le 31 Jan. 06
I’ve forgotten the use of weekends. Not for sleeping in - Saturday, marché at 6:30 am - if I’m actually motivated enough to go - and Sunday, up early for laundry and then making the rounds of the churches to meet the community. Slowly. I don’t go to the hospital as early on the weekend. But Friday night, Saturday night are the same as any other night - in by 6:30, BBC for the news and World Have your Say, dishes, making dinner, reading, writing a few letters. Maybe some home improvement work - I’m a big fan of my hammer. Fighting with the light fixture in my bedroom - the light stays on for 5 to 30 minutes, max. Then turns off. I’ve tried everything - changed the fixture, changed the bulb, cut, reworked, and reattached and tightened the wires; reshaped the metal attachment with pliers. And lots and lots of duct tape. Only once have I electrocuted myself in the weeks of working on it - I consider this a stroke of genius. Nothing seems to be a permanent fix. This is where having electricity is more of a hassle than a blessing. The living room light, at least, was permanently (so far) fixed by my duct tape concoction.
My clingy, neurotic cat, whose favorite food is avocado (and brownies seem to be a close second), has tape worms. Luckily, according to Where there is no doctor, this is not transmissible, person to person or cat to person. Good. But since I don’t have (and perhaps there isn’t yet one) Where there is no vet, I’ll wait till I get to the city to get her medicine in a proper dose. Also a new rabies vaccine. Might as well de-worm myself while I’m at it - it’s never a bad idea, living in the tropics. (as in, the Equatorial Rainforest).
Funny how the thing I absolutely did NOT want to come to Africa to do…teach English…well. The lycée (high school) vice principal approached me a few weeks ago about teaching English (as in, in a classroom). Actually he first asked the chef of Mvangan village -he is wonderful and is basically my grandfather here -whom I visit often. The chef was part of the founding committee for the lycée, about 10 years ago. (Before, students had to go - and walk, sometimes - hundreds of kilometres to go to the lycée in Ebolowa. Now there is one in Mvangan, which serves the students who are REALLY "en brousse" (in the bush), all the way to the Gabon border). The chef thought it was a fantastic idea and perfect solution for me to teach English. (There hasn’t been an English teacher for 5 years. English is one of the subjects on the national exams taken in 9th, 11th, and 12th grades, where a passing grade in every subject is required to move on to the next year of schooling. You do the math). Considering my innate aversion to teaching English in formerly colonized countries, my work at the hospital, in the community, in the health district of mvangan (13 healh centers), and in Akam with Hopkins (and in 9 other villages there), and the fact that Peace Corps highly discourages us becoming English teachers who are depended upon in the community - well. I refused. Teach how many classes of 30 - 60 kids, mostly unmotivated, write lesson plans and tests and…NO. But. Several students approached me, on their own, about their worries and desires to work more in English. Solution? English club. That way the lycée’s happy, the chef’s happy, the kids are happy, and I’m happy because it’s only the motivated ones, I figure, who will come. And it’s my own, my very own to do what I want with, whereas my girls’ group…is a little different than that. So yesterday I went to the lycée to meet with the current English dept - a German prof, French prof, Spanish prof - who are teaching the English classes but have no training in English (They do speak it. Partly. But apparently it’s very new that there are foreign language teachers, at all. Subjects also compulsory for the national exams). We went into all the classrooms to announce a planning meeting, then I sat in on a class. So I’m expecting 10s to 100s at the first meeting, which will dwindle sharply when we actually start having the club. Good. The class was … interesting. First, the times were mixed up so the prof and I waited an hour. Then the students were 15 mins to half an hour late. The vocabulary lesson was on the computer. This seems highly incongruous. Now, there is electricity in Mvangan, has been for about 4 years. There are 3 computers in town - at the hospital, where I’m currently typing, at the Sous-Prefet’s office, and in the Mayor’s office. There are computers and internet in Ebolowa, of course, but internet even there is fairly new - and it’s expensive - and how often do these kids go there? The high school does not have electricity - and honestly, it’s not very necessary, when you have windows and it’s sunny during the day and there aren’t night activities. Yet, yet, the knew "modem." Mouse. Etc. There are computer science classes, too, but as there are no computers, everything is theoretical. This is the same with the science classes, as there is no lab equipment. Teaching English - even peripherally, like I’m going to be doing - feels much better in Cameroun than it might elsewhere in the developing world. I think. Cameroun is, as a nation, bilingual. Of the 10 provinces, 2 are Anglophone - colonized by the British - and incorporated into the rest of Francophone Cameroun shortly after independence. The lingua franca in the Anglophone provinces, though, is not English but pidgin. All government activities are conducted in French. There’s a lot of animosity and political rivalry between Anglophone and Francophone provinces. At the universities, though, there are both Anglophone and Francophone professors - so some classes are taught in English, some in French. And if you don’t know both languages - well - you’re kinda screwed. Friday is National Bilingualism day. Bilingual has a very strict definition here - it means French/English. I am bilingual. Every Cameroonian (except those in the far out villages, far far in the bush, where many only speak their patois - local language) is bilingual. Everyone speaks a local language, then most speak French or English (or pidgin) on top of that. There is no recognition that pushing people to be fluent in both English and French makes them trilingual. Local languages are not valorised, not at the national level. There are about 250 of them in Cameroun, which means that for Cameroun to be a country, even, they have to keep and use colonialist languages. It’s the only common ground. In the South - where I am - everyone speaks Bulu, and that, all the time. Much more than they speak French. Hence my motivation and necessity to learn it, and quickly. Ma zu aye’e kabo bulu- I will learn to speak Bulu.
And I am, learning. I can usually pick up at least a little bit of what people are saying, now, grasping at the words I know (and blessed, blessed context clues and gestures). My main "teacher" is my friend Régine, a planter and truly amazing woman in Mvangan village. She does everything. Our "lessons" are when I go over to visit, sitting around her kitchen and helping/watching her cook. Kitchens, here - very, very important. And I’m talking about traditional kitchens. In Akam (more on that later), people live in their kitchens - or the cooking fire is in the one-room house. Here -a separate building from the house, bigger kitchen seems to indicate more traditional/villageois lifestyle. Wood, mud bricks. A fire in the middle, with stones on which to put the marmite (cooking pot. And these are pots as such I’ve never SEEN the size of , anywhere else. Many could be used to wash a medium-sized child. And they are, they are). Cane/bamboo beds placed around the fire, to sit on and also where people often sleep. Hanging baskets to dry meat, hold piment (hot peppers), dry peanuts, wild mango pits (used for cooking)…anything else that happens to be in season. The kitchen is where people are often congregated and is often the best place to hang out. The chef’s kitchen, just across from Régine’s, is always a flurry of activity. It’s close to the size of my house (and my house is pretty big. For me, anyway). His wife, daughters, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, always busy, always making something. I’ve helped several times there. They always give me food as a leave, especially when they’re making something that I haven’t tried yet. I brought banana bread the other day - which I knew was a favorite of the chef’s, and it’s pretty easy to make here. Now his daughters want me to teach them. Banana bread - is it really that American? has now been popularised in France and in Cameroun. Most Western food doesn’t go over well here, so I’m a bit hesitant about other things. I have a PC cookbook, though, and I’m working through as much of it as I can (it’s also a good evening activity. BBC, cook. And you really *don’t* need an oven to bake - Dutch oven (marmite, on the gas stove) works just as well. So many things I’m learning and re-learning. And all of that’s "work" too - it’s PC goal 2. (and this is goal 3! So many things accomplished!) Goal 1 - transfer of capacities, sustainable development, etc, etc is also going. Slowly.
Akam. Ahh. Village of about 100 people, 7 km from the border with Gabon. And that’s REALLY "en brousse." Right behind the houses begins the Mengame Gorilla Reserve, presided over by the Jane Goodall society. I was there for a week with the Hopkins team, doing meetings on bush meat and virus transmission (and ways to guard against it). Monkey meat is quite the delicacy in the South (nope, haven’t eaten any, and don’t plan to. Porcupine, yes. Antelope, yes. Pangolin, yes). When we got to Akam, everyone was eating elephant meat - a small one had been killed a few weeks earlier and it was still feeding the whole village! People in the rainforest hate elephants because they destroy their fields (plantations) and move the traps that hunters set. I haven’t yet seen any of these animals live. Saw lots of elephant meat, skin, an elephant skull in the village hangout/resting place/plaza (they use it as a seat). Saw a dead monkey just taken from the forest, a few antelopes, and other smaller animals. Next time (I go about once a month, or every two months) one of the hunters is going to take me for a walk in the rainforest. Akam is about 60 km from Mvangan, but it took 4 hours on a moto to get there. The road is too bad for all but the best of 4x4, off-roading, safari-type vehicles (aka, the Hopkins car. And even with that we got stuck in the mud on the way back for a few hours).
Next week is la fete de la jeunesse - national youth day. February 11. There are events every day - the students doing manual labor around town, clearing field, soccer tournaments, and soirées culturelles every night - the lycée, the technical school, the primary school, and my girls' group. Dancing - traditional and less so, singing, skits, etc. I'm excited - night life in Mvangan! EVERY night! Wednesday afternoon were the tryouts/preselection at the lycée. Since I live next to the lycée (quite literally), they were doing tryouts on the lawn, and I'm getting to be friends with several of the lycée kids, I went to watch. These kids can DANCE. Everything from Cameroonian dancing (bikutsi, makossa, plus the very popular ivoirien "coupé/décalé) to currently popular music, more traditional dances, and guys doing Michael Jackson-like moonwalking (incredible) to Usher. (I would love to see them do Thriller!) Even the teachers got in on the act. Sitting on the grass, talking, laughing (French and Bulu), kids coming over to sit with me, say hi, making fun of/cheering on their classmates... I have arrived.