Friday, August 7, 2009


I was taking the train back from Yaoundé the other night when I learned about some new usages for VapoRub, popular American remedy for chest colds. But in Cameroon, it’s oh so much more!

I was taking the train all by myself, and so was particularly susceptible to the distraction of the wandering salesmen who peddle their wares up and down the aisles. I was also exhausted and desperately trying to sleep. Side note: in Cameroon, for the most part, any individual who has anything to do with medicine is referred to as “Docteur.” (This includes PCVs who work in health, and Cameroonian counterparts don’t understand why being called “Doctor” makes us incredibly uncomfortable!)

Well the particular Doctor/Salesman wandering the aisle of train car 683 while I was trying to sleep was selling VapoRub. He parked himself almost right in front of me as he started to give his spiel for the benefit of all in the train car who were willing to listen. “I have a product here,” he proclaims, “that will help you work in your fields. Grandmothers rub this on themselves, and they are able to walk tens of kilometers in just a couple hours! Your feet hurt? Rub them with VapoRub! Your back aches from being in the field? Rub it with VapoRub!” I don’t think the actual usage of VapoRub, was in fact, once sited. Ah well, sorry, Vicks.

At this point I was no longer trying to sleep, but eyes open and eagerly awaiting to learn what else I could do with a dollar’s worth of VapoRub! The salesman made a point to note that the product comes from America, and can be attributed as a cause for some of the successes of the great American people. VapoRub = efficiency! (apparently.) Doctor/Salesman continued, “Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, uses VapoRub. It’s me who massages the great Barack Obama (with VapoRub.) It’s me who massages lions. It’s me who massages Americans.” (Lions? Americans? I’ve always thought the two were like peas in a pod.) But it was at this point that I started to laugh out loud. Poor guy, I don’t that that helped his sales.

Fortunately, I’d say my fellow passengers didn’t seem to be falling for the Vapo-Magic spiel. I figure if you’ve got enough money to be taking the train, you’re probably well- informed enough to know that VapoRub will not turn you into Barack Obama (sadly.) I think the Docteur had better luck with the herbal tea he began selling next; his voice singing its virtues lulled me to sleep. Just another night on the Trans-Cameroon Pharmaceutical Express.

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