© Guardian Photo by Jason Malloy
Cameroon native Steve Tchiengang is enjoying his first season with the Island Storm.
The series looks at how Christmas Day is celebrated in the homes of Prince Edward Island residents from one tip of the Island to the other. The stories will be carried in the print and e-editions of the newspaper as well as online all week.
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Steve Tchiengang remembers his first Christmas in North America well.
The teenager had just moved to Houston, Texas, from the Cameroon in the west coast of central Africa for educational opportunities.
“Christmas was totally different,” Tchiengang told The Guardian. “I was very spoiled my first Christmas. I got my first cellphone. It was a big deal for me.”
He was quick to point out he lived with a very caring and religious family in Texas.
“We also didn’t forget the reason for the season,” said Tchiengang, pronounced CHEEN-gang.
The six-foot-nine centre with the Island Storm lived in Douala, Cameroon, until he was 15 when he moved to Houston.
Back home they celebrated Christ, but being in a developing country meant it was more about the joy of the celebration than presents.
“It’s more of an outdoor (festivity), party outside with a lot of people rather than sit inside and unwrap gifts,” Tchiengang said. “We didn’t have Christmas gifts or anything. Merry Christmas was the best we’d get from our parents or cheers around the community.”
It was a time for celebrating with friends and family with meals like roasted chicken and pasta.
“It’s quite eventful,” he said of the celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s.
There are “a lot of lights, (but) not every family has a Christmas tree.”
Tchiengang’s uncle, Dr. Calvin Seumen, had studied medicine in Russia and wanted his nephew to have a better education.
“The opportunity was offered to me and I seized it,” Tchiengang explained.
Cameroon is a bilingual country (French and English), but Tchiengang came from a French community, making the adjustment to life in Texas a challenge at times.
“I barely knew any English: good morning, bathroom, just the essentials,” he said.
It was the support and encouragement of his American family that helped him through the transition. He soon picked up basketball and fell in love.
“It became more of a passion and I wanted to do it as long as I can.”
He went on to play at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, and suited up for Al Jaysh Army SC Doha in Qatar’s first division last season.
Tchiengang has only been in Prince Edward Island for a few months, but a few things have already struck him.
“One thing I have noticed since I’ve been here is just how welcoming people are. It’s quite incredible,” he said.
The centre and his fellow Storm teammates have a few days off before getting back to work Christmas night for practice. The National Basketball League of Canada team plays Dec. 26, 27, 28 and 31.
“I understand it’s a privilege to play this game and sometimes we have to make sacrifices,” Tchiengang said.
Family, both of them, holds a big piece in his heart and said he would talk them on Christmas Day.
Storm coach Joe Salerno said it is a balance during the holidays.
“It’s tough because the guys can’t go home. A lot of guys will be bringing in family and girlfriends and whatnot for a couple of days during the Christmas break,” he said.
“The guys need to enjoy Christmas like everybody else, but it is a business and it is their job and our busiest season falls in the winter . . . The guys know that and they’re all professional about it and understand.”
Tchiengang thinks back and is thankful for what his uncle did for him at a young age. It allowed him to get his education from a top American university and follow his dream.
“Getting the opportunity to play a game I have developed a love for — the game of basketball,” he said. “He has allowed me to travel to places I have never imagined.”