Cameroon Travel Story
I’m in Cameroon and I Need to Wear Nice Shoes?

by Eli Terris
(Boston, Massachusetts)

With my host sister

With my host sister

I made a few crucial mistakes when I packed for my study abroad semester in Cameroon.

I prided myself in bringing minimum clothes yet my misguided Western perception of an African country glossed over the fact that Cameroonians cared a lot about physical appearance.

I arrived in Cameroon with limited underwear, socks, 4-5 t-shirts, 1-2 pants, 2-3 shorts and 2 pairs of shoes (hiking boots and running shoes).

Here are a few things I learned based on my experiences (it may not be the same for everyone) about how I would have packed differently:

My first big mistake was that Cameroonian men do not wear shorts (except for exercising). It is not customary for grown men to walk around in shorts even for outdoor events (once I was forced to go home and change into pants for a city-wide parade!)

I made a poor decision with the shoes I packed. The cleanliness and selection of shoes are critical in Cameroon. My host sister watched me wash my shoes every morning before she would let me out of the house. People are often judged by what’s on their feet. I think the most ideal shoes would be a pair of closed-toed sandals (so that you don’t have to wear socks) that are somewhat nice.

Cleanliness of clothing is also vital, and I wished I had packed only dark clothes. It is not acceptable to walk around with dirt or a stain on any
article of clothing. As a consequence of my light layers, I was forced to do laundry more than I would have liked (and no, this was not at a Laundromat, but by hand). Also, although this did not apply to me as a male, girls should only bring modest clothing that completely cover their chest, shoulders and knees.

Showering and cleanliness of the body was just as important as clothing presentation. Many Cameroonians shower 2-3 times a day (although their showers are much shorter than American ones and sometimes I believe it was just a rinse without soap or shampoo). This had something to do with the heat and humidity for sure, but I certainly didn’t expect I would go to Africa and shower more than I do in the United States because of cultural expectations.

Some of the things I found most useful were:

-A Swiss army knife (best used when I cut and sliced up mangoes, avocadoes and other produce).
-A flashlight (power outages were frequent)
-A handkerchief (to clean off my sweaty face, Swiss army knife or produce)
-Water purification drops/tablets (so that I wasn’t reliant on bottled water all the time)
-Sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, mosquito net (these are hard and expensive to find in Cameroon)

Though most things are available in Cameroon. Clothing is very cheap (even fitted suits) and through the purchases I made, I found this to be a good way of learning about the culture.

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