Leonie Meester – Field Report 1: Washington, US, 2014

This report concerns my experiences during a trip to visit the protagonist (which I will here call Talla) of this documentary film in his residence, just before the U.S.- African leaders summit. On Thursday July 31st I took a bus from Washington D.C. to Ohio, arriving on Friday to a very reasonable house in the suburbs of a major city. While on Friday we discussed general matters, on Saturday we conducted an extensive interview on Talla’s life history in his study, after having enjoyed a typical Cameroonian fish dish. Talla produced a number of pictures and newspaper articles upon request, which he had kept from his time as a student activist and his first arrival in the U.S. This tumultuous time period in his life, during the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s, was his favourite topic of discussion. He was able to reproduce detailed accounts of his actions taken during this time, as well as his suffering in prison and other abuses suffered under the authoritarian regime of Paul Biya. Pictures and newspaper articles of important events at the university of Yaounde during protest feature prominently on the walls in his study as well as the living room- as if time has frozen since. It is too from this time as a student activist that Talla has built a name for himself among activists in- and outside of Cameroon, and a main reason why he is still consulted by Cameroonian journalists. His childhood, in comparison, is discussed briefly as if just a footnote to the events that were to come. While he does not feel that his parents have greatly influenced his political convictions, growing up in Yaounde as a Bamileke “outsider” nevertheless has made him to see and experience the injustices that occurred in the country.

On the other side of the study feature a number of diploma’s which he has received in the U.S. Having lived in the U.S. for over 20 years, Talla has furthered his education here, and now has a comfortable job for which he travels throughout the country. Above all, however, he remains concerned with the faith of his country of origin.

We filmed the general surroundings of the house and recorded some of the regular activities of the protagonist -while doing exercise, eating Cameroonian food. We took a walk outside to experience the quiet and peaceful -typical suburban- surroundings of his place of residence.  On Sunday morning we went (back) to the East coast together by car (a 9 hour drive). During this drive, we had the opportunity to discuss and film his views on Cameroonian people and politics, as well as his wish to return back to Cameroon to partake in the 2018 presidential elections. On Sunday or Monday we had anticipated to attend one or several meetings in preparation of the manifestation(s), which would be planned on an ad hoc basis. Upon arrival however these meetings did not materialise. Although Talla had maintained phone contact with an activist from the Congo for some months, the latter had recently disappeared from the scene for unknown reasons. Thus the only physical contact that took place in anticipation of the manifestations was while “revamping” a banner together with two other Cameroonian activists on Monday. Although having been the primary organiser of Cameroonian protests in the U.S. in previous years and founder of a Cameroonian association, Talla this time largely operates solo.

Leonie Meester is a master student at Leiden University.