Since my Cameroonian arrival I have seen countless examples of resourcefulness and creativity. From patching flat tires to adding extra clothes lines, Cameroonians have got it covered. I cease to be amazed by the innovative solutions to common problems, and believe that if you don’t think it can be done, you just haven’t found the right person to help you find the solution.
One of the most resourceful people I know here is my landlady, neighbor, and adopted grandmother, Da’a Hawa. Among her credentials she cultivates cassava, corn and other local crops, sells the surplus, cares for (currently) three children, and is maybe in her eighth marriage. She is approximately 65 and has these incredibly strong arms from working her fields, chopping firewood and preparing local foods. Da’a is somewhat of a character and we don’t always get along, but she’s my Danfili grandma! Above all she wants me to stay safe, comfortable, and well fed.
Like many Danfilians, Da’a is incredibly resourceful. She takes the phrase “waste not, want not” to heart and barely has any garbage ever…Here are a few examples to prove my point:
- Old rusted-through dishes can be used as dustpans, garbage cans, well covers, measuring cups, rain catchers, and hole sealers. Empty containers and used plastic bags should always be stored, they can come in handy!
- When shown beetles, moths, worms, whatever, in my rice, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, etc. her response is always “ha, it’s nothing,” and encourages me to still use it. She also never wastes an opportunity to collect these foods’ seeds for gardening.
- Old clothing may have more holes than fabric, but that fabric can still be used for cleaning the floors and windows, brought for seating or shade cover at the fields, or for handling hot pots in the kitchen.
Her resourcefulness isn’t because she doesn’t have the means to buy new utensils, produce, or clothing. She has more income than many of our neighbors, especially as an independent woman. Her frugality and penny-pinching prowess have enabled her to comfortably construct and furnish her home, seek medical treatment when necessary, and care for three other people. In my observations, people stretch money as far as they can, and in doing so they are way more resourceful than most Americans, who are willing to throw anything even slightly disfunctional away.
While the examples I gave from Da’a are silly, there are so many other examples of innovative, creative problem-solving each day in Danfili that keep me on my toes. Bearing witness to the resourcefulness of Da’a and my other community members I often think about the role of poverty. I don’t know that I can say anything more concrete than that without acknowledging the feelings I have as a privileged, white, young American who is discovering the realities of life outside of America in a very specific set of circumstances, and risk sounding naive. The truth is, many people at home have their impressions of what “Africa” is like, and what the biggest needs are. People think of the images we’ve been raised on showing mud huts, run-down cars, simple meals, and cramped classrooms packed with children. During my daily activities Cameroonians often tell me that “this is Africa, this isn’t like where you come from,” and point to these same signs of poverty around them to prove so. I know. I see it. I am constantly aware of where I come from and how it is different from here, and the importance of being aware of that. I feel guilt in trying to defend my role existing in this place so different from home. Other times I feel indignation, pride, envy, confusion, wonder, it goes on. The realities of life are too complex to confine to a set of representative images, yet it unfolds that way again and again. In regards to resourcefulness, especially in the age of “DIY” solutions and Pinterest, I wish there was a way to flip this mentality and show Americans a thing or two about Cameroonians’ abilities to recycle, carry out home repairs, and stretch their belongings. There are so many more opportunities for international idea exchanges but because The states and Europe are “more developed” and wealthier, etc, it’s viewed as the ideal and knowledge gets passed (marketed, approved) mostly in only one direction.