Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Female Cameroonian

This weekend I got to go back to Green Eyes orphanage for Riessa's 13th birthday party. Me, Ang, and Liz all went together after school on Friday. (We drove home with Ryan and Joell and Riessa so no more getting lost and hitting bikers.) We stopped at the store and got bread and cheese and sausage for our feast. Riessa doesn’t have a ton of friends her age, I think because she changed schools recently, so there was one girl her age. There was also a French woman who is sort of like a grandmother to the orphanage, and two Mormon missionaries who are in their 2 years of service and come visit at the orphanage quite often. I also met Olivier, a Mormon Cameroonian who is the “backbone” of Green Eyes, he lives there too and is Ryan’s eyes and ears as he knows the country and people in it. I think he’s like an assistant director. And there was a teenage boy there who is a refugee from Sudan who speaks no English or French, who Ryan and Olivier are trying to work with (although I found out today that he was stealing and leaving the gate open at the place so I don’t think he’ll be living there).

The party was nice- we sat outside and ate and talked, and everyone went around and said something they like about Riessa or something they wish for her. It was really touching to see everyone’s relationship with her and how much they care. A common theme was that Riessa would never be dependent on a man, that she would continue her education, and that she’d never settle for less than her best. Riessa, like almost all Cameroonian girls, has had some bad experiences with men, so it is impressed upon her pretty hard now that she does not need nor should she be pressured to depend on or serve a man whom she does not love. I told her that I would pray for her long after I leave Cameroon, so I’d love for you all to hold me accountable to that.

Anyways, Ryan, Riessa, Joel, and Olivier performed some dance routines for us too- Ryan used to dance and choreograph, so he taught the kids to dance and to tap. They were really good! It was an interesting thing to watch- these orphans in a poor country who have learned choreographed dance and tap routines, something most people in Cameroon will never know, and something we would consider enrichment in the states, but an enrichment that is not an opportunity of a lifetime but a convenience. Joel and Riessa had the biggest smiles as they danced to “I just wana dance with somebody” and others.

Along the lines of females in Cameroon, I had an eye opening experience on Saturday night. I went out to a coffee bar with some teachers, 2 other expats, and Ryan. While there we kinda randomly met a Cameroonian, I forget his name, let’s call him Maurice, and an Estonian (is that where princess diaries takes place?). Maurice is a basketball player. We chatted for a long time- he wanted to give me tennis lessons and have me teach him English… the problem here is that, even though it’s mostly the same with random guys at home, you can’t trust anyone. Especially men. And especially if you’re foreign. He was very nice and not pushy at all, but it makes it kind of awkward when I know that I am engaged and not interested at all, and even if I was interested, I would not be going home with anyone I met randomly, well, I wouldn’t be going home with anyone period, but you know what I mean. So we left and went to this biker bar that Ryan liked (it’s a very Americanized bar, like in Vegas) and Maurice came too. But good old Ryan helped me out and made sure I didn’t have to sit next to Maurice and get into conversations that never ended. Ryan and I have many of the same values, which is really funny because often times I’m kinda the only weird conservative, as is he in many ways. And Liz does too, so its just funny that there’s 3 of us all here together.

(A little side note: I don’t want to be crass or insensitive, but I do want to convey what I’ve been learning. So keep that in mind if I describe anything inappropriate.)

So anyways, while at the bar there was this girl dancing very inappropriately while an old white man was pouring beer all over her, all the men cheering and making comments. So this sparked a lot of conversation with my group. The thing is, yes, this happens in bars all over the states too, and although it is sad to me, its not like that far out of the norm. But, this situation was very different. For one, what she was doing was really bad. Everyone in our group was very appalled (except for Maurice, of course, who was watching intently). The main reason is because of how women are viewed and treated in Cameroon. They are not valued, they have no say, and they have no opportunity. They have almost no choice. The problem is that the dancers at bars only do this because they have no other option to make money. They sleep with old white rich men to make money (and Cameroonian men). There really is barely any alternative for these women. People were saying how strippers in the US at least have to choice to be strippers. They could get a job at McDonald’s if they wanted. They also can still hold value as people in society. Girls here are brought up to be used and devalued right from the very beginning.

Another interesting tidbit: One of the men who was up there getting a lap dance was actually a man who works for this center for gender equality or something like that. One of the people from the embassy said that he actually came to one of their seminars and taught on female empowerment (or something like that). !!!

The guy who was pouring the beer on her actually talked to us, he was the owner of the bar, and wanted Ryan to dance (because he did last time) and Ryan said he wouldn’t because he didn’t want to support what was going on. The owner was actually really calm and nice as he explained that there’s no nudity at this place, unlike most other Cameroonian places, and that “this is a biker bar, what would you expect? It’s no different than in the states.” He actually made some good points. Not that I think he’s justified. But I guess what we were so appalled about is that what we saw is just a representation of the life of a Cameroonian female.

To help explain the situation: the girl that came to Riessa’s party, Joyce- her mother was in a polygamous marriage (to a wealthy man) where she was beaten. She decided she had enough and took Joyce and left. She was ostracized by the whole family (all the other wives). She and Joyce lived literally in a hole in the wall. With rats. This mom had the strength to get out, but to go where? The alternative isn’t much better. And this is so common here. What was she to do? Stay in a polygamous marriage and get beaten but have essentials? Or take her daughter and live basically on the streets? They are doing much better now though, still struggling, but making it. I’m not sure how.

It’s just so different- girls are sexually abused all the time, beatings are commonplace, and they can only really make money by playing up their sexuality, except that’s all they’re valued for.

This is all based off of my observations, stories I’ve heard, and what other people have told me. I could be off base here, but there’s still no denying that it’s a hard life.

But that’s one reason I really want to pray for Riessa, that she can overcome it and make a difference for other girls like her.

No comments:

Post a Comment