Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Greetings from Cameroon - the final chapter, by Geoff Holmes

Teke – A great village with a strong water committee
Carine and Cathrine – Two of our friends in Kumba.
These two sisters helped us in so many ways,
as Carine helped us with making traditional
Cameroonian dishes and Cathrine aided as well.
So how do you bring 10 weeks of experiences into one thought? 10 weeks of living with a people so different, and yet so similar to you? What has that time meant for me, and am I the same person that boarded a plane in Dayton International on May 24th?

I could speak of the readily visible: the structures, the houses, the water supply, the roads, the telecommunications, etc.

I could speak of how American and Western culture can spread even to the smallest villages in rural Cameroon, yet American culture welcomes very little influence from even European countries such as France.

I could speak of the known corruption, from the top all the way to the bottom.

I could speak of the unwritten privileges of being a white male in an African nation with a history of European colonization fresh in the minds of all.

I could speak of how European and American companies can take from this nation rich in natural resources but give very little to the men working the farms.

I could speak of all that and more. But for me, when people ask me about the nation of Cameroon, I want to think of the people. For myself, one of the most influential things is gaining new perspectives. And the people I lived with for 10 weeks gave me a whole new view on life. And perhaps I learned to ask the most valuable question: Why?

Why do Americans place so much attention and importance on time? One of the first things I noticed when I landed in Atlanta was the shear pace of everyone around me. Granted, Atlanta International is incredibly busy with connections spaced minutes apart, but I couldn’t help but notice just how FAST everyone was walking. In my 10 weeks, I became very familiar with what we called the “Cameroonian walk”. A slow stroll that says, “We will get to where I need to be, but let’s take our time and share a conversation.” The “American walk” is very purposeful and direct, and says “we need to make it there as quick as possible, and this walk is simply a task to get us there.”

Kumba Cafeteria – Perhaps our best (favorite) place for chop
(food) in the morning. Spaghetti noodles with eggs, tomatoes,
onions, and spices all mixed into one, along with a
baguette and tea… all for 500 francs ($1.00).
Such an awesome little hole in the wall.
Why does America see downtime as bad? One of the most enjoyable aspects of Cameroon was being able to relax. Instead of cursing the weather when it rained in the morning, as most Americans would, in Cameroon you accept it as part of life. You welcome the rain as an opportunity to stay indoors, to read a book, to spend time with your family. If rain keeps you from coming in to work, that’s okay. Work will get done when it gets done.

Why do Americans not slow down and enjoy one another’s company? It is not uncommon to take a small part of the afternoon off to go get a sweet (soft drink) with an old friend and just talk. No rush. And when you go out for a round of drinks with friends, it’s never about how many bottles you take. It’s about who you take the bottles with. And don’t worry about being in a car when you see a familiar face: pull off to the side and talk with them. It has hit me how little we stop to say hello to one another on our way to different places. We’re always too busy, we’re always on the go in our cars, and we simply have too many things to do to slow down.

I have been shaped in countless ways as an engineer by this trip, but I’m more surprised at the ways I have been changed as a person by this experience. After this trip, I have made it a conscious effort for myself to slow down, both mentally and literally with the mindset to walk a Cameroonian pace. I am trying to give my friends and family quality time, to make them the focus of my day. It is not easy. There is no way to ignore 23 years of upbringing in America. But I know of a different way, a new perspective, and I have the Cameroon people to thank for that.

Nearing the end of the trip, numerous people asked me when or if I would return. While I can’t say for certain whether I’d come back to Cameroon in particular, I can say for certain that my trip to Cameroon has wetted my appetite for adventure. My time there has made me curious: how is life in Ghana, South Africa, and Togo similar or different? What about life in Europe? And why is life so different in western countries?

I have found a new home in Kumba, Cameroon. A home filled with people who will say “I do not have much in my house, but come and share a meal with me.” A place where time is to be spent with family and friends.

Cameroon welcomed us with open arms. And for that I thank them. Certainly, this is a trip I will never forget.

Geoff Holmes; Civil Engineer, FE; GHS grad; University of Dayton '10 graduate


I would like to thank all of you, the readers, for following my postings for the past weeks! It has been wonderful to hear so much feedback from my family of all the friends who would comment on the postings. It has helped to make chronicling my experiences that much more worth it.

If you would like to view any past article on the darkejournal website, you can view them through the archive. The archive can be found on the left hand bar approximately two-thirds down the page. From here, you can view articles posted each month, including postings of 2009.

To aid in viewing some of my past postings, here the html addresses of my past writings. Thanks again for reading!

1) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/06/greetings-from-cameroon-first-in-series.html
2) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/06/greetings-from-cameroon-aprt-2-in.html
3) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/06/greetings-from-cameroon-part-3-in.html
4) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/06/greetings-from-cameroon-part-3.html
5) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/06/greetings-from-cameroon-part-4.html
6) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/07/greetings-from-cameroon-part-5.html
a. http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/07/photos-of-cameroon-from-geoff-holmes.html (pictures from #6)
7) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/07/hello-again-from-kumba-cameroon-we-had.html 
8) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/07/geetings-from-cameroon-part-6.html
9) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/07/greetings-from-cameroon-part-7.html
10) http://www.darkejournal.com/2010/08/greetings-from-cameroon-part-7.html


  1. Geoff, I have very much enjoyed your writings and pictures of your stay in Cameroon. Part of the reason for my interest is that 10 years ago my wife and I made a two week trip to Nigeria. Nigeria sounds so similar to Cameroon -- the slower pace, the disregard of deadlines, the priority of spending time with friends and family.

    I remember a time we drove by a home at about 10:30 or 11:00PM. Even though it was late, our escort said it was important that we stop to visit. Our escort explained that if those residents learned that he had driven by without stopping they would have been hurt and offended.
    When we knocked on the door, our hosts stopped what they were doing, provided us with cold sodas reserved for such an occasion, and welcomed us warmly.

    Like you, the two of us were changed by this short, two week adventure to another continent. Admittedly we were sometimes exasperated by the extreme slow pace and disregard for schedules. However, I realized here in the U.S. we are practically ruled by our schedules. Also, we sometimes place too much importance on some things that are really quite trivial.

    So, perhaps there is a middle ground somewhere. All of us could benefit by getting away for awhile to experience something totally different.

    Thanks for the opportunity to read about your journey.

  2. The slow paced life style is thought-provoking to me. We certainly are fast-paced and time-centric in the U.S. People that take a slower approach to life are considered lazy or unmotivated. On the positive side, the American drive has made us quite an accomplished country. We are one of the world leaders in nearly every topic you can name. The idea of American “exceptionalism” keeps us from accepting second-best. We’ve had plentiful and readily available clean drinking water for decades. Our highway system allows for travel at 65+ mph, and only in the worst weather conditions do we worry about being able to get anywhere we may want to go. Overall, we enjoy a very high standard of living. We keep our homes clean and free from pests, we enjoy many luxuries, and although sadly a percentage of people do go hungry in this country, we have resources in place that make sure nobody will ever starve. Diseases that are major problems in other countries are unheard of here. Our advanced communications keep us connected to each other and the world.

    In these poor developing African countries it would seem they have so little. The things we take for granted would be seen there as fantastic treasures there. To a certain extent, their slower pace has to be inhibiting developmental progress. Despite this, it sounds as though they truly value what matters most. How would our lives be different if we were never too busy to accommodate our friends and family? Who really leads richer lives? Which group of people are happier and more fulfilled?

    I don’t propose to know the answers, but Geoff’s writings and JP’s comments certainly give me a lot of questions.


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