Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The gods must be crazy: Steve Fongue’s journey from Cameroon to the Philippines

This appears in the Wednesda, August 24, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The gods must be crazy: Steve Fongue’s journey from Cameroon to the Philippines
by rick olivares

You remember the film, “The gods must be crazy”? 

That 1980 film featured an African busman who lives in the Kalahai desert and whose life is changed when an empty bottle of Coca Cola that is dropped from an airplane hits him on the head. It sends him on a whirlwind journey of discovery that is hilarious and at once poignant.

For Steve Fongue, the Yaounde, Cameroon native, the “bottle” that bonked him on the head is a leather spheroid; one that sent him scurrying to go online. However, we’re getting ahead of the story.

Fongue grew up loving football. It is not only the world sport but the national sport. I woke up, ate some breakfast and went out and played. I played until the sun went down,” recalled Fongue. “I had dreams of playing for Real Madrid. The Bernabeu. The Galacticos."

He then lets out a laugh. "Except that I wasn’t so good and I became too tall.”

At six-foot-six, Steve was asked if he wanted to play goalkeeper where he could use his height and length to stop a lot of shots. “Not it’s not for me. I didn’t seem like a good idea that people would score goals on me.”

The young lad’s dreams of glory on the football had taken a detour albeit to the basketball hardcourt. He excelled in the game and soon had dreams of following his countrymen in the NBA — Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (Portland Trailblazers 2011-03), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), and Luc Mbah a Moute (now with the Los Angeles Clippers). He was then asked if he would like to play abroad and get an education while at it.

“The US? Europe?” he asked with his excitement brewing. “I could be close to watch LeBron (James) and all the other NBA players."

“No, the Philippines,” he was told. 

His face contorted in dismay. 

“Where is that country?” he wondered. He couldn’t hide his disappointment. 

“You’ll like it there,” he was told.

Steve when online to “google” the Philippines. The first things that were displayed on his computer were tsunami, typhoons, traffic. “They all start with the letter ’T’. I hated the letter ’T’.”

“No. No. You’ll like it there.” he was assured. 

Still intrigued, Steve looked up some friends Cameroon who had gone on to the Philippines. There was Alfred Aroga and Ben Mbala. “Come on over,” they invited him. “You’’l like it here.”

“Do they speak French there?” he asked Aroga.

“No. English."

With not much money and a whole lot of trepidation in his heart and mind, Steve Fongue made his way to the Philippines. Another of his high school teammates, Bertrand Awana who would later play briefly for the University of the East Red Warriors, joined him.

A few months later, Fongue’s mobile phone rings. It’s his mother in Yaounde. 

In rapid-fire staccato, she barraged her son with questions, “I saw there was a huge typhoon! It destroyed a whole city there (referring to Tacloban that was hit by Typhoon Yolanda)! Are you dry? Are you safe? Are you all right?”

“Ma, I am all right,” Steve reassured his mother. “That city was in a different part of the Philippines. But I am all right. I am quite safe."

“Is there a tsunami?”

“No, ma. There is no tsunami.”

“The traffic?”

“Yes, the traffic is bad. But I am safe. I am having fun and am going to school.”

A few years later. One NAASCU Juniors championship and a Milcu Got Skills Seniors Championship both with St. Clare College, the Business Adminsitration major fields another call from his mother.

“Steve, how are you?”

“Am fine, ma.”

“What are you eating?”

“There’s adobo. Liempo.”

“What’s that?" 

“It’s delicious, ma."

Steve Fongue took a detour hoping he’d follow his basketball dream to the United States or even Europe. Instead, he’s balling and enjoying studying at St. Clare College. “In all this time I’ve been here, I’ve seen LeBron James, Kobe Bryant come over to the Philippines. I’ve seen an Olympic Qualifying Tournament played here with all these NBA stars. And I’m getting a college education!” 

With Aris Dionisio, Paeng Rebugio, St. Clare head coach Jino Manansala, and Steve Fongue

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