Jan 3, 2014

What Kind of Day Has it Been? (The Big Two-Five)

25It's been twenty-five years since I've been around, a quarter century. I can barely believe it! Snowed-in on my birthday and sitting here in front of my computer, I can't help but reminisce and take a retrospective view on my life. What Kind of Day Has it Been? What kind of journey has it been?
This post is incredibly personal, more than anything public I've done before and well, this is the best chance to learn this much about me in one go around. It's organized in intervals of 5 years of age.

0 - 10: Class Initialization {}:

Obviously, I don't remember much from my early years. According to tales, I was not the best of kids. I was a handful, difficult and seemed to be almost always angry. There is no picture of me as a kid where I'm smiling, not one. I have a faint memory of family members unsuccessfully trying to get me to at least show my teeth for the huge group pictures we took at the end of each year.

Yes, I have a large family. I grew up in a relatively big house in which, at any given time, over a dozen relatives cohabited. What sounds like a chaotic environment, was actually pretty well organized: My dad and moms leading the pack, followed by my siblings, cousins, uncles/aunts and the occasional nanny/help. Everybody followed the same rules. In hindsight, it's probably the best thing that ever happened to me. No child gets full time loving from the parents; rather you get love from multiple people, all at the same time: No need to be an attention seeker. This is probably my childhood's biggest factor in my current way of life, in which the material does not hold that much of an importance and the spotlight always seems like a burden to me.
Also, there are just so many role models, people around you to look up to (mostly all the people that beat the crap out of you!). And the women of the house, oh the girls! It's impossible to not turn into a gentleman. Bliss!!!

The later years of my first decade on Earth were marked by the beginnings of my most intense relationship: I fell in love with... School (Ha!). I loved school. I loved going to school. The 20-minute walk that I had to do everyday to get there from the house was no deterrent. In Primary School, I got to meet with friends, eat "Pain Che-no" (a thin slice of white bread, covered with tomato sauce and one bean on top, that you ended up sharing with all your friends. It was sold for 10 FCFA - equivalent to around a tenth of a penny), play "kick the can" during the breaks and above all excel: I was a good student, a very good student. 
I was almost always among the top 3 of my class, alongside K.S., my biggest competitor. During all of primary school, KS was my rival. And more often than not, the girl (yes, a girl) would kick my ass, coming out first of the class, while I trailed in second place. I hated her for it... and loved her for it. 
Actually, in the last class we were in together, some teacher had the brilliant idea of making us seat together on the same bench for the rest of the year. All my idiot friends started calling her my "wife" and I would chase them around the school asking them to shut up! Ahhhh memories...

Under strong suggestions from my teachers and family friends, my parents made me take the end of primary school tests a year early. I passed them and skipped a grade. Given that I also skipped the first grade of primary school, I ended up always being younger than the people I associated with in school. From an achievement perspective, this was fantastic. The downside is that I obviously lost track of all my friends from primary school. For example, I did not seek or have any news concerning KS until much later in life...

10 - 15: The Wonder Kid?

"I mean really, who cares about clean clothes
or even clothes that fit"
Because of my strong showing in primary School, I could tell that my entourage started building high expectations on my account. No one ever said anything directly, but i could feel the pressure. And I worked, worked hard to confound these expectations. During my first 3 years in Secondary school (10-12 years old), I was fierce. I was determined to know everything about everything. My curiosity had no bounds and I made sure it showed on my report cards. In one word, I was a NERD. I used to sit alone in front of the TV on Saturday afternoons to watch reruns of the american show The West Wing (called A La Maison Blanche in french) on national TV. I did not understand much of anything, but it sounded really smart to me, so I just sat there and listened. I was pushing hard to be a wonder kid.

Not surprisingly, my social life took a toll: It did not exist. Well, not really... What I mean is that being raised in a town where everyone knows everyone, I barely knew anybody. I was bad at creating and keeping relationships. Most of my classmates were older than me and to be fair to them, I was pretty bad company. I was that nerdy kid that always did his homework and seemed to not be concerned with his appearance. I mean really, who cares about clean clothes or even clothes that fit? Ha!

But then there was soccer/football. I liked playing and I was in a youngsters team and we played local tournaments on occasion. I used that avenue to forget a little bit about school. Like in most things, I was highly committed. I used to train maybe 3 times a week, a couple of hours per session on average. I was not very good, so I was benched most of the time during games. I was a forward and a specialty scorer. You would not feel my presence during a game, unless I scored or was very closed to scoring. This stealthy way of playing earned me the nickname of Trezeguet, after the frail and very opportunistic french forward of the early 2000s. 

I however stopped playing rather early (decision I actually made myself), for.... wait for it.... school. Again, following strong recommendations, I took the national test that allows to move from the equivalent of middle school into high school, a year early and passed, thereby skipping another grade. Again disconnecting with friends and getting into circles wherein I'm younger and younger, still with the same drive to confound expectations.
It took a combination of very distinct events, in high school, to bring me back to Earth. First, puberty kicked in really hard. I suddenly seemed to care about what people said and how I looked. I did not do much about it for a while, but I was bothered. Also, I needed to redefine a me, I was looking for hobbies that will change from the usual hard working guy; I wanted to fit in. This need was actually aggravated by a national faculty strike that lasted many months and completely disrupted the learning experience. My first year in high school was not looking so good.

The "Pray hard, play hard" dichotomy.
I still can't smile properly on pictures.
And then I discovered Basketball. It was clear that football was no more an option, I was not in shape anymore. Bball was the new cool and hip thing that my classmates were into. I was short and knew nothing of the sport, it did not seem like a suitable choice. After taking a chance a few times, it turned out into a very exhilarating adventure. I started to play more and more and kept getting better. Slowly, I was picked up to play with the cool kids. This was something new for me and I loved it. I made very good friends through Bball. Who knew that these guys were actually the nicest? I started moving into that culture: expensive sneakers, baggy shorts and hardcore hip hop music (See the picture on the left, what the hell was I thinking?)... The ladies loved the Basketball players! Winning! Of course, I never learned how to speak to girls or how to speak to people, I was still totally awkward. Oh well, I had way more fun on the basketball court than on the soccer pitch (look at this recent recording of me ditching a alley-oop here - Still got some skills under my belt).
At the same time, in my quest to understand myself and the world around me, I strengthened my faith. I was raised catholic and went to church on sundays with the family, but it is not until this period that I got really serious with religion. This culminated into my reception of sacraments at age 14.

The "pray hard, play hard" dichotomy seemed to work well for me, but my grades were suffering, and some of the basics from all the skipped grades started piling on. I was not an exceptional student anymore, I had failing grades in important subjects. I kept working hard enough, to remain just below the top-tier and avoid mediocrity. When national end of year exams arrived, my intensity rushed back and I was always confident that failure would not befall onto me. At 14, I graduated high school, being among the youngest in my class with a concentration in mathematical sciences (maths, physics, chemistry...). The college doors were wide open, just as I started doubting my self proclaimed wonder kid destiny.

15 - 20: La Universidad:

These were the years I had the time of my life so far. 3 years at the University of Buea and one year at University of Yaounde. The learning experience and the people encountered during the college journey are the barometer to my current state of mind. Even though I'm still terrible at keeping contact, I created some of my best relationships during this period. The beauty of it all is that I compromised neither my studies, nor my commitment to the faith, while having the "best fun". Indeed, the dichotomy turned into a trifecta (pray hard, play hard and work hard).

This time with friends, and i seem to smile a lil'
There was no sign it could turn out this way, when looking at the beginnings. To the contrary, everything seemed to go downhill. I was 14, fresh out of Secondary school with no idea what I wanted out of life, never lived away from my parents house for more that 3 months at the time. I was to chose a major and a school to attend in another city, knowing that I would have to live all alone. Every decision made at this point would ultimately determine what my life would turn out to be. The challenges seemed unsurmountable to the young mind that I was: I had never seen much of the real world, thanks to my somewhat secluded choice of lifestyle.

Thankfully, one of my cousin was in the same situation and I had some company in the struggle. Lucky me, my cousin was a lot more experienced that I was. Without her I would have messed up all the potential that I once displayed. We opted to apply to the only public anglo-saxon school of the country. I originally applied for the Business school (Bamilekes are all about business), but Ubuea refused me and rather sent me to the Math department. This is a prime example of those situations when you hate the heavens for dealing you a certain card that later turns out to be an absolute blessing. The math department had a minor in Computer Science. That's all I needed to reboot that drive that I almost lost. After getting my BS degree. I went to the capital for a one year post-graduate degree, this time in CS. I got reacquainted with lost friends from my hometown and there was fun to be had. 

The local job outlook was not the best in the world. Therefore a huge number of youngsters fly out to other horizons, looking for better opportunities. I myself sought for a better life by taking the big leap into the unknown, 3 weeks from my 20th birthday. The american adventure was calling. With Barack Obama just elected, I was filled with hope. It was a big change, taking my first plane ride for over 4000 miles across the Atlantic to Washington DC, by way of Europe, with nothing but dreams, a rather thin plan and a support system.
The american age (my 20's) is still ongoing and I may talk about my struggles and successes one day, maybe when I reach the big 30. So far it can be reduced in one word: fulfillment. Old dreams are getting accomplished or fading away to open the door to new and exciting challenges. The hard work, focus and drive from my first two decades are once again put to the test. My most important wish for the starting quarter century is to not let it disappear, but strengthen and channel it into cruising though this new journey.

What kind of day has it been? One full of blessings: My big fat family to which I will be forever grateful; All the friends I made along the way and whose contact I probably lost and/or whom i failed to communicate with. Thanks for enduring the dork with a big stick up his butt! That guy still exists and shows up from time to time, but I try hard to hide him away from others.

I have had a great life so far and I'm excited to see what the future has in store for me. I will try my best to reach for the stars. It won't be easy, it might take some time, but just like my picture-smiling problem, it will eventually happen.

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