Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I dream of cheese

I had a dream last night I went to the grocery store and bought swiss cheese and Ben and Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide ice cream, then I woke up and realized I was still in Africa and there aren’t any grocery stores that sell Ben and Jerry’s… When I first arrived here, I had cravings for American food ALL the time. Chuy’s Tex Mex enchiladas, peanut butter, hamburgers, bbq sauce, pretty much all dairy food, I thought about it all the time. However, the longer I am here, the less cravings I have for American food. Now that I have been here for awhile, I have found some local food that I really enjoy. One of my favorite meals is beans and beignets. Beignets are these little dough balls that kind of taste like a mix between a donut and a funnel cake. The Mamis (older ladies) make them in the morning by frying them over a fire in a huge pan filled with palm oil. You then place hot beans over the hot beignets. I never really thought of beans as a staple breakfast food, but now I can’t think of breakfast without them. Mmm, beans and good. Other than that, I eat a lot of rice with various sauces, koki (kind of like a blob of ground up corn), cassava (this is a kind of plant), and burning fish (a whole fresh fish that is grilled over hot coals – I eat the skin and have tried the eyes, but they are kind of chewy and not great). I also eat a lot of eggs in various forms. There is the spaghetti omelette which is basically what it sounds like, cooked spaghetti noodles are added to the scrambled egg mixture in a bowl along with tomatoes and onions and then the whole mixture is fried in a pan. This is something else that sounded weird at first but now is just normal. I also fry or hard boil the eggs or make French toast. I also eat a lot of peanuts (they call them “groundnuts” here) either roasted or boiled – great to bring on long trips. I am lucky to live in the Southwest province because we also have a lot of fresh fruit. I eat a lot of papayas, oranges, and pineapples. Sometimes the fruit is hard to find if it is not a market day but the village is beginning to catch on that I love fruit and they leave me a cadeaux (gift) once in awhile. I will wake up to find a sack of oranges on my door knob or a bag of papayas on the porch. I was walking home from school yesterday and one of my friends told me he had something for me and went to his garden and he chopped off a pineapple fresh from the vine and gave it to me. So, yes, it is true they don’t have Ben and Jerry’s here but there are lots of other things and I am doing alright.
I am starting to give my second round of tests for the second sequence. When I gave the first tests, I wrote the questions on the board and they wrote down their answers on their own paper. I didn’t want them to start before I could turn around and monitor them, so I wrote most of the question but left out keywords so they couldn’t start before I wanted them to and cheat while I my back was turned to the board. Right before I had them begin, I filled in the keywords to the questions. Despite my best efforts, there was still widespread cheating. Kids were blatantly looking at each other’s papers and whispering. With a class of 94 students and 3 students to a desk, I just couldn’t monitor everyone at the same time. I did send some people out and take off points of the people I saw, but there were still some I didn’t catch. So, this time I decided I would make photocopies of the test and make different forms of it. This is pretty expensive and I have to go to a different town to make the copies but I decided it was worth it so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about cheating. Hopefully testing will go smoother this time…I’ll keep you updated.
There are many things that I am doing here that I didn’t anticipate having to do before I left. One of these things is drawing diagrams of dozens of different organisms on the board. The syllabus for my Form 2 Biology class (set by the ministry of secondary education according to which information they will include on the GCE – a standardized test they will take in Form 5) instructs me to teach basically a series of different animals. Most of the students don’t have a textbook, so the notes they take from the board are really their only source of information. So, I have to draw the diagrams of the organisms on the board so they have it for their notes. I started the year off with arthropods and so far I have become an expert at drawing a mosquito, housefly, honeybee, cockroach, spider, scorpion, centipede, millipede, crayfish and a crab. Now, these are not simple organisms to draw but I practiced and now I can draw a pretty decent arthropod with a piece of chalk and a board. Negotiating is also something I have to do ALL the time that I did not anticipate. Almost nothing in Cameroon has a set price, you have to bargain for everything. I bargain for the food I get in the market, how much I will pay for a moto ride, all the stuff I bought for my house, my cat – everything. So, I have learned to argue and get the right price. It’s all about not letting them know you want something…just walk away like you don’t have to have it and they automatically drop their price.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Life in Lewoh

I have now been at post for about 2 and a half months. A lot has been going on and I have been busy teaching and meeting people in the village. I am now teaching Biology to Forms 1 and 2 and teaching Computer Studies to Forms 3 to Upper Sixth, so basically I teach every student at the high school either Biology or Computers. My Forms 1 and 2 are pretty huge, about 90 students in each class but the other classes aren’t as bad…only about 50 – 60 students. My biggest challenge so far has been disciplining such large classes. I have a few techniques: the stare down until they realize I am looking at them disturbing and finally stop, making the class sit in silence before I let them go at the end of the period, giving a speech about respect (this is the least effective), or sending them out of class or to the discipline master. I used to not want to send them out because they would miss the lesson and get behind and would have to do manual labor from the discipline master, but the more they disrupt the class, the less sympathy I have for them. I am getting better at controlling the class and now that they know I will send them out if I have to, they are behaving better (sort of…).
The other problem has been the lack of computers. We received 5 new computers a few weeks ago BUT we don’t have a power source big enough for all 5 to work at the same time. So, I still haven’t been able to have practicals. Even if all 5 computers did work, with such large classes, practicals are still going to be difficult. My plan right now is to divide them into small groups and take turns using the computer they are assigned to within these groups…I really have no idea how this is going to work out but it is the best we can do with little resources and so many people. I would like to start working on a project to get more computers and Internet. There is no Internet in my village right now, so if anyone wants to get online, the nearest internet cafĂ© is a 30 minute moto ride away in Menji. This is expensive for most people and so they do not go and have never used the Internet and don’t really know what it is. It is going to be a long process to make this happen – I will need to first of all find a space and a power source to store the computers and make them all run, then find the funds to buy more computers and the devices needed for Internet capability. There are ways to do this and I will look into it…I’ll keep you posted.
Other than teaching, I have been meeting a lot of people in the community and attending various events around the village. I have been to 2 funerals so far. Funerals here are a big deal and everyone in the village attends them. There is lots of food, music, and dancing…it is really more of a big party than a somber event. They always kill a pig and cook it and there is always lots of fufu (my favorite…). The pork meat is actually really delicious and I like eating it whenever I can get it. There are specific dances that people do and I’ve asked what the meaning is behind them but no one has given me a very clear answer besides “oh, this is just a dance that is done at funerals.” During these dances, there are sometimes people dressed up in costumes. One of the costumes is made from shreds of bamboo trees and when the guy is dressed up in it, he kind of looks like Chewbaca. He dances around with this big pole for about 5 minutes then goes on his way, only to reappear again every couple of dances. There are also some people that wear huge masks made from wood that dance around. The last funeral I went to, I got to sit with the chiefs and they all say I am a chief now so I guess I am rising up in society, haha.
It is kind of strange not being in America right now. First, not being in America during the election was a little heartbreaking. I wish I could have been there when everyone found out Obama was our new president. (I found out by myself late during the night through text message…not very exciting) Although, everyone here knows of him and were really happy that he won. One of the other teachers at the high school even has an Obama watch which he loves to show me. Also with the holidays coming up, it is strange to not be with family and friends. Halloween was pretty uneventful. No one here knows of it and when I described that on that day kids dress up in costumes and go around to people’s houses asking for candy, they looked at me like I was crazy. Then comes Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are definitely going to be different. Christmas should be fun because it will be after In Service Training and I will hopefully be able to see a lot of other volunteers. I am just going to miss the pumpkin pie, Christmas lights and eggnog…

I am going to end this post with a series of awkward moments I have experienced in Cameroon:
1) Accidentally locking myself in the classroom with the students – I closed the door because the class next door was being too loud and didn’t realized that it would lock after I did that and I didn’t have a key. So, naturally a few kids maneuvered the lock with their machetes and opened it after about 5 minutes of unstoppable laughter and excitement.
2) Having freckles – One of my fellow teachers looked at my arm with a concerned expression and asked if I was having an allergic reaction to the climate here…
3) How do you feel about marrying a Cameroonian? – I get asked this question a minimum of 3 times a week.
4) My veterinarian storing the medicine for my cat in the base of a banana tree to keep it cool because I don’t have a fridge.
(P.S. My cat got into a fight and then the wounds got infected and she hung on for about a week, but then passed away…R.I.P Lola)
5) Bargaining with sweet (not) old ladies at the market who are trying to charge me 500 CFA for a pineapple when it should only be 200 because they don’t think I know how much they cost. I’m getting quite good at negotiating…
6) The old man who keeps coming to my door and asking for money to buy whiskey sachets.
7) Whenever a student asks to go ease themselves. (This is how they ask to go to the bathroom…but there isn’t a bathroom)

Love and miss all of you beaucoup!