Saturday, June 27, 2009

All the irksome critters

Insects reign supreme in equatorial climates. Amongst the most aggravating during my 12 years in Douala:
- very large flying cockroaches. You'd feel "whish!" go through your hair; look around; and see a big fat -- UGH -- cockroach in the room.
- very tiny ants: nothing could be left out in the kitchen. Even closed jars of sugar and flour had to be refrigerated, otherwise the ants would find a way to get in.
- and the kings or rather queens of them all: mosquitoes. Anywhere I go mosquitoes feast on me, while I'm still exotic meat. Cameroon's mosquitoes are especially voracious. My husband called them the B-52s.* I learned to wear cotton socks and slacks as soon as the sun went down. I can control what's flying around my arms, but not my legs and feet; mosquito bites on the feet are the worst. An additional disadvantage is having to worry about malaria.
Other invaders from the animal kingdom:
- at one point, for a few months, we had a millipede invasion. Every morning, we'd find them all over the bathtub.
- Field mice found their way easily into homes, and nibbled on just about anything: food, of course, but also dish towels, cookbooks, and even paper money left on the dresser (unforgivable! After that, I had to declare war).
This "margouillat" lizard stuck to the garden!

* For more information about B-52s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-52_Stratofortress

Terminology for skin color/race

In the Duala language, black, i.e. local, with no visible European or Asian heritage, is "Moundo" ("Mindo," Pl.). A Caucasian is called a Moukala (Bakala, Pl.).

The extended family

In Cameroon, and as far as I know in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the notion of family is much more extensive than in Westernized countries, and a little more extensive than in Middle Eastern countries. A first cousin is often called "brother" or "sister;" cousins to the nth degree are just "cousins" (whereas in the U.S., very often, a second cousin is barely considered family anymore); same for aunts and uncles, there are so many you can't count them!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

First glimpse of Douala


I visited Douala, Cameroon, for the first time in 1980, for a short stay. Both Bob (future husband) and I had just completed our degrees in Paris, France, where we had met, in school.
Bob’s uncle had a car – not a regular occurrence in Cameroon, even nowadays – and took me for a tour of the city, which had about 1.5 million inhabitants at the time. At one point, we drove by some rundown-looking buildings, and I commented: “Oh, look, tenements!” Uncle looked shocked and retorted: “That’s the housing for Customs employees!” That was the first time I realized what a disconnect there was in my understanding of Africa.