Monday, August 11, 2008

My Town Monday: Life in West Africa

Boh CyprainFrom 2004-05, courtesy of the government, I had an enjoyable eleven month “vacation” in the capital of Cameroon, Africa. Part of what made my stay in Yaounde memorable was local resident Boh Cyprain, who started out as one of our team’s drivers and quickly became a close friend of mine.

I previously mentioned in my Hemingway post that I could identify with being away from home during the holidays but when Mr. Boh and his wife graciously opened their home to my wife and me, it was one of my more touching Christmases, sharing it with his family.

Mr. Boh and I have stayed in touch through email and he'd send me blog entries when I was posting news links and dispatches on (the now near-defunct) Axiom Report. If you have never used the Internet in certain parts of Africa, it can be frustrating with slower than slow connection speeds where it takes five minutes to load a page. But even so, Mr. Boh would go to the local Internet cafe and spend hours typing in bits of news and stories about local traditions from his country. And when others told me they were to busy to blog for the AR, I will always remember his selfless dedication, driving through a riot torn Cameroon last March to report to us on his country’s status.

I thought it would be interesting to share some experiences from Cameroon for this week's MTM. Mr. Boh writes:

Shopping In Cameroon

Cameroon, like many other African countries, is blessed with fertile land and a hard working people. Its markets are usually stuffed with all varieties of food stuff and very natural too. Every morning you find wagons carrying food from villages into town to help feed its hungry populations. Women carry their bags with varied food menus of the day hoping to satisfy their families.

Bustling streets of Yaounde
Easy shopping in Cameroon warrants a broad knowledge of its market situation. A common market scene here is usually very noisy and busy and demands a lot of caution because you are taken away first by the freshness of its products and the anxiety with which the traders all rush into you to persuade you to buy. It is only normal if someone looses his temper because a trader pulled him or her brutally by the arm to persuade him to buy from her. In such confusing areas, do not be surprised after negotiating the price of your article not to find your wallet or let it not puzzle you when you get home to find that the machandise you bought has been changed and no one will be willing to listen to your complaint even when you go back to where you bought it.

Street vendors and small shops line a narrow alley
Negotiating the prices requires a lot of talking because the prices are never fixed. They change with the person who shows up to buy. For instance, prices are high when the person buying has a car and the prices get higher yet if it is discovered that you are an expatriate and as if that wasn't enough, prices sky-rocket when you are of the white colour. Shopping with a Cameroonian alongside you makes things alot easier for you because they identify themselves by the common market language known as PIDGIN (this is just broken English at times mixed with some broken French). It is the business language in Cameroon (Cameroon is a bilingual country with French and English being the official languages). Usually, most business persons quickly get annoyed with Cameroonian escorts because they don't give the seller a chance to be able to dupe their clients. TIPS are a common phenomenon here because escorts expect to be given some tips as a sign of appreciation for a job well done and even waiters in a bar expect to find something in the little saucer from which your change was served after you have left the place.

Peddling the goods
It is important to recommend here that if someone wants to do shopping here, he or she should hand all the money he has to his escort because pick pockets will only go for the expatriate and not the Cameroonian. This is if the escort is a trusted one.

Street children are also another aspect to look out for when you shop here because you will find a bunch of them willing to carry everything you buy just to accompany you to the road side to pick a taxi. They do this genuinely just for a tip but keep your eyes away from him for 10 seconds and your bag is gone; handle your wallet carelessly too and you won't find it when need arises.

Next week -- Malaah: Witchcraft
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Travis Erwin said...

Nice look at a culture and place so different from my own. I look forward to the witchcraft post.

Reb said...

I like that he is so open and honest about what to expect when shopping there.

Witchcraft? Can't wait!

Joshua said...

Africa, freaking cool

debra said...

Thanks for a look into another culture. We really are world citizens.

David Cranmer said...

To everyone who left a message, Mr. Boh says thank you. Internet connections are quite difficult and he has asked me to send his gratitude for your kindness in taking the time to learn more about his town. I’ll post a few more pieces from Cameroon over the next few weeks.