computers in bandenkop

The computers arrived in Douala (the port city and economic capital of Cameroon) in mid-December after one long month of shipping. Once they arrived, the port held them asking for more money even though we had letters from the head of Peace Corps Cameroon, the US Ambassador and other “big people” asking for exoneration. We unhappily paid and transported the computers to the University in Tombel, a village outside of Douala. I arrived in Tombel to pick up my portion of the computer shipment (50 machines!) early January. Once I arrived a friend of the university organized a travel bus to transport my computers from Tombel to Bandenkop. This turned out to be the worst day of my life.

Just out of Tombel the driver filled the empty seats with one too many passengers even though I had paid for the whole bus. Also, the driver didn’t have his license on him so when the police stopped him at the first stop out of Tombel so we waited over an hour and a half for the driver to try and talk the gendarme into letting us pass with only a bribe. He was refusing for so long, because allegedly this same driver had driven through this stop before fleeing the police. We were finally allowed to leave after the driver bribed him with 20,000cfa ($40) when the typical bribe to pass is 500-1000cfa.

We continued on and dropped off the other passengers before turning off the paved road to head to my village. The sun was starting to go down, and I was beginning to get very nervous. When we entered my village I took a big sigh of relief, it was dark, the computers had been bumping around for an hour on the dirt roads, and I had been alone with the terrible driver guy. I was waving to all my friends in the center of town as we passed. We took the small road that leads to my house. We were just minutes away when the tire blew on a rock. The driver started cussing in his village language and french. I was so tired, dirty and frustrated. He hadn’t traveled with a spare. I couldn’t believe it. I ran back to the center and found my friend with a car asking if he knew where we could find a spare tire, but it was already pitch black night.

My friend ended up taking another teacher and me in his car. We pulled up to the broken down bus, and my friends started to yell at the driver about how irresponsible he was. I was so happy to have back-up. We loaded as much as we could into his suv and dropped it off minutes down the road at my house. We finished it all in 2 loads and I thanked them with beer money. I carried each computer into my house and set all 50 up like my house was a giant cyber cafe. In the morning I began matching up cables, mice and keyboards, and while I was working there was a knock on the door. The driver was there, he said he had slept in the bus and woke up early to find the new tire. He was headed to Bafoussam and just wanted to say goodbye.

I invited the 3 other ICT volunteers in the West region over with promises of cooking chicken and blueberry muffins if they would come over and help me re-install the OS on some laptops and turn on and troobleshoot all 20 of the desktops. We worked all day and next morning and had an MLK day feast in between. I couldn’t have been more grateful for my friends here.

Distribution day was a few days later. Power had been out for one week so I couldn’t get pictures like I’d wanted. (SORRY!) But I’ve begun taking pictures of the computers in their new homes. Here are just a few: a teacher at my school, the school treasurer, and the kids (my students) playing with MS Paint on the computer bought by one of my adult class students.

Thanks again so much for your donations and support. I will post up more pictures as they come.

homesick

before you leave for peace corps you think two years will fly by like they did in college. You think about the big events you may miss, weddings, babies, and shrug a shoulder thinking of the big adventure you’re jumping into. When you’re miles away and a year and a half in it isn’t only the big events you’re sad about missing, but the small overlooked life changing moments that you dwell on. It’s the simplest days that you miss and are homesick for. My best friend had her heart broken and I can’t give her a big hug and tell her it will be alright. I think about all of my best friends and how many days have passed since I last talked to each one. They’ve all met new people I don’t know and have built up these relationships while i’m waiting for electricity and free time to skype. I’m really far away and I feel it sometimes.

thank god for blogs

join the club

“At the end of last school year, my voice was calloused and my hands were dried out and white after each day of school. My school saw its first computer lab which had opened halfway through the school year, and the with the addition of the lab my computer classes were made a little easier. I split each grade level in groups of twenty, two students per computer. Some of the classes had around 80 students so each student got less than 30 minutes of computer time once a week. Most students had never touched a computer, so using the 30 minutes for finding 3 letters on the keyboard was almost unbearable. The smaller groups made the classes considerably more manageable, but I was forced to give the same lesson three or four times consecutively for each grade level. Needless to say teaching in the Peace Corps quickly lost its luster and I needed to get creative or wait for a second wind of adrenaline like the one that got me through PST and the first few months at post. I decided to start a club called Typing Tuesday. I found a great typing game in French for students to practice their hand placement and avoid staring at the keyboard while they type. Students could sign up for the first hours after school or the second. They had the first 45 minutes to practice, and at the end of each hour they had races and I tracked Words per Minute as well as Precision percentage. The winners got their names written on the board, and a sense of competition drove them to practice the rest of the year.

I considered Typing Tuesday (Club Informatique) extremely successful. When I posted up the sign-up sheet students would sprint out of their classes pens-in-hand. Students got to use the computers for an entire hour instead of a quick 30 minutes, which helped the students advance much quicker in class—getting used to the motor functions often used with the mouse and keyboard. This was one of my favorite parts of the job by the end of the year. The same interested kids would come each time and they knew the drill so I needed only bring a book and read while the sound of clicking echoed around the computer lab walls. Because of the success for both students and teacher, I decided to ask for less hours this new school year and focus on clubs where I would find more interested students and more manageable class sizes.

This year, aside from Typing Tuesday, I am running English Club as well as Science Club. In English Club we are rehearsing the play Peter Pan. The first week I opened the computer lab to show the original Disney film projected on the wall. Students trickled in filling every inch of space in chairs, on the ground and standing in the back. They laughed at Smee’s every word, at Nana the dog and her humanistic ways, at Tinkerbell’s jealousy of Wendy and Peter, and of Captain Hooks’ dread of the tick-tocking crocodile. Last week we held auditions and I took a video of each student. The first handful of students had used the week before to memorize a line or two, but after they auditioned, the students who had just come for something to do began reading the script and running up on stage to take part in the fun. This week I will be posting up the winners of each role, as well as the side roles of pirates and lost boys. The play will be December 19 and rehearsals start this wednesday and continue until the presentation. I also have the help of a fellow teacher who will be working with the backstage crew making props and backgrounds. It should be magical..

The last club is science club. This club is a cooperation project with Matt Loftis and I, as well as an excuse to get to redo all our favorite science projects from elementary school as well as learn some new French vocabulary. The first week of the club was the well-known Egg Drop. After a short lesson on the Scientific Method and gravity, 6 groups of students got to protect their egg with recycled bags and other packaging materials and drop them from the tallest building in Bandenkop (2 stories!). Only one group’s egg broke and everyone gave them a hard time. The next club day was Foil Boats. After a lesson on buoyancy, groups received equal sized sheets of aluminum to make a boat that would hold the most pennies. Some of the boats were pitiable, others purely decorative, while a couple were ready for the challenge. After one of my more difficult students succeeded in holding 42 pennies, I couldn’t resist quickly building a “teacher” boat for matt and I and winning with 58 pennies. Teachers: 1 Students: 0. The most recent experiment was papier-mâché volcanoes. It was a much lengthier lesson than experiment, but the students were interested and answering questions. Before adding baking soda to vinegar, the students learned the layers of the earth and the parts of a volcano, then we gathered in groups to watch the reaction. It was less exciting and competitive than the other experiments, but was still a success and the students left with the volcanoes to show and explain it to other students outside.

I think I speak for most everyone, when I say that teaching in Africa isn’t easy. It’s almost impossible for me to have a silent room with the younger students, and the class size makes it impossible to reach every student. It is also that much harder as an American, as a woman, and as someone who believes it is morally incorrect to hit students. As idealistic volunteers, the fact that we can’t improve every one of our students’ work is a big pill to swallow. With clubs I’ve found that I can reach the students who want to be reached and are interested in the subject matter. I can more easily see the small successes and improvements from my work, and the evaluation is much more enjoyable. My students are now typing at rates of 53 words per minute, students see Matt and I’s matching planet and stars pange and run into the classroom announcing Science Club!, and by the end of the trimester my students will have memorized and performed an entire play in English in front of school administration, community members, and a couple visiting parents from the States.”

-my new CHALK article (Peace Corps Education Newsletter)

candle stubs

christmas music started playing on my computer around august this year. I play it when I want to feel happy and am having a hard time feeling it on my own. Nothing makes me feel more at home more than the soothing, cheerful voices of Sufjan, Ella Fitzgerald and the Best of Bing. The pine trees by my house were being trimmed today, and as I walked past the scraps I took a deep breath hoping to smell the pine scent of christmas. My mint hot chocolate has been finished for months and my pumpkin candle is burned to the stub. For the time being, all I have is my christmas playlist and one small scoop of pumpkin pancake mix to tide me over until the new Taylor Swift album comes out next monday! Then I will be cheerful (sans-christmas) again for another month. maybe.

sounds of cameroon

This past week a carpenter came to the house with the owner who lives in Yaoundé to put shutters and glass in the windows. This is a great thing and I’m no longer freezing to the bone at night, but there was something to sleeping in the “open air”. Just before the sun would completely disappear, i could hear the little squeaks of bats flying by—finally leaving their comfy spots in the trees outside of my house. The squeaks build just until it gets completely black and they’ve all left for hunting.

In the morning I would wake up to sounds of little birds playing in the trees, big birds landing on my thin tin roof, and annoying roosters waking up the village. Every now and then Eric, the guardian of the house, would chop wood, and Rocky, the always-tied-up guard dog, would cry for attention or breakfast. Now that the windows are closed up, i am more aware of the sounds in my own house. Moths that fly against walls and make tapping sounds, though my least favorite is when they trap themselves in plastic bags which give a sound of a louder animal than what they really are. Now in the rainy season, i can hear when the wind pushes hard just before giving way to rain. The tin roof expands above my head and creaks as it lowers back down, then little taps begin followed by the juiciest rain drops slamming on the tin and causing me to turn off any movie or music that was playing and open a book.

The other sounds of village life are more man made. Moto’s can be heard from a mile away with their revving engines and family of passengers holding on tight. Cars make a different sound as they avoid the cracks of the dirt road and bounce around the huge crevaces left behind when the rains take away the dirt in little rivers. Every now and then music will be blasting from one of the boutiques or Ma Josienne’s restaurant, but usually this is on special occasions. Village life is rather quiet. During the school year, a traditional dance group practices every wednesday with the wooden xylophones that you can hear from across the village.

In the cities, the day starts early with the hustle and bustle of taxis and zooming motos honking, trying to take their fair-share of the road. Honking is its own language here. A honk can mean many things. When a taxi rolls up to someone standing on the side of the road he honks to say “Hey! I’ve got open spots in the back! You in?” then the person tells him his/her destination. If this fits into the taxi man’s predetermined route, he honks “OK”. If not he just drives off. If yes the client yells his price and the taxi man honks in accordance or again, just drives off. A honk means you’re passing someone on the left, it also means “Hey Idiot! You’re going too slow!”. For passing taxi’s it often means “Hello”, and for cars who take the mountains to villages like mine, honking means “Hey, I’m a taxi and I’m coming around this here corner.”

People on the sides of the road are shuffling off to school or work, or selling things like bananas, french bread with an assortment of things to stuff inside it for breakfast. The mama’s kiss, hiss and snap to get your attention. Music begins blaring at 7 if you’re lucky, but if it’s a church day its earlier and lasts all day. Friends pass each other and shake hands with a snap at the end. It’s like a secret handshake in the States, but here it’s expected and extremely hard to perfect.

When people are annoyed here, they make a sound like clicking in their mouth while they shake their head, or just look away annoyed. When people clear their throats they don’t hawk loogies like americans, they do the opposite of swallowing air. With their mouths closed they pull whatever in the back of their throat out with making a equally gross guttural sound like hawking. When mama’s are surprised or happy, they yell a sing songy “hey hey HEY heyyy” or just the short “HEY heyyyy”. At night the mama’s chat while the charcoal grills are crackling with fish, prunes and plantains, while at home the fire crackles with the three stone wood fires boiling sauces and rice.

For as nice as the quiet is here, cameroonians are noiseaholics. The music blasts until speakers and ear drums are broken. Yelling is the normal volume for conversation. Radios, music and televisions play usually without people’s full attention. Bars one after another have their own speakers with their own music playing at the same time, and too loud for conversation. Promotional vans drive by yelling with megaphones or speakers strapped to the top about phone plan deals or lottery chances. Cities are full of noise. I prefer my village life. It’s also rare that I walk around or travel with my ipod, because I like to pick up on the sounds, or bask in the few moments of silence.

silence is beautiful sometimes.

markets of cameroon

The markets in Cameroon are like the wrinkles on your hand—intersecting lines crossing the middle and escaping to the edges. A maze essentially, but a maze you come to know well with experience that rarely, or never, changes. My first experience in the market was exciting. I had been in Bafia for a week or two and Mama Lydie, my host mom, hopped on the moto behind me squeezing me into the driver in front. I felt completely safe. We got off in the center of town and mama Lydie grabbed my purse and swung it around to my front and told me to cover it with my hands and guard it well. We walked through the small paths enclosed on the sides by rickety wooden stands holding tomatoes, peppers, dried fish, and other colorful products I had never seen before. Tucked in the middle of the market was a small building filled with freezers and an overwhelming stink of fish. Our outing lasted 15 minutes tops and I was relieved I got to see the inside of a market without getting robbed.

The Bafia market is relatively small, which makes sense for its village size. After finishing training in Bafia, the group of pcvs heading to the west packed up their things and a bus dropped us off in the regional capital, Bafoussam. From here we all went our individual ways—some to big villages like Bafia, others to small cities, and the rest headed to tiny villages like Bandenkop. In Bandenkop there’s no market to buy household things so my shopping was to be done before arriving to post. I made my list of what I thought was essential (looking back this list is a little embarrassing) and I had asked the language trainers what prices to try for. I set out into “Marché A”, the larger market in Bafoussam, with my purse in front and my list out and ready to cross things off. Every “aisle” had something I needed, but every aisle further I went the more lost I became. I was so overwhelmed by people in their boutiques on either side of me yelling “ma cherie!” or “what are you looking for?” “Asso! Asso!” “ooh look at la blanche” and pointing to their friends. It was more attention than I’d ever had in my life.

I couldn’t let them know I was lost. I asked someone at a boutique where to find sheets. All the sheets were mix n’match so I demanded to only see matching sets. Having a goal made me more confident since I was loosing composure with all this overwhelming attention. I needed to seem confident or I wasn’t getting out alive. The only matching set I came across had gigantic cat faces on everything. I laughed as though it was too ridiculous to buy and he’d better make me a good price if I was going to buy cat sheets (though I fell in love at first sight and knew I had to sleep on them every night). With the help of every 10 boutiques I found my way out of the mass of stands, and took a deep breath of air when I finally found an opening to the streets with my hands full of housewares.

I’ve now been back to that market 50+ times, and have memorized the inner-workings of its’ alleys and paths. Maybe one day I’ll make a map—or just a guide—if you’re looking for fabric go two levels in from the corner with the super market, pass the women selling honey and palmist oil, go up the second set of stairs, pass the police station and take a left for pagne and a right for western fabrics and jeans. What, you want to find traditional things? Enter the market from the side, across from the quincailleries, not the first opening where they sell school books, and not the third where they’re selling cell phones, but the middle opening. At the first level you will run into the man who sells beaded jewelry and nice wooden masks. You can buy bows and arrows from his neighbor there, but if you take a left down the alley, a nice man sells dyes, and other ground up natural medicinal plants as well as old painted masks and traditional clothes. The frippery with used clothing is the entire back side of the market, just past the produce, where you can find curtains and bedding as well.

The best thing about the market in Cameroon is that everyone will help you. If you ask anyone they will either take you to their brother who sells it, or direct you with a point, and when you get lost again you just ask someone new. Bargaining is my other favorite part of visiting the market. There’s many different strategies people employ, but I’ll let you know the best strategies I know and use. First, go in knowing what a good price is for what you want to buy. If you need to ask a local outside of the market before going in, or at least someone who is not next to the mama you’re buying from. The other strategy involves a little studying. After pointing out what you want, looking it over and thoroughly examining whether or not it will fulfill your job, bring up that you live in a village or at least know a village language. If you know one greeting in this language you will make the seller laugh and tell their friends. Becoming a spectacle for a few minutes is a small price to pay to have the seller give you a great price. Lastly, always start with a lower price than what you want it to end at. If they give you a “white-man-price” divide it by three and start bargaining below that. Never get too attached to what you want to buy because there are other stands with the same product and the “walk-away” strategy is the best last-resort strategy there is.

Market in tiny villages is much different than the city markets. In Bandenkop there is Market Day, which falls on every 8th day. This makes no sense for us Westerners, but the market is still based on the old traditional calendar of the Bamiléké tribe, which had 8 days. Bandenkop’s market day falls the day after Bapa’s, it’s neighbor village, and three days after Batie’s. All of which are based on this old calendar. Bandenkop has only 2000 villagers, but our market is extremely impressive. It’s not unusual that I stumble upon anglophones who have traveled from Bamenda to sell their products in the West market days. Ours is an agricultural village so many mama’s have blankets laid out or bamboo tables filled with their harvest. There’s an old man who weaves market bags from raffia with one or two other colors. Frip clothes are even cheaper here, with t-shirts at 200cfa and socks at 100cfa. Usually shirts are 500cfa which is about $1. Bapa has a larger population, and the Swiss even helped build a new covered marketplace, though on market day it’s difficult to find more than tomatoes. No one knows why this is.

Marché Mokolo is the largest market in West Africa by square footage, with the largest frippery in Africa. This market is located in Yaoundé, the political capital of Cameroon. Mokolo is still a scary experience for me. The alleys are narrower than any other market I know, and the sellers are not shy about grabbing your arms to pull you into their stands. The last time I went I literally hugged my purse the whole time and was still scared it would get stolen. The amount of people inside the mass of boutiques is overwhelming for the little space there is. Goods are creatively presented climbing the highest of the existing walls—up is the only place to go. You can find anything you’d ever want to look for, though the prices in the city are much higher than Bafoussam or the villages. Rows of high heeled shoes of every color and every height shine on blankets, while the best in Yaoundé fashions hang on hangers in the boutiques behind with zebra leggings and a skin tight neon club dress is presented on a white mannequin. Short and fat ties are all the rage here, and t-shirts with offensive sayings or funny errors that didn’t make the cut in America or Europe are being sold at “high” prices. Grills for fish and meat are sold just around the corner and down the road men are auctioning off used clothes from the back of a truck for pennies. As long as you watch your back, the markets are the most exciting places.

Matt and Preston buying chickens from the market for last year’s Thanksgiving

COFTRAKOL

It’s so good to be doing design projects again! I had to come to Africa to realize how much I loved it. Here’s some stuff I’ve been working on with a group called COFTRAKOL in Bangangté. Matt works with this group of 25 women, mainly a women named Florence, focusing their mission, vision, all things business, etc. He asked to help with marketing so a few months ago I came up with their logo. Here it is in french & english:

Recently Florence just got approved to go to the States with the finalization of her Visa—thanks to Eriika, Matt and Richard! Richard is the RPCV that helped with COFTRAKOL the two years before Eriika and Matt arrived to Bangangté. He applied for Florence to attend a seminar in Washington D.C. for Women in Development, and she got accepted! Richard is now going to be the one to pick her up from the airport in D.C. It’s not often we get to see the product of our work here, but this is a special instance. Florence is such a wonderful women to work with.

Matt asked me to help with marketing, so when Florence knew she was leaving she asked me to design some business cards. I took one night to design them and the next morning she told me how much she loved them and how she also needed a brochure made in english. One more night of work and a morning of editing with Florence and this is what we came up with. (card front, card back, foldable 1-page brochure)

I didn’t spend as much time on these projects as I usually do, so when she gets back I’ll do more refining, but it was definitely the push I needed to decide on a color palette and other cool design elements.

(She laughed at me the whole time I was arranging her products for this picture and carefully placing broken Shea nuts. 🙂  )

She’s leaving next Friday and I’m so excited for her! Her son is also interested in graphic design (RARE) so who knows.. maybe I’ll be able to mentor him and give him projects. 🙂 I’ll post more of the packaging when it’s closer to completing.

thoughts on freedom

In lieu of our country’s independence, here are some thoughts on freedom:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
-david foster wallace

-I take the only desire one can really permit oneself. Freedom, Alvah, freedom.
-You call that freedom?
-To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.
-What if you found something you wanted?
-I won’t find it. I won’t choose to see it. It would be part of that lovely world of yours. I’d have to share it with all the rest of you—and I wouldn’t.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

The DFW quote is my favorite quote that I saved on my computer and open up to read every now and again, and is the contrary to the other. For a depressed guy he was truly inspiring. I’m reading the Fountainhead right now, and I’m really loving it. Its written according to the philosophy of Objectivism by Ayn Rand that says many things, but one of which is that the pursuit of one’s own happiness is the “proper moral purpose of one’s life.”

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I don’t know if I believe this philosophy, but the book is extremely interesting, and is on the subject of architecture and design with one character designing buildings at their simplest forms and logical layouts, while the popular architect designs for the clients adding unnecessary adornments to facades and layouts to provoke discussion with no real use. It’s great so far and I roped my architect friend and old roommate into reading it with me.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, because I’ve been in village trying to conserve on my internet hours, as well as the fact that this July I gave myself a crazy schedule. Each Tuesday and Thursday I’m giving adult computer classes to people who have never touched a computer. Each Wednesday I’m teaching anyone who wants to come to my house starting with how to make tofu, block soap and powdered soap, paper &fabric beads, Batik (fabric dying with wax), and then Matt is coming for the last week to give an Intro to Business class. So far a lot of interest, and yesterday I accidentally worked on my computer for HOURS making a computer game on Flash so the adults can practice clicking and stuff. It felt good to be working on design projects again.

I also talked a woman in Yaoundé into giving a small class of fabric dying so I can better teach it in my village. She makes beautiful fabric and I bought way too much the last time I came to town. She’s a wonderful lady, named Charlotte and we had a good time dying our own fabric which are now skirts. Enjoy the pics!

Also, I recently got my first weave put in. Let me say, it really takes a village. I think everyone got to do at least one braid. Not really, but as people passed they would stop and talk or stop and braid a few and then continue on shouting “Du courage!” as they left. Some people laughed, and some people told me I looked more than beautiful. My main braiders were Mama Marie and Fanou, the 7 year old sister of Ingrid and daughter of Honorine. They laughed when I maid faces from pain and continued on until 3 packages of fake hair were tied onto my scalp. It turned out nice for a weave on a white girl, and I plan on leaving it in for 2 months and never doing it again. It’s 4 days later and my head still hurts.

Lastly, I got the best surprise in the mail the other day. The post office here is a joke, and I’d been trying to get my mail for weeks. The guy with the key is always out, or they’ve closed early or opened late in the day on purpose so I can’t get my mail. Finally I went a few days ago for my long awaited package, and they gave it to me! I was hoping it was the package of art for my students from the Art Exchange that I had them participate in, but when she opened the door and I saw it wasn’t an envelope, I knew my package had gotten lost in the mail like I’d thought and was disheartened. I took the package and tilted it up so the mouse holes didn’t drop anything out of them. I looked at the name and didn’t recognize it, and went straight to the office to open it.

I cut open the box and saw a letter on top of a pile of wonderful things. The letter was written by a women who follows my adventures in Africa through this blog, and had included some gifts for my students and myself. I immediately used my new burt’s bees, ate my chocolate, went home and lit my new candle. I knew I needed to update my blog since it’s been over a month and THANK this Kansas mama! Life in Cameroon gets to be life in Kansas really quick. I began with a lot of energy and inspiration, and slowly lost adrenaline and reverted to my normal ways in America. Bandenkop has become my new “small town” with it’s small town life and small town conversations, garden growing, from-scratch cooking, and chickens running around. The only difference is that I’m speaking french or patois, and rocking chairs don’t exist. It’s a shame. It’s nice and necessary to get inspiration from people, and it was just what I needed to get my head back into the swing of things. I only have a year left and I have ideas I haven’t even started on!

I also love any opportunity to hear from people back home. My good friend here who teaches at the primary school grows sunflowers in her garden. I have no idea where she got the seeds but they make me so happy to see them. Keep those Kansas reminders coming. I miss you friends and family, and I’ll be coming home soon enough. Don’t forget me.

xoxo
kim 

paula dean cinnamon rolls

5/22/12

I came back from Italy and decided to fix up a lot of things with my living conditions. I moved into this giant house with nothing in it but stacks of plastic chairs. I ordered 2 bamboo beds to be made before the party for my parents and Max’s parents. Since being back I built a kitchen counter out of chairs, post boxes, planks of wood and a sheet of old plywood. I made a spice rack from whiskey bottles and cardboard. found a metal cabinet in a secret downstairs room, built a dest out of 3 window shutters and duct tape, and bought a fridge! Life has gotten much easier now in the cooking and storing things off the ground sort of way. Now if the water would just start running through my pipes so i don’t have to use a well down the road..

red teeth for a week

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5/22/12

I’m overwhelmed by the radical emotions I come across here. In a day I can start out happy—wake up, turn on taylor swift and mix up my instant coffee with a spoonful of target mint hot chocolate mix (thanks katie!) and powdered milk. After only a few hours I’m fuming after being called “la blanche”, “makat”, “nassara” or just “white” over and over if I’m not in my village. I can schedule a meeting and feel great about how much I prepared and how grown up and organized I feel teaching adults, and then no one shows up until an hour after the scheduled time. I can come back from a trip, excited to be home, only to be greeted by “what have you brought me?”. C’est la vie au Cameroon. It’s great here and I’m really happy with my decision to sign up for this adventure, but at times it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, and I don’t think I’ll truly appreciate my life here until I’m back in the states with the glow of computer screen across my face instead of the hot African sun.

Since the last time I wrote I’ve done so much, so let me catch you up. My last post was for valentine’s day and since then I’ve had a boyfriend for a record breaking 6 months! For those who can’t “Facebook stalk” Matt’s his name and he’s from Nashville, TN. He’s a community economic development volunteer in a village called Bangangté which takes me 2 hours to get to on the best of days which is rare. He went to school in Florida for business and grills a mean steak. I’m a lucky gal. My parents got to meet him when they came for a week to see my village, along with all my friends and colleagues and even another mom and dad who were in town visiting my friend Max. They were the guests of honor at a party I organized with all my best friends, teachers and elites of Bandenkop. The women made different dishes so my parents could taste everything in one sitting. Speeches were made, fighter whisky was drunk, and the first rain fell of the rainy season. On the last day I took my parents to a “resort” on a lake owned by a french millionaire where they got to sail with my friend, Henri, who is a french volunteer who also lives in Bangangté. On our way to the airport we got stopped by gendarmes and had to pay a bribe, and once in the city we got lost in the maze of tiny roads and taxi traffic that we almost didn’t make our flight. But we did. And I had a first class seat all the way to Italy!

My parents and I spent 4 days in Cinque Terre—a beautiful area made up of 5 fishing villages. We stayed in manarola with a view of the sea out the window and a giant checkerboard painted on the sidewalk before the beach. I ate pasta, pizza or seafood for almost every meal and wine with almost every meal. Good wine. Not boxed Penasol. Everything was pretty and clean, and people looked so classy I tried to hide the fact that most my clothes come from kilo bags of used clothing sold on a blanket in the markets of Cameroon. We walked a lot, ate a lot of gelato, rode trains and boats and took a million pictures. We spent a day in Piza and took the necessary pictures and I bought a tilted mug for Matt with the tower of Piza for a handle. Next stop was Florence. We visited the Uffizi art gallery and I saw all the art pieces I’d studied in college. It was incredible. Before getting on the plane I went grocery shopping with my mom and we stuffed my suitcase full of edible souvenirs. I hugged my parents hard and left the next morning before anyone in Italy was awake and headed for the airport. The brussels airlines angles saw that I had ridden first class to get there so they upgraded both legs of my trip back to Cameroon. The plane was completely new—complete with a reclining massage chair, personal tv with new movies I hadn’t even heard of yet. I drank champagne for hours and watched 3 movies. I could have lived on that plane..

Back in Cameroon I went back to post for a week and was completely depressed. It had been to much. I missed my parents, hot showers, soft beds and customer service. After locking myself in my house all week, only leaving to teach my classes, I left for Bangagnté and hosted a party at matt’s apartment to cook all the Italian food I’d brought back. I even managed to bring a couple bottles of wine. Everyone was happy and it reminded how much I love being here.

Shortly after that I got the news that I had been chosen to be Greeter for the new training group coming June 1. I’d applied in December, and had been following up for months. I really wanted this position every since we arrived in Cameroon and had 2 volunteers to grill about life in Africa and get us pumped up for our next two years. I helped with planning their 3 months of training these past two weeks with a handful of other volunteers who applied for the job. Now I’m back at post for my last week of school. I’m going to Bafang for Saturday to have a sushi and kimchi party with a fellow graphic design volunteer, Kalika, and then off to the airport in Yaoundé to greet the newbies!

I’m really glad it’s summer. I have a lot of ideas and I don’t have to teach kiddos so I expect to be a lot less stressed 🙂 I’ll try and be better at blogging. Bear with me. I missed you guys.

xoxo
kim