How to Live in Cameroon
Living in Cameroon is not one big thing, it's a lot of little things, a lot of small habits that you have to make and break to function in daily life. Here are somethings that I've learned in the past two+ years, most of which are things I won't need in America.
How to tell if an egg is rotten:
Bad eggs will float, but if you’re too lazy to test every egg (like me), then when you try to crack it open, it’ll likely have a thicker skin under the shell that you’ll have to puncture with your thumb. But if you’re too stubborn to believe that just because it has a skin means it’s bad (because sometimes they’re still okay to eat, relatively speaking), then when you open it, if it smells like wet rank dog, is black, and has chunks inside of it, it’s bad. Throw it out and open a window because your kitchen will now be stank for days. Dommage.
How to get the kids to stop calling you “white man”:
-Teach at the schools. The kids learn a lot faster that your name isn’t WhiteMan if they have to say, “Good morning, Miss Lindsay,” everyday.
-If it’s an adult and you feel like getting into a conversation, call the person BlackMan, and when they react with horror and offense, explain that it’s the same effing thing that they were just doing. Otherwise…
-Don’t respond to WhiteMan, especially to the adults. When they learn that they shouldn’t be calling you WhiteMan, they’ll start punishing the kids for calling you that too.
-If the kid is obviously doing it to be a smartass and is within your reach, smack him. It’s okay.
How to bake a brownies on a gas cooker:
Find a recipe (pretty much any will do) and don't worry if you're short on some things that are "imperative" like baking powder. I mean, it's nice, but whatever. Let's be honest, you're so desperate for chocolate, you'd lick the bottom of an old Pa's slipper if he said he stepped in a Hershey bar earlier in the morning. You're in Africa. Don't be picky. So, get your batter together as best you can. Next, set your biggest marmite on your gas cooker, and put 3 empty tomato paste cans inside. Some people say you need sand to make a dutch oven. I say those people are dumb. You need no such hassle, and where the heck would you find sand anyway? After you set up your cans, place a smaller marmite inside on top of the cans. This pot should be small enough so that you can put the lid onto the larger pot. (The basic principle of an oven is that heat surrounds an elevated item. Go with that.) Now dump your batter in the small pot, put the lid on, and set the flame on low. There's no set time for this, so just keep an eye on it and stick a toothpick in every once in a while. When it comes out clean, mange away, my friend!
How to barter:
One: Don’t be a stupid whiteman. Know what things are worth. People will know if you don’t know what you’re talking about and they’ll take advantage of it.
Two: Decide how much you really want it, and the maximum that you are willing to pay for the item.
Three: Look at the item with disgust, suck your teeth a lot, and point out everything wrong with it. If there’s more than one of what you want, be sure to pick the dirtiest one you can find.
Four: Reduce your maximum price by 75% and start there.
Five: Pull the “I’m not a tourist, I live here” card and speak nothing but Pidgin with some patois interspersed. Never speak proper grammar.
Six: Joke with the vendor, if you can. Suggest ridiculous prices like 732 francs. (There’s no coin smaller than a 5-franc piece.) But resist the urge to conversate with the vendor beyond, “How are you?” If you ask how his kids are or how his health is, you’ll inevitably have to listen to how much he is struggling and how terribly impoverished he is, even though he’s wearing nicer shoes than you. He just wants your money.
Seven: Try to buy more than one thing at a time. It’s easier to get 5 pairs of shoes worth 800 apiece for 2500 altogether than it is to get one for 500.
Eight: Walk away if the vendor’s being stubborn. Either this’ll be the last straw and he’ll call you back and give it to you at your price or you’ll find the same cheap Chinese-made piece of junk you were just looking at on another pous-pous 5 feet up the road.
How to do laundry:
You'll need: two buckets, a flat surface, a bar of soap, a scrub brush if you're filthy, and hopefully water. Put your clothes in one bucket, then piece by piece, take them out, rub the bar soap on them, then mash them on your flat surface until you're satisfied. Then rinse them, wring them, and hang them on the line or lay them on the lawn to dry. If you're good, one load of laundry (about 10 or 15 items) should take you about an hour. Ta da!
How to deal with beggars:
Ignore. This will deter most beggars, but if they’re in your face, you can try saying, “Way, ashia, sista. Money no dey. Way. Sorry.” If this doesn’t work, it’s okay to say, “Ah-ah. Why are you really disturbing me? Get away, na. Go you.” You could also just throw 100 francs at the problem, though that just guarantees that they’ll beg again the next time they see you. It’s easier to just say no. Also, it’s important to not feel guilty. Lots of people beg not because they need the money, but just because you’ll give it. In any case, it’s better to give your hard-earned 20¢ to a public-aid organization that might spend it on something worthwhile, rather than a whiskey sachet. Teach a man to fish, no?
How to be prepared for spontaneous week-long power outages:
Keep your iPod, phone, and camera charged. Keep your bushlamps full of kerosene. Keep candles aplenty in your cupboard. Keep some especially addictive-like-crack books on reserve. Keep thinking about the serotonin high you’ll have when your electricity finally does come back.
How to …go… in a pit latrine:
First, recognize and embrace the fact that squatting is an art form. It’s not something that you can just do. It takes practice. Everyone pees on their feet the first few times. Eventually you’ll find the right balance (literally) between positioning your feet and dangling your backside. Next, be aware of the hole. Correct aim is also an art form, but not necessarily imperative. Most good pit latrines are slanted towards the hole, so gravity will make up for your sloppiness. Finally, always always always carry your own supply of toilet paper (hello, Charmin-To-Go!), otherwise you’ll also have to perfect the art of drip-drying and using your left hand for what God intended.
How to ride on a motorcycle with three other people and a pig:
The road into my village is treacherous in the rainy season. You have to de-bike and walk for some stretches so that you're not thrown off.
When you’re boarding and it’s time to shift, shift well because once you’re moving, you won’t be able to adjust your position without tipping the whole bike. Also, choose a direction to look in at the very beginning because you won’t be able to move your head again until you get off. Finally, once you’ve begun your journey, try to ignore the feeling you have that the bike is so precarious that you’re going to crash. You probably will, so better not to dwell. Hey, at least you have three other people and a pig to cushion your fall.
How to not be pick-pocketed:
Be aware of your surroundings, keep your hand on your bag, don't carry too much money, look as mean as possible, make friends with vendors so they'll look out for you while you're dallying in their shops, and be ready to smack a mofo and yell, "Na thief that!" at the top of your lungs at any moment.
How to deal with a colony of slugs living in your bathroom:
-Accept peaceful co-existence has a natural function of life in Africa.
-Name them after some of your friends from home, then every bathtime/number-two, you can say “what’s up” to Rashaad or Jeannette.
-Remind yourself that, hey, at least they’re not leeches.
How to eat fufu:
Hope-Mah and Benadine working on making water fufu. The whole process (after the cassava is planted, harvested, and carried from the farm) takes days, so you best clean your plate and say thank you!
Everything with your fingers and never with your left hand. Grab a chunk, form it into a small ball, about half the size of a golf ball. Put a little indentation in the middle with your thumb, then dip it into the soup. Chances are the soup has okra in it, and therefore the consistency of snot, so get as much as you can on your little ball-o-fufu and then snap your wrist around to get the snot string to break. Then eat it. If it’s good, enjoy it. If it’s not, pretend to enjoy it. You have to. It’s also helpful to keep children nearby, and when you get your fill or you’re gagging at the thought of taking another bite, give the plate to them. But this should only be employed after you have finished about 90% of your meal. Better to eat yourself sick than to be rude.
How to get out of an 8-hour church service:
-“I am having malaria. (cough, cough) Way, yes, I go rest me now.”
-“I am having a serious meeting at this time.”
-“I am traveling, eh. I go go me for Bafut.”
-“I no be fit for sitting like that all day. My buttocks are paining me.”
-To the Catholics: “I am going to Presbyterian church today.” To the Presbyterians: “I am going to Catholic church today.” To the Full Gospels: “You people are not normal, eh.”
-“I be na pagan. Yes, I like me that Satan.”
-“I am coming. I am to follow.” (Then just never go.)
How to take a hot bath:
No, no you fools, the answer is not: "turn on the spigot in the bathtub." The correct answer is that there are two methods to accomplish a hot bath: home and bush. Both involve buckets. For the home method: heat a pot of water and dump it into a bucket. Then fill another bucket with cold water. Now fetch a cup to dump the water over your head and bathe away, mixing the two buckets as needed. For the bush method: water will probably be slight, so conserve water by dunking your head in the bucket to rinse your hair (see above) rather than dumping it over your head. As a side note: if water in general is slim, be sure to conserve as much bathwater as you can to flush your toilet.
How to buy meat:
Vendors will set up the head and other body parts in front of their stands to indicate what kind of animal they're selling, so if you want cow meat, go for the cow head. Ask what day they slaughtered, because nothing is refrigerated and if it's a week old, you stand a good chance of making your GI cry. (They don't make a kill on a schedule. They wait until all of the body from the last one is sold before they kill a new one. Meat is sometimes a day, sometimes a week old.) Now select the part you want, and try to say, "No white part!" but you'll still probably get some fat and tendons because they eat every part and consider it "fine meat." Stay away from spine meat, because it's gross. And don't worry about the meat being covered in flies because it's always covered in flies. As long as you cook it to death (so to speak) all the parasites and bacteria will die anyway, so ça va. Appetit-oh!
How to not go crazy:
STOP TAKING MEFLOQUINE.
STOP TAKING MEFLOQUINE.
How to remove a dead rodent from your house:
You wake up in the morning, stumble toward the kitchen, and inadvertently step on a rodent carcass that your cat has lovingly deposited on your parlor floor during the night. What to do? First, take mental stock of your surroundings. BBC is in French, it’s 8 a.m. when it should still be 3 a.m., and an old mami is screaming “Mee-ah-kah!” in your front window. Clearly, you are not in America. Ergo, acting like an American girl will do you no good. Flailing, gagging, and screaming will not get this decaying rat out of your house any faster. You need real action. First, grab your bush broom and twist it until it is in a tight bundle. Next, carefully separate the bundle down the middle and snap it down on the rat. When it closes, it should pinch the rat in the bristles. Carry it vertically outside and chuck it behind the latrines. When you give it a good toss, be careful not to draw your arm back over your head; the rat may fall out of the broom and land in your hair. Then you really will flail and scream.
How to be pretty:
Go to the market. Buy the brightest, gaudiest pagne you can find, preferably with some message on it about Women’s Day or Teacher’s Day or Brasseries’ Day, whatever. Take it to the tailor. Special order the giantest caba you can. The bigger the sleeves and the fatter it makes you look, the better. When it’s finished, wear it and strut (“make nyanga,” if you will), and soak up all the compliments.
(That's my mami!)
How to handle everything:
One day at a time. Look forward to small things. Laugh whenever possible, especially at yourself. Scream, complain, and cry when you need to then get over it. It’s really not so bad. It’s just life.
How to be happy:
Appreciate your good friends with cute kids and the thousand random acts of kindness that are extended to you everyday.