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.


she loves me

i had lost all hope, and then woke up at 6:30 to meowing and a bigger cat with redder ears. Pretty sure it’s still Bellatrix, but I’m keeping her nonetheless.

for my mama

barrett, an english teacher volunteer, sat in on my class to learn how to teach computers since he will be teaching a class at his post. He took these pictures and I’m extremely grateful. This is my Premiere class during their practical hour. The power cut out so i showed them the insides of a computer instead. welcome to bafia.

for katie

i totally know what business to start when I get back. I eat it wayy more that I should. I will write you another aerogramm with the business plan 🙂 and we will also serve coffee because that was always part of the plan. Here I am enjoying my favorite meal here with some kiddos on site visit to Bandenkop. They live in Batie where another PCV lives named Ethan. He’s in the states right now buying me more cajun seasoning, peanut m&m’s and a big bottle of head & shoulders. yessss sweet sweet luxuries

trouble makers


Nate is another IT teacher. He teaches anglophone Form 3 which is the 8th graders, basically. Nobody did their homework so he made them write a paper explaining why homework is good. Here’s one I liked:

Dear Sir, I have not don’t my home work becouse I was seck and I was eble to do it. The day you have gave your home work I was not in school becouse I was seck on that day.

please sir forgive me I promisse you to do every home work you will ever give in class. please sir I am sourry for that. I holp you will forgive me.

He also got another good one with incomprehensible english with the last line reading “Teacup sae?”

drawing ninjas


The end of my first two weeks teaching came much easier than the start. I’m still teaching the same Première IT class and Sixième English class, but by now I have much more control over my classroom dynamics. With my only teaching experience being senior citizens, discipline problems were never something I was dealing with on a daily basis. Here, I am the new mother to 30 african children for four hours in the week. It might not sound to bad now, but i get them for 2 hours straight two times a week, and in between the hours theres a short break that gives them enough time to run to the little shack by the soccer field and buy cookies and sugar coated beignets and come back with sugar sprinkled across their cheeks. I almost lost my voice the first week, but this week I gave them a seating chart and thought of better activities to keep their hands occupied. I gave them paper for drawing and practicing numbers and it worked perfectly. I was also amazed at some of the drawings people did for me. “Draw me 3 bananas,” “draw me five tee-shirts,” “draw me 12 trousers,” “draw me 1 ninja”. They especially liked the ninja, and I got lots of nice renditions of dragon ball z characters.

In my Première class, I’ve been going over the different types of networks. The discipline issues are more what you would expect in high school—more psychological torment than loud and unruly babysitting like my sixièmes. The first days they loved finding my buttons and seeing how far they could push me. They laughed at every single inevitable mispronunciation of a word in french, asked me dumb questions to see how I would react. I always thought I’d hate teaching at a high school, but I’ve actually had a fun time giving them a run for their money. (2500 cfa to be exact, roughly 5 bucks) One girl asked me if she could sleep, laughing to herself at the ridiculousness of the question, and i answered with a casual yes, of course, and told her she could sleep outside and the class giggled. “in the sun??” she gasped. “yes, in the sun,” and shrugged my shoulders with a fake look of sympathy on my face and moved on while the class giggled more. I thoroughly enjoy pretending to be a teacher.

I teach IT 1 hour each day and tuesdays we get to be in the lab for a practical lesson. Last tuesday there was no internet and the kids were BUMMEDD. Who knows why, though, because this is a very normal occurrence in Bafia. Insteach I showed them the inside of a computer and all it’s parts and pieces, and I pointed out the network I helped set up for model school so they could have a real life example of what we’re been learning. Its so strange teaching computer classes without computers.

The next day I gave a quiz just to see if what i was teaching was getting through any of the students. When I collected them i was so excited to grade them—it was the same feeling i had when i picked up the drawings of the 6emes. It was a proud mom feeling and i wanted to scan everything into my comp and put it on my blog so all my family and friends could see beautiful drawings of bananas ninjas and diagrams of local area networks complete with hubs and switches and be proud.

Teaching is still super hard—lesson planning and discipline and such, but i really have come to like it. After the test, I finally saw the rewarding side of it all. A few kids didn’t do very good, but the majority did awesome and my prize for the tope 9 were to use the computers in the lab with internet. One girl got a 20/20! I was so excited. I finally felt like i could actually do this for 2 years.

bandenkop: the colorado of afrika


It’s July already! I returned yesterday from Bandenkop. I took the Binal Voyage bus and actually missed my stop in Bafia so the bus dropped me off at the next town and a little boy walked me to the taxi corner and i bought my ticket back. It took an hour for the car to fill up and we finally left. The driver was wasted. I held my breath the whole 25 min it took to drive back to Bafia. The driver stopped at a gas station to get change for one of the passengers (who looked like granddad, but cameroonian, and I almost welled up wishing it was). He dropped the coins and they scattered over the gas station parking lot and he stumbled around picking them up. I we got back in to go to the centre, but 20 ft after the car ran out of gas. When the driver left to get gas i turned around and joked with granddad and another funny looking man saying I think the driver drank a little bit, and they laughed and agreed. I said I was going to get a moto instead and they all had the same idea. I hopped on a moto and got back to the bar where all the other volunteers were and clapped on my arrival. Home sweet home! I loved Bandenkop, though. And my school and Proviseur. Here’s a diary entry since that’s all I brought with me:

What a weird couple of days. Last night A woman came into the cuisine while dinner was boiling on the 3-stone fire. She was extremely welcoming and friendly and the first person I could actually understand in French other than Jean Marie (most of the time). We talked about Cameroon compared to the rest of the world and a lot of he traditional cuisine. I told her I ate a whole wish with my hands that day, and she was so proud-everybody laughed. She then instructed me that I had to finish my plate overflowing with little potatoes and cabbage because when you eat well you sleep well. Of course. It was an impossible demand.
Litrice asked me to wait for her to leave for my room and I didn’t know why but I waited anyway. I found out why after her and he visitor lady came and made my bed for me and then only the visitor lady left. It seemed Litrice had been relocated bedrooms, because of the lady visiting, not only to a different room, but to my bed. As uncomfortable as I was with the situation, I put my earphones in to drown out the sounds of the rats scurrying in the tin roof attic and my running thoughts of how I got mixed up in this situation. Not to mention that Litrice rarely talks to me, but rather looks at me and analyses me from every angle she wants. She was the first to touch my hair-no hesitation.
All night she snored louder than my dad-who often causes my mom to relocate to the couch. She slowly spread out across the bed until she was nudging her calloused feet against mine. I squirmed to avoid her for hours, not sleeping one minute. Her snoring lessoned so I took out my earphones and tried to get some sleep. Then she started farting. Loud. I hated sharing the covers with her at that moment and pressed the sheets against my body desperate to seal in the unwelcome fumes. I put my headphones back in and turned up the volume, insensitive to waking her up. At 6 she got up and I slept soundly for an hour and a half when she came in my room, turned on my light and opened my window exclaiming that I sleep so long. Worst night ever.

The rest of the entry, and visit for that matter, was wonderful. I went to 3 town meeting with a room full of mothers with children who attend the lycee (high school). After Jean Marie introduced me the ladies went crazy and cheered and hugged me and shook my hand. At the second meeting a small woman began singing and after two choruses the rest joined in. It was haunting and beautiful. We walked out right as my eyes were welling up. After the introductions I had my meeting with the Proviseur, and am now an English teacher, German teacher and computer teacher!

i’ll miss the big city, but I’m ready for my village

I have less than a week before I leave for Africa. On my bed I have stacks of clothes organized and ready for boxing, and my computer is playing BBC radio where Obama is giving a speech to both houses of Parliament speaking hopefully about the future. I thought I’d give it a listen before it becomes the only reachable station on my shortwave radio. I’m so excited to leave and lord knows I’ve waited long enough for this dream to finally come true. Last April I was accepted and waited patiently for my posting. After a few months I was told I would leave late February, and come January I was told the programs were filled and I would need to wait and see if there would be space for the May-July departures. My mom started pressing me to think about alternatives “just in case.” It was a lot of time to sit and wait, but I hated the idea of giving up. My aunt and uncle were awesome enough to invite me to their home in Chicago to keep my hands busy working downtown and getting quality cousin time until I got further word from PC. I finally received the package I had been waiting for and everything seems to be falling in line—as it usually does.

I waited a lot longer than I thought I would, but I honestly feel more prepared than ever. I’ve gotten to say goodbye to everyone I love and will miss. I learned how to survive without being surrounded by friends locally, living under the roof of a different family. I helped redo a kitchen from the floors to the ceiling and commuted to the city every day—working hard and designing for the often underrated non-monetary rewards. I even found a new friend to practice my french with twice a week—laura, who just happened to be from Cameroon! I got to do everything I wanted to do:

  • ate at all the famous deep dish pizza places
  • saw Peter pan on broadway with my cousins and Nikki (my favorite cubicle neighbor and ice machine escort every morning!)
  • thrift shopped in Wicker park
  • did the Bean and explored everywhere with katie D
  • danced in Boystown with Conner and Jibs
  • had casual monday lunches with Sean
  • went clubbing by limo with Jarred (still don’t understand how)
  • went to an art exhibition featuring the same Jarred (so proud!)
  • finished (almost) an entire kitchen redo
  • saw a bunch of cousin plays!

I loved Chicago, historical blizzard and all. I’ll miss the big city, but I’m ready for my village!

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