Who Could Have Imagined The Outcome Of An Unrealistic Phone Call To The Italian Ambassador’s Residence In 1996?

A Life-Changing Call For Many Anglophone Cameroonians

At the tender age of 7 years, I vividly envisaged myself becoming a doctor – to be precise, a gynaecologist. It was my greatest and somewhat only heart’s desire to study for my doctorate degree in Italy… and eventually, settle in the United Kingdom. This was my dream, and I was confident I could achieve it…

Nonetheless, as the last of 5 siblings and still attending primary school at the time, I had quite a journey to go… and to say the least… a great deal of “last born” hindrances to overcome. Did any of the above really mattered to me or preoccupied me? Absolutely no! For example, the fact that by the time I get to university my beloved and hardworking parents must have spent a huge fortune on the education and welfare of my elder siblings didn’t really make much difference to me and to my ability to dream beyond my wildest imaginations. What seemed to be the reality NEVER conditioned the capacity/ magnitude of my dreams and heart’s desires… All I ever knew and thought of was becoming a gynaecologist and studying in Italy, with the intention of later settling in an English-Speaking Nation—precisely, England. In effect, I strongly believed that whatever I could conceive and believe in my mind, I could undoubtedly achieve. I knew with great certainty that whenever there is a will, there will definitely be a way—sooner or later. 

The only reason I chose Italy as my number 1 and only choice for the university was that one of the most renown gynaecologists in my City (who was my friend’s dad and resided in my neighbourhood) earned his medical degree in Italy. I was greatly inspired by him and I immediately thought that in order to become an exceptional gynecologist like he was, it was vital to study in Italy… since that is where he studied! Never mind a 7-year-old girl! I was convinced that Italy was the best place to study medicine in the world— it was the real deal! Consequently, I was determined to get and become the very best from Italy, and nothing else really mattered! Did I think of the cost implications? Absolutely no! Did I think of my elder siblings having to go to university before me, and hence putting a lot of burden on our parent’s’ finances and resources? Absolutely no! Did I think about what my dad, mum, siblings, and even relatives thought about this? Absolutely no! Did I seek any one’s approval or opinion on this decision of mine? Absolutely no! All I knew was the fact that this was my dream and my dream alone, and I was responsible to make it become a reality… PERIOD. An audacious 7-year-old, right? No wonder dad called me his “pocket layer” and mum called me her “attorney general”!

Well, let’s fast forward… 13 years have gone by so quickly, and I have just finished my A-Levels Exams with an outstanding result. I am now ready to get into the world of the university, but most importantly, into a completely strange land and foreign nation where English wasn’t even the first language – my Italy! Did everything go as smoothly as I had dreamt and envisaged? Not at all… but I will focus on the most gigantic mountain and barrier I was yet to encounter and overcome… and hence my title of this article!

It is finally time for me to move to the Capital of Cameroon – Yaoundé, to live with my eldest sister and study the Italian Language Course in the Italian Embassy, amongst other things. What a great 6 months I had to study the language weekly and get acquainted with my new lifestyle. It is now 4 months into the course and everything is going so well. I am already fluent in Italian and, as always… I am one of the best students in my class! You see, I never get into anything I love with the intention to be anything less than the best! Neither do I go in with the intention to compete with others… I simply go in with one goal and one purpose only— to be and give my very best and only that! Most probably, others don’t come in with this intention and that’s why I always end up being the best! ���

It’s now time to write that famous and qualifying Italian Language Exam, which will determine and set apart those students who are ready and destined to fulfil their dreams and ambitions in Italy from the mass who have also been studying the language but will need to think of alternative options and dreams—as their Italian dreams gradually fade away… Well, the confident Sylvia is never a stranger to exams and knows she is definitely destined for Italy to fulfil her long-time dream of becoming a gynecologist! But guess what? I can’t even believe I am writing this! Oh well…The marking system that year had changed, and a higher pass mark (well above average) was established in an attempt to get fewer students from Cameroon furthering their studies in Italy, I guess… It sounds like a pretty good excuse…

The results are finally out…and guess what? No one in my class made it – not even me! Apparently, we are told that only one Anglophone student in the entire Nation made it beyond the higher qualifying threshold mark! Of note, this student lives in the French Cameroon region, and also studied in the French education system… Notwithstanding, he is very intelligent and would never fail any exam! You may be asking, “But what has being Anglophone or Francophone got to do with this, Sylvia?” Now, let me explain, the fact that Italian is a “Neo-Latin” language, and so too is French, makes it easier for French-speaking nationals or “francophones” to learn/ understand/ speak the language—hence the outstanding result from our francophone peers. On the contrary, English is not a Neo-Latin Language, which makes it a bit harder…yet possible for English nationals or “Anglophones” like my friends and me to study/ understand/ speak the language! I am by no means trying to make an excuse for our average/ unsuccessful results… as such a barrier simply means that we have to work twice, trice, or even 10x as much…and why not?

I am thinking, “Is this the end of my Italian dream?” “Am I going to be the very one to sabotage my own dreams and ambitions?” I pondered… I am not the type to fail an exam for whatever reason … I am not the type to easily give up in the face of a “failure”. My sister is heartbroken and disappointed to see my 13 years dream suddenly come to an end or she thought… “I am never going to deliver a message of failure to my dad or mum,” I thought. They have never known me to ever fail an exam that is based on merit, hard work, intelligence, you name it…. and I was not ready to introduce this new concept to them just yet! I am thinking, “Dad has made a huge sacrifice to ensure I finally go and further my studies in Italy, and I am not ready just yet to be the one to blow all of this up – No Way!”

I am about to carry out one of the most unrealistic and courageous acts that will change the life course for many Anglophone Cameroonians including me! I tell my sister that I am going to call the Ambassador’s home and speak with him. Of note, I am not asking for her consent… neither am I asking for her opinion on this. I am simply giving her notice, and being polite of course… since I am to use her landline to make the call!  

I can vividly remember picking up the telephone directory and searching for the Italian Ambassador to Cameroon’s residential telephone number, which I got! My rationale for not even attempting to call the Italian Embassy is to bypass the many obstacles and barriers I would encounter to get to him. Calling the Embassy would mean having to go through the secretary, cultural attaché’, and many more people before getting to him (if at all I am fortunate enough to get to him), something I had no intention of doing!

I then embarked on my next phase – CALLING THE AMBASSADOR! I remember picking up the phone and confidently dialing the Ambassador’s number! How can I ever forget this very crucial and decisive moment…? I am sat there relaxed, and ready to share my concerns as the phone rings…There we go! “Hallo,” a lady’s voice echoed from the other end of the phone… “Hallo,” I responded. Behold, it is the Ambassador’s wife and here is my moment! I introduce myself to her in Italian… trying my best to sound mature. We engage in a good 6-7 minutes conversation, or maybe even longer in “undiluted” Italian language. She is amazed by my fluent Italian and remarks “but you speak Italian very well, how come you did not pass the exam?” This is my final chance to resolve the crises we are faced with or regret my entire life!

I then explain in fluent Italian, how the change in the scoring system has left many anglophones, including me very disadvantaged, despite knowing and speaking the language very well. I then tell her I was amongst the best students in my class but none of us made it! I made her understand that the purpose of my call is to request another chance for us all from her husband – the Ambassador…Another test, in whatever format they desire, including an oral test where we will be able to prove how fluent we are in Italian! She is absolutely lovely and very empathetic and compassionate too! She immediately requests I write a letter about my concerns and proposal addressing it to the ambassador, and take it personally to the Embassy…where the ambassador will be expecting it. I then express my heartfelt gratitude to her and wish her a good night. 

Now, I am super excited and immediately reach for the phone again to call my other friends (who were also amongst the best in my class) and arrange a meeting the next day! I also call our Italian teacher, Sister Paula, who absolutely loves us and is very disappointed with the outcome of results… remember, we were her brightest students but didn’t make it! I ask if she could endorse a letter written by me and my friends (we were 4 in number), which she happily and instantly accepts! Besides, she requests we meet with her once we have drafted the letter. We wasted no time getting this done the next day and going over to see her with the draft. She reads it, is impressed, and endorses it… backing it up with a statement confirming that we were the very best of her class, and some of the best students she had ever worked with. How I wish I kept a copy of this letter!

Finally, it’s time to take the weighty letter to the embassy and deliver it as requested. Within a week of handing in that powerful letter, an official communication was done over the radio, calling all Cameroonian Anglophones from the entire Nation who took the exam in different regions of the country that year but didn’t succeed (even though they scored above average), for a 2nd chance! Yes, a 2nd chance! An oral Exam! This has never happened in the Country’s History! Yet, that isolated and unrealistic/ unreasonable, courageous, and purpose driven phone call changed the Nation’s history forever! Everyone involved from the entire Nation was summoned to the Italian Embassy in the Nation’s Capital…for the first oral exam ever! This day forever changed the life course of many… many who were once declined were now accepted and set to travel to Italy to fulfill their ambitions and dreams… including me, of course! Except for my 3 friends and I, none of them knew about what actually happened behind the scenes, that led to this fateful day that changed their lives forever… and maybe finding out for the very first time as they read this piece! 

To conclude, I REITERATE … BE UNAPOLOGETICALLY UNREALISTIC & NEVER SETTLE FOR A REALISTIC GOAL OR VISION! Never change your vision or lower the bar because of life circumstances, as there will be many in your lifetime. On the contrary, re-strategize and stay focused on your dreams and vision. Our only real limitation to what we can achieve or become is our mind!

To your greatest success and optimal wellbeing!

Your Transformation Friend & Doctor,


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