Friday, March 14, 2014

Woman's Day in Cameroon

Americans don't celebrate Woman's Day.  Closest we seem to have is probably Mother's Day, but at least that is somewhat of an accomplishment.  You have to at least try to be a mother.  Or try in order to be a good one.  It's OK though; Cameroon really needs a chance to celebrate women.  Even if they are born that way.

Woman's Day starts off with a parade.  That's par for the course as every holiday in this country starts out with a parade.  Normally whatever groups you might be in march together in front of a grandstand where all the notable important people sit (comme moi) and everyone who isn't important or marching gathers nearby to watch.  For Youth Day (congrats on being born!) most people march with school clubs or just their schools in general.  Mbakaou is pretty small so there usually aren't many marchers, but Woman's Day had only thirty.  There are more than thirty women in Mbakaou of course, but you are sort of socially required to buy the official Women's Day outfit and most people can't do that.  Sounds a bit harsh, but are you celebrating Halloween without a costume, Christmas without a tree, or Saint Paddy's without a pint?  Social pressures.

So they march.  Then they put on a show.  Do some dances and a little skit making fun of men.  They collect money from whoever is willing to give it.  Perhaps it helps offset the cost of outfits.  Later in the day we got together again for women sports.  It is pretty rare to see Women sporting; I've never seen it in Mbakaou, but they do play occasionally in Tibati.  They played handball which is a strange sport I saw once when watching the Olympics and also soccer which is another weird sport I hear Europeans like.  And Hispanics, I think.  They were meh at the first and atrocious at the second, but you can't blame them since they apparently only play once a year here.

Women marching!
Grands watching!
At night that had a cultural event.  I was invited and given a seat at the front of the stage.  And then crowds created a wall of people trapping me inside.  This was a dance show.  I find a lot of things about Cameroon a bit odd and the dance shows are one of them.  People dance to music and then other people dance up to them and stick money onto their foreheads.  They do this pretty much whenever possible.  Hell, they did this for bilingualism day at the high school (along with a fashion show).  I played along and danced out to a couple people and stuck money on their heads.  It falls off and someone picks it up and brings it to the communal pot.  Now at this event I was the only man sitting at the stage.  None of the other invitees (or Big Men or Grands) came.  If I didn't get up, the girls would dance over in front of me until I put money on their head so they'd leave.  I can't NOT put money on their head.  A) They might just dance in front of me indefinitely or B) I'd offend them having given money to someone else.  Can you think of any situation in America where a man might sit in a chair and a woman come and dance in front of him for money?  I guess that is slightly empowering for women.  Lots of them put themselves through college that way in America…  I stayed at the dance until I literally ran out of money.  (Though I technically only brought four dollars American so it wasn't that expensive a show.  Not sure the going rate for lap dances in the States, but I got like ten for that.)

I went to one other event for Women's Day in Tibati.  It was a sort of artisanal market that was billed as a way for women to show their worth to men.  The Big Men were invited and put at a table on a stage per usual where they sat looking bored for a few hours.  There were maybe fifteen tables where you could buy things with only three that sold actual crafts.  The rest of the tables sold food.  I suppose out here women still have a bit of a ways to go to be considered equals with men, but the fact they have a Women's Day is a start.  I could see there one day being tables talking about women groups or organizations.  Maybe even for their employment.  As it is all the food was really pretty damn good.  Guess that's a start.