Education is freedom; it’s the only way out. -Oprah Winfrey
I try to start my days off with 100 crunches and 100 jumping jacks. For one, it starts me off feeling accomplished about something, even it only partially makes up for the palm oiled koki* and all the other too often starchy foods that I eat here. It seems as though all the men are losing weight, while all the women are complaining about the double chins and round bellies we have gained. I am starting to resemble Buddha a little. And we are constantly reminded as we are complimented by Cameroonians on a daily basis- they congratulate us on the new weight gain, and are happy to see that we are eating well in their country. They probably think we are becoming more ripe for reproduction. It comes into conversation more often than I would like it to. I tell the mamas that I don’t know how they can have so many children, that I am too young still to have children; they laugh and think me a little crazy, I’m sure. But Americans are already thought a little silly, with their funny sandals (the ugly Tevas are worn every day, as my foot fashion sense has gone out the window, outweighed by the desire for comfort upon the rocks and hills on my road, as well as at the school) and their treating dogs like family, and their cheese fetish- and their crying because they let stress tear them apart, when no one has died even!
I broke down last week, the day before starting to teach computer classes. I was going over lessons that I hardly understood with Calvin, my colleague that co-teaches the class at the girls’ center. He immediately jotted down the name of an excellent head ache medicine, misinterpreting my not feeling well statement. When I explained that I was stressed, he became fairly uncomfortable and bothered, making me promise that I would never cry again. Il faut plurer de temps en temps, I told him…but he strongly disagreed that anyone ever needed to cry. After that he crossed out anything difficult in his notes for me, and assured me that everything would be okay. There was no hugging, but I felt better about it.
And it went okay. It was so much quieter in the room filled with 8 girls as opposed to the 90 6ieme* students at the lycee that I teach 5 hours per week. It went smoothly, after I candidly told them to save the difficult questions for Calvin. I cannot pretend that I am as competent as everyone else seems to think I am in regard to teaching computer classes. But I can deal with this. Flexibility is important for PCVs, because when it comes down to it, it’s about what you can do the community development- and these girls really want to learn about computers.
Friday was Global Teachers Day or La fete globale des enseignements! Blue and pink pagne was distributed to teachers and resembling outfits were made! I had made a traditional kaba, the village dress, that I paraded around while wearing my black heals and black attached ribbon and bow (that makes it more so like a fairy tale dress, I think…). No, seriously, I paraded! All of the teachers gathered at the sous-prefet to receive a few certificats and numerous speeches to respect protocol, followed by a parade; the women marched in front, just behind the band of drummers. Some younger students walked along beside us, and everyone waved and saluted us as we went through and across town. It was beautifully fantastic! It was one of those I feel really integrated days. I marched with my head high, proud to be part of the future of this country, and over all happy with the students that I am able to teach. My 6iemes are at times the highlight of my day…I enter the classroom to a standing audience that yells loud and clear, How are you, Madame? And a young boy runs up to erase the board for me. And when I feel I’ve lost all control, students get up and put other students in their place for me, reinforcing that there are inspired, prepared learners in my class. I lost my voice last week, and when they became loud, I muttered that I cannot yell today, I am sick; one of the boys stood up and screamed out at the bavard students, She cannot yell at you today! She is SICK! SHUT UP!!! It was sweet.
I have strayed as I have begun to brag on my little students when possible to whoever will listen. My time with 6ieme is usually very amusing. And I enjoyed celebrating all that it is, by standards of the little moments that make it worthwhile, and in knowing that these students will never forget the very educated white teacher that taught in their school, that perhaps encouraged them to do something more than they would have thought they were capable of. Teacher’s Day. Of course we ate afterward. The teachers ate and drank together, and I was forced to get up and dance as a special honor. Everyone posed for pictures (a photographer shows up for events like this) and I had the chance to mingle and sit with a few of my colleagues. I perhaps learned a few more names as well!
I found a house that I will move into, hopefully in mid-November. I have talked to many teachers and community members that all assure me that I will be en securite there. My program director is coming this week to help finalize things with the landlord, as there is a little work to be done on the house (such as installing a modern toilet into the back of the house, locks and paint). Water fountains are located just in front of the house, so it can easily be fetched each week. Electricity is usually working. 5 rooms! It’s fairly huge. I’m very excited. I’m going to have furniture (probably bamboo style) made this weekend to be ready for the move, with the help of a Cameroonian friend that I know from the bank in Nkongsamba. That way, I will not get les prix des blancs- white people prices!
* Koki is a dish made from unique beans that come from the region area, that are smashed, formed and cooked in leaves. There is a woman that makes this dish every day, selling plates for 100 CFA (so cheap!), who lives just across from my house. It’s all too tempting. I may O.D. on this stuff at some point!
* 6ieme students are ranged in ages 12-15, and make up the first year of the lycee or high school.