I am traveling and the bus is stopped at one of those many makeshift police checkpoints that crop up sporadically in Cameroon. An officer with faded military uniform and lips parched from over exposure to the sun walks slowly to the left window at the far end of the bus and commands:
“Presentez vos carte d’identite!” His airiness showed that this was something he had received grooming to do.
The rattling and grumbling begins as passenger after passenger impatiently stretch out listless hands to present various shades of discolored ID cards.
The officer zig zags the seats of the bus, the disappointment on his face heavy as metal as he starts coming to terms with the grim possibility that the passengers were all armed with ID cards.
He gets to me and I am seated still, looking blankly into the road ahead. “Tu ne comprends pas ce que je dis?” He screamed into my face. A sceptic stench hits my nostrils.
“What are you saying?” I asked in a forced civil tone. Voices of angry, tired and impatient passengers erupted from behind me “Abeg show ye ya ID card make man go. We di hurry…man don tire!”
I kept staring into the officers bloodstained eyes. The air between us growing thinner by the second. I felt a steeling in my stomach and blood rising through my veins. I was ready for war!
“You carte ov identite!” He blurted out in his own version of English. I took out my purse and presented my ID card. He sighed and walked away as the bus heaved into motion. The taste of victory rippled through my body.
A bored looking guy seated next to me placed his hands on my thigh and said in a stupid know-it-all tone “When police ask you ID, just show, don’t resist. They can lock you. This one was a good police like you would have had problems here.” There was a chorus of agreement from the passengers. I shrugged and began checking my WhatsApp messages.
Then another passenger seated directly behind me took me out of my silence when he said “Cameroon is bilingual, if the policeman speaks in French, you should be able to understand.”
That was the trigger and as I coughed out my words my audience seemed eager to get my argument.
I explained that bilingualism as an individual option is different from bilingualism as a state policy. As a private individual I am not compelled to be bilingual in any form but the officer is because he represents state policy. He must be bilingual. There are no options.
By Kwoh Elonge