Returning Home Part Two: The Struggle is Real, Everywhere
I’ve been home exactly a month now. Along with the joyous reunions come the far from joyous realities. I’ve spent as much time correcting my fellow Cameroonians misconceptions of life abroad as I have spent correcting my own expectations of home.
Between the time I prepared to come home and my arrival I received three requests for me to buy IPhones, four requests for me to buy human hair and countless requests for particular designers shoes and clothes. Le impossible n’est pas Camerounaise. That statement is the only justification I can find for why people would think as a student on scholarship I could afford to buy any of those things as gifts. Now that I’m back home however I realize how easy it is for Cameroonians to feel like those things are casual easily gotten commodities in the west. Despite our country's HIPC status the growing middle-class population increasingly sport smart phones, rock imported everything- from clothes to hair. All these bought either second hand in the many “container shops” or brand new but definitely not at the same price and VAT presented to those in more developed countries. So I find myself addressing misconceptions, attempting to make those with lofty expectation understand that the struggle is real everywhere.
“Yes iPhones are popular but you just don’t enter a shop and buy one. Most people take contracts to pay for their phones monthly.”
“Human hair? I would need to buy at least three packets for you to be able to actually do your hair. If I had that money to give you, why wouldn’t I just help pay your fees? Or rents for three months?”
And finally “Honestly, if I gave you 50.000frs today and showed you the dress you asked for, would you buy it for that amount? Why then would you believe I would buy for you what you wouldn’t buy for yourself?”
Another misconception that has to be corrected given the idea that the grass is always greener in the West and that one “returns only to visit”. For every new reunion I go through the same process.
Acquaintance: How long are you here for?
Me: I’ve returned home
Acquaintance: Yes but when are you going back?
Me: I’m not going “back”, not unless I have a conference or something. I’ve returned home for good.
Acquaintance: Why? You get work? (Pidgin English for ‘Do you have a job?’)
Me: (Completely ignoring the why) Nope. Not yet. Still looking for work
Acquaintance: Hmm you should go back ooh. E dey like sey you like suffa (Loosely translated: You seem to have a penchant for pain)
Me: Well I prefer to suffer here than there, suffa dey all side ya (Loosely translated: There's suffering everywhere)
At this point whoever I am talking with either laughs in my face or shakes their head in pity.
Correcting the misconception that there is literally no suffering in the West is much more difficult than correcting misconceptions of the returnee being able to afford three rounds of drinks at every reunion.Yet the misconception needs to be corrected and the truth needs to be told; the struggle is real everywhere. You just have to choose what struggles you can cope with.
Some people will happily take up the apathy of a foreign land. To them that is preferable to the corruption of Cameroonian police and other government officials, the unemployment or underemployment depending on who you know rather than what you know, the bad roads and careless drives that make up the transport system, the society that while allowing you to be free, never allows you to be all you can be.
Others would prefer the feeling of belonging, the possibility (no matter how slim) of achieving certain career aspirations which are only possible in your home country, the Communalism evident with monthly 'njangi' meetings, the sure knowledge that no matter what you will never lack a place to sleep or food to eat... They choose this over better health care, more reliable institutions, more accountable and transparent systems. They choose home no matter if home is a thatched roof and elsewhere has marble tiles.
We may trade one for the other, but we struggle no matter where we are. I guess the difference is some of us prefer to struggle in the bosom of Family and friends who we can always count on and of course, to struggle for the country that is actually ours.
No matter what we choose, C’est la vie.