We Americans are accustomed to cleanliness, order and privacy, even if we don’t think we’re immaculate, organized and private. We are also used to buying what we need (or want) and having it readily available, new and in good condition. We don’t know how much we take all this order and abundance for granted until we go someplace where people just cobble life together and make do. That’s what struck me about Cameroon: people eat, wear, use, and drive whatever’s available, re-using and re-selling something for as long as it holds together. (After it no longer holds together, they re-use and re-sell the parts.) Here are a few snapshots.
If you’re Cameroonian, age-old taxis are how you get around town. You flag one down on the street and you pile in with the other passengers the driver has picked up along the way. To travel between towns you cram into a boxy little bus, and you let the driver tie your worldly goods on top. Or if you’re well-to-do enough to own a motor scooter, then that’s what you ride, probably balancing your freight on it, along with your kid and your Uncle Toby. I saw motor scooters going to church, people on them all dressed up and hanging on. At a gasoline station I also saw a dad with two little boys and a motor scooter. One of the little boys looked about three years old. Obviously, our child safety seat laws don’t apply here.
To buy furniture or plastic barrels or peanuts or fabric or just about anything, you go out on the street and barter.
Here is some upholstered furniture for sale. It’s along the main road through town, on a wooden platform set up to make extra room at the edge of a hill. These easy chairs will sit there, rain or shine, until they are sold.
To make a little extra change, people also sell what they grow/harvest/collect/find. When we were traveling to the beach, we stopped at a toll booth and had people knocking on our windows, offering us bananas, coconuts, kola nuts, and other things. Our son bought some kola nuts so we could have the experience of tasting them. They were unbearably bitter. But the folk wisdom is that they have Viagra-like powers.
And all kind of other things are sold on the streets as well. Like jeans. And shoes. And they’re not as cheap as you might think. My daughter-in-law needed some dress shoes, not really available in stores, so she went out and found a shoe-head guy (see photo) to try to sell her a used pair. She found some second-hand shoes that would do for what she needed, but she had to barter the guy down from 130 bucks to 20.
Of course, people sell food on the streets as well. The photo below shows a lady going out at mid-day to sell lunch to workers. In her bucket is the lunch, probably a stew of some kind, and on her head are the dishes to serve them in. And yes, people really do carry things on their heads. They create a flat surface with a piece of cloth, then stack things on top. It actually seems to work really well.
Next post, more about Cameroonian life.