How do you get to know a city?
When I moved to Portland in 2003, it was an interesting process to get to know the United States through the lens of Portland, Oregon. After all, each city has its own flavor, its own character. A city is made of people, who often have all come from “somewhere else.” So even every neighborhood can have it’s own character.
Now I’m in Maroua. How do you get to know Maroua? I could tell you that it’s the capital of the Far North Province of Cameroon, which is the head of the chicken if you’re looking at a map of the country. I could tell you that there are about 300,000 people, but really it’s been a long time since a census, so who knows? Maroua is the center of the cotton industry, so there is some money and business coming through. It also used to be a major center for tourism, although died down somewhat when there stopped being regular flights to the city from the capital of Cameroon, Yaounde. I could tell you that Maroua is hot and dry most of the year, at an elevation of 1,260 ft (384 metres). I could tell you all that, but it doesn’t really tell you much about the city.
I’ve been getting to know Maroua a little as I try to find my place here. I was welcomed with open arms (and warm meals!) by my colleagues here, but now many of them have returned to their village locations. I could tell you that the most uncomfortable things so far have been the heat and the bugs. However, there are fans that help with the heat, and bug spray, shoes (aka cockroach-smashers) and mosquito nets to fight against the bugs. One of the things I have enjoyed the most is the quiet. Perhaps it’s the heat that keeps people from bustling the way they do in other cities. Maybe it’s the way people wall off their compounds. Or perhaps it’s the lack of larger vehicles – the only way to get around in Maroua is to take a clando, or a motorcycle taxi. (Just to clarify, you can drive cars/trucks around, and they do exist, but the only form of public transportation is the clando.) Whatever it is, life seems quieter here.
I’m looking forward to getting to know the city and especially its people more. Hopefully, I will soon find a place to live in the community (for now I’m staying in a guest room) and a language helper. All the Fulfulde I speak helps, but there’s so much left to learn. I also keep using words from the dialect I learned growing up, which here tend to make me sound like a country bumpkin.