Sunday, May 25, 2014


I’ve been back in Cameroon for a little over a week and have experienced the joy of reuniting with friends, colleagues, and vegetable sellers. I’ve seen people I met while being here as a Peace Corps Volunteer, research coordinator, and now nutrition advisor.  Each person greets me slightly differently.  Some of the greetings have made me laugh, all have reminded me of what Cameroonians value. Some of my favorite so far:

 “Waay Kate!  You are there?”
“Wow!  This is you!”
“You are most highly welcome!”
“I dreamt last night that you were around, so this morning I just had to try your number.  Imagine my surprise when you answered!”
“My heart told me that you were around, so I had to see if your number would pass”
“Greet your children for me, eh?! And your friends!”
“Please Dr. Kate, stand up and bring us greetings from Obama.”
“Wikijun! Wikijun!”  (welcome, welcome in  the Lamso language)
“Yes, my Sister!  I am so happy to see you! You are most welcome!  How is your family?  Even though I cannot see them, it is only my love for them.”

The majority of greetings that I’ve exchanged in the last few days haven’t just been about me and the other person. With each greeting I personally receive, it is immediately followed with a question about my family and colleagues the US.  I have learned that it is impolite to respond by just asking about them, so I in turn ask about how their children are doing in school and if everyone in the house is healthy.  There is recognition that we both exist within a larger network of people and to not ask about them is to ignore a part of who we are.

A couple of months ago the Pastor of the church I attend in Virginia talked about the South African phrase, Sawa bona, which means “I see you.”   If you are a member of his tribe, you might reply with Sikhona” which means “I am here.”  The order in which this exchange takes place is important because it signifies that until you see me, I do not exist.  It’s as if when you see me, you bring me into existence.  This idea is part of a much larger frame of mind called Ubuntu, which is common among native people in Africa below the Sahara.  The word Ubuntu comes from the phrase Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu, which means, “A person is a person because of other people” in Zulu. 

Although in the past week I’ve been reunited with almost everyone who is apart of my life in Cameroon, I know the greetings and the questions about me, my family, my friends, and yes, President Obama, will continue.  And that is ok, because being here and asking about them and their families and them asking about me and my family and friends reminds me that I represent an American and Cameroonian network of people. 

The Cameroon Baptist Convention Nutrition Counselors after a Refresher Training.  Some of the many people I have greeted in the last week.