“You aren’t important until other people tell you that you are.”
–Ernest Fondja, my best Cameroonian friend and counterpart
This entry is dedicated to my brother, Mr. SOP Angel Velarde…because I know he won’t fully explain it himself. Humility. Angel has taught me a few things about humility, in his every day effort to be humble himself, which I have to say he has pulled off very well. So he wouldn’t say what a fabulous volunteer he is, but I will. I was once told that you’re not important until other people tell you that you are, and so I will take on this bragging right, firstly because I don’t think anyone in Bangou has a way to discuss it themselves, and secondly because I am extremely proud to see my fellow Texan Peace Corps brother and one of my best friends work so hard and to be so successful.
In addition to Angel’s over all uninhibited (this is what I feel best describes Angel) attitude, who isn’t afraid to do or say just about anything, and his ability to truly adapt to his community, he rather even seeks to understand Bamilike culture, and to be apart of it. His counterpart Aladji, has been an extremely positive influence in every aspect of his adaptation and development work. Angel helped to put together a multimedia lab in Bangou, providing internet access and promoting technology education to his fellow community members, but his biggest project has been the creation of AADB, American Association for the Development of Bangou ( www.AmericansForBangou.org ). Within this official non-profit organization, Angel has distributed educational scholarships and sporting equipment to various schools, and funded and constructed a community latrine in the center of town, just to name a few- and through AADB, Angel has committed himself to be apart of the mission to support sustainable development in Bangou for the rest of his life.
And this is why the chief of Bangou named Angel a notable- a remarkable, unforgettable, worker of worldly development, who has notably made a difference in his community.
Like most celebrations, it lasted two days. Many nationalities gathered Friday, where we drank and danced… I fully took on my womanly responsibility of hosting and serving drinks to the Cameroonians (something I would have absolutely refused to do probably two years ago), and enjoyed seeing everyone enjoy the festivities. The big day was Saturday, though. Angel went to the ceremony in just a white shirt and pants, until he was called into the secret meeting, where all I know is that he was to change. His attire included a shirt/robe, with a hat and a stick that was attached to a big bag. He told me that his pants were inside the bag. Of course, like every other big event, there was a lot of waiting… for the grand personalities, for things to come together as they were supposed to…. But eventually Angel was standing in front of the chief, alongside Aladji, who also received a higher title than previously, listening to the titles being given out to everyone in the group. Angel was then officially given the title of SOP, the highest title one is able to receive without being a part of the family, that signifies sustainable development work in the world. After being named, he greeted various people, spoke with the media, and took about a thousand photos (many of which are on my camera, as I played the role of photographer that day). He was given a large bag of meat, which smelled terrible, but was to represent the fact that he would always provide for his family; he shared the meat with different people in the sea of people.
I am definite that there were other things happening, which Aladji could explain in all of his wisdom in regard to history and tradition, but this is what I experienced, before returning to Mr. le Notable’s house for the celebration of red wine and sauce jaune and tarot (something delicious that you have to eat as a notable, that you absolutely must eat with your hands!).
Maybe on some level I am proud because Angel’s representing us Texans well, or because he is one of my best friends, or because I had the honor of being right there beside him and helping see it all through- but mainly it’s because I don’t think any other volunteer deserves it as much as he does. Angel’s legend will live on, notably and unforgettably, among the Bangou people as well as volunteers that applaud everything that he has worked for. And for that, I think Mr. SOP Angel Velarde fits deservingly and perfectly.