**The following blog series is told in brief from my perspective, and only my perspective. Any names that may be used have been changed. **
There’s just no way that I can fit all of the details of life in Cameroon in one short blog post, so I’ll give a little insight into various aspects of life.
Life in Douala was interesting. Douala is the economic capital of Cameroon, so people are always up and out and hustling. Everyone is Hustle Man! My neighborhood was no different. The woman who lived at the top of my street sold bananas and cell phone minutes (no unlimited plans). The “pineapple man” was to the right, and there was a little produce shop across the street. I lived in Bonaberi, which is one of many areas around Douala. In order to get to work or other activities, I had to cross a bridge that hovered over the Wouri River. There was one way in and one way out, so you had to hope for the best if there was an accident, or if the rain was bad (especially during rainy season), or during rush hours. During traffic slow downs, you would see people walking between cars selling snacks and drinks.
The neighborhood was relatively quiet. In the early weekday mornings, I’d hear children squabbling while carrying buckets of water home from a nearby source. Later, I’d hear most of them giggling while walking to school. A chocolate plant was nearby, so outside it often smelled like my dreams. I got many a rude awakening on Sunday mornings when the minister from the church on the opposite side of the road would passionately preach OVER A LOUDSPEAKER. I never truly adjusted to that. The neighbors called me “America”, which I never liked. I just wanted to blend in!
While in Douala, I worked as a high school English, Literature, and Grammar teacher. We worked 6 days a week in this Pre-K through Grade 12 private school in Bonanjo. Though it technically wasn’t an international school, our students were from many places, such as Lebanon, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, France, and China. Being a teacher comes with inherent challenges. Let me be clear, teenagers are teenagers anywhere, so the same drama and milestones you may expect from the youth in your area happened there too. My students were always my favorite part of my day. While I was their teacher, believe that they taught me a lot too. The major adjustment came in dealing with the adults. The administration is what made the job especially difficult.
Teachers were constantly snitching on one another. My boss made a habit of docking pay due to “infractions”. We were only allowed to call one another by our last names. We were required to wear suits everyday. On top of our usual work, we were required to write and send daily reports to the boss. They had to be written in a very specific format, and were sent back filled with red comments (remember your English classes?) with a demand to resubmit the same report. Teachers were often pitted against one another, and would be interrogated by the boss when he was in town. Making friends with co-workers was not encouraged. Rumors were started that I was dating one of the male teachers there. Once, this male teacher took me and the other American teacher to a cafe because I wanted french fries. I was later questioned about that. We were consistently explaining ourselves, or being corrected. We had to stand up when he came into a room, and could sit after he acknowledged us. There’s so much more I could say, but you probably get the point. My kids, or “my faces” as I would call them, were my motivation. The fact that we depended on each other made the late nights and early mornings, the frustration, and headaches worth it. I still talk with them via Facebook; I made a separate profile page to stay connected.
Since there were no movie theaters, skating rinks, bowling alleys, or the like, I did a lot of exploration around Douala and the surrounding areas. I would ask people what they and their friends did for fun, and many people would say “drink with friends”. You could pass through the streets and see people sitting outside at various restaurants and establishments chatting and drinking with their peers. I found so much culture and entertainment through a variety of shows, plays, film screenings, art installations, and other performances. It just took a little more effort to find events, but once you made those connections with people, you were set. The nightlife was like any other city; where you have young people, you have clubs. Rue de la Joie, or Street of Joy is known for having an assortment of clubs and restaurants that people can frequent.
My favorite place in Douala was a little cafe that I practically lived in. It was in an area called Bali, and was where all of the artists, Rastas, eclectic, and creatives went. I had found my people! The cafe had a tiny menu that essentially consisted of cafe au lait, cafe au lait with rum, tea, and tea with rum. The seating was open and limited, so oftentimes you’d end up sitting with strangers. I met people from all over the world there. There were open mic nights, and lots of soul and reggae music. On some nights “Aunties” grilled fresh fish out front. If they liked you, you got a discount or extra miondo. Sometimes the stranger you sat next to didn’t share your language but you’d end up having the best conversations. On the many days I needed to escape my house or relax after a long day, that place was my refuge. Someone (I still don’t know who) saw me there and told my boss. He later questioned me about it and said that I shouldn’t be associated with “those people”. I went back the next day. I found community there, and wasn’t willing to let that go.
This will be short because there isn’t much to report! I didn’t think about dating much while I was in Douala. I didn’t plan to be there forever, and I was still trying to get some closure from the heartbreak that sparked this blog series. Cameroon does NOT lack fine men, but I wasn’t trying to date any of them. What was difficult was determining whether someone liked me for me, or for my passport. There were men who were very clear about their intentions; they thought I could bring them to my country or that we could have a baby so the child could be American. Some were married, or were already involved. Once, I decided to actually go on a date and... let’s just say that it didn’t work out. I’m sure every guy didn’t have ulterior motives, but I also didn’t make an effort to find out.
However, there was this one guy...
Sexy people rock.