For Victor Pungong, April 11th 1967- May 9th 2007
By Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
What you have heard is true. She stepped into my office cradling her folder in her bosom. Her pink boots oppressed the blue carpet on my office floor. My gaze caught her eyes off guard. “Yes Miss Sanchez, what can I do for you?” “Professor, this paper is difficult for me. You know I struggle with English. I speak Spanish.” “Who are you writing on?” I ask “That’s my problem. Don’t know who to choose. I look at the topic “The individual in history: Actions and legacies”. Then I get confuse. I want to write on Bill Clinton but it is too common. I try Mandela, but my friend say she is doing Mandela. I don’t want to do the same with her. I want to do the other one you give but I don’t know him.” “Which other one?” I ask She hesitates, and uses her right foot to draw a pattern on the floor. “The last one in the list, Victor Pugog.” Oh. Ok, but let us start with the pronunciation of the name. The name is Victor P-U-NG-O-NG. The letters dropped one after the other into the space between us. The “ng” clusters made a summersault trapping her doubts before landing on her pink boots.
“I don’t know him Professor”
“Would you like to find out about him?”
“Is he on the internet?”
“I don’t know.” “Why don’t you go and find out.”
“Professor, I not lazy. I try, but English too difficult for me. I like to read novels, but composition too difficult. I try my best, professor.”
Miss Sanchez, that’s all you need to do. Every successful person started out by “trying”.
“Ok professor, I go to the library for two hours and I come back.”
“Ok Miss Sanchez.”
I watched as the door closed on the tiger etched on her jacket. I turned swiftly to the stack of papers on my desk. Like little tigers, they eat the time away, chewing all the minutes and seconds. Miss Sanchez did not return.
My feet found their way to the car. The engine screamed in rhythm with the noise in my head. I put it off. The hard steering stubbornly received my forehead. Then, sudden and rapid taps on my car window joined the discordant symphony in my brain. I took up my heavy head slowly to look. It was Miss Sanchez. I rolled the window down.
“Sorry professor but I find something, then I read and read. But I get problem with the thesis statement. Sorry I know you want to go home”.
It’s Ok, I am ready to listen. The noise in my head went out for a walk or so. I couldn’t tell where it suddenly disappeared to.
“Ms. Sanchez, you can’t write a thesis without information. What did you find out? “
“Oh professor he do a lot. Very big diplomat, He loves democracy. He work for Commonwealth. Professor Commonwealth is like United nations?” Not waiting for my response she continued with her report. “he has a book. He wrote the book with another man. I have the title here The united states and decolonization: Power and Freedom with David Ryan. The library tell me I can get it by inter-library loan. I order it. He write many articles. The library give me this one Theoretical bases and political feasibility of the trusteeship-peacekeeping connection.
Triumph makes a little dance in front of me but I push it behind me. “What else did you find?”
“He teach in a university in England. And he go to countries to supervise election so they don’t cheat. He got new job with the United Nations. Oh professor he even write and act in a film about corruption. The title is Trials of Passion”
A smile circles her face like a moth around a bulb.
“What is it Ms. Sanchez?”
“He is Head of good offices section in Commonwealth. That make me laugh. I never hear about that kind of office. Maybe he work there because he too good. He should have come to El Savador. We have civil war for 12 years. No good people to stop government. Even America help the government. The colonel said my father was rebel and they cut his ears- he bleeds too much and die.”
Sadness envelopes her for a minute then evaporates.
“I am sorry to hear that Ms. Sanchez.” She pushes my voice to El-Salvador and continues.
“Professor I have a question? Victor pun-gon-g, he is dead?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I saw people write a lot. Many people know him and say good things. They use many words: kind, brilliant, scholar gentleman, born diplomat. A man, looks like his boss, say he dress well every time in suits and said “Victor was thought – and thoughtfulness – personified.
His truly was a heart of gold – and for that we give thanks.” I hope this is good quote for the paper.”
“You know him professor?
“Because I see what you write and he is from Cameroon like you. I cry when I read all the things about Mr. Pun-gon-g. I cry for his wife and children. Professor you still have the film he send you?”
Making sure her tears do not find mine, I change the subject.
“If you want to use a title for him, you can use “Dr.”
“Ah I forget. I read he graduate in Cambridge. Very good university. Professor I not use no title for him. He is big like Bill Clinton or Nelson Mandela. They not use any title. I feel bad Professor. Bill Clinton- alive. Mandela- alive. But professor, Victor Pun-gon g is youngest.”
“I know” I choke the tears with a cough and swallow my pain with phlegm.
“But he do so much for his age.”
“You are quite right and I think you are getting close to your thesis.”
Like a moth returns to a light bulb, so the smile returns, circling around her lips and eyes.
“Professor”, she says eureka-like: I write something down and show you.”
Many people think that to make history you must be old, but Victor Pungong do many things before he die at a young age. He is a hero that makes his people proud and all people in the world should know him.
“I think you have a good thesis draft here Ms. Sanchez, but you have to learn to be specific. For example, what do you mean by “many things” in the first sentence or “his people” in the second sentence?”
“I see professor”. I work on it and bring it tomorrow, but professor, why do people who want to help the world die too quick?”
“Miss Sanchez, I can’t possibly answer that. It is beyond the scope of English 110.”
“But Professor, People need to know people like Victor Pungong, even students, so they try to be like him and help the world. Too many wars”.
“Well, now you know him.”
“But I only know him to write English paper- then I give you- you put the grade and I keep it in my drawer.”
I look furtively around as eureka twitches my eyelids. I respond:
“Interesting. I never thought of it that way.” I wondered who else needed to hear this.