Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's that you say, school starts today?

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.