Monday, June 25, 2012

Omelet Sandwiches

It's Friday night and I am in the nearby town of Mora with a couple other volunteers. We are helping my friend Liz move out of her house the next morning and have just finished a week-long camp for her primary school girls. We are all exhausted, and some of us are sick and lying on mattresses on the floor. Claire and I volunteer to make a run into the market to pick up omelet sandwiches for dinner.

It's light when we leave, but is starting to get dark by the time we arrive at the market. The power has gone out, and by the time we find an omelet stand, most of the light is coming from motorcycle headlights driving by. We ask if we can order omelets, and the man at the table says yes, but there are no eggs. Can someone go get eggs? Yes. Is there spaghetti (a standard component of a Cameroonian omelet)? No. We give up on the spaghetti, take a seat, and order a glass of hot, sweet tea while we wait for the eggs to arrive.

There are a few other men sitting around the table, drinking tea or having dinner. As Claire and I converse, the man next to us starts listening in. British or American? He asks us in English. It turns out his name is John, and he is from the southwest, an anglophone region. He has just arrived in Mora a few months ago, and seems relieved to find others with whom he can speak English. He has a job doing some kind of environmental protection, and speaks passionately about how Cameroonians need to care more for their environment. I try to quash the bitter part of me that wonders how much of his words will actually turn into action. My phone dings, and I have a text from the others at the house that says, “Where are you? Also, bring toilet paper!!”

The eggs arrive, but now there is no gas for the little stove. Our chef borrows some coals from someone cooking nearby, and starts fanning them vigorously with a plastic plate. As they heat up, someone comes over with a bucket of spaghetti, and it is added to the omelets. Claire shines the flashlight on her phone over the fire to help the cook. It turns out it takes a long time for an omelet to cook over a fire.

After two hours, all of the omelets have been finished, covered in mayonnaise, and stuffed into baguettes. My phone rings, and it's Emily at the house. Are we still alive? Also, can we please not forget the toilet paper? We pay and thank the cook and say goodnight to John. We dodge motos in the dark as we cross the street and pick up a roll of toilet paper. A man outside the boutique shouts “hee haw” at us – a Cameroonian interpretation of a Chinese greeting, and their favorite way to harass Chinese people. Claire and I are both blonde.

We find a motorcycle to take us home, as we don't want to walk home in the dark. A crowd gathers to watch us climb on, and people start shouting “Sarkozy” at us. Apparently now we are French. The moto is large enough to carry both of us and the driver, but has a mysterious number of pedals. Claire's feet end up underneath the feet of our driver, and my feet are balanced precariously on pedals of different heights. As we leave the market, the lights suddenly turn back on.

We pull up at Liz's and give a couple coins to our driver. As we walk successfully back into the house, Claire and I agree that buying dinner in Cameroon is a whole lot more interesting than going through the drive-thru.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Greatest Hits: Year Two

Here one more time is a list of the funniest things my students have written this year. A disclaimer: I might feel guilty about poking a little fun at my students, if I didn't know how much entertainment they got out of the equally ridiculous things I say in French/Fulfulde/Mandara.

Responses to an assignment to write 10 sentences using the word "If":
"If I had eaten my foot, I would have been hungry."
"If you lie to your father, he will bite you."

On unemployment in Cameroon:
"Many efforts are being made to dehydrate this problem."

Describe a wedding you have attended.
"Last week in my village there was a wedding of my neighbours. At night young boys and girls was dancing hands in hands and heads with heads. My friend girl was waiting for me to dance but me I was absent because I was lerning my leson to success the first sequence."

Conclusion to an essay on a person you admire:
"Finally Eto'o is very shine as Lord he is popular with the showers."

Why are careers in music difficult to achieve?
"-difficult to achieve
-little security
-many thieves, adulterers"

Is it better to live in the city or the village?
"It is better to live in the city, because the city no have sorcerors."
"You see many pretty girls which you like."

What causes a student to lose interest in a subject?
"The consommation of the substance toxique."

Why didn't the English originally like soccer?
"Because King of Scotland stabbing anyone who didn't approve his decision."

What job would you like to have after you finish school?
"My job I would like to have when I finish school are: I reding a boobs, I do my homework, I slept after I wach. After of the toilet, I eat my food and I rerede my lesson. At 20:00 I slept."
(I was looking more for something like "teacher" or "doctor", but I guess this works too)

Where did Oscar work?
"Oscar didn't French Wilma."

Write a letter to your parents, telling them how you feel about your arranged marriage.
"Please let me pass my Bac first, and then I will marry. I cannot put cats in front of horse."

What are the advantages of science?
"Science enable for your field that you study your soil, then you give a feces to improve your soil."

The last exams have been graded and report cards filled out, and now I am just leading a few night classes to prepare kids for the national exams they will take next month to determine if they get to graduate or move up a year. Saying goodbye is bittersweet -- I am very much looking forward to returning home in July, but at the end of two years there will be a lot of difficult goodbyes. My English Club president (who has been one of my best students for two years now) has taken to stopping by my house a couple times a week, just to say hello. He says, in English, that he wants to spend as much time with me as possible before I return to America. I think I worried a lot (especially my first year) about whether or not I was accomplishing anything, or if I would leave with a bitter taste in my mouth. There definitely continue to be ups and downs here, but in general the things that bothered me the most have become funny stories, and when I walk around the village and think about the work I've done, I feel like I have definitely made a difference -- at the very least with individuals (like my English Club president), even if I cannot necessarily see the progress made at a larger level.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to a few more weeks of weird, wonderful adventures...and then to seeing everyone at home (and eating a lot of delicious food).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Environmental Camp

Last weekend I went to the nearby village of Meri to help with a Peace Corps Environmental Camp. Some volunteers in the anglophone regions in the south started developing sessions to teach kids about their environment, and the project has since expanded to the north, where we are translating the sessions into French and adapting them for the desert rather than the jungle. The hope is that eventually we will have a toolkit of sessions anyone can use, so if a volunteer wants to host something like this, they don't have to start from scratch but can pull off the lessons and activities volunteers before them have developed, tried out, and modified. Meri is a small town in the mountains a couple of hours away from my village. We had about forty sixth graders come to the day-long camp, between the ages of about 10 and 15. There were around ten Peace Corps volunteers there too, which meant we had a lot of resources to wrangle kids and a lot of energy to keep them interested. The kids were split into three teams (the Champions, the Lions, and the Pharaohs), given different colored headbands and a team leader, and earned points every time they correctly answered a question. Volunteers led sessions on land, water, air, food security, and fauna. We talked about desertification, pollution, purifying water, and endangered animals. A lot of the subjects were completely foreign to the kids, even though they dealt with things happening all around them every day.

 Perhaps the most exciting part of the camp involved the numerous activities that we did, beginning with a recycling activity where kids strung together bottle caps to make what we had intended to be a neat snake toy to drag around on the ground. The kids rapidly figured out, however, that it doubled as a noisemaker and also as a nunchuck to whip each other with. I guess we did accomplish our goal, though, of showing kids how to reuse an everyday object in a new and exciting way. A couple of girls asked me as I was walking around with a giant bag of bottle caps where they had all come from. They were astounded when I told them they came off the ground in their own village.

Another excellent activity involved handing three unsuspecting students each a glass of water. All three glasses looked the same, but one secretly had sugar in it, and another salt. A lot of spitting, throwing water, and fighting over who got to chug the sugar water ensued...but I think they also learned a lesson about how water that looks clean may not necessarily really be clean.

It was a learning experience for us volunteers, too. A lot of the questions we asked the kids elicited answers that we did not expect. For example, while talking about climate change, a volunteer asked what will happen if the Earth keeps getting hotter. Without missing a beat, a girl raised her hand and said, “All the white people would die because they can't handle the sun.” The volunteer tried to point out that everybody would be effected, and this caused a lot of indignant shouting from the students. “No, the white people would all burn up because their skin isn't strong! It's true!”

I helped teach the session on fauna, where we talked about the difference between domesticated and wild animals, and then endangered and extinct animals. Again, a lot of the answers were pretty surprising. When I asked kids what it meant for an animal to be endangered (in French, en danger), a kid raised his hand and said, “it means that they will try to eat humans.” I explained the difference between endangered and dangerous, then moved on to talking about why animals became endangered. “What are some reasons why people kill animals?” I asked, hoping to talk about bush meat and poaching. “Because the animals attack people!” was the first response.

We eventually got around to talking about some of the other reasons animals become endangered, and then moved on to the difference between being endangered and being extinct. I held up a couple pictures of a T-Rex and a triceratops. “What kind of animals are these?” I asked. “Crocodile!” “Hippopotamus!” shouted the excited kids. Finally a confident hand went up in the back. “Dinosaurs!” A murmur of “ohhhhs” went around the classroom. I continued, “Are there still dinosaurs here today?” There was some confused muttering, and a few nodding heads. Finally one of the more ambitious students called out, “Yes, but only rarely!”

Although there was a fair amount of confusion and hilarity on the part of both the volunteers and the students, by the end of the day we all felt like we had accomplished something. At the beginning of the day, most of the kids could easily describe the water cycle or give a memorized definition of desertification, but by the end of the day I think we had done a lot to make them think more critically about their environment. By asking questions like “where did all these bottle caps come from?” and “what will happen if the world keeps getting hotter?” (we did eventually arrive at a more thorough response than all the white people burning up), we pushed kids past the rote memorization they were used to in their regular schooling to thinking about how to apply the facts they learned to better understand the world they lived in, and maybe even change the way that they lived in it.

One of my favorite moments of the day came when a volunteer asked the students what they could do if they went to a store and bought one small thing, and the storekeeper tried to put it in a plastic bag. The first kid's response: “Ask him for a smaller bag!” Progress...when asked for other ideas, there was a puzzled pause, then finally a lightbulb clicked on for one of the students. “Tell him you don't need one!” Maybe you can just carry that soda home in your hands, instead of wrapping it in one (or multiple) plastic bags that you will later just throw on the ground. Revolutionary!

As many of you may already know, I'm reaching the end of my two years of Peace Corps service and will be returning home at the end of July. As we get closer to leaving, we are all reflecting on what we've accomplished and how much we've changed in our time here. Last weekend, in a new village with new students and a mix of volunteers at all stages of their service, was a nice reminder of that. After two years, us teachers have no problem standing up in front of a group of people, talking about pretty much any subject (English grammar? Endangered animals?) in English or French. We've learned how to get inside the heads of 6th graders, how to present information and pose questions in a certain way so that they will know how to respond. Some of these skills, like public speaking, make me excited to come home and use them in a new context. Other things I've learned here, like speaking Mandara, riding motorcycles, or being able to list ten different wild animals you can eat, are less applicable and make me sad to leave. For the next couple of months, though, I am going to try to enjoy as much as I can the culmination of two years' worth of knowledge and friendships.