18 years old, my first year in Washington DC, circa 1989
I was in boarding school in Cameroon for a five year stint from age 11 to 15. Students were referenced by age group, forms 1 to 5, which are like grades here. Each year, students from the higher forms were appointed as prefects, and given limited authority over other students. The school’s 500+ students live in four houses, each of which is made of one or more dormitories. Immaculata, Rosary, Fatima, and Bernadette housed students in form one through form five. There were strict rules; from 5am until 10pm the following daily activities typically occur: Mass celebration, breakfast, chores or early morning run, classes, lunch, siesta, afternoon prep or study, sports, supper, evening prep.
At the age of 11, like my older sister, I got sent to a private Catholic boarding school called Our Lady of Lourdes in Bamenda, Cameroon, eight hours away from where my parents lived.
As a Daddy’s boi, ahem, girl, I was not a fan of being away from home. It was challenging but my parents felt I needed the discipline and structure of boarding school to become a young and responsible adult. I didn’t care about any of that because I was being teased mercilessly for being a big girl. Needless to say my first semester was awful and lonely and emotional and I wanted out. Until I met my first love Beatrice (not her real name).
Beatrice was two years ahead of me. Developing a friendship with her was ideal, as she was accustomed to boarding school life and used her seniority to bail me out of mandatory hazings and humiliations. Our connection was innocent and genuine and pure. Her dormitory was walking distance from mine and on our free weekend afternoons, we would make time for each other as much as possible.
I vividly remember walking in the woods by campus with Beatrice, and then holding each other’s hands sitting behind one of the secluded buildings on campus. We would talk for hours, dream for hours, stare at each other for hours and be deeply content just being in each others company. We became best friends and then more. This was not uncommon at boarding school. It was known around campus who was coupled up. We were apart of a culture of Cameroonian girls who created loving relationships with each other.
We would talk on the phone for hours every day. I honestly can’t remember what we talked about except a lot of “I miss you.” Our parents knew of each other even though we lived 7 hours away. On long summer holidays, we convinced our parents to let us visit each other for two weeks at a time and we cherished these intimate moments together. We did everything together, we went to the movies, we went on walks, we went swimming, and daydreaming. It was easy passing as straight since no one, ever imagined that we could be so deeply in love. Also, I thought my love for Beatrice, as deep as it was, was a private anomaly to my womanly existence. At that age, I had no knowledge of lesbian women living in the world.
My first love was heavenly and wholesome and felt right even though there were no reflections of us in the community. So we kept our love a secret.
19 years old, extension braids, make up courtesy of my older sister
Getting down to some makossa with my Dad, circa 1991, Washington DC
United States, 1992
I was fairly new to Washington D.C., I had moved from Cameroon to attend college like my older sister Nams and my community was mostly Cameroonians and continental Africans. My social life consisted of being dolled up like African Barbie by my sister to go to African parties and be hit on by African dudes from our community trying to be my African husband. Years later, after secondary school Beatrice and I found ourselves in two opposite coastal states in the United States. Beatrice invited me to pay her a visit at the time I was a junior in college dating a sensitive, supportive and conscious brother from the Congo.
My visit to the west coast, much like boarding school, changed everything about who I am today as a queer woman. I was introduced to a world that I felt drawn to but did not know existed. Beatrice brought me to my first lesbian bar. As I hung out with her community of lesbians and I got a strong sense of belonging. I had felt welcomed home by the vibe. And had an amazing threesome. There was no turning back. The cat was out of the bag, so to speak.
Upon my return home, I shared my experiences with my boyfriend who was aware of Beatrice and my love for women. He was supportive and willing to stay with me for the long haul and be my African husband while I dated women on the side. I considered it, but could not bring myself to do this. So we broke up and I never looked back.
Having been an out African boi for two decades, I wonder how many of my African queer siblings were in my position and stayed? I wonder how many of us are afraid and in danger when we are living in our truth? I choose to live in mine and it included years of tension and distance from my family, that I grew up tight with. My family and I have healed but it took almost 10 years. Sadly, Beatrice passed away a couple of years ago and that loss was heartbreaking. As part of the healing and honoring my sweet friend, I committed my life to make it possible for all of the Beatrices and Ngowos of Cameroon and beyond to love and live as they dream.
20 years old, African fashion show for a family friend, a Cameroonian rights of passage
Thanks for hearing my story. Never be afraid to share your stories below. In sharing our stories we are creating change and growth future generations.