My host brother, Riki, has become like a best friend. Every men and boys should look up to this 11 year old boy who know how to treat women with such a tremendous respect. While in most traditional families in Cameroon, boys and men sit and not do any household work when at home, Riki comes to me almost everyday and ask me, “Can I help you with something today?” or “Can I help you with laundry?” or “Can I help you get water?” He has been helping me get water and do laundry. Every time I try to insist that I can carry the water or pump the water, he smiles and insists “No” and that he should do the work.
Riki does his own laundry. He helps the family get water. My host father helps with the cooking. A 17 year old cousin who lives with my host family cleans the floors every single day, irons clothes and helps with the laundry.
One of the biggest discussions in my training classes is gender roles and how they differ in the US and Cameroon. While I have learned that women and girls usually do all the housework which includes laundry, washing the dishes, cooking and getting water in Cameroon, I have noticed that my host family is quite unique. There are three different types of families in Cameroon – polygamous family, traditional family and modern family. Polygamous family usually means a man having more than one wife. A traditional family in Cameroon means a couple having at least eight children. A modern family in Cameroon means a couple having about six children or less. While in the traditional and polygamous family in Cameroon, women and girls normally do all the house chores, in the modern family, men and boys also do the housework. My host family is clearly a modern family. While the parents have four kids, ages 11 to 16 years old, living at home, they also have a 20 year old son who is living in Doula to attend a university. There is also a 17 year old male cousin who lives with the family.
Other trainees have told me that they find that women and girls do all the household chores in their homes and the men and boys just sit and chill out. I finally one day asked the 17 year old cousin why the males in my host family do household chores. I told him that I think it’s great that he and other males in the family help out. He told me that it’s because they’re from the West region and men there typical do the housework too. However, when I asked the mother, she had a different response. She said it has nothing to do with where they’re from and it has more to do with just them as a unique family. She also explained to me that in most parts of Africa, women do typically do all the housework. My language teacher said that she think it has to do with the family’s level of education. The father has a bachelors degree and is currently pursing a masters in financial administration. He’s also a math teacher and vice-principle at a local high school. The oldest son is attending a university. The children seem to take homework seriously, especially the 17 year old cousin. I asked the oldest daughter who is 16 years old what she’d like to study after high school and she said medicine and would like to be a surgeon.
My language teacher mentioned to me that her family was also unique too since her father and brothers always shared household responsibilities and she believes that it’s the level of education that influences the gender roles in families.
I want to add that Riki comes to the training center with me on Saturdays and watches my classes from the window which is always open. He is always so enthusiastic about meeting other trainees and learning about our work. He will often come to me and inform that he saw “mes amis” at the village center. Riki will ask me interesting questions such as what is the difference between the US and UK and who started the Peace Corps. Some of these questions has led us to interesting and complex conversations such what happened during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s in the US and how the US was founded.