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.