Sunday, February 5, 2012

Stuff Cameroonians Like

Palm oil
Usually when you add something to everything it means you like it. Legumes? Add some palm oil. Beans? Palm oil. Doughnuts? Fry that up in some palm oil. Koki? I think the main ingredient might be palm oil.

Mamas think that they are doing you a favor when that add that extra dollop of oil to help the couscous go down. It wouldn’t be so bad if the plate wasn’t already swimming in oil though.

There are two varieties of course. Refined and unrefined. Refined looks, smells, and tastes like typical vegetable or canola oil. Unrefined palm oil is reddish orange in color and has a sort of heavy, roasted, nutty flavor. A cross between a roasted nut and a roasted ear of corn. It’s not bad, at least in my opinion, but it’s not so good that it should be used as a staple in every dish. No wonder people here are obese yet malnourished. Wrap your head around that one.

A typical morning at a spaghetti omelet shack goes something like this: I groggily sit down, place my order for a one egg omelet with onions, tomatoes, and pepper. I order up a cup of coffee. Waking up somewhere around the halfway point in my cup I realize, shoot!

Sec, sec, sec!” In other words “hold the oil!” I cry out in desperation.

It’s hit or miss whether or not I save the omelet from oily doom or not.

While I was on site visit, I was helping Carine in her outdoor kitchen pulling huckleberry leaves. I was keeping my hands busy plucking the leaves while trying to glean all I could so I’d be able to cook Cameroonian cuisine when it came time to fend for myself

“Want to know the secret to good Cameroonian cooking?”

I lean in. This is gonna be good.

“Maggi!” Carine laughs. Also known as: brand name MSG.

Boxed wine
A probably should have prefaced that statement with an adjective: “bad.” I would kill for a Franzia.

But then again, if it doesn’t burn going down, then how do you know if you’re drinking alcohol or not?

Sorry, bad joke.

This is what you would call perhaps, “a-big-man-drink.” Whenever there is an event that involves food (most events do), the most important person is usually given the most expensive beer. As far as bottled beers go, a large bottle of Guiness Foreign Extra takes the cake at 800, Mutzig follows closely at around 600.

Then again if you’re really classy you’ll get the big guy a small can of imported Heineken for 1200.

”Madam, I like your phone.”

I cautiously look up from texting in to the eyes of a crowd of students who have gathered.


“It is very nice.”

“It is very Chinese,” I laugh, thinking in the back of my mind how one of my coworkers had an iPhone 4S (might have been real, might have been fake—not sure) in the teacher’s lounge and didn’t get harassed like this so why was my “G7” Nokia knock-off (with no touch screen, apps, games, or fancy get-up) garnering so much attention?

“No! Madam. It is from America! Like you! You will give me your phone,” the child outstretches its hand. Cameroonians are fairly forward about this sort of thing—there is no shame in begging, pleading, crying, or hysterics to get what they want.

“No, you may not have my phone because I need it and it is not from America. I bought it here off the street.”

“You bought it here, madam?”

“Yes, from a someone selling them on the side of the road—not even from the phone shop. It is very cheap. It is very Chinese. And I am lucky it hasn’t broken yet, but it could very well break tomorrow. See?” I tap the plastic. “Not very sturdy.”

This is met with a puzzled look on the part of the student towards their friends. In the silent glance that is exchanged I see that that they are disappointed that my “Midas touch” ability to have all that passes through my hands be American as well seems to be a fluke. Taking my words into consideration but not wanting to recognize defeat, the student turns back to me and tries one last time to convince me:

“Well, you will still give me it, no?”

Barak Obama
People love Barak Obama. So much so that you can find him plastered on flashlights, school notebooks, belt buckles and even underwear.

Stereo competitions
Saturday mornings usually commence with my neighbors trying to outplay one another on their home stereos—each turning their respective volumes as loud as they can, blasting the likes of Rihanna, American Top 40, American hits, and church music made with MIDI keyboards—that is if you can hear which is which above the din.

”President Obama and Sarkozy killed Gaddafi.”

I sit in silence. Cameroonians generally happen to be very stubborn by nature (if I’m allowed to make a stereotypical generalization) and so arguing with them would not do much good at this point.

“They were angry that he was fighting for a united Africa!”

“Yes,” chimes in another, “because if Africa unites then they won’t be able to still exert colonial control over their former colonies anymore!”

I sigh and shake my head. There’s really no use arguing this one.

Nollywood Films
Poor lighting. Suspect video quality. Dubious screenplay writing. Bad acting. Need I say more?

Misappropriating Names of Fruits and Vegetables
”What’s that?”

C’est le prune.”



I lift a grilled violet oval up in my hand and take a bite. It is slightly sour and creamy on the inside with a large avocado like seed. My eyes bug out like an anime character and I know one thing for certain: this is not a prune.

Yet, this doesn’t even come close to the confusion when travelling from a Francophone region to an Anglophone one where a grapefruit is a “grape” and an avocado is a “pear.” Even more perplexing—I have yet to see an actual grape, pear, or prune in Cameroon.

This applies to children, animals, wives—you name it. Cameroonians see physical violence as a better way of resolving problems than working through problems. The recipient of the blow is usually used to it and will either take the punch, return the punch, or run away. Which segue into my next section of things Cameroonians like: “getting hit.”

Getting Hit
Tessez-vous! On fait silence!!”

“Madam! Madam! Madam!”

I sigh. “Yes?”

“The class is disturbing!” the child cries. The “you” typically being left off in Cameroonian English.

“I know,” adding mentally and so are you.

“Hit us, madam.”


“Hit us. Then we will listen to you.”

“Uh, sorry I don’t hit people. And you can’t either in my class,” I add, glaring at a child a few rows back who has slapped one of his bench mates on the head.


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