Daily life --- outside the University --- I
The whole concept of shopping is different here. One goes to the markets generally a couple of times a week for his/her necessities. Bargaining is expected. A "dash" is also expected. Dash is a word we learned here. It is a "tip" paid if you like what you get, and you give it to the provider to say "thank you". It is also an "extra", if the seller appreciates your business and wishes to give the buyer say, for example, an extra mango, tomato or onion. So this word "dash" goes both ways.
All goods for sale in the market are piled on a stand or on the ground. Small stores in the neighborhood generally sell a fixed number of things which people pick up for daily use. Appliance stores are in big cities like Douala. Buea has only shops for repairing appliances or some second hand appliance stores. Clearly, there are no car dealers in Buea. It seems that anything one uses for more than three years, except for used items or replacement parts, is not sold in Buea stores.
This is certainly not a capitalism-driven society. People worry about their different "stock", such as chicken, goats, or cows, but not about investments. All important business is service-oriented, such as taxi service, security guards, and construction contractors. The largest employer in the city is, at the moment, Razel, the French road construction company. There are no chain stores anywhere in Cameroon, as far as we know.
The variety of food is quite limited. To our surprise, the variety of vegetable is also small. In theory, Cameroon can grow anything. But it is clear that they are not growing a lot of common vegetables, such as peas (therefore peapod leaves), eggplants, asparagus, sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and all other Chinese vegetables. As we have told you before, the fruits are just great here in Cameroon. Tom can live on them! Local green vegetables, on the other hand, are of some varieties that we have not seen anywhere else in the world. They all look a bit like spinach, some bigger some smaller. Their names are: huckleberry, bitterberry, ehru, and biwale. Unfortunately, they are not good for stir fry as they all have a certain bitter taste. They must be boiled for a while to wash off the special taste.
Tom goes out shopping a few times a week, primarily for fruits and vegetables. Our diet at home is very limited. We eat noodles twice and rice three times a week. We typically eat out once a week at a party or when we go for roasted fish on the beach. For breakfast, Janice likes to eat breads bought from a local bakery with local pure honey. Tom has some dry cereals (no fresh milk here) with his soybean milk (from powders brought from the US) and fruits.
We have felt for a long time that the TOFEL exam, required of foreign students when they apply for admission to U.S. universities, is not a good gauge of their English ability. We are convinced now that we are right. One of the questions in a sample TOFEL exam we recently came across, for example, asks "If a person is getting milk in Aisle 1 and bread in Aisle 3, where is this person?" Bank, bakery, department store, or supermarket were the possible choices. Cameroon students have a good chance of making the wrong choice, even when they understand every word read to them, as none of them has ever been in a supermarket or department store and would find it difficult to distinguish between the two. Other examples would be questions related to seasons, none of them have experienced color change , snow, or ice on the ground. There was even a question about "gift certificates" which are totally out of Cameroon experience! It's almost impossible to examine language ability without involving some culture understanding.