Duisdorf · Irène Kwaong from Duisdorf will be traveling to New York for a wedding and has been asked to wear traditional dress. Although she is originally from Cameroon, she decided to wear a dirndl.
It’s shortly before her departure to New York, where Irène Kwaong has been invited to a friend's wedding, and she has bought herself a dirndl. "Absolutely all guests should come in traditional clothing (from their native countries),” laughs Kwaong. At first, she regretted not having any traditional garments from her native Cameroon, but the friend had not specified it must be Africa - only traditional. No matter whether African, Indian or Arabic. "German, too?" asked Kwoang. After she received a reply with an emphatic "yes, sure", Kwoang opted for a dirndl.
Her daughter found the dirndl embarrassing
"Mom, this is so embarrassing," was the reaction of her daughter Cindy (26). Kwaong laughs her infectious laugh again. Her anticipation of appearing in the Bavarian look is obvious. Just recently, she had experienced the complete opposite of the rather revealing Dirndl décolleté during her stay in Dubai: headscarf and completely covered arms and legs. She celebrated a 30-year class reunion in Dubai with 18 of her classmates from her school class from Tiko, Cameroon. At class reunions in Cameroon, it's not the high school graduates who get together, but all the students from the first grade of a secondary school. That's much nicer, says Kwaong, because many don't even make it to high school. She did, however, make it far beyond that.
English, Romance languages and African Studies in Cameroon
In Cameroon, the 51-year-old mother of two studied English, Romance languages and African Studies. Only then, according to the wishes of her father, who worked as a Protestant pastor in Cameroon, should she leave for Germany as one of seven siblings to complete her master's degree there. When she came to Germany in 1993, her bachelor's degree from Cameroon was not recognized and Kwaong repeated her entire studies in Cologne, where she in the end earned a master's degree. She had wanted to drop out several times, not least because she had to learn two more African languages, Bambara and Swahili. But a friend advised her to complete her studies. In Germany, she said, you are judged by your academic degree. That was news to Kwaong. "With us, everyone is equal, no matter what degree you have," she says. "In Africa, we respect age above all." Even though she emphasizes, "with us" and "we," Germany has long become her home.
Integration went quickly
She was able to integrate quickly. Even in Cameroon, her father's obligation not to spend more than five years in any one place forced her to adapt to start all over again frequently. She now appreciates the fact that she will soon be living in one place for 30 years. She doesn't want to give up her longtime friends, nor does she want to give up the German health care system, the local infrastructure and her neighborhood, "my church and my job," she says. The German passport also makes it easy for her to travel all over the world.
Kwaong has been working at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for 20 years. Rather jokingly, the secretary general of the academic institution welcomed her as "the exotic". Today, people from 17 nations work in her department. She likes to quote her daughter, who was born in Germany and wrote in her bachelor's thesis on business management and diversity that it was important to realize "that a diverse, mixed team with different ways of thinking produces many more ideas and solutions than several people with the same ways of thinking.”
Kwaong enjoys working and living in Bonn and feels very well integrated. In order to be able to stay in Germany after her studies and not have to leave the country again - as was still the case at the time - three months after graduation, she married her longtime boyfriend from Cameroon, who already had German citizenship.
Sworn never to marry again
When she separated from him in 2006, she had sworn never to marry again. But a short time later, she met her German husband, with whom she has lived in Duisdorf for fourteen years. "When I unlocked the door to our new house for the first time," she recalls with amusement, "a neighbor asked me if I was the new renter." He was astonished when he was told that she was actually the new homeowner. This is her way of talking about the prejudices and racist remarks that still exist, to which she is no stranger. "You get tired, of course," she says, "of always being asked where you're from." But she now takes it in stride and knows that the advantages of living in Germany outweigh the disadvantages. "In Cameroon, I would never have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world," Kwaong says. (Original text: Stefan Hermes / Translation: ck)