“Life, friendship and destiny”
May 2000. That is when my anthropological journey started in the most tangible way. Together with my husband, Alex Meerbergen, I travelled to the unknown urban jungle of Douala in Cameroon in order to start a dense ethnographic research on the interpretation of illness and well-being in contemporary Africa.
Our “adventure” got an unexpected kick-start though. Thanks to the benevolent participation of my parents, Senator Paul Lammers and Luisella, the introduction into Cameroonian society went more than smoothly. Indeed…Months before our departure, my parents attended the World Congress in Cannes. They met Senator Chantal Lewat from JCI Cameroon and some of the other delegates (Arrey Obenson, Gilles Lewat, Guillaume Ndetene to name but a few). During this friendly encounter, a safety net was thus created for us. Chantal promised my slightly concerned parents, to welcome us as soon as we would reach the country.
I will always remember the arrival at Douala airport, the sudden blaze of humid and hot air that would stick to us for the whole duration of our stay. But the most memorable souvenir was: Arrey Obenson’s friendly smile and embrace. He was awaiting at arrivals and made us feel home from the start. As young members of JCI Brussels, we asked for a transfer to the local chapter of Douala la Doyenne in Cameroon and as such we became their first European members, participating in most of the activities and helping with the organization of the Area A conference in Yaoundé 2001. For a while we lived in Hotel Lewat in Deîdo and were often invited to family gatherings in Douala and in Bangangte, the village Chantal Lewat was originary from. An anthropologist couldn’t dream for a better setting to observe the social and cultural structure of her hosts.
The story of our Cameroonian two-year long adventure, its vicissitudes and the eventual outcome of us never “really’ having left Africa since then, is too long to tell. What I want to stress here, is the infinite opportunity that JCI has offered to extend our boundaries. Arrey is now definitely a “brother” for us. This is how we refer to one another today still. In those days, as young law student and member of our local chapter, Arrey has shared with us the joys and sorrows of being young and restless, still wandering through life not fully realizing what the next day will bring but confident enough to know that “all will be well”. He was genuinely interested in my thesis topic and opened so many doors to his friends and acquaintances for me to have enough trustworthy informants. As protector, he helped us finding an apartment that was cheap but safe enough to settle. And we had so much fun together.
We somehow lost the steady connection on the way because his academic and professional path had lead him to the USA while we continued our expatriation on the African continent in other countries than Cameroon. Enormous was my surprise to bump into him again during international conventions and meetings. We started to be in touch again and he has been a good advisor for every step in our JCI career. I couldn’t be more proud and happy when I learnt that he was to become the successor of our dearest Edson. One couldn’t imagine that the “boy from Douala” would become a steady and familiar face within our JCI Community, a personification of JCI’s values and its most prominent ambassador world wide. But when I look back, the very seed of it all was already present in him and it has continued to grow over the years.
I am forever grateful to my parents for having opened the door to the Cameroonian delegation that night in Cannes. Our lives would have certainly been different otherwise. As older (and maybe wiser) JCI Senators now in Port-Gentil with an extended planetary network, Alex and I still try to keep the values of transcendent fraternity alive by investing time and energy to make JCI Gabon thrive again and to keep the standards of human rights and responsibilities high wherever we go and in all of our endeavours. Just as our parents and many others before us have thaught us so greatly. Isn’t that what JCI is all about?
Port-Gentil, the 18th November 2018
Marie-Christine Lammers, # 70185