Saturday, October 18, 2008

I'm a rural woman!

utoCher e famille,
Greetings from the land of rain and more rain. Not that I mind it, but I guess if I decide to move to Seatle it won’t be much of a transition. Except there are paved roads there so you can actually get from point A to point B with out getting your feet and the back of your dress totally dirty, not htat I’m complaining mind you, I still find all of this adventurous. Give me another couple of months and I’ll start complaining like a real native! So I have some updates for you. This is my 7th or 8th week in Ndelele and I feel as if I’m starting to get the hang of it. This week was exam week, which is sorta the best for a teacher because you just play fun revision games and the kids actually care about learning because they are able to imagine an actual grade they have to give their parents. I’m starting to actually like teaching again, which I find a relief seeing as how I was going to kill someone if things kept going the way they were. My 5eme class which I have now deciphered has 108 students in it is actually my favorite. I know who the trouble makers are and they are the kids who are older and haven’t made it past the class yet, I’ve decided to use shame with them or just to give them some more respect so that they’ll see I recognize they are older but I’m still not going to let them give me crap.
This week was also Rural Women’s week! Talk about awkward. I had this big moo moo (totally not how you spell that) dress made that was pink and had the different plants that the different regions cultivate on it (all fabric or pagne here is totally busy- those crazy Christians on channel 23 would love the flash). It also has pictures of women with babies on their back and working these grinding machines they have here. I felt like a poser because I do not carry babies on my back, I don’t really eat the local plans (because maniac has no nutritional value and is the consistency of snot), and I don’t work in the fields. POSER! Anyway, I still went with Rachel and we ended up having to be in the presentation. We mouthed the songs we were supposed to know and we danced and ended up parading down the street of Ndelele. This was funny because it was a very simple song and I caught on fairly quickly, even though the words were in Koko. Well after a refrain you turn 3 times and bend down and then continue walking. Well when I joined in people started laughing and pointing and getting all around crazy! I guess if you are a crazy white girl and you are actually doing some passable French dance moves its funnyi I guess it’s the same when we hear a non native speaker try to speak English and we think its adorable. Anyway, rural women’s day was a success and people were very exicted to see me in native dress and all day people yelled ‘Bon fete’. The only problem is that I have no women friends in the village because getting to know women is super hard, especially because there aren’t any at the Lycee. For example, today I brought some Papaya to my tailor and her friends (or her husbands other wives, I haven’t figured out how exactly the family is set up) and I passed out the fruit and they continued to talk in kako and it was really awkward until I took some pictures of them and then left. Aww well small steps I guess. I do have one woman friend and she’s Anglophone and the directrice of the Bilingual school.
I started working at the Bilingual school last week and its totally the best thing I do here. I just show up and sing songs. This week we sang about the face and drew a face together. We are working our way down to the torso next week. Who’s excited? The kids are! They are so cute, none of them speak English because this is only the second year of the school and there are only 2 classes. The youngest kids are 4 and the oldest are 7 so it’s a pretty awesome crowd. Some of them only have little chalk boards to write on and I find myself thinking about little house on the prairie when I show up. I hope to increase my time there and start some theater exercises. The teachers give me complete reign of the classroom and anything I want to do (which doesn’t seem very organized, but they are tired and they don’t get a reprieve all day) so I play games and try and throw in some interesting things for them to learn English.
Now for the most frustrating part of this week, we had a ‘debate’ at the school Thursday about discipline. The sous prefet (big guy) came and watched viewed some posters and left, but here’s how the day went. The students stopped their studies at 12 and stood in the hot sun for an hour and a half. They had not gone home to eat yet. Then the sous prefet arrived and they sang the national anthem and then stood in the sun some more while he looked at posters. Then they sat down in the conference class room (which is just a bigger classroom with a tin roof and goat poo everywhere. There were 4 teachers who were giving the points of the debate and everyone was supposed to listen. Well it started raining, crazy loud rain where you couldn’t hear yourself think. We ended up waiting another 30 minutes so it would let up and we could hear the speeches. Then the teachers gave these ridiculous 10 page long speeches where they rambled about discipline and the problems of the school and how the students suck. Well I though this was a very important assembly and it was handled so poorly. The students weren’t listening because they weren’t being talked to they were being talked at. There was no participation or interesting activities or simple activities like asking the students questions. The teachers just droned on and on and on. Wow don’t give some of these guys a stage or you’ll be there to the end of time. So finally the speeches were done after an hour and a half and we opened the floor for questions. At this point it was 30 minutes after the actual school day and the students still hadn’t eaten. The kids asked some questions most of them about how the teachers were disciplined if they didn’t come to school or weren’t prepared or had relationships with the students (these questions made me laugh). I’ll tell you what though, the whole thing was totally frustrating. As someone that helped set up performances for the better part of my life and who understands how to get people interested in a topic, it hurt to watch. Later as the teachers were congratulating themselves I asked me head of department if I could give some suggests for the next time or be involved in the planning. I was obviously passionate about this and he listened to me when I gave some ideas and explained what I think the problems were. Then he condescendingly told me he would take my thoughts nto consideration and that they didn’t have a lot of time to plan and this is just how they do things here.
This is not what you tell a riled up volunteer that is here to make change, so now I’m determined to help the students. I have talked to 3 teachers about my thoughts so far and most people agree with me so I’m hoping I can change the program for the next time, if not to spare the students at least to make it worth their wile. The language thing is starting to get annoying though, because when I become passionate I am the worst at speaking in another language and it’s a lot easier to condesend me, and how I hate condescension! Anyway, I’m happy to report that I understood almost everything said during the debate and I no longer just nod my head to agree with people because I actually know what they are saying. All I need now is to be able to respond in kind.
Love you all, thanks for reading this, I know they tend to be long and ranty! Miss you all and love you.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fete- Africa Style


Today is teacher appreciation day and it is a big deal in Ndelele. I don’t know why it’s a Sunday but not a lot of what they do here makes sense. So this morning we started the day with a ‘Marathon’ at least that’s how it was explained to me. All of the teachers were to meet at 6am at ‘the meeting place” yes, there is actually a place called the meeting place and people meet there even though it sorta in the middle of nowhere. Well I’m not a big one for completive running but I wanted to be part of the gang and at least represent the women seeing as how I’m the only female teacher. I was also quite inspired by miss Maryann Green and all of her running (if you are reading this I hope you are doing well and kickin some butt). So last night I have all of these dreams about running, and in one I’m stealing Tyler’s running shorts and Ethan’s shirt that is supposed turn your sweat to a cooling system or whatever- the ones he got from working at U of A. Anyway I’m all hyped and I get up at 5:30 and do some stretches and run to ‘the meeting place” and of course, as Cameroon will do, no one was there. I don’t know why I thought this would be different, maybe because it was a race and I didn’t want to miss the start. Anyway I stay there for about 30 minutes and the Chef shows up and then slowly a couple people come. After an hour and a half the proviseur (principal- I will call him proviseur from now on so keep up) he shows up on a Moto (of course he wouldn’t walk, or even run!) and he gets all upset because there are festivities all day and we need to be on time and where is everyone. I was glad he was as impatient as I was. Finally he calls a bunch of people, and my friend who has just come to say ‘go’ and write down who won, gets yelled at for not participating and has to run in a sweater and sandals. So it ends up that there are just 4 people running and it’s not a marathon, we are just running about a mile around the village (that’s how big the village is). We have a couple of media people there (but they are at everything and they know when the Chef coughs or sneezes because its probably news). The race starts and we run behind some guy on a moto who is blowing a whistle- I guess this was so that people would make way for us. 3 of us are jogging together pretty nicely but when we hit the last stretch, which is of course up hill they put the fire on and start running very fast. I’m proud of myself for not stopping, not being winded, and pacing my breathing, anyway I’m not that competitive. But then my friend with the sandals and sweater starts to gain on me and I have to leave him in the dust as I cross the finish line (which they have written in chalk on the dirt). I came in 3rd of 4 and 1st of the women, but I was the only woman so I guess I can’t be that proud. I also got interviewed and was very political by giving my comrades props and saying, “they challenge me in sports as well as in the classroom to be the best I can be.” People will love this!
Later there will be a parade where everyone is supposed to wear the same teacher’s day fabric (but it didn’t get sent to Ndelele so that won’t happen) Anyway if you know me you know I’m not into matching people (I made fun of ethan a lot when I heard him and Becky wore matching Easter clothes)- but any time I cannot stand out here is good! After the parade we will go to the stadium and there will be a football match and a handball match. I hope not ot have to play football because they are so serious about it here and I’m horrible, also I have twisted my ankle a couple of times and its starting to get pretty swollen. After that there will be a ‘balle” yeah that’s right, another name for fete is ball- like Cinderella. But really there will just be food and drinks and the party should last all night long. I asked about school the next day and my friend said that the proviseur will just change the start of school- he can do that, he’s the chef.
I find it very funny that the people here told me at that the fete would have a lot of Castel beer and legumes (veggies) I didn’t realize everyone knew my beer preference and that I’m a vegetarian! It’s pretty funny, but as long as I’m not eating monkey and drinking a cold beer the night seems like It’ll be really fun, maybe I’ll break out some of my famous dance moves. Sometimes I like to decide what beers my family would like the most here, I think dad would like Castel and ethan would like 33 and mom, she would hate them all, and chiggie would go for a Beauforts light, Tyler would hate them all but drink Fanta or Pomplemouse (grapefruit soda)or Grenadine (red soda) with wisky- you should come to Cameroon and see if I’m right! I love you all and miss you!

Continuation of the Fete of the Teachers!
So I ended up not going to the parade because the leader of it was supposed to call the white people and tell us that it had started, but he forgot to call and I had to lay low because my proviseur was a little upset- but it was a fete so no one really cares that much, and my friend Mattie from Batouri was in town so we had him as an excuse too. We then went to the dance party and here are my impressions:
First of all, I think it was Jane Austin meets Africa. Its very interesting because there is strict protocol here for everything. When the ‘grandes’ or people who have important positions in society arrive you have to greet them a certain way and say certain things. Well because we were at party and there were grandes around they invite the important people up to ‘open the dancing’. Of course because I am one of only about 8 women at the fete and I’m the new white woman they choose me as one of the couples. Turns out I am introduced last with the sous prefet- who is the big cheese in my village. He’s the top dog, and technically this means I’m the most important woman at the party- no pressure. Then we do some awkward slow dancing to some saxophone jazzy versions of bad r and b songs. Turns out the ‘opening of the dance’ is only about 30 seconds which suits me fine. At least I didn’t fall on my butt!

So next we are all served a round of beers and people get up and cut a rug. Now let me just say I expect everyone to be great dancers, but even the best dancer can not be brilliant for the 8 minute Cameroonian song. (do you know how long 8 minutes is when you are dancing?) The music here is like a mixture of a Salsa type and African drums. Its really easy to dance to and they are minimal on movement. Even the worst dancers would do great here because it doesn’t really take any skill.

Well, I hate to say it but this is sorta the first time I’ve been on stage in a while (because everyone is watching the white woman to see how she dances) so I am hamming it up. The best dancer there keeps stealing me from my partner and we are doing all these crazy turns and shimmying down and stuff. I guess lots of people formed a circle around us as we were dancing. It was really fun and really tiring but I totally loved it. This is where the Jane Austin stuff starts though. I get asked to dance and led out to dance by a number of my colleagues from the Lycee including the Proviseur. It was one of those- wait how many times has the white girl danced with so and so and does that mean she’s interested in so and so. I guess everyone was keeping tabs on my dance card. One guy in particular who has been paying a little of attention to me tried to dominate my dance card but I gave him a lecture on how American woman are independent and can handles themselves and I went and asked some new people to dance. Anyway, what ensued was a sort of pissing contest between a lot of my admirers in ndelele and it made me a little angry. I was there to have fun and people were more interested and showing off that they were dancing with the white woman instead of dancing with Elyse. It’s not very fun to be a symbol of something instead of a person. But, either way the night ended up fun and I defused a lot of the situations by hanging out with the happily married men and women or talking to the men that are old enough to be my grandfather and have no teeth. I wish there was a way to go on the radio and say “I’m not here for romance people so move along” Anyway love you all and miss you!


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rambly mc rambleson

Just another Wednesday in Africa,
Today was a very good day. I woke up feeling not up to the craziness of teaching, because yesterday was the end of Ramadan and we got a day off (though I realized this after meeting some people in the market who were confused why I was dressed up for work). Its nice to have a surprise day off but it really screws up your week and your mindset. The next day to work is always a bummer. But yesterday I spoke with the two Anglophone teachers at their house and they seem very interested in my help and my ideas, though I think I overwhelmed them because I throw so much at them at once, they seemed a little confused. I guess if you are Anglophone it doesn’t mean you can understand American English, I guess it’s the same with me when I try to understand Cameroonian English- its very funny.
However, today my students were angels. I’m not sure if someone scared the life out of them or what happened but they were great. They were interested in the lesson and I varied the lesson and they were understanding things and motivated it felt like teaching mattered again. Then I taught an hour early in my 4eme class because they don’t have a professor before me and I used the idea of getting out of school early to make them behave. This lesson was productive but we are already totally behind. I also taught the kids how to do the I-love- you sign language and they keep doing it to me and I think they are raising their hands, its very annoying. But what can you do?
Something very interesting happened today though. I was out for my run- which was incredibly brutal because its been terribly hot all day- there’s nothing like Africa with no air conditioning, tin- roofs, and no air-flow to get you sweating! Anyway, I’m running down a particularly rural road which I run down often and this woman stops and starts doing this interesting hand gesture to me and muttering lot, so I take out my ear phones as I’m running past her and say Bon Soir, and she continues in sorta a daze and looks as if she is either blessing me, protecting herself from the white woman, or sending me courage and health on my run. She didn’t seem upset or scared so this leads me to believe that I’ve been blessed today, literally, which is sorta cool.
I’m sorta mad though because now as I’ve been running more my knees and my ankles are killing me, is my young body not as awesome as it used to be? C’est vrai!
So I’ve started using a new tactic in my English classes, I’ve started using a lot more French. I find that the kids are behaving themselves and very happy with me because I’ve relented, maybe we’ll get somewhere now.
Also, tonight my neighbor who I made tortillas pb and j sandwiches and popcorn for came over and gave me dinner- legumes (mixture of vegetables that has an interesting taste to it and looks like its made of grass) and plantains (these can taste like potatoes if boiled, sweet French fries if fried, and a mixture between a banana and potato of heated and that’s my favorite way and that’s how he made htem. It’s pretty exciting to not have to cook one night, but now I have to eat the veggies I bought this morning for breakfast or they’ll go bad. Anyway, this post is really random, I’m watching diamonds are forever as I type- Connery is a bit old in this movie- but at least they aren’t dressing him like an Asian.

Lov eyou all
Thanks for the emails from everyone- elyse