CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 8, 2020) – In April, with Mother’s Day just weeks away, Spc. Joseph Ngwa waited helplessly, preparing himself for the unthinkable possibility that he might not see his own mother alive again.
About a week earlier, Ngwa, assigned to I Corps (Forward) here, had placed a video call to his mother, Jeannette Louanga, who lives in France. It was a routine they both looked forward to, but on this day, even after multiple attempts, Ngwa’s calls went unanswered.
The coronavirus pandemic had been dominating the national news cycle for months at this point, with France having verified more than 100,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths.
This fact worried Ngwa, so he contacted his brother, Marc Herve Kouoh, and they decided to call the police. Authorities arrived at Jeannette’s house, where they found her experiencing severe difficulty breathing. The police told Marc she would be sent to a hospital immediately.
Ngwa said it “felt like forever” waiting to hear back with news of his mother. When Marc finally did call back, Ngwa’s worst fear was confirmed.
“Mom is infected with the novel coronavirus,” Marc told him.
Ngwa said he felt his heart begin to pound, and “a lot of thoughts began racing through [his] mind.”
“I couldn’t help directly connecting COVID-19 with death,” Ngwa said.
The medical staff treating Ngwa’s mother told him they would keep her stable, but that there was not much more they could do for her. This uncertainty about his mother’s prognosis, coupled with the fact that Ngwa could not help her or be by her side, weighed very heavily on him, he said.
“I felt completely powerless,” Ngwa said.
Ngwa grew up in Cameroon with four brothers. His mother worked largely by herself to raise them, he said. Reflecting on how hard she worked to take care of him and his brothers, Ngwa said he was “deeply grateful” for everything his mother did for them.
“She is part of my soul,” Ngwa said. "I feel like I haven’t even started to pay her back for what she has done for me. It would make me very sad to lose her before getting the chance to do so.”
Ngwa’s Army career had prevented him from seeing his mother for the past four years, but he had been planning to visit her in the near future. Then COVID-19 began to spread around the world, and now his mother had contracted the virus.
If his mother died, Ngwa thought, he may not even be able to attend her funeral due to travel restrictions.
As the days passed, Ngwa said he was experiencing an “emotional battle” inside, but he kept everything to himself and tried not to let on to his fellow Soldiers what he was feeling.
Ngwa said he finally decided to relay the situation to his senior noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Renalyn Lawson, who passed the information up through the chain of command. Soon, Soldiers in Ngwa’s unit were approaching him and asking if there was anything they could do to help.
“Being in a difficult situation like this reminded me of some of the important things I have learned in the Army,” Ngwa said. “The Soldiers in your unit are like your family. Being away from home, [we all know] how to stay calm and manage a situation.”
The week since his mom had been admitted to the hospital had been “the scariest of [ his] life,” Ngwa said. Then one day, his phone rang again. It was Marc.
Ngwa prepared himself for the worst news, but the news he got could not have been better.
“He said, ‘Mom got over her critical condition,’” Ngwa said. “It was miracle.”
After going through such an emotional journey, Ngwa said he learned that human connections and relationships are two of the best systems of support to have when dealing with an overwhelming situation.
“Life is a full of challenges,” said Ngwa, “It’s very fragile and precious at the same time. But together, we can overcome any crisis."
Ngwa said he is looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day this year and he still plans to visit Jeannette once current travel restrictions are relaxed. However, the best moment he got to share with her was in the days after her recovery.
As soon as Jeannette was once again able to talk, Ngwa placed a video call to her, and the two were able to resume their routine.