The Book

The Book

His Excellency the Governor of the SW Region,

The Divisional Delegate of Social Affairs, SW Region,

His Royal Highness, The Fon of Esohtah

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good afternoon to you all. We are proud to be here this evening in order to happily announce to you that a new baby (Book) has been born into the Southwest Regional literary family. ANUCAM Educational Books Plc served as the midwife (Publisher) and the presenters played the role of attendants (Editors). The name of the child is My Brother’s Journey from Genius to Simpleton… The author’s name is Marie Angele Abanga, a descendant of the Takus and relation to the Palace. The coming into being of this miraculous book was accompanied by good news for all humanity, which is the birth of Gabriel Bebonbechem Center for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing for the fight against stigma and rejection of the epileptic and mentally ill (gbm-em). It is therefore not a coincidence that this book launch is within the framework of the celebration of the 23rd Edition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. You are privileged to be the first to know and be commissioned to share the good news that the birth of the book, like the death of the genius, Gabriel Bebonbechem, is one and the same thing. This is similar to the birth and death of Christ in various ways. In dying, after tortuous suffering experiences with epilepsies and later madness, Gabriel Bebonbechem rises via this tribute of a beloved sister to become an eye-opener to all of us who are alive yet dead to the sufferings of epileptic and mentally sick persons who line up our streets begging for mercy. Indeed, Gabriel Bebonbechem is alive through this biographical book and the foundation created thereof in his honour. It is actually a better way of coping with His loss. Our review is broken up into two parts. Part one deals with the book itself while part two outlines the importance of the book to our contemporary society and appeals to our consciences to arise from slumber and become sane for once by abiding by God’s principles and helping the downtrodden.  

PART ONE: THE BOOK; My brother’s Journey from Genius to Simpleton…

In  reviewing  a  work  of  a  multi-dimensional  character  like  “My  Brother’s  Journey  from  Genius  to Simpleton”  one   immediately  finds  cause  to  adopt  if  not,  customize   an  approach.  This  memoire recounts  the  exploits  of  the  affable  (though  despised),  intelligent  (yet  humble)  and  ambitiously driven Gabriel  Bebonbechem  who  thrives  to  reach  for  the  stars  but  has  epilepsies and mental health  issues thriving  against  him.  To  enable  you  to grasp  the  substance  of  this  tear  jerking  yet awe – inspiring narrative,  there  is  cause  to  break  it  down  to  three  sub-headings:

1-The man Gabriel

2- Gabriel the Embattled Genius

3- The Essence

The Man Gabriel

In  the  spring  pages  of  this  memoir,  the  writer  devotes  a  few  pages  to  the  birth  of  Gabriel Bebonbechem whom  she  fondly  describes  as  a  gentleman  A.K.A  Gaby.  A  gentleman  whose  birth  is tainted  with  ambivalence:  timely  for  a  male,  celebrated  by  his  mother,  energizing  to  Marie  yet shunned  by  others  especially  his  father.  In  this  awe- inspiring  biography,  one  reads  with  rapt attention,   the  intrepid  exploits  of  the  Douala  born,  science  oriented,  success  driven,  remarkably affable  and  God-fearing  genius,  Gabriel  who  battles  to  make  purpose  out  of  life-a  battle  that shuttles  him  to  many  a  destination:  Douala,  Yaounde,  Fontem,  Buea,  Germany,  London  and  the  U.S which is his dream destination and  that  of  most  Cameroonian  youths  and  I  guess  even  most  of  us seated  here.

In  describing  Gaby  as  a  pacific,  the  writer  treats  the  reader  to  a  dose  of  a  youngster  who  shuns violence,  despises  the  slightest  form  of  altercation,  protective  of  the  vulnerable  and  accommodating of  human  frailties.  He  is  the  kind  that  so  values  life  that  he  will  stand  up  to  a  multitude  bent  on persecuting  a  girl  (AYO),  his sister  and  author  of  this  book,  for  getting  pregnant  “prematurely”.

As  a  genius,  Gaby  is  famed  for  being  a  senior  to  his  seniors  when  he  helps  an  elder  sister  with  a Maths  problem,  fond  of  frequently  gaining  promotion  from  class  to  class  within  the  same  year  and reputed  for  possessing  an  IQ  that  places  him  generations  ahead  of  time.

 Gaby, the Embattled Genius

In  this  section,  the  writer  situates  Gaby  in  the  context  of  mental  dysfunctionality.  This she serializes into 4 stages;

In  stage  one  (starting   in  1993),  Gaby  yields  to  a  demeaning  series  of  hospitalization  orchestrated  by occasional  epileptic  attacks  in  his  native  Fontem  Kingdom,  leaving  the  family  in  the  corridors  of prayers,  vigils,  masses  and  hope  that  God’s  healing  hand would complement  the  rather  intoxicating treatment  and  drugs which he  was  already  being  subjected  to.

Stage  two  takes  the  reader  to  Gaby’s  gravitation  to  Germany  for  better  academic  pursuits,  though  also  in  the  hope  of  having  his  mental  health  crisis  nipped  at  the  bud in a more advanced setting.  Paradoxically,  Gaby  glides  almost  irredeemably  to  the  abyss  of  mental  illness which results in his deportation.  Upon  deportation  therefore,  from  Germany  back  to  Douala,  Gaby  had  become  a  ghost  of  himself,  constantly  trembling  and  randomly  recollecting  terrifying  experiences  like  (fraud, inhumanity of man-to-man  and  racism)  while  in  Germany. This lays bare the fact that there is need for us back here to take care of our lot and our people. If you can’t care for your people, do not expect others to do your dirty job for you.

In  stage  three,  the  situation  becomes  very  critical;  he  looks  scary,  he is  helplessly  dependent  on care, despite family pressure to hide the shame associated with mental disorders, he  insist  on greeting/complimenting  passersby,  and he is  over-shadowed  by  lack  of  attention  during  therapy  sessions as  well  as  addicted  to  seclusion.  Even  in  the  midst  of  all  these  throes,  he  thrives  academically  by earning  his  diploma  even  without  a third  of  school  attendance  and  as  luck  or  fate  would  have  it;  he wins the  U.S  DV  lottery  and  is  set  to  becoming  a  citizen  of  the  “free  world”  or  preferably  dead world,  where  he  meets  his  doom. The dream destination paradoxically turns out to be a doom destination characterized by inconsistent medical advice, care/attention and dangerous prescriptions of long list of drugs with horrible side effects.

Stage  four  makes  of  the  genius  a  simpleton  who  after  succeeding  amidst  panic  in  the  visa  interview gets  to  the  U.S,  only  for  the  worst  to  set  in.  He  is  moved  to  a  group  home,  he  starts  but  cannot push  through  with  studies,  he  develops  low  self-esteem  because  of  the  injustices/discrimination  in the U.S  and  unable  to  withstand  crippling  side  effects  of  the  drugs  he  is  doped  with,  his  mental  health and  psychological  challenges  result  in  among  other  things  incoherence  in  communication  (see  emails, stage  4)  and  finally  his demise. Indeed a genius has remorsefully expired and what is left is had I known! Could we have done better by trying alternative treatment? Could he have quickly passed on if he had remained in Cameroon? What if he had had earlier attention from the father and consistent follow up as soon as the crises started? What could he have become if he led a normal life and longer than he did? Only God knows why. Marie Angele Abanga’s book has immortalized this budding genius cum simpleton. It marks a new beginning which seeks to provide answers to the many unanswered questions about the birth, life and death of Gabriel Bebonbechem. It is envisaged that life will never be the same again for other epileptic and mental sufferers who may benefit from the proceeds of this book launch. Enjoy this simple story told in a fascinating manner but above all help the afflicted by donating your care and in-kind or cash to stop stigma and rejection of people suffering from disabilities.

The Essence

In  the  concluding  pages  of  this  work,  the  author  brings  to  the  fore  a  composite  of  take  home  lessons;

-Statistics  show  an  increase  in  the  number  of  mental  health  diseases

-There is continual stigma and rejection associated with the diagnosis of mental health diseases

-Most epileptic and mental cases are abandoned to themselves and allowed to die on the streets scavenging.

-Since  mentalities  in  Cameroon/Africa  are  still  largely   way  from  “accommodating”  mental  illness,  advocacy  is  what  needs  to  be  given  impetus  and  owning  a  copy  and  exploiting  the  contents  of this  work  is  a  huge  part  of  that  advocacy.

Part Two: Morale of My Brother’s Journey from Genius to Simpleton

Most works of art, like this one, ask in various ways the central question – who is man? What is his essence? Many subjects and peoples around the world attempt answers. The Greek who have been widely studied refer to man as homo sapien. We are therefore like God, all knowing. We are the handmaid of the Lord as per the Holy Scripture. Man is dust and unto dust he shall return hence to make meaning of our existence, we need to leave a legacy for posterity. Gaby did his best though burdened by illnesses and limited by time. Concurring with Abanga, Mother Teresa says, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

By extension, African culture holds that we are each others’ keeper. Thus the cry of one is the cry of all. Laughter is similarly shared equally. Burdens are lessened by communities binding together in times of sorrow and in times of peace. Despite the goodness embodied in this age-old wisdom, current trends show that these lofty ideals have gradually died down giving birth to emotional humanity characterized by the mad craving for things in excess of our needs, wickedness, anger and immorality in all forms. Man’s inhumanity to man has reached dangerous proportions and made humanity simply insane, unreasonable and beastly especially with the advances made in technology and weapons of mass destruction. This evolution has been accompanied by climate change and various illnesses that drain our populations. How else can you characterize a mad generation? Albert Einstein asserts, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Similarly, the Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Where indeed did this senselessness start? It started with the fall of man from grace to grass. The Bible reports that when Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, God asked Adam, where are you? Guess his answer: “I am naked”. Is this a wise answer? Is it related to the question? Adam by sinning had lost his senses. Sickness came into the world because of sin. The greatest of which is the sin of omission, neglect and ignorance. We neglect our responsibilities thus illnesses step in. In agreement with this view, Marie Angele Abanga asserts “… my father literally ignored my siblings, especially my elder sister and my kid brother, and I hurt most for the latter who so badly wanted to be with his daddy, or even have daddy wink at him – to no avail – and who had too often ended up hiding and crying behind our mother’s skirts”. Children need our paternal love and care to grow and lead normal lives. The absence of this breeds depression which builds up into unmanageable crises.

Marie Angele Abanga’s book opens a can of worms and draws our attention to our ugly path. Primarily, men fail to attend to their kids but when they develop abnormalities which turn into crises, they quickly tend to blame their wives for the failure. In the villages, we constantly hear men state that successful children take after their fathers and failed ones mirror their mothers. The blame culture further alienates us and renders us unable to act. Thus there are mad people everywhere on our streets. Where are our consciences when this reckless abandonment is taking place right in our villages and towns?

Marie Angele Abanga on the contrary to the general will posit the following lessons:

1. Parents should assume their full responsibilities. Communities should lend the necessary support. Do not be guilty of the sin of omission or negligence. Do not lose your humanity. Try to be sane by reaching out to the needy especially mad and disadvantaged people. Christ speaks to us through them. “I was hungry and you refused to feed me…” He promises a reward for those who do so, Catholic Hymnal states it thus, “… now enter into the Kingdom of my father.” God gave us things to use and people to love but in our madness, we have reversed it: we love things and use people. Please, reverse the gear because we are nothing without love. Dust unto dust we shall return and all else shall pass away except Him.

2. Reach out to the needy (mad people, epileptic cases and lepers etc) and fulfill your Christian obligation. Show them true love till the end. Don’t reject or be ashamed of any case. All are created in God’s image.

3. In helping the less privileged, you are giving thanks for the gift of life and good health. In showing compassion for the sick and disable, you are making meaning out of humanity. Those who are sick and those who are well all have their respective roles to play in life. One is the mirror of the other. Illness is the opposite of wellness. Nobody is immune to falling sick. No time or age is fixed for one or the other. You can only know the plight of the sick when you are down yourself. The healthy and the sick have a social contract which must be kept for humanity to regain its sanity. Illness can come at any time and shatter dreams and hope. Rekindle the light. Rehabilitate the sick.  Give them comfort and support.  Do  not  look  the  other  side  like  the  Levite  in  the  parable  of  the  Good  Samaritan in the Bible.  It is the way of the cross.  Pick up your cross and follow Him.

4) Conventional drugs have harmful side effects.  Some of the side effect of Gaby’s drugs was suicide. He might have gone away because of this. Therefore, seek ye alternative medicines and practices. Holistic care for the sick and downtrodden is important. Again Christ admonishes; “feed my lamb feed my sheep” Christ Himself gave both spiritual and physical food to His followers. He healed them with prayers and natural gifts. We should wisely consider combining African traditional medicine and practices with conventional medical practices to heal the sick amongst us. They are complementary. When you cut off your roots, you lose your head. Don’t try no matter how educated you may be. You are anchored in the family and the village in spirit and in physic.

5) Do not neglect disorders noticeable at tender ages.  They build up into a crisis.  Do  not  be  ashamed  of  a  condition  which  deprives  you   of  good  health  and  quiet  enjoyment  of  peace.  Accept the sick.  Create  enabling  conditions  to  rehabilitate  and  harbour  mad  people  and  epileptic  cases  according  to  their  state  of  wellness. 

An Appeal to the Readers/Audience

1) Re-examine yourself.  How  many  times have you  looked  the  other  side  and  treated  your  mirror,  the  sick  and  the neglected,  with  disdain.  Our  Christian  obligations  go  beyond  love  and  care  for  our  neighbours  to  the burial  of  the  death.  If  you  can’t  love  the  living,  do  not  burry  the  death.  However,  the  stench  their  bodies  would  emit  will  tell  you  that  your  survival  depends  on  their  care.  Use  this  opportunity  offered  by  this  book  launch  therefore  to  repent  of  the  sin  of  neglect  by  offering  your  all  and  pledging   your  best  so  that  our  mirrors  don’t  break  before  our  very  eyes  without  us  extending  a  helping hand.  Give  your  last  penny  so  that  the  foundation  created  in honour of this unsung hero, can  wash  away  the  sins  of  those  our  parents/  forefathers  who  neglected  mad  people  and  the  terminally  sick  people  to  die  in  misery  and  in  the  open  air.

Give  your  spirit,  prayer  and  your  person  for  the  eradication  of  epilepsies  and  mad  people  from  the  streets  of  Lebialem  and  by  extension  Cameroon.  Where  is  our  soul  and  our  humanity  when  mad  people  die  on  the  streets,  feed  on  trash  cans,  sleep  by  the  wayside  and  grow  other  deadly complications  while  we  go  about  unperturbed?  Do  something  for  the  sick  and  downtrodden  and  do  it  big time.  It will begin right here by your launching this book with the highest amount ever. If  nobody  thanks  you,  be  contented  that  you  have  done  your  part  and  duty  to  God.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Njousi and Chia