Daily life --- outside the University --- II
We want you to know a bit more about the daily life we and our colleagues lead outside the university in Cameroon. Clearly what we have experienced in this area is very limited and superficial. Our contacts are mostly university-educated people, and most of them have some way to earn a living. So they evidently do not make up a good representation of society as a whole since a large proportion of the population is unemployed. But since our colleagues in the U.S. are from similar backgrounds, the stories may give you some interesting comparisons.
During this whole year, the main roads in Buea have been under construction. It seems that the work will be completed after we go back to the U.S. So while we have suffered the dust, traffic delays, and numerous detours on the bumpy temporary roads, we will not fully enjoy the fruits of the hard work. The trips twice daily along the 5~6 mile stretch from our home to the campus pass through some major parts of the city and have given us glimpses of how people live here. Along the main road, there are at least 6 to 8 major churches visible, a few dozen drinking joints, and several schools, including some technical schools for training cooks, nurses, auto mechanics and carpenters. Since there are no zoning laws, everything is mixed together, including residential houses. Last week, we reported about the Market, which is located in the middle of this stretch, close to our apartment.
We have mentioned before that we must go to Douala to purchase many items. When we were planning our trip to South Africa (to take place June 8 - 23) we were surprised to find that there were no travel agents in Buea. It is clear that people here travel very little. We were forced to travel to Douala to buy our air tickets. Since the postal system and telephone system work sporadically when they work at all, people tend to ignore them and accomplish their goals in other ways. For example, the chemistry department faculty must travel by bus to local industries to arrange field trips, and the university sends a driver to the capital Yaounde (a 5-6 hour drive each way) to deliver invitations to commencement.
People's houses are generally very clean on the inside, which is not easy when you consider how dusty this place is. On the other hand, many people have cooks, guards, cleaning persons and gardeners. The labor is quite cheap. You can hire a person full time for one month for the price of one day cleaning service in the Washington DC area ( about $80~120). Further, remember that there is also extended family support when you need them. When we are invited out to have dinner at someone's house, there are always people (we have no idea how are they related) who came out to serve us throughout the evening.
Dinner parties are usually served buffet style, large or small, as space is available. For large parties, some entertainers might be hired to perform before the dinner or there may be ceremonies of some kind. It could be an opening of a school room party, a birthday party or a graduation party. We found that all parties have two components which can be expected to occur without fail. First, they are always late (sometimes starting hours after the indicated time) and second, the varieties in native food are very limited (although there may be many dishes at a specific dinner buffet we find the same dishes at every occasion).
Next, we want to comment on how people spend their time for recreation. Cameroonians love football (what Americans call soccer). Young people play it, older people watch it. They have local semi-professional leagues and people flood the local stadiums when a game is being played. The only TV channel in the nation always carries the matches of the national team live. Cable TV has a lot of programs in French. Radio stations play a lot of African popular music, in many different languages. Beer is definitely Cameroonian men's favorite drink. It is sold everywhere. Yes, they do have night clubs. We went to one of them once and found it very interesting that quite a number of dancers, men and women, danced by themselves facing the mirrors. They seemed deeply involved in enjoying their own movements.
In the compound where we live there are several families. We have told you that our next door is a French couple, their English is as bad as our French. Therefore there is not much communication among us. However, in another house, there is an elderly great grandmother who lives with one of her granddaughters, the two children of her granddaughter, and another young relative. We regularly chat with them and enjoy the conversation. Another granddaughter who is in medical school in the U.S. recently asked us to put a picture of her beloved grandmother on the web so she wouldn't be so homesick! We are happy to oblige!