A TALE OF TWO CULTURES BY ASHLEY LINTON 2007 Based on interviews with Whitney and David Mvondo. In October of 2004, I met Whitney Mvondo. She was a spunky, fashionable red head with a degree in cosmetology from a private college in Ohio. Perhaps growing up in a small town gave her the drive to move to New York City and join the gypsies working in live theatre. I was impressed with her knowledge of other cultures and her compassion for people in general. She took an active interest in everyone’s background. We were traveling with the Broadway National Tour of Les Miserables, all over the United States and Canada. We had been working together for a few months before she had actually revealed to me the details of how she and her husband met. She was the assistant hair-stylist on the national Tour on Footloose at the time. Being her first professional gig, she was thrilled to be making a healthy income and was interested in tithing, a concept she learned from her Christian upbringing. Being on tour and not involved with a church, she called her former college, Bob Jones University, hoping they could help her find a missionary to make a personal donation to. She decided to become a sponsor for a student from a Third World Country as part of the university’s World Fund Program. The school would bring students to America and pay for their schooling, but the students would have to work jobs on campus to pay for things like books, housing and clothing. These students wouldn’t see their families throughout the length of their education. Whitney loved the idea of getting to know a student and mentoring them throughout the four-year program. Without specifying whether she preferred a boy or a
2 girl, she simply asked for a first-year student from Arabia. The school called back with contact information for a student named David from Cameroon, Africa. “I remember the first time I called him and he called me ‘Ma’m.’ He was very polite and sounded very young on the phone; respectful and sweet.” I asked him “What are your needs right now? Towels, shampoo?” and he said, “What I really need is a good cologne”, and I thought ‘This is a kid after my own heart.’ I thought it was funny that the first need of this poor African kid was some good cologne. So I sent him cologne.” She sent care packages with clothing to adhere to the strict dress code, towels, soap, shampoo, etc. While on tour, Whitney would search malls for shirts, ties and pants to send to David. On the phone, they would chat about his family and his schooling and her experiences when she attended Bob Jones as well. Whitney attended the university from 1992-94. She made an effort to check in with him every two weeks or so and after a few months they had built a friendship. When Christmas time rolled around, Whitney realized David would be spending the holidays on campus alone, while the students and faculty were away for an entire month. She immediately called her family to ask if she could invite her new friend to their home for Christmas. With some convincing, they agreed and bought David a plane ticket to Houston, Texas. The Adkins family went together to pick him up from the airport, nervous about their agreement to welcome this stranger into their home. As all the passengers got off the plane, they searched for a young African boy. When there was only one black man left at the baggage claim, Whitney felt silly assuming he was African. Still, with a shove from her mother she asked, “Are you David Mvondo?”
3 “Yes” he replied. He was much older than she had imagined for a first year student. The school didn’t mention he was getting his Masters. “You are?! I’m Whitney!” “You are?!” She was much younger than he had imagined. He assumed he was getting care packages from a lonely elderly widow. He was twenty-five and she was twenty-four. She immediately sifted through ideas in her mind on `how to improve his style. This daughter of a long line of coal miners was fascinated. “I lived in Southern Illinois for fifteen years. We never had a foreigner or a person of color live in our town. Everyone was Caucasian. When I started high school there were a couple foreign exchange students every year, usually from somewhere like Norway or Spain. I thought that was very exotic. I didn’t know anyone who even spoke a foreign language. Sometimes in my church we would have a missionary who spoke another language. I found it very intriguing.” They spent the week riding bikes, Christmas shopping and preparing family dinners. They were stuck like glue. A true bond had formed; a friendship neither of them had experienced before. They were both shocked at how people from such different backgrounds could have similar views on life and such a strong sense of faith. “I remember thinking he was cute, but at that age you’re attracted to everybody. I thought he had an amazing body. That’s the truth. He had his head on straight, and that was unusual for me to be around. He said to me ‘I know that we have established a relationship of sponsor and student but I feel like we’ve become friends this week and I hope that our relationship can be a little different from this point on.’ I agreed. I got the impression that he was into me. My feelings were the same toward him”
4 On his last night in town, while staying up watching movies, they exchanged an innocent kiss and the deep feelings that had grown were evident. David left for school and Whitney went back out on the road. Hardly bearing the distance, she bought him a plane ticket to come see her in Hershey, Pennsylvania to witness her daily life working on a Broadway tour. He had never heard of Broadway. He was awestruck by the spectacular musical; that Americans could spend so much money on entertainment and that people could actually make a living from it. It seemed exciting, but somewhat frivolous. In Cameroon, everything was based on survival. Whitney explained that her family was never able to afford to see a Broadway show and that it was something many Americans werenâ€™t able to afford. They spent time in between shows swimming at the hotel pool and discussing how to cultivate this new connection. They decided to pursue a long distance relationship. Aside from long distance, Bob Jones University provided another obstacle in their relationship: They forbid interracial dating. This meant that Whitney and David had to keep their relationship a secret, using payphones off campus to converse at odd hours. After five months, the school grew suspicious. They called David into the office to question him. They were aware he had visited Whitney and knew that she was white. He was left with a warning that if they acquired proof of a romantic relationship, they would deport him faster than he could say his name. They brought students in to live close to David. They would report the time, date and where he was going to make phone-calls. After such a vicious threat, there was a lot at stake. Whitney thought about what a wonderful opportunity David had been given. He was experiencing an American
5 education, coming from a tribe in Africa where education was a luxury. She was still touring the country, experimenting with fashion, the latest make-up craze and changing her hair. She was just a kid and realized she wasn’t ready to commit to this man and possibly destroy his future. They were worn out from hiding. She made the heartbreaking decision to end the relationship. Without Whitney in his life, David finally had nothing to hide and Whitney went back to New York when the tour ended. She worked as a swingi for five Broadway shows. They missed each other terribly, but made every effort to move on. David dated a biracial girl, approved by the school. Whitney dated a Muslim man. Whitney was appalled by what the school had done. “There are many [Biblical] examples of people that married someone from another area of the world where they looked different or spoke another language. The point is to have the same faith. I believe that with all my heart.” This occurrence didn’t give David a very good impression of America. He recalled his experience with Americans when he was living in Africa. “They see Africans as dogs, “ he said. “You see a poor starving dog, you want to feed it. You want to nurse it back to health, but do you think the dog should sleep in your bed and live with you? Well, not many. They see an animal, not another person. A lot of missionaries bring their children over to Africa and they are willing to help but do they see them as equal? Would they let their daughters marry an African? No way. It’s such a sad double standard and a false understanding of the culture.” A little over a year later, Whitney went back on tour, this time with the musical Rent. She and David only spoke a couple times within the year, but the show was going
6 to Greenville, Ohio and she simply had to see him. The school was no longer suspicious, so she called him and asked him to dinner. “As soon as I saw him, all of those feelings came back in an instant and I remembered how I loved him. Being separated, I remembered the friendship, but when I saw him, all the romantic feelings came back. As soon as I sat down across from him at the table, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying, I just remember looking at him thinking ‘This is the man I want to marry. I don’t want to let him go.’ “ He was almost finished with his Masters and talked about pursuing his doctorate. But first, he wanted to take a hiatus to get married. He talked about going home to Africa to meet someone and start a family. Whitney tried to convince him to stay, suddenly realizing it didn’t matter if she was ready or not. She didn’t want to let him go. Luckily, David was only looking for a reaction and also knew he wanted to spend his life with Whitney. They reunited and started planning their marriage. A simple dinner was all it took. “David wasn’t familiar with American engagements, so after he graduated May 5th, we waited until he was away from the school as not to break any laws. I flew him out to Chicago, where I was on tour, and all my friends came up from Southern Illinois for my engagement weekend. David just got to the hotel, brought his suitcases in and got the ring out and said “Hey babe, here’s the ring. Will you marry me?” We planned to have a big African wedding. I wanted to have fabrics sent from Africa. I wanted to wear African dresses and have it under a tent outside and eat African food and have African music. I had even set up an appointment with friends at Lion King in New York to fit me for a replica of Nala’s bodice. David had a suede suit
7 picked out. We were so excited!” They set the wedding date after David’s graduation to avoid any conflicts with the school. Unfortunately, Bob Jones University required a two-year commitment to go on a mission. Not only did David and Whitney need to save their money to get to Cameroon, but the school also discovered the two had been wed and demanded they return David’s scholarship money. This left them in a huge amount of debt. They canceled the wedding plans and had a small ceremony at a friend’s house in Dayton, Ohio. After three months of being engaged, they were married August 11th, 2001 and left for Cameroon two months later on October 8th. It was a sudden change of lifestyle for Whitney, but she was willing to take the plunge. She made a commitment to leave America and go to a country where she didn’t speak the language. Most Cameroonians know French but their native tongue is actually a tribal click language. Still, she was thrilled to meet his parents, brother, sisters and to see where he grew up. “Before we left for Cameroon, we talked to David’s father on the phone. He asked to speak with my parents and had David translate to my mother. ‘I have a lot of children and I have been a father to them for many years. I want you to know that your daughter will be my child also, and when she comes here I will take care of her like my own.’ That really touched me and it touched my parents. It made me feel like I was going somewhere where they loved me and would take care of me just like he said. I’ll always remember that.” I remember sitting out on the back porch the night before I left and looking up at the stars thinking about my parents and how those stars would be the only thing familiar to me in Africa. That was the only thing my parents and I would see that would
8 be the same for a long time. That night I was scared. I was married and I made a covenant with God to be with this man and now I was leaving. That was a commitment I made and I couldn’t chicken out. I was really freaked out but also really excited to go.” They flew from Cinncinnatti to France, then to a small airport in Cameroon, where they were greeted by hundreds on Cameroonians. They were all yelling and dancing and celebrating. Whitney felt slightly embarrassed with all eyes on her. She couldn’t understand what they were saying, but they all ran up to hug her. David explained they were shouting, “She’s fat and beautiful! You are so fat! You are so fat!” while pinching her face. That’s a compliment in African culture. They crammed into cars with children on their laps and over their shoulders, headed to David’s small village about an hour away. A feast of unique African foods had been prepared. “I brought a wedding album to show them all of our pictures. They started taking our pictures out and sticking them in their purses. I told David they were taking our pictures and he had to go around the room and collect them all and tell his family they couldn’t keep them. He said he would get them copies. I had some pictures in frames and they would take the whole frame and stick it in their purse. The minute I got there I started learning about the culture. Now I know how it works. It’s not that they’re thieves, they just have a different way. If you hand them something, you’re giving it to them. It’s not just to look at. So many times I would say ‘You want to taste this?’ and David would say ‘No you can’t ask them to taste, you have to give them the whole thing. We don’t have that here.’ If you tell someone ‘Look at my new watch,’ they expect that you’re going to give it to them. They don’t hear ‘observe’, they hear ‘have.’ I learned my lesson.”
9 The feasting began, and Whitney had to train her taste buds to learn a new language as well. She had always been fond of food and was up for trying anything new. But this was quite a different story. She was served Bush Rat and Mountain Lion. She admits that eating monkey was too difficult, since she had befriended a chimpanzee named Hercules. One of the most common snacks in Cameroon is something they call baton. They peel maniochii and ferment it in water for days until it releases a potent stench. After being crushed and ground into a foot long log it is wrapped in leaves to be eaten. “It’s kind of like dough but with a gelatin outside, and as you bite toward the center it gets thicker. There’s not much flavor to it at all and it stinks like vomit. It really smells like that pungent acidic smell that makes you cringe. They dip it into sauces and eat it with fish. They love it. They chow down on that stuff. I’m not kidding, you walk into a room and it smells like the whole room vomited. It is disgusting.” Whitney gave her compliments to the chef and felt relieved to be so accepted. The pair stayed in a small hotel for a few days until they could find a place to live. The hotel was infested with roaches. David explained, “Welcome to Africa. There are roaches everywhere. There’s nothing I can do about it. If you can’t kill them, I can, but you’ve got to quit screaming.” Whitney had a lot of adjusting to do. This city girl had to chuck vanity out the window. She began with her early morning make-up routine and quickly realized it would all melt away from the heat. “That was hard for me. I was so mortified. I didn’t go anywhere without makeup, and all of a sudden I had to get to know a new family feeling so ugly. I would put on lipstick and mascara and David would say, ‘they don’t know white girls here.
10 You don’t look any different with or without makeup. To them you look the same. They don’t know if you’re having a bad hair day. They’ve never seen hair like yours. They just think you’re pretty and they like you and your smile, so it’s fine.’ “ So a neighbor braided Whitney’s hair and she traded in her designer outfits for African cabasiii and wraps. Miss Southern Belle had gone from Ohio to Times Square to touring the U.S., back to New York City, to a foreign village. She was now an African woman. She recalls, “Some days I would look around and think ‘people would pay millions of dollars to come and experience first hand what I’m experiencing right here. National Geographic would love to be sitting in this kitchen that I’m in right now, watching these ladies cook and prepare these meals. Nobody would behave in their own natural state with a photographer or journalist watching them. The women let me come and crush vegetables and strain and smash stuff in the nchaboiv and make oil from a palm plant and baby sit the kids. When I say baby sit, I mean my sister-in-law gave birth one day, the next day she handed me a newborn and went to the market. They would ask me to bathe the children. I didn’t know how to wash a baby. They would hand me soap to wash them. I just had go with it and it actually gave me a lot of confidence to see that I could do it. It was wonderful to be saturated in the culture and to be considered one of them. I’ve had so many people tell me ‘You’re a real African lady!’ because I was willing to join in! I was really thankful for the opportunity to actually be seen as one of them.” Although a new life in Africa provided exciting new experiences and new loving family and friends, Whitney missed her family in America and was shocked by cultural discipline in Africa. It was difficult to feel safe.
11 “In Cameroon, the citizens take control. There aren’t always police around. People are so poverty stricken, they can’t afford to have anything stolen. They don’t even have enough to provide for their own family. Stealing from them could cost their child’s life. Their child might not be fed, so that is a serious crime. They have the right to beat you and sometimes they kill you for that. Sometimes they light you on fire and burn you to death. People see what happens and learn from it. “One time I saw a dead man on the street who’s body was bloated. He was nude, face-down, butt-up, on a pile of tires. I was just a few feet away from him. I didn’t know what was going on or I wouldn’t have looked. I found out that he was a thief and had stolen. He had been dead for three days with his body out in the hot sun like a dead animal on the side of the road. I couldn’t get that picture out of my head for weeks. [As an American] I saw that as not having respect for human life.” She was also shocked by the common child abuse. David grew up being severely beaten; not by his parents, but by his siblings. He had older brothers that acted as parents. When his brother was his teacher in grade school, he was very hard on David. If he didn’t do his homework right he would be beaten. Recalling that year of his life, David says, “ I lived in such horrific fear of him that I couldn’t sit at the same table and eat with him. I shuddered in fear. If our eyes met, I would be terrified.” David’s father eventually intervened because the punishment was too harsh, but that is rare. It is part of the lifestyle that children grow up being beaten, and they beat their children. Whitney explains, “Let’s say you break your kid’s arm, you take them to the emergency room and you tell them at the hospital ‘This kid disobeyed me, so I broke his arm.’ Then the hospital staff will say ‘you shouldn’t have disobeyed your father.
12 What were you thinking? Look at you now. You have a broken arm because of it.’ That’s the mentality. It’s really hard to watch because you’re exposed to it and you’re sort of helpless because you can’t go changing a whole culture. You can only change one thing at a time. “I went over to my nephew’s house and the boys were standing on their heads on the porch crying. I said, ‘what are you doing? Get down.’ They said ‘No. My mom said I had to’ in broken French. My other nephew translated and said ‘He’s being punished because he didn’t do his homework right.’ I said, ‘No. Come down.’ I took him to his mother and asked him to translate for me. I told her ‘this will not help him do his homework any better. If homework is the problem, then you need to work with him on his skills or on the actual paper.’ His eyeballs were red from the blood rushing to his head. They have no comprehension of what proper punishment is. I tried to do what I could just in my family, hoping that it would make a difference. “When I say abuse, I mean taking sticks and bloodying their bodies. I’ve seen kids beaten and I have always intervened. Fortunately, it’s not like a Muslim country where a woman is beaten and you can’t say anything. You can say something in Africa. You can even step in. They’re pretty good about letting you do that because a child doesn’t have just one set of parents. Everyone is a parent to that child. All the villagers are considered parents. David calls the man down the street “Papa” because he has learned that man is an authority figure, and that they must obey their elders. That man has helped guide David since he was a little boy. There is a mentality of raising a child together as a community, which I think is healthy. Granted, you’re going to have mistakes with that, but overall a kid is learning to respect his elders and to be obedient.”
13 However, abuse is a serious issue in Cameroon. After seeing Whitney’s reaction to the abuse, David realized this was a problem they needed to address in the village. He began to incorporate this issue into his sermons. Whitney also remembers couples gradually showing more affection toward one another. In Cameroon, couples that are dating don’t go to the movies. They have children. This makes relationships complicated and couples forget to cherish one another in the midst of a difficult life. Whitney always had a heart for teenagers and they seemed to be drawn to her. The children and teens in the village would even try to speak English to communicate with her. In Cameroon, affection is scarce. There is so much work to be done, that many parents don’t know the unique personalities of their own children. Food and shelter is their way of expressing love. Whitney found fulfillment in relating to the kids and they became very attached to her because of her effort to get to know them. She and David would often travel to Yaoundé, the capital city, and bring back bags of candy, doughnuts and bread. The kids would chase the car all the way to their home for their treats. This was a special event since most children only eat one meal a day at 8pm. “Their faces would light up if they got their own piece of bread. We would have a big giant can of chocolate spread so they would each get their own piece of French bread with chocolate,” said Whitney. Most of the time David would shop alone. He said, “If they see you are with a white woman, they assume you’re wealthy and charge you double.” When it came to medicine and health, Whitney and David were also expected to pay for their families needs. Most villagers can’t afford European medicine, so they seek the
14 advice of medicine men. He sends his patients to the market to collect herbs to bring back to him. Only an herbal doctor can mix the herbs for the formula to work. Some consider this witchcraft. There are mystic healers as well. “You can go to him and you will sit in front of a boiling pot, and he can see things in the pot. He is like a psychic. He will tell you that you had a headache because your uncle was trying to do something to you, and he will give you a remedy. Most people in my village carry some protection, like a piece of wood or some kind of leaves or something. They will dig and bury things inside your house or around your house for protection.” Witchcraft is very common in Cameroon and causes segregation among the villagers. Although it’s something David has grown up surrounded by, he shudders at the thought. “Not everybody can actually see it or experience it because they explain it as a different world, a spiritual world. You have to have what they call ‘spiritual eyes’ to see it. We will say ‘he has four eyes’ and that means he can see those things. It is considered Satanic.” Witchcraft is passed down through the family and is considered a gift. There are different uses. Those involved usually gain wealth or become morally destructive. They can place curses and cause death. It is something that is taught to children by older members of the family. “There are sorcerers in grade school. Students can tell you who is a sorcerer. In my village we had some children who were rumored to be involved in witchcraft. They gave testimonies of supernatural experiences. The sorcerers and witches come out at night when everyone is sleeping. That is their time. Their body would be lying in bed
15 but their spirit is gone. I’ve heard stories of an old woman in the village who would come out at night and look like most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. She would appear young, beautiful and very wealthy. She wouldn’t even live in a house, but at night she would be like a queen. Those involved in sorcery own a lot of things in the spirit world. Witches cannot even drive a car during the day but they can fly a plane at night. They will all agree that an empty sardine can is an airplane in the spirit world. Villagers who aren’t involved in witchcraft will actually hear the noise of an airplane landing.” David recalls hearing many stories concerning witchcraft. “There was a man who had a son and the son passed away so they knew he was dead. There was a room in his house where no one went. He left for work and left the key. His wife had never been in the room, so she took the key and went into the room. Their son was sitting there puking money. You can sell people into spiritual slavery, where they work for you and you get the profit. We call it cong. They would take your hair, clothing or anything and take it to a witch and they can sell your soul for money. You work for someone on a spiritual world and that was how he was receiving money. You become suspicious because some people are wealthy all of a sudden and it must be witchcraft, there are many stories about people vomiting money.” Although David never socialized with those associated with witchcraft, he recalls a rather terrifying night. He doesn’t think anything else could quite explain it. “When I was younger, I would sleep in the small house separate from the other house. It was split into two sections, one for my uncle’s wife and nobody slept on the other side. It was for cooking. Every night for, I don’t know how long, we would go to sleep and get up at night and we would hear noises and the smell of food. We could
16 hear the crackling of fire and it would be 2 or 3 in the morning when nobody cooks. We don’t know what that was. At a certain point it went away. We could hear pots and pans and crushing with stones and rocks as if they were crushing herbs and cooking. We could smell the food. My sister Paulette and everyone else smelled and heard the same thing. When we heard it we wouldn’t even move. We were scared to death for many nights. People tell you they can ‘eat’ other people. Not physical flesh. You would be standing there and they would tell you this guy is already dead. He’s going to die soon. They know. They will prophecy it and it will happen.” While this idea would make most Americans not want to leave their home, there is some comfort in knowing you’re not in danger unless you ask for it. “If no one in your family is involved then you don’t have to worry. It’s very difficult. They don’t just come and grab anybody in your house. Somebody has to open the door. If they knock, somebody from the inside would have to let the spirits in.” While witchcraft was used to explain many deaths among Cameroonians, it was not the cause for the passing of one closest to home. In the spring of 2000 David’s father, David Mvondo became ill with kidney failure. Shortly after visiting Whitney and David in America, he died in Cameroon. “At my father in laws funeral, family members took their shoes off. They said to me ‘Hey, aren’t you a daughter?’ so I took my shoes off and rubbed my feet in the dirt. Everybody screamed and laughed and said, ‘this is a Cameroon Woman! She’s one of us!’ I’m still learning many of the traditions, even after living there.” There is a surplus of weddings and funerals in Cameroon, simply because of the large population. However, traditions vary. A funeral can last up to a month. Relatives
17 of the deceased gather at the morgue where the body is bedded on ice. Morticians use rubber gloves to place the bodies into their caskets. Sometimes it’s only a wooden box tied to a car with rope. They will take the body to the home of the deceased to be put on display. Relatives and villagers camp out all night and wail and moan, morning for their loss. When the moaning has ceased, the event becomes more of a celebration. The immediate family is expected to prepare food for all who come to visit. They cater to the public, as opposed to America, where the family is comforted after their loss. Traditionally, a drummer is hired to come to the home and drum all through the night, calling for the spirits to come and take the soul of the person who has passed away. It’s an honor to be a drummer and usually something that is passed down through the family. Because of financial difficulties, Whitney could no longer stay in Cameroon and immigration wouldn’t let David come to America. They separated for what originally was supposed to be a couple months. Not only was Whitney saying goodbye to her husband, but to her new family. “I had become very attached to my niece, Mabell. She was a year old when I arrived, and was on my hip at all times. I had this child who depended on me like a mom, and I had to give her back to my sister in law. I knew it would be a long time before I ever saw them again. I felt like a part of me was left behind.” Whitney says adjusting back to America was “the easiest thing is the world. It’s like starving and then finally getting to eat. Food never tasted so good. The biggest thing for me was a hot shower. I was so used to showering with a bucket bath of cold water or using a cup just to get my body clean. [Taking a hot shower] was an indulgent moment. Going to the grocery store was amazing after living off of the land for
18 survival. Everything smells so good… the detergent and towels. During rainy season our clothes never dried and they smelled sour.” She remembered a song that was a big hit in Cameroon and assumed the singer was an American sensation because everyone in Cameroon had heard of him. “He was a one hit wonder. It was funny to readjust to what was going on in music and the entertainment industry. In Cameroon [the music] was either African or very European.” When Whitney realized their separation would be longer than they had planned, she started making calls to New York City and within a week landed a job working in the hair and make-up department of the Broadway musical, “Dance of the Vampires.” She had worked with the supervisor before, and they were thrilled to bring her back to NY. To get David back to the states, she had to prove that she could support him financially. This job allowed them to complete all of their paperwork. Whitney temporarily moved in with a friend and his mother. After nine months of separation, David flew to the US and Whitney picked him up at the JFK airport. The last time Whitney met David at an airport, she never would have guess how completely this man would change her life. How they would change each other’s lives. “I remember throwing my arms around him and saying, ‘I don’t remember you being this short. But, he felt the same and smelled the same.” David had never been a part of Whitney’s New York life. He felt insignificant in the large city, but it was the image he always had of America, the hustle and bustle of things. He was ready to play his part as an American citizen. They moved into their very own apartment as a married couple, and the job hunt began.
19 David filled out over one hundred applications with no luck. He couldn’t even get a job at a pizza place as a delivery boy. Managers would see he had a Master’s degree and couldn’t understand why he would want to work for them. They would simply say they didn’t have anything available. So, he began applying for jobs with only his high school diploma listed as his education. Still no luck. He says, “When I look back on those days, I don’t know how I made it.” “Dance of the Vampires” closed on Broadway and Whitney was supporting them on unemployment. She was also on the job hunt and was hitting a brick wall. Two interviews seemed promising, but nothing officially came through. There had to be a reason. “Since I met David and married him, I knew those days were temporary. I knew his potential. God was closing a door to lead us in the right direction.” Or an entirely new direction, the Midwest. They decided to pack up, rent a U-haul and go where the cost of living was less. They would find jobs and come up with a plan in Dayton, Ohio, where Whitney had attended high school. Her parents would be close by. They found a comfortable apartment and David got a job in a dye cut factory, working hard manual labor. Within a month, Whitney got a call from New York! This time, it was to join the National Tour of the Broadway musical “Les Miserables.” After some discussion, they decided to join the tour, and with time David began work in the merchandise department. They lived off of Whitney’s paycheck and everything that David made was sent back to his family in Cameroon. They also purchased items in bulk to send in a capsule, everything from soap to toys for the children.
20 The tour was in Weehawken, New Jersey when news broke out about the war. “It was the first war we saw on television. David saw a blurb on Chaplains on the U.S. military doing baptisms in the desert.” From that moment on, David began his aggressive journey toward the chaplain program. He already had his Masters, but was short eleven hours, which he made up through Liberty University while on the road. Whitney sent his resume to numerous universities, hoping he could teach instead of lead a military life. “It didn’t work out. He had the experience and qualifications, but I knew.” David was never disappointed in the schools’ lack of response. He wanted to be a Chaplain. When the tour reached Chicago, David had been working with a specific recruiter and the couple had discussed finding a permanent home. They talked about settling in Chicago and were searching for answers to the next step. It was at this turning point that they were struck with an overwhelming surprise. Whitney was pregnant! “There’s our answer!” she said. They stayed with the tour until it was time to prepare for the birth. After 2 ½ years with Les Miserables, they left in November to move to Medina, Ohio. Mbia Mvondo was born Dec. 15th. After only a month, David had to leave his wife and newborn to train for the military, working in Washington State and various parts of the country for short periods of time. He left for Iraq when Mbia was only 8 months old. Fortunately, he had a very successful year in Iraq doing what he believes in, helping people mentally, emotionally and spiritually. “He feels he does his job well,” says Whitney “When you know you’re good at what you do, there is such a sense of purpose, knowing that you’re used.”
21 David has made a commitment to this country, which he fought to be a part of. “In Cameroon it is prestigious to even have the opportunity to be a part of the military. They don’t feel betrayed. He is proud to be part of one of the strongest militaries in the entire world. He is excited by the opportunity that our country gave him to be somebody and to serve our country,” she states. They have gone back to visit Cameroon so that Mbia could meet her extended family. She played hard and slept until noon every day. She ate African food and danced with her cousins. As for Whitney, what was once somewhat frightening isn’t so foreign anymore. “It’s our other home,” she says happily. The Mvondo family now lives in Augusta, Georgia at Fort Gordon. “The story of how we met is funny. He was my sponsored student and now it’s his turn to sponsor me. We’ve switched roles. I can be a mom and a wife and he can take care of us. That’s a luxury that a lot of people don’t have. I appreciate what he’s giving to our family and I know it feels good for him to be able to take of his child and wife. Six years into our marriage we’re where we wanted to start out.” But it’s no surprise to Whitney. David is an honorable man who works hard. His integrity and work ethic are evident in the life he leads. I’m sure the encouragement and support of a loving wife has made all the difference. “I knew what he was made of and how far he had come in life. People ask me if my husband is from a wealthy family to [be able to] come to the US. He came from nothing. He passed his English test with flying colors, top of his class. Anything David did he did whole-heartedly. I knew his life could not be mediocre. We couldn’t just barely get by. I knew he would do something excellent with his life.”
22 It has been my pleasure to spend time with this inspirational couple. Their story is one of true love in the sincerest form. Their faith kept them together, led them to a lifetime partnership and the family they both had always dreamed of.
swing- Whitney was working as hairdresser for numerous Broadway productions, stepping in for anyone who was ill or not available. ii manioch- similar to a potato; a root that can be ground into a powder and used in many different kinds of food. iii caba- African dress. iv nchabo- large bowl used for grinding and mixing.