Friday, May 25, 2012

Welcome Little Aissatou Andrea

                   Mother Didi, me, lil Andrea born May 12th, 2012 at 7:45pm (Cameroon time)
                                                        Tiny Little Fingers.  :-)
                       Best friend Samira, Inna (aunt of Didi and Samira), me, Didi

On Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 7:45pm (Cameroon) my namesake,  little Aissatou Andrea was brought into this world.  I didn't get the text message till the next day from my friend.  I was like a little kid in a candy store; feeling estatic.  After a 5 1/2 hour rocky bus ride back to my village, I dropped my baggage at my house; dirty and not showered, got on a moto and high-tailed it to my friend's house.  I fell in love on the spot. 
    They had the baptism the following weekend, a lot of people came at 7am in the morning (Muslim tradition) and ate rice. 
     Out of all my experience, having a little child named after me reflects the crossing of cultural borders and pre-conceived prejudices...Even though I'm culturally different, different views/life path, this act is amazing.
     Walking into the bedroom to see the newborn for the first time was one of the best moments of my service, nothing but genuwine feelings.  Moreover, if you have to ask, this is one of those that sums up my experience, and made it worth while, every last of it.  :-)  I was nothing but smiles.   I think that's Peace Corps.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

~Winding down~

In a few months I’ll be COSing (meaning I will be on a plane back to the USA). As my time winds down, finishing up teaching, and closing friendships made while here, I’ve reflected a lot. I’m going to miss certain things of my two year (epic) adventure:

- The life of another culture and what is important to them.

- Going to a person’s house and them insisting on me meeting their entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents). They are happy that I came to visit.

- Riding on a moto (with helmet) on dirt roads in the bush (it’s scary, but exhilarating!)

- Being appreciated by students and community members who acknowledge the sacrifice we make to come from what we know to embrace theirs

- The down-time to read a multitude of books!

- Wearing outlandish, mismatching clothes, (Pagne)

- Having a good laugh with someone we perceive as different (skin color, religion, culture, beliefs). No, we are the same; body, soul, desires, emotions, we’re human.

- And last, but not least- of all the ill-feelings from time to time, lessons learned, difficult situations, reality that hurts…

... it has not killed me, however, only made me stronger. And for that, I’m grateful. Hasta luego todos.

Particular to Cameroon

The Existence of Corruption (in Cameroon)

- The mayor of my town only has a primary education. His rich brother paid 300,000CFA ($600) to certain to vote for the current mayor.

- Gendarmes collect 500CFA ($1) by cars, trucks or motos who pass them en brousse (the road). A gendarme bought my old post-mate’s laptop with money received as bribes.

- Nurses at hospital charge more for a consultation to poor pregnant women than the standard price.

- Our school has three old desktops- two at the school collecting dust (no electricity at my institution), the third at principal’s house for personal use…

- A woman pockets money from sales and whatever is leftover, she gives to farmers. (The farmers don’t get the actual profits.)

- Belel had no electricity for almost a year because the mayor used the money for petrol for town generator to buy himself a second car (plausible and I wouldn’t put it past him)

That’s only to name a few contexts, and what I’ve seen. Cheers!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In My Element

My favorite.  Gorko am. (My husband) in Fulfulde

Getting hair braided and Sheefa.  Vodee

With Adama- Who Braided my hair

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lack of Constructive Thinking

There is a huge manqué de penser avec raison.  From the time they enter into school, these kids are drilled to memorize; to act as a robot in replying.  When I ask, “What is your name?” “My name’s so-and-so.” Never, “It’s… I’m called…” or just the plain name.  Also, “How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you.  Is the response.  These questions are like triggers, for example when you type and spell-check recognizes an error it automatically corrects the misspelling to the right way.  Automatic, programmed. 
            Even when I ask questions in class, they can’t give a reason, why? They just jot down what they previously heard.  They really can’t think for themselves.  (I’m zooming in the humdrums of the Lycee de Belel).  For example, who is your idol, I write on the board.  I give examples; my idol is Barrack Obama because he’s the first African-American president.  They repeat exactly what I wrote on the board… or Nelson Mandela… because… then respond en français. They need some notes to help them.  (That goes into another story).
            The other sad thing, I’m teaching two foreign languages.  I feel so bad, I have to speak in FRENCH almost the majority of the time so that the students are able to understand the theory behind why a certain grammar point is the way it is… another example of backwards society en brousse.
            There is virtually no imagination, no creativity among my students.  There are the selective few.  However, imagination ceases to exist here.  All they know is eat, sleep, shit, the ways to be self-sufficient.  Most families have farms. 
The running concept here is that the teacher is always right.  The Cameroon teachers dictate with really no explanation; there is no challenge from students as to why or why not?  (This is from my own experience in Belel.  It could be similar or different with other TEFL volunteers). 
Then those little brats make fun of señora/madame because I can’t pronounce something right in French/ write incorrectly on the board.  I’m not perfect.  I throw it right back in their faces, if you’re so smart tell me, explain this grammar point.  Teaching teenagers has hardened me.  It’s a double-edged sword- you have to be tough and a bitch for them to eventually respect you… or they’ll walk all over you if you laugh with them.  I learned the hard way.
The best way to get at a student is humiliation.  I make them stand up and pronounce an English or Spanish word and sound it out.  The others snicker; until I point out another kid and then he eventually shuts up because he can’t pronounce the word either.  Ha.  I don’t mean to sound sour, it can be amusingly sadistic…
Hasta luego todos! :0)

Currency Comparison

I thought of an interesting blog: money comparison between the US and Cameroon.  Cameroon uses the western and Central African currency CFA.  Forget about checks, credit or debit cards.  Here in good ‘ole Cameroon is the cash system.  Towards the bigger cities, it is possible to use credit cards in, say, a grocery store (French one in Yaoundé).  However, I wouldn’t trust it. 
The Cameroon currency is made up of 10,000 CFA (20 bucks) 5,000 (10 bucks) 2,000; 1,000 and 500 ($1) respectively.  The coins are in 500; 100; 50; 10; and 5.  100CFA would probably be 20 cents.  With 100 CFA, I can get one bunch of carrots, a taz of tomatoes, 3 bananas (big ones), a medium sized green pepper, and small bag (sandwich bag size) of sugar to just give a few examples.  For $1 I can get a dinner meal (Spaghetti with a red sauce). 
·       Rent is 25,000 a month ($50) for a kitchen, latrine, salon, bedroom, and a bedroom/storage room. (About  ¾ the size of the upstairs of my parents’ house)
·       To buy a pange: 5,000- ($10) and to have it made: 3,000 ($6) is quite the deal, but also can be expensive if you consistently get dresses and outfits made.
·         A .5 liter of coke is $1, for a can of Pepsi found in the bigger cities is about 2 mil ($4).
·       For good Cameroon food found in the Muslim country, $3 can get you French fries, and Philly style steak (a lot of Maggi and vegetable oil).
·       To get from my post to Ngaoundere where we have our regional house for the Adamawa province: where one can access internet, have running water, and more constant electricity, is 1,800 (rounded to $4).  However, that’s for 4-6 hours of unpaved road, stopping for prayer hour and picking up others along the way….
·       If you want a wagon lit its 25,000 CFA one way.  Round trip: ($100) that’s an expensive round trip!! Luckily I don’t go down much to the capital Yaoundé.
·        Our monthly stipend is 175,000CFA.  Yearly we poor PCV’s make about $3300.  And some want to start at a $40,000 job in the USA.  Well, I’m pobre.

Well, that’s about all I can think of right now.  Being in Cameroon almost a year and half, I’ve come out of touch with the realities of expensiveness state-side and even Europe.  Á bientôt. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

At The End of The Day

It's been awhile. In a few days Cameroon will have its 2011 presidential elections, however, that doesn't mean much to anyone really outside Cameroon. Will have an update about that in a month... Frankly, at my post en brouuse, no one really cares. My friend's mother said she is not voting, "Voting is for the youth, not old people like me." She's about forty. ...For the next couple weeks we are going on "Standfast" which means volunteers are not allowed to leave their post. Taking precautions if something terrible goes down. There are people see flyers all about the town. I find it funny the current president has his photo with the slogan "The People's Choice" and his picture of him is in his late 50's. He's currently in his mid 80's presumably.

Just the other day I became engraged with my 8th grade students (beginner spanish). It's a class of two hours, and half way through they gonged (the school bell) and the students started exalting, "Senora, je suis fatigue, c'est la pause". No, it is not the pause I bellowed back. It's just the change of classes for others. There was chatter and laugther by some. I became so fed-up I told one of my trusted students, "Watch my things!" I stormed right out of the classrom to the principa'ls office up the hill across the route en terre my feet dusted with red. I said, "Right now I need help." As all Cameroonians, they walk slowwww. We finally made it to the classroom of apprehensive teenagers with the look of undeniable fear.

With the deity of the school there, I had the class around my finger. I yelled in my broken Cameroon French (a joke for the actual French poeple) and yelled, "I don't understand. You know me. Education is not a joke. You come here and joke around waisting your time. Its sad!. You are lucky to be here, getting some type of education in this poor country in Africa. There are others who can't even scrounge enough money for food and you're here joking that everything is joyous." I continued to scream and highlight the fact they are lucky, out of the poorest continent on the planet they laugh at the joke of an education, cliche as it is, is their only hope, corruption aside, foreign aid. I finished, "Le future du Cameroon ici qui blague, je suis desolee." After I started to kick students out and will minus one point on their exam next week. Don't come if you don't want to, there's the door, it's your choice and your problem ultimately. My philosophy. Take it or leave it.

Finally, to be a happy 2nd year volunteer, it's what matters at the end of the day right? So irritated by apathetic enthusiam for anything, in the evening I drifted to my student's house, the one who gives me hope. I chatted with the mother in broken fufulde and French and with the sister. I smiled, ate some Cameroon mint (not too bad) and went home rejuvinated. It's the small things that make it worthwhile here and keep me sane in a backwards society