Monday, December 23, 2013

Everyday Adventures of the Culinary Sort

I'm a big fan of trying new foods everywhere you go. Maybe it's because food is important in my family (when we're all together, we usually are planning the next meal while still eating the current one) or maybe it's just because I like food, but I always feel that you can't even attempt to understand a culture without eating its food. So I try to never say no to trying something new, no matter what.

Here in West Africa, sometimes that attitude ends well for me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Madame Rebecca Talks About Sex

Friday the 13th of December, year 2013, 13 o'clock. Not the most auspicious time or date, but I didn't choose it and I was going to make the most of it.

It was my first sex ed class. Teaching it, not taking it, of course. 

Let me set the scene: I was at Kinder's House Banock (KHB): an elementary school, started by Spaniards, given a German name, and run by and for Cameroonians. KHB is located in Banock, a nearby quartier in my arrondissement, so I took a 15 minute moto ride down to the main road and then strolled for an extra 20 minutes to arrive at the school. The day was cool enough for long sleeves and a long skirt to be not quite warm enough, but still no where near my idea of Christmas weather. The wind was blowing the ubiquitous red dust, dust that was becoming even more ingrained into my sandaled feet with each step and changing my skin to a color I've never seen occur naturally. In other words, it was a normal day. Except that it was Friday the 13th, 2013, 13 o'clock. And my first sex ed class. 

When I arrived at Kinder's House about an hour early, I hung out with the teachers and "helped" (read: sat and watched) them plan the Christmas Party, to be held next Wednesday (December 18th). It was basically an audition, where students aged 3 and up performed dances, songs, skits, and recitals that they had practiced in class. The teachers then decided together which were good enough for the parents to see the day of the fête de Noël. As my watched ticked nearer and nearer to 13:00, I started fidgeting in my seat more than the kids were. I wondered anxiously, Maybe I won't have to teach today. Maybe this will take too long. Maybe Professor André won't need me until next week. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ups & Downs

A lot of times it's fun - or surprising, shocking, laugh-out-loud funny, pleasant, or generally happy - to be here. I'm starting to do some things that are satisfying. For instance, I have a bed and shelves in my bedroom, which means I at least have one room that feels pleasantly like home. Yesterday, my bartender/landlord presented me with a table from the bar downstairs, which I think is entertaining on so many levels but mostly because I had joked with some other volunteers about stealing a bar table as furniture. Today, I went to a school competition and was asked to give an on the spot speech and the one joke I managed to throw in (in French, of course) didn't get so much as a lone laugh, but the story threw my lady neighbors into fits of giggles afterwards. Next week I start teaching sex ed classes at a nearby school. And a school girl where I'll hopefully be re-starting a girl's club after Christmas break brought me a pineapple and three of her younger siblings tonight, for no reason as far as I can tell other than kindness.

But a lot of times it's really tough. I'm the only person who looks, dresses, acts, and speaks likes me in this town, and that gets pretty lonely. Recently, I read The Places In Between, which the author wrote after walking across Afghanistan. (Nonsequitor: I'm currently on my thirteenth and fourteenth books since leaving the U.S. and feeling pretty impressed with myself about it…) At the end of the book, he comments:

"…almost every morning, regrets and anxieties had run through my mind like a cheap tune - often repeated, revealing nothing. But as I kept moving, no thoughts came. Instead, I became aware of the landscape…" (p. 288)