In trying to get back to a sense of normalcy again, we must all agree that a lot has happened. People have lost their lives. Children have whisked themselves away from family responsibilities into distant places to ensure their parent’s safety. Plans have been shifted, changed, and postponed. Jobs, relationships, and several other opportunities have evaporated into thin air. Universities, Shops, and Restaurants have turned down services. Schools and other institutions have closed their doors and turned towards the digital. And we are now learning new ways of treating ourselves and each other as we find better alternatives to our lives. In the spirit of wanting to take a new leave, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I forced myself to remember. I reflected on my past. I traveled through certain corners of my mind I had completely cut off for reasons I cannot say out loud without risking putting myself in an uncomfortable position.
And I remembered.
I saw myself.
I saw a body – finally.
Not the vessel that carries my subconscious, not the body you see when you go; hey there, you – long time no see – where have you been? Not the scars on my face. Nor the million tiny little springs that grow from my scalp. I saw a body with evidence and traces of the past. A body cloaked in generational curses, stories, traditions, and all the things we have been made to forget about the places we come from and the women and men and children whose hands we have carried and held through turbulent nights.
What I saw, stood. It had legs. And eyes. And a mouth. And pores. And they were all open and ready to pour themselves out like a spilled ink bucket – like a friend reacquainted with another long lost friend. It had a consciousness of its own. With questions, desires, and expectations. It wished to be seen. And taken seriously. It wanted to be hugged and kissed and held tightly for hours. It was starving. It had eaten itself thin. And masqueraded itself in a lie. In something, it was not. It reeked of fear and decay. But in all of what was left, I could still recognize something – namely the person I once was before I set out for the west. A boy with fiery-eyes and a longing to tell stories.
When you take up another culture, you shed some of your own – you layer down. Suddenly, some things you were raised to believe take a step back as they make way for other and newer things to occupy the places they held in your life. These changes can take on innocent shapes and sometimes they can be to a detriment. After many years of not quite realizing how far away I had come from who/what I used to be as a little boy sitting between my grandmother’s thighs eating palm nuts and dried fish, swearing I will amount to something none of us had ever seen while dreaming of a world outside of what was available then to a boy from a town called Mutengene I have come to realize that after living in Germany for fifteen years and taking on a lot of what is German in the name of assimilation, I have forgotten some of the very core values and traditions that made me a child of the Cameroonian soil. Now far removed and in a distance, I fear I can no longer access what I used to be/know of the place I was born and raised at.
Years of answering empty questions like; why did you come to Germany – were you brought here by a parent – were you raised by a single parent – how different is life in the west – I bet it’s better than you ever anticipated it would be – you are lucky to be here – you are set for life, now – the freedom you must feel trafficking German streets with endless opportunities and a head full of dreams, must be mind-blowing to a boy who was raised on the heels of a mountain in a country no one knows and giving half-truths in reply has led me to this doubt-filled place, asking myself about who/what I have become – looking in the mirror and fearing to accept what I see. The aforementioned questions are some of the things I have been told and asked. In reply, I have smiled and nodded and sighed and walked away and cried and laughed in anger and confusion. I have wondered about the questions I am not being asked and about the answers in my head, I have prepared for anyone willing to take it there with me in an honest and caring way.
So now, when people ask me why I came to Germany, I tell them, I didn’t come for the food. I say, my stomach is already filled. I tell them I came for so much more. I tell them my lips know thirst no more, my calves are strong and buried deep into the earth, and that one day I will be able to own land again and a name that isn’t questioned by strangers. I tell them, no-one will say “you’re not one of us”. They’ll say, “you’re weird like us”. And I will tell them about the things I left behind, I will tell them things I didn’t say to my friends because I am ashamed and afraid of judgments. The lessons I have learned like losing a parent at only eleven, witnessing the burial of several family members, a suicide just behind the local saint Josephs catholic school building in Mutengene, the pain of leaving behind a family in pursuit of higher education at a far away catholic college up in the mountains of Fako, the alienation of a sister whom I admired and feared. I’d tell them about what my Body has forced itself to forget and remember in pursuit of dreams. I’d tell them about the funerals I didn’t get to attend. The rose that didn’t descend into the grave with the body of a dearly loved one. The foreheads I didn’t kiss goodbye. The stories that will forever remain unfinished. The sins that weren’t forgiven because they needed a mature body and mind to ask for forgiveness. The bowl of soup that wasn’t touched but left cold, sour, and standing on the kitchen counter. The finger that wasn’t licked clean in celebration of granny’s delicious Mbanga soup. I’d tell them that in life, we name things for many reasons. To give context. To eradicate fear. It is done in celebration. To commemorate. To relate. That when you leave a name behind, it doesn’t cease to exist – it lives on until someone picks it up again. If people cared to know, I would tell them what it feels like to leave a name behind. A home. A country. A people. It feels like death. I would tell them, I don’t see myself on most days because seeing means remembering. It means you are being made aware of something. Something you must either like or dislike. Something that needs fixing or tweaking or beaten out. I would tell them, I live in more fear now than I ever have because I am being hunted and because I have developed into something that doesn’t fit in the past and the present. I’d tell them assimilation has some very terrible side effects we must all contend with. I’d tell them, there was a person in here who exists no more. I’d say a body is a person. A story. A life. And we must start seeing and prizing it for what it is – so that people don’t end up dead, stuck, lost, and in confusion about who they are, about where they came from, and about who and what they were meant to be.
Text: Henry Lyonga
* * *
Henry Lyonga is a Berlin-based creative-writer, essayist, and poet. Currently, he is a Master’s student of American Studies at Humboldt-University. He graduated with a Bachelor’s in American Culture and Sociology from the University of Kassel. He was born in Cameroon and writes about immigration, life in the diaspora, the loss of identity, and body autonomy. He has written for Stadtsprachen, Immigrant Report, Discover Germany, and various other web and print publications. In his work, he emphasizes the importance of storytelling as an integral part of cultural and intercultural communication.