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PORTRAITS

Sama, Cameroon.

You’ve asked me where I lived. Well, I was a tourist back at home, living in cities as well as in villages. My hometown, Bamenda, is situated in the northwest province. It’s a very beautiful town with a great history and is immensely rich in cultural and traditional assets. Many times I have been asked questions like: ‘Do people live in houses in your country? Do you have television? Are towns electrified? Do you wear dresses back home?’ I do reply with a ‘Yes, there are roads, there is electricity and, for Christ’s sake, we do live in houses: small, big or great villas. Each in accordance with their means.'

The base of our economy is agriculture. Most people in the rural areas earn their livelihood from agriculture whereas in the urban areas, many make a living from running businesses or working as civil servants for the government. Cameroon has been blessed with great natural diversities. There’s so much to see and explore. Cameroon is Africa in miniature: with the Sahara Desert to the north, savannah plains, the equatorial forest to the south, the great mountain range running right across the country and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. And what’s more, Cameroon is inhabited by a mixture of 254 different tribes (each with its own traditions and cultural heritage) living peacefully together. This truly accounts for our immense cultural varieties. Then you’ve got hills and mountains with Mt. Fako standing out –

the highest peak in Central and West Africa… And I just happened to be living in Buea, a town situated at the foot of the mountain, when Mt. Fako erupted. Fortunately, the lava flown towards the Ocean and the damage was limited. I also lived in Douala, economic capital, in Limbe, which is a coastal town in Yaoundé (the administrative capital), and many other towns. But I treasure the memory of Buea and the great Mt. Fako, with its peak towering into the skies, stretching along the horizon like a great wall, the place where all roads meet their end.

I’ve travelled a lot, partly as a result of my mother’s constant transfers and also because I always did spend my summer breaks with an uncle or aunt in a different part of the country. As to my family, I’ve got four great mums, three dads and many brothers and sisters. This is because we practice the extended family system. And so all my aunts are my mothers (It’s not polite to call your mother’s sister ‘aunty’ or your mother’s brother ‘uncle’). The family bond is very strong and as such, your aunts and uncles treat you no differently from their own son. So I have a biological brother, but I spent big part of my life with cousins and my grandma. Thus the reason why they are to me ‘brothers and sisters’. The extended family system is not practised by all families back home, it’s a choice the families make and there are many who maintain a simple family system. Hence, we’re unfamiliar with the problem of isolation of the older generation from the younger one because of the simple fact that to us grandparents are necessity.

I was a Biochemistry student at the time I got a scholarship to study medical science in Poland. It’s my goal to assist women back home as a gynaecologist. So, having fastened my belt and buckled my shoes, I’m now following the road slowly and bravely to its end.

First days in Poland weren’t easy at all. A lot of things were different for me (but that of course was to be expected. It only added more mystery and challenges to this new adventure!). And the greatest of challenges was and is still the “języka polskiego”. You see, in the beginning, all I heard was a “PszPszPszzpszpsz…” kind of sound when someone spoke to me in Polish. I couldn’t distinguish words in a sentence. To my poor ears, a sentence just sounded like one long word. And what’s more, women and girls speak faster than their male peers here. So it was always tough to understand what they were talking about. Like with all languages, time and exercise is a great asset in learning.

Living in “cold” Poland, away from my family, and yet discovering a whole new culture, new people with a rich history, and trying to see the world through their eyes has been very enriching. Nonetheless, I must add that there have been some “down” experiences too. Persistent overt attacks and insults from those we now know as “skinheads” are not uncommon. As for the cold, it can be summed up in the Polish phrase “Polska jest za zimna, ale Polki są za gorące” (Poland is too cold, but Polish women are too hot)! No offence intended!

 
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