Thoughts on living in two different continents, by Marianne Martinet.
My name is Marianne. I’m from France but now living in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. I myself am between two worlds (not only because I will soon be 30 years old…hush!!). My two worlds: the first one is here in Africa, Cameroon but not only here – during these last five years, I have been travelling throughout ten African countries. The second one is there, my home town of 300 people in the south-west of France, but not only there – it is all of France, and all developed countries.
Here, you can buy one single cigarette, one egg, five small Maggie cubes, one sheet of paper, and one piece of bubblegum. If you don’t have credit on your phone, you can send a ‘Bip me’ for free to your correspondent; he will call you backand pay the call. There, you have to buy three bottles of shampoo even if you need only one. There, you have to pay a monthly fee whether you call or not.
Here, mineral water is more expensive than beer. There is no tap water in over 10% of households, and when you are connected to the network, you are lucky if the water is flowing for at least two days a week. There, you irrigate your garden, flush your toilet and wash your car with tap water, i.e. drinking water.
Here, when you eat fish, you eat all of the fish, including the eyes, the head, and you chew all the fish bones – there’s no waste. There, who even knows (or wants to know!) what the fish industry is doing with the heads and tails of fish. Here, you eat the tail of a cow, pork feet, etc. There, except in villages like the one my parents live in, you only eat the good parts.
Here, when you add on a few additional kilos, someone will compliment you (yes, believe me!). Kilos are signs of wealth and health. There, people are looking for solutions to become smaller. At the same time, people are looking for solutions to become more suntanned – they buy creams and they pay money to sit on tanning beds. Here, women pay for creams to lighten their skin.
Here, you have to pay media if you want something in the news. You cannot get official and reliable data – we don’t even know the exact population of Cameroon today. There, the media is invasive; and they like to disclose numbers.
Here you see precious wood, rubber, palm oil, minerals and petroleum. There, you buy garden furniture, chocolates, big cars, diamond rings, smartphones and tablets that use raw materials from here. Who even knows where Cameroon is on the map? Thanks to Boko Haram and the crisis in Central Africa Republic that may change very soon.
Here bananas grow. They cannot be exported if they have a small cut or a black point on their skin so here you can buy these bananas with cuts or completely black. Here, the marketplace doesn’t have any refrigeration so fish, beef, pork, etc are all killed on the same piece of wood where they are sold. The only animals they cannot kill in this place are flies – which is a pity because there are many! There, nobody will eat yoghurt that has expired and nobody will buy the last apple in the stand because it has a brown spot. There, HACCP, ISO and Compliance certificates are better known than Eto’o – a football player here!
Here – recently in Cameroon but less recently in other African countries – the Government has banned plastic bags. In the local market, nothing is packed so if you buy rice or cooking oil (less than 0.5 litres) it will be placed inside a plastic bag. These plastic bags, after being used, are everywhere – covering the ground or in rivers. Here, they say that it is a requirement from there and so some people are complaining.
Here farmers use chemicals including pesticides and herbicides that are forbidden there. But they are manufactured and sold here by companies from there…
Here, workers do not organise a lot of strikes but when they organise themselves to fight against bad conditions, it can turn into a long process that results in damage, including people frequently injured by police, even deaths. Unfortunately the Marikana scenario is not uncommon. There, and in Paris especially, there are more strikes in one year than there are days. But at the end, workers have achieved social standards – you have an allowance in case of unemployment, you can be cured for free or for sure, you will never die due to lack of funds. Here, doctors ask your family to buy medicine, drugs, dressings, syringes, drips and thermometers before they will even see the sick person.
These are my two worlds with all their paradoxes – there is no black or white. My dream: to take the best things from each world to create a better world. Overconsumption without knowing the impacts upstream in the supply chain could cause a lot of damage to the earth and to people. Today, we are all connected and all our actions have consequences – it’s the Butterfly effect. When you’re eating your candy, have you ever stopped to think about who owns the land where the palm oil, sugar or cocoa comes from? Have you ever thought about how many workers are involved in the process or what the conditions they work in are like?
I think that the first step towards a better world is to know what happens outside your own world (both here and there). Knowing the consequences of our actions can help us to make more responsible choices.
We don’t have to wait for huge brands to make No Deforestation commitments for us – we can start by changing our daily choices too, opening our eyes and our ears.