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)