Archive for February, 2011

Moustiquaire (Sunday, 2011 February 27)

February 27th, 2011

I also got my mosquito net finally up, which is good because recently there’s been an influx of some kind of blood-sucking flying ants.

Due to the fact that I haven’t actually yet bought a bed, it sort of resembles a pillow fort. That’s also my tiger blanket. Rawr.


Trente-trois (Saturday, 2011 February 26)

February 26th, 2011

Woke up in the Binam Voyages bus back to Bafoussam; we’d only left a half hour ago but I was in desperate need of sleep. Had a brief moment where I wondered if the last two days were just a wonderful dream. It was easy to figure out that it would be dark by the time I got back to Bafoussam — the sun was yellow and low in the sky — and apparently "binam" means "le soleil couchant", "the setting sun", in the Bamiléké language family, so that was appropriate.

I got out at something like 9:45 PM, which is super late by Cameroonian standards, and I knew finding a car back to post would be extremely difficult. I screwed up my courage with the aid of five brochettes of soya, basically grilled meat, and went into the road to try to flag down a car.

Cameroonians have fairly specialized roles in the travel business — some drive the cars, of course, but others merely charge, or load, the vehicles. They get a commission for each passenger they furnish, and since they know the "lay of the land" in terms of where passengers are likely to be found and where cars are likely to go, they can play optimization games, along the lines of "Well, it’s really hard to find a car to that outlying village right now, but if I get enough of them together, I can talk some driver into taking all of them," or "There are five people for village A right now and only one for village B; I better assign one car to village A and hope for the best for the guy going to village B". A good chargeur is resourceful and creative.

So it came to pass that one of them called out to me as he clung to the outside of a truck driving by. This was one of the extremely recognizable trucks used to ship "33" Export, a fairly popular beer in this country (and one of my favorites). The chargeur had set up the deal; I paid 2000 CFA for what is normally a 600 CFA ride and I got to go back to post in the cabin of a 33 truck. It shuddered and it strained like it had worms, but it did the job. This post is thus named for that beer, which in Francophone Cameroon is pronounced "trente-trois", but in Anglophone Cameroon is called "export".

I’m back home now. It’s midnight, which is astonishingly late, but there’s a deuil going on tomorrow in my compound, so people are still out and about and I can still even hear them talking.

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Vendredi (Friday, 2011 February 18)

February 18th, 2011

Fridays are the worst. I don’t think it’s really Fridays that sucks — Terminale is my first class on Fridays, and they’re beginning to get it a little bit — but specifically Première. I don’t know if they’re specialized at pissing me off or what. I’d like to call what they do refusal to learn — which sounds closed-minded and ignorant of the difficulty of the material, but they always say they understand and then always utterly fail to successfully perform in the lab, on paper, whatever. So let’s call it refusal to learn.[1] Between the refusal to learn, refusal to think or even look for themselves, and just general insouciance and rudeness (they tore up their own attendance roster), I always want to stab someone by the end of the day.

Today was especially wonderful because when we went to the lab to practice, M. Dinesso and M. Domtchom were there hanging out. M. Dinesso started things off on the right foot by telling me that we should go back to my place after class and drink whatever whiskey I had, "because you guys [white people? Americans?] only drink whiskey", and M. Domtchom (in between writing correctly the answer to the exercise without ever having seen the programming language before) told me that he didn’t like Python and that Pascal is much easier to learn because "it doesn’t have conversion functions" — which is just so face-palmingly ignorant and incoherent that I’d have to teach him for three months just so we could even talk about it. SO ignorant that I had to respond in English, "Actually, that’s complete bullshit". And even if it weren’t — seriously, not during class.

The exercise was to write a program that did a thing, and naturally the students passed their time variously:

  • Asking me "What do we do?"
  • Telling me that the computer they’re seated at is broken because it doesn’t have Python on it
  • Opening random other programs, like "Tux Typing", out of confusion or desperation?
  • Typing in random programs that we’ve talked about in class
  • Studiously not finding the errors in the programs that they’ve just typed in and asking for help. Yes, I know it’s hard when you don’t know the language, but matching parentheses isn’t rocket science.
  • Trying to find someone else whose program seems more correct, so that they can copy them.
  • Asking me if they’ve finished, without testing whether their program does a thing, or after seeing that it generates an error, or just flat out does something else.

OK, sure, programming is a little confusing, especially if you don’t have practice at learning how to learn or being creative. But the terminales are doing so much better than they are! Is this the same phenomenon I’ve seen in 4e/3e, where the 3es just seem to understand so much better seemingly by virtue of merely being a year older?

I’ve long since given up on the scheme of work — which was basically bullshit anyhow, since most of the stuff in this year is boring or useless — and just focused on this one simple thing, programming. Input, output, variables, if statements, while loops. I’ve had lectures where we just do drills of reading and writing programs, and they bomb quizzes and lab sessions. I’m reminded of my last job, where I told my co-worker that if we wanted our client to fail, all we had to do was build exactly what they asked for at a reasonable pace. I can probably keep teaching this one thing for the rest of the year and they’ll still fail every test. I’m starting to look forward to it.

After class I went to the nearest bar and drank a Fanta, then bought bread and made a peanut-butter and banana sandwich (thanks, mom). I’m studiously ignoring the whiskey sachets that I do, in fact, have in my house. Fridays. I’ve been counting down Fridays to spring break. No other day really gives me trouble. I was also counting down to next Friday, when I was going to Yaoundé to see someone, but it turns out that she might be coming up here instead, as early as Wednesday (though personally my money is on Thursday). So let’s focus on that instead, shall we?

[1] I’m willing to grant that maybe there’s some fundamental misunderstanding. But I’ve explained the fundamentals over and over again, and they always say they understand. I was just thinking that maybe they didn’t understand the idea that they had to write a program, like create from scratch using writing, but we had exercises like that in class and they did OK! Augh, I just don’t fucking get this.


Planning (Wednesday, 2011 February 16)

February 16th, 2011

Monday was the installation of the sous-prefet of my newly-minted arrondisement. We were told last week that we should be there and that class was cancelled, but it turns out that was all a big joke. Naturally I didn’t have a lesson planned, or have the papers graded that I got the week before. So it was a fun day.

Today, Brondon came by my house briefly to ask if he could borrow my copy of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I think he is drawn to the gripping narration of the crisis and the clash between indigineous worldviews and those of the Occident. Ha ha, just kidding! He’s using it to find verbs for English class. Yesterday he came by with an assignment where he had to find 10 English verbs and provide their present and past tenses, and the only ones he could find in his notebook were ones that his teacher had used in class (and so couldn’t use). He tried some others, but most of the interesting verbs are irregular — "read", "speak", etc. So he asked if I had any "reading books" in English, and when I presented him with the aforementioned, he began skimming the text, looking for appropriate words. "Is this a verb?" he asked, pointing at "nothing", or "accommodated". I think he’s keying onto the conjugated endings. Not bad for a boy who still regularly has trouble finding the English section of the French-English dictionary (I’m actually impressed as hell). So I guess he must have turned in his homework with four- and five-syllable Latinate verbs in present and past tense. I wonder what his teacher thought.

I am looking now at the "Planning des Activities du 2eme Trimestre", which we received about a month ago. The 2nd trimester includes 3rd and 4th "sequences", and the 4th sequence is coming to an end — we give out tests next week. The planning indicates that Friday is International Mother Tongue day, that we give out tests next week, that we grade them and fill out report cards the week after, and other sundry things. Planning is one of several English loanwords like gentleman and challenge which you can get away with using in French, even in official documents. ("True" French would be planification.)

I’ve been doing a little planning of my own, since I have a regional meeting this weekend and I’m taking a road trip to Yaoundé the weekend after. So I need to have as much of the test writing/grading done as far in advance as possible, ’cause odds are I won’t have much time to do it over the next few weeks. So far I’m doing fine; today I finished grading the quizzes I’ve had for over a week, and all my tests are written — just need to get them printed out. I even managed to finish a review of the "textbooks" the Agency supplied us with back in stage; we want to make sure they follow the syllabus pretty closely, in case we get audited by the Cameroonian government. Not the most likely thing in the world, but I guess Admin’s doing their planification too.

Other reading: Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. I’m especially fond of the entry on hot showers.


Défiler (Monday, 2011 February 14)

February 16th, 2011

Défiler means to march. Not to be confused with marcher, which means to walk. And the youth day festivities ended with a march at the "stade municipal", which is a soccer field at one of the secondary schools here. Every school in the area showed up — and there are a lot. Apparently a country-wide policy has been implemented to the tune that the smallest administrative unit is no longer a district, but an arrondisement, so my village is now an arrondisement. No practical changes, as far as I can tell.

"Let’s work for the future of the nation!"

Anyhow, lots of schools. We started with the smallest and worked our way up. There are even a couple of école maternelle, pre-school sorts of dealies, here, and their kids were the cutest.

The woman in the pink dress is Madame Dorothé, and these are her students.

The little pumpkins didn’t really "get" the idea of a march, and one or two of them just sort of wandered off to do its own thing. This is their teacher, herding him or her back.

The majorettes at my school. None of us know what the ring-y things are. They’re not hula hoops.

I think this is a private school. They’re pretty gung-ho about informatique, apparently. Look at them carrying around their keyboards and scanners and flat-panel screens! I’m pretty sure these are teachers and not students.

This is the phys ed teacher at my lycée. Love the pink shirt.


Jeunesse (Tuesday, 2011 February 8)

February 8th, 2011

True to form, it rained once or twice, late at night, and then stopped again. I awoke once at 3:30 local time, groggy but pleased. Beats the hell out of the time, only a night or two later, when I woke up to someone whistling, only to realize it was probably a mouse (same mouse? different mouse? not sure). Do mice whistle? I’m not sure.

It’s la semaine de la jeunesse, "Youth Week", here in Cameroon, and that means school is suspended in some kind of weird limbo. I think class was cancelled today so that everyone could work on clearing shrubbery from the road that goes to the lycée. Thursday too, maybe even Friday. Awesome, I guess? Fridays are the worst. Last Friday was cancelled because of bilingualism week. I got to sit on the "stage" and watch the whole performance. The first hour or two was utterly hilarious, but then it got awkward as girls from my troisième class danced. Lots of gyration and booty-shaking. And then one of them pulled me up to join her. So weird. But the rest of it was nice, especially listening the fascinating syllable-salad that came from the littler ones when they tried to speak English.

Banged out the PC report thing today. Didn’t write as much as I could have about challenges faced or the experiences of collaborating with my colleagues. Just as glad to send it off. I don’t know what’s working or what’s not, what the challenges are or how to face them. Some days every hour seems like a struggle, and I burn out after they just won’t get the hell out of my lab. But sometimes people just seem interested in learning, or prepared to think things through. None of my projects are colossal successes, but I guess what I’m lacking in quality, I make up for in passive-aggressive glares. Put that in your database, I guess.

So, summary, I’m in a weird mood and don’t feel like doing anything except reading this webcomic and failing at nutrition. Last night I ate rice, just rice, except at the last minute I decided to open one of the cans of mushrooms I bought in Bafoussam. Mushrooms of Paris, allegedly, but canned mushrooms taste like canned mushrooms. I guess that’s actually a step up from back home, where I would have eaten just rice and soy sauce. Thinking of that scene in FLCL where Naota is complaining how boring his life is and nothing ever happens in his town, as the giant iron in his hometown emits a giant cloud of steam. It’s like that, really.

If you check the weather outside
You’ll find
It’s just as I described
I’m doing fine, oh, thanks for asking
Oh work’s OK, it pays the rent
But how much more can a person ask for?
There’s always one more thing to ask for

—world of science, "is this about settling?"

And they never stop asking, either.


Bilingualisme (Thursday, 2011 February 3)

February 3rd, 2011

It rained today, heralded by the clouds and overcast-iness we’ve been having for a few days. It’s a strange departure from the endless blue skies we’ve had for months. As I stepped into the rain to try to wash some of the chalk dust off my hands, I called back to my colleagues. "Is it no longer dry season?" I asked, seriously. "N’est-ce pas?" they responded, which is something like "I know, right?" So I guess it’s still dry season, just with a freaky bit of rain.

This week is Bilingualism Week in Cameroon. Accordingly, there was supposed to be a "Round Table" at the lycee to discuss bilingualism. Apparently Cameroon’s pretty fond of debating. I think it might have gotten cancelled, but who knows? I still had students when I had class at 13h, so I guess all is well. I’ve tried to utter a few basic phrases in English in each class, and sometimes it works and sometimes not. I still swear in English, mostly under my breath. Nobody’s called me on it yet.

I haven’t been writing as much here, and I think that’s mostly due to the fact that most of what’s going on in is internal to my head and doesn’t feel appropriate to write about here. Here’s some rated-G stuff: I’m working on a presentation I’m giving to fill in for Christine (who ETed), next weekend and the weekend after. This Saturday, I’m going to a deuil for the proviseur‘s mother, who passed away a week or two ago. I have some Organization reports to fill out by the 15th. I’ve been buying too many things on market days and it’s starting to be the case that they go bad before I can use them. And some random guy on the Internet has pinged me about some work I’ve been doing on an open source project called offlineimap, and I’d really like to find some time to work on that too.

Today, some of my Terminale students decided to see if they could plug their telephones into the lab computers to get Internet access. It seemed to work, after a fashion. They didn’t have credit to pay for the service, but apparently there are proxies on the cell phone networks that relay traffic for free, "sometimes". I don’t understand how that works or why, but they definitely got some access today, which was crazy and wonderful. "Since I did that research at your house, Monsieur, [about two weeks ago]," Arno said, "I haven’t slept."


More groceries (Wednesday, 2011 February 2)

February 2nd, 2011

I’ve been meaning to upload these for a while, but never quite got to it.

Here is a picture of a fruit they call fromage, "cheese". It has a mushy but somewhat firm texture, so the name isn’t completely misleading. It has a sweet, delicate taste, a little bit like cream cheese frosting. I have no idea what season it grows in — I have seen it rarely at the village market and buy it when I can. The flesh yields when you pinch it, so you can sort of crumble it into pieces. You try to eat the flesh without eating the skin (but I think you can eat the skin if you are so inclined). Inside there are seeds which are hard, brown, and smooth, seemingly polished glossy. The fruit itself is small, and after eating a few you get a film on your teeth. (At least I do.) Parfait says I have to garde him some, because it’s "bien jusqu’à". ("Good up to here!")

Aubergines, eggplants. My postmate Cristina tells me that the purple ones are "Japanese eggplants", and I think somebody told me a name for the red ones which I have forgotten. Like les cerises, cherries, the name was applied to two or three different things and it is difficult to use the word precisely. At the stand where I bought the purple ones, I had to explain for a few minutes that I was also looking for "the other quality" of aubergines, the ones that seem like tomatoes. Even the grocer didn’t really know what I was talking about.

Concombre and courgette, cucumber and zucchini. I bought these, as well as the purple eggplant, on a shopping spree in Bafoussam — I just plongéd into Marché A and decided to keep walking and take turns at random until I found something I longed for. Marché A is terribly fascinating, and I intend to repeat the experience. 100 CFA/200 CFA apiece, respectively.

"PINK Orange Flavored Drink" tastes neither like orange nor like pink and frankly it wasn’t worth the 1200 CFA I paid for it. On the other hand, I get to keep the 2L bottle.

Avocats, which need no explanation. Avocats are nombreux in dry season. Prices seem to be at random, but seem to go up with size. This collection here is probably about 600 CFA worth. Watch out for the squished one.

Miel, or honey. I bought this 1.5L bottle for 5000 CFA or something. It’s a little sour and a little sweet. There are a few different manufacturers of honey around these parts, and each talks about quality, but it’s hard to figure out which is actually good. Apparently one way to discover good honey is to put some on paper. If it leaks through to the other side, it’s not good honey.

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