A world full of feeling makes it impossible. -Bradford Melius, PCV

Days like this I don’t want to give up to tomorrow, because everything could change by then. When the weeks start to run together and all you have to divide the chapters of time are your emotions that turn about, one way or another, up or down, you try your best to cling on to the good ones. There is a fine line between the focus on what you are accomplishing and what seems unfixable here. My life is a constant evaluation of what I am able to give of myself, and what I am not able to give of myself. It is a line between inevitable guilt and grand purpose.

A cultural assembly took place at my school today, where all of the school clubs presented themselves, including my English Club. It would have normally become a very long day -until the food and drinks were brought out- but I spent some time with Sintia, my counterpart- my fellow female English teacher, who is Anglophone and voluntarily single, which are all aspects I absolutely love about her. In fact, I don’t know that I even know of any men that would be able to open their hearts up as wide as hers seems to be; I was comfortably pleased with our friendship when she paid for a taxi ride home when I did not have change, and then called me (which is more expensive than a text) just to make sure that I arrived home safely. It feels so much sometimes as if everyone who befriends me expects so much from me, that it becomes me doing all the giving and them all the taking. I am definitely more aware and cautious of others that approach me in my current situation. So it’s extremely nice when you find those few that take you for who you are and have a desire to give to you, too.

Before the cultural assembly, I was urged to take on three additional hours of teaching for another class. Three hours in addition to what I’m already struggling with, and soon to be having secondary projects to work on. When I said no, I was told that I should re-think about it…but I also was given a large guilt trip about being the last hope, with such a need for teachers and with all of the struggles that we face here in Africa. I should not have had to negotiate my sanity with him, but there I was explaining why I could not volunteer myself more. Yune once told me, “We are volunteers, not slaves…don’t let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do”, and I think I needed someone to say it out loud so that the thought would come to me in times like these.

After the assembly, I went en ville and Sintia helped me get my wicker cane furniture into a taxi. When I arrived back to village, there were six petits waiting to run up to the taxi and carry the furniture inside. Each one of them anxiously wanted to work for me, pointing out everything in the house that was unclean and disorderly. I didn’t mind much because I knew they were right. So I found myself giggling as I looked around and saw six children perfectly content to wash the floors, wash laundry, clean dishes and take the trash out. I asked my landlady at the boutique in front of my house, is this normal? She responded with a question: “They would be there with you, wouldn’t they?” And so that is how I gained six little friends, and my very own personal care takers. I even got some grading finished while they were here, cooking beans and rice (the beans were a gift from one student). My house now smells of rice- a sweet, homey, aroma that I always associate with the Abrils’. I’m reminded that if you embrace the community, they will embrace you back…or that if you just come to your door, there is usually someone there that would like to come in….and no matter how I’m feeling, it could be the best thing sometimes just to open it up wide and see what happens, because feelings change.

November 26, 2007

After a beautiful weekend at the beach, eating American food, and connecting with a few PCVs, it’s difficult to be back at post again.

Tim, Brad and I arrived in Tiko on Friday to spend Thanksgiving at Joe and Debbie’s house- everyone calls them Uncle Joe and Aunt Deb, because they are the married couple of the group that takes care of everyone else, as if we were their very own children. And what a breath of fresh air it was to be in a place that felt more like home that I had felt in a very long time. The generous hosts went above and beyond to make everyone feel extremely comfortable, and everything about this weekend warmed my heart. This Thanksgiving was amazing. I realize that what really makes me thankful and more grateful than any past holiday is the pure absence of what I would usually take for granted, so that we (I can say that my fellow PCVs feel the same way) cling onto any reminiscence of home and cherish it. The cranberry, chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy was without a doubt the most satisfying meal I have had in Cameroon. After 3 months officially at post, I was able to take a break and reflect on them with some of my PC family.

We shared some of our challenges, delights, and feelings of frustration. I was made aware that the feelings of frustration and lack of motivation that I had been experiencing were very common through out the group. I had had feelings of disappointment in myself at post, mostly because I felt I was not doing enough or not progressing well enough, but I was not alone. I was surprised that even Debbie, an experienced and passionate teacher of at least 20 years, was finding that she did not like teaching here. Without resources, the mentality that children are our future and deserve respect, the mentality of students, and in every other difficulty that we face as teachers, most days expend a great amount of energy that leaves you overwhelmed, frustrated, and unfulfilled. What fulfills me most of the time is simply being here and trying to shed some light on every situation. The children that passed by my house to give me fresh corn from the fields- and ended up cleaning my floors and preparing the corn for me- lets me know that I am appreciated in some way. My few English Club students that have given me letters to correct, to be sent to a corresponding WorldWise teacher and her class in Texas, lets me know that there is a spark of interest that I can work with. It’s impossible to see the big picture in just how we are aiding in the sustainable development goal of Peace Corps, so we latch on to the little things- and each other.

The beach in Limbe was gorgeous, and I already cannot wait to get back down south for In Service Training that lasts a week. Where the ocean meets the jungle is a beautiful spot to lie out and relax with friends. There’s even a little restaurant that apparently has great hamburgers, but when we went, there was only burgers and no ham, we were told, so that will have to wait.

Derangement in English Class
Madame Tara L. Smith

November 15, 2007

They ask to leave class…
To borrow a pen.
A book.
To return gym clothes and shoes.
That they borrowed from their brother.

They need to copy notes!
But how can they write without a pen?
They need to study!
But how can they study without books?
And they need to wear a uniform!
But there isn’t enough money to buy the uniform right now.
They need to do their homework!
But the lights went out last night, Madame.
They need to stay awake in class!
But she was awake all night taking care of her sick sister.
And he has a severe headache with no medicine to take for it.
They need to come to class on time!
But the rain has made the road that he walks for two hours worse than usual.
And she had to finish her chores before she left the house.
They need to come to class!
But she had to go to the fields to harvest food with her family.
And his brother died yesterday and he must help out with the funeral.
And there are more important things to pre-occupy their minds.
They need to have an education!
But they must survive first.

November 15, 2007

Wow, moving is difficult; moving in Africa is even more difficult. I think of all the small things that I could accomplish with one simple trip to Target, instead of running around the market, disputing prices with boutique owners, either with a Cameroonian to help with prices, or being told later by a Cameroonian that I paid way too much for this or that. The official day of the move, Saturday, was impressive, I must say. I had a large troop of people to help me carry everything with one trip from one house to another- boxes, bags, my very heavy foot locker (on Dan’s back, instead of taking a moto…just to show the Cameroonians that we could carry things, even if we could not put them on our head…). If those of you who know me well could have seen Saturday, you would have been tickled to see typical Tara Lynn who managed to convince almost everyone in the village to help me. I did not have much to carry myself during the trip, actually. The collective energy was flowing, and I was proud that I did not have to do something so challenging alone. The principal of my school paid to have a bed made for me, so by Sunday, I was able to sleep at the new, very big and still empty, house at the carrefour. There are 5 rooms, with the one closest to the door designated as a kitchen. I have ordered a couch and two chairs for the living room, but currently there is only lawn furniture to sit on. I need something, because visitors have been coming by left and right, all wishing me welcome. Because my house sits in the middle of town, everyone who walks by sees me come in and out, so it’s probably all over now that the American is living just behind Mme Waffou’s boutique. I hear the traffic outside my front window, but I don’t mind it one bit. I like that people pass by. Reminds me of Grandma’s house in Sugar Land, where everyone is always coming and going, welcome to stop in and sit and chat and eat or drink whenever there is something to offer. I can only hope that I have been passed down the warm, welcoming presence that she has as I embrace my community here.

Frank came to my house this morning, as I was preparing myself to face the rain for the walk to school. He told me that his aunt died. She was just 32 and lived in the house with him and his grandmother. The burial is today, he told me. He had to go help his family with preparations but it was raining and would take a long time to walk the 2 hour walk back to village. He seemed more or less to be thinking out loud, with too much on his mind for a 12-year-old boy. He was telling me about this with what looked like tears in his eyes, but it could have been the rain on his eyelashes. We walked together silently for a while. I told him that I did not know the protocol well for things like this. I asked him what I could do. He said that I could send peanuts back with him that he could grill for the family. Without asking, he started talking about the bad roads and how it would cost a lot to take a moto back home. I didn’t care- this is my friend who is obviously experiencing something very difficult. Frank, who never has asked for anything, who takes my bag to carry when we walk to town, who saved each of the gummy flavors from the handful of American candy I gave him so that his grandmother could try them, who has impressive manners for a child that doesn’t even live with his mother, who is in need. I never imagined I would have relationships like this, but I found friendship with this 12-year-old child whom I have come to care a lot about. I found a moto and paid for his ride back to village.

November 13th, 2007

“I identify with those people because they are human beings, and nothing human can be alien to me.”
-Maya Angelou

I surely thought the hardest part of my day would be giving back tests to 2nde, then hearing them complain and try to compromise the grades. But I almost broke down when an administrator came into my classroom and started hitting children left and right. He called some names from a list I had of kids that has been talkative and had them line up in the front of the class, just as I imagined the Nazis lining people up before shooting them. He even hit a little girl in the front who wasn’t doing anything. She was on the verge of crying and so was I. His frightening energy that is accepted here was way too far for me. In my efforts to save some of my kids from this insane wave of anger, I took the list of students from a girl that was reading off names to come up. “Ca va, ca va” I told her. She looked surprised to see me so disturbed by this, but did not contest my demand. It will be no secret that I cannot take seeing children get whipped and beat, to the points that some of them were slightly limping as they were running back to their seats. I ask myself how I’m going to make sure that a raging massacre like this never happens again. Not in my class.

November 7th, 2007

Portrait of Irene

She is not just a notable, she is notable, remarkable. As she hosts Yune and I, she is also cooking chicken, baking a cake for her son’s birthday, and lecturing her student teacher. She is married to the sous-prefet (a representative of the president to the community), but she is much more than his wife. She is earning her doctorate, having already obtained her Masters in Law. She married at 25, and tells me that I am too young to even think about marriage. I have heard the opposite from other women in village. She is a mother, but of three children- not the traditional 5 or 6- that she has taken the time and effort to raise well, I can already tell from their behavior. It’s nice to see that their shoes fit. I am impressed with her so much that I would paint a portrait of Irene in her honor if I were an artist. I would paint her as she juggled all of these things at that moment, for all women to see. She is not just a notable, she is notable, remarkable.

Dancing for Money
November 5, 2007

“Creativity starts when you’re young.”
– Sarah Goehler, PCV

We are November now, as the rain season leaves us and as the air becomes hotter and hotter. It’s still in many ways strange that wake up to the birds chirping, sometimes kids yelling, or the sound of women washing clothes just outside. I’m chasing out cockroaches and arguing with moto drivers- something I would not have been comfortable enough to do 5 months ago. Ruth, with Peace Corps Security, came to visit me at post, to see how I was doing. It was re-assuring to hear that most of the Peace Corps Volunteers feel the same way- that they are not accomplishing much, and are concerned with what differences they are really making. She told me to stop measuring success and accomplishment by American standards, and that even by talking to a few people a day, I was doing something.

It depends on the day that my feeling of accomplishment fluctuates. It helps to journal the things that I’ve done at the end of the day. Teaching is difficult, and has never stopped being a challenge. There are always questions I pose myself- there’s so much I want to be for my students. I have demanded more respect these days, making kids stand up completely if they start to put their head down, sending a student out if he refuses to work, letting them know that I am angry, or letting them know that I am happy with them.

For Halloween, I was excited to share the festivities with everyone around me. I taught my little ones how to Trick-or-Treat! It was so cute. I started out the class by putting pieces of paper up that I had decorated, writing HAPPY HALLOWEEN on them. I wrote a simple text about Halloween and then explained the best I could. I told them that I wanted them to choose whatever they would like to be for Halloween, and they were to tell me what they were in the role play….they enjoyed learning the “ding dong” sound, yelling it out just before I opened the imaginary door and they yelled out TRICK-OR-TREAT! I gave each student a piece of gum from my package from Alicia. They loved it. Even though most students decided to be a monster or ghost or princess from the list I wrote out on the board, a couple of girls were doctors and one boy was a teacher. I am trying to bring more creativity into the students’ lives, something they don’t experience too much in the classroom.

I attended a funeral (a death celebration, rather). To say that there was music and dancing does not do the event justice. It was beautiful to experience the energy that passes through celebrations like that one. I ate way too much- all we did was eat and drink, for the most part. It was everyone’s pleasure to feed us, and no matter how little money each family had, if they were part of the celebration, there was food. I’ve been told that sometimes families wait for years to have the death celebration because it requires so much money. At one of the houses, African music was playing and a woman sitting next to me asked if I was going to dance. I told her that I would that very moment if she wanted to get up with me. All eyes were on the white girl dancing in the middle of the room. Before I knew it, people were getting up to put money on my forehead and giving to me- something that people do if they enjoy your dancing. So there I was… at a funeral, with four meals in my stomach, dancing for money.

I move into my house soon. I am going to Nkongsamba today to get mosquito netting for the windows, and probably a large water bucket for well water. What a life. I’m excited. The official move in date is the 10th, but I’m trying to start things moving a little before the weekend arrives. My host-mom is going to visit next weekend when I will be moving in. Yet another chapter will begin in this life I have created for myself here.