Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summertime Funness : Camp Fortes 2015

It was just March, and now May’s gone, and June has almost run its course as well. I keep thinking, time to update my blog! But I sit down at my computer and the words just don’t come. How to say all these rushing thoughts, feelings, insights, and impressions - they are here one moment, gone the next, like a movie you’ve never seen before playing on fast forward. Nevertheless, here I am, again, writing.

In fewer than two months I will no longer be in Cameroon, no longer be in Peace Corps. That’s good, and that’s bad. Happy & sad. Salt & pepper. Bitter & sweet.

One last big accomplishment: Camp Fortes 2015 was a great success!

(Excuse me for a moment while I go check out what my neighbor, friend, and big sister Carine is cooking downstairs. Smells tempting.)

Okay back to the keyboard. (It was ripe banana beignets, mmm.) Camp! Yay!

It was indeed a great success - not without challenges popping up, not without the normal drama between a bunch of pubescent girls - but a success nonetheless, and one that wouldn’t have been possible without YOU, friends and family who donated to RIDEV and made it happen. I cannot say thank you enough, RIDEV cannot say thank you enough, and the girls cannot say thank you enough. Still - THANK YOU!!!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Artsy Fartsy Time

Peace Corps: The hardest job you’ll ever love.

That’s what they say. Sometimes it just feels like the hardest job ever.

But in moments when you’re least expecting it, it feels so incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.

Tuesday is art day. Danielle and I teach four art classes to elementary school students at Kinders House de Banock. The classes can be as big as 54 students, and two of them are directly following recess periods - so the kiddos can get a little crazy. It’s exhausting and sometimes I don’t enjoy it very much especially when it feels like they’re ungrateful little brats. Madame, give me this! Madame, I want that!

But other times… Today, working with the oldest class, we just handed out water colors and paint brushes, scissors and construction paper. And we let them go crazy - in the best way. In the ensuing near-silent thirty minutes, they painted flowers and soccer fields and circles and stripes, they cut out lions and birds and footballers, and they created some beautiful things. This might not sound impressive, but considering that they’ve never had an art class or touched watercolors before this school year, it was pretty wonderful.
So many colors! So much fun!
These kids have come so far in terms of behavior and creativity. They used to just stare at blank paper and ask, Madame what should I do? Draw what? Where? How big? Or they just copied their neighbors, who just copied us. Now they fill pages with their own colorful ideas. Every class used to be a fight, a battle of wills. Now Danielle and I are barely necessary - and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Look at that smile.
The art classes have also brought us so much laughter from the antics of children given freedom and safe spaces to express themselves. Since day one, we have said over and over - “There are no mistakes in art. We do not criticize in art class. There is no right or wrong.” That has been the best decision. Late in the school year, we decided to introduce them to poetry. With the younger classes, we hung up poems around the room and told them to copy one and draw a picture about what the poem means to them. One of them copied a poem about a stream and then drew a picture of a lion colored in like the Cameroonian flag. If that poem says to them “Cameroon flag lion,” who am I to say otherwise? With the older classes, we started them off writing their own acrostic poems with their names to say something about themselves Nino wrote my favorite: 

Nigeria                                               Nigeria
Immeuble                                           Apartment building
Nous                                                  We
Oignon                                               Onion (spelled wrong)

Their teacher came up to me after my last class and told me: “Du courage. I want to thank you for what you’re doing. The parents see what their kids are doing. These kids are great artists. You might not have been able to give this school everything it needs, but you are so willing. You give all of yourself. Thank you.”

Between those kids, those laughs, and those words - so worth it. 

Showing off our beautiful watercolor collages at school.