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By Adrianne George
Note: Rosemary’s last name and photo are not being used so that she did not have to get permission from her employers to give us an interview. Thank you for your time and insight and for sharing your experience, Rosemary!

 

Born and raised in Cameroon, Rosemary has lived in France, Tanzania and the Netherlands. Her latest assignment took her to Cambodia. Here we get to see a bit of the country through her Cameroonian lens.

As a junior at university, Rosemary accompanied her class to France for a 9 month intensive language immersion experience. After completing university she left Cameroon to work. In fact she thought she had landed her dream job only to be disappointed by boredom. However she “considered the prospect of returning to Cameroon as the greatest horror”. Rosemary has never looked back but instead forged a career for herself and has earned the respect and recognition she deserves.

She and her husband, whom she met abroad, are getting acclimated to life in Cambodia including what may seem an excessive use of air conditioning due to the intense heat and eating meals with chopsticks. But she misses the food and clothes that makes Cameroon so colorful. However living in Cambodia means not having to deal with “the general feeling of insecurity and powerlessness to change anything, or the way (Cameroonian) people think about women, and the way everything is about money and status”, she says. “The way inequalities are actively perpetuated” is another thing about Cameroon that Rosemary doesn’t miss.

The Royal Palace as seen from across the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh.

 

While Rosemary is multilingual she admits that she hasn’t made an effort to learn Cambodian. “You can get by with smiling a lot, pointing at things, and paying for them. The language should be easy enough to learn but I’ve had it with learning languages”. I can sympathize as it is tiresome to start over again in a new country and sometimes the effort it takes to learn a language completely different from yours is too taxing. And Rosemary is lucky. In addition to having her husband she has her work colleagues at an international organization who have become friends. But Rosemary didn’t fall into the expat trap. “I tend to avoid expat-only groupings. After living abroad for this long, I find them stultifying”, she explains.

And thanks to the constant advances in communication technology living abroad does not meaning one has to lose touch with those who are dear to them in other countries. “I’ve made Skype a fortune”, Rosemary jokes, and she also takes advantage of email, the de facto letter writing tool of the day. Rosemary is also practical when it comes to accommodation. Cambodia offers comfortable living options at affordable prices. When looking for where to live it is all a matter of taste. “It also depends on what you think is a good place. Many expats prefer to stay in the expat havens, which drive up the price of housing”, she reasons. “I prefer a mixed neighborhood myself”. But options are limited if you want to own your own home. “You can only buy above ground – foreigners are not allowed to own land. But they’re trying to change the law because foreign investors, whom they think they need, don’t like the current law”, she notes.

left: Residential and commercial premises in Phnom Pehn, right: street vendors, Battambang

 

There is a black community in Cambodia. That’s the good news. But there’s bad news from Rosemary. “I think blacks were doing fine in this country until a number of people of a particular nationality arrived. These people are believed to be involved in drug trafficking and a number of unsavory activities and they have ruined the reputation of black people in the city”, she declares. “There is also a certain black religious fringe setting up moneymaking churches and schools. So unfortunately, as often happens with black people, we are all tarred with the same brush. I have not personally encountered hostility but I cannot hold my head up in pride because I have heard of what my brothers are doing and I know it is bad”, she states.

As for the expat population in general it is robust. “Most of them are here to teach English as a second language. A few are involved in legitimate businesses (restaurants, that sort of thing)”, she notes. “A few, like me, work for international organizations. A few run churches of varying honesty. And a (hopefully very) few buy and sell drugs and run various scams”, she says. However getting a Visa to live in Cambodia may be a bit tedious these days. “Because of their bad reputation, all black people face stricter visa restrictions but you cannot really blame Cambodians for this mess”, she believes.

On the outskirts of Phnom Penh a mix of modern and traditional transport.

 

If you do plan to move to Cambodia, Rosemary recommends bringing a few necessities with you. “All of your electronics, household electrical appliances. A decent oven is crucial. All the nonperishable West African food you can find. They do not have palm oil, decent cocoyams (colocassia and xanthosoma), bitter leaf, real egusi, and things like that. So whatever you can bring dried you should bring. They have green (amaranthus), cassava (rare but can be found), some very soft and watery yams no plantains, and (Cambodian) corn is too sweet”, she reflects. Oh and don’t forget “all your hair products for black hair: extensions, relaxer, etc”, she warns women who don’t wear their hair in a natural style.

Angkor Wat temple

 

If you visit Cambodia, Rosemary recommends a “visit the country(side) and surrounding countries.” And you would be remiss not to visit Angkor Wat (author’s note: I swear there are carvings of black women on the temple and when I visited, a Cambodian boy held is arm up to mine to compare our skin tones), the Buddhist wats, and the Mekong. “Buy some very nice silk. It will last all your life. Do something for local charities”, she admonishes.

For now Cambodia fits Rosemary well. “I like Cambodia very much. The people are relaxed and friendly and unlike in Western countries, they take time to engage with other people. In many ways it’s like being back home without the aggravation of not having enough money or power to control one’s life”, she muses. But she hasn’t written Cameroon off. “I do not see myself returning home during my working life. But I would like to retire in my home country”, she admits.

Sunset on the Mekong near Kracheh, northern Cambodia.

 

Photo credits: Intro image Through a Cameroonian Lens ©2011 cuedos design, other photos sourced from Wikipedia Commons: Royal Palace vista – Werner Pauwel, Angkor Wat – (l) Boivie, (r) Maksim, Battambang women – Dr. Blofeld. Sunset on the Mekong – Juan Manuel Garcia

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