While meeting a host family definitely seems daunting at first, especially if they don’t speak your native language, I almost instantly felt at home with the Muluems. Sandra and Kennedy have three girls: Manuella and Gevévia are 8-year-old twins and Célia is 2. It was easy to get comfortable with the girls in particular, once I gave them the scratch-and-sniff sticker books and hair ribbons I had brought them. We spent hours on those sticker books! The twins are chatty, slightly hyper and hilarious. They love doing my hair (ALL the time), “checking the time” on my phone and having me correct their homework, but actually give them all the answers. Because I have an 8-year-old sister, it’s so nice to have that energy around the house, especially when living abroad here can be stressful and sometimes lonely. Célia crept into my room Saturday morning to wake me up which was adorable!
In the Muluems’ house, I have my own room with a cupboard and closet for my clothes, three bedside tables with drawers and a large bed with a mosquito net draped over the top. My window looks out into the front courtyard, because we are on the first floor of an apartment building. The building itself is surrounded by high walls with barbed wire on the top, all the doors and windows have bars on them and there is a night watchman at the front gate at all times. Like Sandra says, “Everything is about security here!”. It has been strange getting used to being locked in at night, but I definitely feel very safe and well looked after.
Kennedy works as a doctor which is an extremely difficult and taxing job in Cameroon. Sandra explained to me that it’s often like volunteer work, with Kennedy treating people who have no money to pay him. There are so many people who need medical attention, that he is almost never home. The lack of social security here makes it so that people who need medication often can’t afford it and so have no choice but to go without. This is why many Cameroonian doctors who are trained here, go abroad to countries like Germany, Belgium or the United States. It’s sad that families are separated, but it can be difficult to make a good living here. Sandra is a pharmacist, so she works all day during the week. Normally they have a “femme de ménage” or a girl who helps with the cooking, cleaning and looking after of Célia, but she has been on holiday since I got here. Célia, who only goes to school until noon, is looked after by her grandma who lives nearby. Families and friends are very close here and they spend a lot of time together.
It has been so interesting talking to my host family, Sandra in particular, who are incredibly open when it comes to their lives and their struggles here. Everyone loves to talk about politics (and African politics are fascinating), especially about the current president, much like in the U.S.
Arjun’s host family is also very nice, but almost the polar opposite to mine. His host parents are older with children who now live and work abroad. The host father is a university professor here and the couple host three Cameroonian children at their house to help cook and clean, like many well-off families here do. They live in a large house behind tight security and definitely don’t have as much hubbub as my host home has! But it is nice getting to switch between the two houses whenever we want, as the families are good friends.
This morning we decided to go for a 2 hour hike up another one of the seven mountains around Yaoundé. At this rate, we’ll have them all done in a couple weeks! This one was significantly steeper, but very densely shrouded by banana and papaya trees and had an amazing summit view of the city. We were stopped near the top (as apparently we had wandered near a military base, this kind of stuff happens all the time here) by two Cameroonian soldiers who wanted to chat. They asked us about America, which is apparently their “dream country” and repeatedly demanded our WhatsApp phone numbers. We responded with a smooth, “we’ve never heard of WhatsApp! It’s not in the U.S.” Giving out your number here is agreeing to receive texts every few minutes, invitations to go out and definitely undesired attention.
And…day eleven passes right by. Unbelievable!