Gabriel Bebonbechem fondly known as “Petit Papa” was born on June 6th 1981 in Clinique De Chateau in Douala Cameroon to Bibiana MBUHAZEKE TAKU and Mr. Francis MBIAOH (NKEMABIN), then, the third child and only son to the couple. He was a charming little boy whose birth brought a lot joy to his family especially to his Mum.
Gabriel’s Childhood and onset of his illnesses
Petit Papa grew up in Douala and Yaoundé, Cameroon, where he attended the Government primary school in Bepanda and Government Primary School, Bastos, respectively. He was always on honour’s roll so much that he skipped two classes.
Upon obtaining his Common Entrance Examination and FSLC in list A, he joined his siblings who were in the prestigious Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Fontem. While in form three, he was diagnosed with Epilepsy. As a result of this, he was withdrawn and registered in St. Joseph’s college Sasse so as to be close to his mother. His stay was very brief in Sasse as he preferred to, and eventually returned to Seat of Wisdom.
Despite this health concern, he continued to excel in his studies and he was a maths, physics and chemistry “teacher” to some class mates and his siblings. He successfully passed the G.C.E ordinary level in 11 papers with good grades.
Adolescence and Further Challenges
Gabriel expressed his interest in becoming a Priest and enrolled in the Bishop Rogans Minor Seminary, Soppo – Buea. This dream was shattered when on discovering that he was epileptic he was dismissed as not qualifying to be a priest for health reasons. His Godfather and Uncle Barrister Chief Charles Taku (Fuatabong Achaleke), enrolled him at the Lycee Bilingue Molyko –Buea where he schooled and lived with him for the two years of high school. He graduated from high school with 4 GCE A’level subjects in the sciences.
Petit then moved to Germany for further Studies where he lived with his elder sister Therese ATABONG at Bochum with the intention of pursuing studies in Mathematics and Computer Engineering. He could not be offered these disciplines at the University in Bochum, and had to move to Darmstadt where he gained admission to study Mathematics and Computer Engineering at the University.
It was there that his ill health took an alarming proportion and he finally had to be repatriated back home. That Notwithstanding, Petit enrolled for a higher Diploma in Information Technology at the London Institute of Information Technology in Douala where obtained a higher diploma studying mostly on his own without attending classes for almost a third of that period.
He won the U.S Diversity Lottery, and migrated to the US. While in the U.S he lived briefly with his cousin, Mrs. Margaret ATABONG LEKE who enrolled him for GED which he passed within record time. He remained indebted to Margaret for this achievement.
As his mental health became more and more challenging, he was moved to a group home. He resisted the milieu at the group home which he abandoned and his kid sister Pauline NZOTE who was now staying with her sister Mrs. Bridget AROKE decided to get an apartment for both of them and he again attempted studies at the North Shore Community School but never got to continue and complete. The epilepsy and mental health issues and attending stigma had taken a fatal blow on his self-esteem!!!!.
Gabriel worked with Market Basket as a “bagger” for about one year but the depth of the blow on his self-esteem got his to quit. He was aware that his performance was deeply below his potential and became aware and sensitive to any form of injustice and discrimination.
These complex health and psychological issues were compounded with the side effects the many medications he was doped with.
His journey through the Bridgewater institution, that finally took him to “Green Street” in Lynn is the height of the trauma in his life, that of his kid sister, Pauline, his mum and his uncle John AWOKANG and his other family who stood by him till the end. For this love and dedication, Gabriel told his mother during her June visit that the AWOKANGs and his mum have been the blessing in his life and that God will in turn not fail to bless them!
Although, Petit continued to brave on in his usual jovial, happy, friendly and very open-minded spirit, he was visibly overwhelmed by the intensity of the battle for the achievement of his dream. He was un-willing to try anything new, and withdraw from the “friendship club” where he could do a few things and meet others.
He led a solitary life and connected with family and friends mostly by phone calls, emails and Facebook messages. He took consolation in his few passions for football and Music. These remained his main source of leisure and pleasure until death.
Petit Papa was also a very God Fearing person and at some point in his life, he was an alter server at the Holy Trinity Parish in Douala. His siblings were used to seeing Petit leave home on Sunday mornings, only to return home after the 6.30 pm mass. He would have by then served as many as 4 masses both in English and French. He remained a staunch Catholic Christian until his demise and when he did not go to Sunday Mass, he would follow Mass on TV, share the link via Facebook and share the sermon with his mother.
Petit Papa had a talent in everything he did including learning languages. He could speak English, French, German, Pidgin, some Bangwa and some other languages. He was once heard talking some Spanish after he had barely spent a few days there.
In April his uncle John AWOKANG visited him and noticed that he had put on a lot of weight within a very short time. He communicated with his mum and they both alerted his health care team through the morning nurse.
This concern informed the visit of his mum in June during which she noticed that he had developed an eating disorder and further breathing problems. All attempts to get his medical team to address these concerns fell on deaf ears, blocked by ‘the iron wall’ of “America laws and procedures”. The hope of having revisions or adjustments after the July Doctor appointment failed and his mother prayed and fasted for a miracle which was never to be.
On August 2nd 2014, during her daily phone calls to Gabriel, the numerous calls were finally returned from his phone by a Police officer who broke the news of his tragic death to her!!!.
P.S: Gabriel would have turned 34 years today, and sharing his story in this column is our tribute to this Genius who ended up a Simpleton!!!