Cameroonian Bilingualism

Much like Canada, Cameroon is officially bilingual.  We are living in the French-speaking part of the country and need to communicate in French when we meet people on the street, go to the store or market, and to communicate at work.  But there’s also a lot of English.

Since Yaoundé is the capital, many people are here from all over the country, including many anglophones (I may have written a bit about this in the past).  Part of meeting someone is learning whether they are english or french speaking.  And, since both languages are used by many people, there’s a working assumption that everyone is able to understand both languages.

This leads to some interesting experiences.

To put this in perspective, we have a weekly chapel meeting at our office on Friday mornings.  Recently, one of the Cameroonian directors, who is Francophone, gave the presentation on his department in French.  However, he used a set of powerpoint slides that were entirely in English to go along with his presentation.  He also asked a few of his direct reports to come up and say a few words, some spoke in English and some in French.

It was expected that everyone there could follow along to this mix of languages.

Another colleague noted that on the national newscasts, stories are presented in both languages throughout the program.  However, they are not repeated in each language — instead some stories are presented in English and some stories presented in French.  If you want to hear *all* the news, you need to understand both languages.

Our time in French study has been incredibly useful for getting through daily life here in Cameroon, but sometimes you have to stay on your bilingual toes.

 

Dancing

In our family, we’ve always enjoyed dancing. Lately we have had a lot of opportunities to practice and learn some different dances. The junior class at RFIS (Eila’s school) recently hosted an International Food and Folk Festival. It was a really fun night and we learned dances from various areas of the world – Israel, Latin America, Korea, USA (Virginia), and of course, Cameroon.

CAMBO is the name given to the orientation classes we had upon arrival in Cameroon. One of my favorite sessions was on Cameroonian clothing. During that session, many of our colleagues were eager to show off their traditional clothing styles and in their enthusiasm also showed off their home dances. They showed us how Cameroonians from different regions celebrate through dance. Honestly, it all looked the same to me. I’m clearly not able to distinguish the details in their dancing. (You could look on youtube for dances from Bafia, Sawa, Assiko, Bamiléké, or Makosa to get a taste of the different Cameroonian regions.) Unfortunately, Eila has warned me not to attempt it in public at all, as I am even more incapable of moving in a way that resembles Cameroonian dancing.

As part of i-Delta, the students had some fun events on the weekend and we attempted to teach them some traditional American (country) line dancing as part of one of these afternoons. Line dancing was a completely foreign concept for these African adults. It was quite comical, but all had a great time.  I imagine this is the same in reverse when they watch me attempt their traditional African dance movements.  Thankfully, on both sides, there are no videos of these lessons.

At our new church, the first half an hour is devoted to worshipping God through music. It is sometimes quite lively with whooping and clapping in addition to singing and, of course, dancing. This is my favorite part of the service, and I join in, but no one is watching me, so it’s okay.  However, this week was the end of a month long celebration of thanksgiving for God’s provision and it was the men’s turn.  Now, I’m excited for you to see Brian and the men from our church dancing.

Je suis calée

The area where we live has a number of bars in nearby and there is also a large hotel across the road that plays loud karaoke into the night.  So, even though we’re set back from the main road a bit, it can be a bit loud in the evening (the karaoke crowd likes Celine Dion).  But subconsciously, we are all becoming familiar with Cameroonian pop songs — even if we aren’t actively seeking them out.  They get pumped into our heads as we sleep, or try to sleep.

This particular song has played frequently at night and I started recognizing it often as I was at the grocery store and other contexts.  And now I can share it with you all — try listening to it as you fall asleep.

Also noteworthy is its interesting uses of cam franglais: lyrics like “Est-ce que tu know que je t’aime” is strangely appropriately Cameroonian, as well as the general mix of languages throughout the song.

(Disclaimer — I’ve attached the music video, and while it doesn’t contain anything you can’t put on youtube, it is a music video and therefore might not be appropriate for everyone).  Click “Continue reading…” (if you see it) to continue to the video.

Continue reading

Small Money (ou La Petite Monnaie)

In Cameroon it’s best to have small money (or in French: la petite monnaie).

This means, you should have 100 CFA coins, 500 CFA coins/notes, and 1000 CFA notes available all the time for your purchases.  This is because many merchants just don’t have the change to give you.

Shannon and Eila went to the local store down the street to buy some flour and a few treats.  Two kilos of flour and a Sprite were 1200 CFA.  Eila paid with a 2000 CFA note, but shop keeper didn’t have sufficient change for her.  Well, what happens now?

This happens often.

In this case, as if often the case, the solution is to buy more or less until an appropriate amount of change is reached for the shopkeeper/cashier.  In Eila’s case, we bought a roll of toilet paper to bring our change to what the shopkeeper had available and everything was fine.  There have been other cases where if a grocery store order brings the total to 10,150 CFA — items are not purchased to make it  so change can be made.

Taxi rides to a destination that is nearby is just 100 CFA or maybe 150 CFA.  But if you don’t have exact change, you’re expected to tell the driver as you get in.  He might not take you if he doesn’t have change.

In my western mind, it always seems odd that transactions are not made to ease the exchange of change, but that’s how things are.

So, in Cameroon, it’s best to have small money.

One Month

We’ve been here in Cameroon a little over one month now.  We’ve had a buddy family help us through the ropes.  And, we’ve had lots of people around to ask questions to when we weren’t sure.  We’ve also had an official orientation to expose us to a variety of topics for living here in Cameroon.

Here are some of the things we’ve learned:

  • We’ve learned where to get most groceries: meat and cheese is best from one store, some groceries from another, others can be bought at a store close to us.  Some things we haven’t found yet.
  • We’ve learned what we can get from the stores around us within walking distance.
  • We’ve learned it is hard to get dental floss (only from the pharmacy) and maple syrup (expensive).
  • We’ve learned about greetings.
  • We’ve learned about making friends.
  • We’ve learned to cook njama jama and fou fou.
  • We’ve learned about driving differently.
  • We’ve learned about taking a taxi.
  • We’ve learned to shake hands with people, a lot.
  • We’ve learned to cross the road.
  • We’ve learned how some things react to a tropical climate, usually with mold.
  • We’ve learned to deal with blackouts.
  • We’ve learned where to go running.
  • We’ve learned what to wear where.
  • We’ve learned some nice places to eat.
  • We’ve learned to appreciate the clouds and rain.
  • We’ve learned to ask for help.

There is so much still to learn, but we are learning a little more each day.

Mountains in Summertime

‎As the weather has gotten warmer, we have been trying to make the most of our time outside of class to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation surrounding us as well as develop deeper relationships with people here in France. So, we have done several hiking trips in the mountains nearby.  Here are a few pictures from our excursions:

From the top of the mountain in our backyard, with a view of Mt Blanc behind us

La Chartreuse (near Grenoble)

Chamrousse & Lac Achard with Les Bonnetons

The gorgeous flowers also cause some people (like Brian) to suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms.

 

However, the pleasant aroma that they give off is in great contrast to the scent of the pastures that are all around us in this small town.

And since it is a small town, we had to go to Chambery for Thad to visit the orthodontist. It was a day full of delayed trains and changed plans that meant we were able to do a little unexpected sight-seeing!  Then, Brian and Josiah had to take a special trip to visit the town, just for fun.  Eila, on the other hand, was forced to do sight-seeing and learning on a field trip with her FLE (French as a 2nd language) class to Chambery.  It wasn’t as bad as she had feared.

Half Round Tower at the Chateau du Duc (until 1860 the home of the ruler of Savoie – not yet part of France)

Fountain with Four Elephants,
photo credit: Thaddeus