Cameroon / Life / Peace Corps / Volunteering

You Stand Up As I Leave, No?

« Vous représentez l’espoir… que vous êtes ici, c’est déjà l’espoir. »

(You all represent hope…the fact that you are here already brings hope)

-David, the Peace Corps Training Coordinator

First day of teaching model school: Felt like I was being harassed most of the time by my Premiere students that vary in ages 17-20. The first example that I received was, “You are beautiful.” That’s a general truth, okay. One of the boys pulled out a camera, and was about to take a picture of me, when Anne-Marie who co-taught the class with me, snapped at him to put it away. We decided that we weren’t going to smile anymore in the classroom. As a woman, I will have to be strong and demand that students take me seriously.

First day of teaching a class by my self: The first hour of class went fantastically, from the moment I walked in, confident that things would run smoothly, until the end, when my students’ comprehension of the past continuous gave me a boost of confidence. After the second hour, however, I left the classroom less encouraged. I tried to do a listening activity, which the students weren’t used to. In general, Cameroonian students learn how to read and write the English language in the classroom; there is less emphasis on listening, speaking, and critical thinking, I’m told. In any case, my students were lost, and in the end, I considered the lesson a failure.

Day 2: I’m giving myself props for holding myself together this morning. Teaching the subjunctive was more difficult than I thought. My lesson for the first hour became a lesson that took up my two hours of teaching class today. I had to slow down the lesson to make sure that all of the students got it, and that’s okay. Teachers must be flexible and willing to slow down the pace to the class level. Walking into the second hour, I slipped on a muddy area just next to the classroom, where many students were standing outside. It’s okay! Keep smiling! I kept myself together and confident into the next hour. I was surprised that most students did not react with laughter, but with, “Sorry, Madame”. “Ashia”, one student told me, meaning “sorry” in pidgin. I continued with the subjunctive, and at the end of the day, tout le monde est arrive ensemble. We were all together, and I was snickering on my way out after motioning that my students stand up as I leave the classroom. They assumed that I did not know that standing up when the teacher enters and leaves the classroom is a sign of great respect… “You stand up as I leave, no?”

While I am feeling more and more motivated and self-assured in the classroom, one of the trainees who I think is one of the best teachers’ in the group, is talking about her desire to go home. She handled a younger class yesterday who broke down her patience, and triggered her thinking about wanting to go home. I don’t want anyone else to go home. I want her to stay strong and get through this with the rest of us that are struggling. I’m disappointed while I understand that if she can’t see herself happy, doing this for the next two years, that she should re-consider her decision. Life is too short to be unhappy.

And I am very much looking forward to life at post after four weeks of model school. I look forward to visiting Tim in Nkongsamba every week when I want to use internet and see another American. I look forward to real life projects and starting an ongoing girls’ club, instead of the one that lasts only for the duration of model school. It will be nice to listen to Amy Winehouse on my computer without hiding out in my room. While I love my host family, I look forward to evenings that I spend simply alone, in my very own home, with a few candles and with a screwdriver.

Joy in Cameroonian Life
Par Tara L. Smith
(Featured in 39 Strangers Peace Corps Publication)

The lights went on and off last night, in a way that teased us for a few seconds before flickering out again. I was walking toward the lantern to blow it out when the living room went completely dark. Merineau and the children started laughing. I joined in. It’s true that this is not for everyone. In the most daunting tasks to overcome the challenges of daily life in Cameroon, it is absolutely crucial and necessary to find joy and laughter in them. I am continuously amazed and inspired by the little moments that remind me that Cameroonians are experts at pulling joy out of life and living it. It is this attitude that I seek to bring into my culture, one that will always get me through anything it seems. I remind and encourage every other trainee to remember to laugh as well, the next time the lights cut out.

Les lumieres se sont allumes et eteigne, dans une facone qui nous a taquine pour quelques secondes avant de clignoter encore. J’etais en marchant vers la lampe pour le souffler quand le salon est devenu completement sombre. Merineau et les enfants ont commence a rire. Je me les ai joindre. C’est vrai que ce n’est pas pour tout le monde. Pendant les taches les plus decourageuses a reussir les obstacles de la vie quotidienne au Cameroun, il est absoluement crucial et necessaire a trouver la joie et la rire de dans. Je suis continuellement merveillee et inspiree par les petits moments qui re rappelle queles Cameroonais sont experts a sortir la joie de la vie et de la vivre. C’est une attitude que je cherche a amener dans ma vie.

About Tara

Tara received her degree in French and Communications before jetting off to serve Cameroon for 2 years with the Peace Corps. She has forever since been inspired to serve in humanitarian projects around the world. She's a writer, tour guide, business owner, property manager, wifey, dog mom, and traveler. Tara lives in Dallas, Texas, where she's happily married to the tech genius who keeps her website pretty.