Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Today is June 2nd, 2011. By my calendar, that means I have been in Cameroon for one, whole, entire, and complete year. On the one hand, it seems like just yesterday that I was attempting to predict and pack what I would need in Africa for two years and saying my goodbyes. Sometimes I feel that it is uncanny that a year has already come and gone. But other times, I reflect on the events of this past year, and it seems like an almost infinite amount of time of unprecedented changes, learned lessons, and ** in my life.
First of all, I acknowledge the fact that I haven’t written in ages. However, I cannot apologise. I’m a busy girl with little to no internet (let alone electricity) access. And that’s that. But I will revisit some of the events of the past few months in an attempt to make amends.
Ahhh, so this past year living in Cameroon, I’ve had many many firsts. It’s been my first time:
-teaching in a formal atmosphere, in the North and South of the country.
-seeing an entire mountain on fire
-seeing monkeys and four feet long lizards roaming around “en brousse” instead of behind caged bars at a zoo
- chasing wandering goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, etc. out of my yard
-seeing the Nigerian border
-planning my daily activities around daylight, using candles every day (as my friend, Trevor, pointed out, candles will now forever only be associated with utilitarianism- as opposed to romanticism- for us), looking desperately forward to the illumination of a full moon (and the children’s dances and uplift of nightly activities that comes along with it), and being able to notice and appreciate the unadulterated brilliance and clarity of the stars
-being woken up every morning at 5 o’clock by the call to prayer
- paying the equivalent of twenty cents to a moto driver, hoping on the back of his moto, and trusting him to take me wherever I want in whatever town I happen to be in.
- haggling over the price of everything from leather bags to tomatoes to **
- going to a Cameroonian hospital, à cause de my first bouts of malaria and amoebas (at the same time!)
-living alone, and all that comes with that: biking 25 k to pay my rent to my illiterate landlord who only speaks Fulfuldé and getting stuck in the mud, trying to find someone to fix my walls when they split in two (and by fix I mean fill in the holes with cement and leave the issue of the crumbling foundation for the future), and trying to eradicate all my nooks and crannies of termites, flies, ants, wasps, lizards, geckos, mice, cockroaches, etc. that inhabit them
-marching in a parade.
- experiencing a hot season, where it’s upwards of 115 degrees in the shade (I can’t tell how hot it is in the sun, as the thermometer that Dad sent me goes haywire and refuses to function in direct sunlight. I guess it’s just too hot to measure.) You can cook your food by the power of the sun, some of the villagers huts (with their straw thatched roofs) simply engulf in flames without warning, all of your clothes are covered in salt stains from evaporated sweat, and I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had some how spilled some type of liquid on myself, and realised it was just copious amounts of sweat. One day, it finally cooled down a bit and I thought that I actually felt pretty chilly and was going to put on something a bit warmer. Then I looked at the thermometer. It was 97 degrees… But redeeming quality of the hot season: MANGOES!! They are everywhere, it’s the season and people have so many they practically give them away, and absolutely delectable in their juicy and tangy way.
- reading a plethora of books in rapid succession. My count is at 56 for this past year, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten many.
-burning my trash and being painfully aware of every single thing that I consume.
- seeing a Crater Lake
-using a Ditto machine to make “photocopies.”
-fitting 25 people into a car that should seat 8.
- eating goat, mutton, monkey, porcupine, anteater, fish heads (including eyeballs!), chicken throat, cassava (in all forms), millet, a leaf called follère, baobab (fruit and leaves), fresh figs, fresh dates, taro, okra, cashew fruit, koki (white beans mashed up into balls of mush!)
-owning a machete and daggers
-dying Easter eggs with Cameroonians and attempting to explain the Easter Bunny
- riding in a canoe around waterfalls.
-sleeping at least four people to one mattress.
- filling in hundreds of grades on giant sheets of paper with carbon paper to make a copy.
- drinking beers with Congolese priests at a Catholic Mission!
- riding a bike in a skirt.
- writing on a chalkboard only to have the black slate rub off onto the piece of chalk instead of the chalk showing up on the “blackboard,” which is actually just painted on the wall.
- speaking Fufuldé
-rejecting my colleagues’ marriage proposals
- fitting four people onto one moto.
-dropping my prescription sunglasses in a latrine :( (this happened at the school latrine, and seriously considered if there was any possible way to retrieve them… thankful I realised the preposterousness of that notion and grudgingly continued calculating students’ averages.)
-sleeping on a bed made of sticks (bound together by strips of animal skins) and a mattress made of cotton
- having my every move observed, scrutinized, and judged.
- ridden an overnight train.
- being on any form of transportation and being able to buy (through the window) any type of food or drink, or a surfeit of merchandise like sunglasses, dress material, watches, calculators, pens, candy, cookies, tee-shirts, DVDs, tissues, maps, CDs, magazines, planners or journals, keychains, etc. (this phenomenon is also at any outdoor restaurant/bar- as you are sitting at an outdoor table, a hoard of hawkers will pass you by selling any assortment of said merchandise. It’s even better than on-line shopping! They come to you, and you can touch and prod and try out any product before and buying it, after you bargain down the inflated price, of course!)
- being chased through the street by a pack of children chanting “Nassara, Nassara!” (White! White!)
- buying all types of food from hard-boiled eggs, tofu, meat, beignets, carrots, bananas, avocados, eggplants, etc. etc. from off of someone’s head.
- wearing clothes made out of pagne (the African material that one buys in the market and then takes to a tailor to make an outfit to the customer’s specifications). Identifying what patterns or objects are adorned on pagne, worn by others or in shops, has become one of my favorite activites. Some of the patterns really disguise what objects are printed on the pagne, and its quite a mental exercise to catch the object that is worked into the pattern. For example, here are some of the objects I have seen on pagnes:
screws, pipes, irons, monsters, hamburgers, muffins, roller skates, Maggi Cubes (cubes of MSG that are used to cook every Cameroonian dish), trees, Virgin Mary’s, planets, Lion King characters, mushrooms, keys, purses, lamps, furniture, gas station pumps, CamRail logos (the national railway company), cigarettes, parrots, feathers, genie bottles, leaves, etc. etc.
-seeing the lights illuminating a stage (powered by a generator) go out and literally instantaneously the stage re-illuminated by the spectators shining their flashlights/lanterns/cell phones towards the performer (which was much brighter than the weak generator flood lights!)
-being so incredibly aware of the fact that the treatment of women as second-class citizens (in the better scenairos) or simple property (in the worse cases) destroy any hope of a society progressing.
-pumping water from a communal pump and fetching water from a well
- using a giant clay jar of water, placed in a hole in the ground, to attempt to keep my water, fruits, and vegetables cool (it’s a natural refrigerator!)
- feeling as powerless and helpless as when I hear my neighbour beating his wife and children and can do nothing to stop it, or when I see teachers accepting bribes from students to inflate their grades, or when I see police accepting bribes and imprisoning innocents…
-realised the importance of White-Out in a school where everything must be written out by hand. It’s like gold!!
-washed all my clothes by hand.
Of course this list isn’t exhaustive. Some facets are positive and frivolous and fun. But others are certainly negative and deep and have made me reflect and evaluate my life and my decisions and my reasons for doing the things I do. And to evaluate these aspects of the people who surround me. Like all experiences, there are the highest highs and most beautiful roses. But there are also the lowest lows and sharpest thorns. I really think you need both those components to learn and change and grow. And I have certainly done all those things in the past year. Of course I still feel young and naïve and lost and overwhelmed and confused and frustrated everyday. But interspersed with those feelings of inadequacy are the breathtaking African sunsets, the unblemished natural beauty of this continent, the smiles of my students, and the compassion/loyalty/optimism/joie de vivre of so many of the Cameroonians that are now a part of my life. I can’t wait to see what first the next year will bring. I think I’ll have a host of other experiences to add to this list I’ll keep you posted!
** So, quickly, on a more mundane note, if anyone is interested in my schedule of late and future plans, here it is:
The school year is officially over on June 10th, when we will finally hand back report cards and all the statistics and administrative paperwork will be over and finished with. Shortly thereafter, I will be heading down to Yaoundé for mid-service (basically so the Peace Corps can verify that I am still breathing). Then I am going to go to Bafia, which is the town where I did my training last summer. I’ll be there for two weeks to help “train” the new Education volunteers who will get in country tomorrow. I’m going to help teach English classes for the model school (like we did last summer), observe the new kids teahing I model school, and lead some training sessions (namely about how to identify problems in each volunteer’s community and then how to incorporate those issues into lesson plans, since as teachers we have the largest built in and established audiences in our students). I’m looking forward to it- I’ll get to see my host family again, meet the new kids coming in, and keep busy during the “long vacation” (it’s technically not summer). Afterwards, I’m hoping to do a bit of traveling around Cameroon and to get back to Hina by August to work on organizing a girls’ summer camp with Cheryl, my postmate. Hopefully during these travels, I’ll have some internet access, but if not, I’ll update once I’m back and settled.
I love and miss everyone and really appreciate the support. Hope everything is swell at home!
Friday, March 25, 2011
This was on Women's Day, March 8. All the women were matching outfits and they parade and drink lots of beers and put on talent shows! This is Rose and Claire, two other PCVs from the Extreme North Region, and Martine who is going to school to be a French teacher. We are at Claire's post, which is called Tokombere.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
So I am in Maroua for a regional Peace Corps meeting, and the electricity, and hence the internet, was out most of the day yesterday and all day today until a few hours ago. It finally came back, so I’m going to try to get a quick post up before the “lumière” cuts out again.
The past few weeks at post have been very busy, but super fun. It is “fête” time in Cameroon- there is some sort of celebration almost every week until the end of the school year. Two weeks ago was Bilingualism week, which I got the honour of organizing as the English Department head. And last week was Fête de la Jeunesse, or Youth Day. I’ve also been trying to take more Fufulde lessons with Cheryl and our tutor, Mahamadou.
Before I left for my IST conference in December, I tried to go for a run every morning. Since I live in a fish bowl, everyone noticed. Teachers started making comments at school- Tu es forte! Quoi!? Une femme qui fait le sport!? The day before leaving, the gym teacher at school found me and insisted that it was NOT ok for me to go running alone. He proposed that we should work out together and that he would make a schedule and devise an exact routine, complete with cardio and calisthenics and muscle strengthening and proper stretching! Well, Cameroonians often talk about future plans but rarely follow up on them. So, I smiled and nodded my consent, my brain preoccupied with my eminent departure. I consequently forgot all about it. And of course, a few days after I had gotten back and school began again, I am woken up by a knock on my door at 5:15 A.M. Obviously, it’s the gym teacher, ready to go! I begrudgingly coalesced- I mean, I was up and awake at that point anyway. It turned out to be super fun and hilarious and it was interesting to see the differences in fitness training between cultures. He had me do all these ridiculous things like flap my arms pretending I was a bird, perform a hopping motion that was suspiciously reminiscent of leap frog, and attempt some pretzel like stretching exercises that my inflexible limbs refused to allow me to perform correctly. It was still pitch black dark when he first came and got me, but by the time all this craziness began the sun had started to rise. We drew a mini crowd and all the Cameroonians were fist dumbfounded, and than absolutely tickled by the “nassarra” faire-ing le sport. I even considered the possibility that maybe the gym teacher was having me do all this silliness as a great prank, but he was right there with me the whole time and made sure to observe the kids in gym class that day at school; and again they were doing all the same exercises! Gym teacher came the next morning as well… and this time the Vice Principal came with him!! If it was possible for my life to get more ridiculous, I think it just might have as I simulated wing flapping and toad hopping motions with the administration of the West African high school I try to teach English in….
I have a papaya tree in my front yard. It’s pretty giant. Now is “le moment” for papayas and the tree has been producing fruit like mad. I’ve become severely addicted- I mean like I gorge on papaya until I make myself sick. I think I’m subconsciously afraid that I’ll never see fruit again (at least until the next fruit season begins!) The fruit grows realy high up on the tree and usually Djoulde gets it for me with this super long pole thing he has with a hook on the end. Well, Djoulde’s been pretty busy lately with his nursery/garden. He hasn’t been to my house all that much. But there were 2 papayas that were becoming quite ripe and I didn’t want them to spoil. Of course I could have just walked over to Djoulde’s garden and asked him to help me. But if you know me, you know how stubborn and impatient I can be- my favourite maxim being “I can do it myself!” So, I fashioned my own long pole out of sticks and duct tape and wire shaped into a hook. I climbed about ½ way up the tree until I decided I couldn’t go any further without risking breaking a tree limb and falling to my death. The Papayas were still a ways up, and balancing on a precarious branch on my tiptoes while trying to loop the hook around the Papaya stem enough to pry it loose was a rather strenuous undertaking. But I succeeded and knocked one down! It thudded to the ground after hurdling past me and missing my head by only a few centimeters (and papayas are NOT dainty/light fruits. And it fell from a pretty steep height, so it picked up quite a steady velocity). Ignoring this blaringly obvious warning, I went to work on the second papaya (still directly beneath the fruit) It probably goes without saying that the second Papaya fell and hit me directly in the face. Yeah. I was terrified that I was going to have a black eye and have to explain how I got it to everyone in Hina, thus exposing my glaring stubbornness and stupidity. Luckily, it only left a red mark on the left side of my face that I chalked up to “sun burn” to anyone who noticed and inquired about it.
Bilingualism week- We celebrated the supposed bilingual nature of this country two weeks ago. The two official languages are English and French. (All those pesky tribal languages and various dialects don’t count. “We must only speak English and French. They are the countries that colonized us, so we don’t have a choice.”- this said by the principal to the kids… maybe I’m jaded, but I were a student, that would certainly be the last argument to motivate me to learn either of these languages. In fact, I would probably motivate me more to actively rebel against learning either of these languages of the countries that raped, pillaged, and enslaved my ancestors… or maybe I’m being overly dramatic. Still, when I try to convince my kids of the importance of English, I attempt to emphasize the benefits of being able to speak both English and French in Cameroon. For example, all of their universities are bilingual, so if a student does continue on to higher education, even if they are studying Chemistry, all of their classes could be taught in either language at the professor’s discretion. And obviously, most employers in the professional realm look to hire bilingual employees. Granted, these arguments can be rather unconvincing to most of the kids in Hina- who have never and will never leave the village limits- but I’d like to think it’s at least a little better than telling them they must speak French or English “because I said so”/ “that’s the way it is”/ or “they are simply the languages of our colonizers.” Anyway, throughout bilingual week, all teachers, students, and administration were to speak only English on school grounds and in the administrative block. Francophone teachers were to give at least 15 minutes of every class in English. These were great ideas in theory. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as planned in practice. But the majority of teachers and a good amount of students did truly make an effort. So, Friday was the big day of all the festivities. The president of English lub gave a speech, a couple kids read poems in English, I tried to play jeopardy with English Grammar, and then we did a debate on the role bilingualism plays in being a professional in Cameroon. It went alright- I got very little direction about how the activities should be run, and then of course, the day of is when everyone and their brother decided to add their two cents on how things should have been done… mais ça c’est Cameroon. And I think the kids had fun, which is what counts!
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Ahhhhhhhh I am sooooooo shamefully behind on blog updates! I apologise!! Profusely!! I’ll try to remedy the situation by sharing a couple of quick tidbits about my life.
I could talk about school, but it’s much the same as before. Lots of paperwork, lesson-planning, test writing, grading, attempts at classroom management, etc. But some good stories from the past couple of weeks:
-I was in class with my sixièmes (like sixth grade) one Thursday, and there were only a couple minutes of class left. Suddenly, one kid (who is always disturbing class) stands up and starts yelling, “Cholera! Cholera! Madame, Madame, il y a le cholera!!!” Naturally, I assumed he was just trying to create a distraction to get out of having to listen to me explain English grammar. I eventually went to investigate a found that another kid had projectile vomited on the whole bench of kids sitting in front of him. Since there was a Cholera epidemic in the Extreme North region of Cameroon over the summer, these kids have been conditioned to think that whenever anyone is sick, it is Cholera. So as news spread that there was indeed vomit within the class, a stampede erupted. I was nearly trampled as over a hundred children fled the scene, all trying to simultaneously squeeze through the classroom door. It was chaos! But I did have to laugh.
**The kid did not have cholera!! Just a stomach bug :)
-Another day with my sixièmes, there were probably about 5 or 6 kids sitting on one bench (that’s how Cameroonian classrooms are, there are a bunch of benches and the kids shove as many as can fit onto one that probably made for 2 to 3 students). And from underneath them, the bench collapsed! I absolutely freaked out, fawning over them, repeatedly asking if they were injured in any way. They assured me they were fine, and one of them asked to go out of the class for a minute. He comes back within seconds with a fist-sized rock which he uses to pound the nails back into the bench. Once repaired, the same students went back and sat on the same bench for the rest of the class, urging me to continue. It blew my mind.
So school the end of the second sequence also brought the end of the first trimester. This meant grading the tests of the second sequence, filling in all the report cards (on giant sheets of paper with carbon paper beneath it to make copies!), calculating the averages of all the students, and since I was forced to be the head of the English department (who knows how or why this happened), I had to fill out all this paperwork documenting the progress of the department as a whole. In essence, this meant chasing around the other two English teachers who are hardly ever there to find out how many hours they had actually taught and how many chapters they had covered. A lotttttt of hours were logged in the Salle des Professeurs (Teacher’s Lounge) but it was nice because almost all of my colleagues were just as busy as I was. And in commiserating over our collective hand cramps and statistic calculating-induced headaches, I think we got closer. I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable and accepted. I’ll always be the crazy white female (gasp!) that doesn’t really know exactly what’s going, but I think the male teachers at school are coming to recognize my presence a bit more. I’m “la petite soeur” (the little sister) of everybody, or so they like to say. I could take offense that they still see me as a little girl, but they all look out for me (I suppose as an older brother should), so I’m picking my battles.
As soon as I finished with all my paperwork, I had to cut out of school early!! I left a week before Christmas started because I had a Peace Corps conference in Kribi. Kribi is in the South Region of Cameroon, and it is a touristy beach town! We spent most of our days in a conference room, but we did get to go to the beach a fair amount. The first day we got there was actually my birthday, and I went swimming! It was crazy, having a December birthday, I’d never had that opportunity before. The conference, called IST, for In-Service Training, was good overall. We got some useful information about funding sources, more medical information, various Peace Corps committees we can be a part of, etc. Unfortunately, it ended on a bit of a sour note, as towards the end of the week, about 20 volunteers were robbed at a bar next to our hotel :( No one was gravely injured and the gendarmes actually caught two of the guys responsible and found almost everyone’s identity and bank cards. Still, no one wants to be threatened, and it put quite a damper on things.
*tangent- I know some out there are prone to worry, but please don’t! This could have happened in any touristy place anywhere in the world. I feel completely safe in my village and am being as careful as possible!
Anyways, I spent one last night in Kribi, saw some beautiful waterfalls, ate a lotttt of fish, and bought some cool African jewelry!
So I headed back up to the Grand North of Cameroon in time for Christmas. I visited a town called Meigonga in the Adamoua Region. A bunch of volunteers are posted in an around Meigonga, a town absolutely covered in a thick red dust. When traveling anywhere you get coated in it! I wish I would have taken a picture of us after being on a bus for four hours- it looked like we had smeared red clay all over our bodies and my friend Rose’s blond hair had turned to copper! Christmas was so fun, we had a private Cameroonian concert in one of the volunteer’s houses. We also did a secret Santa, watched It’s a Wonderful Life, played Risk for about four hours, and cooked a veritable Mexican fiesta for dinner. All in all, a pretty great Christmas! (Although I must admit, with the weather here, it felt nothing like Christmas. I think this fact has tricked my psyche into believing it’s not truly Christmas, and this is the single reason why I avoided feeling a crippling amount of homesickness over the holidays.) Then I headed back to Hina for a few days to decompress, but was back in Maroua (the Extreme North’s regional capital) for New Year’s. There was a HUGE new year’s eve party at our Peace Corps house- there must have been about 50 or 60 volunteers there! It was a lot of fun and dancing and general absurdness, as usually occurs when a mass of Americans who have been sitting alone at post for a while get together.
School started again on the 3rd of January, and I have been BUSY!! I think this is a very good thing, and I’m happy to be getting even more involved with the students. My clubs (English Club and Les Filles et Progrès, Girls’ Club) are garnering more interest. Yay! And there are sooooo many activities coming up tht we have to start planning for, like Bilingualism week, Youth Week, Women’s Day, Labour Day, Independence Day, etc. etc. AND other big news; I have a post mate!!!! Her name is Cheryl, and she is another Peace corps volunteer, in the health sector, living in Hina now! I’m sooooooo happy to have her at post! I hope this doesn’t sound to ethnocentric, but sometimes it is really nice to have another American to talk to- to vent, to share a story or joke that Cameroonians simply wouldn’t get, to lament a failure or celebrate a success, or just to spend time with someone who can understand you without at least a portion of what you say getting lost in translation.
Yeah, things are good! I feel like I’m kind of getting in the groove of this living in Africa thing. I love the people (Cameroonian and American) that I’ve met here, I love my beautiful village, my job can be frustrating but simultaneously rewarding, and feel like I’m growing. Successes all around! Downsides, of course, being that I miss everyone at home terribly. But I am thinking of you always. Hope everyone is spectacular, and I promise the next post will not be so long in coming!