“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Black liquid took me across the world growing up, but red soil always brought me back home. From the red soil of our forefathers, my own father was born in the village of Bangangté, Cameroon. As a petroleum engineer, he had no problem getting his hands dirty. But I was always irritated at the red soil for latching onto every crease of my clothing when we got home. It wouldn’t leave me be. 

Before the start of business school, I step off the plane at Douala International Airport and into the suffocating heat. As I look out the exit doors, a sea of faces and bodies resembling mine look back at me. These are the bodies I will open up and sew back together this summer. These are the bodies I will fight to preserve through research on innovative models for cardiac surgery in my country. 

My spirit shifts; it lifts. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. 

For years, I wrestled with the red soil; a familiar enemy. As I got older though, and the fortunes of those on the red soil had not changed, I began to think that the red soil was actually clinging to me, pleading for me to stay, calling me home.

I walk through baggage claim, running through a mental checklist: Scrubs? Check. Interview questions? Check. Gifts? Check. I smile to myself. I am quite literally walking in my purpose: to increase the accessibility and affordability of quality surgical care in Cameroon. 

The red soil got its way – I am home again.

— Nelly-Ange Kontchou