Ecole Francophone de Buéa! Lycée Bilingue de Buéa! Centre Culturel Français de Buéa! Monsieur Valabanga, notre professeur de français!
It was striking that the Ecole Francophone de Buéa was located quite close to the Buea Army and Gendarmerie Camp at Long Street, Woganga. It was easy to decipher: the first francophones that arrived in droves in Buea were military men! Their kids had to go to school. Thus, Long Street looked like a Francophonistan, a francophone stronghold or enclave.
Aside: This kept me thinking. So we had no soldiers before they came? But there was a camp before their arrival. Thus, they merely replaced another occupation force? Were they a kind of solution to a problem we could not handle?
They spoke a language that my father could not speak or understand though he made frantic efforts over the years and subsequently abandoned it.
I still remember the old green hard paperback beginner’s French course book that my dad used to thumb through. For all his pains, I never heard him utter a word in French.
Until he passed away, I do not recall that he ever set foot in Yaounde! Douala, yes! Of course, none of us can forget the grilled fish, miondo and Douala bread he often brought home in the evening!
However, hard by the army and gendarmerie camp was the police barracks, seat of the dreaded mobile wing. Thus, we had no soldiers but policemen! Indeed, I can rattle off the names of famous and infamous Southern Cameroons policemen because they were next door.
Lesson one: you cannot understand the fine prints of a contract that is written in a language you do not master.
While we looked quite neat, disciplined and égalitaire in our khaki shorts, navy blue shirts and Clark sandals/barefoot, pupils of the Ecole Francophone de Buéa were quite scruffy in assorted outfits.
There was this rubbing off effect on some Long Street kids who attended Slow School (RCM Buea Station). But school masters like Chop No Flop and Kasamabeya knew how to go about it.
During official events like the Youth Day and 20th May the difference was shouting: quite difficult to make a difference between street urchins and pupils of the Ecole Francophone!
Change like water permeates slowly but surely. During a memorable march-past at the Buea Town community field, pupils of the Ecole Francophone appeared in khaki shorts and blue shirts! It was splendid. They blended perfectly.
Lesson two: even the minority can influence/change policy, thought and processes.
Monsieur Valabanga, notre professeur de français! At Slow School, opposite the Delegation of National Education, we began introductory French classes in Class V. Our French teacher was a tall, dark, molongo (cane) wielding but short-tempered man nicknamed Valabanga.
Did he smoke grass, we-we, gem, nku or banga? I wonder. We used a cartoon strip dubbed En Passant Le Moungo. For beginners, the title En Passant Le Moungo was quite instructive: English was spoken on the west bank of the river Mungo whereas French was spoken on the east bank. It depicted our history, in some way.
Lesson three: there are two Cameroons.
During French lessons we literally crossed over the river Mungo with Monsieur Valabanga. He loved the tough-hard method. Most of my mates had little or no knowledge of French; except those who lived around Long Street, Warders Barracks, GRA and Buea Station since they mingled with francophone lads and were thus opportune to pick up some French phrases.
I still recall the sighs when Valabanga walked into class and the relief when he walked out. To some, he was terror incarnate for this that his brightest moment (the few times he flashed his teeth in glee) was when he was about caning a recalcitrant pupil. Evidently, he took delight in inflicting bodily pain!
One school day, he did just what he was good at but with seemingly the wrong pupils because their parents ensured a doctor issued a medical report and the following day a policeman appeared in school! Monsieur Valabanga could not understand why a policeman should quiz him for thrashing kids! Mais monsieur, c’était la manière, the policeman told him.
Lesson four: even kids have rights!
But Monsieur Valabanga had redeeming qualities. He was good at culture générale (general knowledge) and algebra. However, his molongo (cane) was always nearby. By all accounts, we learnt more about French Cameroon history and algebra from him. He taught these subjects in English!
Lesson five: in Rome learn the roman language!
Twenty years later, monsieur Valabanga was still working and living in Buea; not as a French primary school teacher but at the Delegation of National Education.
Lesson six: home be home (dixit Nico Mbarga). In other words, feel at home anywhere in the national triangle.
Centre Culturel Français de Buéa was located just below the Clerks Quarters. Inevitably, French language and culture were the bonds between Centre Culturel Français and our French teacher, Monsieur Valabanga.
Unavoidably, these bonds trickled down from teacher to pupils. With hind set, the French Centre was a fishing ground for potential francophiles! Every imaginable bait was used to lure the teenagers that we were: copies of Kouakou and Calao (cartoon strips), tickets for films at the centre, and a well furnished library at the centre were we flipped through Tintin and his escapades.
was no British Cultural Centre or British Council when we ran recklessly and with abandon up and down the streets of Buea.
Lesson seven: nature abhors a vacuum. No culture freak lets go an abandoned territory!
Lycée Bilingue de Buéa! Pupils who passed in List A at the Government Common Entrance Examination had a place in Lycée Bilingue (Bilingual Grammar School).
Thus, it was the place to be for the best and brightest! It was also the place to be for the formation of perfectly bilingual (English and French) Cameroonians, hence the famous classe bilingue where all subjects were taught in both languages! It was also the bête noire for some who ended up in Saint Joseph’s College Sasse or Bishop Rogan College!
But Lycée Bilingue subsequently drew the ire of Buea denizens because it gradually changed from a centre of excellence to one of indiscipline.
Lesson eight: you cannot implement a policy (bilingualism) that you pay only lip service to.
Lycée Bilingue epitomized the francophone way of doing things! When Lycée Bilingue played against Sasse, Birocol or BBSS at the Buea community football field, there was always palpable tension.
However, Lycée Bilingue and Bishop Rogan College produced record-breaking performances in basketball. In fact, Buea became a basketball reference centre thanks to Lycée Bilingue and Bishop Rogan College. The Youth Centre at Buea Town was the battleground for these basketball titans.
Lesson nine: all work without play makes jack a dull boy.
At the social level, Lycée Bilingue thrilled, amazed and dazzled with its famous Lycée Bal that Sasse boys avait saisi au rebond.
Lesson ten: life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music (Ronald Reagan); so start the reunification music!