What is it like being a Jamaican living in Cameroon?

In this episode of “Jamaicans to the World”, founder Xavier Murphy speaks with Patrich Dinnall. She is a Jamaican living in Cameroon.

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Cameroon? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of; and today in Jamaicans to the world I talk with Patrish Dinnal, a Jamaican living in Cameroon. Welcome Patrish. How are you?

Patrish: Hi Xavier, thank you so much. And I am doing great. Thank you. How about yourself?

Xavier: I’m doing good. I’m doing good. I’m excited about this, excited to learn about Cameroon. But before I get into Cameroon, which paat a Jamaica yuh come from? (Where in Jamaica are you from?)

Patrish: And this part I was waiting for. I am from Clarendon, specifically May Pen, Clarendon I’m a Clarendonian.

Xavier: My mom is from Clarendon. A little town you may not know about but its way up in the hills. Tweedside is where she’s from.

Patrish: Tweedside. Oh, I was wondering if you were gonna say Mocho.

Xavier: They use that to insult people a lot, you know?

Patrish: I tell you, some of the best people I know are from Mocho.

Xavier: Wow, I’ve never been there. Is it way up in the hills in Clarendon?

Patrish: Not so far up but it is a little bit out of May Pen but not very far up. But it’s a quaint little town that you drive through to go to other places like Victoria and stuff like that.

Xavier: All right. One of these days I should check it out. I should pass through there.

Patrish: Okay.

Xavier: What school, because you know, we’re passionate about our schools, what school are you representing?

Patrish: Of Course! The great Clarendon College, the blue and the yellow. Clarendon College. The best school ever. Although some people may not like to hear me say that from Clarendon and I won’t call the name of the school. But Clarendon. Yes. College.

Xavier: Representing Clarendon College. Tell us how you got to Cameroon, tell us a story of how you ended up in Cameroon.


Patrish: Okay, sure. But before I get to Cameroon, let me give you a quick history behind before I got here. My first international assignment, I was working in the Central African Republic. I worked there for a few years, with the United Nations and still with the United Nations. Central African Republic is like next door to Cameroon. From there, the opportunity came up for me to visit this country, which is a family duty station and to work here as well. So I took the decision to get on board and to come to Cameroon after visiting Cameroon before I think maybe in 2019 and I just love the country, love the vibe and everything. This was like God’s doing for me coming to Cameroon.

Xavier: You visited on vacation, or was it on business when you visited?

Patrish: It was a vacation. It was what at the time was rest and recuperation given the nature of the work I was doing in Central African Republic and it been what is classified as a hardship mission. We periodically got what is called rest and recuperation, which is just a little bit of time off to visit a neighbouring country or wherever and to just rest and as it says, recuperate. One of my stops was Cameroon. And yeah, I loved it since.

Xavier: You’re thinking okay, I come here, I visit, you love the place, you come back then all of a sudden, how many months? How many years later all of a sudden they say there’s something that is coming up there and you’re probably quietly saying to yourself, wow!

Patrish: I, tell you the funny thing about this is that while I was in Cameroon on this rest and recuperation, I got the start of this process came by way of an email to say congratulations. The process actually started from then and I was sitting on a beach in Kribi here in Cameroon when I got this email so of course all of this is like I said by design it started from then. So of course from then I started researching more about Cameroon to see is this a place that I want to live and work have a family etc.? And as luck would have it, Yeah, I’m here now.

Xavier: And you’re telling me, okay, you’re on the beach and so on. It sounds like you’re vacationing there. It’s a nice, there’s nice place to go see in terms of beaches and so on. Tell us a little bit about the landscape and, some of the places that you have enjoyed visiting while you’ve been there.

Patrish: Okay, yeah, indeed, Cameroon has a lot to offer for everybody, depending on what you like. If you like wild life, ecosystems, there is lots of that here. Cameroon, and especially Yaounde where I’m living now is very hilly. Yaounde is set on like seven different hills. So it’s not common to be in the city leaving from one point to the next and then you are going up this ridiculously steep incline to get from one part of the city to the next. So that’s the beauty and the greenery of Cameroon. If you want the beach, there are actually two parts of the country that you can visit one is called Kribi and the other is called Limbe. And of course, coming from Jamaica, I’m going to sound a little bit biased when I say Jamaican beaches, nothing else compares. But still, if you don’t have the beaches in Jamaica, you can at least enjoy what is offered here in Cameroon.

If you love animals, and you want to visit, there’s a place called, just outside…. maybe an hour drive outside of Yaounde, which is the Mefou National Park. And it’s a primate park, you have pretty much gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, about 30 different species. But the beauty about this park, not only is it you know, beautiful, the landscape is good for hiking or walking the trail etc. But the beauty about it is that a lot of the animals that are kept there are animals that were rescued from poachers. And they’ve been nurtured to be prepared to return to the wild when they’re ready. It’s a wonderful environment to enjoy.

Xavier: Oh, amazing. With the park with the animals is you’re walking through it, or you’re driving through it, or you know is it walk and drive?

Patrish: You drive to the sanctuary, but then you enter and the beauty about it is that you know how you go It is not comparable to a zoo. You know how you go to a zoo, and you will see animals in cages? It’s not like this, they’re in their natural habitat. Of course, they have parameters to set up and save space, etc. But the animals are meant to feel like they’re in their natural habitat. And you get to be a part of that and to enjoy it. So that’s just the beauty about this place.

Xavier: Amazing. Amazing. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about the people, the people of Cameroon, what are they like? Tell, tell us about them?


Patrish: Well, separate and apart from the fact that this is a Francophone country and when I say Francophone, let me clarify. There are two official languages in this country in Cameroon, English and French. But the majority of the people speak French. But the beauty about it is there’s so many things there’s so much in terms of similarity to the culture, the warmness of the people that reminds me of Jamaica. For instance, there is this love for fabric, there’s this love for fashion, fashion in the traditional sense of the, you know, anybody knows anything about Africa, you know, you get the best of fabric here. It is not unusual to see someone, people just walk in traditionally on their on the street in their traditional outfit, especially during the holidays, etc. And people are just lively, generally lively enjoying life. You see how in Jamaica, we said Jamaica, no problem. Sometimes you get the sense that people have no problems here because people are just warm.

It is very weird for you to enter a building and not say, Good morning. People think okay, what’s wrong with her? You know, and the amazing thing is, you will pass someone in the office like maybe five times going back and forth and they’re saying Bonjour or good morning. At first, yes. And I think it’s the culture in in West African culture, not just Cameroon. At first, it took me a while to get used to it because I remember even saying to a colleague after saying, good morning to me, the third time I saw him in the day. And I was like, we already said good morning. And of course, he gave me the history behind why it is needed to say that it’s just a part of the culture. So it is amazing. Like I said, there’s just so many things that remind me of Jamaica. And one thing that really amazes me the first time when I heard it, you know, when you have a conversation with a Jamaican, you say, wha gwaan (What’s going on?) and you seh well, mi deh yah (and you say, I’m here). At the end of the conversation, here, people say, we are together. And you may think, we are together doing what but it’s just a saying. It’s just to reiterate, you know, we are here for each other. We are one; we are together. So like at the end of a conversation, we are together. So now I say that and people say, “oh, Patrish, you’re now a Cameroonian.”

Xavier: You mentioned a couple things in there. You mentioned it’s customary to say good morning a couple of times, and so on. And you also mentioned that two languages, English and French. I want to touch on the language first. Do you speak French? Did you learn French? Or you get by just perfectly fine with English?

Patrish: Well, yes, English and French are the official languages. But in Cameroon, funny enough, there are over 300 traditional languages, which you know, nobody can really learn them in one lifetime. But for me, I actually learned French when I worked in Central African Republic, because Central African Republic, the French speaking country. Living here, there is the need to be able to get by with some French. Yes, you will be able to get by with English because like I said, it’s an official language one of the two. But it’s always good because you will be in situations outside of work, in the market, wherever in your daily life that you will encounter someone who speaks no English, and you speak English. How do you communicate? One does not necessarily need to be fluent, but it will be good to at least have a knowledge of both languages to be able to get by very well.

Xavier: In terms of the French, is there a lot of French people living there?

Patrish: Yes, you have more French speakers than you do English. I mean, the country is split in the sense that you have French speakers and you have what is called the Francophone side of the country and you have the Anglophone side of the country. Of course, I’m in the Francophone area. Of course, you will find the majority of people speak in just one language which is French, even though you will find others who are speaking both because the beauty about Yaounde, It’s like you can compare it to Kingston, where you have people from Clarendon, Manchester, Portland, coming into your into Kingston. So it’s the same you have people from the English speaking side coming in. It’s just the melting pot of the country.

Xavier: Let me back up a little bit and clarify, French nationals, do you have people from France, French nationals living kind of in there because it’s a French speaking country?

Patrish: Absolutely. And if a Jamaican is here, then certainly you have French speakers here. The country having been colonized by the French, yes, absolutely. You have French. You have a vast amount of international population in the country represented by embassies, different NGOs. I guess that is what really gives Cameroon and by extension, if I may say Yaounde, its flavour because of the different mixes the Italians everything and you can find just about any restaurant, Italian, French, Senegalese. I haven’t found a Jamaican restaurant yet. But….

Xavier: We waiting on you to start it?

Patrish: Alright. And you know, as we talked about Jamaican, and I was like, over the moon a few days ago when I met two other Jamaicans. All along, I’m thinking, oh my God, I’m the only one I recently met to others. And the funny thing is, I was in a meeting, and I entered the meeting. And then there’s this lady, she was just looking at me, and I’m thinking, Okay, she’s nice. She’s just, having a pleasant face. The opportunity came up for me to speak in that meeting. And after I sat down, she was like, and I was like, Okay. So after the meeting, she came over, and we don’t even have to greet each other. She was like, you’re Jamaican? Yes, and she’s like I’m Jamaican too and she shared her numbers. And she was like, from the minute you walked in, I could tell you’re either Caribbean or Jamaican, because, you know, we have this kind of look, and this kind of vibe that we emit and I was so elated to have met her. And after that, another Jamaican so far, we are three that I know of. So, it’s just amazing to have that.

Xavier: We’re ready for the Jamaican restaurant, then we have three o’ you.

Patrish: Exactly.

Xavier: You spoke a little bit about food there. Well, actually, before I go to food, because you used a term, Anglophone. Is it Anglophone?

Patrish: Anglophone, which just means English Speaker,

Xavier: English Speaker and Francophone Right.

Patrish: Which is French Speaker

Xavier: Yes. To clarify for folks what that is, because to me, they’re kind of new terms to me. For our audience, it just means English speaker and French speaker?

Patrish: Yes. And incidentally, it’s only in the western central region of Africa and in French countries, you will hear these terms, because before coming to this side of the continent, I never used or even heard of those terms before. Yes, Francophone is a French Speaker Anglophone is an English Speaker, where the first language is English.

Xavier: I see. All right, so food, let’s talk a little about food.

Patrish: Yeah, one of my better topics to talk about.

Xavier: Before you start restaurant but let’s talk about the food in Cameroon. What is the food like and what would be one thing you say? You would recommend? You know, try this if you if you come to Cameroon?

Patrish: Okay, perfect. All right, perfect. So the food here, I mean, you won’t have a shortage of food because there’s just so there’s just so much in terms of the influence but talk about the traditional food that’s traditional to Cameroon. And the two that I mentioned that I will mention is ndole and miondo. What is ndole? Ndole, if I can compare it, it will be similar to our callaloo. Ndole is bitter leaves that is made with some peanut sauce and it comes out tasting amazing. It’s actually the traditional dish. I love it, I don’t know how to make it but I’m gonna have somebody teach me how to make it but it is really, it signifies what Cameroon is if you’re going to compare Cameroon in terms of its food. Now, miondo is generally had with one of the things that you will have with the Ndole. Miondo is like cassava, but they do it in a special way that they crush the cassava, wrap it in banana leaves. And then you know you use you see like the stalk of the banana which we use like a string?

Xavier: Right,

Patrish: You use that to wrap around that batter and then bake it.

Xavier: Like blue draws (blue drawers).

Patrish: Uh huh, exactly.

Xavier: although it’s not the blue draws… okay. Let me use the correct term, duckunoo. It’s the correct term.

Patrish: Thank you, because while talking I was trying to remember the name also so thank you for that. Duckunoo. So it’s like our duckunoo or blue draws. Yes.

Xavier: They bake it?

Patrish: Yes.

Xavier: Okay

Patrish: It’s baked. And it’s something once you leave it like that you can have it for a long time when you put in a fridge or whatever, and it stays for a very long time. Those are the two things if you’re ever in Cameroon, to try. They do other things like grilled chicken and very nice fish that is similar to our escoveitch fish, usually on the coast, but those are the two things that he say yes, this is typically Cameroon.

Xavier: In terms of, you know, we talk, we talk a little bit about food and so on, in terms of from an economic perspective, what’s the economy like there? Is it slowly growing, stagnant, in some places you will see the disparities and so on, you know, what does it look like there?

Patrish: I mean, you will still find the disparity here, but from an economical perspective, over the past couple of years, Cameroon has been really growing from an industrial perspective and commercial perspective, one of the key reason is that, Cameroon is the port for many other long landlocked countries, like, for instance, I spoke about Central African Republic, which has no port, it is a landlocked country. So every single item, every single cargo that’s going into that country goes through the port of Cameroon and there are other countries. In terms of industrial it is it is a country that has grown it is a country is a country that has increased in terms of international presence over the years. And it’s a country that you irrespective of your budget, you can you can find a way. Of course, just like in Jamaica, you have certain areas where economically, it will cost a lot more to live there as opposed to another area, it’s the same thing. Depending on your budget, you decide which district Yaounde or another part of the country you want to live. It is it is a choice for me a choice location if you want to be able to enjoy or get to know, Africa, and at the same time improve or learn a different language, which in this case would be French.

Xavier: You being Jamaican there, once people realize, you know, that from someone from Cameroon who was born, you know, live they’re born there what’s the term Cameroonian? Or is it? So what do Cameroonians say to you when they learn that you’re Jamaican? What’s the typical reaction and the questions you get?

Patrish: Yeah. Well, I think it is the same as with most African countries. They just love Jamaica. They just love Jamaica because of the music. And the first thing they say, ah! Bob Marley, because that’s the connection. That’s the interlink between Jamaica and the rest of the world. It’s like if you don’t know anything about Jamaica, you know about the music, you know about reggae, you know about Bob Marley. That’s the first thing they say. So whenever, I mean, the first time I came to this country, I came through Douala and just to share this experience, so I was going through airport, first time coming in and it was full that day at the airport and the customs officer they were looking quite serious and you know, people just want to get out, because the queue was just long. So I walked up, it was my turn. I walked up, and he took my passport and I said, hello, he barely answered. And, and he asked me for my passport. I gave him my passport. And he looked at it, and then he looked at me, and he said in French, you’re Jamaican. I said, yes, I’m Jamaican. And his demeanour just changed right away. And he’s like, oh, okay, you’re Jamaican. Bob Marley, the guy that run, Usain Bolt. And I said, Yes, I am Jamaican. And yes, those are my people. Usain Bolt is my people. It just changed the atmosphere and he was there and looking. I don’t even know if he was looking at anything, but he was just flipping and talking, and smiling. And then he said, welcome to Cameroon. And that was just the start of what I feel was continued people, as I said before, we have a certain vibe.


Xavier: Right.

Patrish: And I think we connect to that in that area with Cameroonians because they to have a vibe, you know, and I think that’s what made us mesh. And that’s what they love about Jamaican people. And it’s not unusual for you to go to a restaurant and hearing Jamaican music playing, including the unedited version that we don’t normally listen to. Because, of course, they like the beat. They like what they’re hearing, but don’t necessarily understand what is being said.

Xavier: They’re getting the, I won’t call it artists names, but they’re getting the real raw stuff.

Patrish: Yes. Absolutely.

Xavier: As a side note, have you ever said to any of your colleagues that, do they understand? Have you ever mentioned to any of them that this song is a little…?

Patrish: Nope. Not yet at all.

Patrish: But you know, it, that’s, that’s just the beauty about the people, they just love the vibe, and it’s the same and another area that we connect is that, you know, Jamaicans we are, you know, we’re people with Christian backgrounds, Christianity is actually the biggest major religion in this country. Of course, you have the Muslims, etc. But Christianity is just like, as we said, you will find a church on every corner. I don’t know if that’s the same here, but we do have a lot of churches, and people are really serious about their Christianity is for those who choose that faith. So that’s something that’s really interesting to me.

Xavier: What would you say was the biggest adjustment you had to make when you moved to Cameroon?

Patrish: Well, I don’t know if I would say the biggest adjustment, because coming from Central African Republic, which is also similar in terms of it being a Francophone, I kind of got oriented in terms of the Francophone similarity, that’s there in Central African Republic. There is whatever I want in terms of food that I am used to except for usual ackee and salt fish and breadfruit and all these things, which I cannot get but basic food that I’m accustomed to, I can get here. So I don’t know, if there is any major adjustment that I needed to make.

Xavier: You were prepared.

Patrish: I was prepared. But I would say though, for someone coming into this country as a first, the biggest adjustment that you one would make though is to be able to… the language. The language and the culture of… I don’t know if it’s much in Jamaica, but it’s not unusual for you to be walking on the street and on the side of the streets, you see someone have a little shop set up with perhaps bread and butter and tea, and they’re making it and then somebody comes and buys and they’re coming to have their breakfast, right; and it’s taken in the hand because people I mean in the context of COVID things can change a bit, but it’s not unusual for the hand touching of food and exchanging. So somebody coming in not used to that kind of culture, maybe a little shock and they’re like, [laughter] but it is the way, it is the way in Central and West Africa. You see persons have their little stalls and you walk up or, someone who wants to buy their tea and breakfast; buy the bread with beans in between it and they just take it and they sit right there. Or having rice. I mean in Jamaica, you have some persons who do that too. We eat big sometime for breakfast, chicken, but here I tell you too it’s not unusual to go to a hotel and on the breakfast buffet you’re seeing rice, you’re seeing some pasta, you’re seeing some chicken. If you want your boiled eggs like I do, you’ll get that too. But it’s not unusual to see the big breakfast at the buffet.

Patrish: Exactly.

Xavier: Jamaica when this curry chicken whole heap a food [lots of food], and them things started as breakfast I was like

Patrish: And green banana, yes.

Xavier: But for a lot of people, it’s a start for the day.

Patrish: Yeah! And a healthy start, which is fine.

Xavier: Is there any customs that you came upon there? You know, you talked about the hi, hello and the good morning a couple times; any other customs that you came up on? It could be traditional customs, it could be for wedding, it could be for just any ceremony or whatever, anything like that, that you came upon that you found interesting, or even maybe even unusual; anything that you found there?

Patrish: But I tell you, we spoke about the diversity of this country in terms of the different influences and traditional to the areas. But one thing that I found which was a little bit unusual, it can, in some cultures within Cameroon, when somebody of influence dies, it is not unusual to see the procession going; and instead of having the casket in the hearse you have, maybe, six or so men bringing this thing around, going down the street, around the roundabout, and they’re singing traditional songs or whatever. And when this happens, everybody stops. I have not seen it in Yahoundi but in parts of Cameroon, yes, you see that. For me, the first time I saw that, that was quite interesting and very different from what I know.

Another thing which you will also find in Yahoundi is as it relates to marriages. Every Saturday, you can see somebody getting married. And during these marriage ceremonies, the ladies who attend this wedding, they have the traditional gowns that we’re wearing, and they’re matching. So it’s not unusual to see like 20 women in the same, perhaps fabric of different styles as part of this wedding ceremony. And you find the procession similar to the burial but you’ll find in different cars like 15 cars, driving, and you know how in Jamaica sometimes you see the conductors on the buses hanging out and people are hanging out, it’s almost the same. You’ll see somebody in a car and they’re on the top of the car or we look in a woman sitting through the window. And it’s just a big celebration that goes on and every other vehicle has to stop because there’s this major procession that’s going through the celebration of this marriage. For me that was quite interesting to see and still remains interesting because it’s just how the people are, they’re just happy. They like to celebrate life and make a big deal of something like this.

Xavier: Amazing! Fruits? I didn’t touch on the market and fruits. What fruits that you found there that you’re like, “Oh man, I eat this in Jamaica. I used to get this in Jamaica.” So what are like, you know, maybe one fruit or a couple you may say, “Oh man, I found this and I haven’t seen this.” Is there anything that you came upon?

Patrish: Yes. And that’s the beauty about this country. It is rich in fruits. I can find everything except guinep, I haven’t found yet. Soursop, I haven’t found yet. I’ve found the star apple.

Xavier: Naseberry.

Patrish: No, I haven’t found that but I’ll go looking; but the star apple I’ve found and passion fruit of course. But the basic ones, mangoes pineapples, they’re in no shortage of supply. And I’ll tell you that I’ve been looking and asking about breadfruit recently, but I haven’t gotten any bread fruit but Incidentally, a friend of mine, the Jamaican friend I was telling you about, she sent me a picture of a breadfruit tree. This is in somebody’s yard actually. She took the picture we’re planning to go and beg when its time because this is not in the market anywhere. We know where this house is so we’re gonna go get breadfruit because its’ not eaten here. It’s not eaten here at all.

Xavier: You’re going to convert people once you roast that, you know if you have like

Patrish: Oh my God, can you imagine?

Xavier: Turned bread fruit and you roast that? Oh, oh!

Patrish: I can’t wait.

Xavier: Listen, I really appreciate the time I’m winding down. So here’s a question I have. I have two more questions. But here’s the first of the two, you land in Jamaica, first thing you’re doing, first thing you’re going to go eat? What are you doing? Your land, daytime, your land, what you’re doing?

Patrish: Well, the minute I land as a matter of fact, I’m going to call my mom and say Mommy, I’m coming. Fried dumpling, ackee and salt fish. I’m coming. That’s the first thing I’m going to have. Because nobody makes fried dumpling like my mom. So that I’m going to have with ackee and salt fish and after that, I’m going to do two things. First, go to Hellshire to have some fish. And then from there go to Portland to go to Reach Falls and to enjoy Portland, which I haven’t been able to do in years. Definitely on my to do list when I get to Jamaica.


Xavier: And there is a nice highway that can take you a little less time.

Patrish: Yes, that’s even better.

Xavier: The last thing I do is I typically ask my guest and you may have seen this, if you have watched any of the previous ones, it’s teach me how to say goodbye the Cameroonian way and the most informal way. How do they say goodbye? And you’re gonna teach me?

Patrish: Okay, perfect. Out of the over 300 languages traditional, I learnt how to say that in one, and it’s called Eton and in order to say goodbye in Eton, you say biballa, biballa.

Xavier: Biballa

Patrish: Biballa,

Xavier: Patrice

Patrish: Biballa Xavier

Photos – Deposit Photos, Pixabay, Unsplash

About the author

Xavier Murphy