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Hope and Patience: Dr. Samuel Jator's journey from Cameroon to Clarksville

Its a long way from Cameroon to Clarksville, one ocean and some 10,000 miles, in fact. But fortunately for Austin Peay, one intrepid young mathematician was eager to make the trip.

Dr. Samuel Jator was born in Cameroon, a republic in Western Africa. One of seven children, he grew up in the northwest province town of Ndu, where about 70 percent of the citizens are farmers, many barely eking out enough to feed their families.
It's a long way from Cameroon to Clarksville, one ocean and some 10,000 miles, in fact. But fortunately for Austin Peay, one intrepid young mathematician was eager to make the trip.

Dr. Samuel Jator was born in Cameroon, a republic in Western Africa. One of seven children, he grew up in the northwest province town of Ndu, where about 70 percent of the citizens are farmers, many barely eking out enough to feed their families.

Jator was fortunate, however. His father was a carpenter who learned to read and write through his interactions with American missionaries. “They loved him because he could estimate angles. He was very quantitative,” says the associate professor of mathematics.

Young Samuel inherited his father's numerical intelligence. “My affinity for math came out early in my secondary education,” he says. “I was told I could practice medicine. But as time went on, I realized I couldn't do that. I wanted to be a professor.”

Fluent in the two languages of his countryEnglish and FrenchJator was offered a scholarship to study mathematics at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria. The offer was practical as well as charitable. “They needed mathematicians,” Jator says. “There were few English-speaking mathematics professors in the university.”

It was at the university that Jator met his wife, Eleanor. “We met at the student union, where we met to ‘discuss,'” he says.

When he had earned his Ph.D., Jator returned to Cameroon to work, but the economy had crashed. It remains economically repressed today. “Cameroon is a good place to live, but the economy is not good,” he says. “There are few jobs. “

For that he blames a “heavy-handed” government that employs 60 percent of the population, as well as the president, Paul Biya, who has held the office since 1982. “Leadership is a problem,” Jator says.

Shortly after he had journeyed to Cameroon, a friend returned from Canada, where he had gone to study for a year. ‘There are opportunities in the U.S. The economy is good there,” he said. “Why not fill out the lottery?”

The lottery Jator's friend referred to was offered through something called the Diversity Visa Program. Exactly 50,000 diversity visas, or green cards, are made available every year, allowing people from nations under-represented in terms of migration to the United States to qualify for a visa. Winners are determined through a random drawing from among the 10- to 12-million people who enter each year. The “green card” grants the selected person and his or her family the right to live and work in the United States as long as they want.

“You fill out a form. They draw names. My wife won, and we were granted visas,” Jator says.

There was just one drawback: Their 3-year-old daughter, Patience, couldn't accompany them. “The consul said ‘No problem. When you get a job you can bring your daughter here. It will take 180 to 270 days.'”

Six years later, Patience, now 9, is still in Cameroon, living with Eleanor's mother. “We haven't seen her since January of last year,” Jator says. “It's been tough. What kept us going is hope. Hope that she would be here in three months, then in six months. Now we're hoping she'll be here in December.”

Today, however, the Jators have renewed hope that they will soon be reunited with their daughter. On June 24 this year, they became U.S. citizens. “When the judge said, ‘You have all the rights and privileges of Americans,' it was great,” Jator says, smiling brightly at the memory.

One of the privileges of the Jators' new citizenship is that Patience will finally join her siblings, Derrick, 6, Blessing, 3, and Christina, 11 months.

Though his wife now serves as the primary caregiver for the children, Jator experienced the blessing of raising Blessing alone for a time, as Eleanor, who holds a master's in public health administration, interned at the American Hospital Association in Washington, D.C., for a year. “Blessing was only 18 months old at the time. I had to get up at 5:30, take her to the nice lady who was keeping her, and get to Austin Peay in time to start class at 8 o'clock.”

What kept him going during that difficult time? His colleagues, who stepped in to provide a sense of family and community. “They were very supportive, as they had been when Derrick was born.”

Jator says the biggest difference in the country of his boyhood and his new “hometown” isn't the physical environment. “People always think of lions when they think of Africa,” he says. “But the first time I saw a lion was when I was in the university. Actually, we see more animals here. Like deer. In Cameroon, deer are far awayin the bushes.”
—Debbie Denton