I got a lifetime warranty and a lifetime membership on the day my husband and I got married. My father-in-law told me in front of everyone, "You are now our wife and if Okwen is ever giving you problems, send him back to us to straighten him out for you." The wedding was small but it established the commitment and responsibility between me and my Foma family in a strong way.
Last week my mother-in-law held a Born House for my daughter. Since the day we had told Okwen's mother that we would be visiting, she decided to switch her planned retirement party into a traditional celebration that is held to welcome new babies into the world. Unlike in the US where we have a baby shower before the birth, here they celebrate the mother and welcome the baby afterwards.
When I showed Okwen the vast preparations via FaceTime, he asked, "Is this a Born House or is this a wedding?" A large event tent with balloons and decorated tables adorned my mother-in-law's garden; a DJ was set up in the side of the porch; a team of five close women friends worked for 48 hours to prepare food. "It's like the wedding we never had," I told him.
That evening, after everyone had arrived and the priest had blessed the event, the real celebration began. As Elise and I stood in the middle of the living room, my mother-in-law's multiple groups of women came and sang and danced around us before presenting us with a gift of soap (that is the only present because mothers are constantly washing everything). Her group from church came, her group from the neighborhood came, her family group came, and her other church prayer group came. Each group has a uniform of chosen fabric to identify them. I got about 200 huge blocks of soap when all was said and done.
I was having an emotional day anyway but I nearly burst into tears when one of the lead women presented soap to me with this tribute, "We are honoring you for all that you have gone through as a mother. Thank you for recognizing how important it is for us grandmothers to see our granddaughter. Many of our children go out and never come back. Thank you for bringing us our grandbaby." Then they continued song after song in French, English, Pidgin, and other languages about the strength of women and the joy of motherhood.
Wow, I am blessed to know strong women in Santa Fe and around the world and the fortitude and reassurance I felt with these women's connection to me and my daughter was powerful. I know I am in good company and my daughter has a legacy of sisterhood to rely on.
Fresh from this experience, two days later we traveled to Okwen's mother's village, Ashong, for the annual dance. When we asked the reason for the dance, they said, "To bring everyone home." Ashong-Batibo people have traveled to live all over the country and all over the world. In fact, one of the things everyone gathered for was to recognize one man from the village who had gone on to win an international award for journalism.
A 1.5 hour drive on the smoothest road I've seen in a long time (built by the Chinese) through a mountain pass and then another half hour on dusty roads took us to the village. You can see where the electric lines end on the dirt road but power is coming later this year finally. The cool fresh air and quiet but for songs in the Fon's palace let me know we were far from city life.
We sat amongst Ashong people of stature (my own mother-in-law was called personally by the Fon to be invited) and heard speeches from many important people (while being videoed by CRTV, the national news program). Finally, after many people made public cash donations to the village, we started to have music and dance. Not like a performance, but everyone together on he field celebrating. Meanwhile gun shots rung out (again part of the celebration) around us.
I always wanted to bring our child to Cameroon before she turned two (kids are still free to fly before that age), knowing that our family here would so enjoy meeting her and she would learn so much about her papa and herself through the experience. It didn't look like it was going to be feasible until the last minute when logistics lined up perfectly. There is something powerful in being in the place where she comes from, back to one of her sources. In that village, she got to see her country people all in traditional attire and hear everyone speaking with the same accent as her father. I know she is registering and storing these important messages.
I take my lifetime warranty and lifetime membership seriously. I'm not always the best daughter-in-law (I'm terrible about phoning to check in on people), but I'm dedicated to keeping a strong connection to Cameroon. Yesterday, I met someone in Bamenda and after explaining how it is I'm here, he said with a smile, "Ah! So you are our wife" and shook my hand. It was the second time someone said that to me this week. There is a lot of responsibility in being married to my husband and raising a multi-cultural child, but there is also a lot of support for me. I know I can count on them to welcome me home anytime I choose to come. Thank you to my Foma family for making this a wonderful trip.