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.
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