Yadji has worked with me for 12 years in Middlebury. He continued to do better and better after I left Cameroon, and Renee, my peace corps volunteer replacement, agreed he was something special. They married and had two kids, Innah and Adamou, and returned to the USA to live in Michigan, around 1989 or 1990 I think.
He revisited rock bottom a few times, and the marriage broke up in 2000. I owed him a lot from my time in Cameroon, and brought him to Vermont to start a business with me.
Yadji drowned last week, while I was celebrating my twins birthdays in Arkansas. We returned to Vermont and assist with the arrangements for Yadji, who for many years I described as my best friend, and for many times I was furious with, as only a brother can be.
This isn't really the time to write and rewrite whole chapters about him. But this one tells how brave he was, and how he used our underestimation of him to get away from things (for better or worse). When I met him, he had a debt to a cab driver because he'd tried to save the life of a man stabbed in Ngaoundal... there was no hospital there, the closest one was Meiganga or Tibati, in different directions. He put the man on his lap and paid the cabbie to go to Tibati, where they found the doctor was gone on vacation. They turned and drove three hours back, at top speed, to Meiganga, where Yadji was covered with blood and the man was dead. Yadji came back and found the stabber had paid off the town cops. So he wrote a simple letter to the Governor of Adamawa, and told me how he had written in a persona, polite and childlike, asking "but why isn't this man being arrested," sounding like Cindy Loo Who asking the Grinch about the Christmas tree. Three days later, provincial troops were sent to the town, the town cops were barricaded in their police station, and the knife weilder was arrested. Yadji said that the police chief knew he had taken the victim to the hospital, and confronted him angrily, saying he KNEW Yadji was behind the letter to the Governor.
Yadji told me he opened his eyes wide, shook his head, and said "Patron, but I don't know how to read or write..." And the cop believed him, stomped his foot and left.
Here is an interview with Yadji from 2008. He speaks about his home village, Yenwa, one of the most "ancient" or primitive mountain areas of Cameroon, with no electricity or running water. Yadji describes how people move from rural areas like Yenwa, to the cities. And this is really a glimpse of the man, who speaks in a simple and disarming way... so you might forget that he knows 5 languages and could wrap you around a tree if you underestimate him.
He would have been in the African Spring.