Faces of Cameroon
We are trying to recall when we first met a "foreigner" face to face. Tom first met a "white" woman when he was almost fifteen. Janice did not meet a Chinese until she was in college. Neither of us has the "they all look alike" experience when it comes to recognizing faces. When Tom was young, he heard some Chinese people talking about how they could not distinguish certain foreign people. He just thought they were strange exceptions. But it's clear that a lot of Cameroonian kids could not see or were never told the difference between Caucasians and Asians, as Tom is regularly called a "white man" by neighborhood kids, even after he heard some adults try to correct them, saying that Tom was a Chinese.
Some of the favorite souvenirs in Cameroon are the hand-crafted face masks. They come in some typical colors: blue, white, and dark red, all interlaced into one face with different patterns. The only place we have seen the face masks used was in the traditional dances. On several occasions, we have asked various people about the meaning of the masks. So far we have not found anyone who can enlighten us in this regard. The masks themselves may have particular meanings, like the ones used in Chinese opera, but any such meaning is not clear to us.
Tom found that the faces of Cameroonian children are similar to those of all the children he has met all over the world. But the faces of adult Cameroonians are not as transparent, certainly, as those of Americans. Like Chinese, adult Cameroonians do not like to show their emotions on their faces in front of strangers. We are unable to tell you at what age the change occurs. Most likely it's in the secondary school period, like the Chinese students, when a strict discipline system is imposed upon everyone. Despite their lack of emotion, however, both of us find many people here fascinating to look at. They have strong and interesting features which draw your attention. Tom says that "A Chinese girl is "pretty" if she has fine features, while a Cameroonian girl is "pretty" if she has bold features." Janice says the Cameroonian men are often very attractive!
Maintaining a certain facial expression is considered necessary for certain occasions in Cameroon. Formality, uniforms, protocol, and regulations seem very important for most of the Cameroonians we have met, and certainly their facial expressions reflect this. Maybe this is the result of the fact that this area was originally part of a British Colony. Certainly, the educated people here have given us a certain "starchy" feeling that names, titles and degrees are more important than actual academic achievement.
As we have told you before, Cameroon is a very diversified, complicated place, when it comes to languages, traditions and tribes. But from north to south, east to west, we can not yet identify different types of faces here with particular tribes or peoples. Maybe our eyes are not good enough to see the subtle differences yet. For example Tom can distinguish, in a very general way, a Cantonese from a person born and raised in Shandong. But usually we need more than just a face to tell the difference. We are sure that this type of trend can only be discovered and learned very slowly. So far, we have not been able to see the fine differences between the people at Buea and the people, say, in the village at Roumsiki, while we presume that native people may recognize some minor trends peculiar to only one locality.