Notes from a volunteer in Cameroon
A friend asked me if there was anything he could send me. Perhaps some chocolate? At the time I replied that I did not know how to receive post. A postal service does not exist in the same sense as in Europe. Post is not delivered to my door in the village. There are no street names and numbers. Normally directions are given by reference to landmarks. My address is “Behind the Apostolic Church, Bamunka, Ndop”. But there is maze of streets behind the Apostolic Church. But it was only after his email that I realised that I had not eaten any chocolate since I landed in Douala, 2 months ago.
There is chocolate in the village, but apart from drinks, I do not buy imported goods due to the fact that very few foods or goods are imported to the village. There is one local “supermarket” but in its entirety it is the size of what used to be my living room in London. It contains cleaning liquids, soap, candles, some drinks, a few dusty cans of fish etc. When I fished around among the bottles and found a dusty and dirty bottle of shampoo, the staff had a quick discussion amongst themselves about what it was that I was buying. (African hair is very coarse. It is not uncommon for women to shave their heads. When I first tried to get my hair braided, I was told that my hair was too “slippery”. It would not hold the braids whereas African hair once shaped, retains its shape. Apparently their hair does not require shampoo). Shopping otherwise is at the local markets where individuals sell the produce from their farm. In the village we must make do with local produce. The nearest town Bamenda is luxurious in comparison, but also offers little when compared with the choice available in Europe. No good chocolate.
A few days ago I had a very bad day at work. My latest initiative to fix one of the fundamental problems at work had failed – again. I got home and the water was not running and we did not have electricity. I needed some comfort food. So I went to the market and bought the local substitute. Sugar cane.
I bought a stick of about 7ft long still containing its roots and leaves. I carried it over my shoulder back to the compound. I spent an agonising 30 minutes cleaning the mud of the cane and sawing it into sizeable chunks of about 1 ft each. I then sat on a stool outside my apartment and ate the sugar cane “African” style. This is to tear the bark off with ones teeth and spit it on the ground. To then tear chunks off the wood with ones teeth and to chew it to extract the sugary fluid. Finally, to spit the debris on the ground.
But that night with the power cut, I chewed the sugar cane and I looked up at the night sky and wondered at the number of stars and appreciated the dry lightening storm illuminating the sky (with the approach of the dry season lighting storms unaccompanied by rain or thunder are becoming increasingly common). And it was amazing.