Updated: Jul 2
| This is the 227th story of Our Life Logs |
I’m telling you what I remember.
On March 23, 1975, I sat in the room I shared with my cousins, plagued by a great torment. The sun flowing through the crack of the window was not able to warm up the icy cold that was invading me at every thought of my future. I was a teenager on this day. A teenager who found out she was pregnant.
You might wonder why being pregnant would be such a big tragedy; after all, I would not be the first teenager to face such an incident—especially not in Cameroon, the Central African country that has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Africa. If we take into account only the national context, it was not the end of the world. That’s true. But when we add to this context my family context, my situation was in fact, dramatic. I was a pregnant Cameroonian teenager, living with a member of her kinship who barely tolerated her, without resources, and without support. I was alone.
1 | My Family
It must be understood that I was born on October 19, 1958, into a family that was a little uncharacteristic according to African culture. Indeed, my family was one of the few in the city to be single-parented. After having six children together, my mother decided she no longer wished to live with my father. He was simply not the man for her. Their separation was not really a surprise since their marriage had been arranged, but rather, breaking the arrangement was cultural taboo. In my day, a woman did not divorce; even less to go and get into a household with another man. You had to be either very courageous or very careless to do it. Today I cannot tell you what my mother was, but I can tell you that she assumed her choice and founded a new family with another man.
My mother was happy, but as they say, the happiness of some makes the misfortune of others. Her departure left my father completely distraught—not really because he was heartbroken— but mainly because she left him with six children. As much better to tell you right away, African men in my time had absolutely no idea how to take care of children. That’s why we were scattered among my father’s sisters. I told you about my family, now I’m going to tell you about my host family.
2 | My Host Family
I lived with my aunt called “Mamie Trie”; it’s pretty funny as a name, but my aunt was not a funny person. I do not know if I can say that I was abused. I do know that I did not eat to my hunger, I was the person who did almost all the household chores, and that I was often beaten. I was frequently told that I was lucky to have found a person who had kindly received me despite the shame I carried from my mother. I had no right to complain. It was the victims who complained and I decided that I was not one.
3 | My Contingency Plan
Because of my mother, I felt as though I had very few choices to change my fate. So, I came up with a plan, but unfortunately, it led to me sitting in my room in March of 1975, wondering how I was going to take care of the child growing in my belly while I was barely able to provide for my own needs. If you haven’t already guessed, I’ll tell you what had been my strategy.
I had decided to take advantage of my physical strengths—my smooth and clear complexion, my fine waist and sparkling eyes to seduce a man who would take care of me as his proud wife.
What I had not understood was that the man I had involved had never intended to take care of me; he wanted to take advantage of my assets, but nothing more. This is how I found myself from one relationship to another, until I was all alone. I had a decision to make and I did it. I don’t know if it was the right one, but I did it. I decided to abort my child, to kill the flesh of my flesh. And after that, I swore I would never find myself in this situation again. Never again.
4 | A New Life
After the abortion, I decided that I was going to live a new life. My fate was not for others to decide.
The first step in this new life was to receive an education. Given the limited financial resources that I had, I could not do long studies; therefore, I did secretarial training that allowed me at least to have a diploma. With this symbol of pride, the future seemed to me to be filled with hope. Perhaps that’s why, when I met Charles, I thought to myself that there were so many good things in my life that he could only be an angel sent from heaven. I became pregnant and we decided to get married. My father was against our union; I do not know why, but today I understand that I should have followed his advice.
Our honeymoon was followed by three years of violence. My husband beat me regularly, eventually resulting in a detached retina. I had the chance to keep this eye even if its utility is purely aesthetic. But I will tell you, I’m not a victim. After the loss of vision in one of my eyes, I decided that enough was enough. Perhaps it was my mother’s image that gave me strength, I will never know. I got divorced in 1982 even if it was against the tradition. With my husband, I had two children, but as I was without resources and support, the courts granted favor to my husband for their custody. As if being violent was not enough, this man had to take my children too.
Finally, my new life turned out to be more gray than the rosy color I had once dreamed. Still, I told myself that gray was not such a bad color; after all, it was a mixture of white and black and if I focused my attention on the white side, on hope, I would get by. I refused to remain passive.
5 | The Ascent
A friend of the family agreed to host me, and with the little money I had I started selling donuts on the street. This food adventure proved to me that when one has the will to improve one’s fate, nothing can stop her. I started this business with flour, sugar, water, and a pot which I put oil that I heated through a wood fire, lit on the floor. I got up every morning at dawn, I prepared my dough, and I settled right in front of the house. Then, I sold my donuts to passers-by. That’s how I started to save.
After 365 days of selling donuts on the street, I had enough money to undertake one of the craziest adventures of my life: to get my children back. I was not going to fight in a court because it was a lost cause. The law automatically gave the father custody of the children, and even if I showed that there were extenuating circumstances that might have been in my favor (the father of my children had remarried and his new wife was regularly beating and starving my children) it still wouldn’t have been enough. My ex-husband was an important politician and I was a poor donut seller. No, I was not going to get my kids back in court. Instead, I would pull them from the claws of abuse with my own strength. I would kidnap them.
6| A New Plan
I started by taking the youngest with my brother’s help. We hired a car and hid near the house of my ex-husband. I approached the house and called his phone. As my ex-husband went out, we took my youngest son and left the premises. I entrusted him to the good care of my mother as I made my plans to recover his brother.
Getting back the elder was more complicated. After the disappearance of his younger brother, his grandmother and stepmother watched him closely; but that would not stop me from being reunited with my son. It took me almost a year to get him back. One day while he was playing in a park, I was able to do it. Their father never took steps to find them, which suited me.
After that I had the wind in my sails. I managed to rent a small apartment in 1985, and then promptly start a cleaning company. My first clients were my father’s friends. And after word got out, my business never stopped growing. I started having government contracts. I was able to provide for my children, a blessing beyond measure.
7 | A Tale of Hope
It is true that on the sentimental level I was always disappointed, but that never stopped me from believing in love and keeping my heart open. Of all these romantic attempts, I had three other daughters who lived with me. The first one was born in 1985, the second in 1987 and the third in 1993. I have worked with boldness and allowed my children to continue their studies abroad. I did my best to give them a comfortable life. And when I look at them, well, I am happy.
I could have let my family or my life circumstances define me, but I decided that I wouldn’t be one of those statistics speaking about single mothers living in poverty. I decided I would always hope and believe in life, and thanks to this I had five wonderful children. I can’t say that I’ve always been the best of mothers, but I gave everything I had for my children.
So, if you think my life has been a tragedy, think again. I have decided that my life is nothing more than a tale of hope.
This is the story of Geneviève Fondjo
Geneviève, a Cameroonian business woman, came from a dysfunctional family who cast her in the shame of her mother’s choices. She sought to rise above her fate at an early age, only to find abuse and misfortune. Still, Geneviève kept a heart of hope, eventually taking her kids back to live with her and began a successful business.
Geneviève passed away on December 22, 2006. This story was written by one of her daughters who says, “Thanks to the strength and perseverance of my mother who did not let herself be easily defeated by the vagaries of life, I can now use this literary space to pay homage to her.”
This story first touched our hearts on December 11, 2018.
| Writer: Dominique Abana | Editor: Colleen Walker |