When life gives you lemons: adapting, surviving, striving & thriving - Sandy Zetinyuy
I had never imagined how it felt to live in an apprehensive environment where waking up and going to bed in a cacophony of sporadic and sometimes deafening gunshots and witnessing the merciless burning of infrastructure had become the new normal. This nightmare suddenly became my reality in 2019 and since then, I have witnessed many inhuman acts such as the kidnapping of students and cold-blooded murders.
All of these started like a joke in November 2016 when classes were stopped because of a teachers’ strike. I could not imagine that the Teachers' strike would result in what is today referred to as "the Anglophone crisis" which has had devastating consequences in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon.
When the 2018/2019 school year began, some schools resumed classes and I went back to school. Everything was apparently going on well until the burning of schools and kidnapping of students and teachers began. Students and teachers who struggled to go to school were often tortured, and some even killed. I can vividly recall a day I came back from school with my siblings in jubilation because we had had a smooth day in school without the usual sounds of gunshots. Later that day, I heard the news of a dead body that was found at the market square, but I continued with my activities since it was already a frequent occurrence. I was speechless when I discovered that the corpse was that of my teacher with whom I had classes earlier that day. I was scared out of my wits and felt like I had developed diaphoresis. This incident left a deep scar on me mentally. The school environment which was the safest and serene had now become a no-go area as camps of fighters were even set up on some school campuses.
Most influential people started deserting the North West region. That was when it dawned on me that things were really falling apart. Teachers and government employees were threatened, and even though my parents were teachers, my dad was hell-bent on not leaving his hometown but at the same time, he did not want my siblings and I to miss another school year. When the 2019/2020 school year began, luck smiled on us and my father sent us to a boarding school. I was relieved as I thought we were going to be free from the trauma caused by the crisis, but the nightmare was far from over; I found myself in the heart of the trauma. Sometimes during lectures, I would peep through the window, hoping to find a ray of hope, but my hopes were constantly shattered with the sight of charred remains of houses from the conflict, and sometimes smoke from some fresh burning of houses. Gunshots became a melody to my ears at least once per day, and we fondly referred to that as “popcorn”. Being away from my parents was even more stressful as I longed to know how they were faring daily.
One fateful morning while we were at the school chapel, five unknown armed gunmen walked in. When I saw them, I went into a trance and at the time I regained consciousness, everyone had been asked to lie on the floor. Our school principal and other teachers were kidnapped. A few hours later, they were released, and we thought they had come to a compromise with the gunmen. We continued to attend classes despite the tense atmosphere with the hope that everything was alright until something staggering happened. We had just gotten back from the Chapel, and everyone was so excited to go for breakfast. Then suddenly, we heard a loud gunshot which left everyone horror-struck. The invaders were moving towards our dormitory but thank goodness the military intervened. There was a crossfire between the two forces, and we had to run back to our dormitories. The safest thing to do was to go under our beds. Peeping from my hideout, I saw younger students screaming and others even fainted. I was scared to death and asked myself when all these would come to an end. Some of my peers were hospitalize for weeks just to recuperate from the shock. That was how the school term abruptly ended for me.
Relocating and enrolling in a new school was the only option left as I still had to write my GCE exams. I did not let the trauma overshadow my desire to succeed in my exams. I rather took it as a challenge. So I worked extremely hard, bearing in mind the fact that I was going to write the same national examination with other students who had had a smooth academic year. I finally wrote the GCE Ordinary Level that year and came out first in my school with 9 A, 1 B, and 1 C grades scoring a total of 30 out of 33 points. In 2021, I sat for the GCE Advanced Level in and came out first in my school with 5 A grades (perfect score).
As it is often said, "every misfortune is a blessing in disguise." Having gone through these experiences, I have met new people and learned a lot more about myself: to be resilient, persistent, committed and consistent because without these, I would not have made it in my final exams. I have learned to keep working, striving and never giving up.
After witnessing the indiscriminate destruction of infrastructure in the North West region, I have been deeply touched and would want to be a part of those rebuilding the city after the crisis must have come to an end. It is against this backdrop that I have chosen civil engineering as my career path, so that I would be able to contribute significantly to rebuilding the infrastructure which has so far been destroyed.
(From the left, I am the first in red)
The hostilities in the North West have sparked in me the desire to become a Peace Advocate so that the future generations would not undergo the same trauma we are enduring. As the saying goes "In every situation, we must adapt, survive, and strive." My experiences have gone a long way to show that challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.