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)

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