Think about the connections you make with people. How have you formed your friendships? How have you nurtured your relationships? What led some of them to deteriorate? Who amongst your friends are coming or came to your wedding? Who are you going to share a meal with in a few minutes? Which of your Facebook friends would go to your funeral? We are social beings. Our relationships help define ourselves. They are there for us and we reciprocate. Colleagues, family members, neighbors, lovers, co-workers, childhood friends, they all help mold the way you see the world.
Today I lost a friend. He was the first friend I made here in Meidougou. I celebrated the 2011 New Years with him. He took me to the best bar and we danced without the countdown. I had such a good time that I remember looking at the clock in my cell phone and realizing that I missed the first three minutes of the New Year. Peace Corps selected him as my Community Host, a role that he took very seriously. He introduced many community members to me and translated practically every conversation I had for the first few months. His name was Mustapha, a 23 year old man who owned the only pharmacy in Meidougou.
When I heard he had passed away I wasn’t surprised. A few weeks ago he lost half of his weight. He had been sick on and off for practically my entire first year here. I didn’t realize it was so serious until a few weeks ago. I should have realized much earlier the gravity of his situation. I messed up. I should have insisted harder to take him to the nearest hospital. I knew he was lying when he told me he was feeling a little better. The 2000 FCFA I gave him the other day wasn’t enough. I know I had the means to prevent this. Fuck. He was sick for a year though, I'm positive it was a very serious illness that the health care system was unable to handle.
There are an obscene amount of problems in our little planet. We turn our heads when it gets too real, well at least the people who can afford to do. I know none of you know this stranger and realistically you have no reason to care but this is not stopping me from wanting to share who he was and what his death has made me realize. I have roughly 900 and some odd number friends on Facebook. This man, Mustapha, was not one of them. Not because we weren’t friends but because he couldn’t afford a computer. He couldn’t afford many things. He once asked to borrow 5000 FCFA and I selfishly refused.
Mustapha was raised here in the Adamawa region of Cameroon. I don’t know anything from his childhood but I know what he has done recently. He made a living with his pharmacy and also made money selling cell phone credit. He is one of the rare Cameroonians that actually volunteered. Every time UNICEF came to do a mosquito net campaign he worked for free. Anytime UNHCR asked him to distribute food to the refugees he would do what he could. He understood very clearly what it meant to be part of a community. He left his daughter a wonderful example of what it means to be selfless. He also helped me and other Peace Corps Volunteers with our projects. He recently helped a PCV empower a women’s group, he helped them to save money every week. They now own a fridge where they sell yogurt to the community.
His friendship has made me contemplate all of my friendships. It has made me think of the quality of a friend I have been. Lucky for me most of them are conveniently listed on Facebook. But how many of these friendships have I continued to nurture? These social networks have completely redefined relationships. I have a unique story with everyone who I’ve friended. Together all of these little interactions have turned me into me. Surely they will not all attend my wedding or funeral but we are nonetheless acquaintances, acquaintances in a global community. I now know better then ever what it means to be in a community because of Mustapha’s example. His life has inspired me to do a little project. I want to be a better social being in this continuously changing social ecosystem. What do I have to do to accomplish this?
I went to Mustapha’s family’s compound earlier tonight. I bought his mother sugar so she could provide her guests with sweetened tea (a custom here in Cameroon). When I arrived no one was there. They all traveled to the small village he died in. It is Muslim tradition to be buried the same day one dies and in the same place. Mustapha was taken there this morning to see a traditional healer, his family got tired of the medical center failing on his health care. Unfortunately there was nothing the traditional healer could do either. I waited with a small group of people for the family to return. When they arrived the women cried and howled. In unison they let their tears fall onto the ground. I remember when his mother got off of the motorcycle she almost collapsed. When the villagers heard the family return they all gathered in the compound. All of the women screamed and cried together inside while the men mourned outside by the fire. We stayed silent. It was surreal. It was surreal to see so many people come pay their respects. The mourning period will last for the next few days. I wanted to cry. Listening to the women’s pain struck me so deeply that I too wanted to collapse. They held nothing back, they cried so loudly that Mustapha would hear them. The influential figures of the village stayed until midnight. They embraced the mother with very real condolences. Meidougou lost a selfless soul today.
I now know how I can accomplish being a better social being. Here in Meidougou I will spend more time getting to know my fellow villagers better. I vow to not just hastily pass by them without a conversation. The northern Cameroonian way is to greet everyone individually (trust me, I am not exaggerating). Here, everyone spends at least a minute to greet everyone. I used to find this annoying but I now understand. This tradition has inspired me to greet every single friend I have on Facebook. I want to practice this at least once with every single one of you. I want to improve how I balance my cyber social life with my actual one by using the Cameroonian way. This is what Mustapha’s life has inspired me to do.
I want to not only dedicate this entry in his memory but I also am dedicating my second year of service to him too.
Merci Mustapha, pour tous que tu ma montré.
Carlos Jesus Fernandez-Torres
January 12, 2012