Saturday, 29 August 2009

Week One- Practically Cameroonian

This is the view from a balcony of the apartments where I'm staying- if you click on it you should be able to see a lot more details, including a little bit of the road which I described in this blog.

(I put some more pictures up on facebook, so check it out!)

I've been here about a week, and it feels like way longer, just because I've seen so much and learned sooo much. I know it will start to fly by. I'm practically Cameroonian already. Ok, just kidding. I've realized how stupid I was to not work on my French before I got here, so I'm going to try and work on it now (I have rosetta stone, thanks to Derek- the guy who takes care of me, even when I'm across the ocean).

This week has been teacher in service week, getting ready for the kids to come on Monday. Oh man, not only am I new to traveling and to this country, but I'm also new to teaching in general. And to teaching at a private school. There is sooo much stuff to learn! So many forms and meetings and details... I'm pretty burnt out on all that stuff. Let alone planning for teaching a class! Not a class, 5 classes. The teachers have had just this week to clean their classrooms (and I mean actually clean- everything here gets moldy, and the teachers have to do it all) set everything up (like posters and arrange the room and organize supplies) AND to do all their lesson plans. Crazy.

So I realized I haven’t really said much about what I’m doing here and what the school is like. So here’s the rundown- the American School of Yaounde (ASOY) is a private, American, pre-k to 12 school that is taught in English and has an American curriculum. It’s located in Yaounde and is basically a school for wealthy Cameroonians, embassy kids, military kids, any kid whose parents are stationed in Cameroon or a surrounding country for a period of time. This means that the kids who attend are really diverse. For example, in my 4th grade class, all 6 students are from different countries, none of them America. It’s a pretty small school, each class ranges from 6 to maybe 16 students. The school is surrounded by walls with barbed wire and has guards (like most large houses or embassies or establishments) at the gate who check each car for bombs before they enter (even the teachers). The school itself is so cool though. It’s kind of like individual classrooms that are connected but you have to go outside to switch rooms. There is a covered basketball court, a pool, tennis courts, and a soccer field which is more like a dirt field. I’ll try to take pictures of it soon so I can post them.

So my role is to student teach for 4th to 8th grade science. That means I’m working with one teacher, Tom, for 6-8th grade science, and then the 4th (Roger) and 5th (Richard) grade teachers. 4th and 5th is like regular elementary classes, so they have the same teacher all day, but I’m just going to come in for science. Although, there’s no textbooks or materials or curriculum really for these grades, so I get to be creative! I’m actually really excited about it. 6th to 8th is much more organized as Tom is the science teacher, so he has materials and books and everything. So I’m really excited to be learning from all these great teachers. Tom did peace corp in Cameroon awhile ago and has since taught all over the world practically, and has lived in Cameroon for awhile now, so even though he’s from Minnesota, we still say he’s practically Cameroonian. Roger is on his first year here, but he’s been teaching for like 30 plus years in Damascus and Holland. Roger and I are buddies because for both of us this is our first time in Cameroon, at this school, and neither of us know French. Except he’s obviously more experienced than me in travel and teaching, so I don’t really consider us equals. Richard is Cameroonian, he’s also in charge of the boarding house that I stayed at for about 5 days. He was a teacher assistant at ASOY for a few years and this is his 2nd year teaching here now. These teachers and all the rest are just such cool people. There are a lot of Cameroonian teachers, but also some from Belgium, France, Syria, Israel… lots. Everyone is just so friendly. They love asking me why I chose to come to Cameroon J.

So, I also didn’t explain where I’m living. When I arrived I stayed the weekend at the teachers’ apartments. The apartments are for the ex-pat teachers. Everyone was so nice and so helpful. I was going to live at the boarding house, and I stayed there for this week, but now I’ve moved back to the apartments so I can be with the teachers- some of my good friends here offered for me to stay a few weeks with each of them, so I’m really excited about that. This is just a much better situation than staying at the boarding out, and its much more social. Right now I’m living with Liz- she’s who I stayed with right when I got here. She’s so great- she is an American who grew up in Gabon, which is just south of Cameroon, and also lived awhile in India. She went to the states for college and now is back for her first year at ASOY. She’s Bah’qui (I forget how to spell it, but it sounds like Bahigh), which sounds a lot like Christianity, but it believes that all the major religions are all really the same, like progressive revelation. She’s really fun and we’ve had a good time. I think she’s taking me dancing tomorrow night J

I’m also going to be staying with Angena, another single female teacher from NY, but this is her second year. Super nice and super cool. And I’ll stay with Lindsey and Brian, a married couple from Iowa, they’re second year teachers too. These teachers are just so nice and so helpful- they’ve really helped me to get adjusted here and taken care of me.

One of the things that struck me since I’ve been here is just how helpful and nice everyone is. That includes the American teachers and the Cameroonian teachers. The people are also very polite and friendly- everyone says hello to everyone else. Except that it still isn’t a safe place to be alone at all, because of the all the mugging and thievery.

Oh, so back to where I’m staying. We’re about a 15 minute car ride to the school, but still in the city, in an area called Bastos. The apartments also have walls and guards 24/7 (thievery is really big here). A lot of the returning teachers have cars, so we just kinda find a ride. The roads here are crazy!! There are tons of taxis, but they tell us to please please not take taxis because they are dangerous and you will most likely get robbed if you’re not in a group. But everyone in the city takes them- I think that its worse when you’re a white American who is easy to take advantage of. Liz still takes them by herself during the day sometimes, but she has lived here and is fluent so she knows more of what she’s doing. I will not be taking them on my own J. Back to the roads- there are no road signs or names, and not really any rules, except the bigger car has the right of way. I’ve only seen one traffic light. No speed limit. Basically its constant merging and passing. You can pass anyone anytime, sometimes people flash their lights when they’re gonna do it, sometimes not. Lots of horn honking too. Its crazy but fun. All the cars are standard, and there’s tons of hills, and a lot of the not main roads are very narrow and have all sorts of potholes (except they are dirt) and sharp turns. Needless to say, I won’t be driving anywhere while I’m here- don’t worry mom and dad.

The other day while driving home from school I saw something interesting- there was a guy lying on the side of the road, kind of passed out. We weren’t sure at first what was going on, but then we realized he was just really drunk (this was at like 4 in the afternoon). Another guy walked by and came up to him, I thought he was going to help- but he reached in and took the guy’s money out of his pocket! While he was walking away someone yelled at him and he went and put it back. The drunk guy woke up and looked around and started swearing at the guy who made the thief put it back!

Alcoholism is very big here. The beer is super cheap- like 1 US dollar for a bottle, which is like the size of at least 2 of our beer bottles. Apparently Cameroon has one of the highest drunk driving rates anywhere. Another reason why the roads are crazy I guess.

Well, I want to end on a positive note, so you don’t get the idea that I have negative feelings towards Cameroon. It is such a cool place- so beautiful. The dirt is red, and there are a lot of green trees- lots of palm trees. There are these mango trees that the bats love- during the day these huge bats just fly around these trees- like seriously at least 100 of them. It’s also very hilly- so close to the city are these little “mounts” I guess, which are kind of rainforesty, I really want to go exploring. There are these cool yellow flowers everywhere- so when you look around it’s a lot of bright green and yellow. And the temperature is great- I thought it was going to be hot, but its not humid (although I guess its very moist so that everyone gets moldy really easily) so its like 80 every day, and at night it cools down a little so its just very comfortable. And its always sunny, the sun is very strong. Except when these huge black clouds roll in and it’s a torrential downpour. It’s the rainy season, so it happens very often, and sometimes they are short but sometimes it lasts for hours. The streets get like little rivers, although there are trenches alongside all the roads to prevent it. Its also super loud, especially because a lot of the roofs are metal. I guess when it pours when you’re teaching you just have to stop because no one can hear you. I think it’s really cool J.

Ok, well now that I’ve given a lot of introductory stuff, I hope my next messages can be more about observations and about the culture and the people. Also, if you have questions about something I haven’t mentioned yet, just write and ask so I can be sure to cover everything. I’m writing these and other emails, so I might forget what I told to whom.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to email me too.




  1. So fascinating to read about! keep blogging! :-)

  2. This is a good idea. I'm looking forward to reading more.