Last night I couldn't sleep. I laid in bed listening to Jimmy Eat World. I had just finished reading "The Help"- 530 pager done in 10 days- that’s a record for me… I’m just sayin. My room was pitch black with just a few streams of light coming through an angle of my room where the window above my “kitchen” is located. The light pushed its way above my head onto my mosquito net, which seemed as little lightening bugs flickering every time I moved the net; I was amused for about 30 seconds then became preoccupied with thoughts pouring into my mind as they usually do at the end of the day when the sandman pays his visit. Unfortunately my thoughts were too vivid to ease myself into a deep sleep…
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.