We all know fashion trends vary around the globe. Japan’s got it’s own brand of weird that I can’t even begin to get into, America might be the only place where ‘camo’ is a fashionable category of clothing, and I assume Norway holds a special place in its heart for Viking-inspired sportswear (but who really knows what Norwegians do, anyways?)
Cameroonians manage to bring together Western wear and traditional wear and most of the time, I get it. Throw on some jeans and a wrappa top. Sport your fular headwrap while rocking a mini-skirt. Don some heels and sashay away in your caba and fake prada purse. You don’t go out in a un-pressed shirt or unshined shoes, unless you want to be seen as poor. Holes and stains? Not okay, unless you’re a village mami or manual laborer headed to the farm.
One fashion trend still leaves me scratching my head, though. Somehow, someway, Cameroon fell victim to the coke nail.
Once only know as a trend among American pimps, the coke nail has risen anew in Africa in Miniature. Despite living in a place filled with garbage, people relieving themselves by the side of the road while I pass, and horrible mistreatment of much of its population, Cameroon’s coke nail problem is the only thing I’ve found here that has chilled me to my core. I cannot physically bring myself to look at one without feeling a lump rise in my throat, like I’ll soon need to hurl.
The coke nail is typically a male thing. Sometimes they choose to grow the pinky nail, other times, the thumb. Occasionally, you’ll see variety, but you can almost guarantee these two nails as the nails of choice. The length these nails reach make fake acrylics look humble and demure. Because it’s Cameroon, everything over time become soiled and tinted the color of the dirt that surrounds it, the coke nail being no exception. While it starts a normal color, it gradually transforms into something akin to the color of fly-paper. The thickness ain’t much off, either.
Oh, the thickness. It’s so fragile, this nail, that when my taxi driver guided his car over bumpy roads, the nail wavered and bounced along with the vehicle’s springs, the vibrations making their way the whole two inches from bed to tip.
Should he have chosen to, this driver could have patronized the closest Chinese eatery and forgone the chopsticks they’d have offered him with his meal. Just his ring finger and thumb would have been all he needed to delicately hoist each rice-y bite to his pie-hole.
Not that you’d want these things anywhere near your pie-hole, or any other mucus membrane for that matter. I imagine these nails being a near-perfect match to a Komodo dragon’s mouth. Nothing in this country is sanitary, and certainly nothing from a Cameroonian taxi man’s overgrown and underwashed nail bed. People here are not exactly know for their adherence to hygiene—Peace Corps alone has been foisting hand-washing stations upon people for the last 50 years, and yet, most people you encounter assure you that they need neither a hand-washing station nor toilet paper on their trips to the latrine. The likelihood of a be-coke-nailed man purell-ing on the daily is slim to none.
I understand their origins—what better way to prove to their world that you live in the lap of luxury than a disgustingly discolored nail hanging off you finger like a threatening talon? You see this claw? This knife of a nail? That is how little I have to work. Who could hoe a row with a thing like that digging into your palm (though, let’s get real, that thing could plow for you…)? In what world would that mass of keratin be conducive to keeping up the farm? Though the coke nail is a male-dominated game, the females are nowhere near innocent. They instead focus on their own symbol of high-breeding: the toes. Painted and primped, they proudly display via sandal little piggies whose nails reach well beyond the tips of their toes.
The country has no mercy for my gag reflex.