Epie Ebah Nzeme: Full Interview
TRANSCRIPTEpie Ebah Nzeme
Interview by Ray Larman
30th April 2019
RL: This is Ray Larman for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. It’s the 30th of April 2019. I’m here with Epie, who’s going to introduce himself.
EEN: My name is Epie. I was born on the 23rd of January 1989 in Cameroon, precisely [Bangem?].
RL: And how do you identify?
EEN: I identify myself as gay.
RL: So, could you tell me about growing up in Cameroon?
EEN: Yeah, sure, but short. Growing up in Cameroon… it’s nice, Cameroon is a nice place, it is nice, it’s lovely, but it has too many different sides, too many different languages and it’s like mixing pot, too many different cultures, yeah and they are too culturally inclined. And all those who are really culturally inclined are also like, Christian inclined, like very Christian, Catholic inclined. So, growing up in Cameroon, like my childhood its fine, normal, I had a normal childhood, but when you start getting to certain ages where you start knowing certain kinds of stuff, it becomes a little bit harder. And the more, it’s like, the more you know, the more you get caught up into it the more stressful it is and the more strange it is.
That said, like, I went to, attended a Catholic college in Cameroon, St Joseph’s College, and it’s only a male inclined school, so… I was there for five whole years, form one to form five. It’s all like rules [inaudible] naturally. Not so I – when you start having like different ideologies or start trying different things you become, how can I put it, like associated with more – you find yourself in them. So it’s… it kind of, it builds you as well. So, looking at my own perspective, I actually, it’s not like – I didn’t know about it, actually, I didn’t know, I didn’t even know about this kind of words, cos in Africa those things are like considered like taboo and sin, [inaudible] gay in Cameroon, these are like taboo, and it is not even allowed, it’s not acceptable, so [inaudible] yeah, so you don’t hear those words [inaudible] … it’s not like you can see it on the news… people you don’t see. So but, we, not that like growing up when you start finding yourself, like [inaudible] all think differently, all reason differently.
That got me expelled, actually, from St Joseph’s College, cos I was like in a relationship with a very close friend of mine, we started like very close friends, very close – he was like my soul mate… it was like, I could share anything with him, that’s how close we were, like. We wore like the same boxers, we wore the same like everything, they used to call us, like, yin-yang twins, like and if you see this you have to see the other, that was right from tender age, like from one, you don’t even know anything. I, so we grow up together always, yes… at that point became stronger [inaudible]. Not till like form five when I discovered that having like, relationships or having sexual inclines, sexual [inaudible], but, to be honest, in my head I didn’t, like – it didn’t ring any bells to me or it didn’t sound any strange to me, but the way they made it look, it was like, it’s out of this planet, like something which is out of this world, that’s how they made it look, that’s how they made it feel. Cos, l and it actually blew out of proportion, like just too quickly, the way it was from a DM, like a Discipline Master giving, having to give like counselling or punishment.
So, like, expelling you and writing like reports on you… so that was – not only did it like, demoralising, it also punishes your image, you can be, have like, schools like links, so you can if you have like a report card with those reports inside, you can’t go to any other school with it, it’s like all messed up, so you have to, you have all that process you have to go through and – not even dealing with that, even like at the school level it’s… already exhausting. Then you have like, from my own side – I can only speak for myself – my parents are like very, very, very, very religiously inclined, religiously inclined actually. I don’t know if it’s the same religion really talking about or if it’s the same religion you read about, but what I went through cos of all that, sexuality and religion, it’s like they don’t even match, like, there is no room for them. I had to run away from my house, at a very young age.
RL: So did the school tell your family?
RL: And what did your family do?
EEN: That was… I can’t even consider them my family, because… the kind of treatment I received was only, I could imagine that like – you’re still young, you don’t even – you can’t even wrap your head around what is going on around you. So what you even expect, like, is probably someone to tell you okay, this is what you’ve been, or if you’re doing something wrong, like someone to tell you okay this is what you’d be, or counsel you towards or counsel you or not. But what I had was… backlash, like, it was from… everything just being like, nice up to some point, to just dark – I became like a devil. Yeah, to them I was like a devil, so there was all this crazy things that I had to go through. Now I just laugh over them, cos like that’s the only way, I try like – my healing process is just, like, try and smile over it, because I can’t cry any more, I can’t just lick them like. You’re a laughing stock, just laugh over it.
I do go to church as well. I go to church lots. I do believe in God, yeah, but I have never read about that, I have never seen about that kind of treatment, I have never heard about it. And as much as I go to church, there are certain things I don’t believe in as well so… maybe He had to let me go through those things at a very young age? I didn’t know but exorcism. I was too young to know but they –
RL: You had an exorcism?
EEN: That’s what they called it, that it is exorcism, they have to [inaudible] know he’s possessed… And it became from a church thing to a community thing, like now it becames cultural, it become cultural like no it’s not [inaudible] you have to go from one native doctor to another and you have to drink these [inaudible] They are the kind of stories, the kind of things they have done, like I can, one is that like left me at seaside, at the bank of a river all night, that’s the doctor told him that I am from the underworld cos I am, and if they do that I will transform to a fish or snake and go back into the river, so it was kind of, this kind of stories, that’s what I had to live with, so [inaudible]. A whole mess. If you find yourself in that kind of situation, living in Cameroon would be the worst place ever.
RL: So, does that mean that, at that point, everybody suddenly knew in the community?
RL: And how old were you?
EEN: 15, 16?
RL: So, you said you ran away.
EEN: Yeah, I had to leave.
RL: What happened after that?
EEN: I had to leave, and my brother, he was – he had lived in Europe for quite some time, so he was the only one around the family who was like, or who understands that oh it’s fine if he has [inaudible] because… So, he like sends me to his friends who like, who live with him.
RL: Is that in the UK?
EEN: No, in Cameroon still, like, yeah just try and helping for the time being, and it was like he was kind of from the military so I had a little bit of protection, like he used to go out, do the shopping, come back and they’d know he’s like a military man so I was, they can’t like attack or they can’t – what is, where I used to live, my only [inaudible] you had people knocking and they’d stand in front of the door, like no he is the one, bring him home, he is a disgrace to this community, you should trash him out like. And you kind of see the kind of way they come about it, like violence, they would come with sticks – well, what’s that for? I haven’t done anything, I haven’t killed anyone… so that’s… that was my only option, like, just leave around that place, just leave that area.
But… as I left that place, my life has changed like it has never been the same as like… going down the spiral that things I’ve never known about – it’s only till I’ve got to the UK that I know about depression, I’ve probably had it for years without even knowing, so things like they don’t even know about it in Africa that’s how bad it is, so you don’t even know about it, you don’t know how to handle… I have tried to take away my life… [pause] That is… how terribly affected that’s really like… I’ve still got scars on me, like, scars not even the emotional, even being like physical scars, so those things… I don’t even know how to be like, lucky in Leeds and the UK has helped me in general, cos I know I have met people, not till I came to PAFRAS [Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers] who referred me to MESMAC and yeah, before I could even like, now I’m going back to school. That’s the side of things that probably like kept me going okay like, yeah, carry on, you still like cling to some hope in life, like. People can, who associate to you can talk to you. I’ve had people who have treated me more than the way I ever expected my parents to treat me. I’ve had these kind of… [inaudible, emotional]
RL: Do you want me to stop?
[Pause in recording]
RL: So, Epie, when did you actually come to the UK?
EEN: I came to the UK in April 2014.
RL: Where did you come to?
EEN: I came, I was in London first. I lived there for like two, three years, then I was moved to Birmingham for like, almost a year, then like I came to Leeds.
RL: Do you want to tell me a little bit about being in Leeds, how that’s been?
EEN: Being in Leeds it’s... this like... It's like starting all afresh. Being in Leeds was the only place like I really felt like I'm at home… I really felt free like... I could really do anything I wanted to do or what I love doing. That's only when I came to Leeds because... Even in London I still had that like... that notion... I still had that fear in me but not till like... It was in MESMAC actually, not till I came to MESMAC like, that I really found certain comfort and received lots of support. Not only, Andy referred me as well to like therapist... psychiatrist. So it was a great help. At times you even need, even trust that person to, like, to share your concerns with at times. That's all you need, someone to share your concerns with. So I know only till I got to Leeds that I had all that... all that support.
RL: And do you go out in Leeds?
EEN: Yeah, I do, once in a while. I’m still like, the funds are not there actually to go out all the time, but from time-to-time you can [inaudible].
RL: So, is it easier to be gay, to be out here?
EEN: Yeah. I find it very easy, and I like – and the community is like it’s kind of small and everyone knows everyone so it’s, there is, that’s belong, that sense of belonging here, which is, it’s not… you find it easier to adapt in Leeds, and I find it easier, actually for me, I found it easier in Leeds than in the other places.
RL: And what about your family and friends in Cameroon, are you still in touch?
EEN: I cut ties with that… There is nothing to consider from them, they are – they haven’t brought me anything but pain and aggro, so if I have to follow what my, like, certain things I have to, you have to let go, you have to learn to like… if it’s possible you just have to wipe it away as a past, it’s the only way. Cos of all these years living I’ve had, all this massive back and forth, cos you’re trying to think, where did, where is your mistake, or you try to make things which, things which can’t be made right, right, so that you only carry on and on and on, that’s only carry on and on and on, so the best advice which I ever received was, ‘act like they never existed’. It’s like the circle cos, the moment that you mention about family, it’s like a circle, you start thinking of one thing then it leads, you start thinking of another, then by the time you get it you are already in the kind of caught in that thinking space that you’re not even supposed to be there, you’re just not even allowed, so like – and it’s just, that’s like a vicious cycle, if you keep that goes on and on and on like all day long, every single day, you can’t have yourself, you can’t have your peace. You’re always trying to think, where did this go wrong, or where can I make it right, or did I do it wrong? So, it’s difficult, or you try to please people, actually, which… I don’t think it should work that way. It’s like you have to try to make things right, for their way of seeing it, they have to do it their own way, it’s like their ideas, no one else, which I don’t think is the right way of going about things.
RL: So, at the moment, are you trying to claim asylum in the UK?
EEN: Yeah, yes. Erm, I did ask for asylum, that was in 2016, and 16th and 17th [inaudible]
RL: Are the asking for more evidence?
EEN: Yeah, they keep asking, but like I have to start all over again, cos I have to start making a fresh claim, so that’s fine, that’s… so long as you have, are in that headspace where you think you are comfortable, you are free, like, you can do things you like doing, so they is just like, to me it’s a bonus, it’s an addition. If now I can go out, I can do things, I can go to school, I can – so it’s fine, I can socialise, so I’m alright from now here, it makes any other things a bonus. But then these sort things, like will that shouldn’t be my worries now, at least now I can go and work, and go out and, yeah I can free to go out, that’s right.
RL: So you said about studying, what are you studying?
EEN: I’m studying IT and computer science.
RL: Oh. Okay, is there anything else you’d like to say?
EEN: Not really.
RL: Okay, should we stop there? Alright thank you.