My name is Agnes Essonti; I’m half Spanish and half Cameroonian. I live between London and Barcelona right now. I’m an artist, I love many things in this world but anthropology and black issues are an important part of my life. I’ve been travelling since I was two years old and is something really natural for me, it is wonderful, it makes me flow in such different ways, discover and of course, learn.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
I’ve been working as a photographer for more than 6 years now and photography has always been an important part of my life. The first time I documented a trip was around 4 years ago and I believe I have a really special way of photographing my journeys, always looking for details and diversity. Enjoying the trip is always my priority though.
What sparked your interest to travel to Cameroon specifically? How did you plan for it?
As a half Cameroonian, I spent my whole life dreaming of traveling to my homeland. It wasn’t until I moved to London that I really started exploring my ancestry in deepness and visiting Cameroon weighed heavily on my mind. Last year, my auntie that lives there at the moment invited me to visit her during my Easter holiday so I became really excited. I knew I was going to love it. For months, I would only talk about me visiting my country for the first time.
What was your favorite approach to photography while there? Did you generally strike up a conversation with your subjects or just candidly capture the moment? How did people react to being photographed? How did people generally react to being photographed?
My approach to photography was a mixture of feelings. I really worked on shooting empty spaces to show quietness where there is not. In a way, I felt like a stranger because even when I wasn’t trying to capture portraits. People would feel threatened by me and my camera, as they thought I didn’t belong there, but as least 50% of me is Cameroonian. I tried to balance between talking to people to ask them for a portrait and also shooting candidly. Some people, especially kids, were more than happy to pose for me - and I loved that.
What was your route? What cities did you visit? How did you navigate between each city?
I started my journey in Douala and during the weekend of that first week I travelled to Limbe with my uncle just to have a different idea of the same country. After that I went back to Douala and stayed there until the third week, when I left for Eséka then finally Yaoundé. I organized everything on my own with advice from locals. When I got to Douala, I was excited about the idea of travelling through the country but I didn’t really have plans on how to do it. For the next time, I’m planning to visit Foumban, Bafoussam and Ngaoundéré.
What were some of your experiences as a visitor in Cameroon? Did you have any favorite/unfavorable culinary experiences?
Cameroon is not a big country but the amount of ethnicities is enormous: from one village to another the people you find are different; they have different languages and different traditions. As an anthropology lover I was amazed, especially in Douala because I met people from everywhere in the country and they were happy to meet me because I knew little about their culture and I was excited to learn more. All food in Africa is always delicious and enjoyable. From the very first day I had mangoes every morning for breakfast. Achu or Taro is now my favorite food. I had the best poisson braisé in the world and the Chukuchuku or porcupine meat was simply wonderful. Mostly everyone is nice; they love people and specially strangers. People like to listen to things about Europe but also love to talk about their own culture.
Did you have any expectations or preconceived notions about the cultures you would be exposed to? What recommendations can you share for future travelers?
Because I love studying cultures and I love my country, I had an idea of what I was going to find over there. I was specially amazed by the amount of Hausa people in the country, I didn’t know much about their culture but after three weeks I could speak some Hausa and I got really involved with them. I didn’t know there were actually Douala people with their own language and I was just so happy every time I discovered more and more about the country’s culture.
Limbe and its surrounding areas are simply amazing. The beaches are beautiful; you can chill there and eat really tasteful food. I found Buea is not far from Limbe, is cool and Mont Cameroon is right there. I fell in love with the Central Mosque in Douala as well as with Marché Central and Bonaberi Bridge. You also need to try the Achu in Bepanda, Douala.
What moment was most memorable from your trip?
On my second day in Douala, my uncle took me to Quartier Makéa to walk around and visit the family house. I was really happy to take some pictures where my dad used to play when he was a kid until someone started calling me “la blanche”. I felt attacked because I had spent 18 years thinking I was black in Europe and in Africa I was apparently white. This was something that shocked me but later on, I understood that it wasn’t about my skin colour and race was much more of a social construction.
What surprised you the most about your experience?
I was surprised about people’s perception on Europeans. I got told many times that I was really nice, I was natural and simple for a white girl. I tried to be myself at all times and not make any distinction with people. We are all brothers and sisters.
What advice do you have for other individuals that would also like to travel to Cameroon?
Have loads of fun and be open to people, they would love to get different perspectives.
What’s next for you?
I came to Barcelona around a month ago to enjoy the sun for some time and I would definitely love to travel back to Africa but still don’t know the exact destination. As I’m still young, I’m discovering myself and I believe that Africa can get me to that point.
Images Courtesy of Agnes Essonti
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