About the presenter: Guy Cedric Mbouopda was born in Bafoussam, the capital of the West Province of Cameroon. He passed there all its childhood until obtaining his high school diploma. He is titular of a "BTS" in business data processing obtained in July 2004. Impassioned of data processing, he lives in Douala and works there in freelance like web developer. In 2007, he wrote an article on the stuttering published with "Parole et bégaiement", a French newspaper. He currently works on a project to create an Internet site to the service of the African stutterer. He is active member of the SCAC (Speak Clear Association of Cameroon)

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2008.

How Finding Information About Stuttering Transformed My Life

by Guy Cedric Mbouopda
from Cameroon

As far as I can tell, I am the only person in my large extended family who stutters.

My great-grandfather lived in Bafoussam, the capital of the West Province of Cameroon. He had several wives and several children. He was not a stutterer, nor were any of his children or wives stutterers. One of his wives, my great-grandmother, had three children, including my grandfather and another son. When my great-grandfather died, my grandfather, was designated heir. Unfortunately he died mysteriously at the age of 26, leaving my grandmother pregnant with my mother. In the "bamiléké tradition", when a person dies in these circumstances, his wife must automatically become the wife of the new heir so that the dowry is not lost. The new heir was the son of another one of my great-grandfather's several wives and my grandmother automatically became married to him. Soon my mother was born. When my mother was four years old, she was placed in the home of her uncle, my grandfather's full brother who lived in Yaounde. I always regarded this man as my grandfather. He was a doctor and had eleven children. None of his children stutter. He worked in several cities in Cameroon. When my mother was 14, he forced her to quit school and work for him as a nurse's assistant.

When my mother was 19 she fell in love with a young doctor from a province in the extreme north in Cameroon and they wanted to marry. This marriage was not at all welcome since the young doctor was not from the same ethnic group as my mother and my grandfather did not want to loose his assistant and would not give his consent to marriage. A relationship followed and my mother gave birth one year later to my sister who is eight years older than me.

My mother continued to work for her uncle (the man I regarded as my grandfather) who decided to start a private clinic and move back to Bafoussam. My mother worked in this private clinic as soon as it opened. My grandfather automatically opposed any person who claimed to want to marry my mother. Finally, my mother decided to move to her own apartment and take care of her daughter. Having concluded that she would never be given permission to marry, she had a second child in 1981, me. My father did not acknowledge me and abandoned us, without leaving an address.

My mother, older sister and I lived in a three-room apartment near the private clinic where my mother worked. She provided well for us. When I was five years old, I started school. It was at that time that I started to have problems with my speech. My stumbling with words weighed not only on my shoulders, but also especially on my mother.

Members of our family started to ask questions about my speech. Some said that my biological grandfather who died mysteriously when he was 26 years old was a victim of fate and his bad luck continued in me since I was named after him. Others said my stuttering surely came from the family of my father, whom I did not know. My mother said I started stuttering my imitating the son of our neighbor with whom I was a constant companion, spending out days together playing football.

Being the first stutterer in my maternal family, my mother did not have any solution except to consult with a doctor. Everyone she consulted with told her my stuttering was going to disappear with time. In the mean time I became more and more aware of my trouble speaking.

There are many types of folk treatments for stuttering in Cameroon that were suggested to me.

Drinking sea water: This was the most widespread solution in suggested to me. I drank sea water for approximately six months and my speech did not improve.

Drinking from the shell of snail: Instead of drinking from a glass, it is suggested that drinking from the shell of a snail will cure stuttering. It was believed that this would cure stuttering in a matter of a few days, but unfortunately there was no change in my stuttering after several weeks.

Reading aloud with a loud voice: Since I was very small, I have always read my lessons aloud, which has been of some benefit to my fluency.

Prayer: I never forget in my prayers to ask God to cure me of my stuttering or at least to improve my speech.

Traditional rites: African traditional healers use wild grasses and make incantations to cure stuttering. I didn't follow this therapy because I am a Christian.

When I was eleven years old, with the blessing of my grandfather, my mother was finally allowed to marry. Her husband was from Bandjoun, a village about fifteen kilometers from Bafoussam, and she refused to take my sister and me along with her because Bandjoun had no schools appropriate for our education. So I remained in Bafoussam with an aunt until I had completed high school.

My aunt was married and had three children of her own. She was very busy and did not have a lot of time for me. I think that the separation from my mother was the catalyst for my problems with stuttering. Although she visited us regularly, I missed her enormously. I felt all alone and there were many times when I thought of suicide. The difference between my comrades and me was obvious. They had fluent speech. They all had a father who loved them and whose name was on their birth certificate. I lived each day in fear, shame, and depression.

When I was 17, with the consent of my mother, I decided to find my father. I finally located him in Douala where he worked in a telecommunication company. All I wanted from him was to acknowledge me, but he never would. He died in 2006. At this time I also researched my paternal family and discovered there was no one in my father's family who stuttered.

After graduation from high school I wanted to study data processing. In Cameroon there are only six state universities and the majority of students must move to one of the cities where there is a university in order to continue their studies. I registered at the University of Yaounde. Although I wanted to enroll in data processing, all of the classes were full and I had to choose a second option. I chose biochemistry.

At the university I was constantly the victim of insults from students who treated me as if I was retarded and teased me about my stuttering. I lived in a 5 square meter room, 10 kilometers from campus. I didn't know anybody in Yaounde and was afraid to communicate. My only wish was for vacation when I could return to Bafoussam. My stuttering became increasingly severe. The slightest idea of talking made me tremble. My speech was now filled with blockings, irregular breathing, and replacement of words. I had great fear of particular speaking situations and was now refusing to take a taxi since I would have to tell the driver where I wanted to go. Almost everyone noticed my transformation and spoke to me about it without being able to provide any solution. There were some students who sympathized with my suffering and advised me to learn how to speak slowly. My mother tried to console me when I cried to her on the phone. She sent me letters which I read over and over again.

I dropped out of the university and enrolled in a two-year professional training program in business data processing, which is what I had wanted to study in the first place.

In 2003, when my speech was really very bad, I decided to launch a search about stuttering on the Internet. I went to a cyber café which had booths so that the other Internet users could not see what I was searching and think less of me. In Cameroon, stuttering is a taboo subject. I had never heard about stuttering on TV or the radio. I never read about it in any newspaper. People spoke about stuttering only to make fun of stutterers. Since French is my primary language and I typed in the French word for stuttering (begaiement). It was then a found a French web site about stuttering created by Phillip J. Roberts (www.begaiement.ch). There for the first time in my life, I found information about stuttering. Stuttering, which I though was a "secret subject" was being discussed on the Internet. The author of that website provided explanations about stuttering which led me to buy his book, "Thérapie globale du bégaiement" in 2005. Since then, my life has changed. I didn't know there had been a lot written about stuttering before then.

The first part of the book gives a theoretical description of stuttering. I read, "To the stutterer: stuttering represents much more than just the simple repetition of syllables, it's also this strange feeling that you have in your mind when you know that you are going to stutter. Stuttering can include frustration, shame, fault and feelings of inferiority." The second part of the book consisted of 30 exercises intended to improve your speech. Some of the exercises included telling others that you stutter, voluntary stuttering, relaxing muscles, and abdominal breathing.

This book played a very important role in decreasing my confusion. One very important key for me was learning that to overcome one's stuttering it is necessary first of all to accept the fact that you stutter. The information in Roberts' book gave me the strength to speak without fear. It taught me how to behave in difficult situations, staying true to who am I, whether I stutter or not. The word "stuttering" does not make me shiver anymore. I am still a stutterer, but I can stutter without shame and looking my conversational partner in the eyes, even in front of a large crowd. Now when I answer the telephone or give presentations to my co-workers, employers, or clients, I always let my listener know that I am a person who stutters.

After discovering that there was information about stuttering on the Internet, I continued my search. In 2006, I found the web site of the International Stuttering Association (ISA) (www.stutterisa.org) which included much additional information about stuttering as well as a list of stuttering self-help organizations around the world. I discovered that there was actually an association for people who stutter in my own country called the Speak Clear Association of Cameroon (SCAC). I emailed the leader of this association, Joseph Lukong, and have been in regular correspondence with him and other members of SCAC ever since. I no longer feel that I am alone. I have met people who can share their experiences and ideas about stuttering with me. I know that I have friends with whom I can share my story.

I have also been introduced to a stuttering association in France (ASSOCIATION PAROLE BEGAIEMENT) and wrote an article for their magazine. Recently Joseph Lukong sent me a CD rom of the 2002 ISAD online conference on stuttering. Since I have a computer in my office, I have spent time reading the many interesting articles on stuttering that were presented during that conference. I wrote and asked Professor Judith Kuster who chairs this conference if I could write an article for the 2008 online conference about my journey of finding help for my stuttering and she accepted.

My story is not so very different from many other people around the world in countries where there are no self-help organizations or speech therapy services available. I am currently a web developer and am creating a web site that will connect stutterers and other persons interested in stuttering in Africa and other parts of the world (www.africastuttering.org). For the remainder of my life, I plan to work each day so that stuttering is not longer a taboo subject in Cameroon in particular and in Africa in general.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2008.

March 14, 2008
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