Friday, October 8, 2010

Birding and adjusting... 8 October 2010

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are my own and not of Peace Corps. For real.

Bandjoun continues, for better or for worse.

female Red-cheeked Cordon-BleuOn the upside, at least I finally got a coveted profile shot of a Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu! This is a female, so of course it lacks the red cheek. They are very common, but are incredibly fast, especially when someone whips out a camera that makes scary noises when it turns on.

Today Cristina and I hit the road to Kamgo for a quick birding trip. The weather cooperated today, overcast for most of it, then very hot while we returned and then *pouring* rain right as Cristina got into the car to go home. Very lucky... except that I had to wait under an awning with many others for the rain to stop.

Since I wrote last I've had more fascinating experiences. First, I was surprised on Monday to learn that there was a seminar I was obligated to attend the following day. The subject: training ICT teachers to teach algorithms and network topology. Well, interestingly those were the two subjects I practiced teaching in model school. But no biggie. It took place at the incredibly large and well-equipped Lycee Classique de Bafoussam. Pictured are their big sports field and fancy-pants computer lab! The latter has actual grounded outlets, non-wobbly benches and Pentium IV computers. No internet or even a LAN though, but it was very impressive. I dug the curtains too... someone spent some time designing that space!

Anyway, I left around noon because I was not feeling so hot and I also felt that I didn't really need the training anyway. The insight offered to teach algorithms was to use an analogy of a quadratic equation. Except that that glossed over the biggest hurdle I personally had... which was that variables are not the same concept in computer science as they are in math. The one issue I had, and they glossed over it and just used a math problem. So I was a bit annoyed that I was missing teaching two classes to go to this thing... which wasn't terribly useful.

Then I was caught in the rain on the way home. It was actually a bit scary: I could see the dark clouds roll in, spewing thunderbolts as they came right toward me. Unfortunately, I was in a part of town where it is nearly impossible to get a car to Bandjoun. I waved down a few, but they just drove off when I said the name of the town. Yikes.

So I tried walking toward the taxi stand, but it was too late. My umbrella blew apart (causing many chuckles from passers-by) and then I ducked into a hardware store to wait out the rain. It did not stop for 1-1/2 hours! I finally darted across the street so I could at least sit in a restaurant/bar. It said it was that. But it was a bar, actually. No food. Darn it! But it was fine - there was a very nice guy there and we chatted. He flagged down a car to get to Marche A and there made sure I found a car to Bandjoun. That was very nice.

What wasn't so nice is that the next morning I woke up with a horrible cold. I was coughing so much, I almost passed out. Even the neighbor remarked on it since she could hear it through the wall all night. So I skipped school Wednesday also. I sent a text message to two members of the administration, and since I didn't hear back I assumed it was OK. I guess that's how it works here!

So then it gets stranger: I got a phone call from a colleague on Saturday morning. He said he heard I was sick. I said yes, but I'm better now. Then he asked if I would be in school on Tuesday. I said yes, why wouldn't I be? I'm in school Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. He said, no - he just heard I was sick, so wondered if I would be there Tuesday. I said Yes. He hung up. No goodbye or anything. Weird.

So then Tuesday, I walk to school. I pass students and teachers. A large group of students is hanging out at the carrefour. I even pass one of the censeurs (vice-principals) who says Hello to me. But when to get to the school, all the doors are padlocked. There is no one there except a smattering of students. I look around, then ask one of them, "What holiday is this?" The reply: "La fete de l'Enseignant" (Teacher's Holiday).

So... no one told me this, everyone assumed I knew. Even the teachers and the vice-principal who passed me, a white foreign teacher *carrying a bookbag* toward the school on a national (not international) holiday assumed I knew this. Wow. I will never complain about poor on-boarding practices in corporate America again.

So I'm still not sure if my colleague was trying to tell me about this fete and I just didn't understand him, or if what I thought I heard was accurate (in which case I assume he ran out of phone credit rather than just hanging up when I said I would be at school on Tuesday). That was just one of several "wtf" moments caused by information someone in the school assumed I already knew:

  • That I had to attend a parade on the Fete de l'Enseignant. Apparently I even had a role to play. That would have been nice to know in advance, not the day after when I found out. I didn't even know there was a parade until my neighbor told me (while I was doing laundry)
  • What the heck an "Animateur Pedagogique" does (my role in the ICT department) and what the agenda is for a meeting with the department that he/she is supposed to lead
  • How clubs are announced and how they are supposed to function. In model school, they were all posted at the same time, no officers were elected, and we winged it with no ill effects. Here, they seem to have elections the first day and notices that announce them (believe it or not) have to be notarized by the censeur!! Stranger, no other clubs have been announced, but the members of my computer club were downright incensed that the notice was posted in only *one* place instead of being announced in person in every class in the school. (Sigh.) I would know this... how??
  • That tests are at the end of sequence, every 6 weeks. I guess that's why the students of one class were so annoyed about being given a quiz (which I only gave when absolutely none of them did their homework).
  • What the heck people are saying when they speak slang at break-neck speed. And then they get offended or groan when I don't understand them. Give me a break.

Well, anyway... it's all the continuation of this major adjustment. I guess they only get a new volunteer every two years, and everything is nationalized so Cameroonian teachers all know these rules already. Yet after speaking with other volunteers, it seems like every experience is very different. Only the ICT teachers posted in Lycee Classiques in Francophone regions have to teach in French: a small percentage of us. I haven't found anyone else expected to head a 4-person department and maintain a computer lab to boot.

The expectations of teachers are so high: we seem to be expected to carry themselves a certain way, speak and understand French perfectly, know the subject and how to make students relate to it (which I'm finding incredibly hard, given that I can't relate to THEM). I have to wonder if they are too high, especially for someone with (as seems typical for Peace Corps volunteers) no teaching background.

It will work out, I'm sure. Meanwhile, I should finally get my living room set on the 20th. I can't wait: I feel like I'm living in a cave, with only a bed and a table!

OK, back to birding. Here are a couple more photos from this morning's birding adventures. The first is of a Singing Cisticola. He did sing beautifully! The second is an African Blue Flycatcher, a gorgeous little guy that I've even had in my yard once.

Singing CisticolaBlue Flycatcher
Til next time...

No comments:

Post a Comment