Tuesday, July 29, 2008

the mobile computer lab takes another tour

today is the first real day i've had off in what feels like awhile. last week, i put on my education volunteer hat and taught 20 hours of classes. 4 hours of sessions to the SED trainees (community groups and working with farmers), 4 hours of business class (inventory and budgeting), and 12 hours of life skills out in a muddy village (setting goals, creating action plans, overcoming obstacles, daily activity schedules, and how to resist peer pressure). the most memorable and most tiring were the lifeskills classes out in village.

nura and i, accompanied by elsa and leoni from ridev (and theo on the first and last day), implemented our second tour of the mobile computer lab in another volunteer's village about an hour away (if you can immediately find a car to take you there). we have been intensely word-of-mouthing the project to all of the volunteers in the area. while i was in america, nura sent an email informing me that we would be traveling to danny's village, where i had never been. the only thing that i knew about it was that there was no high school (the students walk to the neighboring town) and that there was only one car that regularly went there. definitely more remote than what i'm used to. danny had posted fliers in french around town, specifying that we wanted 10 girls and 10 boys between the ages of 11 and 18 to take learn computers. each participant would contribute 400 CFA (a little less than a dollar) to go towards our transport costs (which ended up being signifcant). i was definitely impressed to find out that the maximum number of people had signed up; somehow students had scraped together enough money to pay for the class. they really wanted to learn computers!

i was initially worried, because danny's fliers said nothing about the life skills classes that every participant would be required to take, but when the class started, my worries disappeared. the students completely respected our strict expectations (come to every class on time and stay til the end if you want a certificate) without question. we held the class at the chefferie (the chief's palace). my classroom was the storage closet on the way to the prison. nura's class was slightly larger and better lit. danny told me that he had spent the better part of the first morning cleaning up the bat guano that was covering the floor of my room. there were no lights or glass in the windows, and the students sat at long wooden desks, usually reserved for school houses.

we kept the group divided into girls and boys, me and elsa first teaching the girls about goals while the boys had their first contact with the computer, then switching classes. this is the first time that i've ever worked with a group of girls only. it was much more difficult than i had expected. this was also elsa's first teaching experience, so that added to the pressure. i took control during the first class, but the girls were so initially shy that getting them to talk was like pulling teeth. when one girl stood up to talk, she actually got so nervous that she put her head in the desk. luckily, as the class wore on, they became more comfortable with talking in front of us, which consequently meant that it made it harder to control their giggling.

i thought that the most interesting classes came at the end of the tour. having the girls and boys seperately list possible obstacles to their goals was really interesting. the girls immediately listed mariage and early pregnancy, telling me that once your family decides that you will get married, even if you are only sixteen, if you refuse you will be kicked out of the house. even in my village, i feel like this happens less frequently because it is so much more urban and modern. just take a moto off the beaten path (and over the hills, around the bends, and through the red mud), and it's like going back in time 50 years (at least).

in america, i would have immediately thought that a solution to your parents wanting you to marry would be to talk sense into them. here, children have little power in the face of their parents, and to talk back is to be extremely disrespectful. instead, we suggested that the girls identify role models amongst their family members who are well respected in the community (an aunt who is a doctor, a cousin who is a teacher) and ask them to speak on the girl's behalf to the parents. the girls seemed impressed with this solution, previously expressing that they thought there was absolutely no way out.

the boys' problems were more tied to lack of financial means. i ended up teaching about the importance of savings. no one in the group saved their money, let alone had considered opening up a bank account (here, it is important to note that the general age of the boys was on the older side than the girls).

every single day, we rode back home on motos, and every single day, it rained. one time, nura and i had to get off the moto and walk up the hill because the road was too slippery. then i promptly dropped my folder in the mud. ah, the price you pay for fulfilling work.

all in all, i was very pleased with the class, and very excited to read the evalutations we collected at the end. after being asked what their favorite class was, most of the girls chose life skills over computers, which just reiterates the importance of this project: people might be attracted to it by the promise of being able to touch a computer, but they will remember the life skills and hopefully use them in their lives to come.

Friday, July 11, 2008

aller et retour

once again, a lot has occured since last i posted anything.

i flew back home, visited virginia, met a lot of lee's family, drove to tennessee, went to an amazing music festival, drove back to virginia, flew to california, went to the spa (thank god), saw more family, and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to stock up on supplies and gifts to bring back to post. everything in the states seems simple, but going to target, costco, best buy, and old navy all in one day still takes it out of you.

one year down, one to go.

coming back to the states was bizarre at first. the small cultural differences are what were initially the most strange to me, for example, apparently it's really formal to shake everyone's hand in a room. also, toilet seats are awfully sturdy and roads are awfully wide and smooth. being in walmart is like being trapped in an air-conditioned hamster cage with lots of distractions. sushi is my life blood, the only thing that i seriously cannot replicate in cameroon. road rage seems completely unnecessary and everyone seems terrified and stressed out for one reason or another. climate change climate change climate change. at post, my scope is not so large.

the music festival was an oasis, a place that was neither in the states or africa, full of things to listen to and look at. it was so much fun. i will never forget it. live music has this amazing power to move me emotionally in a way that nothing else can. i realize that i can't live without it.

it was also great to see my family in california, although i felt a great deal of stress there, mostly because i only had one week to run ten thousand errands and see everyone before i came back.

and now, the backness. it was ridiculously difficult for me to leave washington dc and my boyfriend, knowing that i would be spending a year without him, which, for your family, is ok because you are 95% sure that you will see everyone again and have the same relationship. they are stuck with you and your roles are defined. inter-continental romantic relationships are another beast, full of uncertainty and an extreme desire to hold on as tight as you can but also knowing that you can't control what happens. this depresses me, and i know that it will depress me for a long time to come.

apart from that, everything is advancing. the minute i got off the plane and smelled cameroon, i knew that everything was fine and that i feel at home here and still have a lot of work to do. i immediately went to help with the training of the new SED/ED stage, and have now immediately programmed another tour of my mobile computer lab, for which i need to create four more interactive lesson plans. work work work. i just wish that the depressed tinge would go away. i thought that i could completely blot it out with frantic activity. apparently it's not that simple. damnit. and i've only been back for ten days. maybe it will get easier?