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.
Some call it hiding. I’ve been staying a lot in my house lately watching movies, reading World Without End on my new kindle, doing workout videos and baking bread to balance out the exercise. My new hibernation is due in part by my readjustment back to village from big city life I got lo have for the 3 weeks of Christmas. The other part is due to what has happened in village now since my arrival home.
The first event was a chat I had with my best friend Honorine. I had stopped by her bar to eat lunch and chat about the holidays. She grabbed a beer and I chowed down on beans and beignets. Her sister had just left to go back to Paris the day before. She had been visiting for a month, and brought with her a Whirlpool freezer so now Honorine wants to start grilling fish at night! This is wonderful since poisson braisé is the best thing that ever happened to cameroonian cuisine after spaghetti omelets.
After a tour of the freezer and excitement over new business opportunities, we sat back down and I asked questions about her sister—nurse, husband lives in Yaoundé, she’s been in Paris 4 years and will be there for 8, 3 grown kids in different European countries for school. When I asked her if it was hard for her sister to be so far away from her husband for so long she leaned back in her chair and casually responded that when she saved enough money she’d get out of here, too. She went on to tell me how her marriage wasn’t good and that her husband doesn’t give money to her for food, the kids, anything. She explained how she wants to start grilling fish, but has to figure out a way to get money for the small grill, charcoal and a large batch of fish to freeze. I mostly listened and finished my beans trying to act as cameroonian-mama as I could, trying to hide any eye watering or displays of emotion. I told her that a lot of marriages don’t work out in the states either, but it’s nice that we have the hope that our husband will be our best friend when we are. I don’t know how this sounds to Americans anymore, but here everything is very practical and straight-forward including marriage, sex and child-rearing. I have yet to see a Gilmore Girls relationship or an affectionate husband without a beer in his hand, and usually it’s not his wife.
So that’s the first event.
She followed this up with that her and Seline, the wife of my community host and another one of my mama friends, are no longer friends. They no longer will speak to each other even to say good morning. This is especially awkward since they work right next door to each other. Lucky me.
The last event was the profession of love to me by my friend, Diefe. He’s one of a handful of people I can almost have a real conversation with that doesn’t have anything to do with how to do something, cook something, or say something in patois or french. He was a little tipsy I think, but he used a lot of cheesy lines and has continued to call me every evening to ask me how my day was. He’s leaving the 15th (thank goodness) and wants me to watch his chickens for him. Here are some of my favorite lines. Keep in mind I’m engaged to Tim and kept reminding him of this every 5 min. and insisting that I would not change my mind.
Translated from french:
when you try the water in senegal you must also try the water of the sea and only then can you make your choice between the two.
if you give me a little piece of your heart i will plant it, water it everyday two times, and watch it grow and grow.
do you love bandenkop? bandenkop loves you. but i love you more than bandenkop..
You refuse me? I am suffering. Are you ok with me suffering?
Happy 2012 everyone! I’ve had a great last few weeks getting to hang out with my fellow volunteers for the holidays. We had a week-long seminar mid-December which was in a town called Limbe on the west coast of Cameroon. The beaches were black and we found a restaurant with pizza, smoothies and iced coffee. Needless to say the week went great and we finished it up with 2 days of camping and bonfires and a late nite skinny dip for the ladies. I can now cross that off my list, not to mention conquering my fear of swimming at night which is maybe one of the most terrifying things ever.
After leaving Limbe a large group of us continued back to the West to Bangangte to spend Christmas in the only volunteers’ house with a chimney. I sewed little stockings for each of the 8 volunteers in the west and hung them on the mantle. We had a tree and lights and some jingle bell decorations thanks to my parents awesome xmas package! All in all it was a really good time and we had a feliz navided theme christmas eve dinner with salsa, guac, homemade chips and tortillas, tofu fajitas and taco meat. Natalie and I also fresh squeezed our own margaritas. As much as I love having christmas with my family, the few times now that I’ve been out of the country for christmas, each time has been extremely untraditional and extremely fun in its own way. I’m so thankful for my ability to conjure up holiday magic no matter where I am.
For the New Year, more volunteers met up in the capital Yaounde to celebrate. For the past few days we’ve been eating pizza, visiting super markets, enjoying ice cream, and going to fairs, reminding ourselves that we’re in Cameroon from time to time.
New Years was fun last night. Natalie and I were in markets around town all day looking for something to wear. We had no luck all day and even gave in to going to marche Mokolo where the stands are 2 feet apart and you’re guaranteed to get grabbed more than 100 times. I’ve never held on to my purse so tight or been proposed to so many times, but it is definitely a must see in Yaounde and Natalie hadn’t been yet. We had no luck and on the taxi home we got let out early after passing what seemed to be the shoe market with blankets and blankets of high heels lining the street. We both found shoes we loved and bargained down to reasonable prices so we had no outfits but really pretty shoes. We met up with everyone at the casino in the hilton hotel and then made our way to Bostos, the swanky part of town where you’re guaranteed to rub shoulders with elites and other “whites”. We got hookah and fancy cocktails, and around midnight we went across the street to the fancy black & white bar for the countdown. It was extremely anticlimactic, but we all stood up and cheered anyway. I headed home shortly after while everyone else went out dancing, which is very un-like me, but I had my new high heels to thank. I toasted myself a mozz, basil tomato sandwich and settled down with some johnny walker on ice and skyped with some of my favorite ladies in the world and got to wish them an early happy new year.
My new years resolution this year is to write something every day. It can be a word, poem, caption or story. Doesn’t matter. But I get so overwhelmed by how much there is to write about here. I hope this helps. Also, as my readers, feel free to yell at me and keep me accountable. Writing in my journal counts, too, so I’m allowed a blog hiatus evey now and then but I really hope I keep this resolution up this year.
What are your resolutions?? Happy New Years friends & family!
12/5/11 So IST is the next big even for us PCV's. IST stands for In-Service Training. It will be the first time I will get to see everyone from my stage (first training group) and each of us volunteers are bringing a colleague to attend the seminars with. The IST location is in Limbé which is a beach town on the coast of Cameroon. It is extremely touristy which all of us couldn't be more excited about because allegedly there is pizza, ice cream and coffee, not to mention a beach for swimming and tanning and other things involving bikinis and suntan lotion. A lot of volunteers are staying after the one week seminar either to climb Mount Cameroon or spend Christmas on the beach. We also are doing secret santa. I was too late to get in on secret santa so my friend Dan and I are doing un-secret santa and I found him some really cool presents. I honestly feel bad about how good I did with his presents, since I'll probably be getting a tshirt with a misspelled curse word from the Frip or something, but really I like finding presents the most. This year little Dan is getting an awesome african mask carved out of wood, about a foot long and accents of old blue paint. I also got him a traditionally carved ash tray, a slingshot, an 80's teal Frip hat from Waterworld USA and I have mac and cheese and chocolate pudding mixes. Yesterday I hand sewed a stocking from Pagne (african fabric "pon-yuh") and I bought a santa hat to cut off the white fur and sewed it to the opening of the stocking along with red letters from the felt part, D-A-N. I'm going to put some candy inside and a card that I drew in my sketchbook of the JUJU spirit in my village. I'm pretty proud of myself. I love Christmas, and I've been doing a good job getting in the spirit here in Africa. I had a cold the past couple of weeks, and the dry season has turned this mountain village into a true colorado with freezing nights and beautiful days. In the morning, after sleeping under two blankets, my hoodie with the hood up and thick socks from the market I wake up with teeth chattering. My first action is to go to the kitchen to start my water heating up. I walk to the living room and open my computer and start my christmas playlist. As Bing Crosby echoes off the concrete walls, I fix my mug with mint hot chocolate and fill my bowl with dry oats, sugar and cinnamon. Somedays I watch an episode of the Wonder Years and others I read over my lessons for the day. When I come back home after school and wandering the village running errands I go straight to the computer to turn on the christmas playlist. My school also had some trees cut down around which happened to be pine so i snagged some branches and brought them home to fill the house with that christmas tree smell. I gave my friend Honorine a black and white printout of two pictures I took of me and her daughter, Ingrid aka my best friend, wearing santa hats and my raybans. Way cute, and she loved it. I also made a CD with christmas songs that I gave to the wife of the pastor who makes all my clothes, and has a son in my sixieme class who I also tutor on sundays. This past sunday I taught a bunch of christmas vocal, and we listened to christmas music. It was actually fun, and afterward the kids demanded to help me around the house and did my dishes and washed my floors. I hope everyone else is getting excited for the holidays. I miss you all!
The last I wrote about was my terrible halloween eve. Which means it’s been about a month since and a million things have happened. I am finding it difficult to bring myself to write because I encounter so many wonderful, terrible, and just weird things everyday it’s proved to be overwhelming. I’ve thought about so many things I want to write down as they happen, but when I finally make it home I don’t know where to start. So for this I apologize. I also apologize that I write so much about bad things that happen, and venting and such. I can’t say enough how the bad is really bad, but the good is sooo unbelievable good. It keeps me loving this place, and being extremely thankful that I actually made it here after so much waiting.
Speaking of thanks, I had the amazing opportunity to have thanksgiving dinner with the prince of Bangangte outside of his hut by a bonfire. It was incredible. And not just because of the aforementioned details, but mostly because we made every typical thanksgiving dish using all cameroonian ingredients, listened to christmas music and spent the day cooking and throwing a football and hanging out, cameroonians and americans. I have had the blessing of having a few of those beautiful moments in life where you take a deep breath and realize you are truly happy, and that night sitting by the fire I added another deep breath to the list.
Other happenings include that I’m moving again. The landlord came home unexpectedly and wrote on my coffee table in chalk about how messy the house was, even though no one told me someone was coming. The next morning i was awoken by the door being open and it was the landlord’s wife. She explained it was her who wrote the note, and that i need to hide my things when they come and that i need to lock my door. I explained that no one told me she was coming. This meant nothing. Then she told me there was no room for me there because when the family comes in for vacation they stay there. So now I’m moving. To the fourth house.
I decided Bandenkop is the Nantucket of Cameroon. There are lots of rich people here who have houses, but not a lot of people who actually live here. This makes it difficult to find a house since they all seem open, but the owners come back and stay for funerals and burials, and vacation time. I have looked at a few now, none of which are very nice like the house I’m in now. I’m guaranteed to have a latrine for the next couple years so I can cross that off my list.. It’s frustrating looking, but now I know why my boss had such a hard time finding a place the first go-round for me.
I also saw the most beautiful thing in the world a couple weeks ago, too. It was a crater lake in a village called Foumbot, and closely resembled the blue lagoon from peter pan with the mermaids. The lake was formed by collected water in an old volcano and was the clearest blue I’d ever seen. The water was a thousand feet below us and we walked around the edges seeing the lake at every perspective and looking out at the view of the rest of Cameroon. We took the trip with Henri, a french volunteer living in Bangangte building latrines in villages, Franky, the Prince of Bangangte, and the Mayor of Foumbot who is a handful of a woman and made our visit wonderful by getting us past the guard for free to see the lake and feeding us before and after.On the way up about 10 children hopped in the back of our truck and walked around the volcano with us in plastic shoes and offering me a hand when I slipped. I’ll post pictures when I can. No promises..
These holidays make me miss all of you guys so much. Having holidays here has been nice, though, because I get all the good stuff, and I don’t have to deal with the American consumer crap like expensive costumes and halloween candy, and black friday. I just get to be happy hanging out with friends and explaining our weird american traditions to cameroonians. Though, I do miss being with my family. Love you all and hope you’re enjoying the season!
Wow a long time has passed since I’ve gotten back to the blog. Halloween was a lot of fun despite being the first time I had a freak out and cried infront of african mamas. I found a giant blonde braided weave and a sparkly pink dress to dress up as rapunzel. I was viscous in my bargainng at marché A and almost made the lady cry when I cut her price two thirds. There was no way i was going to spend a paycheck on a halloween costume with sequins. I am SO american, wow. The party was in Bangangte and a lot of volunteers from the west and northwest showed up. I came a day early to cut hair and hang out with kids from my stage (stahj – original training group). My freakout came before arriving in Bangangté, though.
Early Friday morning I was required to go to a teaching seminar about how to teach english, and would last from 8:30 to well into the afternoon I was told. One of my colleagues at the lycee came with me. I had no idea he taught English, too. We shared a car and then a moto when we got to Baham where the seminar was. Once at the venue, a bilingual highschool in Baham, I realized I’d left my bag in the trunk of the taxi. Luckily my colleague knew the name of the driver so I called my landlord and he told me he’d call Calvin the chauffeur. I walked into the seminar holding my phone awaiting Sam’s call. The classroom was full of english teachers from around the Haute Plateau region with anglophone and francophone teachers alike. The seminar was led by two volunteer teachers and a woman from the ministry with a lot of years of teaching under her belt. Aside from her, the english was so heavily accented I could hardly understand what was going on, which wasn’t good seeing as I was the only obvious english speaker was used as a prop in many discussions, not to mention that I was thoroughly distracted with my lost bag and the fact that I didn’t want to be there. I also had to pee since my arrival and came to find out there were no restrooms.
We got one 10 min break in-between 8:30 when it started and 3:30 when I snuck out as elusively as a white girl in a room full of africans can. Oh, also, my colleague never returned after the 10 minute break when he told me he was going outside to smoke. The second half of the seminar I was in fumes, jealous of my crafty colleague and extremely uncomfortable by the man who had taken his spot on the bench next to me. He alternated between loudly whispering prayers under his breath, inching closer and closer to my until we were touching legs, and looking at me “inconspicuously”. The seminar itself wasn’t the greatest, with everything begin said 3 times, dumb questions being asked, and a workshop session that was really just more theory. Cameroonians can’t get enough theory.
The brought in sandwiches and drinks at 3:30 along with the principal, and while the room filled with the scent of delicious food and our hungry tummies rumbled they proceeded to thank the principal numerous times, sing a couple of songs about being happy and then begin a prayer. This was when I took the opportunity to sneak out.
I caught a moto to the center and caught a taxi to bafoussam. Sam had told me that the driver had left my bag with a mama named Maji at the taxi stop. I arrived and asked someone about her stand and they pointed to some closed doors and said she had left for Bandenkop. I was so mad. I went around searching for her number, got it, called her, couldn’t understand her and could get her to understand how to turn up her phone volume. Found someone with calivn’s number and he said he didn’t give it to Maji and that he dropped it off in bandenkop at the sofina. I called sam back and asked him to see if he could get in the sofina since it was closed. wasn’t there. etc. etc. more phone calls. more bad french. Then i cried. Infront of an african mama trying to help me (they don’t cry. ever.) I had no idea where my bag was. Finally my fav driver showed up and filled his car with passengers. I told him if someone gives him my bag in bandenkop to bring it back to bafoussam.
I left for the office to use the bathroom like i needed to all day. I grabbed a diet coke i’d left in the fridge—thank God. I sat and took a breather and vented to some poor volunteers who were in the office using the computers. They had come for the halloween party, too and invited me to get ice cream with them. A couple hours later, and after a call from sam, I headed to the taxi line to wait for a cab that my bag was allegedly in.
Also I forgot to mention my costume was in this bag!
The volunteers from the northwest arrived, just at the same time as the taxi with my bag, to catch a car to banganté for the party. We got in the car, waited for it to fill up with people until we noticed the driver was wasted and slurring his words. We got out, went to a different taxi stop for taxis headed to bangangté and paid extra to have it to ourselves and leave right away.
And then we made it. I couldn’t believe it. What a horrible day.
The next day was awesome and filled with touch football, carving a pumpkin, poker, dancing, drinking, eating candy corn. Costumes were great and very resourceful. There were the Spice Girls complete with an African Spice (or Maggi cube which is maybe MSG maybe beef bouillon and used in every dish). Eriika and Liz were the twins from the Shining and had their dresses custom made. Ghaddafi was there, the ghostbusters and a zombiliké which is a zombie from the Bamiliké tribe which makes up most of the peoples of the Western Region.
All in all it was a god weekend. Someone said during training, “Nothing in Cameroon is working but everything works out. ” This is the most true statement I’ve ever heard in my life, but man is it frustrating.
Whew. I’m glad I finally typed that up. Kim’s first freak out. The end. My second was this past weekend. I’ll type that up sometime soon, too.
teaching in africa is nothing like I could have expected. When you come into a situation like mine, you bring all the experience you have and try to go from there. The only problem is is my experience as a student was close to a billion times different than the kids here will ever know. Most of the time it drives me crazy, but every now and then I have to giggle.
Last tuesday I came to class with a fresh stack of blank tests. It was test week last week and I had given the sixième class their informatique (computer) tests the day before. After passing out the papers I began to explain the first section. I had listed greetings in english in one line and in french in one line and they were to draw a line connecting the matching greetings. The class ERUPTED into cheering and clapping and yelling. They were so excited that they understood how to do it because we had practiced it in class. I had just told them no talking aloud so I pretended to be teacher-angry, but I’m sure a little smile escaped. How great is that? Also, as a side not, the majority of the class did great on that test!
The first couple weeks were review in all my computer classes so that I could catch kids up, and have the same lesson plans for all the grade levels. This was great for first time teaching practice because each lesson throughout the week got better and better. I found a great activity online to illustrate the relationship between the graphics card, microprocessor and the central unit. It required working in groups of three with one student acting each role. This is utterly impossible in Cameroon. The idea of working in groups or partners is beyond anyone. Sorry cinquiemes. They were the first guinea pigs where I discovered this. In my next class, quatriemes, I appointed a Monsieur Microprosseseur and chose a student each round to be Madame or Monsieur Carte Graphique to fill in pixels on the board which turned into a pixely heart after all the coordinates were plotted. It got better after every class, which was exciting, but it is frustrating to have to hold everyone’s hand through everything.
Another activity I had to walk them through was decoding a message imitating a supercomputer. I offered a prize which made everyone go CRAZY. I wrote the alphabet and gave clues for every other letter—b=2 d=4 f=6 and then put a secret message using the code on the board which after solved was MADAME KIMBERLY EST LA MEILLEURE or MISS KIMBERLY IS THE BEST. A lot of kids were completely lost to something I thought was going to be way to easy, though some kids did catch on. The kids who got it were super excited and raced to be the first to know the message and win the prize. Everyone cheered when they read off the message. I think they like me. 🙂
Today I finally came up with a great activity to illustrate an operating system. I had been brainstorming for weeks. The operating system of a computer is was talks between the actual hardware of the machine, and the other softwares, applications, organization and general goings on in the computer. I drew 3 identical mazes on the blackboard and brought to class 3 bandanas that my parents mailed me from the dollar store. (thanks guys!). I had them try and figure out the maze while the whole class yelled directions at them where to go. This was chaos, but it’s OK because that’s how I wanted it. Then I chose 3 people to be operating systems. They could give each person directions to complete the maze “go left” “go down” without everyone else yelling and confusing everything. Afterward they all agreed it was easier and better with the operating system, and then they continued to laugh and talk about the activity. I was proud of that one.
Also the kids have an awesome class clap which I want to get on video one of these days.
I can tell I’m adapting my creativity around what I have to work with, which is exciting seeing as I don’t really like teaching very much. I have started thinking about some secondary projects, too, which I’m happy about. Some health volunteers in the West region have asked me if I’d be interested in designing some posters for their presentations to have printed and laminated and used as a check-out system in the main offices. I’m really excited about it—anything to use my design skills here makes me happy.
I’ve also learned a lot of the local patois here now. My village loves it and everyone laughs and gets so happy and shakes my hand when I greet them in Bandkenkop (the name of the language and the village). I know most of the greetings, numbers 1-10, thank you, and give me 100 Francs worth of beignets. 🙂 They love it.
I’m still working on getting internet at my post. Every week I make the journey to Bafoussam to find another missing part to the puzzle. So far it’s been 5 weeks of trying, but I think I’ve almost got it. I hope to do a lot more writing, too, when I can finally get online. It’s been a while since I’ve written. Since the last time I wrote, Bellatrix and I have moved into our new house. The mama finally came from Doala, just to tell me that it wasn’t available since she comes back for holidays with her family. The house seems as if no one has lived in it for 100 years. Sam had his kids clean up the house down the same dirt path a ways, but when I showed up with my first handful of belongings it was still filthy. I didn’t mind too much. The house is built to let as little light as possible in; thick cement walls, a handful of small windows and a veranda facing north-ish so every room gets the least light possible. Its a little cave, but at least it’s my little cave. Being a little dark and scary, I didn’t mind having to do the scrubbing myself—moving all the furniture around and getting in the cracks and crevices. I took out all the scary mystery, dirt and cobwebs with a traditional broom and bottle of bleach. It felt good.
School has gotten to be a lot more comfortable for me now. My classes are getting used to me, and this week is test week which was when I started liking school during model school in Bafia. I had my first English club meeting last Wednesday and it went really well considering. I had no plan going in, just some games I’d seen online and such. Earlier that day I had seen a car go by and throw out a bunch of little papers which turned out to be posters for one of the 27 presidential candidates. The national elections are coming up in a few days (Oct 9) and it’s a little controversial as Paul Biya has been the president for a while with a self-extended term. The proviseur told me that the first club meeting they typically elect a student government. I got the idea to have the kids brainstorm political vocabulary and then had them design campaign posters whether they wanted to run or not. We talked about symbols and images candidates use on posters. Some students got more creative with their drawing than others, some opted for a written speech ending with long live English club, long live Bandekop. All in all I was very excited with the level of English from some of the older students. A lot of Terminale students showed up, which is nice because I don’t have their class for computers. Also, last sunday was the first time to tutor a couple Terminale girls. They want to become doctors and practice their english with me. Maybe I should torrent some grey’s anatomy episodes and we can watch and discuss :). We just chatted for a bit and then they braided hair. Next time I’ll have more of a lesson, but they didn’t bring their book and had only really vague questions so we just introduced ourselves. They loved looking through the pictures I have of family and friends and asked if they could keep some. I said no.
Before tutoring Sunday I had spent saturday in a village called Mbouda. It’s 30 min northeast of Bafoussam and known for its bread (which tastes like bagels!). There were volunteers there from all over the west and northwest regions. We all met up for a scheduled rivalry match of ultimate frisbee, region vs. region. We played in field with long grass and fresh muddy rain puddles and got gross real fast. Kids from the village watched us and ran around our game trying to figure it out. So many people showed up from my stage (training group) that we even had a match us vs. everyone else, which we won. It was so much fun. I hadn’t played in so long it was good to get back into it. After then we ruined all our exercise with spaghetti omelets and big cameroonian beers. I love hanging out with other PCVs. There’s a lot of great ones that I hope I can keep in contact with when I get back.
I got commissioned to design some health posters for the health volunteers to get printed large scale and laminated and used for presentations in a check-out system at the regional offices. I’m really excited to put my graphics to use here. I also think a coaster campaign would be cool for AIDS/HIV awareness or another health initiative. It’s funny how all the volunteers end up being all types of volunteers. I came in computer teacher, am now teaching english too, making health posters, and I also think it would be cool to teach about compost and give some tofu demonstrations like the SED volunteers (Small Enterprise Development) in the west. Soybeans allegedly replenish the soil as opposed to all the other crops my village plants, and since my village is almost entirely farmers that would be another beneficial project.
I’ve been getting awesome care packages from the states. Thank you guys so much! Bellatrix says thanks too. I especially like my new knives.
I’m buying internet today in Bangangte hopefully. They don’t have the modems in the big city. Who knows how they do any business.. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you all for reading and let you know how awesome it is to read your comments every weekend when I come to Bafoussam. It gives me everything I need for another week, and you have no idea how important that is for me right now! Thank you! Thank you!!