“Hey baby you oughta be free
You gotta get out and chase all your dreams
There’s ain’t no point in you waitin’ for me
Hey baby you oughta be free
Hey baby it’s gonna be fine
You goin’ your way and me goin’ mine
We’ll be together somewhere down the line
Hey baby it’s gonna be fine

Hey baby
You’ve got to give it a try
Hey baby
Spread out your wings and just fly
Hey baby
You know that I’m on your side

Hey baby you better take care
Harden your heart ‘cause it’s lonely out there
It won’t be easy and it won’t be fair
Hey baby you better take care

Hey baby you gotta be strong
You’ve had this feeling inside all along
C’mon you’ve denied yourself for so long
Hey baby you gotta be strong”

-Bryan Adams

After a very long day, I sit astounded at the events that took place and how they took place today. After giving an exam to my younger students, I returned to the house and Franck visited for a short time before I napped and left the house for my return to teaching at the girls’ centre. I stopped by my friend Agathe’s boutique to buy some soy milk yogurt before heading up. I sat my phone down on the table, unknowing that it would never be found again. When I realized that I had left my cell, I quickly returned to an empty surface, not even ten minutes later, to see my friend Agathe who was sick to her throat and nonobservant to who had taken the phone. I headed to Nkongsamba in my attempt to block the credit and to save my number as my own. Peace Corps security awaits Monday to help me take care of this. I returned to village with Abby, to a house escaped by Sammy. I opened the backdoor and to my surprise she had ventured back to the yard. Hopefully she is not pregnant now. I felt so alone. I am so tired of feeling up and then down so quickly. I found myself in a large empty house with no contact to the outer world and no compassion from my closest companion. We decided to eat some fish and take a beer at Agathe’s boutique, who had received medicine from the hospital but who had not gone home to rest like she should have. I was concerned wholeheartedly for my friend, and before I knew it I found myself picking up empty bottles and taking orders for men in the bar area just next to the boutique. She was falling half asleep on the bench and I was enjoying the use that I was making of myself, giving change and feeling apart of something that needed me in order to directly contribute to someone else’s being that I cared for. So often you come to care about someone here, but you don’t know how to help them without pulling out your pockets. I was pulling out my heart, and something motivates me to spend more time at this boutique, secondary project or not, to be apart of something. To feel apart of something, to contribute to something.

Teaching is not feeling apart of something. I see the other teachers there, I mingle with them, and I talk to my students and I care about them, but nothing proves my useful aide to them. They derange and if they want to, they take in some of what I give them. But to do what with? I never feel productive there, for I know there is always someone that can do what I do better, and even if I did have better lessons, what would students take away from that for the rest of their lives? Am I being overly critical of myself? I feel that what has made me a happier volunteer is to quit judging myself, and to push away what I dislike and to bring in closer the little things that make me content. Like Franck, my youngest best friend. Like baking cakes and cooking meals that go proudly appreciated and enjoyed by those around me. Like cuddling with my kitten. Like pushing kids out so that I can enjoy a nap, which at times cut up the day into parts that need to be divided into two. Like calling out men’s possible and most likely intentions that most women do not. Like text messaging jokes and good things- and receiving them. Like making my bed, and falling deep into sleep between my cool sheets, one foot in and one foot out, one arm around my pillow, the other around my care bear….

You Asked What I Eat!

Poisson braise and baton de manioc. I eat this at least once a week. I always feel good eating it because it’s healthy and cheap, and plus it’s fun to eat with your hands! I can find fish a few minutes away from my doorstep, but the mamas don’t start grilling until it starts getting dark, so it’s usually something I get for dinner. The baton de manioc I can’t really explain. I’m sure it’s starchy. It’s white and has somewhat of a gooey texture- I hated it the first few times I had it, but it’s great with poisson and piment!

Piment. Oh how this is in everything, so if I didn’t like it, I would not be a very happy eater here. But everyone loves it because it’s tasty. I don’t even usually like spicy peppers and things, but I can eat piment pepper sauce until the point I get tears in my eyes and I would keep eating because it’s just good.

Koki. I’ve talked about eating this before. You will have to look this up on wikipedia too if you want to know more about it. I have not made it yet, but I hear that it’s really hard. Koki is made from mushed beans that are turned and put into leaves and cooked. I think it takes a good part of the day to make it. I can easily find koki on market day, usually served with boiled bananas or manioc, and I love it!

I can find peanuts almost anywhere. Oh there is a peanut sauce that they make here, that I made once, and it’s delicious too.

L’haricot rouge. Red beans are super easy to make and good for their proteins, so I’ve been making this about once per week. You have to soak the beans for a night and cook them for hours, but other than preparation it’s really easy to make. I add tomatoes and onions and garlic, and sometimes piment…I’m told that they are almost like the beans that Cameroonians make. So that’s the last time I serve something I make to my neighbor! No, kidding, he is a good taste tester, and encourages me to keep working at my cooking skills. Everyone know that I’m a debutant!

Achou. Oh god this is good, from the Anglophone region in the Northwest, a little weird but now I’m used to the funny texture that sticks to my fingers, before dipping it into a spicy yellow sauce and then eating it. It’s really fun to eat with your hands, I have found!

Even though Cameroonians don’t so much I eat salads frequently. I can easily find tomatoes, salad, cucumber and make my own vinaigrette.

Fruits come in seasons. There are usually bananas, avocados and mandarins. Mangoes are hard to find now, but coconuts are in the market now! I bought one yesterday just to buy one; now I will have to figure out how to crack it!

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.

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.