BY MARIE CHOKOTE
(Marie grew up in Bafang, in the West Province of Cameroon, West Africa)
There’s no better way to start a new year, a new season, than to pause and look at what makes you who you are! We are, for the most part a product of our education and our life experiences, I believe. Up until this past Sunday when I started working on this article, I don’t think I ever took the time to specifically think about what the core values we shared as a family unit were while I was growing up. Amazingly, as I thought more about it, it became more obvious how much they have helped shape me into who I am today and I am grateful to my parents for giving me such great gifts.
Without a doubt the first thing that comes to mind, which has become such an intricate part of me that I don’t even have to think about is our Faith in Christ. I usually joke with my friends that I literally grew up in church! But more than just going to church, we received the gift of life – each of those Sunday school teachings, Bible study lessons were teaching me how to live responsibly as a human being, how to “love my neighbor”, how to strive to be my best at all times through Jesus Christ.
I have to say that each of the points I am about to share are somehow linked to this first one, nonetheless important enough to be individually listed. The second thing that I learned growing up and cherish to this day is a good work ethic. As far back as my memory can go, I remember my mother always working on something from the early hours of the day till bedtime. Between housework, teaching, taking care of us, farming, her days were always filled up. I didn’t see it back then but I am glad she taught us each of these skills. I have a smile on my face right now thinking about the first “1,000 CFAFrs” (about $2USD) I earned because I had successfully harvested some coffee at the farm and reached my quota for the day. My parents taught us that a good life is gained through hard work and laziness was a non existent word in our house. More importantly, we had fun doing a lot of those “chores”. During our summer vacations, it was somewhat of a family tradition to travel to a village (Mawen) far from our city of residence where my parents had farms; there was no running water and electricity, and we spent at least four weeks working 6 days a week from 6am to 6pm (or whenever it got dark). To our friends it might have seemed difficult or painful but looking back, these were some of the best periods of my life. Even more so today because it has served me well. There are times these days when I have to work 6 to 7 days a week / 12hours a day, sometimes juggling that with school and family life.
Those days spent in the village with no electricity or water kept us grounded. And that brings me to my third point. We learned to be content with what we had. We were not super rich, but did not lack life’s essentials either. I would say we were a middle class family, but like any other kids I came in contact with the “rich kids” and such acquaintances can make even the happiest child on the block envious at time. But taking those trips to a place where we interacted with less fortunate people made me count my blessings and understand that I had more than enough (Hmmm!!! wonder if that was part of the plan all along).
The part of our summer vacation that was not spent farming was spent studying! Oh yes that is core value number 4: education and excellence. Both parents, now retired, were in the teaching field. Each of us kids some point had my mother as a teacher in our elementary school and Daddy in an administrative position in middle and high school! Because of that all their coworkers thought that they had the right to demand a little more from us; there was certainly no room for mediocrity. I don’t know how they did it, but my parents planted in us a certain natural “love” for school and a great desire to be the best (I don’t ever remember being forced). So we read and studied all year long school or no school, helped either by our parents or our siblings.
Since we are talking about siblings, I come from a large family, I am the youngest of 10 children. At any given time in our home there were always family members around: uncles, cousins, nephews you name it. That thought me the importance of family and within that family respect for the elder (i.e. – understand this – anybody who is older than you). Anybody old enough to be your parent was “papa X” or “maman X”. So from the way you address them to not interrupting when adults are having a conversation (unless it was really urgent of course), to waiting for your turn, we learned to interact with adults. If the person was not related to us and or was not a very close friend of the family it would change to Mr X or Mrs X. This did not change at all the fun we had and great times we spent together. It is interesting to realize how this has affected me so much that when I got my first job in the US and my supervisor asked me to call her by her first name , I wasn’t able to!
These are few of the priceless gifts I received growing up through my family, sharing them makes me realize even more how precious they are as they continue to have an impact on my life in several ways. As a young mother, I am reminded to try as much as possible to pass them on and add to them as I continue to learn through new experiences and from the things others have to share as well.
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