On Septmeber 12th, I was blessed by a visit from my lovely mother and lovely aunt. The trip was only ten short days, but the preparation was so, so much more. Excluding all the shots, visas, and various other paperwork, there was also packing and cultural preparations to be made. Here is the (barely edited) e-mail I sent my mom and aunt before visiting. If you are planning on visiting out fine country of Cameroon, take note! Another blog post about the visit will be posted soon. In the meantime, enjoy!
I can’t believe that you’ll be here in a little over a month! I thought I’d send a few travel tips and tricks your way to help you pack. Because it looks as though you’ve already started.
Clothing: It’s rainy season here and the temperatures probably range from the high 50s in the evenings and mornings to low 80s in the afternoons. It really doesn’t get too warm. Keep in mind culture differences-it’s best not to show too much leg, shoulders, or chest, and skirts are always considered more formal than pants. Cameroonians really take time to look nice every day. Therefore, I’m not recommending you bring a lot of sweats, t-shirts, etc. It will be more respectful if you’re “business casual” while we are around my village. So. Here are my recommendations for clothing:
-2 pairs pants or capris
-2 longish skirts
-1 pair sweatpants or windpants for hiking/lounging
-1 nice/professional dress in case we are invited to a funeral or a dinner (Below knee)
-3-4 nice blouses
-2 tee shirts
-1 heavy sweatshirt
-1 nice sweater to wear over dress/blouses
-Rain jacket or umbrella
-1 pair tennis shoes/good walking shoes
-1 pair nice shoes or sandals (NOT FLIP FLOPS, make sure they have a back strap or everyone will think they are “slippers” and therefore not formal)
-1 pair flip flops (these are called babooshes. You’ll wear them around the house or up to the carrefour or at the beach. Only for very informal occasions)
-Bring some inexpensive jewelry to dress up your outfits
We can do laundry at my house, or at the beach, so don’t worry too much about under packing clothing.
-Shampoo and conditioner
-Diarrhea medicine, headache pills, etc (Just a few, my med kit is fully stocked at the house, but hell, you never know when that stuff will hit)
-OTC sleeping meds (They’ll be good to get on some sort of schedule after the jet lag)
-A roll of toilet paper or a few small packs of tissues (public restrooms will not have it, you can also buy it here)
Electronics, Paperwork, Other:
-Camera, memory cards
-Headlamp or flashlight
-Multi-tool or Swiss Army knife could be useful
-Water bottle (doesn’t need a filter or anything fancy, I have a good one here)
I don’t really recommend you bring much else. If you want to listen to music, put some on your smart phone. I have my computer at the house that you can use to check e-mail or upload photos. If you guys would feel safer having a working cell phone here, we can buy you a SIM card or a cheap phone (20 dollars) that you can put pay-as-you go minutes on.
-Passport, along with 2 copies stored in your carry-on
-WHO Vaccine Card (2 copies also)
-ICE Contact Card
-US ID Card
Travel Tips and Tricks:
-Count to five with a closed fist. An open palmed five is a gesture that means “This is the size of your mother’s vagina” like, “your mom is a whore.” It’s the Cameroonian equivalent of flipping the bird.
-Wave people over with your palm down. Palm up gesturing is reserved for animals and is considered disrespectful.
-To show respect, hold your elbow while shaking hands with someone.
-To greet a chief, bow, clap twice, form a fist and tap it to your lips. (I’ll show you how to do this, and also give you the heads up if we are meeting a chief)
-It would be great if you could learn some French greetings before arriving. “Hello” “How are you?” “I’m well” and “Thank you” will get you pretty far
-Most people in the village speak the local language, unless they are directing a comment at me. I’ll teach you how to say “Hello” in Batie when you get here. The people will love it!
-They are REALLY big on greetings here! Just shake hands and say hello to everyone you see, so we don’t offend people.
How to avoid getting your stuff stolen:
There isn’t a lot of violence here, but people will want your stuff. . This will mostly just be for when we are in Douala and Bafoussam.
-Don’t wear necklaces or long earrings. Thieves will sometimes rip them off of you.
-Wear a purse with a strong over the should strap, or a handbag under your arm. Carry it on the side not facing the road. (Bandits are known to come by on motos and snatch them form your shoulder)
-ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS TRAVEL WITH YOUR PASSPORT. The gendarmes have many roadstops where they ID everyone. If you don’t have an ID, they shake you down for money. So to avoid that, BRING YOUR DOCUMENTS WITH YOU EVERYWHERE.
-Split up your money into several different bags so your money isn’t “all in one basket”
-Beware of taxi drivers asking you to scoot over if you are in the front seat. They may be trying to pick your pockets.
-When in doubt, walk quickly like you know what you are doing and don’t make eye contact.
-Age equals respect here. Many people will call you grand-mother or mother, and that’s a compliment.
-To be called little sister is a big insult.
-You’ll get “La blanche” and “whiteman” and other racial comments quite a bit. Don’t worry about them too much.
-Same with catcalls
-Hissing and kissing noises are an appropriate way to get someone’s attention
-Never expect to take a bush taxi (taxi from village to village) with fewer than 7 full grown adults in it.
-Chickens, small goats, and children do not count as a “place” in a vehicle
-Gendarmes will stop cars and buses at checkpoints often. It isn’t a big deal, don’t be alarmed.
-There is no bus schedule. Buses leave when they are full. -Sometimes you gotta get a little pushy to get your spot on a bus.
-Your personal space just got a whole lot smaller. You’ll be surprised how little space your body can take up.
-The cars and buses are in various states of disrepair. Don’t accept AC or seatbelts
-We’ll be taking moto-taxis semi-regularly. I’ll get you helmets from the PC office.
-People drive crazily. We can always yell at them to slow down, but I still end up letting Jesus take the wheel fairly often.
-Don’t enter a taxi or bus until I have negotiated a price with the driver.
-Always try to have exact change, if possible.
How I’ll be behaving: So you’ll probably think that I’ve become pretty heartless. You will probably see me yell at children to get away from my house, refuse to give children or beggars 50 cents, and argue over prices [These things have become necessary to protect property and save money]. My French is still far from ideal, but I will try to translate as much as I can. Transportation is also going to be rough, so just pay attention and follow my lead. You should also lower your hygiene standards considerably. We’ll be eating in places where it isn’t uncommon to see mice or roaches (including my kitchen). My house is fairly clean, but still not what you would expect from an American home. I have no running water, so you’ll have to bucket flush or use the latrine. PS latrine and pit toilets ARE NOT EQUAL. Latrines are simply a hole in the ground. No toilet seat. You just squat and hope you aimed well. Bring TP with ya to the latrine 🙂 NEVER drink water that is given to you by someone. We will use my water filter at the house or buy bottled water. Always thank people for food and tell them that it is delicious; it’s just polite.
Annnnd Gifts! I told my mom on our last phone call a little bit about gift culture. People love gifts, and they are expected. I used to think it was terribly rude, but now I have accepted it as part of the culture, and I actually really enjoy it! People will probably be giving you gifts, too. It’ll probably be something like a bag full of unwashed peanuts or an arm of plantains, but keep in mind that’s not a small sacrifice. And sometimes it’ll be a pineapple or avocados! Anyway, it’s a nice thing about Cameroon I’ve come to enjoy. SO. For the people here, I have constructed the following list:
Eliane and Family: Eliane has been my SAVIOR here in village. She has adopted me as part of her family and really helped me find work. For her, I would recommend a bottle of perfume or lotions (not expensive) and maybe a photo for their home. We’ll likely visit her mother, in which case another photo would be a nice idea.
Mme Emillienne: My community host. A photo or calendar would be nice.an inexpensive (Target, Wmart) necklace and earrings or perfume.
Sous-prefet, Mayor, Chef, Betrade (neighbor), Hortence (neighbor): Photo or calendar for each
Landlord: Baseball cap cologne
Boris and friend: These two will be taking us to and from the airport. Two baseball caps would be nice. Boris is especially interested in birds and fish (He raises them for sale) so if you find a fun photo or small book, bonus points!
Children: A bag of candy or cheap-o target toys. Art supplies are especially nice since art isn’t a priority here. Also, if you could bring a few children’s books (LOW LEVEL) in English (used is fine) that would be great. I’d like to have some teaching aids to use with the kids. Annnd that should do it on gifts. I would just try to buy a bunch of matted photos at Hobby Lobby for five bucks a pop to have in case we are invited somewhere. While these things are nice, we can always buy a box of wine or a watermelon if we forget someone! So don’t stress too much.
Alright! A lot of information here. I will e-mail you again because I am sure I forgot some things. E-mail me back with any questions! I. AM. SO. EXCITED. TO. SEE. YOU!