Friday, November 25, 2011
I had an interesting morning, consisting of an army of ants high on steroids invading my 11th grade classroom within 20 minutes. Now when I say high on steroids, I mean these were no ordinary ants, they were 3 times the size or any normal looking ant… Maybe it’s because they too, get fattened up with all the easily accessible manioc in this country, but it sure was a sight to see. Within minutes I could barely see the concrete floor and the rim bordering the window where they had apparently come from. I attempted to teach my grammar lesson on gerunds but the kids were clearly more interested in the invasion… I don’t blame them. They had begun to move all their bags and books and even the desks away from the window. Finally I decided to walk over to the principal’s office to explain our minor issue but the censeur just stared at me blankly and said the kids could sweep the ants out in order to continue on with class. I looked at him slightly concerned and just said “sure, why don’t you tell them yourself”- knowing bringing his eyes to the problem would alarm him a tad more than “oh, just sweep the ants out”. As we walked over to the classroom half of the students were standing outside and yelling “this is war” gripping their belongings with dear life. The ants had invaded a quarter of the room including the ceiling and the chalk board. As soon as the censeur saw the scene he just turned around and said “well of course you can’t teach with this kind of situation… you need to cancel class” Even though I had already planned on it, I just wanted his approved. By the time I was ready to call it a day the battle field resemble an 80s horror movie with man eating ants… eek. Needless to say that night I felt like the creepy critters were crawling on my body. Of course my reliable head lamp (thanks to my “older” twinJ) revealed that it had just been a pigment of my imagination.
Another though proceeded to cross my mind, as I tried to forget about the ants. I had spent the rest of the day at Estelle’s people watching and coz-ing (franglish- chatting) outside of her bar. We watched the moto guys skid by, the children beating empty beer cases as drums, the trucks hauling a trail of dry red dirt and dogs chasing the giant tires of every vehicle that made its way through town. We got to talking about everything and nothing, usually life in general and for the most part we share opinions and compare our cultural differences. Estelle is a 29 year old bar owner and a single mother of 2. She supports 3 kids that live with her in her tiny 2 room house attached to the bar and a daughter living and attending school in Yaounde; I have a lot of admiration for her strength and devotion even when money is tight and things get rough, she always finds a way to look at the bright side of things. She smiles and laughs as she looks over at me, "who are you thinking about" she asks after being momentarily distracted by the little boy; Steve who was pushing a box around the dirt as if it had wheels. She giggles, noticing that I was lost in thought. I had been fiddling with my necklace subconsciously, giving away the answer she already knew to her question.
It’s funny how loneliness can creep up on you. I don’t mean the desire to physically want a body nearby, felt or even seen but that loneliness that resides deep inside and submerges without warning- like feeling alone in a crowd. Estelle says to me “Why is it that if you care about someone so deeply you can easily let them fade from your heart over time? Here in Africa it doesn’t matter if it’s a day, a month or years down the road; time, distance… it doesn’t matter. Love is love and if it’s real, it’ll never leave your heart. Whether it’s family, friends, lovers… their presence may not be physical but in spirit it’s there until the day you are reunited.” So then my question in all this is; it's easy to say out of sight out of mind, right? It's simple to feel forgotten, but in reality, there could be someone out there thinking of you at the same exact moment you are thinking of them...
As the sun began to set in the horizon Estelle and Anik (her 11yr old daughter who is completely obsessed with my camera and even more so taking pictures of herself with it) walked me home before the moot moots could feast on my blood. We got to my house and sat on the rug in the living room to chat some more as Anik was off with the camera hanging out with the boys next door. Our conversation lightens a bit as the focus shifted to my canned veggies and tuna. Estelle says with a curious look on her face, never actually taking her eyes off of my little stock, “Do you actually feel satisfied after eating that?” No wonder she feeds me almost every day I show up at her place to hang. She thinks I’m malnourished lol. Every time she feeds me, there’s a generous portion of couscous de manioc and fish, gumbo or bush meat waiting for me on the table… how can I resist, I’m not one to refuse manioc. Anik is always intensely watching me eat the couscous because I enjoying eating it plain. In Cameroon, couscous de manioc is a compliment to a meal… it’s not suppose to be the actual meal... oops. We finished are chats as it got late, Estelle had to tend back to her bar and I had 10th grade lesson plans and packing for Batouri to take care of before I could retired. At the time I was pretty exhausted and was banking on a good night of sleep… But once my head hit the pillow, I couldn't have been more wrong on that rem cycles appearance.
Lying in bed curled up under my sheet and sleeping bag with my hoody and quilt bunched up on either side of my torso, I realized that sleep was just not in the books for me that night. After the ant incident this morning and my mind flooding with thoughts about what Estelle and I had talked about earlier that day, I felt that there was something else that was preoccupying my mind. I just could not pinpoint the uneasy feeling that submerged as I tried to close my eyes and let the world of the unconsciousness take me.
I reached school the next morning at 730am on the dot, I began my lesson with the 10th grader. Around 830am, an hour in and an hour left of class, it finally hit me how tired I was. I was pacing up and down the rows looking over my students’ shoulders to make sure they were all working on the reading comprehension assignment I had given them to work on in groups. I noticed that all their heads were turned toward the court yard, in front of the principal’s office. I walked over to the door-less entry way to casually check out what everyone was looking at. Before I reached the door and poked my head out I heard a smacking noise followed by a light cry. It sounded much like a scream someone tried to hold in. Immediately after the cry the students in the classroom gasped, but not so much in a surprising way but more in like a “I’m so glad that isn’t me way”. I finally arrive at the doorway and noticed a group of students standing in a circle around the scene. There was the disciplinary master… punishing the kids one by one for misbehaving on multiple accounts. After realizing what was going on, I instantly turn toward the blackboard, chalk in hand trying to distract myself as I could feel the tears building up. I didn’t want to lose face in front of my students, after all corporal punishment in certain countries are just one of many ways kids are disciplined and partially acceptable. I knew this day would come, I just hadn’t imagined it to be on a day where I was so sleep deprived. When I finally got a temporary grip, I assigned homework and got the hell out of that classroom and walked home. I saw Estelle and stopped to say good bye before I headed to Batouri for Thanksgiving weekend. She took one look at me and as if I was ok… the tears came streaming down my cheeks as I explained to her what had happened. I could tell she took pity on me for feeling sorry for the students that were getting punished in such a harsh way. She explained to me that in Africa this type of punishment is a way to teach kids not to act up, misbehave or talk back to an authority figure. “They have to learn not to do it again; once it’s done they know better the next time around.” I guess it’s like spanking in the U.S. A child is spanked when he or she has been bad and after a few times they generally learn not to do whatever it is that got them in trouble in the first place. After talking to Estelle I was able to calm my nerves and realized that in some parts of the world, punishment is a lot more severe than being whipped. I had to be diplomatic about my feelings toward corporal punishment; there's a line that is drawn between cultures sometimes it's much finer than others and in those cases it's easy to forget that there is in fact a line. Therefore making a reality check like this one sting more than usual. As I mentioned before I knew the day would come that I’d have to stare at this issue in the face, I just didn’t expect it to be that day… Maybe that uneasy feeling I developed the night before was my body warning me that I was going to experience an uncomfortable cultural difference between the one I left behind for the one I have just recently walked into.
With that being said, I still have a lot to learn from, I’ve only been in Cameroon 6 months and at post for a little over 3 months. I have 20 more months of exploring this world. I know the experiences will be difficult at times but being here; just my presence feels like an impact on some lives. At times I can feel the roughness that I'm not use to and yes when I feel like crying I’m going to cry. But there are times when I want to laugh, so I'll go ahead and laugh away. I have a great and welcoming community here and despite some of the techniques used to discipline students, my school is well composed. No one told me this would be a piece a cake; as a matter of fact I expected it to be difficult but with hard work comes accomplishments. I will try my best to do my job and stay open-minded, I may disagree with some aspects of how things are done but who am I to judge. These people welcomed me into their lives and homes. I can only hope that in 2 years I will have left a good impression on at least one soul if any, then at least I will have known that I accomplished something.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Wednesday October 5th: Teacher’s Day!! Yey me and all the other teachers out there; new and old to the field. Here in Cameroon this is our day to shine. Usually on this day teachers dress in their ‘teachers day pagne (this year it was bright green). My Proviseur gave me 3 yards to get a dress made, ample time since he had handed it to me mid-September. Unfortunately for my tailor I came walking into her workshop with pagne in one hand and a J. Crew dress design in the other 2 days before Teacher’s Day… oops hehe. Although she had to rush the dress, it came out rather nice, who knew I’d actually like to wear green… bright green- pictures coming soon-
As per tradition on this magnificent no school day, the festivities usually commence with a parade first thing in the morning. Those attending- the teachers of the villages and those neighboring. Then followed by meetings and speeches by those head of the academic department in the schools. Afterwards, we feast!! Unfortunately this year due to the elections the parade, meetings and speeches had been cancelled. So I was given rendez-vue to meet my fellow colleagues at the local bar… in my bright green dress at noon. I showed up at 1230. On my walk over, students I passed were waving and yelling “Bonne fete Madame” Others shook my hand and complimented the dress. As I walked through centre ville I began to notice the population expanding and the mix of two different colors of the same pattern. Last year’s teacher’s day pagne was bright red and some even wore brown which had been the color of a couple years back. Once I hit centre ville I stopped at Estelle’s bar to say hello. Her bar was already poppin with folks drinking beer, whiskey sachets, laughing and smiling, cheers-ing ever time someone said something funny. I walked to the back as I smiled at the people to my left and right. Estelle reached out for my hand and game me the friend ‘shake and snap’ hand shake and said Bonne fete, are you ready to celebrate?! We chatted for a few before I headed back on my original path to destination. Passing bar after bar, I realized that people had began drinking at least for a couple hours. Everyone looked so happy. I finally reached the bar and walked in to find 2 of my colleagues present. One in which was feeling quite gay, not able to sit still as the music played in the background. I noticed to empty whiskey sachets on the table where he had sat. If you want a quick and cheap buzz, whiskey sachet is the way to go. He greeted me with a hop over into my personal bubble, gave me the same ‘shake and snap’ that Estelle had just done and excitedly said “ca va comment!? I see you are on time as usual.” My response- “umm not really. But I know how punctual Cameroonians are so I didn’t want to keep anyone waiting.” I said with a grin. He laughed and nodded as we both looked around to see that no one else had bothered to show up yet. So I took a seat and watched my colleague sing and dance around the bar grabbing the barmaid and provoking her to bust a move.
Around 130, ironically right after ‘La fille du Jardinier’ ended – a terrible Mexican soap opera dub in French that Cameroonians literally glue themselves to the tv to watch. The rest of the crew showed up, with food. We drank our 24oz beers and ate grilled fish, manioc and bush meat. The Proviseur said it was hare with hesitation… I was hungry so without questioning his statement and I dug in. After we ate the meal, took some photos and drank the beer my colleagues began to slowly disperse. I noticed the diminishing number of teachers, confused. I thought the festivities were an all day affair but it seems as though everyone was saying their goodbyes. So I followed thanking the remaining group of administration for the food and drinks and headed home with a pit stop at Estelle’s.
I reached her bar and turn the corner to walk inside. The place was steady with teachers everywhere. Estelle was back and forth between customers so I took a seat amongst the crowd and watched. Moments later 3 military guys walk in; Marines, later informed me that their presence was to keep the peace in case a riot broke out seeing that this was a politically sensitive time. They stepped over to my table and politely asking if the seats next to me were taken. I reply no as they sat down and offered me a beer. After a couple hours, a few beers, a “do you need saving” glances from Estelle, I felt like the day was actually going quite well. I was having fun, making new friends and wearing a bright green dress lol. As the sun set, I decided it was about time for me to head home. I was not prepared to stumble down a dark, muddy road surrounded by the bush. Michael, one of the Marines asked me if I was hungry. Mind you about an hour into conversing with these new friends the chief had left to buy some street meat across the way where the 3 old men stat day after day next to this hand crafted grill. He came back with meat on a stick. I pick one up and took a bit recalling the first time I tried it with Estelle. I told the guys, “this is really good beef.” My new friends watched me devour the rest of that ‘beef’. They then each grabbed their share and casually mention “today its goat”… I paused for a second to recall Joanna’s not so good experience in Bafia and Michelle’s a couple weeks ago with goat meat. I then grabbed a second stick, shrugged my shoulders and smiled- “number 2 bush meat of the day- goat”
As I watched the sun slowly sink in the background, surrounded by the bright colors of pagne, I got ready to part ways. Before I had time to stand I realize the beer Estelle had just put down in front of me… that must have been my 5th… 24oz beer. With all eyes on me and my freshly opened beer, I watched the chief raise his glass. I simply didn’t know how to refuse so I raised my bottle and cheered. Around 7pm, the sun was long gone, the music was blairing and the crowd was joyfully singing and dancing the night away. My 3 friends had then invited me to a neighbor’s house for some dinner. Since I had been sitting there for a few hours drinking they must have thought that goat just simply did not suffice for a meal. After briefly discussing this with Estelle and making sure it was safe, I grabbed my beer and walked over to the house. It was a cute little mud hut of a family of 4 or 5. The kids had been in the living room playing but cleared the room as we set foot inside. We sat down with plates in hand and 2 big pots sitting on the floor; one with boiled plantains and the other with meat. It smelled amazing. Michael served me with a chunk of meat, a couple plantains and an excessive amount of red spicy tomato sauce on top of it all. He asked if I had ever tried porcupine. My first initial reaction was to look directly down at my plate without saying a word trying to process the connection between the question and what was possibly sitting on my plate. Reading my facial expression Michael chuckled and said “well there’s a first for everything.” I smiled back, stuck my spoon into the meat and took a big bite. Third bush meat of the evening- porcupine. It was pretty good. Unfortunately the sauce was overwhelmingly spicy so I began shoving plantains in my mouth to calm the burning. By the time we finished we had demonstrated our liking to the common meat of the East and set foot back to the bar. As we headed back to Estelle’s the streets were only illuminated by the bars around the centre. I then remembered that I still had to walk home in the dark and teach the next day at 730. I thanked the Marines for the food and beers, searched for my phone to use the built-in flash light to guide my steps on the muddy road home. I turned and waved and noticed the music, laugher and lights began to fade the farther I walked. To my relief I made it home in one piece but on that walk home I couldn’t help but wonder about the creatures that lived beyond the bush on either side of the road. I decided the silence and darkness was not a good combination so I picked up the pace. I made it home, feeling accomplished and satisfied. I changed into my shorts and t-shirt, crawled under the mosquito net and into bed, drifting away into the world of dreams… ahem ahem –mefloquin.
Now let’s fast forward a bit to Michelle’s moto accident. It was late afternoon; we had met up in Bertoua before lockdown officially started. We needed the necessities: apples, honey and canned tuna. The lockdown was to last 3 weeks so we needed our provisions to last. We sat at the usual spot for spaghetti omlettes and coffee when we noticed the rain clouds in the distance. We quickly finished eating said our goodbyes and jumped on the motos to head home. About 45 minutes into my ride the rain appeared like waterfall from the sky, it almost felt like a movie set where the director signals for downpour in one specific spot. In my case, it was the spot between me and home. Immediately my moto guy hauls to a stop we both rapidly jumped off the bike to seek nearby shelter. The lightening was so bright it hurt to look at the sky and the thunder was so loud I could feel the ground below my feet as it vibrated through my body. It gave me the chills. We noticed the distance from our current location to Diang was only a 10 minute ride but decided it was best to wait out the rain. I pulled out my phone to text Michelle about the torrential downpour I was just caught in and noticed a message. I t was Michelle; she wrote “I was in an accident, we hit a car”. Immediately my heart started pounding, dialing her number hoping she would answer -“hello…” “Michelle, oh my god are you ok? What happened?” She sounded shaken up; I could tell she was still in shock. She said a car pulled out in front of them and the moto hit the car t-bone style throwing both her and the moto guy off the bike. They had barely made it out of Bertoua. After she explained her location I told her to hold tight, “I’m coming to get you.”
After explaining everything to my moto guy he willingly offered to take me back to Bertoua and then to Dimako; Michelle’s village. We looked back at the road which looked nothing more than a red muddy river as the rain had slowed its pace, never really stopping. Despite the rain, the moto guy could see the urgency in my facial expression as I looked at the sky then back down to my phone. He stood up, grabbing my backpack and we set off for Bertoua. About an hour later we reached the scene of the accident, Michelle was sitting at the bar where her moto guy left her to wait. I saw the blank yet worried expression on her face. She was in shock, not really knowing what to say or do. Thank God she was ok, just a few bumps and bruises, no blood, no broken bones. It could have been so much worse. Another 20 minutes went by where I just sat and listened to her tell me what had happened. I didn’t know what else to do. I felt guilty for not waiting to make sure she had gotten on her moto to leave before I did. Eventually, the rain finally stopped and we set off for Dimako. I decided to stay with her for the night, luckily my classes didn’t start until 1030 the next morning so I had plenty of time to get home, change and head to school. After another long moto ride we made it to her house. We both walked through her front door completely soaked and covered in mud –pictures coming soon. Despite the unfortunate event that had just occurred a few hours prior, we made it safe and sound, took one look at each other and bursted in laughter.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Today is the 15th. It’s a Thursday and I just had my morning class. It’s funny how this morning on my walk to school; I realized that this weekend will have marked a month since swearing-in; a month since I became an official volunteer. It kind of came randomly as I was walking by saying hello to the adults that walked in the other direction with small children trailing behind. They held their machetes in one hand and empty buckets and bags on their heads. As I smiled they would always say “bonjour ma fille” or “bonjour madame”. Those that stopped to shake my hand would say “bonne journee Justine, ont est ensemble”. Today was a good day, even though I cursed ever step I took on the muddy road that last night’s rain brought, trying not to slip. I arrived to school right at 730 to begin my lesson with the 10th graders. We talked about household chores and the role of an adolescent versus a parent. I got them talking which was impressive; I was told kids in high school don’t dare speak up in class because the others will most likely make fun of them. I think the fact that I spoke French made them feel more comfortable. That’s not to say that there weren’t still the regular ‘derangers’ that any high school class would have. But all in all the class was a success.
It’s interesting how the days here go by incredibly slow but before you know it the week is almost over. I’ve felt this before in the States but the fact that it’s Africa gives it an entirely new meaning. I mean I watch these people walk by me in the mornings and I wonder- where are they going, for how long, what will they do afterwards? I see the old men in the centre next to a hand built grill that looks like it could tip over by a simple touch of the finger. There are usually 3 of them, sitting there cooking bush meat in the afternoon. No matter what time I head home, whether it’s 10am or 3pm there they are... What do they do all day?? And what about the neighbors? I walk past their house and they are usually outside, cleaning the dishes or doing laundry. That doesn’t take all day right? I mean unless you’re me, then laundry will take 3 hours, haha. I then wonder, I have all this free time on my hands and sometimes I don’t know what to do with it and it drives me crazy. I get restless so I read, I watch something on my computer or I’ll go for a walk. I want to know what is it that these Cameroonians do to make the day feel like a productive one? It’s such a different lifestyle to that of an American. Always on the go, get up early go to work, have a quick lunch, back to work, maybe gym before dinner, drinks with a friend or movie before bed, next thing you know it’s already 11pm and you’re thinking about all the things you have to do for the next day. Call me crazy but I sort of miss that. Don’t get me wrong, this new life style is... well if I said relaxing that wouldn’t quite be right. It’s more subtle. The classes can be stressful and not getting your errands done because everything is done at a much slower pace, so maybe I could say it’s a tranquil life style with plenty of frustrations.
So I started school on the 5th of September and guess how that went? Well it didn’t- simply put. I can’t speak for all of Africa but for Cameroon, apparently the first week of school is none existent. I mean according to the law the first day is the first Monday of September. We had 15 students show up the first day. My high school registered 450 students this year and only 15 kids showed up the first day. By that Friday there were about 60 kids. Unfortunately half of the staff hadn’t even showed up the first week and the principal didn’t seem to be phased by this. Gee what an example to set for the kids. My community host; Christian, who is also a biology teacher at my school explained to me the difference of information in a contextual manner versus the reality. During our first general meeting, the Proviseur (principal) decided to make an example out of me by pointing out that the week before school started I was told to show up for paperwork at the lycee no later than 8am. So of course I show up at 8 Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a book in hand knowing it would be at least an hour before any of administration would show up. Sure enough as I’m sitting on the bench in front of the Proviseur’s office, being the only person at the school, around 930am the first person shows up, the principal himself. I grinned when I saw him walk around the corner then looking at my watch. It didn’t bother me whatsoever; I mean what else did I have to do? Anyhow, the fact that I was used in this example, that I was always where I was asked to be at the time I was asked to was something the others should look up to... boy let me tell you, that made things slightly uncomfortable, especially for the people who had been teaching there for years. Needless to say, this was what Christian was talking about. Cameroonians give you the context of what is to be expected but does anyone follow through? Not really. And instead of just telling people how it is, they rather have those that are unfamiliar with the reality of people’s laziness to discover it on their own. It’s quite funny actually, makes you wonder how things ever get done. Well they do, eventually.
I’m almost done with my second week of teaching and things are coming along at the normal Cameroonian pace. My 8th graders are the most dynamic of the 3 classes I have. I had the 8th graders yesterday before lunch period, about 45 of them show up. It’s interesting how they’re faces light up whenever I turn any assignment into a game. My 10th graders, well I really like them. Today they participated beautifully, in English none the less. My 11th graders, I haven’t really gotten a chance to really get to know them. I have them twice a week and one of those periods is 2- 4 Monday afternoons. No one really shows up. I mean the first day- forgetaboutit. This past Monday, I had 2 students. The other period I have them is Wednesday morning at 730. I had about 25 out of 60 show up, which was a good start, but it’s like they run on their own schedule. I had kids show up 15mins before the end of class expecting not to get punished so I was very clear that I wasn’t going to let that fly the next time. If you’re late get me a billet d’entree (a slip from admin saying why you’re late). Anyhow, a side from the classes, my colleagues are super nice, most of them are men. There are 2 other women that teach there; English, Spanish and physics. Most of my male colleagues enjoy striking up conversations with me about cooking. I guess they’re under the impression that I’m a good cook- lmao! They obviously don’t know me haha. This coming from the girl that mistakenly put olive oil instead of vegetable oil in brownie mix- hehe oops. Anyway, just to reassure some of you, I am getting by. I’m slowly but surely learning how to cook stuff. Mostly rice, pasta and tomatoes... I’m not starving; I’ve gained 10 pounds in the last 3 months. When I’m in Bertoua, Michelle and I usually have omelets or avocados- twice a day. Anyhow, these colleagues of mine are adamant about showing me how to cook. A women in Cameroon has to be at least a decent cook... says so this society! It’s no biggie, at least if anything I’ll come back to the States a better cook ha.
My nights are pretty calm; I usually make dinner early after my bucket bath. Since I bathe outdoors I rather do it in the daylight. I have no idea what kind of creepy critters come out at night and plus I wouldn’t want to fall in the latrine... gross. So after I eat, I finish the movie that I was watching while I ate then go outside to relax aka have a cigarette. It’s so quiet that I can almost hear my thoughts. Last night when I went outside, the sky was light up by a harvest moon, it was amazing. I tried to take a picture but the camera just didn’t give its beauty justice. So I sat on the porch for a long time and pondered. I really could not have chosen a better place to be so remote, so far away from everyone and everything. All those times when I was at home, any home, by myself staring at the sky and wishing I was anywhere but there... in a place where I could escape, I never knew that I would actually have that one day. Sure, it’s lonely at times, very lonely even but I’m learning to live a life that most people in a western society have forgotten exists. It’s difficult, I’m not going to sugar coat it and yes I have my doubts about my presence here sometimes but I chose to be here and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Let me see if I can recap what has been going on in the last couple of weeks. I guess I will start with model school...
Model school is a high school here in Bafia which is only 4 weeks long and created for us trainees to practice teaching before leaving for post. It’s also summer school and gives students a chance to brush up on some of their weaker subjects. Model school takes place at an actual high school called the lycee bilingue. My first week was a success but it was not easy. Who knew that preparing lesson plans then executing them in front of a group of teenagers would actually be difficult. I mean so far in my little experience teaching it’s the older kids- 10th, 11th and 12th graders that are the more tranquil students. I feel at ease, they’re actually learning what I’m teaching them, whereas the 8th and 9th graders- forget about it. I hate them. I taught them for 3 days 2 hours each day last week and I thought I was going to go crazy. They love to ‘derange’ just to derange (disturb- I’m throwing in a little franglish) I’ve had students throwing trash around, sleeping on benches, talking back to me, interrupting me just to say that this person stole their pen or notebook. I even had a student interrupt me just to tell me that this student and that student are des amoureux so they have to sit together... I know this doesn’t sound terrible but when it’s 45 students for 2 hours none stop, it’s pretty exhausting. Not to mention the 2 hours we spend lesson planning and barely getting through a quarter of it because the students are little ... But on the bright side, we have 1 more week of model school left. Apparently teaching at post will be a lot easier because we won’t have all this other training, host family and curfew business to deal with. Don’t get me wrong I love having this time with my fellow trainees but when you have limitations, obligations and information that continuously piles on top of you until you can’t breathe anymore you end up snapping. I had one of those days last week. I reached my breaking point and ended up giving my 2hr teaching block to another volunteer. It was actually kind of embarrassing. I was talking to our teaching trainer and had a moment. I had to walk away because I couldn’t stop the tears. I found out later that 2 other trainee’s hit their breaking point the day before.
Along with our jobs as teacher trainees we were given the responsibility- as all the other trainees that have been in our shoes, to organize clubs. Every Wednesday school lets out early so they kids have time to participate in extracurricular activities. I decided to have a dance club. My only mistake was not putting a number limit on the signup sheet. Thank God for Christine and Eric- 2 other trainees, who joined the dance club. We had over 70 kids sign up. It’s been hell to manage but last Wednesday we were able to group kids up in specific dances such as the Pinguis and danse de Bafia (both African dances) and also included hip hop and salsa. At the end of the club period we introduced them to the soulja boy dance- haha. For those of you who are not familiar with this American oriented dance please youtube it. “Soulja Boy- Tell’em”. It started out as a joke and one of the other trainees said that we should learn the dance and present it not only to the students in our dance club but also at the talent show this Sunday for all the trainees and Cameroonian trainers- haha. Please youtube it so you can laugh at the idea of 5 of us trainees will be dancing “soulja boy” in front of about 80 people Sunday night.
Last week one of our tech trainings got cancelled and we all went to the bar. A few people got pretty drunk and we witnessed a chicken killing, it was quite interesting considering that I had never seen one before. So Simon’s bar aka the main bar we go to, we call it Simon’s place because one of the young boy that works there, his name is Simon. There’s a house that’s connected to it with a shack that divides the bar and the house and there are always chickens running around the bar. I’m assuming that they raise chickens at the house and sell the eggs at the bar. Some of us were having a couple drinks after our long day had finally ended and Simon started chasing one of the chickens around the bar. A bunch of the guys in our group joined in not really knowing why they were actually chasing a chicken- as you can see there isn’t much to do here recreationally so chasing chickens, or in my case watching this happen was very entertaining. After about 20 mins Simon finally caught it. The following day, we watched that same chicken take its last breathes... The day after that Simon’s family cooked it and offered some to a bunch of us. It was delicious!
Last weekend I was invited to attend 3 Cameroonian weddings. One was a Muslim wedding and the other was a Christian wedding. There were about 6 of us that that attended. Joanna and Michelle went with her family, Jack went with his family, Matt went with his parents, and Nate was the wedding crasher of the night. It worked out pretty well. 3 of us attended one wedding and the other 3 went to the other one. Around 12:30 we all met up at the 3rd wedding and stayed until about 230am. I heard the music at that wedding playing until 430am. I’m pretty sure some people didn’t even go to bed because Joanna and I walked over to a nearby bar for some bread and chocolate around 10am the next day and 3 Cameroonians were drinking, singing, dancing and grabbing at us. I would have found it funny if I had slept more than 2 hours the night before. But in the end we did laugh it off because after all it was 10am and these guys were hammered. Well it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere right... After our stop at the bar for some food we then grabbed our bags and headed to the SED house to use the internet and get our lesson plans done. About 5 hours later and about nothing accomplished we decided to round some people up and go for a bike ride in the woods. It was a great way to end the day even though I had not slept much the night before. Joanna fell twice and I technically didn’t fall. I jumped off the bike every time I lost my balance. It was like off-roading on our bikes, it was great. We got pretty scratched up. It was an awesome adventure. We had an hour to kill before curfew so we stopped at the bar for a beer before calling it a night.
I also want to point out that sleeping in, in Africa just doesn’t exist. No matter what time you go to bed, the morning comes pretty quick. The sun is shining, the roosters are crowing and the pigs are screeching usually around 630am so you can imagine anyone’s’ battle to continue sleeping.
A side from my life at school, at the bar and at home there isn’t really too much else that’s been going on. My family feeds me super late with a mountain of carbs and it’s good but I hate going to bed with a food baby every night haha. Our food of choice here- while we’re at the bar, we usually have a goute after classes. Our snack choices are sometimes pizza bread... it’s pretty good… well, Africa good anyway. It’s basically half of a baguette with tomato paste and laughing cow cheese... I know that sounds disgusting but it’s not as bad as it sounds. I definitely won’t be bringing that back to the States. However, what I will be bringing back are the spaghetti omelet sandwiches. They are amazing. It’s basically an omelet with spaghetti, tomatoes and onions in a baguette and it’s usually eaten in the morning. I’m also a fan of the bread, chocolate n banana combo and cheese, egg sandwich. Speaking of food I had my first mango last week, that was really good. I also had deer for dinner one night, which is apparently a treat because deer is difficult to find here- my first taste of bush meat. Oh and I finally had street meat! It was great, I didn’t get sick from it haha. Or so I think. I’ve actually been having stomach problems for a couple days now... again. I’ve come to the realization that by living in Africa having a solid bowel movement is almost impossible. Ask anyone of us... lol. Sorry, once again- TMI. Like I had mention before filters just don’t exist here. We talk about everything. It’s just about time for me to wrap this up, I have a class to teach in about 20 mins.
I’d like to add that I miss my friends and family every day. I hope that you all are considering a visit to Cameroon in the near future. You are all welcome to come! A la prochain, gros bisous a tous!
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
Life as I know it... Has now turned into a 'jungle book'... Welcome!! I hope I can keep you all entertained with my posts about how the Cameroonian life is treating me.
Apparently drafting emails is the most reliable way for me to communicate from Bafia- our training site for the next 3 months. The internet kicks us off whenever it feels like it and I must say it’s rather annoying considering that Peace Corps has us on a tight leash, only permitting us with 2 or 3 days of wifi- they are our providers. We could pay to get wifi at our host families' houses but that’s really expensive for us. Yesterday, it rained for half of the day which was the most it’s rained at once since we’ve been in Cameroon. Not what I expected at all. But I guess we are in what is called “la petite saison seche” which means we are actually in more of the dry season with random rain here and there which makes it super humid and malaria prone... Not to worry I am taking my Mefloquine every Friday night! Unfortunately even while taking our malaria horse pills we can still get malaria... last night a bunch of us were going over why we think we’re going to catch malaria because apparently its quite common amongst volunteers... great ha. As of right now my legs look like a mosquito's battle field. Yet, I’m not too worried about it, I had pretty bad diarrhea for just about 2 weeks. I was finally put on antibiotics about 5 days ago when I told PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officers) that I found blood in my stool. The blood was an obvious concern to them as opposed to the fact having a liquid bowel movement foe 2 weeks straight and intense cramping wasn't... TMI- I know; sorry guys but here there is no filter, we share everything. We’ve already figured out who we’re going to call when we need someone to come remove the mango flies from our asses if and when we get them lol... Knock on wood. Not too worry about the blood in the stool though, I’m feeling much better and have found my appetite again haha. My trip to the hospital was an interesting one, I must say... I don’t recall ever being asked to poop in a plastic bag before. I think I was most disturbed when I had to bring in the bag the next morning along with 2 other volunteers having similar issues. We were asked for our samples while sitting in the waiting room in front of everyone. Mind you our bags were clear... enough said. We all laughed about it the entire ride back to the training center.
I must say that there are a lot of things that I miss that I didn’t think I would by being in Africa living as the Africans do. Like a toilet that flushes or a real shower. There is no running water in Bafia. The people here have wells or a “forage” where they fill up buckets of water, for drinking, for laundry, for bathing, for washing food, etc... I consider myself lucky because my host family has an actual toilet as oppose to a hole in the ground. When you look at it in that perspective, pouring a bucket of water down the toilet to flush isn’t that bad. I have almost mastered the bucket bath but that doesn’t mean I like it. Given that it is pretty hot and humid here, pouring cold water all over your body at the end of the day feels refreshing, I have grown to appreciate cold showers now- something I thought would never happen back in the States. That doesn’t stop me from wishing for a “real” shower... I haven’t even started my 2 years and I already miss showers, the real ones.
Bafia is located in the center region, which is as you’ve guessed in the center of Cameroon. We are about a 2 hour bus ride northwest of Yaoundé- the capital. The weather here as I said earlier is very hot and humid, quite the tropical climate. It’s funny how I remember saying that the summer was my favorite season back in the States because I loved the heat, well I may be re-evaluating my feelings toward that preference. I have never sweated this much in my life! I mean I break a sweat just from walking from one side of the house to the other. It’s quite amazing actually to think that I even have that much water in my body. But with the heat there’s always a nice tan that fallows haha.
The food here is pretty interesting. I had quite a variety while in Yaoundé but I couldn’t bring myself to appreciate it much given that I was pretty sick once the vaccinations had begun. I was mostly on a banana and hydrating salt diet. My host family has been slowly easing me into the variety of foods that they have to offer. So the first night I got in they made me a fish, potatoes with some kind of red spicy watery sauce. It was good. I did not realize that here in Africa, the idea of eating everything actually meant everything. So when they served fish for dinner, it was the entire fish minus the intestines. I got lucky and only had the tail end. But I watched the rest of the family suck the head and bones of that fish dry... I really like the fried plantains- they are delicious and really simple to make. I also had the opportunity to try the sugar cane from the yard; one of my host sisters used a machete to chop it off. The use of machetes here are extremely common. I was surprised that it didn’t take me much to convince myself not be alarmed when children would walked by me holding their machetes over their shoulders. I’m more afraid of the hand size spider that sits in the bathroom watching me take my bucket bath at night then the people in the streets headed to the fields with machetes haha. Anyway, so I never thought I would say this but I think I’m contemplating vegetarianism hahaha. A side from the fish, I have not liked any of the meat here and I haven’t even tried bush meat yet. I will try everything and I’d rather know what I’m eating after I have already swallowed it. I love the eggs and bread. They're fantastic! I’ve even discovered that they have chocolate that taste just like nutella!!! I know all you nutella fans out there know how happy that makes me! They also have these interesting patisseries that’s a cross between a donut and fried dough and you can find them almost at any market, bar or persons selling them in the street. They serve a crap ton of potatoes which are good too. I’ve tried the manioc which is a particular taste but I enjoy it. The fruit here is amazing, its all fresh!! It’s pineapple season so I have been getting my fair share of fresh pineapples. We have also been finding bananas, avocados, mangos and prunes.
So I have made a few friends here within our training group. There are 42 trainees; half of us are in the education program (ED) teaching English, computers or science. The other half are in the small enterprise development program (SED). We are all roughly the same age ranging probably from about 21 to 44 and I’d say that there’s an even amount of male and female trainees and we have 1 married couple. For the same amount of time that we've spent with each other I feel as though we grown fairly close. The trainers have told us that we are a dynamic and strong group, which is encouraging to hear. I think by the 3rd or 4th day in Yaoundé we all felt that we got lucky with or group. We all get along, everyone seems to be strong in their own way and best of all, everyone has an awesome sense of humor.
We generally have a very busy week, which isn’t surprising considering the integrating process Peace Corps has been putting us in since basically Philly. It’s been such a rapid process that we haven’t had time to blink never mind even think about what’s going on. We went to a nice comfortable hotel in Philly with air-conditioned room, fluffy pillows and queen size beds with a big bathroom, hot water shower, big tv and a nice view- to a “nice” hotel in Yaoundé where the shower pressure was non-existent, cracked ceilings, occasional flushing toilet, 2 beds for the lucky ones and a hallway mirror- to our home stay: total immersion. I think the way they did it was good; they threw us into it without us really noticing what was going on. I mean, now that I think about the conditions we had in Philly or even in Yaoundé I see a tremendous difference but I’m not complaining. I am quite happy with my experience so far. Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult but it’s only going to get crazier...
Usually we have classes Monday through Friday 8-430 and Saturday 8-12. Sunday is usually chore day and church with the family so that tends to start at 6am. You want to get an early head start on that laundry. When you’re washing it by hand it takes more than 30mins and if you’re me, it’ll take you 2 hours to hand was everything then hang up to dry. We have a 7pm curfew every night, with the exception of a planned party with an extended curfew. We are generally allowed out after that as long as were with our host family and we text our training director our whereabouts. Our evening rituals usually consist of 1-2 beers given that’s what PC allows us. Mostly, we just go to the bar to relax after the day. Some drink, some eat pain au nutella and some just sit around and socialize. We also use this time to go to the market to buy food, clothes or other items that we can bargain prices with. I was a total success in Yaoundé, when I talked the guys into selling me a pack of Marlboro for 1000CFA when he tried to sell it to me for 7500CFA. (500CFA = $1). So for those of you that were wondering, during training we get a stipend every 2 weeks of 40,000CFA (which is very manageable, things are relatively cheap here). We swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers on the 17th of August then head to post the following day. I don’t know how much we will be getting paid yet.
PAINTING A PICTURE
I’m going to try to put pictures up on facebook so everyone can see what Cameroon looks like because it is so different that it’s difficult to describe. It’s very colorful. Yaoundé has red dirt, not too many trees given that it is a city. Lots of pedestrians, cars, moto taxis. People everywhere. It’s nothing like a city you would see in Europe or in the States. Our bar in Bafia consists of a shack with a cooler for the beer, soda and water and crackers, cookies, bread and cigarettes that surround the clerk. The infrastructure is terrible. The roads are there in most places but they don’t seem to have been finished, they just kind of stop on either side. People sell food, phone credit, random clothing in little shacks on the sides of the street. For the most part Cameroonians are super friendly especially when they hear you speak French. They like that.
Training is pretty intense; I won’t spend too much time talking about it because it’ll probably bore you guys. We have 2 main training houses that we study, work and have seminars in. They are both pretty run down but they have the essentials. The teacher training course is held in the lycee bilingue (the bilingual high school). The SED trainees stay at the main training house which we also call the SED house. Now when I say high school, it’s nothing like a high school in the states. This is literally chunks of cement buildings with holes on the sides as windows... super run down. But it works for us. I have a couple pictures but it’s so difficult to upload them because of the internet connection we have here. I will try to go to the internet cafe or at the SED house on or wifi days given that we don’t lose power- which is very common in Bafia. Anyway, so we begin practice training with real students the 1st week of July and I’m super nervous. Today we just had our 15 mins presentation on our lesson plan. I must say I was rather impressed with myself considering my public speaking skills, the trainers were happy with my English lesson ha. Tomorrow we get to find out where we are going to be posted for 2 years and I cannot wait to find out. This weekend we leave Saturday for site visits all week.
Site visit is where we head to our post for the week with our counterpart and meet the volunteer that we are replacing (if we’re replacing one), meet our future colleagues, explore the community, open a bank account etc...
THE BAFIA FAMILLY
So a little about my host family… I have a mother; Micheline and a father; Divine. The father is an English teacher for elementary and secondary school and also attends classes at the university in Yaoundé. He travels a lot so I don’t see him much but when he is home we usually have interesting conversations about Cameroon’s culture, history, climate and Bafia’s community. Politics are off limits, PC discourages any particular involvement since the presidential elections are coming up and voicing an opinion might give the Cameroonians the wrong idea about what we are doing here. Micheline is mostly a stay at home mom but also works at a salon (a wooden shack in the neighborhood- I have yet to see her work in it) She usually is crazy busy doing other things such as working the field, (it’s almost corn season) cleaning the house- and when I say cleaning the house it’s tough labor. They have no such things as vacuums or mops, they’re on their hands and knees with rags- Cinderella style. She also does laundry, fills the buckets with water to leave near the bathroom or kitchen. Sunday morning’s Divine and Micheline play basketball and go running at 6am before church. I get up around 630-7am everyday and she’s up feeding the pigs or doing something. Makes me question her sleeping habits because she is usually up when I go to bed around 930 as well. I also have 3 sisters living at the house Brenda who is 13, Melvin I believe is 10 and Onya who is 6. They have a 16yr old sister that’s staying next door because I took her room- she’s got a tude (like all 16yr olds but she likes me- thank God haha) And there’s the oldest son who I met last weekend. He is in his 3rd year at the university in Yaoundé and came to Bafia for a short visit. I interact mostly with Brenda, Melvin and Onya, they have so much energy and are so curious about everything. When I gave them the Boston Red Sox towel they played with it for 30 mins, along with Micheline because they thought it was so beautiful. It’s amazing to see people appreciate things like that, that you wouldn’t really see in the States.
Let me just tell you a little bit about their cooking arrangements... They have a tiny ass kitchen inside and a more convenient one outside where I’ve watched them cook fish, corn, eggs and plantains... sanitary? Questionable. At least it’s cooked over the fire and I just tell myself that the germs have been burned off, no biggie, it’s like an extended camping trip. I’m planning on cooking them an American style dinner within the next couple of weeks: garlic bread, grilled cheese, pasta with tomato sauce and guacamole (this should be interesting) most other trainees have stuck to pasta and tomato sauce.
Micheline, Brenda, Melvin and Onya have taken me out for walks around town and to the Marché where the usual calls from locals are “oh la Blanche” which I’m getting used to. So far I have bought a couple pairs of flats and earrings for the women in the family (I kinda got suckered into that one). The flats though I needed. Cameroonians are very into the way they dress and it was pointed out previously that flip flops were not acceptable to wear to class, so I needed some nice shoes. I actually bought paigne as well (African fabric which is often used to make clothing) the other day to have some dresses made, I’m really excited to see how they came out. A bunch of other trainees already have a few made and they look nice.