Yaounde, Cameroon – On the day Hu Guang was supposed to fly back home to China’s Si Cuan Cheng Du province, she checked the weather.
Heavy snow and frigid temperatures.
That’s the day Huang decided to remain in the dependably warm African country of Cameroon, with its mountainous landscapes and sunny skies.
Guang was soon offered a job by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Dr Zheng Feng Li, who runs a division of Ruili Biotechnic Limited – treating asthma, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, and more – on the second floor of Chinese hotel Huliang Commercial in the expat-diplomat neighbourhood of Bastos in the capital Yaounde.
While the climate made Cameroon the superior choice, Cecilia also discovered a professional advantage. “In China, there are too many people [who are practicing] massage, but in Cameroon there are so few, almost none.”
Cecilia represents the growing community of Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors and practitioners who opted to move here.
Throughout Yaounde, Chinese can be seen at the airport, running high-end restaurants, and selling economically priced goods in marketplaces. Over the last 15 years, Cameroonians have come to depend on the Chinese for TCM.
Healing Chinese style
Yibi Julien, 54, has four children and four grandchildren. Born just 100 kilometres from Yaounde, Julien had the misfortune of suffering a stroke that paralysed him on the left side of his body last April.
Visibly relaxed after receiving acupuncture, Julien eagerly shares how he found his way to TCM treatment. “A man saw me in Central Hospital using a stick and he told me to come to Gynaeco Hospital.”
Since June, Julien has been receiving acupuncture daily and anticipates continuing his treatment throughout 2015.
According to traditional Cameroonian doctor Joachim Mawellet, 44, who is a 14th-generation physician specialising in bone fractures, Julien is not alone in his positive perception of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“Most Cameroonians use [TCM] because people believe that things that come from outside are better than the things they have here. So nowadays, many Cameroonians have gone to study TCM to do it in Cameroon,” said Mawellet.
Dr Rong, a sixth-generation TCM doctor, said she fell in love with Cameroon as a student in China. “When I was studying in school, I found this book where I saw Cameroon. I read that people are suffering from sicknesses, so I had the urge to come help.”
“You have some cases where people will give their family members away [to cults] for ritual money, so I have helped people who were sold [to cults] and almost dying,” she said.
Rong, who said Cameroon is her true home, has also had her share of run-ins with scheming patients who refuse to pay, as well as knife-wielding thugs who threatened her life.
In the office, Cecilia has a sunny disposition as she greets clients who come for aromatic and traditional massages.
Unlike other massage purveyors, “sex massages” are not on the menu here, but that doesn’t stop clients from asking.
“One time we even had a Frenchman who said, ‘OK I want a sex massage,'” Riuili’s Managing Director Jean Jacques explained.
“I said, ‘No, we don’t do that here’… In China they do it, here they refuse to do it, they don’t accept.”
Fraud mars reputations
When Rong came to Cameroon 16 years ago, there was a lot of competition among her peers.
However, all of that business came to a screeching halt when Cameroonians began fraudulently posing as doctors trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In some cases, legitimately practicing TCM doctors also compromised themselves by using fake Chinese medicine.
For many of the new crop of TCM doctors, however, business is back and thriving.
“People come because of our professionalism,” said Dr Xigui. “People need these treatments in Africa so we come and try to apply our methods and people see the benefits to their health.”