Monday, April 14, 2014


Local Public Toilets in Buea. Only cost 50 francs to relieve oneself inside!

Church service.
Long church service.
Very very long church service…

-- Comedy break --

“Time for something to spice things up a bit since we are all falling asleep,” the speaker announced.

A young man strutted to the podium and held the microphone confidently in both hands. He flashed a smile and launched into his comedic interlude.

“In this life we live there are two things involved
Either you are a man or a woman.
If you are a woman you are saved,
If you are a man there are two things involved,
Either you are a civilian or you are in the military.
If you are a civilian you are saved
If you are in the military there are two things involved
Either you are in the office or you are at the war front.
If you are in the office you are safe
If you are at the war front there are two things involved.
Either you kill somebody or somebody kills you.
If you kill somebody you are saved,
If somebody kills you there are two things involved.
Either you are buried or your body is used for manure.
If you are buried you are saved
If your body is used for manure there are two things involved.
Either you are used to grow flowers or you are used for trees.
If you are used to grow flowers you are saved
If you are used for trees there are two things involved.
Either you are used to make tissue paper or you are used to make furniture.
If you are used for furniture you are saved
If you are used for tissue paper there are two things involved.
Either you are being used by a man or a woman
If you are being used by a man you are saved
If you are being used by a woman there are two things involved.
Either she uses you from the back or she use you from the front,
If she uses you from the back you are saved
If she uses you from the front there are two things involved.
Either you contract gonorrhoea or HIV.
If you contract gonorrhoea you are safe
If you contract HIV there is only one thing involved

The young comedian up front flashed his a huge white grin. The church members all roared with laughter. The white man sat there and smiled, amused. More because of everyone else’s laughter and the situation than anything. She wasn’t sure she understood the underlying humour. Apparently everyone else did though. Even the children giggled.


Some weeks are tough. Horrible tragedies. Unfair deaths. Pain. Misery. Tears. In the midst of it all, a person has to step out, alienate themselves from the day-to-day struggles, and laugh. A few moments of relief – something to distract the mind -- from the harsh realities around. If one doesn’t laugh; one would cry.


Jordan, our dog, and I are out strolling the neighbourhood. Her fluffy curled tail and jaunty step attract all sorts of enthusiastic shouts of ‘white man dog’ from the children playing in the grass. As Jordan enthusiastically stiffs out her favourite doggy smells, she glaringly ignores the shouts. Not even a nod of her muzzle in the direction of her noisy fan club. Dogs… We pass by a small Call Box – a booth where a woman sits and sells mobile phone credit. Her little toddler rummages around under her skirts; playing with some article of hers he’s filched from her purse.

“Hey, stop that!” she suddenly notices the forbidden object and wrestles it out of his dusty hands.

“Wahhhhh!” he screams angrily, clearly upset at having his “plaything” taken away.

“Shush… quiet!” his mother warns the boy.

“Wahhhh,” he continues to cry and reaches toward mommy’s purse again.

“No, no,” she scolds.

Jordan and I begin passing the Call Box. Mom notices our approach out of the corner of her eye. “Look, dog,” she says to the crying boy and points in our direction.

He stops crying momentarily to take note of the white man and dog. His eyes blink back tears as his gaze latches onto Jordan.

“Dog,” mommy points again. Her boy watches warily from behind the safety of his mommy. Suddenly she pushes him forward toward the path Jordan and I are walking.

“Argghhh,” the boy screams in terror. He’s fascinated and yet terrified by the fluffy dog that’s as big as he is.

Mommy laughs. “Dog,” she repeats and pushes him closer to Jordan. “The dog go chop you.”

The boy tries to twist out her grasp but she only holds him in position as he squirms in fear and begins to cry again.

She laughs and points to the dog as we pass.

Behind me I can still hear the echoing laughter. I turn partially and catch sight of a relieved little boy scuttling for the safety of the Call Box table, wiping away his tears. I don’t always get the humour here. I shake my head, amused and confused.


Still strolling around in our neighbourhood, Jordan and I pass the relatively “new” public toilets. It’s a freshly constructed, cement structure with painted diagrams to depict exactly what functions are appropriate to conduct within a public toilet. The illustrations are clear – very clear in their depictions!

Cutting across the football field behind the toilets, I can’t avoid noticing a young man easing himself next to public toilet. In almost perfect imitation of the painted peeing man on the wall, the man casually empties his bladder. His posture and urine stream perfectly mimic the picture. Insignificant detail that he should be urinating inside the building rather than against the back wall!

Cameroon has two official languages. English and French. (Not to mention the 240+ tribal languages and Pidgin). Buea is a town in the Southwest region of the country. One of the Anglophone regions. There is still a heavy predominance of French in the official written communication even within Anglophone Buea.

I find it amusing to read some of the French translations in our pharmacy orders. I know what the real meanings of the words are but the English equivalents are somewhat ironic. For example:

Medications that might be termed “delayed-release” or “long-acting” are termed “retard”. Nifedipine, a blood pressure medication comes in two forms. Normal Nifedipine and Nifedipine-Retard. Ironically enough, the retard version is usually a better choice.

Recently we received some medications from a pharmacy in Douala. Laborex. Sadly, very few of the medications we ordered were actually available. In the margin next to the column of listed missing medications were the fateful words, “RUPTURE DE STOCK”. I always imagine that the missing medications have somehow exploded upon the storage shelves...


Let me bring to a close this short expose on humorous fragments of life in a foreign culture with a couple of fun Pidgin translations. Pidgin is a language unto itself. It’s a combination of English, Portuguese, smidgeon of Arabic, and some French nuances all blended together and morphed into a common language suitable for traders all over West Africa to conduct business with each other. As such, the vocabulary may be limited. The limitations in the number of different words is more than made up by the colourful descriptions of things without a name and the hand gestures and facial expressions to clarify and emphasise.

Children are lovingly called “mama” and “papa”.
“Papa, come here,” spoken by a young mother in an effort to get her two-year-old toddler to follow her was a bit confusing until I understood this terminology.

Most mother’s breastfeed here and soothe their crying youngster by giving “booby to suck”. Pacifiers are therefore rare but they are aptly referred to as “baby-shut-ups”.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine…” Proverbs 17:22

Prayers you find those small oases of humour amidst the sorrows and toils of life.

To end, a prayer of Christ’s in Pidgin:

“Papa, A want sei meik de pipul weh yu don giv-am fo mi, dem bi fo wusaid weh A bi, meik dem si hau weh yu don ono mi. Yu don giv me de ono foseika yu bin laik mi bifo heven an grong begin… A bin meik dem fo sabi yu an A go go bifo fo di meik dem fo sabi yu, so dat dem go laik pipul hau weh yu laik mi an A go bi wan wit idem.” John 17: 24 & 26