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After four years apart, Cameroonian family celebrates Christmas in Colorado

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Selky Azaah with his wife, Claudia Teku, son, Daniel Fobang and daughter, Shama-Katura Azaah.

DENVER — Two kids under 10 sitting on the couch watching the latest popular kids YouTube channel with dinner ready on the stove wind down the day. It’s a comfortable family scene that this particular family waited four years to live. 

“I'm the happiest man now because I'm with my family, my wife and my kids. I think I'm complete,” said Selky Azaah. 

Azaah has lived in Denver for a few years now after fleeing his home country of Cameroon in 2018. The African country has been in the middle of an ongoing civil war for the last several years, though the crisis has been building for decades following the wave of African countries gaining independence from Britain and other European countries in the 1960s. 

Four years ago, Azaah said police in Cameroon were harassing him because on some t-shirts he was helping to make that police didn’t approve of. After he was beaten and taken to a military camp where he feared he would be killed, he bribed an officer to let him go. 

When the police came looking for him again, he knew he had to leave if he wanted to survive. 

“After all the harassment from the police, he decided to leave,” said Claudia Teku, Selky’s wife. “I had no choice then to let him go rather than losing his life.”

Cameroon family finally celebrates Christmas together

Family reunites in Denver before the holidays after spending four years a part.

Azaah fled to Nigeria, then Ecuador, then made his way north to the United States. Struggling through dangerous conditions, he arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in late 2018 and was sent to the Aurora GEO Detention Centerin January 2019. 

Accepting random visitors, Azaah created friendships with a group of people who hired an immigration lawyer to help him with his case. In July 2019, he won his case and was released shortly after. Finally in late 2021, when Rocky Mountain PBS first spoke to Azaah he had just received the paperwork to start the process to bring his wife and kids to the country. 

[Related: Justice fund provides a lifeboat for immigrants in a sea of challenges to win asylum]

It was on Oct. 13, 2022 when his wife and kids were finally set to arrive at Denver International Airport. He and his close friends waited in suspense for the flood of people traveling up the escalators to include his family. 

“I was so anxious. I was just asking myself questions like, ‘what if they don't show up?’” he said with a nervous laugh. “I was just looking and then people just kept coming out, I was just looking and looking.”

Despite the desperate scanning of people, a friend’s son was the first to point them out. When Azaah finally saw them too, he was overcome with emotions. 

Selky Azaah sees his family for the first time in more than four years.
Greg Mortimer
Selky Azaah's family pictured together for the first time in four years.
Greg Mortimer

“I couldn't just hold it; I just went down on my knees. I went down my knees and hugged them,” he described. “I remember tears were just running down my eyes because it was like a dream come true.”

“I didn't cry because I was like, he was just like imaginary … like, ‘is it true? Are you the one after so many years and oh, what you've been through? Are you still alive?’” Teku said with a laugh. 

His son now eight years old had doubled in size, and his daughter, who was just a few months old when he last held her in his arms, is now a spunky four-year-old with the biggest smile. The four of them love to play together in their apartment while learning to adjust to their new life as a family in the United States.

“I keep on telling my wife, I'm like, ‘You're coming from totally a different place where we have laws, but the laws we have favor the rich’” Azaah explained of the laws in Cameroon. For him, he wants his wife to be careful and be aware there are many laws here that are enforced. 

Of course, arriving in October in Colorado, Teku and her children are also trying to adjust to the big difference in climate. Normally their winter in Cameroon is during the dry season, where the climate is very hot and dusty the family said. Now they are experiencing their first winter in the snow and cold.

“When I first experienced the snow I had to touch it with my hands to take pictures, and it was quite good,” said Teku. “Very cold.”

Despite the climate, for Teku the biggest difference she sees in life now is how much more individualistic American culture is from that in Cameroon where she described it as a strong community where people are constantly interacting with each other. 

“You easily see neighbors; you interact with people every morning … you don't have to knock someone's door to say I'm coming. So yeah, I see it's quite different,” said Teku. 

Still, the family has made many friends here including the ones who helped Azaah with the money to hire an immigration lawyer. These friendships and their acceptance have shown Azaah what love can truly be. 

“I've learned that love has no boundary. Love has no color. People love you for who you are. They love you when they see you, they love you. You necessarily don't have to do something for people to love you, but who you are will make people love you,” he explained. 

Claudia Teku and Selky Azaah play with their children on the couch. 

Those same friends were at the airport when the family arrived and have previously show Azaah their Christmas traditions, including taking him to a neighborhood where all the houses are decked out in lights and decorations. Now he plans to show his family those same decorations and introduce them to other American Christmas traditions. Most importantly, the family is celebrating unity this year and being together after four years apart.  

“I just want to lie on him and sit around him. It's like, ‘Oh, this is possible.’ After like four years we've not been together, I feel so much joy in me. I feel complete,” said Teku. 

Through all the hardship — the running, the near starvation, the incarceration — Azaah said he feels like this is where he is meant to be and with his wife and kids here, everything has fallen into place.

“I feel at home here,” said Azaah. “I just feel like this is where I should be with my family.”


Amanda Horvath is the managing producer at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at amandahorvath@rmpbs.org

Julio Sandoval is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at juliosandoval@rmpbs.org.

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