The long awaited IWD is here! A few weeks ago, I purchased the International Women’s Day pagne (fabric) with another woman in village and found a new tailor who made the cutest dress for me! Villagers love that I have a dress made in this pagne, albeit in a western style. I talked to people about what all goes on during this day, and found that there is a ceremony that takes place with a small march. Rose, my neighbor who works at the bank, told me it is scheduled to begin at 10am, but maybe I should get there around 10:30 or so. So, this morning, I sported my cute dress and slowly made my way to this particular school football field where the event take place at well after 11am and the event didn’t actually begin until after noon. I am so good at being late now; this will cause a problem when I go back to the “real world”.
Anyhow, this ceremony gathered all the different women’s groups from all 10 quartiers in Batié. There were many faces that were unfamiliar since I mostly just hangout within the two quartiers between my house and the carrefour. But I think it was good for me to show my face and talk a bit to people. The ceremony wasn’t as long as some of the other Cameroonian gigs I’ve attended, but just long enough that I was getting slightly antsy. Women were all either dressed in the IWD pagne that comes in three colors, or the pagne that represents their particular community group. Like all Cameroonian ceremonies, a lot of singing was involved. I quite love the overall ambiance in these events; it’s nothing that I would ever find anywhere else. The people love to sing and to generally have a good time; they take joy in the simplest life pleasures. Something that all of us from the “modern world” could learn a bit from.
I don’t remember celebrating IWD in the US. I think it was celebrated in Taiwan, but I have nearly no memory of this day being important in the US. Now, all the holidays that I’ve ever experienced dedicating to one particular group of people usually means that’s the day to honor them and give them something as commemoration. People who have birthdays receive gifts, on Father’s day dads get presents, on Mother’s day mothers get presents, Kids Day (in Taiwan) kids get gifts, etc. So I was particularly taken aback when some dude asked me what I was going to give him for Women’s Day a week ago. This conversation took place while I was eating grilled fish with the mom of Ju’s host family. I took the opportunity for a little “culture exchange” and gave him a hard time saying it’s a day for women, I should be getting something. The mama loves my theory where as the dude explained the rationale that here, the men supposedly does the “giving” everyday so on Women’s Day, it’s women’s turn to give. What logic! Ever since that conversation, I’ve made it a point to give every single man a difficult time when they attempt to ask me for something for this day.
Another thing I found quite strange occurred during the ceremony. Firstly, I find all the flowery language and formality rather annoying in these Cameroonian events. It’s one of those culture things that I will never be able to get used to. This is the result of growing up and being taught the idea of equality for all these years. I don’t find any reason for me to bow down to people; they aren’t better than me. Even if it’s Barack Obama, I’d give a polite handshake and nothing more. But that’s the difference between cultures. Every single time someone begins to make a speech, he/she must begin by saying good morning to a list of “notables“. Not even just a general good morning everyone and good morning to the officials. But instead, good morning Mr. Mayor, good morning His Majesty (the chief), good morning Police in Chief, etc. etc. I should take a count next time, but I am pretty sure 1/3 of all the speeches are dedicated to these salutation in the beginning, and a list of long live whatever whatever in the end. Anyway, let me get back to the strange thing. During one of the first speeches, some important guy said a phrase that was supposed to be the theme of this day. It went something like this, “Men, love you wife and Women, submit to your husbands”. I heard this and I thought I heard wrong, but no, it was emphasized time and again throughout the ceremony. I cringed, badly. By no means would I ever consider myself a feminist, but you can bet I am not submitting myself to anyone, much less my husband. This is International Women’s Day, a day to respect and honor the work of women in this world and you are telling them to submit to their husbands?! Between this and all the men asking me to give them something for Women’s day, I understand why polygamy is still legal and widely exercised in this country.
After the ceremony, I went back to my neighborhood and had a coke with my favorite bar ladies. I bought them a round of beer, just to aggravate the men who were in the bar asking me for stuff again. I love my village ladies. They are so funny! I took pictures with the bar ladies and that was a riot getting the photo right on my camera! Despite of everything, I love hanging out in village more and more everyday. People are really fantastic and I already know there are things about this place I will miss.