I’d say that after a year of being in Cameroon, I’ve gotten pretty used to the attention I get as a nassara. The WAY too long stares from across the footpath, the marriage proposals from moto drivers, the constant asking for presents (ou est ma par?). But during my last trip to Yaoundé, my friend Patricia and I had a pretty unique encounter with a taxi man.
We hailed a taxi outside of the Peace Corps office to head to Bastos, the Embassy, rich, white people neighborhood that has pizza, Chinese, Indian, and even Vietnamese restaurants. We were heading there to go to La Salsa, a fancy western food restaurant (They call themselves Italian, but they have just about everything), to have some delicious pizza and chicken cordon bleu…and gin and tonics. Our treat for the month…and the perfect chance to get out of the overcrowded transit house and catch up!
The taxi was empty, which is rare. And the taxi driver was young and friendly, and not in a creepy way, which was also rare. We start chatting and basically talk the entire way to Bastos. He asks for directions to drop us off exactly at the restaurant, rather than just dropping us off where he thinks it is and letting us find the restaurant on our own (the usual for Yaoundé taxi drivers), and he doesn’t pick up a single passenger.
To clarify, taxis here are NOTHING like taxis in NYC…or America for that matter. You hail one by sticking your pointer finger out parallel to the ground and somehow the drivers see you. The honk at you to ask where you want to go. You yell the neighborhood and your price and they either drive away or honk to tell you to get in the car. Then they make frequent stops to pick up additional passengers (up to 5 people, usually) along the way and eventually you get to your destination. If you want the cab to yourself, you have to depot it and pay about 5 times the price. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not. And THIS time, we got a depot for 200 CFA a person…what a deal!
Right before we arrived at the restaurant, the taxi driver starts telling me that I’m very pretty and that I must get a lot of attention in the north. I just laughed it off, thinking to myself that he was about to turn creepy on me, but then he said something that took me by surprise. He said, “You know, you would look even more beautiful in pagne.”
When I’m in Yaoundé, I dress as American as I can. Besides meetings at the Peace Corps office that is. When I’m in the PC offices, I wear pange because it’s the most formal clothes I own…dresses, skirts, etc. But after work hours I wear jeans, tank tops, and really anything I can’t get away with when I’m at post. It’s awesome! Sometimes I even wear makeup…watch out. But in my finest American gear, this guy said I would look prettier in pagne. It just made me laugh. Beauty is all about context isn’t it. I’m trying to look as American as I can because I think I look good in my skinny jeans and tank tops, but this guy thinks women are prettier in wrap skirts, tops with puffy sleeves, and a head scarf because that’s what’s beautiful here.
It just got me thinking. I do love pagne, fabric shopping is one of my favorite pastimes, but I never feel pretty or attractive in it. I wear it to fit in and not attract too much attention to my white-ness, whereas I wear my American clothes to stand out and maybe impress a PCV or two while in Yaoundé. But this dude, he wished he could see me in pagne.