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.
Yadji was hired by Peace Corps as an employee for new trainees after I left, and I know there are hundreds of people who have met him. He was a founder of Fair Trade Recycling, and a loyal member of the community around Middlebury. He was funny and loyal to his friends and able to put all our troubles into a context. Just by having him around you, you'd take yourself a little less seriously (part of his importance to me personally).
His unique ability to "play the child" worked well those days in Africa. But it was also a nifty trick that worked just as well in the USA, and would get Yadji in a lot of trouble over the years, as he found himself in and out of jail, driving cars with no registration and no license. Three years ago I got a heart breaking call that Yadji had shown up at work in a car he had bought, drunk on his paycheck, and was sent home. I called the police and gave his description, and he was arrested and served 14 months in the prison in St. Johnsbury. Yadji never held it against me, and wrote to me from prison, and came back to work for me when he was released. [This is an important fact about Yadji's life, and death. I wrote it in mourning but it's true and I cannot edit this out in good conscience]
I have guilt, bias, love, memories and anger issues with Yadji Moussa, but I'm just one person in a much larger community that called Yadji our friends. I'm very grateful for all of the messages from people who know and appreciated and loved him as I did.
It wasn't just that I had a "soft spot" or a bias for Yadji. He was family. If the banks ever burned down, and Good Point had no checks to write, I'd not be alone. He was one person who would work beside me, knee deep in the ashes, without pay to make sure what needed to get done got done. We had a loyalty to each other which we both had to keep from becoming a crutch.
This post has been redacted to not distract from the mourning of Yadji's 4 communities. My relationship with Yadji Moussa was very personal and lasted almost 3 decades, including living together for several months in close quarters. I hope that people who have known him for the past decade, here in Vermont, will attend the Ceremony Friday July 6 in Yadji's honor, and we can share good and bad and funny and sad stories together in a day he deserves to be about him.