10.30.2007

“You have those great moments of despair and inspiration simultaneously.”

-Dr. Jim Yong Kim, Director of FXB Center for Health and Human Rights

I wish that I could find the time to write more often, but I am obsessed with living in the moment, on top of everything else that consumes me… at times I feel guilty about avoiding everyone and everything else to escape to externalize and re-process everything that is going on. And there is so much that I could hardly explain every little realization that comes to mind every day. There is so much happening at once. All that appears in my journal these days are “to do” lists: Grade tests, lesson planning, Contact the Embassy about educational travel visas, Read about Nation Builders (an organization that works with students to develop under-developed countries through mind-building that I may want to get involved with), research more furniture prices, write letters home, research Halloween lesson plans & activities for my 6ieme students, English Club stuff, etc. etc…

English club elections were held last Wednesday, the day in which high schools only have classes in the morning to leave the afternoon free for clubs and activities. It was so loud and annoying, as much as the kids were excited to be there. I have been meeting with the club president about the kinds of things we would like to do. Our plan d’Action includes the following: Organizing Bilingualism week (poems, speeches, music, games and prizes), Parade during Bilingualism week (with matching t-shirts and giving candy away), Reading materials, perhaps watching/discussing Anglophone films, Correspondence with an Anglophone school in Cameroon, Written correspondence with a French class in the states (anyone interested?), a trip to the Anglophone province (this needs financial assistance or a financial plan to make happen), and a fundraiser (such as putting together an English book that could help students and sell, or preparing and selling baked goods). I have yet to contact other PCVs that are coordinating English clubs in their schools, but any advice I would take on this, as my students are extremely motivated to be involved- even my young beginners that can greet and introduce themselves… it was a group of older students that approached me on the way home to ask me to coordinate the club this year, and have been visiting me ever since about the club organization.

Venting regarding the cadeaux. As inspired as I am to give what I can to the Cameroonian people, my latest issues are that of which involve the constant asking for things from everyone. While I thought that sending Martiale to school was a good deed, the news has spread to the needy people in the village. And everyone needs something, from money for school to tomatoes from the market or milk for the baby, to a flight to America. It’s an annoyance that I understand… the idea is that if you think that you may be able to benefit from the situation, there’s that 1% chance that you will if you ask. Everyone asks. It’s a matter of knowing how to respond/deny these requests, and adjusting to the cultural norms of this. Just as most Cameroonians, in general, do not know that calling out “white man” is impolite, many of them do not realize that asking for things is rude in an American’s eyes. And as I said, I can understand so I can’t be too angry, because if I were in a desperate state of poverty, I might just do the same thing- approach the rich American. And we are rich because America is a rich country. It occurs to me on a daily basis what Narcisse meant when he told me that poor American people live even better than the average Cameroonian. Where American highways are packed with modern cars, illuminated with lights and tall buildings, many of the roads are simply of dirt, where it is rare to see more than a few very old and rattling cars that taxi people from one village to the next, jammed tight with at least 6 people- and no buildings other than the wooden shacks, some of them homes with bare cement or just floors of dirt, and lights?! No street lamps. Sometimes it’s enough just to be here, in many ways. To be both inspired and in despair is a feeling I have never before felt- not quite like this.

Au village:A Normal Day

I woke up, destined to find Martiale and to finish up business in town to get his dossier started up at the lycee. After boiling water, eating oatmeal and knocking out the buckets of dishes with Yune on the porch, I was on my way on my way to find Martiale. But I stopped in my curiosity about the noticeably large amounts of blood on the side of the road. The Anglophone that lives there was standing around as others cut apart animal bones and tendons of a goat, among other body fluids exposed, that I learned they had killed just that morning- a tradition to celebrate/mourn death. His mother had passed away 9 days before, and they were to kill a goat and feast that day to properly say goodbye. Too bad you do not have a camera, so you could show your family the traditions here, he told me. As much as you would have loved photos, I’m sure, you will have to do with out them. Martiale and I continued on into town to where one must make an official request or demande to enroll a student into school. A worker wrote out the letter for me since there was so much protocol I did not understand how to do. We paid and waited. I pulled out the English textbook and showed Martiale. He learned the numbers. Two goats ended up running into the establishment, but were quickly thrown out by one of the office workers. We finally finished up business, so we walked back to the carrefour where the cars leave to Nkongsamba. I was shoved into the front, between the stick shift and the other front passenger (always thankful for the extra padding on my butt!) After a few minutes, we rolled out, stopping for other passengers along the way. We arrived in Nkongsamba, where I was to go to the bank and internet café. I scurried across the busy streets, full of motos- many of them inviting me to ride with them, many of them knowing that I live in Bare even. But I didn’t make it to the cyber. Instead I was called out to by an acquaintance from the Parthenon, a bakery/white man store that is located just on the strip. We had a juice and a Malta, as I was feeling open to forming bonds with people at that minute, and would have felt guilty if I had chosen cyber over integrating- although this was just at the moment, because I thought it may be a good idea to make this friend. It was nice, talking to an educated man with many hopes and dreams, which gave me a bit more insight to the country. A couple hours later, I walked into the cyber which was full. My mom is going to kill me if I don’t get some photos or blog up soon! I was thinking, but computers were taken and I was persuaded to go to Tim’s house to take a shower. Why his house? Did you see the word “shower” first off? Secondly, but so much more importantly…he has an instant hot water heater! So my herbal essences and I made the walk to his house, for hummus and shower. It was very much worth it. I went to the bank and tried the cyber afterward, but the connection was up and down and I was only able to send off about three attachments. Ashia. Next time, Mom. This is Africa. Finally, I was once more tempted by my American cultural roots. I dodged into the bakery to get some Gouda cheese. Sometimes you just have to because you can! I was quickly hauled into a cab afterward, back to village, where I made the evening walk back to the house. Yune had just made some pasta with salmon, an added bonus to a wonderful day. A klonk klonk klonk on the veranda barrier from Martiale and he welcomed me back home… you’re back from Nkongsamba. Yes, I am back home.

Education is freedom; it’s the only way out. -Oprah Winfrey

I try to start my days off with 100 crunches and 100 jumping jacks. For one, it starts me off feeling accomplished about something, even it only partially makes up for the palm oiled koki* and all the other too often starchy foods that I eat here. It seems as though all the men are losing weight, while all the women are complaining about the double chins and round bellies we have gained. I am starting to resemble Buddha a little. And we are constantly reminded as we are complimented by Cameroonians on a daily basis- they congratulate us on the new weight gain, and are happy to see that we are eating well in their country. They probably think we are becoming more ripe for reproduction. It comes into conversation more often than I would like it to. I tell the mamas that I don’t know how they can have so many children, that I am too young still to have children; they laugh and think me a little crazy, I’m sure. But Americans are already thought a little silly, with their funny sandals (the ugly Tevas are worn every day, as my foot fashion sense has gone out the window, outweighed by the desire for comfort upon the rocks and hills on my road, as well as at the school) and their treating dogs like family, and their cheese fetish- and their crying because they let stress tear them apart, when no one has died even!

I broke down last week, the day before starting to teach computer classes. I was going over lessons that I hardly understood with Calvin, my colleague that co-teaches the class at the girls’ center. He immediately jotted down the name of an excellent head ache medicine, misinterpreting my not feeling well statement. When I explained that I was stressed, he became fairly uncomfortable and bothered, making me promise that I would never cry again. Il faut plurer de temps en temps, I told him…but he strongly disagreed that anyone ever needed to cry. After that he crossed out anything difficult in his notes for me, and assured me that everything would be okay. There was no hugging, but I felt better about it.

And it went okay. It was so much quieter in the room filled with 8 girls as opposed to the 90 6ieme* students at the lycee that I teach 5 hours per week. It went smoothly, after I candidly told them to save the difficult questions for Calvin. I cannot pretend that I am as competent as everyone else seems to think I am in regard to teaching computer classes. But I can deal with this. Flexibility is important for PCVs, because when it comes down to it, it’s about what you can do the community development- and these girls really want to learn about computers.

Friday was Global Teachers Day or La fete globale des enseignements! Blue and pink pagne was distributed to teachers and resembling outfits were made! I had made a traditional kaba, the village dress, that I paraded around while wearing my black heals and black attached ribbon and bow (that makes it more so like a fairy tale dress, I think…). No, seriously, I paraded! All of the teachers gathered at the sous-prefet to receive a few certificats and numerous speeches to respect protocol, followed by a parade; the women marched in front, just behind the band of drummers. Some younger students walked along beside us, and everyone waved and saluted us as we went through and across town. It was beautifully fantastic! It was one of those I feel really integrated days. I marched with my head high, proud to be part of the future of this country, and over all happy with the students that I am able to teach. My 6iemes are at times the highlight of my day…I enter the classroom to a standing audience that yells loud and clear, How are you, Madame? And a young boy runs up to erase the board for me. And when I feel I’ve lost all control, students get up and put other students in their place for me, reinforcing that there are inspired, prepared learners in my class. I lost my voice last week, and when they became loud, I muttered that I cannot yell today, I am sick; one of the boys stood up and screamed out at the bavard students, She cannot yell at you today! She is SICK! SHUT UP!!! It was sweet.

I have strayed as I have begun to brag on my little students when possible to whoever will listen. My time with 6ieme is usually very amusing. And I enjoyed celebrating all that it is, by standards of the little moments that make it worthwhile, and in knowing that these students will never forget the very educated white teacher that taught in their school, that perhaps encouraged them to do something more than they would have thought they were capable of. Teacher’s Day. Of course we ate afterward. The teachers ate and drank together, and I was forced to get up and dance as a special honor. Everyone posed for pictures (a photographer shows up for events like this) and I had the chance to mingle and sit with a few of my colleagues. I perhaps learned a few more names as well!

I found a house that I will move into, hopefully in mid-November. I have talked to many teachers and community members that all assure me that I will be en securite there. My program director is coming this week to help finalize things with the landlord, as there is a little work to be done on the house (such as installing a modern toilet into the back of the house, locks and paint). Water fountains are located just in front of the house, so it can easily be fetched each week. Electricity is usually working. 5 rooms! It’s fairly huge. I’m very excited. I’m going to have furniture (probably bamboo style) made this weekend to be ready for the move, with the help of a Cameroonian friend that I know from the bank in Nkongsamba. That way, I will not get les prix des blancs- white people prices!

* Koki is a dish made from unique beans that come from the region area, that are smashed, formed and cooked in leaves. There is a woman that makes this dish every day, selling plates for 100 CFA (so cheap!), who lives just across from my house. It’s all too tempting. I may O.D. on this stuff at some point!

* 6ieme students are ranged in ages 12-15, and make up the first year of the lycee or high school.