Within the world of Mbengwi, Cameroon life is difficult for most young people. In order to excel in school they have work extra hard, beware of the corporal punishments that are inflicted on wrongdoers, and for Austin he soon realizes that at times the fruit of his labors are futile. The first few years in school, basic elementary school he excelled, behaved and loved his studies although they did not challenge him. But, as most parents and teachers know that when you change course, choose the wrong friends things happen and your goals are diminished and your hopes might go up in flames. Living in a poor country filled with suffering and hardship the only way some young people could succeed was to have parents that were wealthy and could afford the costs, tuitions and the bribes at times in order to get into higher ranking schools.
Things spiral out of control and then within a short time Austin, our main character changes gears and not always in the right direction. Trapped, hating his own homeland, parents that support him and yet at times are disappointed with his wrong choices, Austin living in a country filled with unrest and corruption joins forces with other young people to do the same thing because within him he feels the unrest and his mind and thoughts explode in many directions which will cost him many punishments, suspensions and lower test grades. Can he overcome the obstacles that he will face all through all of his levels? Will he continue to cut classes, up rise and join the rebellions in college? Realizing that the professors could care less about the courses being taught, failing students makes them feel big and in control, the living conditions in some of the colleges he and others attend are deplorable, they decide to challenge the authorities only to face more rage and loose hope.
Hoping to connect with many young girls and at times finding himself the brunt of someone’s poor attitude or jokes, Austin eventually meets up with some but will this one person ever reenter his life? Austin always seems dissatisfied and yet he manages to help both of his grandmothers one summer, his parents in their store and resents the fact that when he finally graduates and gets his PHD that the salary that he was to get for teaching was late. With his parents up in age and his father ailing, he wanted the money to help support him and when it does come will it be too late?
Austin’s life changed when he decided to come to America and take on a job as a teacher. But, not everyone accepted him and at times you begin to wonder if he will ever get his credentials in order, why someone so intelligent was often bypassed and why at times he made the wrong choices. We learn the many differences in the students here and in Africa as he speaks with many of his co-workers learning that student financial and sexual harassment by instructors and graduate assistants is not unusual or uncommon. Low pay, low esteem, how could an educator be effective if their students for the most part failed? Changes had to be made at the university level and although he did well, he and the other students went to the authorities hoping for them to improve conditions and for reforms. The University of Yaounde had an emergency meeting, which ended in violence, discord and nothing solved. Austin soon learned that elite professional schools in Cameroon, did not have room for students like him that were smart, highly intelligent, goal-seeking, ambitious and critically thinking. Austin decided to enroll in a Master’s program in England Language and Literature. Struggles continue in graduate school and he took the entrance exam in ENS and here is where some harsh realities come into place. Passing it was just the start but things after that did not go as planned. Teaching at Mevick would continue and no room for fun at least now.
Living with the Browns he went to church on Sunday but after a while he pretended to be ill since every encounter led to questions about his life, his family and more. Imagine your first day teaching in America. Exciting I would think but learning the differences in the students, the brazen questions that asked about Africa and other personal questions leads Austin to learn from the start that he would have to set his own rules and parameters. Working in the Mississippi Delta, he remained friends with and African friend but hoping to buy a car was enlightening. There was no way they would allow him to purchase one since he had no credit even though he had a good job and could make the payments. It took going to several and then a used car place to get transportation. Completing his thesis for his PHD and the cost of binding and printing was huge. But, dating two girls would hopefully help him understand that this was unwise and the incident that is related should teach many young men a number of lessons. Many wrong choices are made and jumping into intimate relationships Austin should have learned from previous mistakes.
Evaluations for his doctoral credentials were enlightening to this reviewer as Austin’s needed 7 evaluations and the correlation of the courses in Africa did not meet those in America and things did not go well. Life went okay for a while and he received many honorable positions and hoped to meet someone special in his life. But, meeting Kimberly would turn his world haywire and the huge salary he received as a level 5 teacher and the fact that he was really outstanding would take some serious setbacks.
Austin held many high positions in many schools but at times he would face more adversity when administrators that scheduled interview did not adhere to their word. Never faltering and never giving up on his goals until having to marry Kimberly and not realizing that this would take away his freedom, limit his options and cause him to have to rethink his goals and much more.
Marriage to her was more than a nightmare and the lessons he would take away would not come anytime soon. With a young daughter to care for and his wife claiming that her ex-husband never made payments, it takes him a while before he gets a harsh reality check.
Author Antoine F. Gnintedem takes us inside the many schools in Africa and learning about the poor educational system, the lack of professionalism, the corruption, deceit and the money so many pay to get what we get for free here and so many take fore granted.
A simple ride in a cab and a driver named Melissa enlightens and sets him straight but will Austin take the steps to free himself of this toxic wife? With the help of a good lawyer he gets the process started and hopes that he will get a peaceful divorce. Not so!
Work fueled him but things sent downhill for quite a while and when a deputy served him with papers in school, he needed to catch his breath as the wind was knocked out of him. Her demands were huge and her eyes had greed within them and the end result would take time and money and the need for a new lawyer since his passes away. Even trying to park his car in his driveway brought the police, her parents and an open war and fight. This woman was relentless and all she cared about was what she wanted leaving the love his children had for him set aside and the lies she told believed by some but not by Austin.
Read his words on pages 164-165 and hear a father’s words. Years pass and some endings bring new beginnings and Austin hopes for a new life. Speaking to the graduation class and reading his words will bring tears to the eyes or readers and enlighten students to the obstacles they will face, the responsibilities that will now come with going to college and getting that first BA degree and then more. His words are inspiring and all teens, young adults and educators need to read this story and understand that African students are in need of help, support and that somehow their system needs more than a good overall.
Intelligence should matter and grades count for something but when you read this story you will learn the harsh truths that some have pushed under the rug.
What happens to Austin at the end? Will he find happiness? Where will his life take him and what is the final chapter in his life that we will read about? Will his life remain filled with Doom and Gloom or will he finally end his pursuit of the sun and see the sunshine coming through.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Network/MJ magazine