A good volunteer is one that stays.

– Felipe, Peace Corps Education Volunteer

One moment, you’re helping someone else get through, telling them, “Ashia”… and the next, you’re down at the bottom, holding hands with those same people, only now it’s their turn to support you and to give you their shoulder. I’m overwhelmed with the burden of everything, mostly with trying to be a teacher, a role that entails more than I currently feel capable of. I want the students to enjoy class, but I want them to respect me, and all the while I want to smile but if I do, I wonder if my kindness will be taken for granted…but then I lose my patience, and it’s completely acceptable to scream at your students as a teacher…but I feel guilty because I don’t want to be a teacher that’s angry all the time. How do teachers feel accomplished at the end of the day?? Because I feel anything but accomplished. I don’t know if I can be satisfied with the fact that one third of my students actually understood something. As a volunteer, I want my students to appreciate me being here. I want to be a good teacher (see an education training delivered by yours truly here!). I want to know my students…and I know that I can’t make that much of a difference in 4 weeks of model school, with a class in which I don’t even know the kids’ names. At this point, I’m trekking on, just to get through. One day at a time, a voice in my head says. But there’s another voice in my head that’s screaming, How can I do all this?!

Girls’ club is tomorrow. Last week, meeting with our girls was interesting. Independence was put on the negative list for women. Most of the girls then said that it was okay to be independent, but only when you are single. When you get married, you should become dependent on your husband. You should respect your husband. You should have children. Like a duty or a chore. Gay marriage came up and so much hatred erupted that I could have cried if I weren’t continuously telling myself, You’re just an intermediary. I whispered this to Sophia, and she later thanked me for it. When I left the group, I felt tense and disheartened, so much that Sophia and I had to debrief after the event. If anything, maybe I can make these girls think about helping themselves first, before they get married. I don’t think they quite got it when I said, “If I were to get married and my husband didn’t want to me to finish school, a dream of mine, I would see that my husband does not respect me.” But the girls were really happy to be in a place where we could discuss freely amongst ourselves. Some of the girls became teary eyed when we were going around, expressing what each person wanted the club to be. Ce qui cherche le trouvera, one of the girls said in her introduction. “He who seeks shall find.” I look forward to creating a more lasting club in Bare. There are already opportunities that have come up, such as the HIV/AIDS workshop that will be happening in Emily’s post. She’s a SED (Small Enterprise Development) Volunteer who will not be too far away.

My post mate, Yune, is in town to help with the Diversity Training, another thing that I would like to be apart of. If I join the committee, I could even help with the next group of trainees, an Agro-forestry group, that will have their stage here in Bangangte in September (see a tour of the Peace Corps training facility below!). My original point being…with all the things going through my head, what I really need right now is to do a little lesson planning for tomorrow, followed by putting it all aside and going to the local bar where I can unwind a little. They always said not to take things so personally as a teacher, but when professional life is your personal life, it can’t be anything but that way.

Je suis la. Just being here will have to be enough for now.

« Vous représentez l’espoir… que vous êtes ici, c’est déjà l’espoir. »

(You all represent hope…the fact that you are here already brings hope)

-David, the Peace Corps Training Coordinator

First day of teaching model school: Felt like I was being harassed most of the time by my Premiere students that vary in ages 17-20. The first example that I received was, “You are beautiful.” That’s a general truth, okay. One of the boys pulled out a camera, and was about to take a picture of me, when Anne-Marie who co-taught the class with me, snapped at him to put it away. We decided that we weren’t going to smile anymore in the classroom. As a woman, I will have to be strong and demand that students take me seriously.

First day of teaching a class by my self: The first hour of class went fantastically, from the moment I walked in, confident that things would run smoothly, until the end, when my students’ comprehension of the past continuous gave me a boost of confidence. After the second hour, however, I left the classroom less encouraged. I tried to do a listening activity, which the students weren’t used to. In general, Cameroonian students learn how to read and write the English language in the classroom; there is less emphasis on listening, speaking, and critical thinking, I’m told. In any case, my students were lost, and in the end, I considered the lesson a failure.

Day 2: I’m giving myself props for holding myself together this morning. Teaching the subjunctive was more difficult than I thought. My lesson for the first hour became a lesson that took up my two hours of teaching class today. I had to slow down the lesson to make sure that all of the students got it, and that’s okay. Teachers must be flexible and willing to slow down the pace to the class level. Walking into the second hour, I slipped on a muddy area just next to the classroom, where many students were standing outside. It’s okay! Keep smiling! I kept myself together and confident into the next hour. I was surprised that most students did not react with laughter, but with, “Sorry, Madame”. “Ashia”, one student told me, meaning “sorry” in pidgin. I continued with the subjunctive, and at the end of the day, tout le monde est arrive ensemble. We were all together, and I was snickering on my way out after motioning that my students stand up as I leave the classroom. They assumed that I did not know that standing up when the teacher enters and leaves the classroom is a sign of great respect… “You stand up as I leave, no?”

While I am feeling more and more motivated and self-assured in the classroom, one of the trainees who I think is one of the best teachers’ in the group, is talking about her desire to go home. She handled a younger class yesterday who broke down her patience, and triggered her thinking about wanting to go home. I don’t want anyone else to go home. I want her to stay strong and get through this with the rest of us that are struggling. I’m disappointed while I understand that if she can’t see herself happy, doing this for the next two years, that she should re-consider her decision. Life is too short to be unhappy.

And I am very much looking forward to life at post after four weeks of model school. I look forward to visiting Tim in Nkongsamba every week when I want to use internet and see another American. I look forward to real life projects and starting an ongoing girls’ club, instead of the one that lasts only for the duration of model school. It will be nice to listen to Amy Winehouse on my computer without hiding out in my room. While I love my host family, I look forward to evenings that I spend simply alone, in my very own home, with a few candles and with a screwdriver.

Joy in Cameroonian Life
Par Tara L. Smith
(Featured in 39 Strangers Peace Corps Publication)

The lights went on and off last night, in a way that teased us for a few seconds before flickering out again. I was walking toward the lantern to blow it out when the living room went completely dark. Merineau and the children started laughing. I joined in. It’s true that this is not for everyone. In the most daunting tasks to overcome the challenges of daily life in Cameroon, it is absolutely crucial and necessary to find joy and laughter in them. I am continuously amazed and inspired by the little moments that remind me that Cameroonians are experts at pulling joy out of life and living it. It is this attitude that I seek to bring into my culture, one that will always get me through anything it seems. I remind and encourage every other trainee to remember to laugh as well, the next time the lights cut out.

Les lumieres se sont allumes et eteigne, dans une facone qui nous a taquine pour quelques secondes avant de clignoter encore. J’etais en marchant vers la lampe pour le souffler quand le salon est devenu completement sombre. Merineau et les enfants ont commence a rire. Je me les ai joindre. C’est vrai que ce n’est pas pour tout le monde. Pendant les taches les plus decourageuses a reussir les obstacles de la vie quotidienne au Cameroun, il est absoluement crucial et necessaire a trouver la joie et la rire de dans. Je suis continuellement merveillee et inspiree par les petits moments qui re rappelle queles Cameroonais sont experts a sortir la joie de la vie et de la vivre. C’est une attitude que je cherche a amener dans ma vie.