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.

this ain’t summer camp


I’ve never been one to miss people when I travel or move cities. Even when I was little and went to summer camp and all the homesick kids would cry at night with the counselors assuring them that everything would be OK and they would see their parents in just a couple weeks. My parents would also get mad at me for never writing them back. The older I get the more I realize how lucky I am for the family I have and how much I never want to lose them.

Today I woke up and fixed pumpkin pancakes and peppermint tea and sat down to a colossal crossword puzzle my parents sent me from the christmas paper. I worked on it for about an hour making a good dent in the 1500+ word puzzle, all the while reminiscing on the mornings I spent living in Chicago riding the L to work with my uncle. We would grab a Red Eye at the entrance of the station, board the train, take off our gloves and set to work finishing the crossword before our arrival downtown. Uncle Peter would always finish the crossword and the sudoku, even on Fridays when it was the 5 star difficulty. Today is his daughter—my cousin, Dallas’s—birthday, and I had the pleasure of celebrating with them a year ago. We woke her up with a tray of hot cinnamon rolls and a computer screen with Skype open and her big sister on the screen to wish her happy birthday from Colorado. I got to spend the beginning of her teenage years with her, and I’m better because of it.

On the other side of the crossword puzzle were locals’ stories of christmas eve traditions and memories. Since college, I haven’t had a consistent christmas in the states. I’ve spent christmas in India with one of my best friends from high school, Artee, and her family who are hindus. It was still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life and I probably owe my acceptance to the Peace Corps to her. Another Christmas was spent in warm Australia in my bathing suit scanning the great barrier reef and trying desperately to not to be obvious to my parents and little brother as I batted my eyes at the aussie instructors. Babes, all of them. This year I was in Bangangté, Cameroon with 40 other volunteers in a small apartment with a chimney (the reason for the location of the event). I sewed christmas stocking with children in my village and we cooked a mexican feast and ate on anything that resembled a plate closely enough. We tried our best to recreate the feeling of family and tradition with a christmas tree, ornaments, lights and some decorations my parents sent. Who knows why we crave these things.

My family has always traveled to family’s homes for christmas, but I was lucky enough to have enough “traditional” christmases in my childhood to hold onto. I remember the smell of my grandparents burnt orange carpet in their old home in Shreveport, Louisiana and the sound of the train that went by in the middle of the night. I ate all of the m&m’s in the plastic candy cane holder one year and threw up christmas colors. My grandma used to make a gingerbread house with us grandkids each christmas we spent there, and she always bought the grossest candy—minty gumdrops and off-brand peppermint bites—to decorate the roof and walls—perhaps to keep us from eating all of it. On years we went to Chicago to my dad’s parents we got to have a white christmas. There was even a frozen lake behind the house that we were never allowed to walk on. My uncle Stan, who’s Jewish, would give us gallon bags of dollar store treasures each year and I remember playing with a small plastic hinged man with sticky balls at his hands and feet. We would stick him to the top of a window and he would alternate his feet and hands sticking bending at the middle and tumble down the window. Waiting at the top of the stairs christmas morning, my grandmothers’ cookies and candies, Bing Crosby playing..

I didn’t mean for this post to take a christmas tangent, but I just have these moments here where I see a picture or read something and it makes me hurt with how much I love my family and how lucky I am. I’m constantly surrounded with african culture, tradition, values, etc. Sometimes I wish my mom were here just to let me know things will work out and keep me focused on whats actually important. Right now I’m happy and I know everything will work out, but here is just a list of my past month excitements:

-strep throat
-coxsackie virus
-housing problems- boss finally told me he wants to move me to a village called Bare in the Littoral Region at Easter if I don’t find a house really soon.
-4th annual MLK feast, complete with cheesy biscuits, fried okra, chicken, eggplant, coleslaw, chocolate cake, mashed potatoes, etc.
-new computer lab
-wake-boarded and sailed on a lake by Foumbot
-Tungiasis, pulled 2 sand fleas and a billion babies out from under my toenails last night
-an Elite took me on a moto tour of houses in Bandenkop to try and find one that works!

This is Africa.

joyeux noel


This may possibly be my busiest year to date. If I had succeeded into
training myself to use a planner like I tried in middle school, I may
have filled in every little box and used up all the stickers on the
back page for appointments and birthdays, vacations and minor life
changes. If they had stickers for moving to a village and learning a
foreign language I may have used those up, too. None-the-less it has
also been one of my favorite years.

Looking back at all the pictures looking for the perfect ones to use
for my Peter&Demetra-inspired Christmas card, I got to relive all of
the adventures I had this year. I lived in two different states and
moved countries as well. I took part in the unintentional tradition of
living with your parents after graduating college and was pleasantly
surprised. In March I moved to Chicago to live with family and arrived
just in time to take part in the snowpocalypse of 2011. I got to have
2 little sisters for a small time. I took the subway to work in
downtown Chicago everyday, and ate at every restaurant I possibly
could. I helped Peter and Demetra re-do their kitchen and bathroom
from laying tiles to finding beautiful cabinets on craigslist. I
finally received my long awaited letter from Peace Corps announcing my
departure and post in Cameroon, Africa. In June I left for Africa and
had three months of training while I lived with a Cameroonian family
learning customs, foods and practicing my awkward French. I moved to
Bandenkop, a village in middle-of-nowhere Cameroon, with a few bags
and a cat named Bellatrix Lestrange. I’ve been teaching computer and
english classes at the government high school of Bandenkop since
September—somedays I’m the only teacher who shows up. For Halloween I
dressed up as Rapunzel and danced with Gaddafi, and for
Thanksgiving I spent the day making american “usuals” and eating
around a bonfire outside the tree-house of an African prince.

This year I got to cross three things of my list of things to do
before I die; work for peace corps, live with extended family, and become
fluent in another language.

I am so thankful for this year, and I honestly couldn’t have made it
through without you, my family and friends. I hope you all have a
really wonderful Christmas with your families, because I definitely
would if I could!

I love and miss you. Merry Christmas!

madam keemberlee

Teaching is the hardest thing I've ever done. My first day of class was a disaster, but it probably could have gone worse. I'm not sure what I was expecting. but it was something along the lines of all the students being just like me, excited to learn about the possibilities that computers can offer with the dispositions and childlike innocence of kindergarteners. My first class was the second period, 9-10. I stepped into the classroom and the students filled in behind me—that is the first custom I discovered, students waiting to enter a classroom until the teacher arrives. I set my things at the little teacher podium in the corner next to the eroded blackboard and took out my chalk. I noticed that my arms had gone numb—this happens when I get nervous about public speaking. I ignored it and pre-broke a long new piece of chalk so I wouldn't have to suffer the embarrassment of it breaking in front of the class from nervous shaking hands.

I ignored my numb arms and continued on with writing on the board my name, Madame Kimberly. I stopped here, thinking my last name was entirely too difficult to try, but after I made the class repeats it they insisted I give them my last name and surprisingly they guessed at the pronunciation and weren't too far off so I added it to the board just under my first name. It didn't matter though because they resorted to the cultural hissing, snapping, and "Madame!" "Madame!" used to get one's attention. I can't say I like it, but I also can't say I haven't used it on the other volunteers. Works like a charm. 

The rest of the class I went through my perfectly planned lesson as the students asked my silly questions and laughed at my pronunciation of things. There was a constant murmur as I wrote notes on the board and as I began answering one question another student would interrupt with a new question. In Cameroon, the student take their note-taking very seriously. They do not take notes ask the teacher speaks, but only if the teacher instructs to take the notes. They are carefully organized and outlined on the far left quarter of the blackboard for each lesson. Throughout the class I was constantly reminding the students to write things down as I dictated them and repeated them slowly. During the whole class, almost every student had a smile on their face like they were on the verge of laughing at me. It was extremely uncomfortable and was the longest hour ever. After the bell sounded one girl asked if she could take my picture, and despite my "no" her and five other kids had taken their phones out to snap a photo of "la blanche". 

Today I was hoping it would be a little better because It was my weekly hours in the computer lab! All the classes I'd observed had been relatively quiet with kids focused on their individual tasks using Word or Excel. I sat in on (IT) Eric's class, the other Premières, and they were perfect—hardly asking any questions and diligently working. I sat with one girl in the back row who was having a hard time moving the mouse over the start button. I then showed her how the keyboard worked which really blew her mind, while the rest of the class typed the lyrics to their favorite song and made words bold, italic, giant and cursive. My class filed in after the bell rang and the hissing snapping madame-ing commenced and didn't stop for a whole hour. Students would call me over just to tell me they'd finished typing something. I impressed myself with my french today—only a couple mistakes that students corrected and less giggling than the first class, but I can tell they're testing me. High school is hard being a student, I never even thought about what the teachers go through. When most of the students left the computer lab the same girl from yesterday asked me if she could take another picture and then showed me that she had changed her background the the paparazzi picture she had taken of me the day before. It made me mad and flattered at the same time. They're testing me and teasing me and laughing at me and analyzing me from my birkenstocks to my blonde curly hair, but I think they like me. I do.
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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a fresh new year

Dear Kimberly,

Greetings from the Peace Corps Placement Office. I am writing to update you on the status of your Peace Corps application.

As you are aware, you were originally nominated for a Computer Science/IT program departing in February.  Due to a variety of factors including but not limited to: programmatic changes, changes in departure dates, competitiveness for programs, medical accommodations, and timing of medical and legal clearances, your program and all other remaining Computer Science/IT programs departing between January and March of 2011 are almost completely full at this time.

If we are not able to place you in the program to which you were nominated, you will be considered for similar programs departing in April and May of 2011. Please remember that it is very important that you remain as flexible as possible at this point in terms of geographic preferences, since the primary objective of our office is to place skilled individuals in the programs where their experience and background is most needed in order to serve the needs of our partner countries.

During the next 3-4 weeks your Placement Officer, M***** H*****, will conduct a final suitability review of your application and contact you to discuss your application.  Kindly note that, while we will try to accommodate preferences for all qualified, competitive applicants, we cannot guarantee any placement will reflect any or all of these preferences.

Your patience and commitment to serving in the Peace Corps are greatly appreciated. We thank you for your understanding as we continue to work diligently to qualify applicants and place them in suitable programs.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. H***** at *******

Best regards,

this was the email I’d been waiting 4 months for. I wonder how many volunteers received the same forwarded email. this is working for the government I guess. my first reaction was anger. I read through it three times wondering what the heck I was going to do, but also wondering what the other volunteers who’d read the same thing were going to do. I’m extremely lucky my parents were willing to take me in during this wait period. I have food and a room that I don’t have to pay rent for. some people surely have given up the same as me—apartment, car, steady job) in the expectations of leaving at their promised departure date.

no use in dwelling.

I spent the rest of the day brainstorming with my parents all of the possibilities of filling this extension of time with productive activity. i came up with a few solutions.

  • start a class teaching computers in the neighborhood and/or neighborhood across the street
  • get an internship somewhere
  • get a job at the sign shop in stuart where my dad has connections
  • move back to lawrence, see what i can do there
  • move to my dads apt in dallas and get a job or internship
  • do something awesome to make peace corps use me to change that “almost” to just “completely” full (see the first option)

last night my uncle had heard the news through the grapevine that is my dad and grandmother and sat down with his family doing a little brainstorming of their own. he called me with exciting news that i could live with them in oak park, chicago right on the blue line and work for the ABA doing marketing materials and possible website stuff as a non-paid intern. add that to the list plz.

  • live in chicago and work in the justice system doing awesome things where i have not only family but FRIENDS!

things are looking up, but i’m still waking up with my stomach in knots from dreams about organizing boxes, packing up random crap and other stressful non-dreamy dreams. let’s hope this improves after i talk to the office lady of the neighborhood on the 3rd and she says yes to my teaching proposition. I even made flyers and lesson plans already. first class: mousercize!

aside from this not so positive update, i’m excited for this new year. even though everything’s been thrown off from plan a little, I love not having so much stuff. I have just the basics. all the clothes, belongings and memories i love in a trunk. surrounded by my family that I love dearly and options to go anywhere with enough money to take me. not many people get such a fresh start.

i love all my friends, and i got to have a wonderful goodbye and the best closure before leaving my home of the past four years.

cheers to new beginnings and new adventures.

the nature of the beast

the past few weeks seemed like they were out of a movie. i was overwhelmed with lasts—taking in as much as i possibly could. i was amelie with her hand in the barrel of dried beans at the market. i spent my nights sharing time with all of my favorite people. eating at all of my favorite restaurants for the last time. katie and i sat awkwardly in the kitchen one night surrounded by boxes and cleaning supplies. our chairs were pulled up to a folding tv dinner table covered with our orders from india palace, one of our favorite lawrence spots. in the middle of the mess of boxes sat her record player and we listened to suzannah johannes as we scrubbed the floor we’d all walked on. i have no doubt her haunting voice will bring me back to lawrence in my dreams as i lay on my palette in the deserts of afrika. other nights it will be rusty’s voice, and i’ll be standing back in the replay or the jackpot surrounded by my favorites people drinking boulevard wheat. i’ll probably miss that..

my going away party at harbour was wonderful. all my favorite people filled the tables and i bounced around talking to everyone and giving the tightest hugs i could. i only cried once. lindsey, my old roommate and a best friend, arrived with her gaggle of architects. earlier she had given her final presentation of the project that kept her from going to my goodbye dinner. i got the chance to see the presentation and i had never been so proud of her. i watched the architects drool from speechless open mouths as she revealed more and more research and work she had done. it was amazing. as she began to tear up in the bar i could see she thought she needed me. we had supported each other these past years. talking late on the couch for hours some nights helping sort through each others’ lives. i teared up because i knew she didn’t need me anymore. i had seen her hard work and passion work out—anyone’s dream.

i drove off the next day. my last drive through the flint hills. i had a stack of mixtapes from katie and lindsey to soundtrack the journey.

i slept in my childhood room on the floor for the last time. laying in the position of the bed that once existed. my parents drove off the next day in the uhaul. i’ve been staying with my sister taking dallas by storm. one more day of saying goodbyes in texas.

this is an exhausting business..

moving and shakin

I haven’t had too much to write lately. not because of a lack of thoughts— more like too many. everything has been taken off the walls and the rest organized to sell off. the past few nights before falling asleep the last thing i see are these blank unfamiliar walls, which spins me into a shallow discomforting sleep with dreams flickering between what still needs to be done and why is time moving this quick. katie moved out last night so for the first time i’m on my own. its exciting! it sucks! today is my living estate sale and all my stuff is slowly disappearing as my friends come and find new treasures and my treasures find new homes.

but we’ve had our time.
on my death bed of sorts

it’s strange to think about how i want to say goodbye to things in a month. whats the proper etiquette for things like this? i have a month to try and hang out with everyone i love in lawrence, to see everything i haven’t gotten around to seeing the past 4.5 years i’ve been here. i’ve always been the kid at summer camp who was grossed out by the girls crying about being homesick. i just never got it. i knew i would go home. calm down, kid, it’s just 2 weeks and then you’re back at your house being hot and bored because it’s texas. i’m not usually one to miss people either. this time it’s a little different. when i come “home” everyone will be scattered. in a month everything changes, and i say real goodbyes. but who really feels the sincerity of a goodbye until they’re already gone..

i guess i’ll have a party or something..

things to do before i leave: (feel free to add to it)

•sell all of my stuff
•take pictures of the town
•go to all the stores on mass i’ve never been in
•eat at kelly’s diner with ferrell
•find a way to see everyone at once and hug them really tight
•get people’s email
•finish my website so peeps can follow me
i am my mother’s daughter

i’m being my mom for halloween. i just received a package with her old glasses in it. i asked her to mail them to me and i’m so glad she still had them. i always remember running into her room after nightmares or because i had an “accident” and she would reach over and put on her glasses. thick red translucent red frames. the lenses are about a 1/2″ thick. it feels like i’m wearing those drunk goggles they have you try on in high school and make you do obstacles in. after this next episode of 30 rock im off to go find some good mom jeans from the salvation army. i looove halloweeeeeeeeen