Cameroon is a bilingual country separated by exactly such a Babylonian frontier. To the west lie the Northwest and Southwest provinces, Home to cities like Bamenda, Limbe and Buea and where most of the oil revenue comes from. To the East lies the rest and the majority of Cameroon which includes the largest city and port, the capital and most of the other natural resources. An example of the striking contrast and separation can be seen when you compare the supply of bread. Once you cross over to the Anglophone part of Cameroon, you cannot find French bread anywhere. The only thing they sell is mold bread, which is not as good. There is no reason not to sell French bread, which is better and cheaper, in Anglophone Cameroon, but to do so would be to admit that the Francophones are doing something right.

So it’s no surprise that Cameroon sponsors bilingual week. This week, they ask the schools in all the provinces to focus on the language which usually gets a fraction of attention. In small villages where the main language is the patois, the local language, and the second is French, the intrusion of this foreign language is met with skepticism or bored indifference. Same in the Anglophone parts where English is a second and in some places third language to Pidgin, a type of butchered English were every other verb is ‘be’ and has no tenses, and the local language.

Since I can say almost without ignominy that I speak three languages, Spanish, English and French; I was asked by the Principal of the high school, who is also a friend to help out during the observance. This is the same high school where we gave the Anthony Rodriguez Scholarship last year.

I was invited to give a small speech in front of the students to show them the value of English, so I decided to share my story with them.

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I started in French and introduced myself, told them about why I was there, then went all the way back to the beginning.

I then switched to speaking in Spanish and told them how and where my parents and I were born. I told the students how my parents struggled thru their youth to eventually make a family of us and then how my dad was transferred to the United States.

After I finished this part in Spanish, I wanted to start speaking in English, and tell them how I was raised in Jersey then moved to Texas, went to school, etc. but I couldn’t formulate the words in my head. I had forgotten how to speak English! So I started speaking in French again, explaining a little what I said while I tried to recall my primary language. After a while, my head returned to English and I told them that part of the story.

To finish I told them about the Peace Corps, AADB and how I got to Bangou and what I did here, in French. At this point I finally had everyone’s attention, and they could all understand me. For some reason, even though I’ve spoken the other two languages for much longer, I best explained myself in French to this audience of students.

So what was my point, I asked the students. I pointed to some things I’d learned about each language, how each one has its specialty and its merit. So I told them, first to not forget their original language, their patois Bangou. It is this language that holds the traditions and history of the people from this village. At this point I told them that even I spoke a little Bangou, after which I rambled off a few phrases of Bangou and they went crazy. Works like a charm every time.

Second, I told them to learn proper French, because it was the most important language in Cameroon and if they speak and write French ‘villegois’ or like uneducated peasants, they will be treated as uneducated peasants.

Third I told them to make the effort to speak English, because if they ever want to work outside of Cameroon, truly be part of the international community, they needed to know the ‘langua franca’ of commerce.

Finally I told them that the world is big and you will still be missing a lot with only two international languages, and to learn Spanish or even Chinese or Japanese if possible, to really open up their world and their mind.

But reality is an ungrateful mistress. Schools in Cameroon and especially in small villages all across Africa, a hundred students are packed in classrooms full of dirt and that should hold at most 30 students. So I asked the Principal and the administration there to make the effort to make it easier for students to learn. I then reminded them of AADB and how we want Bangou to become a beacon of hope thru education and development throughout Cameroon, and I presented a gift of English magazines and books to the English club. They again went crazy and showed their appreciation the way only kids and women in Africa can show appreciation, with howls, dancing and shouting. AADB has struck again.

I promised to follow up, and I will go visit them to help them put the books and magazines to good use.

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