Cameroon is one of those places where one may wonder, as kids grow up, what is their lifestyle like?How do they spend their time after school with friends and family. Well, I will tell you a bit about it,based on my experiences as a child there. For a child not big enough to walk, it is very normal for your mother to do all the house work and take you where ever she goes. Most commonly, mothers will carry their child in a ‘sling’, which is really a large piece of cloth that she’ll wrap around her, with the child on her back, tucked away inside. When she starts crimping, she is able to leave you with your elder brother or sister who is about five or six and go to fetch water or buy food from the market. Sometimes, she might ask the neighbour to keep an eye on you when she is gone.
People are not afraid to let their kids explore and go to places without them. When the child starts school, the mother makes sure there is cooked food to take to school and eat during lunch time. The first year, the mother can walk the kid to school but as from the second year, most kids walk to school with other friends from their neighbourhood.
After school, kids spend some time playing with their friends before coming home. It is normal for a five year old, once they get home from school to fetch water or firewood with his elder brother or sister who might be just seven or eight, so that their mother will need that to prepare dinner. Some children have to bathe in a nearby stream after school, as well as wash their school attire and fetch water before going home. When they get home, they help their mother wash dishes and clean the house. Some children will have to go to the farm and help their mother bring home food that has to be cooked that evening if the mother was at the farm the whole day.
Christmas is one of those days most children wait impatiently for, because it might be the one time they will receive brand new clothes, if the parents can afford it. Most kids walk from house to house on that day and they are given cooked food and a few candies. They may also have some food such as rice and chicken, which is considered something of a treat, because their parents can’t afford to buy this more than once every month or two. It may sound unusual to someone from a Western country, but most kids do not receive Christmas gifts from their parents. I don’t know if it is a cultural issue or just the fact that the parents can’t afford gifts.
Some children go through primary school without having a single text book of their own. It is not because they don’t want one, but because at a cost about $5 to $10, some parents can’t afford to buy books, and the government does not provide free education or books to children. Most parents pay their children’s school fees in installments, even though the fees may only be about $20, because they can’t afford to pay the whole amount at once.
I took this picture in 2008, when my husband and his friends where trying to raise money to help some kids in my village. These kids where in a government primary school and even though their tuition was about $5, their parents did not have the money to pay the fee.
There was a project of increasing the classroom and these children had to provide labour to help construct the room, in lieu, or as part of their tuition. After school, they had to walk for about 30 minutes to carry these loads of wood and bring to the school yard. There labour was the equivalent of less than two dollars a day.
I remember my life as a child, playing a circle game with my friends one day. When got home at 6 pm, my mother was already at home and was very upset that I was so late from school. I got the beating of the century that day. To some of you, this might sound like child abuse, but in Cameroon, it is normal to discipline a child by hitting them. Children learn quickly not to repeat their mistakes, and truthfully, a “beating” in Cameroon was never severe. Usually, it didn’t physically hurt. It was more about the shame of having made a mistake and disappointing my parents. Where I am now, and seeing how physically punishing children in Canada is frowned upon and even illegal, I wonder if I was unfortunate, or I should be grateful that I had that childhood life.
When I measure the pros and cons, I realize that my childhood built my future, and I feel grateful for my experiences and who I have become. At seven I could cook for my sisters and brothers. Water to me was more than just necessary and I learned how to economize or else I would have to go to the stream in the morning before going to school.
My childhood was very different from someone who grew up in Canada, but it was a wonderful experience that brings me many fond memories.
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