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.

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