Thursday, February 20, 2014


February 1, 2014

My host “mom” is early thirties, a journalist, with impeccable English and impeccable fashion sense.  Quite frankly she is intimidatingly fabulous. My first day with my host family was basically a continued subversion of so many stereotypes about Africa and America.

My host mom is determined to help me taste Cameroonian culture, today she made me koki, a traditional dish, and she also plans on bringing me to her favorite nightclub. It’s not the first thing that came to mind when I thought “African culture.” I’ve been a college student near Albany, an ok sized city, for three years, but never in my life have I been to a nightclub.

There was this dude last semester who kept telling me that I needed to let my hair down and have some fun, and that we should go dancing, and I was like “Nightclubs are not my scene.” “What is your scene then,” he demanded, and I said Africa.

And now, because I am obsessed and focused on understanding and integrating into African culture as best I can (and also because I DO like to have fun, and occasionally my definition of fun and other people’s definition overlap) I am going to go clubbing, African style. It’s pretty ironic and I think it’s fabulous.

I’m loving the fact that my own expectations about Africa are being contradicted by Cameroon; the vibrancy and red dirt and warm smiles of Cameroon are very familiar from Mali, but the main difference I’ve noticed so far is how metropolitan Cameroon, (or Yaoundé at least) is. I first noticed it in the slightly superior tone of a Cameroonian ex-pat (we were best friends for ten minutes in the customs line at the airport) when we discussed the differences between Cameroon and Mali. The “big city” impression has grown since then, largely because, well, Yaoundé is a big city. With a population around 1.5 million, Yaoundé dwarfs anywhere I have ever lived (primarily Hoosick Falls and Siena, each at a solid 3 thousand population).

I am a small town girl in the big city and the unique flavor of this African city just makes that even cooler/stranger/more contradictory and interesting.  I frequently feel like a country bumpkin, particularly because we were instructed to bring very conservative clothes, and the incredible fashion sense of Cameroonians puts me to shame. Whether it’s traditional, elaborate embroidered dresses or Western jeans and heels, Cameroonian women rock the fashion world. I’ve never been super self-conscious about being fashionable, but walking around in a frumpy skirt and men’s t-shirt, I have clothing envy all the time.

And the education level of most of the Cameroonians I have interacted with so far puts me to shame. My host mom rattles on in the perfect English that is necessary for her job, and I feel like an idiot with my stumbling French.

But as out of place as I sometimes feel, at the back of my mind I love it for the ironic contradiction of so many American stereotypes of Africa. As far as normal Americans go, I am a little bit less clueless about Africa after going to Mali when I was 16 and being obsessed with Africa since 12.
But even so, I know nothing, and have everything to learn.

*Note: I did actually go to a nightclub. Maybe it's just Africa, but it could occasionally be my scene. 

1 comment:

  1. I just found your blog and I love reading about your adventures! I also really like your writing style :)