My first week in Yaounde consisted of visiting my friends’ family & friends. Every time we went somewhere, we ended up receiving two other invitations, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We were having in average five or six meals a day because “no, thank you, I’m not hungry” was not a good enough reason to refuse to eat. So in a few days I had a great insight into the diversity of the Cameroonian cuisine.
One of the things I was a bit afraid of was Church. My friends warned me, being into their family, I couldn’t escape it. They are very christian and their family in Cameroon, even more so. And me?… Not so much.
I grew up in a christian family, went to an evangelical church with some friends in high school, tried diverse ecumenical organizations, but I feel more like a spiritual person than a believer. My friends accepted this part of me in Europe, but what would it be there?
Well, I felt some judgments when I told my friends’ parents that I was not religious. And on the first Sunday I felt a bit forced to go to church, but it was quite an interesting and funny experience. The congregation warmly welcomed us, the mbenguists (people living in Mbeng : Europe, USA…). I even received a special dedication from the pastor, introducing me as Neika from the “Haitian church of Germany” because it was impossible for him to understand than I wasn’t part of any church.
In the end, I really enjoyed the service. I took a lot of pictures, played with the kids and was in admiration of the people outfits. Indeed in Cameroon, whether for church or parties or any special occasion, people like to be well-dressed.
Even if I often felt under-dressed, it was good to feel welcomed as a part of the community. And of course, we received even more dinner invitations.
On the second week we decided to go to Kribi. We were a group of eight young people alone in what is a sort of Cameroonian St Tropez.
Kribi is home to Cameroon’s best beaches: the sand is fine, the water crystal clear, fresh fish is on the menu and cold beer on tap; and the life was sweet. This city reminded me of the West Indies in so many ways.
A typical day started with us going to buy fresh fish to the fishermen on the beach and then go to the market to buy fruits, vegetables, seasoning spices and rice or plantain. Then, some of us would clean the fish, while the other cut the plantain and we cooked and ate together.
In the afternoon, we took taxi-motos to go to the private beaches a bit outside the city and we spent our afternoons there, listening to music, dancing … And me taking pictures. And we spent our nights also dancing in the famous snack-bars who are more like dance clubs where you can eat.
One thing I learned in Cameroon is to come out of my shell, to speak to people. I am quite an introvert person when it comes to people I don’t know. But there, you feel like no one is a complete stranger. Whether at the market, to take a taxi or just out on the street, people approach you, sometimes to sell you something, but they also usually end up telling you their stories.
One day while I was going back to my hotel I met an old lady. She had trouble walking and was coming from the market so I took her grocery bag in one hand, took her arm in the other and accompanied her to the beach where she wanted to go.
She ended up telling me about her entire family : about her son in Europe, she haven’t seen for 10 years, but she doesn’t want to go there and he was too busy to come, she talked about her other children here, her grandchildren, her husband who was a fisherman and died in the sea years ago, and she told me the legend of Mamiwata. The water godess who seduces men and kill them. She reminded me of my grand mother and the stories she used to tell me in Haiti about LaSiren and LaBallen when I was a child.
She was old, and she never studied, she never traveled, and we were having such different life, but we ended up talking during two hours, face to the sea, sharing the fresh oranges she just bought from the market. I remember wishing I knew more elder people and I really felt grateful to be able to share this moment with her because I know that in Europe, I would never be able to do something like that.
We spent more than a week at this rhythm and if it was just me, I would have stayed in Kribi forever.
Somehow it feels like life is harder but also make you appreciate better every little pleasure.
I noticed that on the 30th Edition of the International Women’s day on the 8th of March. It is certainly the biggest celebration for women in Cameroon. Some of them say it is bigger than Christmas! Parades and debates are organized and 8th every woman wears a “kaba” sewed in their signature 8th of march fabric which changes every year. And for one day, women and girls just want to have fun.
One of my new friends offered me the 8th year kaba she sewed before our arrival. And the guys of our group cooked and took care of us the whole day. They decided to take us to the Chutes de la Lobé. It is an impressive set of waterfalls that empty directly into the sea and it’s so beautiful.
There is still a lot about my stay in Cameroon. But then I should probably write a book.
In conclusion people were generally surprised to see a Haitian girl interested in Africa. But passed the surprise they were happy and welcoming. I think I had the chance to be in this group of friends, I do not know if it would have been the same if I had gone there alone.
Wherever I was, people have been so generous with me. Sharing their time, opening their homes to me, telling their stories. And I never received so many gifts. I gave so little and received so much not only from my friends’ parents but also from people supposed to have nothing. Like Vivianne the cleaning lady who offered me a bunch of avocados to take back with me.
I wouldn’t say that I felt like home. But while we were approaching the end of my stay I surprised myself not wanting to leave. I adapted very quickly. I became less introvert. At the end I was taking the taxi on my own, visiting the city alone when my friends were too busy to come with me, to my friends’ parents great displeasure. They were as concerned about me as they were about their own children.
The departure was so poignant.
All my friends’ family and friends gathered at the airport to say goodbye. They wouldn’t come back for years. A lot of tears, hugs, last minute gifts were exchanged this night. I also promised I would come again. Someday.
This month was like a dream and while I was checking in my flight I knew I would never be the same.
Now months later, while I am walking in a so clean Germany, where all the roads are tarred, running water isn’t considered a privilege, and everything is well organized, I find myself missing Africa. The noises, the food, the vegetation, the music and the people and the fact that you can start a friendship, just by sharing an orange on the side of the road.
The Return To Salone
Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :
- Introduction – Part I
- So where do I come from?- Part II
- Discovery of Africa – Part III
- Search of Identity – Part IV
- Search of Happiness – Part V
- Africa is harder than expected – Part VI