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Archive for January, 2011

Nid (Friday, 2011 January 28)

January 28th, 2011

So here’s some shit that doesn’t suck.

  • My Premiere class, which was full of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells, went fairly well today. Half the class wasn’t there. I think they were celebrating the imminent departure of a surveillant general — he was the "most strict", and so "they’re free now". I was told they even brought drinks. Anyhow, only quiet students were left, and I get the impression that after explaining the same things three or four times, they eventually started to get the hang of it. Forgot to give homework, but no big deal.

  • I’ve started to learn the local language. I feel like it makes a certain difference in how people respond to me, but I could be imagining it. There are certain cognates, but in general it’s really hard. And I know cerebrally that it’s a tonal language but I don’t feel like I’m getting the hang of the use of tones. Linguistically I should be prepared for high, low, rising, and falling tones, but I have a really hard time differentiating them, and I can feel them refusing to be memorized.

    Weird stuff happens in this language — I hesitate to try to summarize or explain my findings, because I can just imagine Rosalie having a lot to say about my silly, ignorant ideas. But anyhow it seems to me like to change tenses, you do stuff like change pronouns. There’s still weird contractions and lots of stuff I don’t understand. But it’s always really exhilarating to learn a language, even if I can’t correctly make some of the consonants.

  • In the lab, for the practical exam a few weeks ago, I had to switch two computers in order to keep two stations a reasonable distance apart. Being lazy, I decided not to actually move all the equipment around, but just switch the cabling so that the monitor, keyboard and mouse are plugged into the "other" computer. What this means to the untrained eye is that when you press the power button on your computer, the computer next to you lights up, and if you try again to "turn on" your computer in the same way, the computer next to you shuts off.

    I knew at the time that this was going to be confusing to whoever looked at the cabling next and resolved to put it back at the earliest available opportunity. But faced with all the other crap I could be fixing in the lab, I haven’t had the motivation. And the students have, predictably, been utterly bewildered by the situation, since it seems like one computer won’t turn on, and their neighbor complains that his computer shut itself off.

    I find this display utterly hypnotizing. The first time they got into this mess, I sat and watched for about an hour, encouraging them on to turn on the "problematic" computer every now and then when they seemed to lose track of it. Eventually a clever one saw the connection and stopped letting people try the computer next to him because it kept turning off his computer. That’s critical thinking, kids! That was pretty cool.

    Of course, the older classes often have a hard time figuring out what’s going on. I try to hint them — "Find me the cable," I say, "Where is this monitor going to receive its information from?" But they don’t seem completely on top of the situation. The idea that a monitor receives information from somewhere seems to stump them. Still, highly recommended.

  • And in general, the kids are getting better at lab. They’re learning to read the directions on the board. They’re starting to play with GIMP now and then, like seriously play with all the tools and see what they do, or the typing games or math games I’ve installed on all the computers. (TuxType in particular has fascinating background music, including a very 8-bitty thing, no idea where they got it from.) A couple in particular have asked me explicitly how they can get better at typing, and one has made it a point to ask me every time he sees me whether I’m free right now to go to the lab with him so he can practice. The idea is starting to "take" — someone else saw him and wanted to get in on that too. It’s like patient zero for the memes I’m trying to spread. Put that in your reporting form, fuckers.

  • Next month’s paycheck. I haven’t spent it already! That’s progress. Another New Year’s Resolution: manage this shit better. All of it. Money, time, presence of other people in my house, lovesickness, all of it.

    Speaking of other people being in my house — at 19h I close my door and ask when were you thinking about leaving? That seems to work OK. Before 8h, of course, I’m "asleep" and I’m not getting up no matter how many times you knock on my door. Right now Brondon’s here. He wanted to cook something, but the dishes were dirty, so he decided to clean them. Completely makes up for how annoyed I’ve been that he’s been here every day this week to distract me.

I’m still counting weeks until spring break, and I still have more shit than I could actually do. But it’s going. Apparently there’s a saying in French, "Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid" (bit by bit, the bird makes his nest). And in Pidgin, you can say "Small small catch monkey" (approach slowly and you will catch the monkey, whereupon you can eat it). I learned that last one back in stage, you know.

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Cuisine (Thursday, 2011 January 27)

January 27th, 2011

I was thinking tonight about writing up that post about some of the things going on right now that don’t suck, but then a bunch of shit happened that sucked. Specifically:

  • Boris was here to upload some photos to his Facebook account. He just left, at 9:30 PM. Not that I was going to be productive tonight anyhow, but still.
  • Monsieur Dinesso (my head of department) wanted me to send him the statistics on pass/fail rates for this semester, and my phone was out of credit, because the guy who usually does transfers at the Lycée wasn’t there today.
  • Cooking dinner became an exercise in slapstick as I overcooked the cabbage according to a recipe that I hadn’t really read, knocked over a glass bottle and shattered it on the tile floor, couldn’t get the rice open, failed to correctly count the number of cups of rice I wanted, etc.

So faced with a pot of overcooked, wet, gloppy rice and a pot of tender, tasteless cabbage, I decided to think fast. Remembering a Cameroonian saying at a deuil that the secret to cooking is pimante and cube, I decided to press forward. I sautéed a tomato and some onions with some sugar, tossed in the cabbage and dumped a ton of soybean oil in. Then, a bunch of salt and a cube. Result? It tastes like salt and cube. But: Boris really liked it, said that I had invented a "new cuisine", and asked me for the recipe. So I guess this means I’ve internalized Cameroonian cooking. Take that, cultural exchange.

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Decevant (Monday, 2011 January 24)

January 25th, 2011

Today was a little bit more disappointing than usual. (Decevoir, to disappoint (and not, as you might expect, to deceive). Deçu, disappointed. Decevant, disappointing.) Realized during my first hour of class that one of the infrared mice from the lab had gone missing, presumably on Friday. It’s not expensive; a really shiny new one from Dell costs 4000 CFA ($8). It’s not like anyone goes hungry for lack of a souris. So why do it except to be a dick? It’s just one more blow to my underlying faith in humanity in general and my élèves in particular. (M. Dinesso, my head of department, seemed convincing enough in his shock and outrage that I don’t think he took it. Even if he had, same arguments apply.)

So I’ve been a bit more unbalanced than usual (which was already pretty unbalanced). I’ve been trying to center, or, more correctly, been trying to escape, by reading books and watching movies. Recently finished:

  • In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker. OK, immortal beings from the future are in the past saving priceless artifacts. Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? But I was surprised by how compelling and relatable I found it. And if you want to center, you could do worse than to follow her advice: "But your work will help… Only your work will take the pain away. You’ll need it like food and water and air."
  • A Shadow in Summer, by Daniel Abraham. The cover missold me on this one. It’s the kind of cover you put on a Bujold — giant block lettering, canted at a slight angle, in front of a richly-colored scene, etc. But really a book like this one needs to have tasteful brushwork and subtle calligraphy. I liked it, but not sure I’m gonna read the rest of the series.

Shadow contains a scene where two characters are contrasted — one is described as "focused out, on her, the room, searching, it seemed, for something", and the other as "brooding, turned inward". I think this is going to be my first New Year’s resolution — be facing outward, not inward. Which is harder than it seems! I’ve been trying it for a week or so, and you get so bruised and beat-up wading through the catcalls and the haggling and the dérangement.. and yeah, people stealing from your lab. You build up a shell as a defense mechanism. You turn inward to ignore everything outward, because as a rule of thumb, it’s all disappointing.

So I’ve been working on little games and exercises to focus outward. I look at the ground too much so I make a conscious effort to look left and right and study everything I see. I stare at everyone I see to try to recognize them, and I salue them even when I don’t. Keep your eyes open. Look at people when you’re talking to them, or when they’re talking to you. I also probably ought to spend more energy trying to follow conversations around me, even when they’re not interesting or I don’t understand them, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

Watched Bulletproof Monk, which was good times. Also saw Jonah Hex, which Tor.com described as "It’s like a drinking game that hired actors" (and it does have its moments, but a seasoned professional will note that it does not attain Eye of Argon levels of magic). It’s all been a great way to keep myself busy until tomorrow, when I can get Internet, so I can resume my regularly-scheduled waiting.

Today was a low point, and there have been high points too, which I’ve been meaning to write about. I’ll get to it sooner or later, I promise. But sinon (otherwise), things are just humming right along. A vague feeling of Impending Train Wreck, but what’s life in Africa without a little adventure?

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Spirituel (Sunday, 2011 January 23)

January 25th, 2011

Writing this now without benefit of Internet. I ran out at approximately midnight; I got up in the middle of the night to check my email and it was already gone. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough money to see out the month if I bought Internet, so I let it run out, but now I think I can manage, especially if next month’s pay has already been deposited, so I’m gonna go to Bafoussam Tuesday to remplir.

Went to visit Lindsay the other day to have dinner in late celebration of my birthday. Claude spends a certain amount of time hanging out at her house so I got to see him too. They’re cute kids, really. I got to witness the following interaction:

Lindsay, having just got home, rummaging around the kitchen.

Claude: Qu’est-ce que tu veux?

Lindsay: I have to poop!

Claude: Lindsay! Every time! Poop, poop, poop.

Lindsay [already in bathroom]: It’s true! 🙁

Claude’s been picking up English bit by bit. So when he wandered outside the house, holding a Swiss Army Knife, I could ask him "What are you doing?" To which he responded: "I wan’ to keel somebody." (Lindsay: "This is what happens when you let your boyfriend watch too many English action movies.")

Dinner was Mexican, with homemade tortillas and other random crap. Lindsay’s quite a cook with a pretty significant cookbook. I got a couple ideas from her cookbook about cabbage, we’ll see what happens.

But mostly this post is about pictures from the Lycée. I’ve been spending a lot of time around the Lycée lately, staying later than everyone else, overhearing one last class, drifting like a ghost. Normally I don’t take pictures during the school day, since I don’t want to show off my equipment, but if I’m already there to work on bulletins or whatever, then there’s no harm in taking a few pictures while no one else’s around. The title of today’s post, spirituel, means all of "spiritual", "like a spirit", and "witty". Thanks for Jen for bringing this word to my attention.

The lycée itself:

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The barrier, gate.

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The admin building, off to the left, and the rooms of classrooms (there are three; the one at a lower altitude was constructed afterwards). The salle d’informatique is in the rightmost building in the room closest to the camera.

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We have parking spaces, but there are two people who park in the courtyard, closer to their offices.

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Around the flagpole are these shrubs and white-painted stones, that say, bilingually enough, "Lycee de" on one side, and "GHS", on the other. (GHS = Government High School.)

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The administration building. The big sign reads: "NO SMOKING/ Le Lycée de [my post] est un éspace non fumeur/ GHS [my post] is a non-smoking area". The little sign indicates the office of the censeur, which is called "vice principal". Also, "Pas de corruption ici/ No corruption here".

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The salle des professeurs, which they render as "staff room". The big white books are blocs of bulletins.

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Le bloc for my class of 2C.

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This is a typical page. There are six perforated mini-sheets, each column being a séquence. The page has a yellow copy that is made using carbon paper (carbon). Each teacher fills out his class in that section, and the professeur principale calculates the students’ average. Every two sequences form a trimèstre, which is remarked upon by a surveillant (first yellow, at bottom). The last column, appreciation, is free-form, but there are recommended things to fill in (example: 3 to 7 might be très faible, very weak). Whether you sign or not seems to be a matter of conscience for each professor. It’s a twenty-point scale, with ten out of twenty being passing. Note the French 1s, 7s, and 9s. (I’ve tried to adapt.)

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A whole page.

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Sometimes you’ll come across a folded-over page like this which means "skip this one". But there’s no law saying you can’t look inside..

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Dead. Oh, right.

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This is the leftmost, lower building in the first picture, which is actually the first of several buildings (whereas the the two original buildings are very long). This part is the library, which is, as you can see, don de A. A. BA-30 Année 2003, gift of the association of something something.

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You see a few of these carefully-lettered slogans here and there around the lycée. This is the most badly lettered. "Let’s stay in classroom even in the absence of the teachers."

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The door to 2C, rendered in English as "Form Five Science". (The C does indicate science track.)

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2C classroom.

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That line of classrooms. The "lower level" of the school is where the higher-level classes are — séconde, première, and terminale.

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The lesson I gave in premiére. The newer classrooms seem to have much shittier chalkboards.

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But by far the most interesting part of my lycée is the chalkboard graffiti on the outside walls. This is just outside the same classroom. C’est la vie, with a guy crying.

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ln x = x ln x – x. "VOTE". "NGANFANG" (probably a name).

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"Je suis fière quand je sors avec les filles. Amen." (Or does that say "la men"?) "I am happy/proud when I go out with girls."

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"Seule la philosophie nous distingue des babares." Only philosophy distinguishes us from barbarians.

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"La nature nous forme/ L’ecole nous informe/ Le monde nous déforme/ Dieu seul nous transforme". "Nature forms us; school informs us; the world deforms us; God alone transforms us." Also: "Jamaica boy".

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I can’t read or understand most of this. It ends, "I wish you good luck on the Probat[toire]".

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Dragon Ball.

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"C’etait killer!" "It was killer!"

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"Nul n’entre ici s’il n’est geometre". "Nobody enters here who isn’t a surveyor/someone who does geometry"?

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Probably the most poignant of all: "Tout le monde est à la recherche du bonheur même celui qui se suicide". "Everyone is looking for happiness, even he who kills himself."

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"La femme n’est qu’une calebasse persée parce qu’elle aime les hommes menteurs et escrocs." "Women are nothing more than pierced calabashes [?] because they love men who are liars and cheats."

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[Completely illegible, except for a little "Ne jamais", "Never".]

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"On ne donne pas le lait en tle C", "They don’t give milk in Terminale C." I don’t know exactly what that means, but maybe something like "Terminale C is not for the faint of heart."

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Terminaison (Monday, 2011 January 17)

January 17th, 2011

The French word "terminaison" means "termination" or "ending", and you tend to hear it most when discussing grammar — which verbs take which endings in which tenses, et ainsi de suite. But Organization lingo for going home early is "Early Termination", usually just said "ET", and verbed as follows: two of our stagemates ETed recently.

One of them, Elizabeth, I didn’t know very well; whereas I was education, she was business, and whereas I was posted to the West, she was to the East. I heard about her from Julia in the days before Christmas, before anything was really finalized. I can’t speak much to why, but I know she was not very happy with her post. She had a Bible quote tattooed on her foot and her last initial tattooed behind her ear.

The other, Christine, I knew somewhat better, being posted closer and also both being informatique teachers. She was having a rough time of her post too; she was having a lot of problems with discipline, and possibly a tough time with her administration. One time we were scheduled to meet in Bafoussam, but she was late due to a last-minute meeting that her principal (or vice-principal or whatever) called. On the agenda: a student had snuck into the computer lab and used the equipment to surf to a porn site and print out a picture. The principal felt this merited a departmental meeting of the informatique teachers, since after all, it’s the teachers’ fault for not teaching the students responsibility — and not, for example, the fault of the woman who is supposed to be managing the lab. Christine reported that during this meeting, when the principal periodically ran out of steam, he would open the picture, a photograph of two elderly women making out, and show it around the meeting, à la "see what thou hath wrought". Apparently the printer was in a separate room from the lab, so he was unable to retrieve the picture (or maybe printing it was a terror-induced accident). And she constantly had problems with her classes. In her good-bye email, she wrote: "I didn’t think the teaching job was a good fit for me". She smoked and liked to go birdwatching.

It sounds like I wrote eulogies for these two fine people, which is stupid; they’re not gone, it’s not like suicide. But in a way it does feel like losing them a bit, like our stage is weaker for no longer having them. Christine in particular caught us a little bit by surprise. My postmate says that even at Christmas she had been making plans to go "birding" later that week. Christine had a postmate too, and I wonder if she knew, but the decision made so much sense for her that it’s hard to begrudge her some secrecy.

One hears through the grapevine that she is doing well for herself; she had been working at Microsoft, but now is setting up in San Diego. Within three days of her arrival back in the States, she had already scored a car, an apartment, and some kind of work. I tell you second-hand that employers did not care that she had "dropped out" of the Organization, instead being impressed that she had managed to make it as long as she had. Makes for compelling thinking, of the "I wish you hadn’t told me that" sort. At least for informaticiens, there’s no shame in going home.

I cornered Respected Directress in Yaoundé and asked if I could get my hands on some data regarding ETs: which programs were more likely to, if there’s any effect of gender, whether it was more common at certain times of year or certain periods in service. She dodged the question of access by responding to each individual aspect: she hasn’t seen an effect of program, hasn’t looked at gender, but there are definite patterns when you look at time — typically around the third month of service, it drops off noticeably, and stays very low — family emergencies, stuff like that — until towards the end of service, when people are often antsy to move on to the next phase of their life. "But after three months," she said, "you’re here." This seems to match my informal experience that I don’t think I’m likely to ET in the next little while, and that the people I’ve asked aren’t likely to without something serious happening. So I guess we can knock off the discussion of who’s next in our stage — even with Lynne’s acrimonious divorce, Zack’s broken heart, our confusion and apathy about what we’re doing, the perpetually sick and the constantly déranged — we’re here. So let’s see what happens next.

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Sécurité (Friday, 2011 January 14)

January 14th, 2011

The reason we’re here in Yaoundé, of course, is a "workshop" about safety and security procedures, specifically in the case of an emergency. We’ve been arranged largely in "clusters", and I’ve been named the "contact Volunteer" for my cluster. Besides a free trip to Yaoundé, this means I get 2000 CFA a month to maintain the lines of communication. Apparently this position was pretty highly coveted among Volunteers. My postmate Cristina doesn’t understand why she didn’t get it and I did, and frankly I don’t know myself, since us education volunteers have more than enough to do anyhow. But then, I got out of class for two days, so I’m not complaining. The French word "sécurité" does double duty here, meaning both "safety" and "security" (to the extent that you can differentiate the two things anyhow).

The workshop was supposed to be two sessions originally, with one yesterday for a whole day, starring the facilitator Mike, and today for a half day. But Mike was flying in from Togo, and due to the political situation in the Ivory Coast, he wasn’t able to make it in time. (Little bit of a clerical screwup here where Mike fell off the radar for a while, ironic for a security officer. Turns out he was in Nairobi.) So instead we did the half-day yesterday and the full day today, complete with an extremely solid lunch. Uncommonly, the sessions were both quite well-executed and interesting. I think this was at least partly due to the high quality of the people running the session: a volunteer named Stephen who’s been here for, well, a long time, a lady named Ruth, and of course Mike. Part of it is also the subject matter: we get to discuss the realities of what might happen if the shit hits the fan. Mike is especially great for this; he’s a former Organization volunteer himself, also a director for an Organization program, also worked for some NGOs in this area. So basically a crazy old hippie in a position of some solemnity. So, when discussing a coup d’état, he says things like: "Yeah but, a coup, it’s like down and dirty for three, maybe four days, then it’s all over."

There’s a lot of fascinating terminology we use in these discussions. Of course there’s the standard battery of Organization acronyms, but there’s also stand fast, consolidation, and evacuation, which describe various kinds of contingency plans, and other terms, draw down, authorized departure, and ordered departure from the similar plans used by the US mission (to which the Organization’s plans are apparently Appendix L). Areas can be hot in times of crisis.

The material has basically two or three main lessons.

  1. Be in touch with admin. Make sure they know where you are, even when you aren’t supposed to be there. There are mechanisms for making this work, including one called the "whereabouts phone".
  2. In an emergency, your highest priority is being in touch. There is no one "emergency plan", and if there were, we could do better than to sit around memorizing it en masse. The plan is: be available, and keep the grapevine going, so that when the situation has been assessed, we can make it happen. (As elsewhere, it seems that communication and rapid correction trump planning.)
  3. Scary shit can happen.

We started the session with "one of our volunteers is missing", a session which included a few "case studies" of volunteers disappearing, and what went wrong in each case. These situations led to the "whereabouts policy", that volunteers need to be locatable at all times. The stories themselves are a little unsettling, even the happy ones, like the Kenyan Volunteer who had left his post and was playing tourist in other cities, no danger. And then there’s the Bolivian Volunteer who is still missing-presumed-dead now, ten years later. Another one, in the Philippines, was only a few years ago, apparently around the time Stephen was applying to the Organization, and made him realize that "Wow. Volunteers can die."

And against all of this is the background of the 20/20 episode, apparently coming on tonight, about some of the more horrific cases of scary shit in the lives of Volunteers. There’s a particular case that we’ve been talking about, involving a Volunteer in Benin whose throat was slit while she slept. I’m trying to find some support for the stories we’ve heard: this sure seems like part of it. The rumors we’ve heard: this lady blew a whistle on her program’s director, who was sexually abusing children, and when he found out who it was, he hired someone to kill her. This was 2009 (Stephen dates it because a bunch of volunteers from Benin came to Cameroon for a while to try to cope). It’s such a fucked up story that I still can’t really wrap my head around it.

Mike said, cutting to the chase, that everyone’s obviously frustrated with the situation, but nobody can do too much, because it’s a police investigation in a foreign country, and these things don’t proceed on American time. So the Organization is going to waffle about it, and that’s just the way things are going to be. Apparently every country’s administration had a giant conference call this week, presumably to summarize the talking points; Honored Directress, meanwhile, has been doing a great job of being supportive of us personally, and not discouraging us from speaking our minds about our safety, if our conscience calls for it.

Long story short, the importance of safety has been pretty thoroughly hammered home. To top it all off, as we were winding the session down, we were informed that Organization/Niger just evacuated its Volunteers. This is apparently based on the situation where some French nationals were kidnapped and murdered. The principle seems to be that Niger’s local gangs are performing the kidnapping, but then they sell the hostages to groups like Al Qaeda, and although the French are the target, the local gangs may decide that one white person is just as good as another. This makes one fewer safe exit from this country if we, ourselves, need to evacuate — Cameroon is a stable country, without history of political bloodshed, but our neighbors are all increasingly dangerous and hostile.

And now I’m sitting in the living room watching CNN. Apparently the Tunisian government dissolved?? What does that mean? It doesn’t sound great. Nothing sounds great. I’m in a Mood. Maybe a hot shower will make me feel better. If nobody hears from me in thirty minutes, please come looking..

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Case (Thursday, 2011 January 13)

January 14th, 2011

At Yaoundé in the case right now. I don’t know the etymology of the word (pronounced with a "z" sound at the end), but it’s also called a "transit house" — a place where Volunteers can spend the night if they’re on official business, or travelling through the area. Right now a bunch of us are here for some training regarding emergency contingency plans, but that’s not for a few hours, so I’m just "kicking it" on a couch and being a nerd (editing OpenStreetMap, for example).

It’s just weird being here in the Organization, like at every level. There’s the fundamental fact that we’ve chosen to uproot ourselves from everything we knew and loved and moved halfway across the world to not-really-settle among people of a completely different culture. The human being is not designed for this sort of thing, so you get a bunch of peculiarities. I’ve heard someone say that any other Volunteer is automatically about the level of a second cousin — you may not know them very well, you may not even like them, but you know that you could crash at their place if needed, and that you’d put them up too. There are some number of beds in the case, let’s say 24, and though they’re all single, it’s socially acceptable to share (but ask permission). And if the case fills up, although you’re allowed to go to certain hotels and get reimbursed later, some people just sleep on couches (as I did last night, for example).

I really like the case. People say it’s disgusting, and Jenny says it’s too much like a frat house, but to me it feels, well, safe. It’s not just the ten-foot tall wall and the 24/7 security detail, although that helps; it’s also the obviously lived-in furniture, the presence of other Volunteers, the creature comforts of hot showers and sometimes air conditioning. Here you don’t need to have difficult conversations about religion, and strangers don’t ask you to marry them. You don’t have to navigate the ways of this culture; here, being an American is just fine.

Yaoundé is a little too hot for my taste, but the case makes up for the fact that it took me eight hours to get here. (In your head, imagine Zack’s exasperation with me; it took him three days to get here.)

It’s well situated, too; the Organization’s office here, which is where the case is located, is on an alley that empties onto a main road; there, you can find a supermarket, colloquially referred to as the "corner store", and often there’s a spaghetti-omelette-sandwich shack. There’s at least two bars in the alley and another down the block ("Red Bar"). Yaoundé is a little expensive — I find myself dispensing a couple of mille each day for food alone — but some volunteers cook for themselves too, maybe that’s cheaper. Some of them made bagels today (!).

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Rentrée (Sunday, 2011 January 9)

January 9th, 2011

Many things I am about to write about. For the moment I just want to relate that the first week back wasn’t intolerable. Wednesday was an assemblée generale, where among other things the most absentéeiste teachers were called out. Highest was something like 84 hours of absence. Turns out every time you don’t take attendance, they mark you as absent. I’m sure I was on the list somewhere. We also talked about the premiére classes — did I talk about my première class, which handed in 49 test papers, with 25 obvious cheaters? — and what we could do to rehabilitate them. The proviseur exhorted us to think of them not as stupid or worthless, but instead as a class in need of help, and ourselves as doctors, qualified to give them this help. Also, I think we’re instituting mandatory study hall for them until 17 o’clock every day. We’ll see, I guess.

Also fascinating was the announcement that despite my understanding of when the sequence ended, we were actually supposed to have finished giving tests by the end of that week. We what? Well, OK, if not, make an effort to have them finished by the following week. Right, but I’ll be in Yaoundé for two-thirds of my classes..

So, given that I had sixteen hours to prepare tests and hadn’t actually taught anything, what’s a poor guy to do? Two words: practical exam. Thanks Ryan for the idea.

I still have a couple classes to do tomorrow but generally it’s gone pretty well. Here’s what I did: pick ten computers, so about half of them. Pre-load them with data, since the students can’t type very fast. Bring in groups of 10 students at a time. Read them an instruction and give them two minutes to do it. Those who don’t finish in time, you do for them. Four instructions, each at four points, makes sixteen points. Two points for labwork from before the holiday and two points at random and you’re done. No grading after the test is over. Call it a day.

I experimented with volunteer assistants. In some classes this worked well. In some, the assistants just gave hints, so I had to ask them to leave. Also, I used the first group of ten as guinea pigs; as usual, I overestimated the students’ understanding and needed to tone the questions down a bit for every other group. There was a marked difference in performance between 3e and 4e, despite having almost entirely the same material, which surprised me.

Had a scary moment Friday morning when the power was out until about 8:05 AM, but overall I’d call it a success, especially since in general the students were super psyched about the idea of a practical. One of my favorite students in 3m1, whose name I don’t recall, lit up like a Roman candle when I said it was time for practical exams. She doesn’t always do so great on the theory stuff, but she got 17 out of 16, the highest possible score, on the practical.

I’ve also been spending a bit of time in the lab. I’m trying DeepFreeze on one of the computers. It’s not completely wonderful because the students lose all their work every time the computer shuts off, but then again that’s exactly the idea, because mostly their work involves putting games/viruses on my machines. A couple computers are up that were down before, and I’m mostly over the disappearance of a hard disk. The student that we caught taking stuff from the lab and selling it is going to get a conseil de discipline. How could I have forgotten about this stuff? Well, at least I’m not as burned out about it.

So that’s the first week back. Be sure to say "Bonne année à tous" to every class. They might say it back in English. Nothing like your native language to make you feel a little more welcome.

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Mariage (suite) (Wednesday, 2011 January 5)

January 6th, 2011

Some pictures from the mariage. I don’t have too many; it was crowded and I mostly got shots of a bunch of people in a huddle with no clear context.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/DSCN5259-scale0.25.jpg

This is a picture of the two ladies who provided the food and eventually found the bride.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/DSCN5261-scale0.25.jpg

I’m pretty sure this is one of the covered women they found and proposed as bride. She’s being escorted in on the left.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/DSCN5266-scale0.25.jpg

The happy couple. It was a little yellower in real life. A very pretty fabric.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/DSCN5269-scale0.25.jpg

No idea who this dude is.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/DSCN5270-scale0.25.jpg

Not sure if this has some ceremonial meaning.

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Vingt-sept (Monday, 2011 January 3)

January 3rd, 2011

On this, the occasion of my 27th birth, I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the last ten years and take stock of basically just how crazy I have been. Sure, there’s the impulse buys and youthful indiscretions, but I’m talking about real, reality-warping, you-ought-to-see-someone crazy. Some highlights:

  • couchsurfing Boston for a week to extract an apology from a friend.
  • believing that one of my friends was an alien from another world sent here to study human culture.
  • acting "only a little" anti-Semitic in front of a woman I was attracted to so that she wouldn’t like me for "the wrong reasons".
  • and of course, coming here to Africa.

And what’s even weirder is that there are whole other levels of crazy I haven’t even gotten into yet. Examples: I’ve never had a lesbian hookup in an Australian bar. I’ve never fired a gun. I’ve never changed my name. I’ve never run away to London. I’ve never even had a one-night stand (but, you know, working on that last one). By all accounts, I’ve led a safe and sheltered life, but living it, I’ve never felt either of those things.

Something mom said once was that someone who lives to 26 has outlived their crazy. And I guess, to an extent, I have. So, uh, now what?

Jenny points out that 27 = 3^3. That’s a good omen, I think.

P.S. Also, never got a tattoo. But Ryan has the word "PAIX" on his inner wrist, and Emily has two bars in the form of an equals sign on hers. So, give it time.

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