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11 September 2001: The Day that Changed my Life

Azinmenda travel coach was full of passengers, all going to Bafoussam. It was 5 pm, time for the second edition of the newscast in French, Cameroon Midième.  The driver suddenly switched on the car radio. The news headlines announced: "America in the hands of terrorists . . ." and went on. "Nduma! You di Yah wat kana story, na i bi true?", exclaimed in pidgin English a 38-year-old lady who was to get off at Bafia, some 200 miles from Yaounde-the capital of Cameroon. I had been busy eating some braisé with bobolo, a few hours before. The appetite went off. America attacked ! Meaning that the Twin Towers have been wiped off the map. The radio anchor, Barbara Etoa, was painting the events as if she were an on-the spot-correspondent. They too had learnt about it from foreign channels, since there is no radio  national correspondent abroad. Every body panicked as the event was being dramatically commented. "C'est la troisième guerre mondiale, ça c'est sur. Bush, tel que je le connais, il ne va pas digérer ça!", a French language teacher, who was sitting  beside me exclaimed. Hot comments now invaded the whole coach, waking up sleeping babies and old men from their day dream.

In the evening the then  Director of the National Institute of International Relations Prof. Emmanuel Pondi, was the "special guest" of the English French bilingual newscast. In his opinion,  the long-lasting middle east conflict between Palestinians and Israelis might have been behind the attack. There were mix feelings amid Cameroonian muslin community. While some expressed shock and sorrow, other celebrated the "great work of Allah to punish arrogant Americans".

A few days later, when the entire world media began vibrating with a certain Bin Laden, the planet was also shocked. Thinks changed. And so was my country, though in a strange way. Bin Laden was now used metaphorically, symbolically and ironically in various situations. "Dat man na Popò Bin Ladin", as could be heard in streets of big cities like Douala, Yaounde, Bamenda and Bafousam. In local schools, any student who came out as outstanding was referred to as Bin Laden of Maths, Bin Laden of English, as a reference to his or her capacities to win over school subjects which many could regard as almost affordable. Any friend or family relative who betrayed a group or a community was dubbed Ben Laden.  Aggression or unexpected violent attacks were immediately labeled "terrorist act". "Terrorism" and "Bin Ladin" really penetrated the social communicative environment of Cameroonians by the end of the year 2001 and since then those terms have remained in the lips of my compatriots.

Another man whose strong voice did not just limit within the boundaries of his country was Georges W. Bush the American president. He would throw his "War on terror" words right from Washington but we would receive them far down in the South. Public authorities would relay Bush's words in Cameroon, as if the Us president  were the preaching pastor, and the Cameroonian politicians the faithful listeners and executors. It seemed a good opportunity for the Government to distract ordinary people from their daily miserable life. National public media would pump in news on America, inundate any TV and radio programs would be inundated with reports and comments on the "the fight against terrorism". War on terror or not, it is true that the "campaign against" the proponents of "axis of evil" had an influence on Cameroonians.

One could have believe that the US terrorist attack might discourage people from their desire to migrate to the "blessed country" but that was not the case. I was among those who had wanted to go to America for studies. The usually long queue at the US Embassy in Yaounde almost doubled as more and people keep on requesting visas to America. "Even dying on the plane signifies that you are not just anybody!",  Atangana told me. He was one of those graduates from the Faculty of Law of the Soa University in the suburbs of the capital, who had been  loitered around waiting to be absorbed in the public service or in a private corporation. Atanagna was able to speak Italian, German, English, French and Russian, not because he was a naturally gifted person in languages: it was a result of the unsuccessful attempts he had made in several European embassies where langue proficiency is a gateway. The September 11 attack was just like a dagger in our back, but one had to remain defiant, one had to fight to the last amount of energy. Do to so, one had to care less about media because news would in no way be encouraging. It was a troublesome season.

Capitalizing on this turbulent period, the American Embassy raised a sophisticated protection barricade all around the main building located at Carrefour Wada, blocked or deviated public traffic, in such a way that no unidentified person or car get closer from 500 miles of its surroundings. Public authorities closed a diplomatic eye to this move. City dwellers grudged but could not move further as police force could came with their black maria to crush down any protest.

Before then my junior sister had just got married to Francis, a tribal Bamiléké who had just graduated from an engineering school  in France, and was seeking a permanent job which was a requirement for obtaining a family reunion visa. This means that as long as he could be a jobless graduate, his wife could not joined him in France. By that time, young graduates from French advanced professional schools  had been selling like hot cake. Now things were going to change terribly, Americans companies would take their investments back to the US, there would be a  drastic slump of employment opportunities, and my sister would keep on waiting in Cameroon, and perhaps I would never go there myself even for studies, so went on my thoughts... In Africa, I help you, you help him, he helps them, they help others, and the help chain continues. Things would never be the same, I kept on hallucinating.

I was not the only one to be invaded by thousands of ideas and imagination on what would happen to his world as a results of what national TV journalists later on called "a unique provocation possibly masterminded to test Bush and American new war capacities". Both Cameroonian Anglophones and Francophones expressed their worries and sympathy to the American people. But the next Sunday, a preaching pastor, described the attack as "a way for God to tell Americans that no-one can claim to have built a protection shield in this world !" I was terrified.

For the next days and months, I was permanently sticked to various TV and  radio channels in order to be updated on the consequences that might follow. I eventually learnt that I had to move away form my country in order to look for a better future in Europe since the media kept on telling us that there would be very little promising future for the younger generations in the developing countries as every rich country would be fighting to survive. Thus the irreversible decision to leave


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