Peaks and Valleys

School has been in session for about a month now. I hadn’t planned on having many more “first days of school” post grad but there I was Monday morning as nervous as I had ever been. My school is at the top of a very very very large hill. So not only was I nervous sweaty I was also “I’m-from-Florida-and-we-don’t-have-hills-who-put-this-school-on-a-small-mountain” sweaty. I got to school about 7:20, 10 minutes before our general assembly was due to start, and there was not a child in sight. In fact there was only one other teacher in sight, who saw how sweaty I was and insisted I sit down and rest. In true Cameroonian fashion, we started about an hour late giving me a full 10 minutes of first period after I fell down a hill in front of all my students. Thankfully, the rest of the day went pretty smoothly after that. My kids are starting to get used to their crazy American teacher who makes them run around to understand the difference between speed and velocity (although they still don’t seem to understand) or gives them different things to hold to understand the concept of mass.  

I’m feeling more a part of the community here as well. The other week I had the privilege of going to a dueil, a part of the funeral process here in Cameroon.  A dueil celebrates the life of the person who had passed away with traditional singing and dancing and of course food and drinks. The woman who had passed away was still fairly young and was well connected in the community. Her dueil lasted several nights with most of the village in attendance. The night I went was also the night we lost power. It was a surreal feeling to be sitting in the dark surrounded by the beautiful voices these women were lifting up to remember their friend. It was also touching to see how the community focused not only on the grief of losing someone but also the joy of having known them. 

It’s really easy here to be alone. It’s easy to let yourself wallow because you didn’t eat any vegetables that day and you haven’t had enough water to shower since the weekend. Or to want to shut yourself up in your home where you’re safe because two drunk guys aggressively came on to you while you were loudly shouting no or  “ne touche pas” in their faces. Or because you’re overwhelmed from a miscommunication with some of your community members and they’ve signed you up to be lead of a project that you’re not sure actually exists. Those are the lows, the valleys. It’s easy to get caught up in them and wonder how you’re ever going to survive the next 23 months. But then something else will come along. A cute little girl showing you how high she can count while skipping over a few choice numbers or a woman giving you a gift just because or even a conversation with someone you miss. The times that give you the peace of mind to say “wow. It’s already been 4 months?” Those are the peaks that give you the strength for the next time you find yourself at the bottom of a large hill.

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Model School

I was trying to post every 2 weeks but things have been so swamped lately I haven’t had the time/sanity to write one. Here’s what you missed: 

As an education volunteer, we spend 5 weeks of training working in model school. This is essentially a summer camp for students which is exactly like real school. The science teachers spend the mornings teaching a mix of math, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science while the English volunteers teach the different levels of the francophone section. A select few teach both, and by select I mean most of us didn’t sign up to teach both and someone else made us. Once a week the children are forced to participate in club activities ranging from football (soccer) club to philosophy club, also run by trainees. 

Through model school we’ve gained a lot of insight into the Cameroonian school system. At our only pta meeting a mother used us to verify the alibi of her child. Cheating is rampant, so is corporal punishment, and there’s a section for manual labor in the report cards. I help run the music/theatre club with two other volunteers (tbh it’s mostly them sorry guys) and everything is fun and games until the student improving as teacher pretends to start beating the students. 

There are also the two separate school systems to consider. The anglophone system and the francophone system function very differently from each other. The grade levels are different, the curriculums different, and the exams are different. Take the differences between these two systems and blow it up to the scale of different languages and even law systems in the same country and you can begin to imagine the kind of political conflicts that might arise. 

So far I’ve learned: 1) children are monsters 2) language barriers come in hard with test instructions. My test averages have been about 6/20. Oops. Through model school we start learning how to prepare our lessons and manage our classrooms on top of keeping up with our language(s), our technical training sessions, figuring out how to survive in Cameroon, and whatever else our staffers decide to throw at us. 

In other news, I’ve gone from knowing no french to being able to understand and communicate (most of the time) with strangers. I’ve washed everything I own by hand out of a bucket from my bed sheets to the soles and laces of my shoes, mom insisted. I managed to help prepare and cook a meal which took approximately 7 hours. No, that’s not an exaggeration. And finally, I managed to navigate through my first holiday and birthday overseas. If you’re not tired after reading this post I’d like you to know my mattress sucks and I’m frequently terrorized at night by mice. 

As excited as I am to finish training (understatement), I know I’m going to miss my host family and the comfort of having 25 other Americans living in the same town as me. But for now, all signs point to swearing in.