zondag 13 september 2009

In search of Hip Hop in Cameroon:
…food to eat, food for thought, part IV

While being in Cameroon I tried to find out how the youth in Cameroon embraced Hip Hop music. When I grew up my friends and I rocked the streets. The music gave us the power to express ourselves and to claim our place in society by force. The music told us what really was going on in the world. Hip Hop guided my friends and me into the wide world. Challenging us to question authorities, demanding for our own place in society, demanding to be listened to and most of all to widen our horizon. Hip Hop was for us the way to meet and understand other cultures.

Sharing stories

I try to take my nieces Kadoh, Adin and Small-Quinta around as much as possible. We have fun together, listening to music, making fun out of daily situations, gossiping, sharing stories and they like my driving even a lot more when there are no ‘responsible’ adults in the car. It’s speedy, quick, still safe but scarring the living daylight out of those suicidal motor-taxies. In short we have a lot of fun. To see them having fun is one of the best things in this world. But there is a sad story to be read on those faces. I wrote a non-fiction story three years ago, a witness report. While I washing up in the bathroom I heard something going on through the window.

My personal slave

Three years ago… “You’re my personal slave. You’re nothing! And you will never be something! Too stupid, too ugly! You’re good for nothing! Useless. Mine! You are my slave! I can do what ever I want to do as I please!” For ten minutes long it can be heard how my fifteen year old niece Small-Quinta is emotional broken by the one who is feeding her. Her own world, her self esteem, her self image is trashed into the red dirt, the same red dirt she has to sweep every morning and afternoon out of the house. Small-Quinta’s daily schedule is as follows: getting up early in the morning and start the household tasks. After that, putting on her school uniform and run to school. Breakfast will follow at diner time.

Her father? Is not there. Her mother? She’s there, regularly, arriving during the morning, way before noon while drinking a bottle of beer. The two women command the teenager up and down: “Get this!” and “Do that!” To prepare her on her own future, by letting her study or have time of her own, is of secondary importance. Most important is if ‘get this’ and ‘do that’ is done quickly enough. If she need to be ordered twice the shouting at her keeps her longer occupied than the original tasked would have done. She keeps on working till she’s the last one who can go to sleep. Her food is what is left in the evening. I discovered that, when I figured out why my wife was cooking more food for me than I ever could finish on my own.

The man of the house is cold and keeps his distance. He takes care of more children than he’s obligated to do so. To be ‘taken care of’ means the kids have to help in the household of those who do take care of them. As soon as family members become a bit more wealthy, children of family members are dropped on the doorstep and left in their care. Children of parents who lack the means or the will to do what parents should do in the first place: raising their children by means of feeding them, shelter them and most of all, let them known they are beloved. Like it’s an automatic system. The depending of a child on an adult makes it a very easy victim of abuse. For love, tenderness and care Small-Quinta doesn’t need to look up to her own parents. She receives care from the family that gives her shelter and food. Getting love, tenderness and the time and space to be a child? “She has food to eat, doesn’t she!”, shouts the lady master.

Before this niece there was an older niece, Sister Jane. Now she’s 23 years old and almost ready to leave the house and to stand on her own feet. During the drive back to town we have a chance to make a stop at the village where she was born. Tears come down her cheeks while she runs to and passionate braces her mother. After this, her mother holds her daughter by the wrist keeping her distance and asks: “What are you here for?”. An awkward and painful silence follows.

After the last assignments of the day Small-Quinta walks up to me, gives me a goodnight kiss and says: “Love you too, uncle Auke.” With exhausted eyes she looks at the little drawing we made together while helping her with her schoolwork. I made a castle on a cloud. She colored it.

That was three years ago. In that period of the eight past years, the head of the family besides taking care of Small-Quinta, took also care of an older niece, Sister Jane, and just took in a younger one: Cynthia. And took care of the nephews Voma and Willy. Willy has a job in the capital Yaounde. Voma is still looking for a job in Douala. George, Eric and Nelson are the newest edition of nephews. The sixth and oldest, Frederick, is living on his own by this time with his wife and baby in the next quarter and makes a living as a taxi driver.

The world I know

The famous American rapper from New York, Jay-Z: “There are more problems in the world, I know. But I first have to take care of the problems in the world I know”. Life is not easy, no where on this planet for the most of us. No matter the color is of your skin. It’s mostly depending what you make out of it, how many times you get on your feet again and partly it’s just plain luck. The most important thing we as adults can do, is to make sure that every child has a fair chance to make something out it’s life.To let them get to know the world they have to face in adult life. But most important, that a child can be a child, putting a smile on it’s face.

Food for thought

In my search I didn’t find Hip Hop in Cameroon how I thought I would find it. Navigate through a scene, meeting artists, business and fans. Checking out party and concerts. But obvious seeing and hearing the same old story in a new setting and a different context. But I did discover something I did not expect to find, maybe I comprehended for the first time what Hip Hop meant for me really. And that it’s not the question what I can put back into the Hip Hop culture, like giving back to the hand that fed me, but taking my Hip Hop heritage into action where it counts. Like transfer it into hands of the next person hungry to be feed. That is some food for thought, isn’t it? My father in law is an inspiration for me, in the way how to become rich too. To be serious focussed on earning as much money as I can make with my given talents. I couldn’t care less about money or any other material thing but if it means that it enables me to take care of as much children as possible, it all puts it in perspective, I want to have enough money to do so.

Hit where it counts

My wife doesn’t mind to live in Cameroon, “It’s my country, of course I would like to live there.” And I’m in love with Cameroon. The country is beautiful, adventurous and rich of opportunities. My nieces and nephews have a special place in my hart but how they where treated left scars on it. Why do I want to take care of kids in Cameroon? Is Cameroon worse than Amsterdam? No, not really. My wife and I already are welcoming some of my sons friends in a warm home if it’s too cold in their own. There are more horrible stories in Europe you can imagine. But in Cameroon our deeds have a greater impact and in general you have to hit where it counts the most. That’s why my wife and I must succeed in Cameroon. To get back to the origin of the idea to write a story about the search for Hip Hop in Cameroon: writing about music and not rocking the boat… For sure, I rocked the boat as it’s supposed to be in Hip Hop: rough, rugged and raw. And after this publication I’m in for some serious rough seas.

Auke VanderHoek

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