Friday, December 2, 2011

November: A Month in Review

Multiple people have told me I need to update and I apologize for the lack of them, but you know how it is living in a tiny village with no Internet, it’s not that easy to update. Plus with my computer screen broken, it makes writing a little bit more difficult. Luckily Justine’s parents are AWESOME and are bringing a new computer that I bought in a couple of weeks. So one less problem I have to deal with!

November has gone by incredibly fast! In fact I can’t believe that it’s already December, which coincidently marks my 6 months in Africa (Again how time flies!)

I guess I left you all on a cliffhanger. The kid who got sent to prison came back only two days later. Apparently they do that to scare them (whipping someone with a machete would do that to you no?). So no Tom, I don’t have to represent him!

At the end of October, Justine, Any (another volunteer in the East) and I travelled to Batori which is even further East and getting closer to the CAR border. The road there is 90KM of unpaved bumpiness. Justine and I made the mistake of sitting in the back and by the time we arrived I was a completely different color because I was covered in so much dust. (Luckily they have running water in Batori). After arriving the first thing we did was go eat waffles and frozen yogurt! It was really just yogurt that was frozen, but it was still pretty amazing! We were there for an engagement party of a volunteer to her Cameroonian boyfriend. The party was a lot of fun and the food was amazing (Thanks Janelle). Even though I was sick I still managed to enjoy the food! Unfortunately we all had to leave bright and early the next day so that we could make it back to our villages so we could teach on Monday.

The next week I got to meet the new volunteers, who are still in training but will posted in the East, they were on their site visit. There are 8 new volunteers in total while there are 8 old volunteers. So the new stage is doubling us! I couldn’t believe that they would place that many people out here, but I think it’s awesome because they understand that there is still a lot of room for development out here. It still amazes me that the East is the largest geographic region in Cameroon, but that there are so few PC volunteers out here.

All of the new volunteers all seem really nice and ready to work, so I think that they will be a great addition for out here! And I look forward to when they finally move to post, which will be in a couple of weeks.

On November 11th, Justine came to Dimako because it was my turn to host Amicale (still not sure what it is, but they argue a lot about money…). Since it was my turn I had to help prepare the food and I wanted to make snickerdoodles, unfortunately there wasn’t enough money in the budget for flour and all that so I didn’t get to make them. But I did make a Cameroonian dish and it turned out pretty well! All the teachers were surprised, I think they think that Americans can’t cook!

The next weekend I went to Diang to visit Justine’s village, it’s only fair that we trade off! We walked around a lot and visited her village, which is A LOT smaller than my own. On Saturday, some of her neighbors took us to a not even a village 5 KMs from Diang. This place was literally just a couple of houses. It is where her neighbor’s parents live and they wanted to meet me. They were very friendly and invited us in to eat. I was excited because it was my first time in a mud hut and I was a bit surprised by how nice it was. The furniture is nicer than the stuff in my house and looking around I saw a TV! Imagine my surprise!

On the walk to this village it was exactly what I imagined Africa would be like. It was so stereotypical Africa, it was pretty amazing. And walking around the other houses, everyone was so excited to talk to us and shake our hands. Someone even showed us how they make palm wine! On the walk back they bought us some sugar cane to eat and it is good! Everyone should try it at least once.

On Sunday before I left, one of Justine’s students braided my hair, apparently my hair is thinner than her hair and therefore more difficult to braid. But we all thought it turned out really well!

Some of you may be wondering how I Earth I spent Thanksgiving, the most American holiday, in Cameroon. Well all the volunteers in the East went to Batori where Janelle’s parents cooked dinner for us. Of course we helped, but it was as close to a Thanksgiving dinner one can get to in Africa. We had chicken (instead of turkey), stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce (which is good Mom!), avocado and tomato salad (which I made), a cabbage salad and for dessert brownies and banana cake. It was really feast and it was good!

We had dinner at an American’s house who stays in Batori every so often to look after one of his businesses in Cameroon. He lets some of the volunteers use the wifi and the kitchen ever now and then because it is a real honest to god American style kitchen with cabinets and everything! He also has a pool (an inflatable above ground pool, but a pool nonetheless!) so I got to go swimming before Thanksgiving.

On the school front, there was actually a new bilingual (meaning she can teach both French and English) teacher placed at my school. And my mom will be proud of me because I stood up for myself! She wanted to take the class of only 26 kids, but I stood up for myself! I told her that it didn’t make any sense, since I was in the middle of the sequence and was about to test them. So I gave her my class of 150 kids, haha. Which makes my life a whole lot easier! I would feel bad about it, but she tried to take the smallest class from me without even a discussion. Luckily I had already tested and graded that class so it made the most sense logistically.

Teaching is the same, some days are good, some aren’t so good. It’s a mixed bag, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE my girls club. I love working with them each week and seeing little light bulbs flash inside their heads when talking about things that are important. So that is what really keeps me through the week, that and my Secondes (sophomore class). If only all my classes could be 30 and under… A girl can dream right?

On my house front, the dreaded mouse is back. Fortunately my mom sent me a bunch of tins to keep him out (thanks mom!). So it isn’t so bad this time around. I am still waiting for a dining room table set, hopefully soon, in the next few months or so. I keep trying to put pictures up, but they just keep falling right back down. I am thinking super glue is my best bet!

The weather has finally changed; it is officially the dry season. The other day it was 130 degrees in the sun, which makes 106 sounds nice! But it gets down into the 60s at night, which means I am freezing and have goose bumps all over. I don’t think I will ever be able to live in France again. I actually don’t mind the heat that much anymore because it isn’t humid. But the dry season means that there is dust EVERYWHERE and it just covers you. But I like it more than the mud personally.

Well that’s it for now, I realize it’s the abridged version, but hopefully when I get my computer I will be able to keep my updates more regularly. Next week I go to Yaoundé (to get my foot looked at) and then it’s off to Limbe for In-Service Training, where everyone from my stage gets together and we get more training, Not looking forward to the training part, but I can get behind Limbe (it’s a beach town). Then I have 2 weeks off for Christmas, I still don’t know my plans but I will be in Yaoundé for New Year’s Eve with Justine and her parents. So hopefully I’ll be able to update once in a while during my break. But if not see you all next year and have a great Christmas!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Little Bit Out of the Ordinary

My week was a little bit out of the ordinary, which is actually a good change from doing the same thing every week. It started last Saturday, when my proviseur called in the morning to let me know that I had to be at school at 6:30AM in order to catch a bus to go to Abong Mbong for a Teacher’s Workshop. All of the teachers in the department, where I live had to go. (It would have been nice to have known a little bit beforehand, but at least I didn’t get a call Monday morning!) Because I had to leave so early Monday, I decided to leave Bertoua a bit earlier than normal, which was lucky because I saw what has to be the craziest thing ever and honestly I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t had seen it with my own eyes. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!
On the way back to my village I kept seeing people carrying cassiers or crates full of beer bottles. I thought it was a bit weird, but maybe there was just a shipment. And these tiny village bars don’t get a lot of business?? (Because bars normally get 20 or 30 crates at a time) But the more we drove the more people I saw carrying beer bottles and not just in crates anymore. There were people of every age carrying bottles in bags, on their head, basically in just anything they could find. Which was a little weird, but then I saw it. A beer delivery truck had fallen over. There were people everywhere, inside of the truck, outside of the truck essentially stealing beer from this truck. They were climbing all over the truck, it was insane! I saw a gendarme truck and I thought oh they are going to restore order! I was a little naïve, they were taking the beer too!! For the rest of the moto ride I saw people running with empty bags, I’m assuming to go try to grab beer.
The interesting thing is that there was another beer delivery truck that fell over on the other side of my village. The crazy thing about this is that this road is the national highway. But it is just a dirt road. Unfortunately since the roads are so bad, there are many accidents. But on the brightside, on the trip to Abong Mbong, which is 120 KM from Dimako going towards Yaoundé, I saw that the asphalt goes almost all the way to Dimako now. Everyone has been telling me that there would be asphalt soon, but I just thought it was just talk. But since August the asphalt has gone almost the whole way from Abong Mbong to Dimako, there is only a couple kilometers left until my village! So maybe before my two years are finished they will finish the road and make it go all the way to Bertoua, thus making my rides safer. Even better, they put in a lot of speed bumps on the road!
So on Monday, I showed up bright and early for the bus, much to everyone’s surprise. I guess they don’t understand that I show up when they actually tell me too. So I waited around for an hour, which in Cameroonian travel isn’t that bad… Plus I was in a car and they didn’t make 5 people sit where only 4 should! So the ride to Abong Mbong wasn’t that bad! When we got there, my colleagues made me eat. Which was a little weird, but thankfully I did. I didn’t understand what or how long the workshop would last. So afterward I went to the high school where the workshop was and walked into a giant room full of about 300 people and I was the only white person. This was a little bizarre especially since everyone stared at me and probably was wondering what I was doing there. I sat down at a desk and waited for it to start. From about 10 – 14, there were speeches made, all in French. I am not going to lie, I fell asleep a bit, but I wasn’t the only one! My excuse is that waking up at 5 AM and having to listen to 4 hours of speeches that have nothing to do with me and in French none the less, isn’t all that interesting!
After the speeches, all the teachers split up into subjects. I went to the English workshops. That was a lot of fun because we got to listen to presentations in English. Every time they made us do group work, I got to do all the work because the people in my group were too afraid to speak English in front of me. But some of the other participants spoke so much just to show how much English they knew. At least that was fun for me to witness! The presentations were not that useful, in fact it was just like Training, but minus my friends and I playing scrabble on my kindle during the presentations.
At 1730, they finally let us go! Unfortunately none of my colleagues were still there, so I decided to go to the hotel, where the proviseur reserved a room for me and drop off my stuff. But I was starving so I went off in search of food. There was a boutique across the street from the hotel and unfortunately they didn’t have food, but the owner told me to go to the center. Outside of the boutique I was just deciding what to do, when I ran into one of the English teachers from the workshop. I asked her if she was going to the center of town and she said yes and then I invited myself to walk with them. I normally wouldn’t be so forward but I was all alone and hungry and she seemed nice. On the walk to the center, I was talking with her colleagues and they were all really nice. Half way there they wanted to stop to grab a beer, but because I was hungry and just wanted to go home after dinner. I said that I would just continue by myself, but they refused. And we went somewhere closer to eat, le petit marche.
When we got there they asked me what I wanted to eat. I didn’t really want to eat fish, but that appeared to be my only choice. But they pointed out 2 marmites (pots). I decided to investigate, after opening 1 pot I decided that that was enough, that I was going to eat fish. I asked what was in the marmite and they responded l’elephant. I wasn’t sure if I heard that correctly, because I know out in the East there is a lot of bush meat, but ELEPAHNT! I have never heard of anyone eating elephant! But they verified it not once, but three times. I decided NO on the elephant, especially since I was going to have to voyage back to my village, and I wouldn’t have wanted to if I was having stomach issues and who knows what would happen with elephant??(I say this delicately, but they really don’t lie, PCVs really do talk about their bowel movements, in fact we talk about it pretty much daily, I never thought I would, but I do ahaha…) So I decided to play it safe with the fish. The English teacher’s colleagues were are very nice and polite and I am glad that we had a nice talk about Cameroon and America (Yay goal 2!). After dinner I caught a moto back to my hotel and went to bed.
The next day at the workshop was pretty much the same, except they said to be there at 9 but they didn’t show up until 930. And then all the workshops were supposed to stop at 11 for the closing ceremony which didn’t start until 1430. So I was basically sitting in my desk when people kept coming up to me and asking what “La blanche” was doing here. After awhile this gets annoying, especially when you can smell the alcohol on their breath. So finally when one man wouldn’t stop calling me “La Blanche” and wondering out loud why I was mad and if I hated Africans. I finally turned to him and told him my name isn’t “La Blanche” and then I asked him how he would like it if I called him “Le Noire” and then he got offended, because he obviously didn’t like it. Thankfully there was another man who was very nice and polite and explained that it is impoli to call Americans or Europeans, or basically anyone by their skin color, and that HE as a teacher should know better! I love people like that, who stick up for me! It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I really appreciate it.
After the closing speeches, we finally finished around 16, and then we proceeded to “Item 11” or food! After eating, some of my colleagues walked to the center of town to catch a car going to Bertoua, so we could just hop off in Dimako. Unfortunately I always get in the WRONG car, because everyone was fighting with the chauffeur over the price. They kept saying that it was 1500CFA (3$) to go to Bertoua and 1500CFA (3$) to go to Dimako, even though Bertoua is 30km from Dimako. Many people thought that price was unfair, I just kept quiet and just went with what the majority thought. After we had failed to get them to lower the price, we still had to wait an hour to fill up the bus. Unfortunately, at this time the sun had started falling and it was getting dark. Although I was in a hurry to get home before it was completely dark, the chauffeur, however, was not in the same mindset. He stopped for everyone on the side of the road, even if they weren’t in a village. At one point there were 21 people in the first 4 rows alone. That doesn’t include the last 2 rows, where there was at least 12 people plus a couple of children. By my estimation, there were 40 people in this Coaster bus at one time. I think that might be a record even in Cameroon.
This bus ride had to be one of the most amusing, at least of my time so far (this is including the time, I got conned and didn’t even end up with a seat, during site visit). It seemed as if one thing after another had happened on this trip. First off the charger, the guy who helps the chauffeur, collect money and load the bus with both people and bags, refused to give me my 500 CFA change. He said that he was going to use it to help another passenger pay. Fortunately my colleagues stood up for me and got my 500 CFA back. It is very ironic, because he wouldn’t accept money from this one woman, because she didn’t have it all right away and when she got off the bus, she just left without paying. I think he should have at least taken what money she had offered, but I guess that is just his loss.
All along the way we kept picking up people and when we were finally full (even by Cameroonian passengers), some of the people offered to pay the ones who just got on to get off because there was just no more room. Unfortunately, they didn’t take the offer. I really wish they had left, because within the group was the craziest man ever! He wouldn’t leave me alone and kept trying to talk to “La Blanche,” for some reason he thought I was Spanish so kept trying to speak Spanish (even though I haven’t spoken Spanish since high school, I knew that what he was saying had NO relation to Spanish, in fact it was more Franglais) He kept trying to talk to me using anything he had, from saying that he was a handsome man, to trying to give me a dead porcupine. He kept waving the dead animal in my face, and for those of you who had any doubts, that is NOT the way to court me. He would not give up for a good 30 minutes, and kept trying to get me to leave the van with him. But the funniest thing was that when he finally left he fought with the charger over the porcupine, he succeeded in getting it, but then someone in the bus said “But the white is staying with us!” It was very funny. I think that this was honestly the funniest ride I’ve had in Cameroon, but luckily (I guess) I have 22 more months to see if that will hold out.
On Wednesday, school went back to normal (especially since no teachers or admin was there). But while I was teaching the sophomores, I heard this noise; I wasn’t sure if it was an animal or a person screaming in pain and looked out across the street, where the gendarmes offices are. And saw that it was a woman screaming and there was a crowd gathering. I asked my class what the commotion was all about and they told me that it was people being sent to prison, in ironically Abong Mbong, where I had just come from. The funniest thing about this was that they got a WHOLE bus to themselves, talk about comfortable! But I doubt the comforts of a prison in Cameroon…
Unfortunately in class on Thursday when I was doing roll call I found out that one of my 6th grade students was one of the people sent to prison. Apparently he was taking bottles from the truck that had fallen on Sunday. That wasn’t the problem I guess, but that he argued with the gendarmes when they wanted to take the bottles he had taken. I am really distraught about this because he was a great student. He clearly likes English and is good at it and the fact that a 12/13 year old got sent to prison over such a bull shit issue sucks. I really hope he comes back soon, but I’m not really sure what the procedure is for this. The only thing I can is on verra

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Teacher's Day, Church and Amicale

Well as you can see since I have access to the Internet that Standfast is over a little earlier than expected, although as they love to say here on sais jamais (one never knows) so they could put us back on Standfast at any time.
A lot has happened since the last time I updated my blog. October 5th was “International Teachers Day” (even though Cameroon may actually be the only country that celebrates it) and you would think that since it is a day for teachers, we should you know actually teach, but we all got the day off! Normally all the teachers wear the teacher day’s pagne because there is a big parade through all the towns with all the teachers. While since it is an election year, all the requests for public gatherings were denied (obvious they don’t have the American 1st Amendment here, never thought I would miss it so much = ) ). So instead of the usual parade, I was told that I should just do house work or allez au champs (work in the fields). I did neither and decided to finally finish Les Mis. In the afternoon I was told to go to my high school because there would be a party. So all the teachers were there and we ate (even though I was told I didn’t eat enough comme d’habitude) and they drank beer, I had a Fanta =) When the teachers started to dance inappropriately I decided it was my time to go home, especially since they all wanted me to dance.
The day after, Justine called me and wanted to see if I would come to Bertoua so we could get some provisions to hold us over until the end of Standfast, I jumped at the thought  and after class we met up in Bertoua. We went to the Boutiques and grocery stores, bought apples(!!!) on the side of the road. And around 5PM we decided to go home before it got too dark and it started to look like it was about to rain HARD (Side note: When it rains here in Cameroon, literally everything stops. No one goes out, the streets are empty. You would think that the Cameroonians are made out of sugar or that it is acid rain. And the answer is neither, they just hate getting wet, kind of like cats.) Since it was so late and the weather was so inclement, I didn’t have time to call my usual moto drivers, so I chose one of the only guys there willing to go to Dimako. We gased up as usual for the ride and before we even left Bertoua we got in an accident.
Now I don’t want to scare any of you and before I tell you the story but this happened a week ago and I am OK! I didn’t bleed or anything, it was more of a shock than anything else.
We were cruising along and all of a sudden a car was trying to enter the road and we just ran straight into the car. Right before it happened I saw the car and felt the moto try to break, but I knew in my gut that something bad was just about to happen. Right when the moto hit the driver door of the car, both the moto driver and I fell off the moto and went in front of the car. Luckily I was wearing my Peace Corps provided helmet, so my head was ok. But when I got up I was disoriented I burned my fingers on the motorcycle. I was so shocked and amazed at what just happened, even when you see accidents, you think this can never happen to me ( I guess I am still young enough to think I am invincible). So I was standing in the road and literally 50 Cameroonians young and old started yelling at the moto driver and the driver from the car. I was in such shock I was just standing there and finally people noticed me and told me to sit down, but I was shaking so hard and couldn’t move. I tried to call my friend Sam, in the Southwest, to let her know what had happened, but unfortunately I ran out of phone credit. She called me back and I let her know what happened. This was all happening while the mob was still in the road yelling at everyone about everything.
After talking to Sam, I calmed down a bit and let Justine know that I got into an accident. Luckily for me, her moto was stopped because of the rain and her driver knew my driver and offered to take her back to me and then go back to my village. Unfortunately it was raining so hard and for a long time that I just had to wait at the bar. (Oh yeah the accident happened right outside a bar!)  
When she finally showed up about 2 hours after the accident, I wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of getting back on another moto especially as it was still raining and it was pitch black. No matter how “dark” it gets in America, here in Cameroon, there is almost zero light pollution so at night it is DARK and you can’t see anything! Also at night is when all the trucks are on the road, so the thought of a 40 minute moto ride in the dark, in the rain, surrounded by giant trucks, was almost the last thing I wanted to do right after I was just thrown off of a moto. Thankfully Justine let me sit in the middle, which is the “safest” place because you are just wedged in between two people. Unfortunately with every bump in the road just aggravated all the bumps and bruises I got from the accident, sitting down wasn’t so much fun, and it still hurts a little. And every time we passed a truck I was praying that we wouldn’t have another accident. Luckily we made it to my village an hour later, safe, but COVERED in mud. (I have pictures that I’ll put up later).
I am eternally grateful that I am OK, I realize that that accident could have been a lot worse. The only causalities were the motorcycle (the handles bars were no longer attached and the wheel was bent beyond recognition) and my computer (the screen shattered and now it is ungodly slow, but at least it works just a little bit…). I also really appreciate that everyone gossips in the Peace Corps and at the end of the weekend, many of my friends from Training had heard about the accident and called or texted me to make sure I was ok. This made me feel a lot better!
My first full weekend alone in Dimako was spent mainly at my house, since it hurt to walk, I think I bruised a bone in my foot in the accident. But on Sunday I did finally make it to the Catholic Church. For those who know me, this may seem like a surprise, that I willing went to Church on a day that wasn’t a holiday. But Cameroonians are all very religious and they don’t understand anyone who isn’t religious, so for integration purposes (and the fact that I don’t want anyone trying to convert me, I’ve already had Jehovah Witnesses come over to my house) it is just easier to go along with it. Unfortunately Mass in Cameroon is a little longer than the American Mass I am used to. In fact, it was 2.5 hours, even though the priest said he kept it brief (I am not looking forward to the day where he is long!) I talked with some students and teachers after the service, it was all very nice. So I am actually looking forward to going again, even though the “pews” are more like the things you kneel on without any cushioning, it wasn’t very comfortable. All in all the Church experience was nice, it is a little different because it’s in French and even the local patois, but it is interesting, so that helps with the whole 2.5 hours.
This week I had to give all my students (yes all 340 students) tests and grade them. The Cameroonian education system splits the year into 6 sequences and you have to evaluate the students at least once during the sequence to give them a grade for the sequence. This week marked the end of the 1st sequence (which also means 1/6 of the school year is already done!). So I reviewed with everyone before the tests, gave them the structure and examples of questions that would appear on the test. And then I finally gave them the tests. Although I have only finished grading 3 out of the 4 classes I teach, I am really happy with the results. The average so far in all my classes has been passing. There have been some kids who really get it, and they seem to be the majority. Although there are some people who don’t get it all, there aren’t that many of them and honestly in classes of 130, 110, and 80 it makes it easier for them to slip through the cracks. I hope though with time everyone will do at least moderately well in my class. But it gives me hope that I am not a lousy teacher! My students have actually learned something despite the terrible teaching conditions.
On Wednesday the 11th my school had their Amicale. I am not sure how to explain this because I am still fuzzy on what exactly it is, but essentially every month people cook food, all the teachers come together and put money into a Tontine (again don’t ask me, but unfortunately it’s not the cool animal in Star Wars) and talk about problems. I went and it lasted FIVE hours, I even showed up late, so I missed about an hour. Everyone had been drinking palm wine the whole time, so they were all drunk and arguing about I have no idea (as good as my French is, the accent here still gives me some problems, add to that slurring and every talking at once). Maybe next month I’ll tell you more about Amicale, because apparently I am in the group that is putting it on, we shall see how this goes…
Oh I had a really great conversation with my Landlord, from here on out Mamita, this week. She said how happy she is with my behavior and how people in the village have come up to her to let her know how respectful I am. Which I think is a major compliment! And she also said that she is going to clear some space in the yard for me to start my own garden! I am really looking forward to that. (PS She killed a mouse in her house, so maybe that was mine?? I haven’t seen it in awhile!)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

School Speeches and Mix-ups, Life in Bertoua, and Politics

Monday morning bright and early I was at school at 7 15 for the raising of the flag and I got the surprise of my life. The principal of the school was actually there! I hadn’t seen him since the start of school a few weeks before then, and even when he does show up it’s not until 10 or 11 in the morning. (Now I know how my Dad feels when he sees me out and about in the morning!). Since he was there so early, he gave a speech to the students about showing up on time, being prepared, having their uniform, blah blah blah. And it wasn’t until 8 AM he finally finished his speech, yes a 45 minute speech, that cut into half of my class. All the while this speech was occurring, the surveillant generale was walking around making sure everyone had their hair properly cut, and if it wasn’t he would cut lines into their hair. (A week later, some of the students still have the lines in their hair) I think the point behind this was to humiliate them into getting their haircut.

My 6th grade classroom. There are about 120 of them and normally each bench has between 3 and 5 students, it's a little cramped =) 

Class this week went relatively well. Expect for the mix-up with my class schedule. They changed it without telling me. So now I teach the Freshmen, and they thought that I wasn’t going to teach the Sophomores anymore, but I wanted to stop with the 7th graders. So another English teacher showed up in my Sophomore class and then come up to me and are mad because they thought I didn’t like them and was running away from them. I had a talk with the Surveillant Generale and it is all worked out right now. So after 4 weeks, my work schedule is finally done. I work until 14 on Thursday now and until 12 30 on Monday, but I only have one hour on Friday, which is better than the 7:30 to 8 30  class I had. So in general I like my schedule and my students, of course there are trouble makers but I think give it a month there won’t be anymore more problems. Like I had in my first class with the Freshmen, where one student said I was “his Michelle” and another said I was “his angel” I put them in their place saying I’m not YOUR Michelle nor am I your angel. I am ONLY your English teacher. I think it’s important to set these boundaries early and often =)

View of my school from the main road 

On Thursday we signed up girls for the Girls Club and I was also informed that I am doing the Journal Club, so helping the kids write in English. One student already asked me to help him with lyrics for a song he wants to write about our school. I also briefly talked with my principal about the possibility of doing a library at the school. I think it would be helpful especially for the kids who don’t have enough money to buy books, they can access them at the library. So I am going to be looking more into that later. But with my 2 clubs and teaching classes (oh and I joined the women government workers association) my plate is sufficiently full, so I just want to focus on making my work as good as possible, and not spread myself too thin, too fast in the beginning.

 My front yard view from my porch

Petit a petit I am getting to know the villagers more. Most people know my name and if not they know I am replacing Renee. It’s really funny because most of the time, people want me to buy things from them or what not. However, I had the weirdest encounter this week. I went to this new place to see if they sold bread, they didn’t but I wanted to have a soda. Normally in Cameroon, if you buy a soda or beer it comes in a glass bottle and they reuse the bottles, so you can’t keep the bottles. So normally I ask if I can buy it and then bring the bottle back the next day, sometimes if you have a bottle you just constantly trade, so give an empty and get a full one. Well I asked and the guy said no, but there was a lady who said no let her get the soda! I tried to tell him that I live right there and my school is there and the bar is on my way, he still refused. And the lady said she would give me a bottle so I could give it to him, but I told her it wasn’t worth it, I didn’t want to cause problems. The lady insisted again, and she questioned the guy as to why he wouldn’t sell me a soda. He answered with that is my strategy. So basically his strategy is to lose money or I guess my money wasn’t good enough for him… I then went to another bar next to my house, got a Coke and returned the bottle the next day and it wasn’t a problem!

 View on my moto ride to Bertoua

As this is my last weekend in Bertoua and most people ask what do I do here, I’ll give you a brief outline of mine and Justine’s weekends here. We get into the city around 13:30 after our classes and we eat lunch at the Omlette Shack. Which is literally a hole in the wall with a gas stove and they make omlettes or avocados salads (not so much anymore because the season is over =/) You can get what you want in the omlettes that is if you want tomatoes, pasta, or beans. Although we once thought chameleon was on the menu because on the next table there was a chameleon, I have no idea what they had in store for it but at this point nothing would really surprise me! We normally sit and talk for 2 hours about what happened during our week, what was bad, what was good.

After lunch we go to the grocery store, which is overpriced, but they have ice cream, so we sometimes treat ourselves (we often need it after the weeks we have!). Then we head to the CASE to relax, unwind, and check our e-mails. For dinner we normally have grilled fish at a bar or get biftek at the Muslim place (yes that is what we call it and the other Cameroonians, I hope one my Fulfulde will be good enough to order food in, but I am too scared most of the time). Grilled fish comes with either plaintain chips or baton de manioc (which is disgusting IMO). Biftek is like a stew of beef and assorted veggies, you can get it with pasta or rice, I get it with bread =)

Saturdays we dedicate to doing our shopping, so we get vegetables we can’t get au village and lots of canned veggies (because they don’t rot, we’ve already had a lot of bad experiences with rotten vegetables). We are still buying little things for our house,  sometimes we stop at the post office. We used to have to spend an average of 3 hours at the bank to get our money, but now with our ATM cards (that came 6 weeks late) trips to the bank are a lot less painful now! After our errands are done we go back to CASE and relax. Doing anything here can be exhausting, the constant yelling at us, staring at us, the haggling, all under the hot sun, it can get old fast, so it’s nice to just lay down and relax. Then we have dinner, usually what we didn’t have on Friday night, life here is really exciting no? On Sundays we get anything else done that we didn’t get a chance to do on Saturday and then we catch a moto to go home. 

Spaghetti Omlette with Bread. Yum Carbs!

As a PCV we are not supposed to participate in local politics or even give an opinion because we are also representatives of the US Government. This is the most difficult for thing for to do because of my Political Science background and in general I am just an opinionated person. The campaign season here in Cameroon only lasts 2 weeks. We are already 6 days into it and it ends on the day before the election. It appears that overnight all of Cameroon sprouted posters and Ads for Paul Biya, the incumbent president. My village has signs everywhere and literally one day they weren’t there and now they are everywhere. Apparantly, Paul Biya is the choice of Dimako (not surprisingly because he recently gave everyone in Dimako mosquito nets). I have only seen one poster for one of the 22 opposition candidates and it was tiny and on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, so I don’t think that guy has a chance! Luckily where I am there isn’t a revolutionary spirit, so things are pretty calm. However, earlier this week I found out that there was a riot in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. (For more info look here I guess that is the upside of living in a relatively small village, nothing like that really happens, so I feel relatively safe in Dimako. But I guess that is why there is Standfast next weekend, on the off chance something happens (but don’t worry I let them know where the nearest place a helicopter can land in my village, yes they seriously asked us that). So no updates from me until the election results come out.  I hope they come out soon because I am invited to an engagement party at the end of October.

Ps If you have some free time check out my friends’ blogs. One even has a picture of me on my birthday on her blog. She’s in the East with me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Life in an African Village (Plus Some Interesting Anecdotes)

The first thing most people ask me about my experience here is how do I like it and then always what is life like there. I thought I would try to paint you all a picture of a typical day of my life here. I normally wake up around 5:30 AM to the sound of my landlord yelling for her grandson. I try to fall back asleep and generally get out of bed around 6 or 6:30 AM. After getting out of my bed and my mosquito net I generally take a trip to the latrine (the cockroaches are only in there at night) and then I go heat up some water for my bucket bath. While the water is heating I try to read (right now I am reading Les Mis by Victor Hugo, only 23% left to go!). Then I take my bucket bath, which is essentially a bucket full of water and I use a goblet, or a little cup to put water on me and then you soap up and then wash yourself off some more with the cup. After my bath I get dressed and then make myself some breakfast; either eggs or a piece of fruit. Then it is off to school. On my way to school I say hi to everyone I pass. At school I teach my class and then I talk with the teachers. After I am done with my classes (my latest class is 11:30-12:30) I go to the market. On my way to the market I have to walk down this hill and every time I do, I think to myself “I am really living in an African Village.” I really have to take a picture of it because truly it looks like Africa, and it always hits me that I am here and this is my life now. At the market I always stop at this one lady who always asks how I am and we chat for a bit and then I buy tomatoes from her. I wander around, in the hopes that there will be some cool new vegetable, although there never is, one can always hope right?? I usually get an onion and some garlic. At home I read for a bit or do some lessoning planning for tomorrow. Sometimes another teacher from my school will come to my house and we will talk or play card games for a bit. Then around 4 PM I start making dinner. I am finished eating and cooking at about 5, which is when I do my dishes. I’ll read some more and then go to bed at 7 or 8 PM depending on whether or not there is any electricity, as of late the electricity has been cut a lot, so I never know. But when I do have it I make sure to charge my computer and phone, just in case! I know it’s hard to believe that I go to bed so early and wake up even earlier than I do in America, but the lack of regular electricity doesn’t help and also the only thing to do in my village at night is go to a bar (which as a woman, I don’t think it would be prudent to hang out at a bar at night, because it is basically only men at bars), doesn’t leave me a lot of choice. But I love all of the reading I am doing and I like talking to everyone I meet with on the roads. There is one old woman who loves to practice her English with me and that’s really nice.

The weather or late has been very interesting. It gets ungodly hot (106F in the sun) and then all of sudden within a couple of minutes the temperature will drop 10 degrees and then the clouds just open up, literally. There will be a giant downpour. I hate the heat, but on the other hand I know that soon enough it will be so cold (75 degrees) that I have to put a jacket on. I really fear for me going back home and wonder if I am going to be wearing parkas in the fall and spring, if I really think 75 is cold haha. I love the rainstorms though because the rain honestly sounds like an apocalypse on the tin roofs. You can’t hear anything! I remember I was in Fulfulde class once and the rain started and we had to stop the class because we couldn’t hear the teacher anymore. (After that 3 of us decided that running in the rain sounded like fun, and we got drenched! But it was a good time!) But along with the rain there are always these AWESOME thunder and lightning storms. I don’t know if it’s because it is so dark here normally that is why the lightening seem so bright or if they are truly that bright. Either way, I don’t think I have ever experienced storms like these in America. Coming into October, which is generally the wettest month in Cameroon, I think I have a lot of these storms to look forward to. The only downfall is all the mud it causes, because there are no roads here, my shoes and pants get COVERED in mud. Luckily I bought rain/muck boots the other day so when I go to class I can just change shoes and have clean shoes (which is VERY important in Cameroonian culture) when I teach.

This next week I am going to start registering girls for a club I am going to start in collaboration with a nun at the Catholic Mission. The club will be for girls who have children and we hope to discuss and address the problems that they are having (and also hope to prevent future pregnancies). I am really excited about this project and the nun is very friendly. She has been in my village for seven years, but she is originally from the Congo. I think we are going to get along very well, especially since the short talks we have had on the way home, we seem to have the same ideas on what to do for the club. I am very excited to start on this, especially since I have known that I don’t ONLY want to teach English here in Dimako, but I want to make an impact in some other facet of their life.

I was talking with a teacher, who is also new to Dimako, and his first year of teaching. He teaches history, geography, and sports and I was telling him about this program that the Peace Corps has that is called Sports for Life, which mixes both sports and teaching about HIV/AIDS and he seemed really interested in doing that. So I think that is good that despite the fact that my Community Host, the principle of the school, is never at the school, there are other members of the teaching staff who are open to some of my ideas. He seemed interested in doing the program; I just need to find a copy of it in French for him. I am excited that although I have only been in Dimako for a month now, I have 2 potential projects!
For those who read my blog last week about corporal punishment. When I was teaching this week I had two separate incidents. On Thursday in my 6th grade class I kicked out a girl who was talking. She was talking RIGHT AFTER I said that the next person I see talking leaves. I sent her to the Surveillant Generale or Discipline Master, who is in charge of all of the punishment of the students, and she came back 5 minutes later with a note that she had to kneel for 20 minutes. Unfortunately the associate SG was there, so I had to follow through with the punishment or else it would have seemed like I was undermining the SG’s authority. I did let her up early. I really hoped that would be the last of my discipline problems. But on Friday during my 8th grade class, I had a lot of trouble makers, so I made them wait outside (standing), there were 3 of them and that drew the attention of the Chef de Travaux (not really sure what his job is) and he wanted them to kneel. I told him “no, standing was fine”. And after 10 minutes I let them back in the classroom. Unfortunately the Chef de Travuax wrote their names down and told the SG so he came back and took those kids out again. A couple minutes later I hear the kids cry out in pain. And then I realized he was spanking them with a piece of rubber. With each hit the kids would cry out in pain and in turn I would wince. This was all happening while I was giving the other students a dictee (basically they write down what I say in English). The students could tell this was affecting me, but I didn’t really know what I else I could do at that point. I hope this never happens again, but I definitely learned my lesson, not to put the kids outside, but keep them in the classroom, as to not attract the SG’s attention. I think I will try to talk to the SG later and just casually mention that hitting students is definitely NOT OK and that there are others ways to get the students to behave and in fact hitting them is illegal. But I also don’t want to step on his toes and cause problems for myself, especially since I am new to teaching, to Cameroon, and to Dimako. I guess I have a lot of reflection to do on this, but I hope that soon we can come to terms.

On a completely different note. I will not have access to the Internet at all from October 7 – 24th because the Peace Corps is putting us on Standfast. Which essentially means we are not to leave our posts at all, not even for banking or shopping and we have to be prepared for an evacuation. This sounds a lot scarier than it is, so don’t worry! They are only doing this as a precaution for the presidential elections, which are on October 9. And standfast might be cut short, it depends on when the results for the election come out. So we shall see. I don’t see any problems, especially in the East where everyone loves Paul Biya. There is only unrest in the Anglophone regions and in the North. So I don’t think that anything will happen, but comme meme I am taking all of the necessary precautions, such as making an “emergency bag” so if we are evacuated I can do so quickly! =) (Please don’t worry though, there really shouldn’t be a problem, I just wanted to let you know why there will be a prolonged absence, but I will write posts and then update them to my blog when I get access to the Internet)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Settling In and First Few Weeks at Post

After almost a month at post I am almost done settling into my house and my village. Everyone here has been really nice and supportive of me. My house has almost come together, I am just waiting on the furniture I ordered, and I hope to get it on Monday. But one never knows here. I feel a lot more comfortable in my house. It is amazing what one can get used to, I know let spiders hang out in my house, in the vain hope that it will kill all the mosquitoes and other bugs that bite. The bites seem to come in waves. A get a lot all at once and then nothing. Right now I have a lot; it is no fun being covered in bug bites that itch. They often keep me up at night. But I hope that after a while the bugs will start to leave me alone, I think I am just too sweet!
The 5th of September was supposed to be the start of school. But in Cameroon that really means make the students do manual labor. I really missed the memo because everyone brought their own machetes to school. Even after paying for public school, the students have to do manual labor before they are allowed to go to classes. I’m not exactly sure of the purpose… It makes sense kind of as punishment but to make EVERYONE do it before going to class seams a little extreme to me. Well because all the students had to cut the grass and clean out all of the classrooms, there were no classes on Monday, or on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It seems like an unwritten rule that the first week of school isn’t really the first week of school. Parents are still signing up their kids and trying to find money on the first week. While the teachers are beginning to plan their lessons and the administration is figuring everything out. It’s a little bizarre, because we all miss a week of teaching, for things that can be arranged the week before, so that we can actually start on time. I know crazy concept! Actually starting on time!
So in reality my first week of teaching was this week. On Monday there were only 2 students in my sophomore class. Only 2 out of 14 students showed up. Then there were about 40 of 100 students in my 7th grade class. On Tuesday there were 60 out of 150 in my 6th grade class. So you can see that even though this is technically the second week of school, not everyone bothers to show up. The second half of the week a lot more students showed up, which makes discipline more difficult. If you can imagine 70 6th graders in one class, that is now my classes. I thought the 10 students in France were hard to control. But I get along. I get a lot more respect from these students than from the students in model school and I really hope it stays that way throughout the year, especially after they get used to my accent and teaching style, which is different than the Cameroonians. In fact so different, especially because I don’t believe in corporal punishment, even though it is technically illegal Cameroon, it is very common. In fact I have seen most teachers use a form of corporal punishment, making the kids kneel. They do that if the kids are late. I am not a fan of this treatment, I would rather give them more homework, at least that way they are learning something. But hopefully after seeing that one can control the students without physically hurting them, they will stop using it (or using it so much). All in all classes are going well. My landlords told me that a student of mine said that I was a good teacher and explain the concepts well. So that is good feedback, I just hope all of my students think the same thing. If my classes stay the same throughout the year I will be very happy! One can only hope right now.
Yesterday all of the teachers were supposed to have a meeting called the Assemble Generale. It is where all of us talk about things to expect and the functioning of the school. My started late (of course) and went from 1:15 to 5:45 PM. That is a long meeting, especially when they all say the same things, just in a different way; basically it is just very repetitive.  Luckily we only have 3 a year. The other won’t be until the beginning of December. But they are not a fun, especially when they are in French so I have to pay more attention to follow along then the Cameroonians.
S0 all in all my life at post is going along swimmingly. I am getting to know some very nice people. I am being cautious especially since I have only just arrived. I just don’t want to befriend people too fast, especially since I don’t know their motivations. Many previous volunteers have warned us that some of the people you meet in the beginning are not genuine, so I want to give it time.
I don’t have too many complaints other than a little boredom, but that is too be expected. I hope that it will go away with time when I meet more people in my village, start to get more comfortable. It is still hard for me to believe that I am here (and have been for almost 4 months!) But it is interesting to note that many things don’t bother me anymore, or at least I don’t notice them as much anymore. But one thing I don’t think will ever become normal is the aggressiveness of men here. They always want to talk t o me and always ask for my number or see if I am married. In fact, for those of you who don’t know I am now engaged. At least that is what I have started telling everyone. It prevents a lot of the bothering, but still some don’t believe me. Or they say I need to find a Cameroonian husband. I just saw my fiancé wouldn’t be happy if that happens. Sometimes it’s funny, but mostly it is just annoying. Unfortunately on my way to Bertoua I have to pass a police check point and they have been bothering me lately. Today they asked me for my number and I said my phone was broken so I couldn’t give them my number. They wanted to give me a phone and that way I would marry them (I guess my dowry will only be a cell phone? I thought I was better than that; I’ll have to ask my dad if he would accept a cell phone as payment for me. I hope he says NO!). Apparently he tried to give me his number last time I went to Bertoua. I really hope this doesn’t become an issue, as it is the only way to do banking, buy fruits and vegetables, and use the internet. So if they give me trouble, which will make my life a lot more difficult.

PS. THe mouse hasn't appeared in over a week. I think this is a good sign! My landlord's grandcon cemented the whole he used to get into the kitchen shut. I hope that it has gone somewhere else to eat. It is definitely nice not having to wake up every morning to see what new mess it made and what it ate during the night =)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Swearing In, Yaoundé, and First Weeks at Post

This is a really long post so sorry in advance!
A lot has changed and sorry for the lack of updates but there is no Internet at my post, Dimako, a small village on the road from Yaoundé to Bertoua. The road is also a major junction for Gabon and the Central African Republic, needless to say my village may be small but it is happening! Dimako is also home to the First Woman of Cameroon, Chantal Biya. I originally thought I was going to work at the College Technique de Dimako, but when I arrived I was informed that it has turned into a Lycee, although they have only added one extra class level, but maybe next year they will add another. I was also informed that I will be teaching Informatique or Computers. This was news to me but I guess that is life here in Dimako.
To start off I probably should go back in time and talk a little about Swearing – In. For swearing – in all of the volunteers wore the same pagne, traditional clothe. It is a tradition in Cameroon that groups wear the same pagne so that they can be identified. We had voted to wear the 50th anniversary pagne by the Peace Corps; it came in blue and red. I chose red =) The ceremony was the 17th of August and it actually started on time! A rare feat in Cameroon. It was really nice, filled with a lot of speeches and finally the Charge for the ambassador gave us an oath, the same oath that government workers take. It was actually pretty cool, even though the sun was blazing hot. It was a great ceremony and it was nice that all of the host families showed up, especially since none of our real families were there.
After the ceremony, we all had lunch with our host families, eating traditional Cameroonian foods. And after lunch, all the families were given a certificate of appreciation. Unfortunately I had to run home in order to put all my stuff outside so that the Peace Corps could pick it up and take it to the base to help with moving to post. Saying goodbye to my family was a lot harder than I expected especially since my host mom had two dresses made for me, out of pagne. They are traditional kabas, or as I like to call them moo-moos. Although not especially flattering, there are remarkably comfortable, especially in the heat and humidity =)
When we said good-bye, I went to the Hotel New Place, where the swearing-in party was. The swearing-in party that Melissa and I had planned. (What was funny about this was that on Tuesday, Justine and I had to go to the Prefect, Police, and National Police, in order to let them know that there was a party. The funny part of this was that when we told the moto driver to take us to the prefect, he took us to his house and not his office, it was a little bizarre. Fortunately we found him at his office 15 minutes later. It was nice because there was AC!! At the police we were told many different things, but finally we tracked down the right person (Surprisingly the first man we talked to.)) The party was a lot of fun, complete with “superlatives,” such as “Most likely to succeed” or the more Cameroonian “most likely to get bitten by a mango fly.” I did receive a superlative, although it was less than flattering. I got “most likely to hit a student with a goat rubber.” I think I got this just because I am the strictest and discipline oriented teacher. I don’t let my students get away with anything! I once didn’t let 2/3s of the students into class because they were all late and I told them to come to class but they chose to disregard and not respect me. However, none of the students were late the next day. So I guess it works…
All in all the party was great, it was a nice way just to say goodbye to everyone before going to post. Since I am not geographically close to most of the volunteers, the party was the last time I got to see some of my stage-mates, before IST in December. Since we are not allowed to leave post before IST. I have to stay in Dimako, but I can go to Bertoua (in fact I have to in order to get money and food!).
On Thursday the 18th, everyone going to the East (3), the Northern provinces (12), and some others who had to go to Yaoundé, left Bafia at 8 AM for Yaoundé. Luckily they took most of our stuff and put them on the bus, so I didn’t have to. In Yaoundé, they drove us directly to the Peace Corps Office. It was actually the most comfortable bus ride in Cameroon yet and I am betting ever. Because it was normal American sized people and not Cameroonian sized people. It’s funny that they disregard the size of people and make 5 people sit in the row even if the people are 2 people sized (No wonder the cars are so rundown here, their suspension must be shot) We actually had to stay the night in Yaoundé, because there wasn’t enough time to make it to Bertoua before it got dark. Justine and I saw our time in Yaoundé as a way to live it up before going to our tiny villages. Therefore we went to Casino, a French supermarket, which actually looks like France, in the middle of Yaoundé. After Casino, we went to the Hilton for happy hour. Its 5,000 CFA or 10 dollars for 2 drinks. (I told you we were splurging, especially considering our “salaries”. After the Hilton we went to a pizza place, which had real CHEESE! This is amazing considering there is no cheese in this country. Then we went back to the CASE (like a hostel just for PCVs) where I took the last hot shower I probably will in the next couple of months =)
The next morning was a little crazy because Justine woke up with a swollen ankle and couldn’t walk, so I had to pack the car to take us to the agency, while Justine saw the doctor. It turns out she just had a bad reaction to a bug bite, so on the way to the agency, we picked up some antibiotics. At the agency we bought our tickets to Bertoua 4,000 CFA. Unfortunately they wanted to charge us 20,000 CFA to put our bags on the bus. That is an exorbitant price so we just said we would get a refund and go to a different agency, because that is too expensive. Finally we got them down to 4000 CFA, a more reasonable price. Unfortunately they refused to put our bikes on and kept saying that they would put them on “later.” Finally I just stayed by the bikes until they put them on the bus. At first they tried to put the bikes in the stairwells of the bus and wanted us to pay more. But I was adamant that they put them under the bus and they do it now, and they did (Finally 90 minutes later).
The bus ride took longer than it did on site visit; it took 6.5 hours, when normally it should only be 4 hours. That was because at EVERY single check point, they pulled the same guys off the bus and we had to wait for them to bribe the officers. And also we had to stop for prayers because it was Ramadan. So it was a very long ride, on the upside I got to see grubs on a stick for sale, only 100 CFA (20 cents)!  I wasn’t up to trying it, but maybe another time!
Normally I could just get off at Dimako and not go all the way to Bertoua, but because of all my stuff; two large suitcase, two small bags, a giant footlocker, and a bike. They wouldn’t let me off so I had to go to Bertoua. Anyway I needed to go there because I didn’t have a bed, so sleeping would have been a bit difficult.  When we finally arrived in Bertoua, I thought it would be difficult to take all of our stuff of the bus and take it to the CASE. Luckily this is Africa, and there were children who took our things to a designated taxi. We thought it would take 2 taxis at least for us and our things, but again this being Africa, the rules of physics don’t apply, that and there are no laws. So all of my stuff and Justine’s things (She had the same amount as me) fit in a compact car (Dad you should take notes for the next time I move =) ). Therefore, we got to the CASE with no problems. Even better there was another PCV, Janelle, from Batouri who was there to help us buy all of our things and get situated.
On Saturday we bought the essentials, a bed, sheets, stove, and gas bottles. It was a little taxing having to haggle over the prices for all of our things. So we gave up after that. And also we had no idea how to get all of our things to post, especially since the road to my post is a gravel road with lots of bumps. Luckily on Monday I made it to post in one piece, although my mattress was a little worse for the wear since its foam and it rained on the drive. When I got there, my community host, the principal of the lycee sent some of the teachers to help me settle in and they moved everything from the car into my house. And set up my mosquito net and gas stove. I know how to cook but have no idea how to set up a stove to the gas bottle. Unfortunately since my mattress was wet, I couldn’t sleep on it, therefore I slept on the couches, which are really just wooden slats because there are no cushions yet. Oh and there is no electricity in my house yet… Hopefully it will come soon!
I’ll try to put pictures up of my house soon so you all can see it. I have a large living room/dining room, although there is nothing dining roomy about it (yet). I have two empty smaller rooms, a “kitchen,” a small room where I put my stove. I should mention, that I have no refrigerator in my kitchen, my mom was a little surprised about that. But I just go to the market everyday to buy fresh vegetables. Although the variety isn’t that good. I can buy 4 tomatoes for 100 CFA (20 cents). But there are no avocados, even though a market mama has said that if she sees them in the morning, she will buy some for me to buy later. Which was really nice! I hope she’ll see some soon! I would really like an avocado sandwich or make some guacamole.
After my first night at my house, I went back to Bertoua, a 35 minute moto ride, 2,000 CFA to ride by myself. There I met up with Justine so we could buy pots, plates, silverware, buckets, and other house hold items. Then on Wednesday Justine and I went to Diang, her village, so that I could help her settle in and also there was no electricity at my house. There is not a whole lot to do in her village, but it was nice to get to see her post. Then on Friday we went to my village so that she could help me and also there was a giant festival this weekend, I’m not sure what for because unfortunately I couldn’t go because Justine was sick. Friday night see got really sick so we spent Saturday at the hospital. And then Saturday night I had to stay at the hospital because apparently sick people can’t be left alone (literally!). So when we first got there at night, Justine and the nurse went to the latrine and the nurse came back and said, “She’s in the bathroom.” I say, “I know.” “She’s alone.” “I know.” “She’s alone.” “I know…. Oh she can’t be alone.” “No she can’t be alone.” So then I have to go to the bathroom with her. I also have to tuck her mosquito net too. The nurse also got mad at me because apparently I didn’t watch Justine close enough and her IV got blocked. Justine just thought this was funny, but the nurse would give me dirty looks each time she came into the room. Luckily, Justine feels a lot better, so that is all that really matters.
Monday was supposedly when the teachers have to go back to school so I dutifully show up at 8 AM when I was told to show up and no one showed up until 11 AM. And then I finally found out that it is only for the administration. But then the principle told me that I have to show up at 9AM the next day and therefore I waited until 12, but again when no one was there, I decided to leave, because I wasted enough of my day waiting. Especially since they have my number and know where I live, so if they needed me, they know where to find me. Luckily one of my professors is a furniture maker (it is a technical high school), so he came over and took some measurements. I got a large bookcase and an armoire. If all goes well then I want to make a dining room table with 4 chairs, another bed for a guest room, and a bedside table. The great thing is that he said it would only take a week! I can’t wait to finally have some where to put my clothes.
I am really lucky to be in Dimako because I am the 8th volunteer here so they are used to Americans walking around, therefore the “La Blanche” calls aren’t too bad. I have decided to tell everyone that calls me that that that is not my name, my name is Michelle. It’s just annoying that and “Ma Cherie” because really I am NOT your Cherie! On the downside of not being the first volunteer, everyone and their mother tells me that they were Renee’s (the previous PCV) friend and can I buy them a drink. I just want to say that is great that you and Renee were friends, but I am not Renee and it doesn’t mean that WE will be friends. There is a possibility, but that diminishes especially when all you want is for me to buy you things. But like in most of the countries I have visited (Morocco, Turkey, even Portugal) money is everything so I guess I’ll get used to it, but it is a little frustrating to be only seen as a dollar sign.
I am looking forward to school on Monday (hopefully it’ll actually start on time =) )!! If for nothing else than to have something to do, I’ve already read 4 books since I have gotten to post and have made a dent in Les Miserables (I hope to finish in a week or so). Although I am glad we had a little break so that I can get used to living on my own again, doing dishes and laundry (the African way!). So far everything is going well, no MAJOR complaints (other than the mouse that WILL NOT STOP eating my food!). It is getting really only, if anyone has any advice on how to deter mice from living in my kitchen, I am all ears!
I hope everything is going well back home! If you have time and 98 cents, I would LOVE a letter with an update because I will not be able to get the Internet very often.

Michelle Hood, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 215, Yaoundé

Thanks in advance!

Sorry this was so long, but I had a lot to update!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Football, Invigilating, and Monkeys!

This past week has been full of football (or soccer). Every Thursday the trainees all play at the high school for about an hour and a half and it is a lot of fun. Normally we draw a crowd of Cameroonians who watch. I personally don't think they are there for our amazing strategy and skills, but mainly to laugh at us and wonder what the hell they are doing. Either way, it is a lot of fun. I almost made my first goal ever, but it was blocked at the last minute. Oh well... c'est la vie, maybe the next time I will get a goal!

Invigilating for those of you who don't speak Cameroonian English means proctoring exams, which is what I got to do yesterday. This also means that Model School is over! Except for the massive amounts of paperwork teachers in Cameroon have to do, and by hand. Luckily today I had to babysit my nephew all day so I had enough time to grade all 100 exams. And let me tell you some of the answers, if nothing else were creative! Too bad the passing rate wasn't that good, but on one hand the teachers changed every week. So maybe I will be more effective in the classroom.

Training is almost over, I can't believe I've already been in Cameroon for 10 weeks. And in a week and a half I will moving to a tiny village in the middle of the jungle by myself. It is a little daunting, but I think that they have prepared us. I can't say I'm not scared, but I am really excited to start doing what I came here to do!

Oh and in other news. On Thursday I ate dinner by myself, but my family said that there was bush mean in the gumbo (not like gumbo in the South, but this gumbo has the most disgusting consistency I have ever seen. It is thick, gummy, slimy, and mucusy. It is definitely an acquired taste I think). So instead of eating the gumbo I decided to play Russian Roulette with the bush meat. I have heard of anything from porcupine, dear, antelope, to rat. However, I don't think my gamble payed off, because unfortunately last night I decided to be brave and ask what it was exactly that I ate, and I found out that it was monkey. I don't know how I feel about this, I don't think good. But I definitely learned sometimes it is just better not knowing...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Model School, Chicken Killings, and Weddings!

So it has been a while since my last post. On my return from site visit Model School started, which is basically summer school for Cameroonian kids and a chance for us ED volunteers to practice teaching. And let me tell you these schools are a lot different than any other school I have taught at. First off there are at least 40 kids in a classroom (and that is after they split them in half, so the class sizes are around 90 - 100 13 year olds). So getting them to pay attention is a bit of challenge but I think that I am getting the hang of it little by little. So model school is tough, but at least it gets me out of the boring tech sessions. And when we aren't teaching we are supposed to go to our language classes, but since I tested out of French, it is optional for me. But I decided to take Fulfulde which is the dialect of the Fulani people up North and I love the language. It has gotten increasing harder. For some odd reason there are two sets of numbers, one for counting and telling time and a whole new set of numbers for money. Why, I have no idea... But it is really interesting learning a new language, but I like that it was my choice to take the classes, so I don't have to go if I don't want to go. So overall training is going well, but I am excited for it to be over, only 2.5 weeks left until I become a Volunteer and not a Trainee, which means no more curfew! But that also means saying goodbye to everyone that I met here, but I will see them all in December for In-Service Training, so that'll be good.

In other news, a couple weeks ago my family killed the rooster that would always wake me up and knock over my freshly washed shoes (yes that is right, I have to wash my shoes at least every week, because if your shoes are dirty, then you are dirty...I don't really understand this because the second you leave the house they just get dirty again...) So I was excited for the rooster to die because he was mean and he also tried to eat my snickerdoodles! I watched my sisters kill the chicken and man was it gross, I don't know if I can ever look at chicken again the same way after watching that. And to top it off, later that day I was at the bar we normally hang out at and the 14 year old bartender led a 25 minute chase for a chicken, there was about 20 Americans running out trying to kill the chicken, Simone (the bartender) had to climb on the roof. Eventually it was caught, by a Cameroonian kid who had showed up 2 minutes before. And then Simone killed the chicken.... It was very sad. So unfortunately I got to see two chickens killed in one day.

And last but not least, last weekend I went to two different weddings and it was a study in contrast. The first wedding I went to was really nice, like nice for even an American wedding. It was in the gym of a high school, but the decoration was really nice. The food was even better (they had spring rolls!) But unfortunately, the wedding was supposed to start at 7 PM, we showed up at 8:30 and we were the first guests to show up and we all had to wait for the bride who didn't show up until 11:30, so we didn't eat until midnight and I was hungry! ahaha. After we ate, we were rude and left, we missed the opening of the presents and other traditions, but we had another wedding to go to! (In fact, there were three weddings that night in Bafia!) The other wedding was a lot smaller and less fancy, it was in the backyard of their house, but the decorations were pretty awesome. It was fun because everyone was dancing and even though I wasn't invited, the bride was really happy that we were there. Overall it was a fun Saturday night in Bafia.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Still Alive!

Hey everyone!

Sorry for the long break between posts, but as you know I am in Cameroon and they are NO known for their Internet. I am alive and loving it! But I have left the training site in Bafia and am en route to Dimako in the East, which is where I will be for the next 2 years, starting in August. But this week I will be checking out what is there and I even get to see my HOUSE! Which apparently is on someone's compound Even cooler is that there is a village of pygmies near there!

So far I love it here, despite the little medical hiccup earlier on the trip. But I love my host family, Marie-Claire, the single mother who works in a MFI, her daughter Dianne, 18 (AKA my savior) and her son Borris, 17.

I say Dianne is my savior because she helps me out with everything! Apparently I don't know how to do anything, which isn't true but I don't know how to do it in the African way. She also says to me "Tu n'as pas la force," or you aren't strong enough. So that's fun! She always laughs at me when I do my laundry and yes I do my laundry by hand.

I'll update more later but I hope everyone back home is doing well! I have like a bazillion bug bites or maybe just 20, but it feels like a bazillion!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

As ready as I will ever be...

I am currently sitting in my hotel room in Philadelphia, even though I should be sleeping because we have to leave at 7 AM to get our yellow fever shots (without this we will not be allowed into Cameroon). And then it's off to JFK for our 6 PM flight.

Today was staging, or orientation, where we met the other trainees and learned what to expect from the Peace Corps and what the Peace Corps expects from us. So far everyone seems nice and funny and just really eager to get going. We also had to talk about what worried us and everyone shares the sames fears, which is nice as well.

I just don't think it's going to become reality until we actually touch down in Yaounde.

PS Philadelphia is a really cool city. Although I wasn't here for very long, I definitely would like to come back (and not just because of Parking Wars) !

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


First to introduce myself. My name is Michelle And I am joining the Peace Corps, leaving home May 31st to go teach English in Cameroon. I first applied to the Peace Corps way back in September 2009 (the application was a really long process for me), but I decided to defer in order to teach English in France for the 2010 - 2011 school year. Before France I went to Seattle University where I majored in Political Science, focusing on Internal and Comparative politics and minoring in French. 

What first drew me to the Peace Corps, way back in high school was the opportunity to help others. I've always loved volunteering, travelling, and experiencing new cultures, so I thought it would be a great idea to do it all at once! I am even more thrilled to utilize my French skills and even learn another language (not yet determined, Cameroon has over 200 African dialects).