Recently, as we lunched on pizza, she described her birthplace.
"I miss the simplicity," she said. "People there don't have much,
but they eat organic fruits and vegetables raised on their own farms."
After a pause, she said, sighing, "We had celebrations all the time."
If air fares weren't so exorbitant, she would visit more often. In
2001, when she was last in Cameroon, she stayed for six weeks to be
with her dying mother.
Fonge wore a brightly colored dress the day we talked — and an even
brighter smile. As she related the highlights of her life, enthusiasm
lilted her voice.
First she spoke of her father, a respected educator who traveled frequently.
According to Fonge, he was a strict disciplinarian because he loved
his children very much. Unlike most of the men in Cameroon, he believed
that young women deserved a good education. He encouraged both his sons
and daughters to earn degrees and advised which profession would best
suit each of them.
Fonge, he said, should be a teacher. In Cameroon, she graduated from St. Francis Teacher Training College.
Fonge's voice softened when she spoke of her quiet, unassuming
mother. To convey the depth of her mother's compassion, she explained
the culture of Cameroon: "I was brought up in a polygamous family."
Though her father had other wives, everyone remained close, she said.
Crediting her parents for her own positive attitude, she said, "I
never wanted for anything as a child." Describing her life as
extraordinary, Fonge claims she learned the value of education and the
importance of family from her parents. Still, many choices she has made
veer from the traditions common to Cameroon.
Though both polygamy and arranged marriages exist in the country
where she was born, Fonge's own marriage evolved out of her own
choices, as well as those of her husband.
Now married for 31 years to Fuabeh Fonge, she laughs as she relates how their romance began with a photograph.
Fuabeh lived in a neighboring village. When he saw a picture of her
at his cousin's house, he knew she was the girl he wanted to marry.
After his cousin explained that her family was highly regarded and
might not consider him acceptable, he visited anyway.
Their fathers knew one another and approved of the relationship. The
couple had a great deal in common, particularly their enthusiasm for
education. Four years later, in July 1977, they married.
In pursuit of a better education, in 1980 Fuabeh Fonge traveled to
the United States, where he earned a master's degree in history at
Georgetown University. He received his doctoral degree from Howard
University. Fonge and their two children joined him in 1981. Their
third son and two daughters were born in this country.
Despite her father's wishes, Fonge decided she would be more
successful in business than in education. She earned bachelor's and
master's degrees at the University of the District of Columbia.
Fonge is an extraordinary entrepreneur. In addition to working on
temporary assignments evaluating student writing at Measurement Inc.,
she also sells Avon cosmetics and Forever Living health products. A
certified health insurance agent, a certified Oracle administrator and
a certified tax administrator, she has, during the past 20 years,
explored numerous occupations to supplement the family's income.
Yet despite her professional laurels, those close to Fonge realize
what means the most to this enterprising woman is her marriage to
Fuabeh Fonge and the rearing of their five children. The freedom and
opportunity offered by the United States is also important. Because of
the economic problems facing their native country, they decided to
remain here. Eighteen years ago, Fuabeh Fonge accepted a position at
N.C. A&T, where he teaches African history and world history.
Their future looks bright.
The Fonges were determined that all their children would receive
every educational opportunity. Their eldest son, Ngoasong, received his
bachelor's degree from A&T and a master of science and master of
business administration from George Washington University. Their third,
Leke, also graduated from A&T. Their second son, Achankeng,
received a bachelor's degree in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill and a
master's from St. Joseph University in Philadelphia. Their first
daughter, Atembe, begins studies at UNC-CH this year. The youngest
daughter, Meinkeng, attends Western High School and expects to follow
the academic path established by her siblings.
For Fonge, education is an ongoing process. Following her heart and
pursuing the career her father foresaw for her, she is working for a
master's degree in education at A&T. Does she have other career
"I've had an incredible life," Fonge said. "My husband has authored three books. He thinks I should write one, too."