It will always be easy to remember when Kenny Rogers died. He died at 81 during the nightmarish days of the corona virus and the nightmarish war that continues to desecrate the place I call “home.” In announcing his death his publicist claimed, “His songs have endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world.” I can testify to that.
In fact, as I reflect on the death of Kenny Rogers, I am reminded of the magnitude of the devastation in the land of my childhood, ironically the space where I encountered Kenny for the first time. Yes, history has rendered the African a complex being and I have learned to embrace the beauty of that complexity. It is a space where Kenny Rogers had as much impact on my girlhood as the Kenyang folk songs and Makossa I listened to. Kenny Rogers would never know that from the crushing notes of his husky voice, I felt the first pangs of love. Our mothers worried about our young male friends who sheepishly visited us but those boys never had access to us the way the white male country singers like Kenny Rogers did. As a young high school girl I bought every cassette of his. Yes cassette, that was before CDs. My favorite at the time was “Lady.” When he sang “My love, there’s so many ways I want to say I love you;Let me hold you in my arms forever more,”
parts of my body that I never knew existed came alive and I surrendered to the succulent folds of his voice. I sang along and allowed his voice to touch every pulse of a desire I was barely aware of. On the continent known for the art of storytelling, he easily carried me on the wings of his stories and we flew away to distant lands in the USA where I was unaware that the color of my skin would put us in different camps. Ignorance was bliss. “Lucille” was another favorite. Her words haunt me still,

“I finally quit livin’ on dreams
I’m hungry for laughter and here ever after
I’m after whatever the other life brings”

But the speaker’s response soaked in integrity left an indelible print on my young impressionable mind:

“She was a beauty but when she came to me
She must have thought I’d lost my mind
I couldn’t hold her ’cause the words that he told her
Kept coming back time after time
“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field
I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times
But this time your hurting won’t heal”

As for the story of the “Coward of the County,” it provided an ace I could use many years later. I am raising boys to be men in a country I was not raised in; in a country where the color of their skin always brings the kind of attention that becomes problematic at times. I expect them to be law abiding and never get into trouble, but on the playground I realize it could happen because “Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man” or even a boy.

In 1985 TV was still sporadic in Cameroon, but our house was lucky my older sister brought TV and videos into our lives. This was the year of the memorable USA for Africa, “We are the World” hit. Kenny Rogers had an endearing performance on the video of the song. The video became a staple in our home. My parents died tragically the following year, so thinking of Kenny Rogers today also brings memories especially of my mom with whom we watched that particular video multiple times. Then I grew up and found love my way, but Kenny Rogers and his songs stayed with me.
Later, I traveled out of Cameroon and I had my fill with videos of him singing and I loaded up on his CDs. From the Uk, I moved to New York City in the 1990’s when there were still huge music stores and I usually got lost in the country music section trying to reclaim my childhood quite removed from the racist stories of the South. The duets with Dolly Parton were always a treat.
So much to say; so much to remember over the years. In 2015 our politics clashed but he was quite gentleman about it and that showed me he was just another human being with his own choices to make. My only regret, I got to watch Don Williams live but not Kenny Rogers. I missed a couple of opportunities.

Well, here’s to Kenny Rogers and to the land I call, “home.” In my world, this two go together. Good night Kenny Rogers. In your songs I found many aces to keep!

Book Review: My Journey by Teih Belinda Nungse

Book Title: My Journey
Category: Non-Fiction (autobiography)
Author:  Teih Belinda Nungse
Publisher: Page Publishing Inc.
Publishing Date: 2019

My Journey by Teih Belinda Nungse is a detailed “no holds barred” memoir of the author’s life from the age of four to the present. The motivation for this memoir is clearly expressed in the introduction, “The need to encourage and motivate the younger generation of women who give up trying when they face a storm; a teaching guide for the younger generation not to fall in some of the pits I fell in due to ignorance.” This motivation ties in with my own belief system that “every problem has a solution in a personal story.”

Ms. Nungse is not a celebrity in Cameroon, where she was born, or in the USA where she now lives, which makes this memoir so relevant and noteworthy. This is an ordinary person driven by circumstances to tell her story not just to her immediate community but also to the world at large with a fervent belief that it may benefit someone. This is a record of her life as she recalls it with names of people, places and dates. It is a daring act of selflessness and a testament of inner peace that only comes when a human being knows he or she has done his or her best no matter how imperfect.

Ms. Nungse was born in on April 6 1978 at the Elak health center in Oku, and she presently lives in Portland, Maine, USA.  This candid memoir is written in seven chapters each covering a major part of the author’s life from early childhood to married Life and the battle with miscarriages and Infertility.

The title of this memoir, “My journey,” is apt because her journey in many ways is still on. This is not one of those “rags to riches” autobiographies that provide the reader with a  final “feel good” experience after reading.  This is the story of a woman who is slowly adjusting to some facts about life. She has come to the realization that despite her intelligence and hardworking nature, she will have to live with the choices she made as a young woman in terms of relationships, and that she may never be able to get her own biological children through no fault of hers. While it may seem from her book that she has reached the end of her journey, that is not a fact. She is alive so her journey in this life is still on and another ending may be in the making.

From the first chapter focusing on her early years, the forces that will control her life are evident.  Although she was very intelligent and passed her exams brilliantly, she could not attend the secondary school of her choice. As she writes, “My parents made me understand the class difference in society and that I should never compare myself with other children because they (my parents) were struggling financially. I then understood why we worked so hard unlike other children who never went to the farm, got involved in with house chores or went to the forest to fetch wood.”

Ms. Nungse writes with candor that makes her story so compelling.  She does not call for pity and takes responsibility for her actions where applicable. Her writing is factual and bold. Her words are unchained even as they easily take control of the reader. She owns her story and her voice. Most African women have been silenced by patriarchy, tradition, and Christian religious values. Thus, her ability to speak her story into the written word is commendable. There is that element of a sacrificial lamb here—that person willing to take the bullets as long as one young girl or woman can be liberated after reading.

Although I was born, raised in Cameroon as the author, and presently live in the USA like the author, I have never met her and do not know her personally even though we recently became friends on Facebook.  Therefore, what kept coming to my mind as I read from chapter to chapter was this sudden awareness of how this story must be familiar to many women in Cameroon and other so-called third world countries.  The double bind of womanhood and poverty is a stranglehold on any intelligent and ambitious girl.  Each chapter in My Journey places the author in crippling poverty making it near impossible for her to accomplish set goals. It is a miracle that she not only earns a Bachelor’s degree but goes on to earn a couple of graduate degrees and rises to the position of Director  in the public service of Cameroon.  Yes, it takes a village to raise a child, but it becomes a nightmare for any child when that proverbial village is dysfunctional.

While the author’s motivation for writing the book was for younger women to draw lessons from her life, I believe it will also be a revelation for relatives and family friends to reexamine the role they play in the life of a child growing up and the far-reaching consequences of some of their actions. In fact, any girl, boy, woman or man should find this memoir illuminating.  The author shows grit, resourcefulness, tenacity and determination that would inspire anyone.

The only glitch in this daring memoir is that in the first 63 pages the author renders all monetary transactions in Cameroon in American dollars as if the currency in Cameroon is the dollar.

This glitch aside, I would not forget this memoir in a long while.  I highly recommend it!

The Art of Braining

By Joyce Ashuntantang

On this Valentine’s day, I decided to honor some male poets of my youth. These are the boys and young men who composed all those beautiful monologues complete with performance in the name of “braining”.  Braining, the way it is done in Cameroon can be rightly considered an art form. The English call it “to woo” which means to seek the affection of someone with intent to romance or to court a woman. In English Speaking Cameroon this phenomenon is known variously as “to brain”, “lay case”  “nak kwadi,” and “nak parole” (or nak pa). These phrases combined together suggest that what is going on here is a decidedly creative and intellectual process.  The word “braining” suggests that the person braining who is usually a male is trying to manipulate the brain of the hearer usually female. In fact, this is captured even more clearly when we refer to it as “laying case.”  Here, the court room is invoked and the metaphor of a lawyer laying forth his arguments shows that it is a careful process where the boy chooses his words carefully and even the order in which he will bring them out to get a particular effect.  The creative aspect comes in when we look at another synonym to this phenomenon- “nak kwadi.” This phrase means to tell a story in the Duala language. Thus, there is a story element to braining. This story element brings in “fantasy” as well as other creative elements to “braining”.  Indeed, the speaker must embellish his verbal presentation with figures of speech to make it exciting. He must be able to ignite the imagination of the girl, so she could dream along with him about a blissful future with him by her side.   Then, there’s the element of delivery. If it is intellectually savvy with all the juices of imagination, but it cannot be delivered, it falls flat on its face. That is why some boys had to ask their friends to deliver for them because they lacked the gift of oratory. It is this oratorical aspect which is captured in another  “braining”  synonym, “parole”.  This  French word “parole” refers to each utterance as a speech act with the concept of performance tied to it. To “nak parole” is to have  the gift of  oral delivery with all the attending nuances. Therefore, I am not thinking of some dull statements that some boys came up with like your “catarrh is my butter’ that is just gross and cannot be elevated to poetry. Even the bland promise, “I am going to marry you” does not rise to poetry. Ironically, it still got some girls to be hooked right away. I am talking here of a  smooth flow when guys took the time to build intricate patterns of words, and then presented  memorable performances complete with deliberate hand gestures, facial expressions and even choreographed movements. Some of these guys enjoyed doing this so much that they were serial Brainers.  They“brained” as many girls as they could, and it seemed as if they did not really care the outcome. Some could just “brain” the same girl over and over, and each time they tried to outdo themselves by coming up with something more creative. I smile as some names and faces come to mind. Well, as I look back on all the braining, laying case, parole and kwadi I have endured in my life time…I give my all time award to one that stood out not only because of its originality, but because of the finesse of delivery.  The guy was as sleek as they come, but he knew that my brain needed quite a bit to cajole it to even listen to the end. Here is what he said and not strange enough, I remember it verbatim:


…after some opening remarks, he paused for what seemed like his planned opening)I know right now you want me to leave you alone. Yes my feet want to obey you but my heart pleads guilty. I listen to my heart, so bear with me. (Hands folded on the chest, his back to the wall and right leg folded back touching the wall. Obviously feeling handsome and confident, he continues) I can’t pretend I have not known other women. I have known a few and pretty ones too. (I am jostled by the revelation and I guess the effect was intended) But I can tell you this much, with all these women I FELL in love. (He knew that will sound confusing to me and it did as I pursed my lips indicating that I am anxious to hear where he is going with this one).  But with you, I am experiencing something absolutely different. (My head drops in a moment of shyness and also to hide my reaction. He pauses, asks me to lift my head and face him, then he continues as if he is about to make a pronouncement of truth from the Pope. Slowly turns around in playful hesitation, displaying his physique in a crisp linen top and  mohair pants, then continues) You see in your case it is just a new feeling because you are different. I am not going to tell you how because you know it. You are very smart. (He is using “suspense” as a device, and I am now all ears). In your case I have CLIMBED on love and I am not going to stop till I get to the top (Of course I could not help but smile. This was ingenuous, but he was not done).  I know our wings will not fly all winds but you and I together will form a formidable pair.”

Truth be told, I knew this was all “Pa” (short form of parole), but I could not help noticing the beauty of the words and the embedded poetry; the play on the phrase “to fall” in love and “to climb on love,” the metaphor of flight and the rhythmic music  produced by the “s” sound in the phrase “our wings cannot fly all winds.” Etc. I was impressed with his poetic performance then, and after more than three decades, I still think it was a great performance. So, today I give it up to the young men who made “braining” an art form and took their time to compose memorable lines and delivered them with flourish.  I used to find them sometimes annoying because I could not stand anyone trying to mess with my brain. However, looking back, I can at least concede this: “Braining” the way it was done by some boys and young men in Cameroon is a completely engaging art form”. I wonder what young guys do these days…

p/s I do not own the rights to the picture above!

(Originally  written on Valentine’s Day 2011)

 I went; I saw; I did not Conquer: Saying Goodbye to Bate Besong and Co.

 (Afterword from Their Champagne Party Will End: Poems in Honor of Bate Besong)

March 7th  2007, the literary sky fell in Cameroon. Bate Besong; Kwasen Gwangwa’a and their driver were crushed in a ghastly accident on the Douala Yaoundé highway. Yes, after writing poetry, crying, making and receiving frantic calls from and to Cameroon, it was clear that I had to go to the land of my birth to see for myself and be a witness not only to the dramatic exit of the erstwhile Obasinjom warrior, Emanyangkpe, iconoclast, playwright, poet, scholar, and social critic, Dr. Bate Besong , but also to witness the exit of the other two literary gurus, Television Producer, Thomas Kwasen Gwangwa’a  and Dr. Hilarious Ambe who died alongside BB.

I left the United States on the 14th of March 2007 and arrived the next day in Douala at night. After having a restless sleep, I left for Yaoundé the following morning, March 16th, and arrived just in time for the viewing of victim number one, Thomas Kwasen Gwangwa’a. After the funeral rites in Yaounde, I joined family and friends that night for another tedious five hour plus trip to Bali, Northwest Cameroon, for the burial. From Gwangwa’a’s burial, I rushed to Bafut on the same day to witness the burial of victim number 2, Hilarious Ambe and the next day, I was back on the road to Yaoundé to prepare for my descent, and then ascent to Buea to be a witness to the traumatic funeral ceremony of the now legendary Bate Besong.

March 21st 2007 was the D day. The crowd at the mortuary was over two thousand including both friends and foe. Buea had not seen anything like that. BB had been such a public figure that he had become more of a symbol than a real person. But his death proved that he was just human, born of woman. And true, BB’s mother was at the mortuary. I stared at her for sometime wondering: how does a woman raise a child who becomes a symbol of hope for a people? When does she realize that such a child will carry the burden of his people? How does a mother mourn a child who symbolized the anger of a people? How does a mother’s personal grief negotiate the boundaries and margins of this show of public grief?

I moved from the mother to the wife. I took a hard look at Mrs. Christina Besong. I had condoled with her privately the night before but seeing her at this juncture in her white mourning outfit in public view brought up questions in my mind. What did she know that we didn’t? In the course of knowing BB it was sometimes easy to forget that he had a family because he was usually engrossed in matters of national import. However, in a rare glimpse of carnal emotion BB wrote these lines for Christina in a poem of that same title:

Woman, your image, newly grained, season fevered

Revelations, too, where my ploughs have lain

Secretions tread Easter pods to lave

White havens, sweet-shawled in loin chambers.

I pondered this poem in my mind as I gazed at the woman, whose husband I had flown all the way to come and mourn. What role did she play in the several volumes of plays and collections of poetry that he produced? From what I knew of BB, I figured, Christina must have been the earth to which BB planted his feet, so he could hold steady his pen.

I looked at his children. Although his daughters were his scribes, it is in the naming of his male children that BB revealed his mind, from the oldest named Dante through his middle son, Mandela to his youngest son, Eldridge. Thus in-between the foremost Renaissance poet, Dante Alighieri, the  revolutionary freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela to Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther activist writer, Bate Besong had forged his own identity, an identity which garnered him disciples as well as detractors.

As my mind surveyed BB’s family at the mortuary I realized that I will leave Cameroon with more questions than answers. So by the time the convoy moved to the University of Buea for academic honors, my brain, mind and soul were playing ping-pong trying to decipher who in fact was BB in his totality.

My flight was that same day, so after presenting my eulogy to the mammoth crowd that had overflowed the Amphitheatre 750 at the University, I bowed in respect and awe in front of the casket carrying the remains of the enigmatic Obasinjom warrior.  Yes I had flown to Cameroon for my grief to find succor but as I entered the car that was on standby to rush me to the airport, it was very clear that I came, I saw but did not conquer…and I now know why…BB’s job is not yet done…his death is just another foundation for the builders left behind…aluta continua!


 Joyce Ashuntantang, Storrs (USA) – January 17, 2008