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Ageing, Retirement and Activities in Yaoundé – by Patrick Awondo

ShireenWalton29 August 2019

During my 16 months of ethnographic work in Yaoundé, I have been investigating the process of ageing in the digital era. As part of the research, I spent time with middle-aged people, but also retired older persons in order to try and obtain a clear understanding of their daily lives and routines The interviews, therefore, always included exploration of informants’ activities.

The daily activities of my research participants can be divided into 3 categories. There are those related to professional work for people still in service or who are forced to continue producing either to survive or to help their families. Then there are the activities that could be described as routine for retirees for those who no longer work and enjoy a retirement pension. These activities vary between associative and community involvement, commitment to civic life, sport and religious engagements. Finally, there are activities related to the displacement of living spaces that retirement imposes. In this sense, the “return to the village” is a major fact although complex to grasp. In Yaoundé, there is indeed a real tension between the ideal to return to the village, the materiality of life in these often rural areas with their deficiency in basic infrastructures and the relative comfort to which survey participants are accustomed. This makes this ideal an ambivalent reality.

Overall, informants are concerned about the occupation of their time in a practical perspective fulfilling several functions: first, a routine function capable of filling up days that can be long and boring, especially if they live alone or without immediate family present or nearby. These routine activities are thus varied and embrace the playful dimensions of life, for example watching television. It can also include participation in community life, religious and various activities. In this same fun life, the uses of the smartphone and other similar devices like the laptop should be considered. There is no clear break between these internet-related activities, for example watching and sharing videos and those related to television. Then, there are the “productive” activities, which the participants in the study consider as generating some benefits for themselves and for their close relatives.

A 64-year-old retired woman, a former primary school teacher organises an informal crèche in her home to “help neighbours who have young children who do not know what to do”. These children from the neighborhood are grouped with her grandchildren (3 in total), which her 3 sons and 3 daughters entrust her regularly when they are busy. It is an activity underlines the informant, « that allows to extend her work but also to help her family because the nurseries for children are expensive in Yaoundé when one is lucky to find one near home. “; this dimension of dual utility is fundamental for this informant as for other people met. Admittedly, the mobility and health variable and the financial capacity to sustainably extend activities such as this informant are needed.

Finally, there are a range of activities related to physical and mental health, and to the maintenance or construction of a social and community network. Staying active to stay healthy is the watchword for study participants, especially among public sector retirees and former formal sector workers. In this area, walking, sport, outings and meetings within sports groups that extend to associative activities (tontines), volunteering, and strong community participation are central. However, it is necessary to take into account the complexity of the life trajectories of individuals, and to keep in mind that there is not always a clear cutoff between being retired and the cessation of activities. Just as the retirement activities are not to be considered as exclusively new or in complete disruption to the professional life of the participants in the study.

Zumba Class: local and global fitness in Yaoundé — by Patrick Awondo

XinyuanWang26 March 2019

It is 4pm on a Thursday afternoon, rush hour for taxi drivers in Yaounde, capital of Cameroon. Along a busy central street of the city, a loudspeaker perched on the roof of a pickup announces the opening of a “new fitness club”. His slogan, “Zumba keep fit in joy!” The Zumba club is advertised in a large city hotel in the heart of the administrative and commercial district.

Another day, another setting, at a junction near a popular downtown area is another professional announcer, this time aboard a mini van with speakers on the hood, informing pedestrians  of the opening of the « sports club- the Kun dojo ». The leaflet distributed by one of the advertisers emphasizes that there are other activities also: “Zen Arts”, “Massages Kun”, gymnastics, all in an “air-conditioned” space where there is also a “health snack” “.

These two scenes have become commonplace in the city of Yaoundé. In almost the entire city and regardless of the socio-economic environment (upscale, medium, poor), there are fitness clubs, or just “sports clubs” with varying levels of equipment, but with always with the same ambition of bringing fitness to people of every condition – with only condition: the ability to pay for fitness.

Fitness and Zumba in Yaoundé

In past years, Ludo-sports practices in Yaoundé were marked by two major characteristics. On the one hand, their popular, participative and socializing dimension, on the other hand, their outdoor exercise. At the turn of the 2000s there was, in order of popularity, football in groups still called “two-zero”; basket ball named “candy”, a “sports walk” also practiced in groups and a race. If this logic is more or less the same, we are witnessing the rise of sports-leisure in the gym club and especially fitness.

Initially called “gym club” and located in only upscale neighborhoods or in the center city near some luxury hotels, “gym” has now mutated into fitness clubs. What is the difference between these two?When you go to the gym in Yaounde, the rooms are large spaces where machines are arranged to support activities.

In the fitness club, spaces are more liberated. There are fewer machines or almost none at all. In clubs where zumba is practiced, the machines are practically non-existent.

Another change, while coaches for sports clubs and gyms used to be male, today we are witnessing a feminization of this coaching scene, as we can see on the Zumba club announcement poster with coach Yolande. This feminization marks a trend that emphasizes local ownership of fashionable practices at the global level. In the Bastos district, one of the city’s most exclusive places to live, yoga clubs that did not exist until very recently have been created and are open to a mixed clientele. In addition to expatriates living in this cosmopolitan area, people from the middle class in Yaounde also attend.

Another trend, Asian massages are more and more evident. These are both related to the global circulation of fitness and its variations such as Zumba, but also the ever-increasing presence of Chinese people, Indo-Pakistani or Indian. From this point of view, sport-fitness and massage or Zen sport practices constitute a paradigm of the globalization of sport. As in Western countries, these practices reflect a bourgeois ethos which is expressed by the fact that these practices are found first in exclusive areas before migrating gradually to the less affluent areas. The cost to join varies from 20 000XAF (30 euros) to 40 000XAF  (60 euros) per week according to the place and district where it is situated. A Zumba club situated in an international well-known hotel will not have the same cost as that situated in a lower income area.

The interviews we had in Yaoundé show that motivations to join a club vary from leisure, pleasure to networking. Some informants -mostly women -in those fitness clubs come to « keep fit » while others come to have fun and pleasure. Most of the informants say that maintaining health is the primary source of motivation. People say they “have to move”their bodies. This expression is itself related to the presence of French and Western media. The slogan “eat-move” often publicised by some French media strongly resonates.

The motivation linked to the idea of ​​”moving” comes from the public health discourse largely taken up by members of fitness groups. The link between sport and health is once again part of a globalization of sport practices. Strongly promoted by the World Health Organization, relayed by public media and very present on the internet and now on WhatsApp and other blogs followed by thousands of people, sport for health is constantly reiterated in the global circulation of practices and speeches.

Ludo-sporting practices also have sociological and strategic motivations such as affiliation needs. Contrary to what might appear these personal activities that do not necessarily involve a team are also capitalized on by some people to create a network of social ties in specific areas. It is obvious that one does not meet the same people in Mvog-Ada a deprived district than in Bastos the district of expatriates, diplomatic representations and international NGOs. The audiences participating in the yoga sessions at the Hilton hotel a central location are not the same as at the sports clubs of the University of Yaounde.

The new Ludo-sports practices are thus like other sporting activities: the places of regulation of the social experiments and quests of oneself in the double meaning of personal sports itinerary and of need of affirmation within specious social classes. Zumba and fitness also play a social performative role in certain circumstances. Practicing Zumba is adhering to the latest practice that is fashionable at the global level. A 42-year-old informant working in a bank in Yaounde said she liked trying out the latest trends in sports. As many Yaoundéens practitioners try to be open to new things and participate in the world.

Fitness, internet 

A quick search by the search engine Google allows us to see the locations of some gym clubs in Yaoundé. This deserves some comment. Firstly regarding their density. Those who appear on the search are not the only ones. Then, far from being a phenomenon of higher class and upscale neighborhoods, we see draw a map covering the entire city.

This presence on the internet is accompanied by a very strong publicization of some of these clubs. Most of them hold facebook pages on which are regularly posted numerous videos and photographs of participants in the activities. The idea is then to stage a crowd of fitness fans and other activities offered in the clubs. In all cases, the publicity measures taken by the fitness club highlights the strength of the circulation of Ludo-sporting practices and their appropriation at the local level.