“Every single Cameroonian knows two things. First thing: how to dance. The second thing is how to play soccer,” says Raymond Kampoer, beaming with pride.
Kampoer moved into Parkdale two years ago with his wife Micheline and two children. During the upcoming Cameroon Day celebrations, his rich, diverse culture will be on display in Edmonton.
Since 1972, Cameroon Day has been celebrated on May 20 to commemorate Cameroon becoming a unified nation. Before that, the small West African country was a federation of states. After the Second World War, the country was divided up between the French and the British. To this day, French and English are still spoken in Cameroon. The cultural diversity reaches beyond language. Cameroon boasts almost 300 distinct ethnic groups, staggering for its size. These groups have unique dances, dishes and dialects. Kampoer explains how this diversity is both a weakness and a strength.
“When it comes to living abroad, you see how all those ethnic groups start fighting each other because people don’t identify themselves first as Cameroonian. They define themselves first as members of this group or of that group.”
Among roughly 500 Cameroonian immigrants living in Edmonton, Kampoer estimates there may be 50 separate ethnic groups. “Bringing all of those people together is very difficult,” he said, “because they don’t have the same aspiration.”
Kampoer knows this challenge well. He volunteers about two hours every day for the Cameroonian Association of Edmonton. He maintains the website, where you’ll find event listings, information on Cameroon, photos, videos and even a marketplace for Cameroonians to sell and trade goods with each other. He said he hopes this site is the first place Cameroonians go when they move to Edmonton, seeking a small piece of home. It’s the type of site that would have helped Kampoer when he moved to Canada with his family in 2012.
Cameroonian men take considerable responsibility for their family, so the move weighed heavy on Kampoer. Difficulties began before they left Cameroon, with a two-year paperwork process. Things became even more challenging when their first destination, Fredericton, New Brunswick, did not pan out due to lack of work. They are happy to be building a home here in Edmonton but still face many hurdles.
In Cameroon, Kampoer worked in supply chain management. His wife is a thermal engineer. Their qualifications do not translate directly in Canada, so they’ve had to start over. The Kampoers have overcome language barriers, financial struggles, and cultural isolation, but there are other challenges they haven’t had to face. Some immigrants lack family support. Some are unable to find a decent job.
For all of these hardships, Kampoer said he believes Cameroonians have much to offer.
“The strength is that when you bring all those people together, as has already happened here in Edmonton, you are just blessed, ” he said. “You’re going to see the way people from this area are dancing or singing is completely different from that other area. Even the traditional dishes are different.”
Cameroon Day celebrations will share this rich culture with the rest of Edmonton. On May 21 (the Saturday nearest Cameroon Day), expect a big soccer game in the early part of the day. Festivities kick off at 7 p.m. at Alberta Avenue Community Hall. Traditional dance performances from Cameroonian groups will be the entertainment while guests share a generous spread of food. Later, two DJs will take the stage as the real party begins, lasting until 2 a.m. In Cameroon, these parties can go right on into the morning. Tickets to the event are $20 and everyone is welcome. Kampoer said he hopes to see people unfamiliar with Cameroon experience this cultural array.
Yet some important faces will be missing. Kampoer’s extended family is still in Cameroon, where family means everything.
Cameroon Day will ease that homesickness for a night, and offer Cameroonians a time to shine together. For those of us born in Canada, this is an opportunity to pause and appreciate a diverse, beautiful culture.
For up-to-date information on Cameroon Day and the Cameroonian Association of Edmonton, visit www.cae-ace.ca.
May 21 @ 7:00 p.m.
Alberta Avenue Community Hall
9210 – 118 Avenue
Feature Image: For Cameroonians, family is everything. Credit: Supplied