One day, I went to go fetch water from the well just outside my compound. This is part of my daily routine and I use the water to bathe, fill my water filter, and wash my clothes, dishes, and floors. Once it’s dirty I use it to flush my toilet. It’s a pretty efficient system. Except on this day, I hoisted up the bucket by the rope tied to the handle as I had countless times before and pulled up only a handle. The bucket remained filled with precious life-giving water 5 meters down a well.
In many ways this is a metaphor for my time in Cameroon. Just when I think I have a handle of things, in this case I literally had a handle, something unexpected happens to disturb me. Trying to be positive though so I won’t go into the unending list of things that don’t work the way they ought to.
After those moments, or days, it’s helpful to focus on the little things. Whether it’s a morning spent with coffee and crosswords, an impromptu play session with the rag tag band of toddlers (my stash of balloons has brought us a tentative peace), women cheering me on when I yell at men yelling at me, or a man asking me to help feed his children and then turning around and buying me some avocados when I told him I had nothing to give. Maybe I have a rare successful activity in my classroom (it’s probably 1.5 out of every attempted 6) where I get to see my kids engaged, collaborating, and expressing creativity. Sometimes it’s just watching my cat play in the grass outside my home. All these things make me appreciate my village and the opportunity I have to live here in Cameroon.
When I started this journey I honestly had no idea what I was signing up for. I romanticized the idea of teaching, imagining a classroom of kids who would start out nonchalant and uninterested but as we formed a more personal connection would break out of their shells of indifference and apply themselves, wowing me with their academic growth (thanks a lot Freedom Writers). I imagined a kind of spiritual renaissance. Living a simple life, my free time would be devoted to the pursuit of literature, music, and art. I could ponder the bigger questions of life with my neighbors while watching a heard of elephants disappear into the setting sun. Okay maybe I wasn’t that naïve but I’m still holding out for the elephants.
Like volunteers before me, I often wonder if my being here serves a purpose. It’s taken the better part of a year to strip away all the big projects I dreamed of and to realize that my service here won’t be defined by a new library or science fair but rather the culmination of interactions I have with my students and neighbors. Hopefully, I can help one teacher figure out that they aren’t chained to writing notes on the board or help one student pass their national exam. Who knows if the projects I’ve done will continue to play an active role in the community in a few years time? But I would bet you 500 CFAs worth of baton grille that my students and my neighbors will remember me.
FOMO is oh so real and as hard as it is missing out on weddings and birthdays and holidays I also consider myself lucky. Not everyone has the chance to travel and learn about themselves outside of who society tells them to be. To be frank, not everyone has the chance to make it to their 22nd birthday. So I count each day as a blessing and look forward to the surprises it has in store. Having another year (technically 15 months but who’s counting) to go is a daunting prospect, but it also provides a much-needed chance for me to improve. To try more new things and drink in more life experiences here. To grow.
Really in the grand scheme of things what difference does it make when I lose my bucket down a well? I’m fortunate enough to have a community who will go down the well and get my bucket.
Here are some of my fav pics from the year: