Derange (de-ra-nge) is a French word meaning to bother or to disturb. Some words hold more weight in one language than another, and derange is definitely a French word that PCVs use in English, as it seems to be the only appropriate word to describe the situation.
When we, as PCVs in Cameroon, say we are being deranged, it typically means a Cameroonian we don’t know personally who just happens to be passing us on the street is saying one of a million things that we hear on a daily basis. The white, my white, my girlfriend, my wife, all names that would qualify as being deranged. Furthermore, when we are asked for gifts, money, to buy people things, to have children with them…again, all being deranged. The vast majority of the time, we don’t know these people, they’re usually high school students or people in town that we pass through town on a regular basis, who feel the need to say any to all of these comments every time we pass by them.
This gets so old. So old.
Whenever I vent to a trusted Cameroonian friend, who has more respect than to hassle and pester us, the only reasoning I have received when questioning on this behavior is that it is due to a lack of education. Fair enough. People don’t know how to interact with someone from another race as they have never done so before. However, when you do correct the deranger and provide other names for them to call you such as my sister, my friend, or other common greetings you hear from Cameroonian to Cameroonian, they ignore your advice and only continue to stay in their ways.
The mentality to not change or grow from situations irks me. It seems that it is just sheer disrespect to ignore someone when they ask you to stop calling them the white. At that point, it is not a matter of education, as the education has been provided, and the recipient is choosing to do nothing with it. So then what do you do? What can you do?
Today was one of the days that this reality of living in Cameroon really got to me. Some days, I can ignore it better than other days. Unfortunately, this is not an aspect that is unique to Nkongsamba; many other PCVs throughout the country, and especially in the grand south of the country, deal with these same ins and outs of walking through town. But, that doesn’t make the behavior and mentality ok. It just means that when you vent to another volunteer about it, they can relate.
So, what can you do? If, even after they hear the “white’s” perspective on the situation and have been asked to no longer call them that or say those things, they don’t change. Then what?
Go home, stay in your house, savor some piece of American goodness sent over in care-package and watch a movie in English. Those are some of the realities of daily life as a Peace Corps Cameroon Volunteer. The journey is a rollercoaster full of ups and downs; always has been and always will be.