Archive for June, 2010

Community Hosts (Monday, 2010 Jun 28)

June 29th, 2010

Today we got to meet our community hosts, who are people who came from our community to help us visit the first time, show us around, and so forth. It’s another semi-artificial emotion rollercoaster whereby we get to anguish about it for a while, compare notes, decide whose is better, and ultimately decide to be unhappy with our lots. That’s what I did after the first couple of hours, i.e. the first session, wherein we exchanged the following information: name, place of origin, responsibility (that is to say, job), and "a value you would like to share". I said I would like to share inquisitiveness; he said he wanted to share the value of "good work", which I think means "hard work". His name is Jean-Claude something and he is born and raised in Batié.

Those of you who have known me for a while how these things go. First, the snap judgment was made (he’s a tool); then, someone said to us "Well, give them a chance, you’ve only known them for two hours"; and finally I got over it, decided to put my game face on, and charm ’em a bit. He’s not as much of a tool as I made him out to be [N.B. he’s still a tool]. Julia said that I’m cool because I am cynical, but not in a pessimistic way (or something like that). Well, there you are. I’ll admit I flipped out a little bit over the way he was like "Oh, you teach computers? Well, do you think you can also do English? Because we really need English teachers. I’ll just put English in parentheses."

Some days Cameroon seems practically the same as back home, and sometimes utterly different. Today was one of the days when I melted down over the way they touch so often and the fact that 100 is basically the smallest denomination (whereas $100 is a couple weeks of pocket money). But I think it’ll be fine. I’m ready to do this site visit shit, and I’m ready to be a charmer for a little while and convince people to do what I think they need. (After days of community research, naturally.)

Dan said that this is where things start getting real, and we really have no way of being prepared for what they need; all we can do at this point is get in there and do the best we can. Par exemple, he’s a science teacher assigned to an Anglophone school, but his school has only a couple hundred Anglophone students, which is negligible compared with the Francophone students; he thinks he’s likely going to be teaching in French instead of in English as he was assigned to. And as a backup I think I can sweet-talk my community host Jean-Claude into admitting I’m really not fit for teaching English. After all, he’s a French teacher, which is his mother tongue, and not just anyone is really qualified to teach their mother tongue, right? It takes someone with a real talent.. I think you see where I’m going with this.

As an aside, I noticed today that an email I had received from Gus was marked read despite the fact that I hadn’t read it. I’ve tried to respond to every personal email I’ve received; if I haven’t responded to yours, it probably means I didn’t read it or the Interwebs ate it, and to quench my FOMO I’d appreciate it if you resend it. And also as an aside, I get out of trainee class at 4:30 most days, but the next few days are different because I’m going to visit my post. If you are desperate to call during the week, any time after 4:30 PM local time, which is 11:30 AM EDT, is fine. I don’t know jack shit about rates. You might inquire of my parents how they’re handling it.


Sites (Sunday, 2010 June 27)

June 29th, 2010
  • Title: Sites
  • Today’s Date: Sunday, 2010 June 27
  • Instructor: Ethan
  • Purpose: To inform about what has happened in the last few days.
  • Objectives: At the end of this session, readers will be able to:
    • repeat correctly at least one funny thing I’ve written
    • recognize the name of my post
    • feel bad for me

It’s rainy season here, which means in theory it rains sometimes. It hasn’t really so far, but I’m ever hopeful. There were a couple of days last week when it really let loose, but lately it’s just been the occasional drizzle. I love the rain, obviously, because it makes things a little cooler, plus it’s the only time I have running water, so I just don’t feel it’s rained enough.

Going to the bar has continued apace; I’ve gone three or four times this week. Only drank a couple of times; also had a boisson gaseuse (soft drink) called Top. (Top makes lots of sodas; I favor the pimplemousse, grapefruit flavor, which doesn’t taste much like grapefruit.) When I feel up to it I favor a drink called Whiskey Black, which is bottled in the same quantity as beers (0,65L) but is a little stronger (8.5% instead of 6.5%ish). Here one does not order mixed drinks like Whiskey Black and Gin Tonic but instead quaffs from bottles produced by Canada Dry. They’re perhaps not mindblowingly high quality but they’re much more drinkable than e.g. the other exotic Cameroonian beverage, wine in a juice carton.

But one time after the bar I ran across Julia. She needed some help with her regulator, and after that we talked a little bit about the bar and hanging out there. She introduced me to the concept of FOMO, "Fear Of Missing Out", which is a meme that crystallizes a phenomenon I’ve been struggling with for a few years. Julia is the clearest person here; she doesn’t really play simian mind games and it’s really refreshing. She also went to school at NYU, so we can talk about NYC in a real way. I think Gus would really like her. Whereas Jenny for instance has a tendency to start laughing hysterically over nothing, or say things that come a little bit out of left field. She reminds me of VY.

FOMO is what makes you go to the bar even when you didn’t have a good time last time you were there, and even though you don’t expect things to be different this time. FOMO is what makes me read 150 news items every day, even though most don’t interest me. FOMO is what encourages you to keep a list of things you have yet to listen to, even though most of it is going to be garbage.

We received our posts the other day. I’m going to Batié, which is in the West region. The name of my division is Hauts-Plateaux ("high plateaus") which bodes well for me in terms of finding a livable climate. I’ve heard there is a lot of mud there, but I feel like I’ll cope better with mud than with heat. Of course, in reality we’ve learned next to nothing (it’s just a dot on a map). We have a sense of who is near us, and who is far — and, truth be told, I’m a little bummed that so many cool people like Julia and Rosalie and Jessica W. are being sent to the East or to the Extreme North, many hours away — but we really won’t know much about our sites until we go to them this week.

Astride also received her post, it seems; she’s leaving tomorrow for a job in Yaoundé. Nadege was supposed to go with her, but apparently Nadege’s training got bumped to August, so she’ll be here for most of the time I’m here. But Astride’s out of here. She spent some time tonight asking me whether I was sad, happy, or angry. In truth I’m none of these, maybe a little relieved, but mostly it’s a life-goes-on thing. For her it was a big deal; her "last night" here with me. I guess I’m inured to "last nights", hmm?

Lastly: I passed the room inspection, plus or minus. I also seem to be getting better at doing laundry; Claude gave me the "starting to actually clean clothes a little bit well" ranking today. Last night a critter that could have been a giant insect or a small bird got "stuck" in the pool of light on the veranda, causing both me and Claude to flee indoors. I refilled Ben’s bottle of hand sanitizer (which I lent him) from my larger bottle of hand sanitizer (he promised to pay me back when his shipment comes in). We chose Allison to be our "chef du departement" for ICT. And I still have a hard time believing this is a real thing that is really happening.


Les enfants relinquent (Wednesday, 2010 June 23)

June 29th, 2010

Today we had a language test, and that meant a lot of time hanging out and doing nothing. Some of us got there early since we didn’t want to hang out with our families. I brought Pandemic but nothing came of it because people were studying. I think it’s silly to study for a language assessment, but there you are. Anyhow, one of the little girls in blue dresses (we later learned they were primary school students at the Anglophone school not too far away) came over, and I decided to teach her Set. In no time there were a crowd of little girls, most around 10 or 11, who were all trying to find sets. They weren’t very good, but enough of them were playing that eventually they would find one or two out of sheer dumb luck. After enough of a mob formed that I got sick of it, I told them that it was all for today. Allison got a picture or two; hopefully she’ll upload it at some point.

Later a bunch of them showed up outside our testing area, including the first one (Cynthia). She asked if we could play later and I said maybe after class. And indeed, we did play for a little bit after class, but I eventually had to meet my host brother Francis to take him to the cybercafe, and was late for it, so had to ditch before the game finished. Everyone’s bad at first, but their enthusiasm (or whatever) is kind of neat. The only problem is they pick up cards when they’re using them to try to find a set, which is inconvenient for the other players. I keep telling them "Laissez!" ("Leave it!"), "Posez les cartes!" ("Place the cards!") but they usually pick them right back up again. It’s a little bit like managing a class, I think. They’ve got the two-are-but-one-isn’t rule, I think, but haven’t really got a good grasp on the things that are sets, or how to look for them. They’re 11ish and school is maybe out for them.

Latest Franglais sightings. In conversation with another trainee:

  • Veux-tu jouer avec eux? ("Do you want to play with them?")
  • No, I don’t veux. ("No, I don’t want to.")


  • It fautes that I put more water in the filter. (From "il faut que", "it is necessary that")

One of the formateurs ("trainers"):

  • The trainees will be able to detaily discuss [some organization acronym].

Here "detaily" means "in a detailful manner".

Yesterday my family replaced the broken socket in my room. A kid who looked like a teenager showed up, took the broken socket, disappeared to get a replacement, and then basically climbed onto my bed and replaced it with his bare hands. Like most things Cameroonian, it was done by a local, often a kid, probably not the same way we would have done it at home, but it got the job done. Hard to find fault with that.

While they were changing the socket, they did me the courtesy of changing the light bulb, which had been colored blue, with one that is more white. CFLs, naturally. I have some before pictures which I’ll upload later. Speaking of pictures, I realized I don’t have a single one of Gus at all. (Please send help.) It was pretty easy to check thoroughly because apparently I haven’t taken any pictures between my birthday party, which she wasn’t at, and my last hangout, which she hadn’t yet arrived to when I put my camera away.

I regave my presentation to an empty classroom for practice. I kept much better control this time. I think it’s stage fright, and it probably helps if I can have a surfeit of material. This is one thing I’ve always been bad at: I always stop when I have "enough", but then I talk faster than I think I will and I run out of stuff. I have been accumulating for my 30 minute presentation Saturday. Writing things on the board takes a long time.

Speaking of methodology. Some things that were blatantly wrong in some recent IT classes: we were told that power fluctuations will increase the number of temp files in Windows (if anything can be called cargo-cult science, it’s this). Also, the instructor doesn’t know how to say "boot order"; he keeps saying "boof order".

Lastly: at the bar yesterday I took a brief poll to see how many of the trainees have people back home. A surprising number of us are in the "Lonely Hearts Club Band": Jeneca, Rosalie, Jared, Timothy, myself of course, Martin, Lynne, Jacqueline, Jenny, and a few others I’m forgetting right now. That’s like 25%. But none of us ever talk about things like that. We’re all living so much in the present — maybe we’re afraid of the past. I asked the other table, at which Jake, Claire, Julia, and Andrew were sitting, and they just seized up, couldn’t figure out how to answer. Some of them have sort-ofs, and I guess more than a few have not-reallys. Claire mentioned that she had someone she’d met only a few weeks or months ago, and how there had been a connection, but: most of us seem to be in accord that no matter what you think you have, what you really have is a wait-and-see, or even a commitment to give it a shot when you get back — except Timothy, who gave power of attorney to his significant other, who maybe has a little bit more. And obviously those older trainees like Lynne and Jacqueline who have "partners" and "husbands" are probably a little more stable than the rest of us pretend-to-be-adults.

Interesting statistic: apparently most of the people who serve in the Organization as a married couple got married just for the Organization and apparently most of those marriages don’t last.

Hoping to get up early tomorrow and wash my sheets in time for the room inspection Saturday. Wish you were here.


Business (Monday, 2010 June 21)

June 21st, 2010

Saw a dog on the way home today. Haven’t had my third rabies shot so am not supposed to get friendly. He was trying to poop. Poor bastard, just looking for a place to evacuate his bowels. Me too, little guy. Me too.

They mixed up the language classes today. I’m with Jenny now, and things are picking up speed a little bit. Today we covered the imperfect, the conditional, and the subjunctive. Language retests start Wednesday. The teacher said something that really clarified the situation with Astride for me: here children live for their parents, while back home parents live for their children.

Played a little bit of cards with my family tonight. They taught me a variant of Crazy Eights and a game called Cochon Gratté, which is much like a game I used to play called .. PIGS? I forget.

Something started to itch on my back. Is it tumbo flies? It feels prickly and sometimes sharper (but in French I only know the word "pique", which is sort of a catch-all "bite/prick" word). I asked Astride and Francis and they said it was the chaleur, heat. I don’t know why it would give me a rash on my back but there you are. I’m just a comp sci.

We gave 15-minute presentations today. Mine was super disorganized because I went too fast, as is my wont. I feel like I will need more practice than I’m going to get. And I can’t stay here and talk to myself in English; it’s weird. We have 30-minute presentations Friday (or Saturday?) and hopefully then I will do much better. (Or make the same mistakes.)

The lightbulb in my room broke. Actually the lightbulb ("ampule") seems fine, but the socket it sits in broke. Here they don’t use screw-thread bulbs, but instead these sockets that kind of snap onto the bulb, and it broke. The bulbs have two contacts at the bottom (CFLs, naturally). So I’m typing this by headlamplight.

Borrowed the USB modem tonight to try to get it to work. The obvious things didn’t magically work. I may try with my other laptop too, but I may just have to do research. It’s appearing as a USB CD-ROM drive with the driver on it, and not as a USB modem. It’s:

ID 19d2:fff5 ONDA Communication S.p.A.

I can try to boot this machine into Windows and do some research, if I have time tonight (I don’t) or otherwise I will try to do research when I’m posting these bastards. If you know something, please email me.

Update: I got the damn thing working. Really easy, actually. Just install usb-modeswitch. If you’re reading this from Cameroon, I have Ubuntu packages on my USB key.

Otherwise business as usual. Realized today I forgot to wish my father a Happy Father’s Day yesterday. Happy Father’s Day!


Laundry Day (Sunday, 2010 June 20)

June 21st, 2010

I am starting to wonder whether I have re-used titles. Maybe I have.

Sundays are laundry day. Each time I do laundry, someone tells me a different way to do it. Claude, for example, uses a bar of soap in addition to the detergent. Since Claude is the only person who actually explains to me what he’s doing and how I’m not doing it right, I am inclined to follow him. I left my laundry to soak overnight, but the socks (which I hadn’t yet laundered) apparently aren’t colorfast. I have some newly stained (fr: "teinter", to stain) shirts. I bought these clothes knowing that they’d get destroyed, but I guess didn’t expect it to happen so fast. It’s hard to handle because hey, I used to know how to do laundry. All of a sudden there are so many things I don’t know how to do. Nothing here is as dispiriting as doing laundry — not the sense of time, not the language, not the stories Astride tells about the previous Organization volunteers who have married members of her family. Laundry day gets me down.

I didn’t iron my socks, because the family explained to me (first in French and then in English) that it would ruin (fr: "ablîmer", spoil, ruin, damage) the elastic. So instead I have to let them sit for a few days and hope I have enough "other socks" so that the tumbo flies don’t get me. (Did you know about tumbo flies? Happy birthday.)

Astride told me that I was the most handsome trainee in the training group. This was before I shaved, which is a process that has gone from every-two-days to once-or-twice-a-week. I looked pretty grisly when I looked at myself in the mirror, so today was shaving day. I managed.

Today I decided to listen to some music for a change. Astride was playing some music while I was doing something else; her selectioncs were mostly love songs, including one that was probably called "African Queen" and another by the same artist that made use of that phrase a few times. (I think she’s trying to hint at something.) If that weren’t enough, there’s a Coca-Cola ad campaign for the duration of the World Cup, which has a musical accompaniment: the lyrics go "Give me freedom, give me fire/ Give me reason, take me higher" — and it’s reasonably catchy, so periodically the locals will sing it, even if it’s not playing. Maybe I should talk to them — "don’t you realize singing this is tantamount to giving money to a large, multinational conglomerate?" — but in the meantime I’m furious. So now it’s "Spiders, Snakes" by A Weather; miscellaneous Palomar, and some stuff by Forest World. Maybe I will play some Zan-zan-zawa-veia and think of Gus.

Astride likes to ask me "Tu penses à quoi?" ("What are you thinking about?") Leaving aside that it’s kind of a personal quesiton, I wouldn’t even know how to begin to respond. I’m thinking about the flies, and how they chase each other, and how difficult it must be for flies to find other flies of the same species considering how many different flies there are around. I don’t know how to say that in French. I wouldn’t expect someone to understand in English either. Maybe I’ll just say that I’m thinking of my girlfriend.

I have a bit of a cold. Astride has helpfully told me numerous times that if I keep sniffling rather than blowing my nose, I will never feel better. I realized what I want to say: "I’m not a child, I’m a foreigner" — but I haven’t yet. Instead I said in broken French something like "I’ve already had been sick with colds, I know how it breaks". I think she got the point. I’m a little sick of Astride; I know I can’t fairly judge her parenting according to the standards of my culture, but seriously. She was painting her nails and Vladimir was interested, so she put some nail polish on his fingernail. A sixteen month old! Can you guess what happened next? That’s right, he put his fingers in his mouth. At which point she says "Ne manges pas!" ("Don’t eat that!"). She acts like he’s a nuisance — which he is, but he’s her nuisance. Hrrrngh. 21 is not old enough to be a mother. I doubt Astride will ever be old enough, frankly. The family has been teaching Vladimir to call my name. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it bothers me.

There was some kind of argument in the family centering around Christelle (who is also called Osa. I asked her which she preferred and I think she said "both" so I call her Osa Christelle. Anyhow, she’s the teenager). Apparently she gave too much money for something, or received too much money in change, or something like that. Christelle lost in the end; M. Alemi found in favor of Mme. Alemi. Maybe they were in the right, but I remember being a teenager too and it was hard not to try to support her at least a little bit, or discourage the family from laughing at her after judgment was passed.

More Camfranglais: "Je go à la pyol [sp?]." "Go" is obviously English. "Pyol" is Jalet [sp?], a local language, and it means "house". Alors, "I am going to the/my house". I realized something about the Organization: those of us who don’t have a culture are able to get one throuh a few years of service. It’s a sort of a cultural reassignment surgery, among other things. It’s important to put "among other things", because pretty much everything that goes on here has multiple purposes. I wonder if all voluneter organizations are like that.

We borrowed a wheelbarrow (fr: "brouette") from Karen’s family to carry water from the forage back to the house. Claude climbed in and I pushed him. He liked it a bit, and he’s enjoyed telling everyone about it. While we were going downhill and accelerating just a little bit out of control he shouted (in English) "I am the best of the best!!!"

"Jodie, Jodie, Jodie, Jodie
Let me have your face my dear
Jodie, Jodie, Jodie, Jodie
And get myself up out of here

Jodie, I need you, I need you, I need you
But not like you think
I need you, I need you, I need you, I need you, I need you
But not like you think"

—Forest World, "Jodie Jensen"

Thanks to my parents for calling today. 49 cents a minute is steep.


Cup du Monde (Saturday, 2010 June 19)

June 21st, 2010

So, Cameroon just got eliminated from the World Cup (lost to Denmark). That’s as good as any a thing to lead with.

Emily said today (a propos of receiving phone calls from family): "It’s like there’s too much to say. Or not enough." I think the explanation is simply that there are so many things we can’t take for granted any more, and to explain them all would take all day. It’s what I’m doing here, but I can understand why it would be hard to take the time on the phone to go through all of it.

Today when I left the house, there was a pickup truck with pigs out front. Pigs are "les couchons" but apparently you can also call them "les porcs". Claude encouraged me to pet them but I was chicken (so to speak). I think M. Alemi took them to his farm this afternoon, but frankly I have no idea. [Update: They went to Karen’s host family’s place, since her family and mine are buds.] I wanted to take a picture of the pickup, three people in the cab and four or five kids in the back with the pigs, but I didn’t think of it in time. My camera lens is a bit smudged anyhow. I took some test pictures to see how obvious it was, and it wasn’t, but it still makes me angry. I tried cleaning it with the microfiber cloth that came with my glasses, but that just spread the smudge around. I also tried using hand sanitizer WITH the microfiber cloth, but that didn’t work either. (Please send help.) It’s probably fine, though, because this will help discourage me from taking the Textbook African Picture, which I almost take every single day — you know, red dirt, humble buildings, a few trees, and oh so much sky. Allison also mentioned that every day she wished she were carrying her camera, but she doesn’t (I guess because she’s afraid to lose it).

After they made the first goal ("le premier but"), everyone was really excited. But during halftime, the family made rude jokes that I didn’t understand about the players or former players (frankly, I have no idea). Francis (who is maybe a semi-pro player who has returned to hang out here until I leave) seemed too angry to eat dinner. Final score in case you didn’t know was 2-1 Denmark. Go Lions.

Vladimir seemed much healthier today but Astride took him to the hospital again to continue treatment, I guess. I don’t really understand how this works but I’m sure there’s a reason. I also managed to get her and Nadege to play a game of Set. It took them a little while to get it, and they’re still pretty slow to find sets, but that’s true for everyone when they’re starting out. And now the family knows that I have games, so that should be good (unless they steal them. The Organization: "Integrate, but trust no one.").

I just saw something dark and still under my desk here. I was almost too afraid to turn on my flashlight to see what it was. Fortunately it’s just a black plastic bag.

I’m letting my laundry soak ("tremper") overnight, except for the Africtures, which need to be washed "directement" (i.e. "directly"). When I didn’t understand what this meant, Astride helpfully translated: "You need to wash them directly." But nobody ever says "directly" in this way (i.e. immediately). It’s not a big deal but it’s frustrating when my family just drops into "Ethan is a giant useless child and we should really just do things for him". I understand why they do it, but I would much prefer they explain (i.e. rather than translate, which I can do just fine with my fucking M-W thing, thanks).

Faux pas of the week: forgot that I left the spout on my water filter open, allowing water to automatically flow through the filter and directly onto the floor, where it collected in a puddle. Nobody noticed except me. Still, wow. It’s like I’m a giant fucking useless child sometimes.

Someone went to the hospital for the first time today; word on the street is that he maybe had a little malaria. This ties into the ongoing discussion about the Cameroon 2010 betting pool. Who’s going to leave early? Who’s going to settle down with a local? Obviously it would be pretty easy to throw one of the bets, so we don’t do it. But I like to think about it from time to time.

Lastly: Woke up diagonally across the bed, under the covers. Realized nobody here understands when I say "fucking goddamnit" (so I’m saying it a lot). Have a fifteen minute presentation Monday, which necessitates my talking to myself in English until then. There are lizards on the outside of my window. I’m leaving my door unlocked since Astride’s at the hospital. I might go to the market tomorrow to get starch for my shirts. And there still just isn’t enough time in the day.


“This is to help you set up an Internet in your town” (Friday, 2010 June 18)

June 19th, 2010

Today I found the "tech sessions" (the lectures that teach us how to be education people rather than simply people in Cameroon) especially frustrating. I’m not exactly sure why. I mean, there are certain obvious things, like the material…

The Organization uses a format called 4-MAT to plan all our lessons, and mandates that we use it in ours as well. 4-MAT structures each lesson according to Motivation, Information, Practice, Application. In Motivation, presumably we are given some kind of motivation for why we are learning the things we are learning (today: lesson planning in a test-driven system), but generally it starts off with some random question that has nothing to do with anything. They also list some "objectives", which are typically things like "Trainees will be able to reverse-engineer the four different syllabii"[1] or whatever. Then there’s the information, which may consist of writing a table of facts on the board and expecting us to copy it. Then finally there is practice, which consists of stupid exercises or other forms of cockduggery, and then at some nebulous future we will have "application".

[1] One syllabus for each educational system, naturally, and two more for the exams. Bonne chance!

Today we learned how to phrase SMART objectives using the fashion of Kirkpatrick education principles or some other fucking thing. Additionally we discussed teaching techniques, and learned what makes each one not applicable to our circumstances (many students, few resources). Cool story, bro! We also looked at a lesson plan for class 3 of a computer course, where the objectives were "Students will be able to turn on a computer and, using the start menu, turn off a computer". OK, I get it, we have to start slowly! Sure, these people have never used a computer before! But this isn’t fucking rocket surgery! Do you take a whole day of driver’s ed to turn the car on and turn it off again?

And on top of the shitty material, there’s the shitty instructor — I won’t say instructors, since it’s really only one — who drones on and on, doesn’t understand the questions we ask, and has very little in the way of engagement or strategy. Maybe that makes him an excellent instructor by Cameroonian standards. But I want to do something more.

Some people went to the bar afterwards, but me and Allison (and also Karen, who is in another group) had a language class, since our classes had been cut short by a soccer game earlier in the week. (Cameroon lost to Japan 0-1. Go Lions.) So instead we spent an hour studying French. The ICT person who I respect the most here hasn’t been able to get the USB key/modem things to work in Linux (and he claims not for want of trying).

So all in all, it’s still a lot like college. The homestay coordinator is going to do room inspections next Saturday, just like an RA in a dorm. Ça va un peu.. ("It goes a little")

Claude convinced me to go running with him this morning. He estimates we ran 3 km, which isn’t bad for a start, but really it’s him that ran 3 km and me who stopped to gasp for breath and limp the rest of the way. Additionally I went to draw water from the well (not the well by our house, which is only for washing the floors, but another well nearby which is "more clear", although we still only use it for washing ourselves). Little Vladimir is sick; Astride tells me it is a pulmonary infection (which I think means lungs, right?) and they are staying at the hospital overnight.

I miss Gus. I ate all my chocolate (please send help) for fear of attracting insects (or, more for fear that they’d get to it first). We took a survey of who has what games and Jenny asked me to bring Pandemic next Thursday (Thursdays are "recess", although they just call it "dead time after the general meeting when people can run around and play sports or whatever"). And, birthday paradox be praised, we have at least one shared birthday in our group. I was trying to discuss my doxy-tan with my family and they suggested the word "noircir" ("to blacken") instead of the more prosaic "bronzer" ("to bronze") or "tanner" ("to tan"). I’ve had a runny nose lately (which is weird — haven’t had any allergy attacks per se) and I’ve been wiping my nose on the kerchiefs I’ve brought, which naturally enough smell like chalk, but at least I don’t smell like mold any more. I go too long without shaving because shaving in a bucket bath is not awesome. All in all, good times.

There are still one or two questions I haven’t figured out for myself yet. Is it more sustainable to teach Linux or Windows? (Assuming that Linux is "harder", but also more open.) If our goal is to improve the educational system, how much do we kowtow to it? (This 4-MAT bullshit is not for our benefit, and it’s certainly not for the students’, so by process of elimination it must be for the benefit of the inspectors who "verify" what we do.) I guess all in all I’m having a little bit of a crisis of faith. I told myself going in that it would be possible that my (admittedly specialized) skills may not be as useful as the more general skills that a developing nation might need to learn and a volunteer organization might want to depend on, but I’m just not used to an environment that not only doesn’t demand my best, but actively suppresses it. But maybe it won’t be so bad when we get to post. Speaking of which, us education trainees should discover that next week or so.


Doing fine (Thursday, 2010 June 17)

June 17th, 2010

Got an email from a friend and wanted to post the response in case it wasn’t explicit from my other posts.

I am doing fine. I check the Internet every couple of days. Today I checked Twitter for the first time in two weeks and discovered something that I will have to check out when I get back.

I have not gotten sunburnt, despite the fact that I am on doxycycline (which makes you more sensitive to the sun). I did get two shirts made (same material; here they’re called "Africtures"). I don’t expect to upload pictures of them until later.

It’s mostly classwork, and over time I’m increasingly able to communicate with the locals. I haven’t played a board game since we left Yaounde; perhaps I will try to change that.

I am deeply in love with the food and expect to put on "the freshman fifteen" before too much longer.

Today I am using my own laptop and therefore able to type without fucking AZERTY bullshit.



Dormir (Tuesday, 2010 June 15)

June 17th, 2010

I’m pretty tired and want to get to bed, plus not much has happened the last couple days, so I’m just going to hit the highlights:

  1. Trying to explain the short jokes we make about Jen. It doesn’t really even make sense in English: we’re just bad friends.
  2. Some things about Cameroonian French: "chez" is often pronounced "che". "Vingt et un" is often "vingt un" (which I’m OK with, even though I think it’s nonstandard), and other numbers like "vingt cinq" can become "vingt et cinq" (which is utterly bizarre).
  3. Today I picked up my first tailored clothes in Africa, including my only short-sleeved shirt (en français: court-manches). They’re ppretty goddamn cool. Everyone loves them. I didn’t even pick the fabric, although I could have — I just said "Africtures".
  4. I’m afraid Astride is flirting with me. She asked me why I left my phone in my room, since she was calling me to bother me. We were both at the "eating table" at the time, and I didn’t really get it — I’d left the phone to charge during the day. She pointed out that in that case it was charged and it was necessary to remove it; when I returned with it, she demonstrated the technique. You call someone, and when their phone rings and shows you their number, you deny that you are calling them. I dropped the P-bomb (from orbit — it’s the only way to be sure) again, but it may be that my strongest declaration of disinterest was returning to my homework rather than forcing conversation.

[N.B. P-bomb for "petit amie", or "girlfriend". You can never mention her enough times.]

  1. Nadege brought me some little gifts from her trip to Yaounde. (More bombardment may be necessary.) They’re little wooden tchotchkes that tourists like me eat right up. I like the bracelet, but I already have a necklace. (Which broke, and I mended, today.)
  2. Claude asked me to teach him a bit of English. Right now we mostly work on phonetics. If he learns to correctly make the "th" sound, unlike these other Francophones, I will be very pleased.
  3. Vocab: "déranger" (to bother) [N.B. I already "learned" this one], "du tout" (at all), "s’offrir" (to treat oneself).


Rest (Sunday, 2010 June 13)

June 17th, 2010

It’s Sunday, which is our day of rest. (We have classes Saturday.) I got to sleep in — I thought I was going to have to go to church, like with other black families with whom I’ve stayed, but instead I slept until like 8. I needed that because I had been up late watching "the game" (USA vs. England) with the other stagiers (trainees). I obviously don’t care even a little bit but it was an excuse to get out of the house a bit and drink.

But knowing that today was "free", I maybe overcommitted myself. I promised I would go to the market with Astride and buy some stuff so I could learn how to cook it, and also today is laundry day, and also I had a short assignment for French class, and also a longer assignment for cross-culture (which I still haven’t done). And when I woke up, it became clear that someone (me and Claude) had to get water from the forage (which, it turns out, are actually built by a European, Claude says German, aid society called CAFOR). Also Hyacinthe wanted to wash the floor and I wanted to help.

Going to the "big market", which I had not done before, was an experience. I didn’t know what I was looking for, how to find it, how to pick it, how much to pay for it, or anything else. Astride did all of those things, and when pressed, she explained a little bit about each (you know before you go; you just know or sometimes you ask; you pick the one that suits you; you just know I guess), but I felt very disoriented, which continued when she told me she was going to burn her hair. I thought this was a cute idiom, or maybe a peculiar folk remedy for her frequent headaches, but after I watched them work white cream into her hair, I became fairly certain that she was actually going to do it.

After about ten minutes, she informed me in English that the cream was changing color because her head or scalp was dirty, and that you have to be dirty or else it would damage your skin (or something like that). After another ten, it became clear to me that the phrase "burning (one’s) hair" identifies a chemical process, and afterwards she explained to me that it softens your hair. But it really does burn; she has a couple places on her forehead which are a little singed.

I was pretty sick of not understamding anyone and not being understood also, so I kind of crapped out a little in the afternoon. But then Claude really seriously taught me how to iron clothes, and I smell a little less moldy, and maybe everything’s gonna be OK.


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