Saturday, December 27, 2008

Joyeux Noël!

Merry Belated Christmas to all! Happy Early New Year! After a whirlwind of traveling for the past several weeks, I decided to return to village and host Christmas chez moi. Juliette is the only French left since Jérémy went back to France for the holiday, so I invited her over along with 4 other Americans for the festivity. Christmas here is much different than anywhere I’ve ever experienced.

For starter, it’s the first Christmas where I didn’t have to wear a coat. Even Christmas in Taiwan required layers of clothing. Also, the lack of commercialization diminished the whole “Holiday Spirit” thing. I always found the 24/7 Christmas carols and decorations rolling out after Halloween somewhat annoying, but this year, I missed it, a lot. I started listening to Christmas music a bit after Thanksgiving, but I stopped because it was too depressing. Kirk had left me with a small Christmas tree that lights up! But I didn’t take it out until Christmas Eve because it was too depressing. I just couldn’t bare getting all decked out in Christmas stuff when there are no signs of the holiday season anywhere.

However, the day before Christmas Eve, I was back in village, hand-sewing stockings for my guests, and was filled with the Christmas spirit. People began saying “bonne fête” and “joyeux noël” to one another. I ssw a few random people in Santa hats. Then Christmas Even came around and the whole town transformed in matter of hours, starting in the afternoon. In the morning, I took the hand-sewn stockings to the tailor to sew up the sock part (sewing the names was plenty), and there wasn’t much change. I met up with my friends in Bafoussam and came back to my house. We spent all afternoon cooking and opening the packages that Antoine had delivered from Yaoundé! They came right on time. My house was filled with a chaotic American goodness with packages everywhere. It really was like Christmas!

We had a big dinner completed with green bean casserole, cheesy potatoes, stove-top stuffing, guac, salsa, devil eggs and stuffed peppers. Later, we did gift exchange. I asked everyone to bring a small gift for everyone. Nothing fancy, but just so we would have something to open. The small gifts turned out quite funny. Everyone gave Juliette the most “American” thing they could think of, including Pringles and Gobstoppers. She’s never had Gobstoppers and was marveled at the fact it changes colors. Later when the kids came by, she was showing the kids the candy. I took a hilarious video of the kids and Juliette, all amazed at this Willy Wonka candy! Culture exchange, I tell ya. Juliette randomly has a shirt that says “Michigan, the Great Lake State” which Kate had freaked out about when she first saw it months ago. (Kate is from Michigan, obviously.) Juliette gave that as a gift and there was a good round of happy scream. For me, Juliette gave me a precious jar of foie gras knowing how much I love food and how French I’ve become.

Later in the night, Juliette, Kate and I went into town to experience some Cameroonian Christmas. This is when I was amazed at how quickly the village was transformed. While it was no where near Oxford Street style Christmas decoration, the villagers had managed to put up lights and bamboo fences to spice things up. We went dancing with the villagers for a while, and it was just a hilarious good time. My favorite moto driver, Eric, came in with his blinding jumpsuit and gave Kate inspiration for next year’s Halloween costume!

I was in a splendid good mood all day. People are so simple here and Christmas was equally warm and happy without piles of expensive gifts, which can lead to expectation and sometimes disappointment. After we got back from some dancing fun, Jim started a bonfire in my backyard. We roasted marshmallows and introduced to Juliette her first smores. The air was cold, and it felt quite a bit like Christmas.

On Christmas Day, Juliette went back to her house for some Cameroonian fêtes and Jim went back to his village. The four of us girls hung out all day in our PJs and did completely girly things. We watched girly movies, talked about boys, painted our nails, ate an insane amount of food (Connie’s pumpkin pie is to die for!) and being completely lazy. I didn’t expect spending Christmas so far away from home could turned out so nicely, but I must say it was one of the best Christmas holidays I’ve had. Simply because it was so unexpected, and so, well, simple.

"Training" in Kribi

The reunion with fellow stagemates in the beach town of Kribi was everything expected and much more. This In-Service Training, or IST, marks the end of our first three months at post, which supposedly are the most difficult time due to all the newness and adjustments. But as you know, my first three months were filled with splendid goodness, so ça va aller. It was really great to see everyone again and hear about everyone’s experiences. Cameroon’s diversity shines through the stories of each post. Those up North, those out East, and those of us in the West, aka Beverly Hills, all have massively different past three months. The sharing made me that much more glad to be where I am, and a true validation that everything happens for a reason. In all honesty, I don’t know if I can hack it up North or out East, and that may be precisely why I am in the Beverly Hills!

The week long of training is supposed to provide us with information that would better help our projects. But like the first three months of training, I really didn’t learn all that much. I did, however, brushed up on my conjugation of all the irregular French verbs. Also, all the time sitting in session allowed me to make numerous lists and brainstorm ideas for projects. So I suppose I did benefit from the time. I got more out of talking to my peers and my boss. The SED volunteers have the best APCD (I don’t actually know what that stands for… too many acronyms...) in all of PC Cameroon. James, our boss, was a volunteer here out in the jungle of the East Province back in the day. He knows exactly how to relate to the volunteers and makes our lives as easy as possible beneath all that PC bureaucracy.

The “trainings” aside, we spent all of our time on the beach. We had bonfires a couple of the nights and even made smores! It was really nice to get away and be with a bunch of Americans. I think it served two purposes – to fill with all the American-ness I need for the next foreseeable future, and also makes me miss my village and new friends so I’d be ready to get back. It’s a funny dynamic because I had spent the exact same amount of time with my friends from training and my new friends at post. Three months each yet so vastly different. While I was glad to be with my old friends, I did kind of miss my new friends. The Peace Corps experience, among all else, tests your ability to make friends. Intense relationships are formed quickly, and then separate quickly. It takes a toll on your emotions while you are in a completely new and strange place. On the surface, Peace Corps is about helping people and exchanging culture, but in reality, it is so much more. If I helped on one and exchanged no culture during two years of stay, I will at least become stronger of a person simply by living through these two years. I came into this experience knowing it would be life changing, and it already has changed me immensely in three months. Excited and scared to see what the next 20ish months will bring. Not sure if this applies to every volunteer; some have told me they don’t feel like they’ve changed that much in three months. But then again, each PC experience is completely and utterly different. 

Posh Corps

Sincere apologies to all my devout readers out there! Life somehow caught up with me, and for the first time in so long, I was too busy to write. Last month, I talked about how time was slipping through my fingers, but at least I still had time to write about it. The month of December flew by without me even having time to complain about its quick passage. But now I am back and the stories continue!

Kirk, my predecessor, had generously left me lots of essential items for the house for a very discounted price and therefore allow me to spend most of my settling-in allowances on “luxury items” like a fridge, blender, coffee maker, etc. Volunteers around have often referred to my Peace Corps experience as the “posh corps” due to those purchases as well as my connection to the Chinese and French friends that gave me access to delicious meals, relatively fast Internet, road trips in SUV, posh apartments, cheese and wine, etc. But few weeks ago, I took “posh corps” to a whole new level when I got unlimited nighttime Internet at my house. I couldn’t handle the painfully slow Internet in 15 minute increment, connected via my mobile phone (no cyber café in Batié). I finally gave in when I spent an entire day at Chinese friend’s Internet working from 9-5pm and barely made a dent on the amount of work I wanted to get done on the net. Aside from helping me become more effective and productive in my work, the newly installed Internet also forever eliminated the lonely nights. This new addition not only took “posh corps” to a whole new level, it also gives me no reason to ever leave my service early. Life here is grand now.

Other evidence of my “posh corps” state was made obvious on Christmas Even when we were making an American feast and I had ingredients like, “sesame oil, almond sliver, dark chocolate, marshmallow, Tobasco sauce, etc” Kate also made note of my boxes of cereal in the cabinet, as if I am still in college. What can I say, I like my cereal. In college, I had something like 8 boxes, now I only have 4… :P My life is also posh due to the great weather in my village. Located in the mountains of the West province, my village is one of the coldest posts in country. I received a cashmere sweater from my sister and I thought it was crazy, but it came perfectly handy when I was freezing my butt off a few weeks ago! Yes, cashmere sweater en afrique! Who would’ve thought! Anyway, to be fair, I still live without running water, and that is and will always be, a gigantic pain in the rear end. Also, my village is so small that there are often times when I can’t even find stables such as eggs! These minor inconveniences reminds me that I am still living in a village in Africa, despite how “posh” my experience can be sometimes. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Library/Textbook Project

December 5, 2008

Please provide any comments or feedback to the proposal below! Many thanks! 

Library Project Proposal

Introduction

Peace Corps Volunteer (“the PCV”) in Batié, Cameroon proposes the establishment of a library for the public primary school of Famgoum I. The project aims to increase literacy in both English and French, to improve teaching efficiency within the classrooms, to develop general interest in reading and learning, and to utilize the library as a means to create after-school programming.

Background

Literacy has long been a gateway to knowledge. In the rural schools of Cameroon, access to information and even reading material is very limited. Inside the classroom, students often cannot afford the proper required textbooks, making teaching difficult and learning ineffective. Outside of the classroom, students have virtually no access to supplemental learning or leisure reading material. Gaining access to books is thus a primary goal to increase literacy and stimulate interest in knowledge acquisition.

Proposal

The PCV proposes a comprehensive learning project that centers on the creation of a library within the public primary school of Famgoum I. The project seeks reading materials in all subject areas, appropriate for students between the ages of six and twelve. In addition, the project proposes purchasing textbooks as properties of the school. The school will issue textbooks to students at the beginning of the school year, and retrieve them at the end. This will ensure students have proper textbooks during the school year, resulting in effective teaching and learning.  This will also heighten this project’s sustainability, educating students year after year.

The PCV will use the library as an avenue to begin after-school programs in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics. In addition, the PCV will train teachers within the school to administer the programming to ensure sustainability.

Benefits

The textbook portion of the project will ensure the 263 students of Famgoum I have complete access to required textbooks for each class, therefore significantly increasing learning and teaching efficiency. The after-school programs will stimulate interest in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics for approximately 50 to 75 students during each term. The collection of reading materials within the library will provide all students an opportunity to access more information and increase literacy skills. Currently, the school has a pre-designated space for a small library and a strong interest from the faculty and student body to support the project. The sustainable nature of this project will continue to benefit all future students of Famgoum I primary school beyond the current pupils.

Procedure

Phase I

Project will begin with a dialogue between the PCV and the faculties of the school to reach a complete understanding on the concept of the library, textbooks as school property, and facilitation of after-school programs. The PCV will seek funding and book donation for the project through foundations, non-governmental organizations and other philanthropic institutions.

Phase II

The PCV will train designated faculty on basic library management and begin organizing book donations. The concept of library and the after-school programs will be explained to all students and those interested in the after-school programs will be selected. As materials arrive, the library club and mathematics club will begin once a week after school hours. Continual solicitation of book donations will take place during this phase to expand the library. Finally, the PCV will obtain funding to purchase a complete set of textbooks for the next school year (2009-2010).

Phase III

The PCV takes an observatory role in the after-school programs and oversees library management. Library book collection will continue to expand and if necessary, the library will seek a larger space to better accommodate the operation.

Results

The project will result in a fully functioning library, which raises awareness and improves upon literacy, and the after-school programming will supplement in-class learning for the students of the school. In addition, the students will have complete sets of textbooks that belong to the school and families will not bear the burden of purchasing books each school year.

Schedule

November 2008 - Proposal Writing
November 2008 - Discussion with School Faculty
December 2008/ongoing - Book Donation/Funding Solicitation
December 2008 - After-School Programs Planning
January 2009 - Library Management Training
January 2009 - Implementation of Library Club/Mathematics Club
March 2009 - Textbook Purchasing Planning
April 2009 - Begin Textbook Purchasing
June/July 2009 - Finalize Textbook Purchasing/Preparation for New School Year 
September 2009 - Reorganization of After-School Programs
November 2009 - Possible Relocation/Expansion of Library
January 2010 - Full Transition of Library Management and After-School Programming to School Faculties 

Cost and Fees

Textbook
Form I (7bks/pr; 51 students) - $1,785
Form II (7 bks/pr; 45 students) - $1,575
Form III (9bks/pr; 51 students) - $2,295
Form IV (9bks/pr; 37 students) - $1,665
Form V (9bks/pr; 45 students) - $2,025
Form VI (9bks/pr; 34 students) - $1,530

Library
Secured Bookshelf for Textbooks - $100
General Bookshelves for Library - $50
Supply of Books (200 @ $5) - $1,000
Shipping Fee - $400
Total - $1,550

Total: 263 students; 2,175 books; $10,875

Total Costs

Textbook - $10,875
Library - $1,550
Total - $12,425

Closing
The all-encompassing library project will greatly improve the educational quality for the students of Famgoum I and open the door to knowledge by providing access to reading materials. The PCV seeks support in either monetary donation to support the textbook portion of the project, or book donation to expand reading material. All materials will increase the sustainability of the project, as the books will be used repeatedly. The project will continue to benefit students beyond the current 263 pupils.

For further information, please contact PCV Wendy Lee at WendyLee86@gmail.com. All reading materials can be sent to: 

Wendy Lee
Peace Corps Volunteer
B.P. 215 
Yaoundé, Cameroon

October 24, 2008

Library
LibraryThe primary school I am teaching in currently is in need of a library - any kind of library. My thought is to get a small collections of books, both in English and French, then start a reading club with the students. You can either donate money to the book fund or send children's books to my address in Yaoundé, Cameroon. 

Furthermore, I have an idea to begin a small community library in the center of town. The mayor recently built a nice building for community functions but it remains largely empty and unused. Access to information here is very limited since newspaper or any sort of reading material do not exist and only some have the luxury of television and radio. My idea is to begin building a collection of reading material in current events, agriculture, businesses, etc. These material would need to be in French. Currently, I am researching NGOs around the world who will donate these resources.

Textbook
I've been in two systems of public education: that of Taiwan, and that of the USA. In Taiwan, textbooks were issued as long as you paid the small tuition fee. In the US, books were the properties of school, so we naturally got them for free. It was only when I got to university did access to textbooks become a problem. 


Last week when I asked my students to open their English books, madness occurred. People were hurdling into groups. I thought, maybe they aren't used to brining books to class, so I reminded them to bring them this week. Two days ago, I again asked students to open their book. This time though, I asked them to raise their hands if they even have books. As I had found out, someone in the family is responsible to buy these books and many simply don't have them. In one of my classes, only 4 people out of a class of nearly 40 had books. I gave up, and started copying the paragraph I wanted them to read on the blackboard. As you can imagine, the efficiency greatly diminishes when I have to spend precious teaching time writing things on the board, and wait for them to copy. I am 90% sure the students have no idea what they are writing; they are just accustom to copying whatever the teachers write on the board. 


My point is, they need textbooks. If I can get the school to buy the books so that it becomes school property, then the students in the year following will still be able to have books. Let's face it, this is not the US, schools don't change editions every year... 

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Things You Don't Realize...

… when you have everything.

  • Did you ever realize how dirty you get when you don’t have an actual shower? We are in the midst of dry season here and water is a more precious commodity than ever. While I am lucky and have gotten in good with neighbor kids who come to fetch water for me daily, the supply is still limited. As a result, bucket-bathing daily has become a luxury. That, and it’s really just a huge pain in the rear end. No worries, I have plentiful stock of deodorant to prevent me from ever smelling like some of the Cameroonians around. But seriously, when you don’t have streams of water hitting your body, you don’t really get that clean…
  • Do you realize how nice it is to do dishes with running/hot water? Nowadays, I often laugh at how my mother used to yell at me for doing dishes with water that isn’t hot enough. “It’s not killing the germs,” she’d say. Only if she can see how I do dishes now. I have two buckets – one for washing, another for rinsing. With shortage of water supply these days, the water have to last for longer than before. I think 1/3 of my “dish-cleaning” actually depend on the towels when I dry my dishes… And now, no one wants to come visit me…
  • Do you realize what luxury it is to go to a supermarket and can find virtually anything you need in your house? But not just any supermarket, but one that is well lit, organized, has a healthy variety of each product that aren’t expired. Do you realize the frustration when you are at the “white man’s store” and you think you can find something, but when you get there, there is one kind and not the kind you want. Or when you think you are going on this great “splurge” of a trip to the supermarket, and then you realize the store isn’t as exciting as you had remembered. (when I confuse Target with the supermarché in Bafoussam… That’s quite the disappointment.)
  • Do you realize how precious your personal space is? “you are in my bubble” doesn’t apply here. You get on a bus here, a big bus where one seat actually means one person, not two. You are happy to have your space, and then the medicine man begins to bug the entire busy selling his magic drug that’s going to cure this that or the other. He goes on for hours. Loud and obnoxious. You think, “I want my space. Leave me the hell alone.” But you can’t. When he stops talking, the driver starts to blare some music. You get no choice of whether you want to listen to it or not.
  • Do you realize how just how wonderful indirect lightening is? Can you imagine when the only lightening that exists in your life is white fluorescent tubes? You know those lamps you put next to your bed for reading? Do you realize how those change your mood? If you have no idea what I am talking about, then you seriously need a visit to a hardware store and imagine that as your house.
  • Do you realize how much time you waste sitting in front of a TV surfing the channel? I am not talking about watching TV. It doesn’t count when you are actually watching a programming. I am talking about the amount of time you literally sit in front of your TV and pressing the up and down keys on your remote control. You should tally – it’s absurd.
  • Do you realize the amount of things you can get done on the high speed Internet in one hour? Most of you have unlimited access to the net and you have no idea how much time you are actually spending on it. I, on the other hand, am often restricted with different time increments during my Internet usage. I am amazed sometimes how much I get done on a good connection day in an hour and then I think about how much I could get done if I had cable Internet! Do you ever think about your Internet productivity? Or you are so used to having everything at your fingertip that you take time for granted? You check facebook 5 times for no reason, then watch 3 YouTube videos for the hell of it, open 5 webpages just because, and before you know it, you’ve done absolutely nothing productive.

I can go on forever. I am thankful to be living in the middle of nowhere so I can be a more productive and appreciative human being when I return to living in the centre of everything.