It was like Minnesota in the summer, only rendered more naked underneath the sweltering sun, our hearts laid bare before the earth and our brothers.
In Cameroon, you could hide nothing. The heat drew forth every smell and sound; it wearied one’s body until every emotion was left raw and exposed and utterly… free. Free from cover, free from excuse and void of pretense.
It was simply too hot to care.
And though the cities I visited in Africa were larger than the villages I knew from my homeland, they were strikingly similar. Three commonalities spring to my mind ahead of the others:
- The people were honest: a person’s intent shone through his face
- The people were kind-hearted, warm, inviting and sharing — this was most likely due to the economic situation, or perhaps due to the natural instinct to give another person shelter from extreme weather
- Cell phone reception was terrible
…or at least worse in rural Minnesota than it was in the sparsely-populated mountains of Cameroon
This is one of my memories from travelling to Cameroon, located in West Africa, back in the (Roman Calendar) year two-thousand-fifteen. Or sixteen. I can’t recall precisely, and it doesn’t really matter.
Cameroon Reminded Me of Minnesota in the Summer
In Kumba, lovingly nicknamed K-Town, nestled in the English-speaking part of Cameroon, I was relaxing in the family home of my sister. My soul-sister, who now lives in Bristol, UK, is originally from K-Town.
I was chatting lazily with people in the large, open living room. The heat made us all move more slowly, having taken refuge inside to escape the unrelenting African sun.
I was reminded, in that hot and foreign place, totally new to me and surrounded by muscular, toned, dark-skinned natives of that land, that this moment was suprisingly very similar to ones I had during my youth.
My family and I would spend the summers at the cabin, which was my dad’s house before he became a father. Now it was our cabin, a place to fish and swim and canoe, to enjoy the warmth of being outdoors because we preferred that to the three fuzzy channels on the small, black-and-white, box-like television in the tiny living room of the cabin.
We were always outside.
You see, the tall and leafy trees native to Minnesota gave us shade from the summer sun, and often a breeze would come in from the lake to cool us down.
My mom prepared yesterday’s newspaper and condiments: ketchup, tartar sauce, salt, pepper, and a strange mixture of the two which is called “Krazy Jane’s Salt”. I guess she was crazy because she though she could get rich selling a mixture of two common, household items.
My father would catch fish off the dock and string them there, held onto a plastic rope in the water. They stayed there, tied to the end of the dock, until he had caught enough to feed the family.
Then, he cut up the fish very quickly. He was quite skilled, with much practice. He taught me once to fillet fish, but I do not practice.
Within an hour the freshly battered and fried fish was coming out of the deep fryer basket and being dumped onto yesterday’s newspaper to cool. We never cooked inside. I think it was because it would have greased up the kitchen too much. Or maybe it was because my father liked to smoke big, fat, sweet-smelling cigars as he fried our meal.
And that’s what reminded me of Cameroon.
Here we were, a bunch of dark-skinned natives relaxing around the house before a meal. I suppose I was the only pale, white-skinned person in the house — or in the entire city — but I didn’t notice and it didn’t matter much.
It was too hot to care.
There was a man sitting outside by the fire, putting new pieces of meat on the metal grate atop the fire from a large plastic bucket beside him. It was filled with large, coarsely butchered pieces of meat. There were many flies, thick and hovering around the meat. Many of them had landed on the meat and were walking around on it.
He disregarded the flies, and they would scatter as he put his hand in the bucket to pull out another piece of meat for the fire.
In Minnesota, we kept our fish in a plastic bag, because there was a mixture of cracker crumbs and egg that we jostled the fish around in before putting it into the fryer.
And, we had sprayed our own skin thick and glistening with chemicals to keep the flies away. I don’t recall my father ever doing that. I think his cigar smoke kept the flies away, just like us kids.
The meat would come off the fire one by one as it was cooked, just like the fish would be shaken out of the basket when it was done cooking.
We all escaped the hot, summer sun — whether under the trees in Minnesota or the clay and cement houses built in Kumba. We ate together, we talked, we laughed, we shared stories and asked questions.
That is how similar Kumba is to my home town.