My paternal grandparents migrated from Nigeria to Cameroon with my dad as a young boy and 3 older siblings to escape from the civil war. After the war ended, my grandparents moved back to Nigeria with my 3 aunts but my dad decided to stay back in Cameroon and make a life for himself. He took a Cameroonian nationality by naturalization into the Oroko/Bakundu tribe and adopted their surname. This enabled him to school, work and conduct business as a Cameroonian. I came to find out about my Nigerian heritage only as a youth. I was the only one kept in the dark. Cameroon has two official languages – English, French and lingua franca pidgin ( spoken in most countries in West Africa for trading purposes). 10 provinces now known as Regions, 240 tribal groups and more than 247 languages. Cameroon was colonized by the Germans, then British and French.
I am a Cameroonian by birth, a Nigerian through my paternal grandparents, an American by naturalization and a Canadian through marriage. I am privileged to be representing all four worlds because they have all shaped me in more ways than one.
I pay homage to my birth nation because most of my upbringing, lifestyle and mannerism can be attributed or traced back to Cameroon. Even though I am an absentee Nigerian, I do not feel left out because my surroundings were mostly influenced by the Nigerian community – Igbo group. I can assume it is one of the reasons I am mostly categorized as a Nigerian more often than a Cameroonian; reason not known to me. Some say it is my accent, others say my business mindset, the friends I keep, while others think our heritage is solely dependent on the figurehead, which in this case happens to be my father. You know what I think? I am the only one in the position to make that decision, and I can conclude by saying that I am privileged to be a part of both cultures.
These two countries have more similarities than differences. According to a recent census, nearly four (4) million Nigerians live in Cameroon. And about seventy-seven thousand (77,000) Cameroonians live in Nigeria. Migration is mostly common with neighboring countries. That explains why there are similarities in culture, foods, clothings, even language, etc. For these reasons and more I feel like I don’t really miss much, because I can easily fit into both worlds. With multiple diverse groups, comes various food groups ranging from appetizers, finger foods to main course. Fufu is the staple food and it’s made with cassava. Fufu can also be made from tubers like yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, maize, and even plantains. One of the traditional foods in Cameroon is fufu and Eru/Okazi, which is actually from my husband’s tribal group – Bayangi. We are big on food especially during Christmas, New Years and special occasions. During Christmas holidays in Cameroon, kids actually walk from door-to-door with bags hoping to fill it ( like the Halloween practice in the West) with as many goodies as they can possibly carry.
There was a culture shock. Contrary to what was being practiced in Cameroon, I was encouraged to speak up, stand tall, demand to be heard, to be respected, to be myself, to express myself freely and, above all, preserve what I cherished the most. I count myself lucky to have come in contact with some great mentors who helped shape me by bringing out the best in me.
My upbringing actually contradicted my North American heritage. For instance, it is considered a taboo talking back to an elder irrespective of any concern we might have. In North America, it is called freedom of speech/expression. In Cameroon, we are encouraged to gain weight, which is seen as a sign of good living. Whereas in North America, any form of weight gain is considered an unhealthy lifestyle. In Cameroon, hair on a woman’s legs is seen as a beauty attribute, while in North America, hair on any part of the body is discouraged, especially on women. In Cameroon, it takes a village to raise a child – we jump from homes to homes without the fear of anything. North America, on the other hand, does not condone any form of trespassing including loud noise- kids, pets or music alike. Otherwise, get ready to be visited by the police 🙂 I had to adapt with their ways, culture and custom of my newly found home. Afterall, we have heard the saying that, while in Rome do what the Romans do – is just one of the ways to fit in, not necessarily change who we are. My Canadian background is more of a family oriented lifestyle. I got married in Canada, had kids in Canada and am now raising them in Canada. And I am sure, some of my kids would love to raise their family here as well. For me, it is where all the peace, safety & family wellbeing is found. Is like home away from home. My kids will surely appreciate us for enabling them to be a part of this great culture. Happy Canda’s Day!
Being away from our comfort zone can be really difficult. I was nostalgic. I remember crying non-stop, pleading to my brother to send me back home. I even hatched and attempted an escape plan, all to no avail, until I finally caved in. Time they say heal all wounds, because as the years went by I started to accept my reality and gradually relinquished all anxiety for home. During these moments, all I held onto were my cultural foods, mother tongue, African wears and close friends/relatives to stimulate my home sickness. Also, I took my culture with me wherever I went. I started an African club in college, incorporated my dance team with some African songs, wrote about my journey to the West in our school publication and introduced some African wear to my fashion club. These were some of the things that kept me sane.
My culture depicts my origin, my customs, language, religion, arts, manners, food, attire etc. Multiculturalism, on the other hand, enables me to hold on to the old, embrace the new and make room for the unknown. You are not a mistake, where you came from is certainly not a mistake and where you find yourself today is not a mistake.Your life has a meaning, your origin tells a story and your story is meant to be heard. The attributes, morals and good manners you are admired for today, originated from somewhere. Go tell your story. So your people, culture and tradition can be celebrated. I will leave you with this – Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stands, and it gives light to everyone in the house”. You are at the best place to share your story. Canada is made up of a diverse group of people and home for all. Happy Canada’s Day!