The Invisible On-Looker

A testimony from Vitalis, a member of our media team here on the CAT.  

Vitalis. Photo by Amanda Danziger.
Vitalis. Photo by Amanda Danziger.

I left my country for the USA for the first time on February 12, 2006, even though I did not know anyone I could live with in the USA. After reaching out to friends, I was connected with a Lehigh University student who agreed to pick me up at Newark Airport when I arrived.

As I flew from Cameroon to the USA, I kept glancing at the plane’s navigation screen. As we approached our destination, I noticed the aircraft suddenly started moving further away from Newark. I thought to myself, “Are we being high jacked?” I had heard such stories. Instead, we were being diverted to Ohio because Newark Airport had just been closed due to heavy snow.

From Cameroon to USA. Map courtesy of Google Maps.
From Cameroon to USA. Map courtesy of Google Maps.

All too soon I found myself at an Ohio airport where I was given a hotel voucher and told to come back next day for a flight to Newark. Since I did not plan to stop anywhere else other than Newark, I thought the first thing I should do is call the student who was waiting for me at Newark to let him know the change in plans. I walked up to a payphone on the wall, and a note on the phone said “Insert Quarters”. I was confused. I was not sure what a quarter was. Then I tried to walk out of the airport and ask how to get to the hotel, but after a long walk, I was still in the airport. Hmm! “I think I have to talk to someone now.” I turned around to ask for directions, and I saw just one person behind me. So I walked up to him to ask for help getting to the hotel.

“Where are you from?” he asked me.

“From Africa,” I replied.

“Africa is a big place. Where in Africa are you from?” he asked.

“Cameroon,” I answered.

“Cameroon is a big place. Where in Cameroon?” he asked

“From the northwest part of Cameroon,” I replied smiling and quietly wondering if he needed answers to all these questions in order to help me. But he did not end there!

“The northwestern part of Cameroon is a large place. Where in the northwestern part of Cameroon?” he continued.

“From Bafut,” I replied, still curious why all the questioning.

Then he asked, “Abela?”

I could not believe what I heard. This question in my mother tongue means, “How are you?” This stranger — Tony — is originally from Bafut and now lives in New Jersey. He was on his way back from California to Newark when his plane was diverted to Ohio, too. He also had a hotel voucher.

Interestingly, when I told Tony who was supposed to pick me up in Newark, he screamed, “He is my friend!” That is when I thought, “There must be an invisible someone guiding me along my trip.”  Tony immediately called him and told him that he was with me and that we would fly together to New Jersey the next day.

Bafut has a population of about 150,000 people, and a very small percentage of this population travels out of the area. In Cameroon, a country with a population of about 20 million people, the chances that one Bafutian can bump into another Bafutian in another part of the country are very low. The chances are even more minute in the USA, a country with a population of about 315 million people.

The one message that sticks in my mind from this unforgettable event is that NEVER say you are alone. In happiness or in sadness, there is an invisible on-looker.