are into the food, which is markedly different from Cameroonian food and closer to what my grandmother made at home when I was growing up. Krystina of the Peace Corps is delirious because she has only really eaten Cameroonian food and pasta for 2 years.
I’m going to miss Ngaoundéré.