Letter to my fellow countrymates: Let's talk


Having lived in a foreign country and interacting with different types of people over the years, I became increasingly aware of how privilege could influence people's lives. I realized I was privileged to speak French growing up in the Republic of Cameroon.

Growing up, I was accustomed to hearing children and adults speaking French around me. I didn't think any of it. Growing up in a household where English was seen as the language of my future, I genuinely enjoyed studying the language and my dream was to become fluent in English as a high schooler. In Cameroon, we have over 200 local languages but the Western languages English and French are still the official languages. I was envious of the Cameroonians who spoke English, having no idea of their struggles.
Wherever you are and when you're ready, let's talk. Let's talk so we may know more about each other and overcome our differences for a peaceful and united Cameroon. 
Fast forward many years later, I am now fluent in English and my view of my country is so different.  I can picture my country through the eyes of my fellow countrymates who grew up speaking English. I realized how difficult navigating in the capital city of Yaounde could be for them. If you get lucky, you may hear people speaking pidgin. Being used to hearing English by that time, the difference was obvious.

Speaking the English language opened doors to a new world which was right there in front of me. I discovered another Cameroon in terms of culture, food, and values. I had the opportunity to develop different kinds of relationships. I felt guilty to know more about the cultures of some neighboring countries than the ones of my fellow brothers and sisters living next to me.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a fellow Cameroonian countrymate who grew up speaking English. As young Cameroonians, we realized we made assumptions about each other based on what we were told as kids. Getting to know our fellow Cameroonian brothers and sisters to break the divide in terms of languages, religions, and tribes is an important step to keep our nation peaceful and united.
Fast forward many years later, I am now fluent in English and my view of my country is so different.
To hear from my fellow Cameroonian countrymate says that we're not supposed to be friends right now because we grew up speaking two different Western languages is a sentence I would never forget. This lie has been kept alive too long. From our conversations, I decided to write this letter to other fellow countrymates who primarily speaking English:

Dear fellow countrymate,

You may be living in Cameroon or in the diaspora. You may be a woman or a man. You may a child or an adult. But, I wrote this letter thinking of you.
This letter will probably not erase your pain. This letter may not resolve your problems. 
If there is anything you should remember from this letter is that I don't hate you because you speak English. In fact, I love you because you're my countrymate.
My careless and ignorant actions and my words have hurt and many. 
I apologize for all the times you felt discriminated and mistreated because you expressed yourself in English. Please forgive me and other fellow countrymates for not acknowledging your pain and your cries. To be honest with you, we have our share of pain we would love to tell you about it if you've some time. 
I want to be that fellow countrymate you can trust and love whether you see me on the streets of Bamenda or Washington, DC. because I believe in overcoming our differences. 
Will you please give forgive me?
I have been praying for peace to return to our country. I have kept you in my thoughts and prayers. Wherever you are and when you're ready, let's talk. Let's talk so we may know more about each other and overcome our differences for a peaceful and united Cameroon. 

Sincerely,

Jessica Foumena

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