I arrived in Cameroon on the eve of Friday the 6th of November and less than one week later I was able to attend the celebration of the Birth of Baha’u’llah hosted by the Baha’is of Yaounde 1. Now, being raised in a Baha’i family and for the past three years been a Baha’i myself I have celebrated a multitude of Holy Day celebrations in various settings, with a diversity of people and in a wide range of places. However, in all these dozens of experiences I have never once had a Holy Day celebration like I did that evening in Yaounde. Outside of the obvious factors of color and language this celebration contained a spirit the likes of which I have never seen anywhere. It began with a man named Antoine wearing traditional African formal wear opening and welcoming us to the celebration and was followed by a passionate speech by one of the members of the National Spiritual Assembly, also wearing a traditional African tunic. I soon learned that in West Africa there is never just one speaker and directly after the planned speech was over another man, wearing a brightly multi-colored suit stood up, completely unplanned, and gave a passionate impromptu speech. Although my French was not at a level to comprehend it totally he seemed to cover points that he felt needed to be addressed. After this man sat down Antoine came back, closed the ceremony but as if it was planned, round after round of individuals got up to lead the assembly in song and praise. The energy that these songs exuded far exceeded the passion and energy that I have ever witnessed at any musical fireside or devotion. Ever. A true testament to the powerful and re-energizing spirit of the West African culture.
As the powerful beats of these devotions vibrated the walls of this tiny concrete enclosure one young man picked up one of the hand-made Djembe drums from the corner and began pounding away to the rhythm. I thought this was a grand idea and so naturally, went to pick up another of these drums. I did not even ponder the fact that in the eyes of many attendees the mere color of my skin marked me as the least likely candidate to bang to the rhythm. I turned around, Djembe in hand, to a shocked crowd and hoots and hollers from the man dressed in the bright suit. I gave them all a reassuring knod, grabbed my seat and began jamming away. The other drummer and I jammed the night away and after it was all finished, shared high fives of mutual gratification.
As Baha’is we are called to promote the oneness of humanity at all times and in the states this was something that was intellectually very easy to do. But here in Cameroon where I am immersed in a completely different culture and stand out worse than a horrendously sore and gangrened thumb, even doing the simplest tasks of going to the market, walking the streets or even playing the drums, is a demonstration that beyond the differences of physical appearance we are each and all capable of the same actions and we must all partake of the same daily tasks and participate in discovering what it means to be human.