Joya Taft-Dick

Joya Taft-Dick (Vital Voices - Africa Businesswomen’s Network, ABWN): Joya was born in Vermont and spent much of her youth on the move with her father – a UN official – in Africa and South Asia. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2006, she spent a year working in Colombo, Sri Lanka with a local women’s group and public health organizations. Joya then moved to Washington D.C where she spent two years working with a Congressional Commission on sexual violence in U.S prisons and jails. At the time of her fellowship, Joya was pursuing her Master’s degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. After her fellowship, Joya wrote: “Being around my colleagues and CBWN’s members was truly inspiring. The fellowship reminded me that I can operate very independently, that I am truly adaptable, and that I am happiest ‘in the field.’ I leave Cameroon with some rediscovered 'joie de vivre’.”

Setting the Scene – A Few Observations of Douala

25 Jun

Douala is a city rife with activity.  The streets are almost over flowing at times, with vehicles, pedestrians and road-side stalls.  Yellow taxi cabs are rarely hard to find, and zipping in between and amongst them are the motorcycle taxis, carrying as many as three people.

As primarily a pedestrian myself, Douala is also to me ‘the city with no sidewalks.’  Where there should be pedestrian walk-ways are parked cars, stalls and other obstructions.  They do tend to clear out as night wanes, but for safety reasons I am rarely on foot when night falls.

I see Douala not just as a pedestrian, but also as a foreigner.  It is impossible for me to blend in, and so it is to a constant chorus of various cries that I walk down the streets of my new neighborhood.  “La Blanche!” “Cherie!” “Mon amie!”  It isn’t threatening, and having grown up in South Asia, it is something I am more than accustomed to.

Boulevard de la Liberte

While there is of course a wide array of attire throughout the city, in general the women are seemingly far more fashionable than I am!  I have seen everything from power suits, to ‘evening-out’ attire, to the equivalent of blue-collar clothing or even more ‘traditional’ looking outfits.  The women are seemingly quite feminine, and largely quite chic.  Just the other day my colleague Clémence came to the office wearing a dress she had designed herself.  I was duly impressed.

When the World Cup matches are on, all the road-side bars and cafes overflow with men eagerly watching them.  I can often hear their cries through the window of my office.  The women I have encountered are just as passionate about their national team, as well as their fellow African teams, however I don’t see nearly as many of them crowding the corner cafes.

That being said, last night I decided to go to a restaurant near where I am staying to watch Cameroon’s last World Cup game.  The restaurant is a popular one, amongst locals and expats alike (although admittedly perhaps more the latter), and has a large open-air patio where they have set up a big screen on which to watch the matches.  As the game started, in strolled a large group of young women, all dressed as if going out on the town – and to say they were vocal throughout the match would be an understatement.  The restaurant itself is certainly on the more expensive side, and my guess is that patrons are largely from the middle class, or above (in addition to the expats).  The places frequented by expats are what I have heard referred to as “pour les blancs,” or for the white people, often indicating a higher price range.  There is definitely an economic, and perhaps cultural, divide present in the city, as in many cities – a fact I simply find worth noting (and keeping in mind).


I am working on a video interview I just filmed yesterday, and have a full day meeting with members of the CBWN tomorrow, so more Association-specific material will follow soon!

Posted By Joya Taft-Dick

Posted Jun 25th, 2010


  • Dina Buck

    June 27, 2010


    Hi Joya,

    It sounds like you are doing well in Douala! I had to chuckle at how similar your experience sounds to mine in Kampala, granted Kampala does have (very narrow and very packed) sidewalks. Despite the chaos and difficulty in maneuvering, the women are often in heels and look very stylish. Very chic indeed! And Word Cup fever galore. Once difference I envy a bit…here I am called “muzungu” which I hear translates to something like “person who doesn’t know where they are going.” Quite apt I suppose, though not nearly as flattering as something like “Mon amie”!

    I look forward to reading more!

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