I love bookstores. Wandering the aisles, searching out my favourite classifications to see what the latest author has to offer, browsing the pages of some beautiful coffee table extravaganza. Almost as entertaining and satisfying as visiting a library where I can take those books home! At least briefly.
But here in Bamenda Cameroon, I've had to readjust my assumptions and expectations.
My experience of bookstores has taken a giant leap... sideways. It's not that there are not bookstores, there are.
Along Commercial Avenue I spotted the Simplicity bookshop, Academic bookstore and College bookstore to name just a few. I had some specific interests I wanted to explore; some technical tomes on indigenous flora, maybe a few local authors for their perspectives, something about Cameroon itself, local geography, history....
Cue in the sound of the NOT buzzer from some game show.
First of all most of those "bookstores" have a large counter just inside the entrance preventing entry. The few books available are shelved out of reach behind the counter and are either religious or elementary to secondary school texts. And there are precious few of them.
They do have stationary, pens and paper, but are just as likely to be selling; clothing, cookies, onions, appliances or miscellaneous hardware.
As for any technical books... after a long search into every bookstore I saw, we found in one, a few copies of a moth or silverfish eaten agricultural text that seemed too outdated to be useful. Nothing else.
Across the boulevard are the street vendors, their carts piled high with used and new school texts, photo albums, daily calendars, diaries and scrapbooks.
Browsing here is very different. Each of those used and sometimes ratty looking paperbacks represents more forcefully the bottom line for these guys. I'd pick one out and there would be the vendor already to wrap it up and offer me another.
With patience and some tips from more experienced buyers, I was able to negotiate a better price and find some of what I was searching for. Used of course.
One day I visited one of the local Universities with another volunteer. Her research had led her to search the stacks in the library there, where we found a text book recently written and published locally by one of the professors at that same University. Is this book for sale somewhere?
Unfortunately he had passed away, so we asked the fellow there to contact his wife as we wanted to purchase ....
Cue in the buzzer.
Other than those street vendors, and this one in particular, I 'm convinced there is a culture of non engagement with literature here, no one can answer my questions about specific books almost no one even seems to know what I'm talking about!
Case in point , the local "library" The custodians of the books , the librarians, don't seem to know what they have, the card file is not accessible, the books I saw were all donations, out of date, used and abused. They did have a large collection of fashion and political magazines from France...
I won't give up though, I've heard there is a bookstore in Yaounde...