Self-Trafficking, Modern Slavery or the Wrong sort of Bushfalling
Two years ago around this same month, I had a conversation with a friend. We had only recently met. She had just returned to Cameroon after having been on a cultural exchange program coordinated by the US Embassy in Cameroon. Of six Cameroonians sent to the USA on that exchange program, my friend was the only one to return. Her family and friends in the US could not believe she was returning home. They told her she was being foolish. They, even those living in the US illegally asked her “what are you returning to do?” Others said “I hope you don’t think we’ll continue helping you as you go back again…” They spoke as though it was they who had paid her way rather than this fellowship she applied for and won. Nonetheless she returned home.
Two years later she has quit the job she’d had upon arrival. Her knowledge threatened her male counterparts and given the industry she was in, she was the lone woman. She in turn felt threatened. Leaving that job was hard, but she felt she had to do it and was skilled enough to take the risk. She has been job hunting for a while now and wherever she goes to and shows her certificates from here and the training she received from the USA, she gets the question “Why did you come back? You should have stayed na?”
My friend’s case is not unique. Even I, on a scholarship that has a pre-requisite clause boldly stating that you MUST return to you home country gets asked “Why you no wan stay for dey?” It is a fact, Bushfalling is the Cameroonian dream just as having capitalism work for you is the American dream.
Do we need proof? Here’s some examples: You hear your friend is getting married and ask about her intended who is he, what does he do? The answer you get: He’s a Bushfaller. That is all. He is a Bushfaller. That title is an occupation, like Pastor’s wife or 1st Lady. It comes with prestige and dignity without one ever knowing what exactly the person with that title does.
More proof? Well you just need to go see the long lines at Surete Nationale in Yaounde for people making passports, at embassies, and in front of cybercafes when it’s time to play the DV Lottery all in hopes of leaving the country. You can look at the long waiting list for foreign exams like TOEFL or IELTS. But most of all, the most obvious proof of our desperate Bushfalling Cameroonian dream? The fact that in metropoles like Douala, Yaounde, Buea and Bamenda town have “agencies” ever increasing (almost equal in number with bars) offering to sending you “abroad” to countries like Chile, the Philippines, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Vietnam, Thailand, Kuwait and Lebanon.
You see our people have gotten tired of going to the American, British and Canadian embassies and losing money in form of visa fees and bank statements to prove they will go and study, not work blab la bla. Our brothers and sisters now want reassurance that they will actually get that visa board that flight and begin working immediately to come home in December as a Bushfaller and show that “God has blessed them” and “they too have arrived”.
Some may say I sound a little high handed writing about this because I’m in the UK on a scholarship or had the benefit of traveling before even that. They would be wrong. I have been one of the people who wanted ot leave the country at all costs. I have been rejected for a visa, twice. But I like to think I realized my country wasn’t the worst and learned to take an honest look and appreciate it, thinking how I can fix it rather than run away from it.
Again this might not be an option to someone who is desperate because they have dependents. But here’s the thing, is it that they have no options, or is it that they do not like the options they were given?
I am writing about this after reading the news/ testimonies of girls enslaved in Kuwait and Lebanon. As I write to you have two friends in Lebanon in similar circumstances. I cannot tell you for sure if they are treated as poorly at the girls who testified are. But I can tell you for sure that they went to that country with their eyes wide open. They had options here, but preferred to “fall bush” because a foreign currency is always higher than ours even in a country that should be constantly in a state of emergency.
Today as I read about the women I thought of the countless adverts these agencies put up in school zones right in the midst of the young and impressionable. I admire the agencies though, they aren’t evil. They tell you directly that you are going to be given service jobs. You are going to be a house-help in Saudi Arabia. They tell you they will take your passport upon arrival and you will work and repay the cost of the flight and visa before going on with your life there. You are told bluntly. Heck, it’s even advertised on the national television station- CRTV. But still people go because to them; anywhere is better than Cameroon, they need to go “try” their luck, it can’t be so bad, and finally because even though they know they don’t reason enough o put the knowledge to use.
You see someone who puts knowledge to use would ask the agents in these agencies “If bush fine so wetin you di do for here?”
Someone who reasons would put two and two together; if women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive bared arms etc. how much more oppressed would an imported house-help be?
A smart young person would think critically, if house-helps in Cameroon are maltreated regularly in this relatively “peaceful” country. What more of those in a country with a history of unrest such as Lebanon.
Finally, any one any rational person at all would put Cameroon on a scale with Lebanon and ask “which country has more refugees?” Right there is your answer.
But the fact is, the desperate rarely reason, take time to weigh things out. For that reason alone I felt pity when reading the testimonies of these girls and hearing the recording. I felt pity enough to sign the Change.org petition below.
But then I read the comments of those sharing it, no one seems to be asking the questions, why are they leaving to these countries with little difference form our own in GDP and worse than our own in security?
People mentioned being in shock, shaking their heads in dismay; all as though they do not see those adverts, as if they are not the same people who contribute to giving the impression that living and working abroad is a piece of cake with an occasional slice of Egusi pudding too. Reading the statements going about I wondered why we act like we aren’t all involved in this to varying degrees.
I can bet you if I write those I know in Lebanon now and ask them if they would return to Cameroon immediately if they could, those Cameroonians would say "No". They will tell you there is similar slavery in Cameroon with house-helps take from rural regions to work in cities and there is forever the family member to whom you send Moneygram digits who will tell you “my child no matter how bad it is persevere ya. God go helep you so that make you helep we”. We are all part of that trafficking ring. All of us.