Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 6 Silver Linings to being sick this month

DISCLAIMER: the views expressed are my own and not that of Peace Corps.

I've pretty much spent the past 7 weeks sick of one thing or another. It started with the Halloween party (mental note: do NOT share glasses with people obviously struggling to breathe) and was mostly a chest cold. Then it may have been allergies: the dust since the dry season started has been bad and it kept me awake nights for weeks. Then I went to IST (in-service training) at the ocean-side resort town of Kribi on Sunday and instead of beach-bumming and attending classes, spent Tuesday evening-Saturday morning in bed with various stomach issues... a trip to the hospital told me it was typhoid and malaria! Now after a few days at the case in Yaounde, I'm back in Bandjoun and have another chest cold. As a result, I have to cancel my much-anticipated climb up Mount Cameroon over Christmas.

C'mon, Cameroon! Gimme a break.

In any case, I thought I'd frame this in terms of the silver linings. Here are the top 6 advantages to spending the past week in bed:
  1. Avoided Robbery. If I hadn't been sick in bed, chance are I would have been at the bar across the street from the hotel in Kribi on Thursday evening at 10pm. That was where I was there Monday evening at that time. So Thursday, 4 men with guns and machetes relieved 21 of my Peace Corps peers of all their stuff. Not to discount the horror (especially the guy kicking in the bathroom door, and then hacking Julia with a machete as she cowered in the corner), but... if I had lost my Blackberry, I would have been very, very, very depressed.
  2. Avoided Sessions. Not to say the sessions were more boring than sleeping the entire day (not all of them, anyway), but... putting us in a beach-front hotel and then scheduling training from 8a-5p every day? Are you kidding me?
  3. Avoided Hotel Food. 11/43 volunteers were sick that week, the diseases I know about were typhoid and amoebic dysentery. It's kinda hard not to blame the food at the hotel. That and the inference that I have not eating the food at all listed as an "advantage".
  4. Avoided spending money. I didn't buy any souvenirs since I didn't go anywhere. The pizza Monday evening was 5,500 CFA, so it was a good thing I didn't feel tempted to go back again. OTOH, I spent 30,000 CFA on the hospital visit and medicine!
  5. Enjoyed American movies at the Case! I wouldn't have gone back through Yaounde if I hadn't been sick, and I hadn't been to the Case before. It was a great relief... just like a college dorm! I got to go to an American/European-style supermarket (Casino) and watch movies like Airplane and Spiderman 2. I also had my first hamburger in 6 months at the bar across the street, though I can't say I would recommend it. Hardly any meat. Or condiments. Soggy fries. Beggars can't be choosers!
  6. Prescription medicine! Hooray for being able to walk into the PCMO office and walk out with medicine. I got Beconase AQ for my allergies, a medicine I last saw in the mid-90s when my doctor told me it was too expensive and inconvenient to take. Unfortunately I never took it again: it's a steroid that inhibits your allergy symptoms, in my case an incessantly itchy, runny nose. I walked out with a 6-week supply, and have already started on it: very happily too!

Bonus silver lining: not going to Mount Cameroon means I can stay in and work on my websites. I'll be visiting another PCV for Christmas, and hopefully birding Mount Kupe with a guide to find the famous rare shrike. And hopefully some other stuff. I consolidated my photos, videos and sighting reports on a new searchable birding website and noticed my list for Cameroon after 6 months is a pathetic 125! I need to get out and find some of the other 800 species in this country...

Also, from comments and hit counts, I see the Books for Cameroon site is also starting to generate some interest.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

End of the First Trimester!

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

This week represented my last round of classes of the year. The members of my Stage will be in Kribi next week for training, and after that we have two weeks of vacation for the holidays. This is great news, since the first trimester was very challenging. I had never taught before, I had never worked with children before, I had never had a job requiring me to speak a foreign language, I had never lived and worked abroad, and my allergies were killing me most of the time. It could be bronchitis too - I had trouble breathing at night and was advised to get a chest x-ray and blood work before Kribi. But regardless, I do feel like a major milestone has been reached, and it's all downhill from here!

The students were restless this week, probably due to the impending Christmas holidays. But I did have one good class this week. My first Seconde class actually started responding to some free-flowing discussion, the topic of which was WikiLeaks. Well, really it was how computers impact our lives (the subject of the chapter), but I used the recent news on security breaches as an example of stuff that wasn’t even remotely possible before the internet and the information age. That got them going, many instantly wondering if Assange was still alive (assuming he had been knocked off by an angry government). Others espoused strong opinions one way or another over whether releasing the documents was or was not legal according to the ethics outlined in the chapter. It wasn't sophisticated discussion or anything, but it was awesome to see some spirited interaction. Finally the class was opening up rather than the usual “Oui, Madame” and “Non, Madame”.

That particular class was also in a very good mood because they had done well on the test. 98%of them passed, and the average grade was around 15/20 which is very good. The other classes did not do as well, and were far less attentive. Though I may be mixing cause and effect here.

There was also another round of filling out report cards and other paperwork. After the paperwork of the first sequence had landed so late, I was not worried. I guess I should have been. I was called at home Thursday morning (only 3.5 days after the end of sequence, and 2 weeks before the ‘official’ deadline) to be told I was nearly the last person to do the work and I needed to come in asap. I was then told to schedule a meeting (even though we didn’t have all the grades yet) so we could finish since we were the last department to do so.

Sigh. I thought I had expectations figured out (paper vs. reality), but… nope! Live and learn.

I also had some little visitors this weekend. One of my students (actually my landlord's son) wanted to see his grade before the rest of the class. But he made up a pretense to come inside my house, along with his two sisters. So they wanted to play cards with me. Well, not really. They didn't know the rules, so the girls just passed them back and forth while he watched. But anyway, they were so cute I showed him his grade. And he literally jumped with joy because he passed!

So then I showed them stuff on my computer. The little girls were impressed by pretty much every paltry thing I had in my house. I think they were impressed. Their reaction to everything was, "Ay yay yay!" The colored pencils were a hit, so I gave them most of the ones I had along with my pastels.

This is completely tangential, but I can't think of a good segue. Today I looked out the window of one of my classes, and noticed a pile of trash. It was 3 months worth of students throwing their crap out the window, that led to the back of the school looking like a garbage dump. Yet in the middle of this, I noticed a mother hen, guarding her adorable, fluffy, yellow-and-black chicks under her wing. What an amazing moment. Suddenly two metaphors (‘under one’s wing’ and ‘mother hen’) popped into my mind. Honestly, growing up in a culture where chickens never run around freely, I never really connected either of those expressions with actual animal behavior!

Seeing them like that makes me never want to eat them again.

But anyway, that led me to wonder about aspects of development. There are wonderful things about Cameroon that are lacking in the U.S., and vice versa. Good: intimate moments with free range chickens. Bad: Piles of trash everywhere.

There are more and better examples. But are these the natural by-product of the country’s stage of development? Does developing mean landfills and clean streets while chickens all get stuck in tiny cages in inhumane conditions, and only appear as plucked, dismembered fryers? Can development mean taking the best parts of one's culture and adding to it with good ideas?

Really, I'm wondering if development in Cameroon can mean becoming more like Mayberry than Gotham City? I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A busy week at post

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

Last week, I was hard at work on the Books for Cameroon website. Friday, a few of us will meet to discuss it, along with a few other secondary projects that are underway. Another project is an AIDS/HIV awareness initiative involving Moto (motorcycle) drivers spreading the word. Books for Cameroon is a project started by Cristina's predecessor that is looking for French or English language books for libaries in Cameroon. The website is still under construction, but feedback and comments are more than welcome.

Tomorrow, I'm also hosting a small party for the ICT department at the high school. I was reminded on Tuesday that I'll need to make food as well (and I thought it was just drinks!) I decided against trying Cameroonian food, so I'll stick to simple appetizers (deviled eggs, salad, bruschetta, french fries) and a salad, maybe spaghetti also. We'll see how this goes: it's my first opportunity to entertain Cameroonians in my house!

I also prepared some training for volunteers on creating web sites. No sooner had I written those PowerPoint slides than I was asked to train the teachers at my school also! Not on web site development thankfully, but on Word, Excel and other basic functions. That will start Friday afternoon. Thank goodness I have the projector for both efforts! Probably no surprise, but it was already damaged in another teacher's class (a couple of pins broke on the video connector), but it still works. Now I'm keeping it with me and guarding it like a hawk :(

The students were unusually bad this week. A couple of Cinquieme students started throwing punches and wrestling and I had to run out of the class to get the Censeur. A few others threw punches or pulled my hair: then just rn away went I sent them to the discipline master. It was rather cartoony: they ran as far as they thought was out of my reach, and I had to give their names for punishment later. But overall the Derange-o-Meter still is effective. And kids on average do seem to learning the material. That's the important thing!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Step Up: the Software Industry vs. Teaching in Cameroon

As it's another rainy night in Bandjoun (we are still in the 9-month-long rainy season), I started thinking about my experience in Peace Corps so far. It has been just shy of 5 months, but I'm feeling that joining Peace Corps has been the most worthwhile thing I have ever done.

To put this in context, I spent 18 years as a software developer, most of it working for a large software company. During that time, I had so many options that I was totally spoiled. Not only did I want for nothing, I never even had to confront difficult issues. I was always interacting with people who were similar to me. Being the software industry, none of us had particularly well-developed social skills, but that was not really a problem because it was easy to find people to agree with. Plus, you didn't have to. Debate is often at the very heart of the creative process: it's the best idea that should win, and the ability to sell an idea doesn't necessarily depend upon the social aptitude of the idea's messenger. (Well, it can and often does, but not when no one around is all that socially adept!)

Needless to say, I also had many options for cuisine and housing and activities. If I didn't like a job, I could move to another one. Or I could start doing different work in my existing job... they usually saw that as "initiative" rather than, oh, say... insubordination. That concept did not exist in practice as long as some sort of results were achieved!

In fact, as a manager, the main problem I had with motivating employees was getting them to do the thing I wanted in the manner I knew it needed to be done. I could just mention something and usually they would have it done in hours or days. If the work was challenging it sold itself. The company rewarded great performance. Again, the only issue was whether I could convince them to write (for example) an object-oriented interface rather than the XML that would have been so much easier though less efficient. Something like that was often pulling teeth, but if the final result worked, no harm no foul from my bosses' perspective.

Even then, I thought my life was way too insular. I found I had little ability to connect with people who were not in the software industry. It was difficult to relate to them or find things to talk about. I also felt completely spoiled by 150 cable channels and access to any product within driving distance. Not to mention (reliable) running water, (reliable) electricity, washing machines, dishwashers, an oven and a hot water heater.

Not so anymore. I don't have any of those things. Plus, I am forced to confront issues I never had to deal with before. I can't escape anyone or any situation that is uncomfortable.

Yet I don't feel the least bit deprived. It's bizarre. For all the problems that exist here, figuring out how to deal with them and seeing the positive result is incredibly rewarding! Probably more so than any technical challenge I ever had in my old world.

I'm teaching computer literacy at the high school in Bandjoun. The high school actually encompasses grades 6-12, so I'm teaching kids between the ages of 12-16 at the moment. Motivating older kids is fairly easy: they understand the connection between success in life and good grades (or rather, paying attention and good grades). So they take notes, pay attention and on average do fairly well on tests. The younger kids (6th and 7th graders - 6me and 5me here) do not make that connection. I tried many things, including rewarding them with time in the computer lab if the class behaved. There were mixed results, initially successful and lately not so much. On Tuesday, it was as if they we were at square one again: most of the students were laughing, running out of the classroom, eating (which is prohibited) and only 2 students out of 60 even raised their hands to answer a question from an assignment they were supposed to have done a week before. It was obvious none of them had done it. They weren't very ashamed of that either (as pictured :)
So I had a long talk with a Cameroonian teacher today for advice. His suggestion: for young kids, give them candy if they answer a question. Geez, that's so obvious. I don't know why I didn't think of it. Another gem: if they're talking in class, make them write a phrase over and over a la Bart Simpson. That will shut them up and punish them, and if its a useful phrase they will learn something at the same time. Classic! Yet if that's what they're used to, it's worth trying.

We had a departmental meeting today, which I was supposed to lead as head of the department. The first one six weeks ago was a bit weird. Mostly I had trouble following the rapid-fire French. Yet I was also frequently reminded that I was supposed to be running the meeting, even though I had no idea what it was supposed to be about. As a result, it lasted 4 hours. That's way too long for my taste! Today, the meeting went incredibly smoothly, clocking 1:30. There was a logical progression, and a plausible solution was proposed for almost every issue raised. I am also proud to report that I understood everything that was said. (Granted, a few things were rephrased at my request.) Plus, we set a date for a social event for the department in two weeks. I'll be hosting at my house. This is great: another bridge is under construction!

The department was also very grateful for the projector I had bought. That was another "aha" moment I had last week. I finally realized that the students were not absorbing the content because they didn't understand it. It wasn't because of my accent, as I had suspected. It was because they have no text books, no photos and no computers at their homes. So how can they be expected to understand words on a chalkboard that have no connection with their lives? How can they understand an optical versus a mechanical mouse if they've never seen a mouse?! OK, maybe they've seen a mouse, but not a tablet PC or a smartphone. Certainly not a mainframe. I thought maybe they could make a connection if they saw pictures and video of these concepts, if not the physical objects.

So last week, I bought a projector in Bafoussam. On Monday I brought both 2nde classes to the computer lab, showed them a PowerPoint presentation interspersed with live and video demos and quizzed them every few slides for review. The subject was the components of a PC. They totally got it. It was wonderful to see.

I had disassembled all the computers, so afterwards I told them they had to apply their new knowledge and put them back together to use them. The classes on average were really happy about this, and nearly all of them were able to assemble the computers successfully. Only 2/20 reversed the mouse and keyboard PS/2 connectors in one of the two classes (I made a special point of that distinction). Only 1 in each class failed to notice the disconnected power cord. Better, I have a feeling they will do much better on the test at the end of this sequence.

The next day, I wanted to use the projector on another class, but to my delight, another teacher had noticed the projector and was already using it. So I observed his class: these same 6me students (12-year-olds) who had been so bad in the classroom were now focused and concentrating because the teacher could show them all exactly what he wanted them to do via the projector! I was both amazed and ecstatic at such fast results.

One final point I want to repeat is that I had been living in a large metropolitan area in the U.S. where there are tons of options. Not so here. But I have found that that's actually better: I have found certain market ladies and business owners with whom I have developed a rapport. You can do that in the U.S., but mostly you're dealing with interchangeable staff at megastores. Or shopping online. Here is the difference: your experience is personal, good or bad. If you develop a rapport with someone, don't even have to bargain. My connections even slip me extra product when I buy something now! One wonderful lady kept a school prop I had left in her store one time for nearly a week. And unlike some other business owners who had asked me to pay a deposit to carry away a glass bottle of pop, she didn't care and just sold me a large bottle for 325 CFA (it's 500 at the hotel even without the deposit!) It's a bit ironic that I, someone who made a career out of automating manual processes and removing the human element from everyday activities, I now prefer human interaction for some of those same activities.

So after only 5 months, I can already summarize my "accomplishments". My resume may have a ton of impressive-sounding technical stuff on it, but these I am valuing more at the moment:
  • Relating to others outside my demographic: I'd call this nearly resolved. I'm an introvert and will never be a social butterfly, but I have been able to make friends of many backgrounds in a short period of time.

  • Dealing with work-related conflicts: still needs improvement, but much better! I tend to take work-related problems too personally. I'm starting to just go with the flow and take advantage of the wisdom of all the other teachers around.
  • Food: never was much of an issue. In the past week, I've made (mostly from scratch) spaghetti with tomato and onion sauce, banana pancakes, rice pilaf with mixed vegetables, homemade potato chips, a potato/green bean/mushroom stew, and carrot salad with vinaigrette dressing. There's a lot of variety to be had with a few ingredients, and I don't miss meat at all.
  • Patience with neighbors for nosiness/making noise/asking for gifts+favors: just materialized recently. They're so sweet, take in my laundry when it rains, clean my shoes. I'm even used to the loud music on Saturday mornings - I just put in my ear plugs. (I do wish they'd stop asking me to bring them back to the U.S. though...)
  • Feeling isolated: wasn't too bad, but no longer feel that way what with the neighbors coming over to watch Cameroonian videos on my laptop, and so many other PC volunteers.
  • Patience at not understanding expectations/rapid French: dramatically increased. The rules and expectations at the high school are starting to make sense. I just had a one hour French course today, and the prof basically told me I didn't need it. I'm really down the slang and rapid/slurred speech (especially spoken by young kids) being difficult. But even then, they are now rephrasing more slowly rather than repeating at the same speed, so I'm now able to understand and pick up new expressions.

In any case, this has been an incomparably rewarding experience and I'm sooo glad I decided to do it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some Ornithological Show-n-Tell

DISCLAIMER: the views expressed are my own and not of Peace Corps.

Today I am posting a bit of a multi-media presentation. First, a few bird photos taken in the past week:
This is a handsome (and frisky) male Fire-crowned or Black-winged Bishop, defending his patch of corn on Saturday, October 23, 2010. I think they've gotten used to me and the camera. This one barely moved when we approached, and I was also able to take this video of the same bird!

This is a Fiscal Shrike. They seem to be really common here, but so far fairly camera shy. This one was even calling, but they take off the moment I take notice of them. Oh well, they seem to be getting used to me little by little. And they are still not as shy as...

...African Pied Hornbills. These guys are spectacular (though modest compared to many of the other hornbills in Africa!!) This one was calling loudly and sitting right next to the lycée, but the moment I stopped and took out my camera, he went mute. I was able to capture a short vocalization in my video here.

Other recent bird videos are on YouTube here:

WARNING: these videos are not high-quality (to say the least), but they do capture the general experience of birding here in Cameroon. Even plain-looking birds can show surprising flashes of color and/or have beautiful songs. It's also useful to capture the songs for later reference, since birding by ear can be a far more useful skill than birding by eyes alone.

Other news:
  • My living room set was delivered on Wednesday afternoon. On a rickety wagon. Pushed/dragged up a hill by one single (and rather slight) man. He asked for a tip, and I really wish I had asked in advance what is appropriate. I only had 400 CFA to give him - and he probably deserved a lot more!!
  • I bought a projector to use at the high school. It will be much easier to show students how to do things rather than try to describe it in my still-suboptimal French. We'll see how that goes - it seemed to work on another guy's Terminale class on Friday, so we'll see. My biggest fear is the device getting damaged or stolen since I got the smallest model.
  • I'm getting more and more confused about the concept of punctuality at the high school.

For more on the last bullet, here's an example: First, they publish a schedule that says that grades for the first sequence have to be filled out by last Tuesday. Yet on Tuesday afternoon, the report cards are still empty. They each need to be filled out by the professor principal. OK, so after checking on this every day for a week, on Wednesday, the names are finally filled in. However, I am also literally the only person filling in grades. One of the vice principals has also left early, so Thursday afternoon I make a special trip to fill out grades for my last two classes. I notice that I am at this point (2 full days past the "deadline") the 3rd teacher of 15-20 who has filled out any of the report cards.

Then on Friday, the vice principal for my (IT) department catches me, is clearly upset, and tells me that my department is behind and I am the last one to report statistics and I need to get him the department statistics (ie, summary of all grades) by Monday at the very latest. I mean, wtf?! If Friday was the "real" deadline for all work to be completed, they should have written Friday on the schedule in the first place. One of the other professors hadn't even given the final exam to one of his classes yet, so reporting is impossible until he collects, grades and fills out the report cards himself! All that said... being Peace Corps, it's not like you can fired for doing something "wrong", but still... still feeling general weirdness about how to interpret "the rules".

Speaking of weirdness in the extreme, I also heard something I don't ever want to hear again: someone (a Cameroonian) defending corporal punishment in school by saying that's what colonials did to motivate Africans on plantations in the U.S!! J.C... how do you even respond to something like that??

Here's the context: the guy in question was an English teacher who was answering a compliment posed by one of us volunteers, "How do you speak such good English?" His answer was that his own English teachers beat the students if they couldn't conjugate the verb "to be", etc. So he studied hard. Really, really hard, basically just to avoid being beaten.

OK... So I would agree that discipline is a problem here. Probably the biggest problem other than lack of resources. Actually, discipline is arguably worse, since the kids will not share the resources (ie computers) they have, and they often don't behave or study well enough to deserve using them. Hence why I bought a projector: they don't learn anything in the classroom, so they can't do anything in the lab. At least with the projector I can walk them through the assignment step-by-step.

Yet many of the kids (if not most) don't study, don't care, cheat remorselessly, hit, yell, chat with others with their backs completely facing me as I'm trying to teach them... it's as if they accept failure very easily and have no interest in classwork at all. But good God... I think it has been proven by now that beating people into submission is Very Bad Thing, and that positive reinforcement actually works better in the long run. It would not be a good thing to have my 300 students scarred for life by memories of being beaten by a white chick, screaming "Click with the LEFT mouse button!! HOLD DOWN the shift key! TURN OFF CAPS LOCK!!"

I really don't think those kids would end up liking computers very much... :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bandjoun Birding

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

A couple of weekends ago I found a wetlands area a short walk from my house here in Bandjoun. That was some great luck! It's probably only here in the rainy season, but right now there is a colony of Viellot's Black and Village Weavers there. I also managed to find some other interesting species such as Zebra Waxbills (bright red and orange-striped finches) and a Wire-tailed Swallow! I did hear what was probably a rail of some sort, but strangely I no luck finding any waterfowl or wading birds. I'm not complaining though - the birds that were there were gorgeous, and there were fish jumping in the stream.

Wire-tailed Swallow

Viellot's Black Weaver

The rest of the town also had some interesting avian visitors. In addition to African Pied Hornbills and Green (Guinea) Turacos that occasionally show up, and the resident Fiscal Shrikes, Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleus, Splendid Glossy Starlings, Fire-crowned Bishops and other wonders, I have seen an Ovambo Sparrowhawk a few times. I managed to capture this one at the top of a tree practically in the middle of town!
Just beyond the stream and up a steep hill, I managed to find this Ashy Flycatcher also. Plus some sunbirds, canaries and mystery warbler I'm tentatively calling a Red-Pate Cisticola. (Oddly, the red-pate shows up in the video I took but not in the photo, where it looks more like a deformed Willow Warbler. Neither of the pictures my field guides bare any resemblance to the other, and I basically compared photos I found online!) In any case, this flycatcher was MUCH easier to identify.

Teaching is going really well this week. Since the first sequence just ended, I had to grade all 6 classes last week. I'm very glad I don't have more classes than that, and only around 60 students per class: it took 2 days to grade all the exams, and then 4 hours today to record the grades! Some of the tests were from students who weren't on the roster (yikes - I only now realized they were hogging the computer lab from paying students!), and other students didn't turn in assignments at all. It's also hard to reconcile the names on the papers with the roster because they all have 4-5 names which they use in random combinations. One student signed her name "Sylvie" when the prenom is least important element of the name! I had to do some detective work and elimination to figure out who it was.

I also discovered (finally seeing the student rosters for the first time today) that the student numbers the students have all been writing on their assignments are mostly wrong. I was hoping that numbers would be infallible if I couldn't read the name. So much for that plan!

Four of the 6 classes did fairly well, averaging about 12/20 (which is at least a passing grade). Sixiemes did not, averaging 9/20, the majority failing in each class. That was even after fudging the grades by turning all work other than the final exam into extra credit. The average before that was 7/20. I'm really going to have to slow down for them.

Today the subject for the Seconde class was the different types of computers. I figured there wasn't much point in following the textbook and teaching them about hybrid, analog, neXT computers and mainframes (and the whole history of the IBM product line), so I gave them the latest on PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and "smart" vs. "dumb" clients. The students were so excited to see and touch my Blackberry also, and then they were asking me price ranges in dollars, euros and CFA on all the different types of computers I described. Phew. It is so much more interesting to talk about tangible objects rather than the term definitions and historical objects (Pascaline!? Abacus beads??) we've been dwelling on for the past 6 weeks.

I am noticing also that it is raining pretty much every single day. It doesn't last long, but it is very very hard when it does rain. One issue is that if it suddenly starts during class, no one can hear anything unless you close the windows, and then the room is pitch-black. Plus, no one wants to leave school and walk in a downpour. Even after it stops, the roads are slick and muddy, and you end up at least with shoes just covered with red mud.

Laundry is another inconvenience: I washed my clothes on Friday, and I was only able to take my socks in today, 3 days later (since I don't have a dryer or anything!) Even though my neighbors were sweet enough to move the socks under the roof overhang before the first rain, it still took 3 days for them to dry. The irony of course is that when the sun shines, it's so hot that most of my clothes are dry within 4 hours. So if I'm lucky, I can have laundry done end-to-end on the same day. But the rain just rolls in at random. Last night, I saw lightning flashes around 11:30pm that went on for a while. Then thunder suddenly struck, I heard the wind come out of nowhere, and then just sheets of rain DUMPED on the roof. I don't think I've ever heard rain that hard in my life (and I am from Seattle and lived in the Midwest, btw).

Another thing I found strange was that after a whole day without power when it hadn't even been raining, we had this sudden powerful storm and the power stayed on throughout. Go figure.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A few bird videos

Today, I'm posting some bird videos that I have taken in the past couple of days. I thought it would be fun to take video as it captures the behavior and the vocalizations, even if the visuals are not always super high quality.

This is a Red-collared Widowbird (Euplectes ardens), well camouflaged in this eucalyptus tree. The red collar actually does not show in this Cameroonian subspecies, but the long tail is very evident from this angle! You can also hear its distinctive rattling call over some loud Pied Crow cawing.

Here are a few links to others videos of some of the more common birds in the area.

A gorgeous Fire-crowned Bishop (Euplectes hordeaceus) vocalizing near my house in Bandjoun in October 2010. I kept taking video and playing it back, and hearing his own voice annoyed him enough to come this close!

A frisky male Yellow-shouldered Widowbird (Euplectes macrourus) doing a territorial display near Kamgo in October 2010. He may have been responding to my pishing, as there were a lot of birds in the bushes. A Singing Cisticola (Cisticola cantans) is calling in the background.

A Black-crowned Waxbill (Estrilda nonnula) near Bandjoun in October 2010. These are very common around my house, and even though they are tiny, their bright red rumps are easy to spot as they fly away. A few Yellow-fronted Canaries (Serinus mozambicus) and abundant Gray-headed Sparrows (Passer griseus) are calling in the background - the latter call very similar to that of House Sparrows! The very light "tick" is the call that belongs to the waxbill.

The pair of Red-faced Lovebirds (Agropornis pullaria) that I posted about earlier during PST in Bafia in August. A Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava) is vocalizing in the foreground.

Here's another (better) view of a male Red-collared Widowbird, also in Bandjoun.