Jump to Navigation

Paul Besseck

Paul Besseck

Cameroon-Born Firefighter and Father

Born: Cameroon
Heritage: African

I wanted to let you all know that the reason I took the time to come and talk to all of you is because I believe that you are tomorrow’s people. The future is yours and you are in the best place in the world. Kids in other parts of the world wish they could be like you. When you come to school make sure you concentrate on your schoolwork and listen to your teachers because they are building you for the future. The sky is the limit for you, with all of the resources and opportunities that you have. Knowledge is the greatest asset that you can have.

Paul Besseck

Cameroon-Born Firefighter and Father

My name is Paul Besseck. I was born in Cameroon in April 1967. Cameroon is one of the most peaceful nations in Africa. It is in the western part next to Nigeria and Central African Republic. Because it is by the Atlantic Ocean there is a lot of nice wind that blows into Cameroon but there’s also a desert coming up from the north, so there is a beautiful rainforest that was created in there. In the rainforest you can see gorillas, chimpanzees and lots of different kinds of snakes, both poisonous and nonpoisonous.

There is a rich culture of animals in the tropical rainforest. I am one of six children—two boys and four girls. My dad worked in customs and my mom stayed home. When I was twelve years old I went to Baptist Boys’ Secondary School where we lived in the dormitory. There is a lot of soccer in Cameroon and at school we were responsible for cutting the grass at the soccer field.

Every Saturday morning we all got up before it was light out and went out on the football field. We didn’t have any lawnmowers. So every student had to bring a machete to school. We lined up from the top of the field to end of the field, everybody had their plot and we cut the grass with our machetes. That experience provided a lot of discipline for me.

Literature was one of my favorite subjects and I read about the Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was 12 years old at school. I read Mark Twain’s description of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and all the adventures that they had on the Mississippi River. I was so fascinated with the Mississippi River growing up in Cameroon that I did some research and I found out about Winona State University. I sent my application and got accepted.

I came to Minnesota at age 19, but I was not scared. The United States is a land of opportunity. I knew I was going to the best place in the world. I was nervous by the fact that I was going to miss my family. But I know that this is the place of all opportunities and I wanted an opportunity in life. In Winona I used to go and sit by the levy and watch the barges go up and down while I ate my lunch. I got rejuvenated by the Mississippi.

The first year in Winona was the hardest. It was hard because my family was so far away. During Christmas break you would hardly see anybody on the street because it is a college town. I used to be homesick. I would miss Christmas with my family but I didn’t let it bring me down. It made me know that I am here for a purpose. And the purpose was to obtain an education. If you study and commit yourself to your goals, you will achieve those goals. I also developed a new hobby, photography. Instead of writing letters I would just take pictures. I would take photographs of me and the events that I was doing and then after three or four months, I would just send letters
to my mom making short notes behind each photograph.

After I graduated from Winona State University with a degree in economics and a minor in business administration I moved to the Twin Cities. I was lucky I got hired by the Dayton Hudson Corporation. I met my wife in 1995, right after I moved to Minneapolis. My wife and I have a lot in common and music is one them. That’s one of our hobbies together. We share dancing as part of our cultures. In Cameroon there is a lot of dancing and there is a lot of music. My wife and I met at a concert and since then we have been dancing.

My son Malik was born in 1998. I pictured my relationship with my dad. He worked all the time and we didn’t hang out that much. So I thought I could look for another job that would give me the time to spend time with my son. The Minneapolis Fire Department has the best schedule that you can ever imagine. We work 24 hours and then we are off for 24 hours.

When I go to work at eight in the morning I don’t come home ‘til eight the following morning. We have a kitchen at the station and a dormitory, so I sleep there. And if I work that day, I’m home the next day. My other son was born in 2000, so I get to hang out with my kids because that’s what I missed with my dad. I play soccer with them, I play basketball, I race with them, we swim together.

We do everything I didn’t get to do with my dad. Joining the fire department has given me the opportunity to accomplish some of the things I want to. It’s not only about the money or working for a big corporation. It’s also about the time that you spend with your family. You cannot put a money value on that.

Notation: Download PDF

Cameroon, West Africa

Honoring Paul Besseck

Cameroon, West Africa
(Honoring Paul Besseck)

My father worked and mother raised
Six children on her own
My Dad made sure we all had
The love and safety of home
While father worked
Mom was there
Making sure we weren’t alone
Cameroon, West Africa

I learned to speak
English and French
By those who colonized
The land I love of many tongues
Beneath the warm cool skies
The wind it blew into my home
Across the ocean wide
Cameroon, West Africa

To the Baptist Boy’s
Boarding School
I went at the age of twelve
Where I became class President
Responsible as well
With machetes cut the grass
At dusk rang the bell
Cameroon, West Africa

My father he never saw
Me play in a soccer game
Then one day to my surprise
My father came
To watch me play the bass drum
Still hear him call out my name
Cameroon, West Africa
My favorite book
Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn
On the Mississippi
That’s why I went to Winona State
To earn my degree
And to the top each year we go
To the source of the Mississippi
Cameroon, West Africa

Met my wife fell in love
With her on the dance floor
Got married
Had two sons
Who could ask for more
But to watch them grow
To be with them
Is what I live my life for
Cameroon, West Africa

Now I work as a fireman
For the city where we live
It gives me time to be with
My wife and my kids
One day we’ll go back again
To the birthplace where I lived
Cameroon, West Africa

Music by Larry Long. Words by Larry Long with Mrs. Hudson’s 4th grade class of FAIR School. Crystal, Minnesota

© Larry Long 2008 /BMI