Carte (Saturday, 2011 September 17)

September 17, 2011

One of the oddities of learning another language is having to cope with homonyms. Try to translate "token ring", for example, and you’ll discover that "to ring", like a phone, in French is sonner, whereas a ring that you wear on your finger is a bague, and a ring in the sense of hoop is anneau (this is what they call a basketball hoop). It’s an important concept, that one word doesn’t always encompass every meaning — although sometimes you’ll be surprised: droit is the French word for "right" as in the direction, "to your right", but also "right" as in the legal sense, "right to bear arms".

Carte is a confusing word because (and it’s always feminine) it can mean "card", as in the cartes de séjour that we all have as legal residents in Cameroon, or as in playing cards, or carte mémoire, any memory card, such as the SD cards you put in your camera. But it can also mean "map", which makes sense if you associate it with the English word "chart". Let’s not even get into à la carte, which seems to derive from carte meaning menu (???).

The fact is that Cameroon, being a terribly confusing country, is no less confusing when treated physically. I’ve tried to address this with my feeble on-again-off-again work on OpenStreetMap, but there are more things in this world, dear Horatio, than are dreamed of in your crowdsourced mapping websites. One time when I was walking around Yaoundé I saw a store with a sign "Maison des Cartes" and thought, Yes! Finally I can get a map of this crazy mixed-up city. I walked in and was surprised when I found out that actually it was a maison of greeting cards, cartes des vÅ“ux ("cards of wishes", "wish cards").

I am telling you all this so that you understand why I had absolutely no problem blowing 10,000 CFA (about $20) on a map of my village, which was apparently made by one of the surveillants at my lycée. He says he had it printed at Yaoundé and that he went to university for cartography, both dubious claims but I’m completely willing to shell out some of my hard-earned cash on a one-of-a-kind product. There’s the added benefit that I can feel like I know my village that much better, without ever having to set foot outside my door or being subjected to the hassle of having to actually interact with people. I meant to go over this map in the GIMP and highlight the places I’ve actually been, but I’m lazy.

Click, as always, for the full version. You can see the lycée there, and also the marché. Walking between the two is about ten minutes downhill to the marché, or fifteen minutes uphill to the lycée. I spend almost all of my time in village somewhere between those two locations. Cars to Bafoussam pick me up at the marché and proceed north-east on the red line (the route goudronée, the paved road). The first stop on their root is the other black dot, what we call "the carrefour", where carrefour is French for "intersection" or "junction". Cristina, my postmate, lives on the north-bound road from that carrefour. One time I walked it and it took me half an hour to get to the carrefour, plus another half hour to get to her house. Conclusion, I’ve probably seen less than ten percent of what is properly "my village", which is actually pretty huge when you look at it!

Of course, M. Nzeugang himself is depicted in the lower-right corner. This map is exactly the same as the one behind glass in the Hotel Grand Moulin in Yaoundé. Look for it when you’re passing through!

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