The 3C’s that Changed my Views of the World
I was born in Cameroon, Central Africa in the 90s. As i grew up, i learned so many things that define me as a “Cameroonian” or an “African” today. First, i learned the language. The way we speak and pronounce or words, the ways in which we express ourselves and communicate with people. This was the beginning of an Identity that will last for a lifetime. I also learned our culture. How we greet elders and show respect for the elderly. The love for our food and music, community life and simplicity, our daily schedules and chores at home and at school. Growing up in Cameroon made me to see the world in a lesser scope because i was limited to the things i had experienced and in my mind, there was no better place on earth than Cameroon. I had little exposure to the outside world.
Yes, i read books from Western countries and i love reading. I would spend hours over a ladybird book and admired the pictures of these pretty white girls with their long curly hair. How i wished my kinky African hair could be like theirs or that i could also appear in a book like one of these princesses i read about as a child. I even used to draw images that looked like the people i read about or saw in my story books as a child. Grandpa didn’t like that because i finished the pages in my notebooks to draw “my crazy things” he would say.
In our schools, they made us study the history of Africa and the World in quite a broad scope. At least, i had knowledge about what is going on in the world and most countries around me. Some times, i will sit with older people or family friends and hear them talk about politics, world rulers, and these stories made me wonder — How do i see myself as an African or a Cameroonian?
When i was 13yrs old, i visited China. That was my very first trip out of the country. It was exciting to board a plane and be called “bush-faller” by my schoolmates; a name for those who travel abroad. I had no clue what impact this experience will have on me especially as i was more excited to be reunited with my mother after so many years. When i first arrived the Beijing International airport, I was amazed at how big and developed China was compared to my Country, Cameroon.
China is the second “C” in my life after Cameroon.
Many people did not consider China as a country worthy of praise or to visit. The notion that China is in Asia and not developed like America, France or Italy was so true in the minds of many, who had not even been to China themselves. I had some people tell me, “what are you going to do in China, Is that even a place to go visit?” Little did they know China was just a sleeping giant.
My mother, who had lived in China for about 9yrs before i visited was more Chinese than African now. She could speak and write in Mandarin fluently, she mostly cooked Chinese food at home and i did not like most of them. Mother was eager to expose me to a new culture. Every morning before she goes to work, she will leave a topic on the table for me to write on, so that when she comes home we can both discuss about my views and ideas on that topic. I hated her for that. I was supposed to be on Vacation and enjoying myself, but here i was writing essays almost every day.
After a month in Vanke City Garden, Beijing, I had secretly become Chinese by heart or i will say by chance. I had learned a few words in Mandarin too and i followed their culture closely by observing how my neighbours greet each other, when they go out to play and eat, the books they read, the kinds of TV programs they watched and the different exercises they played.
There was something about the Chinese culture which reminded me of home (Cameroon). They also eat from same bowls using their hands just like we do in my house in Muyuka. The old people also looked after their grandchildren when their children go to work or school. This part touched my heart because back in Cameroon, i lived with my grandparents while my mother was at school. I learned the Mandarin word for grandpa (Ye-ye) and grandma (Nei-nei). They also had poor people and beggars on the streets. We passed through a paddy field (rice farm) once and i saw how hardworking these people were. The streets were amazingly lighted by night and the buildings looked like the towers of Babel. They had big super markets in Beijing which made the likes of Nikki or Score super marche in Yaounde, Cameroon, looked like local markets to me.
Some days, i will stay home watching the news on Chinese National TV Chanel and i bet i didn’t understand most of the things they said but i just admired how they spoke so fast and very loud. I also learned how to take the bus to the city centre by myself and the Chinese currency (Reminbi or Yuan), which i used to buy my candies and chocolates.
While in China, i visited the Great Wall of China and it was a beautiful experience to behold an ancient historic site and even walk through it. That was one of my happiest day in China. We visited Shenzhen and that city held my heart in a trance. It’s the tropical part of China and has tropical fruits like Guavas and coconuts. I was over-joyed to see some of the trees and plants that grew in Muyuka in Shenzhen.
In 2010, my family and i moved to Canada.
Here’s the beginning of another cultural shock in my life. Yes, i am African/Cameroonian. And then, i thought i was Chinese now because i lived there. Now here i am in North America.
Canada became the third “C” in my life.
The Transition from Africa (Cameroon), to Asia (China) and to North America (Canada) left me with this big Question of Identity — “Who am I?”
I had great expectations in my mind before moving to Canada. I was hoping to see a place more beautiful than Beijing, China, my previous home. I had this whole idea about North America being superior to China in every aspect that i was too shocked when we first arrived Ottawa. This shock left me feeling home sick for a week before i could adapt to this new place, this new home and new country, Canada!
I realized that i had become Chinese in the way i think, talk, react; and this was what made me feel sick when i got here — I was missing “China home.”
Today, I am a “Proud Canadian” not just because i live in Canada but because Canada has shaped my mind into understanding myself as an individual and how i perceive the world at large. I learned to brave through the winter storm and to watch Hockey. Our love for poutine and the marple syrup took over our favourite Chinese dumplings or Cameroon porridge at home. To accept multiculturalism and diversity as a Canadian, knowing that i myself i came from another place.
I knew i was Canadian even before i got my Canadian Citizenship when i went to do an international internship in Ghana, 2013.
Before that internship i had an interview in which i was convinced that as an African who was born and raised in Cameroon, there’s nothing that i’ll face in another African country that will be strange to me. But, that was a lie which most of us use to deceive ourselves. We keep forgetting that Africa is a big continent with about 54 different countries, languages and cultures.
While in Ghana, I missed Canada so bad. I complained about the heat, the dusty roads, the bad vehicles used for transportation, the delays in offices, slow or no internet, how hard the bed was, hygiene, the food and almost about everything. It took me a while to reshape my mind to accept that i am no longer in Canada but in Ghana (Africa) and things will never be the same.
I found myself unknowingly praising the Canadian OC Transpo, the Universal Healthcare Plan (OHIP), the national student loans (OSAP), the constant supply of power (hydro) and access to hi-speed internet and the clean environment and the comfort of washing machines and dryers.
This was not because i was ashamed to be African or proud that i now live in Canada but it was more of figuring out why certain things are different in some parts of the world.
After this experience, i was privileged to give a talk on how it changed my perspectives about the world and about myself at the University of Ottawa. While writing my presentation, I realized that it was a continous process of learning.
My experience in Ghana was extraordinary. How can a black person get cultural shock in an African country? I faced a couple of challenges. I had language barrier because i was stationed in a remote area where most people only spoke Twi (Ghanaian local language). I had pressure from people to act like Ghanaian when i am not one. Pressure about how i dressed and what food to eat and how to greet people. Whereas in Canada, no one cares how i dressed or if i don’t greet them especially when i do not even know them. Above all, i had a great time in Ghana. I knew i was home from the music that played from the beer parlours, the smells from fried foods on the streets at night, the constant electricity and water outages, the chats on the buses during long rides with strangers, the cock crows in the mornings that woke me up, the noise from the brooms as people sweep their yards in the mornings, the muddy roads when there’s a rainfall, the extremely hot and crowded markets, the bargaining taxi drivers, chants from children following a white foreigner and asking for money and the list goes on and on. All these things reminded of my very own country, Cameroon.
Today i can proudly identify myself as a GLOBAL citizen because of these experiences
Cameroonian by birth
Chinese by Chance
Canadian by Choice
Ghanaian by Heart
Thank you for reading!