At one point or the other it becomes necessary to look back at one's life, for it is in conformity with the adage that says "you need to know where you are coming from in order to know where you are going." This brings to mind reflections about childhood memories; not because they are crystal clear- by the time they occurred I was still inchoate, so they rather come to me in flashes, like dissimilar images. My 'reconstruction' of some of these events has been made possible through the 'stories' of people who experienced these occurrences as well.
Growing up in a polyglot city like Yaoundé had a certain touch to it. First, there was the multilingual environment that made me make an awkward sentence like "mon ballon est tombé dans le hole", then there was the gradual alienation, which was first linguistic, then cultural. Finally, there was the indirect encounter with 'The Powers that be'.
Allow me to take you back to my pre-speech years.
The year is 1986 - the year Wole Soyinka made Africa proud - and everything seems normal. My father is in the house, he has done his news report for the day, and I am with my Aunt G. Something serious is being said on the radio. When it is over, my father laughs, changes his clothes and goes out without telling us anything about where he is going to. My mother returns later in the day and asks after my father and my aunt tells her what has happened. My mother immediately bursts into tears and it is then that we realise the gravity of the matter. Before long, other journalists start coming to our house and I learn that my father, alongside other journalists, has been arrested.
As the wind of multi-party politics and democracy swept through Africa, Cameroon was still reluctant to accept this change and could still afford to imprison journalists for doing their job!
The following weeks and months are awkward; there is a sense of loss, of deprivation, but above all, angst. I am oblivious and at the same time subliminally stuffed. "We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men" T. S. Eliot had written.
Sympathizers still visit us, so there is still this or that person in the house. At any rate, there is talk about my upcoming birthday- my first birthday to be exact- to cheer up the tensed aura that sits in our midst. I've made a new friend, her name is S and we are about the same age, I think. Her father is in a similar condition as mine... I shudder to think of the place. Our mothers constantly meet, go to the market, and visit our fathers...
The atmosphere is less tense now, but there are still talks of the BMM (Brigade Mixte Mobile), abductions and the secret service.
The birthday has passed. I don't remember much about it except what the pictures say. Am I the chubby infant in the picture? I wonder with disbelief, my slenderness seeming irreconcilable with my past plumpness.
My father's homecoming happened five or six months later and my puerile mind found it difficult to recognise him. His return was marked by a catch phrase from the authorities when they released him, it went thus: "The story was true, but you had no right to say it."
archive - issue 14