Bienvenue Cameroon!

When I was heading off to Cameroon the most common question I was asked was: “Ummm, where is that?” Cleverly, I’d logged on to Wikipedia where I found this helpful diagram… so now you know!

Cameroon is not a place many people have been, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating (and to my mind, more so). In fact, this country of 20 million people in a landmass the size of California is a kind of mini-Africa, with every climate represented within its borders: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest and savanna– as well as pretty much all the problems and challenges that beset the continent (and that we Westerners had a big hand in creating).

The extremely dry, extremely beautiful Nord.

In the Far North (or “L’extreme Nord” as the French poetically put it) the land is in the Sahel, the 100- to 600-mile wide swath that stretches across Africa and lies between the Sahara to the north, and the savanna grasslands to the south. This is the poorest part of Cameroon, the least educated, the hottest, the driest and oddly, the most populous, with a population that’s exploded 37% in the last 12 years.

In the south, the land is wet, fertile, and home to equatorial rainforests, rich plantations of timber, bananas, cocoa and rubber, coastal ports, and Cameroon’s biggest trade center in Douala and the capital city of Yaounde. Though the South is primarily Christian and the North has many Muslims, there is religious harmony in Cameroon and a long (though repressive and corrupt) history of political stability since Cameroon gained independence, after 45 years of colonialism, from France and Britain in 1961 – a year I actually remember.

It’s a young country, and although the poverty index is heart-breakingly high (the average income is $538/year – but only $220 in the Far North), the people are filled with energy and purpose. At 6 a.m., the streets are packed with folks of all ages going to work and school, and the place is jumping – no matter where you are.

And naturally, the people of Cameroon are gorgeous.

I wasn’t expecting to love Cameroon – or to get to see so much of it, but luckily we missed our plane the first day (totally not my fault), and so I ended up seeing far more of the country than was originally planned. I found myself mesmerized by both the lush South and the sere Far North, grieved by the wretched poverty I witnessed, and captivated by some of the strangest Heifer livestock projects I’ve ever seen.

It was a beautiful, wild ride – can’t wait to take you there!  

Oh … and I’m a little bit tired of doing all the work on this blog (tee hee!) so here’s my latest offer: You write me one question that you really want answered about Cameroon (or about my biggest travel challenge, or my shoe size, or my worst hotel experience) and I’ll do a whole Readers’ Twenty Questions post with all my responses. Game on!

Categories: Africa, Cameroon, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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48 thoughts on “Bienvenue Cameroon!

  1. Betty! I love this–can’t wait to hear about Cameroon. My question about you, if it is even possible to evaluate this right now (and if it doesn’t exhaust you more!): How are you changing, in even the tiniest of ways, and what is one thing you wish you knew years ago about yourself/about the world?

  2. In all your travels w/ Heifer have you seen any work with camels? Is anyone making camel milk cheese?

    • Hi Denise! I was dying to go to Tanzania where Heifer does have some camel projects (because I heard a great story on NPR about a camel farm in Holland where they produce camel’s milk that is apparently insanely nutritious and good for you) … but I’m not going there this year. Boo hoo… I will find out if they’re making cheese from the milk in TZ!

      • I think travelling outside the US is a life changing opportunity…at least it was for me. Betty, You have a unique opportunity to share w/ thousands (;-) of readers what that is like…what protecting “our way of life” means to other people. How do you address the enormous inequality that you witness?

  3. Here’s my question: How many of the 200+ languages in Cameroon have you heard? The signs in one photo you posted look like what they call Camfranglais!

    Beautiful young girls and I am struck by how perfect their teeth are.

  4. Looking forward to hearing more about Cameroon and why the Heifer projects there are so different!
    PS Just loved your using “sere”. Such a great word:)

  5. Oh Wanderer, I’m so happy you like “sere” as much as I do .. of course, wordpress spell check made me try to change it to “sear” … SO not the same!!

  6. I would like to know what you think the hardest part of your Heifer travels has been so far. batting bureaucracy for visas? being a food wimp? leaving people behind? I’m quite curious!

  7. Karen

    I love your photography and your blogs…I read it religiously. Please tell us more about the Heifer projects in Cameroon.

  8. Anonymous

    In what way have your journeys this year with Heifer changed you personally?

  9. I love these pictures as I see happy, colorful people and not undernourished. I think Africa will become the next United States, rich in land n resources n people, not with their present situations you describe.?? Do they have any semblance of states or nation over there n working together to build a united area? Trade, monies, supplies, etc.?

  10. Obviously a long time in the future, I don’t mean to sound so Pollyanna I just see charges happening more rapidly. Thanks

    • Well, Kim — I do feel optimistic about Africa, but I have to say that I saw a LOT of malnutrition on this trip and it was really pretty awful. Many of the people I met (whose stories I will share later) are struggling so hard, against such odds, just to feed their children — much less educate them. And they are fighting the climate, too — which is the terrible wild card in the equation. I am totally impressed with the energy and will and hope that I feel in Africa … but they need help with infrastructure on every level (roads, railways, water, electricity, all the basics) and that has to be provided by the government working with the international community. If we can help that happen .. and support programs like Heifer’s that empower people to improve their own economic situations and communities, I DO feel as if things can change faster than we even hope!!

  11. Renita

    I am wondering if you have heard of the project where volunteers make dresses for little girls. There are at least two that I know of and others as well that have a religious component to them. I have nothing against anyone’s religion, just feel strongly that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and should not have to bend to someone else’s in order to be helped with basic needs. That all being said, I would love a way to help provide these dresses to little girls, no strings attached, and wondered if you had any insight…thanks, I am really enjoying your blog. It is the one thing I look forward to each day on the computer!

  12. Martha Radatz

    Religious harmony and political stability after the end of colonial rule?! And for 45 years? That’s remarkable! What was done RIGHT in that process?
    That wasn’t really my *question*. It’s: What is something you didn’t pack early on, but wished you had, and now never forget? Also, what small thing have you brought as a gift for those special circumstances when you want to thank someone you’ve met on your travels?

  13. Well, unfortunately, I believe the answer to that first question is a pretty totalitarian president in the form of Mr. Biya and his predecessor. Biya’s been in power since the early 80s… and the country is quite corrupt, and the government hasn’t responded well at ALL to the economic crisis that beset the country in the 80s and continued through the late 90s. However, it’s not in a civil war, and there are roads between cities — which is something big in Africa. In terms of religion, I think tribal differences mean a lot more to the people than religious differences, but again — very refreshing to see no evidence of
    discrimination or hatred between Muslims and Christians! Your question is totally on the list!!

  14. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Martha beat me to the exact same question. How do they keep their religious differences apart, but the word “tribal” answered it all. Corrupt government is also a problem, but in the big picture our government is corrupt also. I do follow your blogs everyday and sorry comments from me are not always forth coming. Politics, I learned as a child in a politically divided household, is something I keep to myself unless drunk! Which is always the wrong time for me to open my mouth Ha!! I have seen the wonderful things Heifer has done. I look at the barren north and look forward to hearing what plan was made. The fertile area appears to be great for farming. Do they send excess produce north to help feed the starving? Another bigger question, why is the north most populated? I would assume their are more jobs in the fertile area. Of course I accuse my husband all the time of what assuming things create!! Anyway, Bonnie I can imagine it gets tiring to try and figure out what we readers are looking for. You haven’t disappointed me yet!

    • THANKS, Deb — and I always look forward to your comments — Your questions are great, and I totally agree about talking politics … here in Georgia I’m pretty much always on the other side of the argument so I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut unless I’ve had a few glasses of wine. Yikes! Your questions are on the list!!

  15. Okay, I’m going to ask a totally silly question, but it involves one of my biggest struggles when doing humanitarian aid in developing countries. I find the heat hard to bear. Especially when there is no ac or sometimes even electricity. In those cases, what have you done to stay cool? And one more–what kind of “tool kit” do you travel with–if any–i.e. flashlight, medicines, comfort foods, batteries? In other words, what do you travel with “just in case?”
    Hugs,
    Kathy

  16. Susan

    Also a somewhat silly question Betty, but wondering what’s the single strangest thing you’ve seen either in Cameroon or on the whole voyage – either of the edible, or allegedly edible, variety, or anything else that you were taken aback by? I remember a couple of meals in the hinterlands in Japan where we never did figure it out…

  17. Not a silly question at ALL … and it’s definitely going on the list! I love how much you’ve traveled in the developing world with Sara .. and so you really get what it’s all about. Can’t wait to do this 20 Questions blog!

  18. Jeff

    Betty, this may seem like an odd or twisted question, but it’s really not given how much we take this for granted here in the U.S. and in many countries around the world—-What are the toilet facilities like in each of the countries to which you have traveled? This is such a common human need but most probably not as private and comfortable as we enjoy here?

    • Deb Morrow Palmer

      How hard it must be for people who never traveled to a truly 3rd world country. It is definitely an eye opener to simple things like how much water we allow to go down the drain when other countries have to collect and cherish every drop.

    • Not odd, not twisted — a great question, Jeff as it’s fundamental to travel, and to everyday life. It’s on the LIST!

  19. Betty, I am loving your blog insights, the pictures and the commentary and especially the feedback from readers. My question is; you are being well received, but how welcome are ‘foreign’ ideas in these various countries? Part of the cause of the poverty that ‘requires’ Heifer to be active is due to foreign interference, isn’t it? I am most certainly not downing the Heifer programs, which seem to be very tailored to the local needs, just wonder if eventually Heifer sees itself ‘out of a job’?
    Thanks

  20. Emile

    I directed to your blog from a group member of KIVA through which we make micro credit loans in Cameroon.As a Cameroonian who has living in the US i immediately checked it out and so far i am impressed.As you know the country and been poorly managed by the politicians what can the local people do to improve their lot. Heifer and KIVA are good initiatives and God knows we need all the help we can get but there must be something local that can be improved upon to alleviate poverty. May be i am wrong but what do you think.

  21. Love the question: it’s on the list!

  22. Hi Betty,
    I’ve been enjoying reading about your journey and living vicariously through you since Guatemala. You’ve got some great questions here and I can’t wait to read the answers! Here’s mine. I’m a big believer that educating girls and helping women have productive employment is a key to ending poverty. Where have you seen significant efforts being made to engage women and girls as equal stakeholders and conversely, where does more focus need to be put on women’s involvement?
    Thanks for doing what you’re doing to bring awareness to so many of us!

  23. You’re a peach to follow so closely … and that’s a GREAT question! (and on the list!)

  24. Are you up to 20 yet ?

    Betty, my question would be: “What are the effects of climate change in Cameroon ?”

  25. I guess I’m too late for the question part, but I was struck by the fact that twenty million people live in a country that most outsiders couldn’t find on a map and think very little about. Betty, your blog is such an education and provides such a broad perspective, yet it’s also very personal. The photographs are incredible. And I’ve finally figured out what it is about the faces you’ve been showing us from all over the world. I used to think that they all look happy, but it’s more than that: they look awake.

  26. Thanks so much, Charles. And your comment reminds me of one of my favorite stories: When the Buddha was asked if he was God, he said No. If he was the Christ? No. If he was the Messiah? No. So, they asked — well, who are you? And he said .. I am awake.

    • Deb Morrow Palmer

      I soo love Buddha’s remark, I am awake. That was a remarkable comment bronxboy55 made about the faces you capture in your photographs, looking awake!! I feel our society has created robotic people in their everyday “take for granted”, lives. I catch myself when driving, and allowing my mind to wander, I will end up at work or somewhere I drive often; not to the place I intended. OK maybe some of it is my age!! Ha!

      • I think it’s got everything to do with technology, and how everybody is now doing about 3 times the work they used to … we are so absent and not present in our lives, and particularly in our surroundings. But when you farm, you are exquisitely aware of the weather, of seeds and plants and animals and I think it probably does make you more keenly alive and connected to the natural world. But .. I just find the people in each country I visit SO SO beautiful, don’t you?? xoxoxo b

      • Deb Morrow Palmer

        I find the people beautiful also. Everywhere you have gone. Their faces are beautiful and show a strength spirit liveliness “awake”. Might be the excitement of seeing change actually happening is part of it. I would love for you to meet all three of my incredible girls as i would love meeting yours someday. Thanks again for this great adventure you are sharing.

  27. Anne Orndahl

    Is malaria a problem in Cameroon?

  28. Ooops, missed the Questions post but for sure I’ll answer anyhow — YES, it is a big problem; people generally get it once or twice a year. A Peace Corps volunteer who signed up for another two years, working with Heifer, said he’d had it four times. When kids get it, in particular, it can kill them. Cholera has also made a comeback here … due to the lack of potable water. Very challenging health wise (and of course, I didn’t even think to bring my anti-malaria pills..

  29. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Your comment that we westerners being responsible for the political state of affairs in Africa is understated. “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver{?} opened my eyes to our politics with 3rd world countries. I have a wonderful daughter who keeps me politically aware of our countries failures!! Ha!! Although I am glad it is my country and I live here!!

    • Loved that book, Deb- and I don’t even remember it being political!! But I know your daughter is a keen observer of life around the globe…
      I can’t wait to meet her someday!!

  30. Pingback: Heifer 12 x 12 Cameroon Round-Up | Heifer Blog

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