“Oxygen is free. Breathe in as much as you can.”

I thought that returning would be really hard, but it wasn’t so bad, knowing I don’t really have that much time left. That being said, I’ve been busting my butt these past couple of weeks to push the projects I want to see happen and to do the things I want to do this year. It’s crucial that I do exactly that this year.

I feel extremely healthy. I actually do cardio at least every other day. My friend Autumn says there is no way I haven’t lost weight, seeing the way I eat and work out. I’ve become a little obsessed with “The Master Plan”, as me and Richie call it. I always boil water first thing in the morning for tea. Then after my work out, I drink my tea (with macha) and eat some cut up papaya (its super good for your complexion and really great for losing weight) with lime juice to add flavor. Sometimes I eat straight papaya for lunch too, but I also eat salads and fish. I just found this lady in the market who can get me spinach if I ask a day or two in advance. I just got a kilo of it and made a salad for myself for lunch. I will have to research recipes for more ways to prepare and eat it. I’ve never really cooked spinach before. I’m excited for the results, but also I just feel better and healthier- I think that is enough of a reason to continue The Master Plan. I’ve even started a bet with Eric that involves much less alcohol in-take. I just got fed up with myself for drinking more than I felt I should, and drinking isn’t good at all for The Master Plan anyway. If he loses, he will have to be designated driver for his friends one night, while wearing a traditional boubou, a dress-like shirt that descends past the knees, with a hat that Muslims in the Northern provinces typically wear. He hasn’t decided on my punishment yet. That’s the challenge. It makes a difference when you are actually counting what you consume, when you make note of what you are doing. Drinks are recorded in my planner, and so are the days I do cardio- with guess what? A pink star!

A few days after Tim left for France, I took Franck to boarding school (see my previous blog). I was worried about feeling sad, but some strength overcame me and I ended up spending the entire day cleaning (and doing the dishes wasn’t really that bad, ha) and moving things around so that Franck’s room is a general guest bedroom. It’s nice. Burned incense and had papaya salad for lunch. I opened all the doors and there was a nice breeze; and being alone was okay.

My work week officially started Monday. I researched Obama, e-mailed prospect contributors for future prospects, and posted my blog. I had tried to meet with my principal, but he ended up traveling. My activities at the lycee are up in the air in regard to teaching English classes.

I met with Serge on Tuesday, a radio DJ here. And I ended up on the radio that evening… since I did all this research on Obama, he decided to just have me do it that day! I expect a regular Tuesday debate/chat with Serge on his show this year. I look forward to working with different people, and I’m hoping that through working with different people, I will endingly have an even better impression of Cameroon in a different way. I really enjoy the idea of sharing knowledge with my villagers here, of reaching out to them this way; I’ve already been told this morning by probably 10 people that they were listening last night, that they enjoyed learning more about Obama. Next week, the topic will be ‘Success of The Student.’ It falls just in line with Club Success- a club, more like a course, that I will implement within my lycee.

I spent most of Wednesday with Autumn, a nearby volunteer who banks with me- and on those days we usually spend hours releasing the need to talk to another girl, usually binging on something great like cheese, pancakes or cookie dough. She is the most mature 21 year old I know, and the youngest volunteer in our stage (I am the second youngest volunteer). She is the inspiration for the last poem that I published. Her house was broken into twice within the past month (her phone being stolen on the bush taxi merits her “robbed thrice” title)! She has been staying with me, while trying to figure out and awaiting the Peace Corps to figure out how to deal with the security issues at her post.

Thursday, I had a meeting with Priest Michel, the founder of Kentage, an association that has constructed and maintained three orphanages in the past fifteen years. Michel is a wonderful character. He has dedicated his life to taking care of children that he says did not choose to be put in the position they are in. What especially touches me about Michel’s story is how he has become who he is today with special thanks to his marraine or godmother, a Spanish woman who lived in Cameroon doing community service. She made it her priority to send Michel to give him an education and the confidence in himself to succeed. Now, here he is, with a huge heart and many ambitions, talking about how he picked flowers from the village where she used to live, to carry them on the plane, to place in the vases next to her coffin at the funeral he recently attended in Spain. I am anxious to get an Education volunteer placed in the orphanage in Bakou, and also will work to get a water pump set up in one of the Badzuidjong orphanage, where there is no running water. I would love to work with Rotary International to see this happen.

I want to say thanks for thinking of me, and smiling when you do…. There is no doubt that your good energy comes to me, that your blessings rain over me every day. During my meeting with Priest Michel, he told me that he could see a lot of love in me- the way I act, smile, my stance, confidence in who I am… that he could tell that my parents did a really great job and that I was given a lot of love, and that it has become part of me. What a beautiful compliment. Everyone who loves me deserves to hear that.

Friday was so productive. First I went to the high school to see the principal- but he wasn’t there. His office was just recently burned down, so I know that he is going through a lot with that. Then I went by Kaori’a house. She is the Japanese Volunteer that just moved to my village, into the house that I used to live in actually. She was not there, but the little boy in the compound was there. After playing with him for a minute, his mom told me that it was his 3rd birthday. He was just born when Yune, the previous volunteer came. He was learning to walk, and now he is running around and his baby sister has started to walk and talk! It signified something in me, I can’t really explain more than that. Little by little, things do change and grow, and some of us are here to see the process happen. So I went to the radio where Kaori works- something I might have otherwise put off or not done because of “too much to do” or lesson planning. And it was nice. She asked me to help her buy a bed in Nkongsamba, so she ended up coming over later (after I started an application for funding for a water pump at an orphanage I am working with… that’s another amazing story) and we went. I bargained a really good deal for her, which I was proud for. Walking back, I decided to get some tapioca on a whim, to take whenever I had the chance to Franck at the boarding school (tapioca is something they eat a lot in boarding schools here), and then (after finding some silverware and cups I needed to buy) I ran into one of the teachers from his boarding school! Luckily he remembered me, because I didn’t remember him. It worked out so nicely because I just sent the tapioca with him to give to Franck! After that we went to my papaya lady and she gave me a ton of big papayas for a good price (that’s why I love her!), and a couple limes for the papaya. Kaori asks me if I want a drink and some food, so we get fish and Sprite, which I haven’t had in a long time… I usually get beer, ya see. And I had one beer left for the week so I decided not to use it there. It was really nice. Most of all, I felt good because I was hosting someone else… I remember how uncomfortable and awkward I felt all the time, and it’s obvious that Kaori feels that way too. She will come into her own, and this zone will become a zone of comfort, with the help of a few people, including me. I hope to ease that process like Yune did for me. My best days were always the ones in which I unexpectedly ended up helping someone else out.

Saturday, I relaxed with a hot bucket bath and green tea mask. I wrote a couple of letters and drank tea after my cardio blast. In the evening I made a pizza, using the specialty of pepperoni as a topping, and drank my last beer of the week with a friend.

I came here to help you
Please don’t take advantage of me
I’ve come to give you my time
Please don’t ask me for money
I’m here to understand you
Please try to understand me
I’m willing to give myself to you
Please don’t steal from me
I came here to make a difference
Please don’t discourage me
My faith is what brought me here
Please believe that change is possible
I am here because I care about you
Please have respect for me
I came here to help you
Please consider me
Tara Lynn Smith
* Inspired by Autumn Brown, thrice robbed
“Great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes.”
–Dr. James Dobson

I wrote this on the last line of my letter to Franck, signed it “Maman Tara Lynn Smith” in pink ink, and sealed in an envelope the most personal letter I’ve ever written in my history with the French language. I attached a piece of paper in which I printed in large, bold font: “Discipline is remembering what you want.” I had meant for Franck to be surprised with this letter of encouragement and motivation as he was unpacking alone in his dorm room, but the second guard of inspection at Fultang found it first. Whipping it out, he looked at me and asked “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” Franck smirked at me the way he does when he is pleasantly surprised, and I responded that it was a letter. The guard shrugged and put the letter back into his bag full of all of the Fultang mandated items. A few seconds later, he took out a packet of clothespins, opened it, removed five, and gave the rest back to me. That was all he needed, the guard told me. Ernest leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Ils sont serieux”: They are serious. Like the military, the school expects that every student has the same everything, to break down social classes between the poorest orphan children (although my guess is there’s probably only one…) and the child who’s father is the richest journalist writer in the country, the students whose parents dropped them off in their personal sports cars, and the children whose parents don’t even live within the country. My vision had so far unfolded the way I hoped it would, and they had even let Franck take his Rocket’s back pack with him (Thanks Dad, he LOVES that backpack; and for that matter, he loves everything that’s the color red now!), but when I tried following Franck into the dormitory, I was stopped by one of the discipline masters. Parents are not allowed on the first day entering, because of past instances when mothers would demand their child get the best bunk, throw fits, etc. etc. So I sat down next to this discipline master and tried to act as unemotional and understanding as possible. I was able to send my camera with Franck so that I could at least see what the room he’s sleeping in looked like. To my surprise, he returned to show me photos he had taken of friends he had already made in the dorm. It was just like Franck to have already made buddies after only twenty minutes of being on campus. Two of the boys walked out with him and told me that they worried about his armoire, that the lock was not a very good one. I thought it was really nice of these boys to care so much to tell us, so after paying the intendent to fix the lock, we offered Franck’s new friends the muffins that were refused to be brought on campus. The kids quickly emptied the Ziploc bag in the guarded entrance way, I was told by his friends that I needed to spend encore more money to send tapioca for him to eat- and then in a flash, I was hugging Franck, probably embarrassing him in saying “Je t’aime”, and then he disappeared back to the dormitory. Ernest and I returned to the other side of the brick barrier.

Is this what parenting is like?! Loving a child, getting used to them around, and just when you think it’s the best thing for everyone for them to spread their wings to another land, you suddenly find it incredibly painful?! I’m sincerely excited for Franck and his beginnings at his best chance for educational success, but my first night is perhaps more frightful than his. Samy, Franck, Tim… have all vanished from my every day life. I’ve kept everyone else at a distance. Even my overly-integrated post mate has chosen to move further away into the village, to live among the people she works in the fields with. It’s mostly my fear of being alone that scares me about these next eight months now. I will have to greatly begin again, in my own way.

Tara Smith’s Peace Corps Education Projects: 2008-2009

Scholarships for students at the Lycee de Bare
About 16 full scholarships (based on need, merit, and essay) will be given along with packets of pens, pencils and notebooks.
A ceremony will be held at the end-October/beginning November 2008 to recognize those students and in which we will take photos and scholarship winners should write thank you letters to American donors.

Club Success: 7 Habits of Effective People
I will meet with motivated students at the Lycee de Bare to give them lessons on how to be more successful, following closely the text “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” every Wednesday.
Potential Club Success at the Centre des Filles de Bare-Bakem

Pit latrine project at the Lycee de Bare
I will make this happen with the help of the Peace Corps Partnership program or potentially with another club that would be willing to help fund the project.

Weekly Bare Radio show with Serge
Research and discuss one topic every week in French and English on the radio.

“Piggy Bank” Project
An attempt to encourage among youth to Cameroonian students in the Littoral province, going to seven different schools in collaboration with other volunteers (Project is currently posted and will be put into place as soon as the contribution mark is hit on the PC Partnership Website).

NorthWest Province Cultural Festival, November 22nd
Promote intercultural education through vocal performance and through presenting on the subject of Diversity in America.

Adult English Classes
Using the Peace Corps Model School syllabus, I will offer English classes to adults in the community, potentially including the Girls’ Centre de Bare-Bakem.

Peace Corps Education Volunteer at the orphanage in Bakou
I will help assess the town as a potential post for an Education Volunteer and aide the village in the necessary proceeding steps.

Potential work with the Manengouba Foundation- Cultural Exchange between Nkongsamba high school and USA high school
I will work with a high school in their cultural exchange which will eventually become a physical exchange of students.

WLP Women Empowerment Workshop
Using the WLP manual, provide a 10 week workshop to empower women, help them gain confidence in themselves, and to take more control of their lives.

Barrier for the orphanage of Nkongsamba
I will work with Michel, the Pasteur and founder, to see that a barrier is built to shield the orphanage from the major road that it’s build next to, with the aide of whomever possible.

 

“Work. Discipline. Success.”

-Fultang Bilingual College

 

 

I had a dream that I was in the states until I began to stop appreciating showers. I took long hot baths with careless amounts of water, I drank never-ending fountain drinks, I ate chicken with no bones, I got to go the movies lots with my family, I drove my Grandma to Wal-Mart… and I saw everyone that I needed to see. Of course it was not enough time. You can never make enough time for the people that you care about most; you just try to do the best thing at the time. I saw my mother the happiest I think I have ever seen her, owning a house and being a grandmother. I saw my sister on the track she saw herself on and mapped out for herself. I ate tiramisu. I taught my goddaughter some French phrases! I spent a few scandalous days with my best friend and gathered enough motivation to finish out my service. My luck even led me into some lovely conversations with wonderful, supportive strangers that were eager to hear some of my stories. In this dream, I visited all the places that I love most- all the people that have made up my idea of “home”, even if they have been an ocean away for the past year. It was home.

 

But then I awake underneath my mosquito net, feeling refreshed and ready to start in on my next 10 months in this country as an Education Volunteer for my community- starting with mon fils, Franck. After the first visit to the Fultang Bilingual College and boarding school in Nkongsamba, I knew that this would be the best thing for Franck. Not only will this put pressure on his success in terms of his education, but this will help prepare the both of us for my departure next year. He will make friendships that I hope will support him as much as I have. His father dead at four and his mother only visiting every few months, he was just another orphan in the community going hungry at lunch time and walking two hours to school in shoes that didn’t even cover his heels. I remember him before he became my 14 year old son with a little belly on him from eating so much with me, who irritates me to no end but then again listens to what I tell him most of the time, who I have come to really enjoy having around. Somewhere in between, I instilled within him at the very least one principle- the necessity for a good education, something that he knows will lead him into a future where he can become whoever he aspires to be (and personally hoping that he will be standing next to me in the family photo one day). After talking it out with friends and my parents -and taking out a loan from a close friend- I enrolled Franck into 5ieme at Fultang. I bought his textbooks and notebooks today, in which he wrote his name inside. He is starting to get excited, getting his name sewn into all of his new uniforms and buying new shoes and everything else that the school requires. Trying on his no sleeve sweater, he looked like a student straight out of Dead Poets Society. I am so impressed with this school that expects hard work and success from each of their students. Fultang has laboratories and a library, with teachers that show up every day and where homework is required. Classes contain about 20 students. These things that you may consider simplicities are extraordinary in Cameroon, where corruption is all too common everywhere within the government schools and where teachers are hardly motivated to show up to their 100+ student classes. More over, everyone is expected to work hard, and whether you are the deputy’s daughter or from a lower-class family, you will be treated exactly the same. Students all come in with the same uniforms and materials.

 

I do fully realize that I have gone out on a limb of faith in the people who care about Franck from the other side. I am relying on some helping hands in getting everything covered. The school costs about 600 dollars per year for everything with the exception of textbooks and uniforms which I have paid for. If I had more money, and when I have more money, I will take full responsibility of these costs- but as a volunteer, I am already spending a good part of my Volunteer stipend taking care of him. That being said, if you want to contribute to Franck’s education, you are more than welcome.

 

For most projects that my Cameroonian income cannot take suffice for, I take out from my Bank of America account. You can make a deposit there (to Tara Lynn Smith). I don’t blame anyone that finds this a little shady; but at the end of the day, know that I end up spending more of my money and using my family’s support to follow through with these volunteer projects that have become my life. I am also willing and open to suggestions for fundraising for Franck. But for now, I am simply going to ask you for your help.

 

I will get more video blogs up that feature Franck in them as soon as I can get faster internet. Also remember to visit my video blogs on www.YouTube.com under the profile: Mlle.Tara.Smith. It’s really nice to know that there are people that like to get so involved with my missions here. Thank you, I love you, and as Cameroonians say, “On est ensemble”: “We are together”.