The South and the South

It’s college football season, and I reckon’ there ain’t nothing on this earth that makes me miss a fall Saturday in Athens, Georgia more than knowing the Bulldogs are playing ball more than 4000 miles away from anywhere I’ve been in a long while. That and pumpkin spice lattes.

Luckily, Cameroon packs its own version of the Dirty South. The South region of the ‘Roon is known for two things, mostly: it’s got practically nobody living there, and the people that do are downright ornery.

I was warned half a dozen times en route to Ambam, a friend’s post near the Equatorial Guinean/Gabonese border, that I would need to gird my loins for what lay ahead. In an effort to not mince words, the simple instructions of “do not show fear” were tossed out during a pit-stop in the region’s capital between bites of rice and beans.

We kept a running tally during my visit of how many men approached us to ask for my hand in marriage. Bus depots proved to be the most fruitful, skyrocketing my stock exponentially as the count went from nil to seven in a little under ten minutes, including a brief appeal during a phone call from a man who knew my host from the regional capital and had seen us waiting for our bus transfer. We walked away with thirteen outright proposals during my 48 hour stint, nothing to be ashamed of but still a little low for my liking, as anything less than two dozen makes me feel I’m off my game.

Twerking in a market-place is not typically a light bulb moment for people, I assume. And for those it is, certainly not a moment where they think “I finally know what I’m doing with my life”. But there I was, breaking it down in front of literally hundreds of people as a response to market mamis slinging a constant barrage of insults and “la blanche”s my way. Two years of this place has taught me that the quickest way to a Host Country National’s heart is either buying them a drink or making them laugh. Those same two years have taught me nothing, and I mean nothing, makes a Cameroonian laugh harder than a white person attempting to dance. As predicted, the teasing ceased and instead the calls of “my sister” and “marry my son” trailed me out of the vegetable section.

Somewhere between my second beer of the night by candlelight and yelling full-out about racial relations in my broke-ass French I realized that perhaps the South of Cameroon, much like the Southern United States, isn’t so much backwards as it is misunderstood. Sure, I was literally being screamed at by the man across the table from me, but who wasn’t screaming at the table? How else could we be heard above the din of the darkened bar? And how could you hate someone who, after bellowing for half an hour, offers the entire table another round of suds?

The South and the South would get along well, I suppose. We’d bring the moonshine and they’d bring the palm wine and together we’d sit around a well-built fire as someone’s knuckleheaded uncle made an incoherent point about politics. We’d explain the Dawgs and they the Lions and we’d paint our faces black and silver and red and green and yellow and cheer loudly even when our teams lost. Deer, squirrel and raccoon would pair nicely with snake, forest antelope, and porcupine, though all fall into the category of things I’d rather leave up to others to snack on until they could find a way to smoke ‘em, pull ‘em, and cover ‘em in a vinegar sauce. When it was all done with we’d sit and stargaze and stay up too late. And we’d wash it all down with pumpkin spice lattes.

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