“Embrace the community and it will embrace you back.”

Yune Lee, my post mate in Bare

As I sit at the table of a nice house that Tim inherited in Nkongsamba, I’m reflecting on the past few days full of interesting adventures…to say the least. A common saying among volunteers is: Everything doesn’t always work, but everything always works out okay.” I have officially lived out the meaning of this phrase.

I’m talking about my house. I don’t have a house. But we will get back to that.

Last week, we all went to Yaounde, the capital, for some PC business. What they call the case (prounounce cahz) is amazing (see the video below), equipped with free internet, washer and dryer, a DVD player, and pizza delivery service close by… yes, I said cheese. Pizza, which means cheese! Did I mention that Parmesan would be an excellent package filler??! Four of us went to an Indian restaurant where he consumed hummus…hmmmm…and there was so much excitement that you would almost think it was Christmas! The Indian restaurant we went to was set up just beside an amusement park for small children, which was a little strange, but in the end I think that it added to the excitement and fun of the entire experience. I look forward to going to back to Yaounde whenever I’m supposed to or am able to (after 3 months of which I am to stay in my own province- The Littoral).

I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! I took the oath! We had the ceremony on Wednesday, where we spent the last few hours with our host families and friends before we all went our separate ways to post. It was a nice but strange feeling to be liberated from being a trainee to a volunteer. No more schedules that tells us when to wake up, when to eat, what to eat, etc. etc. “We’re all grown up!” I told my Maman Merineau, just before she noticed my headscarf coming loose and fixed it. Just a few hours before I was telling her, “on va faire comment, sans toi?!”. But together, Tim and I are dealing with the strangeness of all this new and bizarre emotion of being out on our own again, more on our own than we’ve probably ever been in our lives. So I don’t feel so guilty about spending so much time together; I think that we are extremely lucky that we can process this in unity. Things are becoming petit a petit less strange.

The day after swearing in, we all took our different paths to drop everyone off at their posts with all of the books (many we borrowed from the case, and excellent resource center) and clothes we’ve had made and everything else we decided to bring and not bring. As it had just started to pour down rain, we found what was to be my house, just outside of Bare. The owner was there…oh she was there all right, but she was just starting work that she promised would be done by the 23rd. There was no kitchen, no toilet- nothing. Oh, and the one room that she was supposed to block off, was blocked off, but also was the main bedroom that was supposed to be mine. She claimed that the contract did not start until September first, and in any case, the 3 months advanced rent was not enough to complete all the work that had to be done, she told me. I could leave my things there if I wanted, but the contract doesn’t start until the first, she said. After that short conversation, I picked up the phone and called Gaby, my manager, as I walked back to the door and hollered for everyone to put my things back on the bus. I had a bad feeling, and I was not going to leave anything there. Yune had left the key for me just incase I needed it (she’s in the north right now), so I forced the bus driver, who was already agitated because he was pressed for time in getting to Douala, to take me and my luggage to Yune’s house. But it began raining heavily. The road up to her house in Bare village was more like a river with many rocks on it at this point. Before I started to cry because I realized I was homeless, and just because of the situation, I laughed. I said a little prayer, and then I laughed. I was sure we were going to get stuck, in which case the driver would have been happy because he could have blamed it all on me…and it was still pouring down…and I could not see Yune’s house. I kept looking, I kept pressing the driver, continue un peu, continue…And just as he threatened to turn around if he had to go one kilometer further, I saw Yune’s house. Home for now. He pulled up as an electric chord was caught on the top of the bus. It flickered and sparked. Joe, an older volunteer who is somewhat a father to the group, told us not to touch anything. I listened. The bus stopped, I jumped out, and voila… I got the key and I was inside, in the dark. And hungry. Ashia! After I found out how to turn on the gas, the first meal I made for myself was pasta with chicken seasoning. Maman Merineau showed up an hour later. She had to see where I would be staying, she told me. She didn’t stay long; Urielle was sick and she needed to be looked after back in Bangangte. Quelle journee! Merineau and I took a car into Nkongsamba, where I found Tim and his big, empty apartment. We spent the rest of the evening talking, checking out his apartment (he has lots of great books), cooking, and repeating the phrase, “This is so weird.”

Yune generously offered that I stay in her house with her until she leaves, when I can continue to stay in the house. Gaby was happy with this idea, and I was happy with never returning to the dishonest landlady and her house. Yune’s house is perfect, actually. 2 bedrooms. Bathroom. Working toilet. There’s also an older couple that live in a house just in front who I’m told to call Maman and Papa, and another woman that lives on the other side. It is situated between the lycee and the Girls Center, and the house has already been fixed up and evaluated by Peace Corps. Not to mention that it is already equipped with everything I need to live. And you know what else… it’s pink!

Madame de Baré, Tara L. Smith

(Featured in 39 Strangers Peace Corps Publication)

As I walk around the classroom as the students I proctor take a Physics test, I count down the minutes. The past four weeks of model school have been terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, terrifying, and negative. But necessary…un mal necessaire. As I mocked being a teacher, I have begun to see what it means to be one. It means that first year teachers really are clowns, because they fall down a lot (sometimes literally), but they wipe the dirt off and they get back up again. Being a teacher means NOT being perfect. It means sharing what you know, and learning too (sometimes when you’re least expecting it, a student says something that opens your eyes that much wider). It means having patience…and at times, losing patience (although we really try not to). It means diving into your students’ world, while trying to maintain it. It’s motivating yourself, and then motivating your students. Being a teacher means that sometimes you fail. After one miserable week, I wrote a blog that worried my American mom enough to ask my motivator to call me- Madame Parks, my high school French teacher, who inspired me from the moment she entered the classroom, and who never once stopped encouraging me in the passing seven years. Knowing me so well, she put things into perspective for me. She gave me this quote: “The right thing to do and the harder thing to do are the same thing.” And the things that sent me into tears the week before seemed to be worth it, because while I had failed at some of the details, just sticking it out and around to figure it all out is ultimately what it’s all about anyway. Being a teacher means not giving up on her students, even when it gets really difficult.

At the end of my four weeks, I conclude that I still don’t know entirely what a teacher is, but I know that I am going to have those weeks when all that keeps me going is knowing that someone loves me and supports me, even half the world away. Oh, but how I look forward to those moments when a student says or does something brilliant and sends my pride soaring, or when I see that a few students were actually listening (when I thought that no one cared because the dérangers lost focus…), or when one kid tells me “ashia” after you fall down in front of everyone. Thursday, as I was writing the date on the board, I mumbled that my birthday was going to be in two days, not expecting anyone to understand- but suddenly my class erupted in singing “Happy Bird-day to you…” I stood there and soaked in the joy of seventy-two students wishing me a happy birthday (in English, by the way). The same group of kids that had me angry the day before had just made my entire week. I think that for me, being a teacher is holding on until I get to moments like that.

At the beginning of model school, I told myself that I would never smile with my students, but I’ve found that after four weeks, there comes a time when you can.