Shopping in Cameroon

November 30th, 2014 by | Tags: | No Comments »

Prior to leaving for Cameroon, someone said to me, “I was told there are no shops in Cameroon.”  I certainly thought, “Wow! That’s a crazy stereotype and false information to hear!”  Then, since arriving in Cameroon, I have been very thankful to have received a number of lovely care packages from my family members.  While most of the items that were included in the packages were food such as Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter, Trader Joe’s Charmingly Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Cheez-Its, Kraft Mac and Cheese, items that are not found or very hard to find in Cameroon,  they also included toothpastes.  I giggled when I saw toothpastes and thought, “Wow! I really need to educate Americans about shopping in Cameroon.”  Colgate, Crest and Oral-B exist on every corner in Cameroon.  I can attest that Cameroonians do brush their teeth on daily basis like Americans as I’ve seen my host family members in Mengong brushing their teeth on regular basis.

My host mother's shop in Mengong, which sells a variety of items one would find in a convenient store in the United States.

My host mother’s shop in Mengong, which sells a variety of items one would find in a convenient store in the United States.

While big box stores and supermarkets may be hard to find in Cameroon, that does not mean Cameroon is a country of nothing.  Instead of having many brand name stores such as Target, Whole Foods, and Macy’s, Cameroon just has more independent shops that are owned by individuals.  Even in the very remote villages, small stops still exist.  Mengong, a village where I lived for the first two months in Cameroon, have a few shops.  Every independent shop sells a particular selection of items.  One independent store may focus on selling only kitchen items that one would find in a Bed, Beth and Beyond and Crate and Barrel store while another independent store may focus on selling shoes that one would find in a DSW Shoe store or Nordstrom.  There are independent stores that focus on selling convenience items and going to these stores feels like going to a CVS or Walgreens because we can find toothpastes, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, laundry detergent, cereals, and cookies.  There are are also shops that exclusively sells office and school supplies and visiting these shops feel like walking inside an Office Depot.  While there are shops that sell clothes, there are also shops that exclusively sells pagnes and then there are tailors who will make our own unique clothes.  Dove, Nestle, Coca Cola, Guinness, Samsung, Nike, and Durrell are some of many brands that are found in Cameroon.

This is a shelf full of items found inside my host mother's shop in Mengong.

This is a shelf full of items found inside my host mother’s shop in Mengong.

Outdoor markets are also far more common in Cameroon.  Instead of getting into a car, driving to a supermarket to buy food and parking in a big parking lot in the United States, many Cameroonians take motos, bush taxis, or taxis or walk to an outdoor market where they can find wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish grains and bread from local farms.  It’s like visiting an enormous Whole Foods but without the prepared gourmet food section.  Instead of seeing signs with fixed prices, we have to ask the sellers the price and negotiate.

When people look at images of Africa and have only seen people struggling to get water, malnourished children, or vast open space of land, they need to realize that these images take place in only some parts of Africa.  In many parts of Africa, there are people who do lead lives that are similar to Americans which means that there are people who do work, go to school, go shopping, eat with their families at home, and brush their teeth.

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