“So where are you from?” Growing up, this was a question that I was asked regularly: it was also a question that I never quite knew how to answer. With stereotypes circulating around me that stated that all Africans played with monkeys, lived in the jungle, and ran around wearing Tarzan-like loin cloths, I was ashamed to say that I was from Cameroon. Whenever I was asked this question, I would either lie and say that although my parents were from Cameroon, I was born in France, or reluctantly admit that I was born in a country in the heart of Africa. For many years, this was my way of detaching myself from a culture that the society in which I lived looked down upon. Up until two years ago, I was uncomfortable with the idea of revealing my true identity to others. At this point, I had lived in a Western society for eleven years and my memories of Cameroon were remote.
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However, in the summer of 2009, I went to Cameroon for the first time in more than a decade. When I arrived, my mother told me that instead of going to the vibrant city in which she grew up (Yaoundé), I would be going to a village on the outskirts of Yaoundé. I considered this as unfair and was not looking forward to living on a farm with goats and chickens roaming around me. From the moment that the rooster crowed, to the time that the sun set, I was spending quality time with the people that I had unwittingly placed stereotypes upon. One night in particular, though, changed my entire outlook on Cameroon. On this night, while looking at the blanket of stars in the sky that bordered the horizon defined by a forest, I realized something so obvious that I had overlooked it: this was my country! This was the country that I, without hesitation, should call home. Looking out at the abundant forest, hearing the cries of the owls, and feeling the soft and warm breeze on my cheeks, I became extremely proud to call myself a Cameroonian.
From my stay in Cameroon, I have learned that instead of renouncing my country to avoid stereotypes, I should show people that generalizing Africans in such a negative manner is an incorrect way of thinking of the entire continent. Through this experience, I have come to see that stereotypes should have no basis in society. Although some people think that stereotypes are in place for a reason, I disagree with this statement. Stereotypes are established by people who do not understand the people who they are stereotyping against. Although I did not grow up in Cameroon, I still feel an attachment to the country. Instead of preaching to those around me that Africans are civilized people, through my actions and comportments, I will demonstrate this civilization to them and I am grateful that my visit to Cameroon has given me this insight.
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