Tuesday, April 29, 2008

more malta

OK, malta is growing on me. just had a couple at Flo’s off-license. they’re better/easier on an almost empty but stable stomach. may actually taste good soon. more a meal than a drink, really. and my only option in terms of appeasing the generous folk who keep offering me drinks.

the Prefet (or Sous-prefet?... a nice man from the West) bought me one. and the VP of GTHS. then i went to the back and ate with James (Flo’s husband) in the parlor. watched some CRTV (Cameroon Radio and Television). talked a little Anglophone politics. TV was interesting... saw President Bush and all the major players on “our” side for the 1st time in a long time. Powell, Rumsfeld, etc.

also saw a side of Cameroon i’m not used to seeing... sometimes i forget it even exists. privileged, posh, Westernized “Yaoundites” on the news. civil servants at seminars, officials at meetings, students in clean schools with computers... all very well dressed, nice cars, choice shots of the city. that ain’t the Cameroon i know! and yet it is Cameroon. James had a few things to say about that.

i’ll end with a point about pests. ants in the kitchen. a roach in the bedroom. termites in the parlor. slug in the bathroom. really making it difficult just to be patient and be at peace here in my abode. makes me think about “Moontiger" [a powerful and probably extremely unhealthy asian-bran insecticide], too. but i’m won’t go there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

drinking malta

Omaru never showed up to take me to his compound. oh, well... some other time. instead, i spent most of the day with “Bali-people.” Samuel invited Paul and I (a teacher from GTHS as well) to his place for a quick lunch. they caught me right after i’d finished cleaning the house. room is partially arranged. this is actually the 1st time i write on my new table and use my chair. they’re nice... a little “rough.” not sanded well. splinters.

anywho... we ate fufu-corn and okro-soup at Samuel’s. enjoyed it. spicy. took me a while to finish it. slimy. later in the afternoon we joined Kenneth and his wife at the Bali Cultural & Development Association meeting. i think they call they call the group a njangi... the concept isn’t totally foreign to me only b/c i’ve read about such groups in Achebe’s books. specifically in No Longer at Ease.

they meet, exchange news, work on projects, share ideas and resources, drink and dance. these last 2 are worth commenting on. i’d be willing to bet that Cameroonians can drink anybody under the table... is that how the saying goes? and i wonder how the irish would feel about that? now, dancing... a few drums, a couple of shakers, a chant or two, and much rhythm is all it takes to party here. oh, and much drink of course.

it was great watching the atmosphere progress from the slow, not tense or nervous but shaky start of the meeting to the unbridled merriment at the end. palm wine, corn chaff, kola, fufu-corn and njamma-njamma, and beer. i drank malta. slowly. b/w that and achu and okro-soup i’m not sure which i’ll adapt to 1st???

we shall see

“Hope subsides, but curiosity still remains. We shall see...”
-quote from a host of a BBC Radio program.

note: i believe this was in reference to finding 9/11 survivors under the rubble of the twin towers in NYC. not sure why i recorded this statement in my journal. maybe it was that last phrase that struck me. i was using it a lot at the end of my entries at the time. we'll see...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

wet wum

played ball for like an hour and a ½ this afternoon. down by the hospital. actually a nice court. many people. a few older gentleman (some civil servants i believe) and a handful of young men. good competition.

need to work on my dribbling and stamina. we played through the rain. light but enough to make the ball, boards and ground slippery and wet. i’m tired now. not my mind but my body... looking forward to more exercise though.

oh... i’m planning on visiting Omaru’s home this Sunday. Mu’aathu’s next Saturday. both seem like truly nice people. i want to learn a little about cattle grazing and the issues behind it from them. Mu’aathu also says he’ll teach me Fufulde.

it’s raining out. i’m at school. got wet and just a little dirty on the way here. just finished an Applied Science lesson with 3rd year. went well. did Living Things. i spoke to them about the issue of teaching pedagogy... basically told them they should be actively observing me up there, instead of expecting me to explicitly teach pedagogy.

anywho... got my bed today. it’s nice. solid and stylish, too. even has 2 little compartments built into the headrest. makes the room smell like varnish though. table, chair and wardrobe are on the way. i’ll be suffocating in there by week’s end. i wish this rain would end. i want to go home and cook.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

at ease with myself

i often felt like wum was a microcosm of nigeria... geographically, we were quite close. in fact, there was some smuggling across the border in terms of trade. the big ticket item being the large honda motorcycle-taxis that plied the roads of wum. again, the motorcycle i’m standing next to in the photo to the top right is one example of that. i know the history of that moto-taxi all too well.

then there were nigerian movies. ubiquitous to the NW province... and beyond. what to say about nigerian movies? feature-length soap operas, basically. melodramatic. highly imaginative. a low-budget look. and, in my humble opinion, reinforcing too many of the ills in modern nigerian culture. from corruption to violence to promiscuity. for many anglophone cameroonians, however, the entertainment factor was simply too hard to resist.

the fault lines in wum were also very much like those in nigeria... ethnicity, religion, culture, lifestyle, indigeniety, etc. i’m thinking of two particular peoples (though many other actors often come into play), the aghem and the fulani. the first is a tribe indigenous to wum. mostly christian now, though with a strong traditional religious influence. the aghem are historically farmers. even those who’ve become traders or civil servants still have a strong connection, cultural or agricultural, to the land.

the fulani, on the other hand, are seen as outsiders to wum. and many other parts of anglophone cameroon. they are largely muslim. ethnically and culturally they are very distinct from many of the tribes of the northwest province. they look different. speak a different mother tongue, fulfulde. the fulani are historically pastoralists. this is the case across much of west africa. they were/are cattle herders, or graziers.

at least two generations ago, as i was told by a fulani, the aghem chief invited a group of aku graziers (as the aghem refer to them) to wum from nigeria, to address a scarcity of meat in the area. their numbers have grown since then and other fulani groups also came to settle in and around wum. what i noted in terms of local issues b/w aghem farmers and fulani graziers a few posts ago are the seeds of farmer-grazier tension in wum.

in nigeria (again, wum being a microcosm of the situation there) this underlying farmer-grazier tension has flared into conflict... if not fueled civil war. i began to sense this tension in wum soon after my arrival... in large part b/c i moved across the boundaries, or fault lines, so easily. i was an outsider, but thoroughly anglophone. and yet a muslim. i was an educated westerner, but also an easterner. i was a teacher, and respected b/c of that, but a young person that children and youth could also relate to.

as usual, i won’t go into much more detail here... though i’m afraid i already have. my intent was to introduce this issue, another big cross-cultural theme in the blog, and give some background to the story that will slowly play itself out in my journal entries. indeed, i often felt like it was playing itself out within me. for this is a theme clearly symbolic of my own struggle to come to terms with all facets of my identity. if i could be at peace and at ease with myself, why couldn't wum?

on african literature...

why all this reading? and why all the african literature? the first question is easy enough to answer. peace corps volunteers have a lot of free time on their hands, even after all the work and socializing! most of that time is often spent alone or traveling. all this makes for much reading. good books are passed around or left behind by volunteers who’ve gone home. not to mention all the good books you bring with you or have friends and family send in the mail.

beside the obvious fact that i was living and working in africa, i’m not sure why i first started reading african literature. a lot has to do with chinua achebe. i read his Things Fall Apart back home... a year or so before i left. and i loved it. i suppose that helped pave the way for further reading. a friend then recommended Cry, The Beloved Country. same effect. loved it and wanted more.

but you’ve probably noticed that there was/is something else to all this reading for me in cameroon. namely, the insight into african life and culture that it afforded. i think i made the connection pretty quickly. back in babadjou. with the Old Man and the Medal and laughing to keep from crying, among a number of other themes which resonated with my cross-cultural experience at the time.

i’m also not sure why i made it a point to respond to the books i was reading in my journals they way that i did. part of processing the texts. and the links that i saw and felt to the new world around me. part of me must’ve known that i was drawing lessons out of the books. but it was subtle. contemplative. enjoyable. that’s how african literature slowly began to give me insight into african culture. and, in some ways, to ease the process of adjusting and adapting to it.

agian, this was especially the case with quality literature like achebe’s... cameroonian literature (like that of oyono, beti and jumbam) also helped shed light on the life and culture of the place i was living in, no doubt. but there’s something about achebe’s work... perhaps it’s also about how close the connections are b/w nigerian and cameroonian culture. indeed, the two countries share a porous border, a political history and many tribal/cultural links.

Monday, April 21, 2008

no longer at ease

also 9/19/2001:
as for No Longer at Ease. it's set a little further back in modern Nigerian history. GB is still there but on its way out. the novel is a sequel to Things Fall Apart in that the protagonist is Okwonko’s grandchild. and the theme is the same. a man with all that it takes to succeed in this society tragically loses everything (“all that promise...”) b/c of a character flaw... a stubbornness, an all too impulsive tendency to do things his own way, and go against his own chi (see the theme of chi here), if you will.

what was interesting in the book was the little connections it had with Anthills of the Savannah actually. Achebe alludes to more than a few details in this latter book (Anthills, 1987) from the former (No Longer, 1960). i happened to read them out of chronological order but it made no difference, really. he names children the same very symbolic names, he repeats sayings almost to the t, etc. it’s cool. i like it.

No Longer at Ease is told in a flash back. it begins in court. the scene of Obi Okwnoko’s downfall and ends there. in the middle it recounts the story of his life as it builds up to the climactic moment where Obi is arrested for corruption... the very thing he sets out against in his country’s system.

again, the ending here left a little to be desired. it wrapped up too quickly. i was surprised there wasn’t more to say. even the characters, Achebe’s strong-suit usually, were somewhat underdeveloped. i suppose like all sequels it’s tough to top the original.

i’m in the midst of lesson prep and SOW development now... not sure what or when i’ll pick up next in terms of literature. i’ve got my eyes on The White Man of God.

anthills of the savannah

i’ve been meaning to write a thing or two—put some thoughts down—about the Achebe books i just finished. Anthills of the Savannah and No Loner at Ease. both are set in more modern day Nigeria. Anthills being the most recent; a modern day state and the political issues that are a backdrop to the story of 3 or 4 well developed characters who play a major role in these politics.

still Achebe makes them very human. and in many ways they represent different aspects of modern Nigerian society. the book is deep. rich with detail about the players involved in this political drama. Achebe cuts back and forth in the story’s timeline. he changes points of view completely in some chapters. allowing each main character to develop his/her own self as much as the others.

the choppy effect keeps the book interesting and engaging. he’s got a way with words. rich, in this case. not simple like in Things Fall Apart. maybe b/c life is no longer simple now??? all the similarities with what i’m experiencing here made the book that much richer. pidgin spoken throughout. bush-taxi rides that take you on mental journeys and, generally, a culture very similar to the one here.

i was only a little unimpressed by the ending. wrapped up a little too Hollywood. not really an intriguing, thought-provoking denouement. people die or are martyred and those left represent some sort of symbolic community that is to lead the country (all figuratively, of course) on.

not sure why i wasn’t all that happy with that. maybe too idealistic from someone i know knows more about how things really are here. but what’s wrong with idealism? and since when have i not been down with it myself?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

paul moves in


...it’s coming down pretty heavily outside. that’s keeping me from going to the store to get rice. Paul just moved in next door today. seems like quite a nice man. came all the way from Mundemba, in the SW. his old post.

he brought a letter from Tonya... who's now at GTTC Mundemba. she’s well. sounds like she... and maybe everyone else outside of Kumba and Buea in the SW is pretty isolated. hot, too. i wrote her back. will post it tomorrow.

...will also write Kristen and Greg. i’ve not much to say here really. school has commenced and is going fine so far. only 2nd year and 3rd year students around. and 3rd year is combined in one stream for now. that cuts my workload in ½ until the new students arrive... maybe October they say.

one note... i woke up to a disturbing image last night. not a nightmare really, only a fragment of a dream. it was a little too vivid, the image. and, again, disturbing. i can’t remember the last time i experienced something like that... a3outhu billah.

Friday, April 18, 2008

bad ride back

i’m in a little bit of pain now. my lower back from the long ride back. my gut from gas. bad combo in terms of location on the body. the ride back. long. bad van. no brakes. no pick-up. walked up a few hills. took ~3hours on the road. another waiting at the park for the van to flop [pidgin for "fill up"].

anywho... back “home” now. didn’t realize how long that to do list was in Bamenda. most of it was done. sans meeting landlord and signing the lease. brought a lot back. mail, packages, moto-helmet, books, b-ball, pots and stuff.

talked to the entire fam. corresponded with a few of the guys over email. some are sending packages, some are sending mail. i also emailed the good folks at MAPCS. bought gelatin (for my makeshift photocopier). ate lunch with Kay before leaving. good to be back in Wum. much to do tomorrow...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

news from home

chilin’ in the slum. all is well at home. just spoke to mama... “everyone is fine and accounted for.” wal-hamdulillah. seems most of the hijackers were Saudis trained in the US. some at Embry-Riddle in Daytona.

anywho... they’ve permanently closed ISA [the Islamic Saudi Academy... my old school in the DC area. but this news wasn't actually true]. imagine that! already having some backlash against the Arab/Muslim population. car driven into the Saudi Embassy and all.

they say the 4th plane (the one that landed in Pennsylvania) was supposed to hit the Whitehouse. says there are constantly fighter-jets overhead in DC and the National Guard on almost every corner. WOW!

got my 1st package from home. mom says others are on the way... also got letters from her and martha. she’s great... news about the National Arboretum and River Farm [both gardens i used to work at]. seems the Rhus i planted is now ~5 feet tall! Pinus wallichiana ‘Nana’ is dead though :(

i’m lounging in a sofa chair. feet up on an ottoman. writing by candlelight. alone in the slum right now. counting crows on the stereo. i think i may invest, no matter how unwisely, in that boom box from the Nigerian salesman in Wum. hmmm???...

oh... Kay and Nat are also coming down. hope all is well for them at home. PA, that is.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

going to bamenda

I know you’re from the DC area. If you need to call family or friends there, please come to Bamenda to do so. PC will reimburse your calls.


...got this letter from PC Admin and a note from Mike as soon as i made it to school this morning. the lone taxi-driver here in town stopped me on my way to school and informed me of its arrival... from Bamenda with Pious, the colleague who may be staying with me. i persuaded the taxi to drive me to school. just didn’t feel like walking from the start. 200 cfa!

anyhow... in regards to the letter, 1st i was indifferent. then a little nervous (about the fam and all), and now kinda like... "naw, no need to call home. all is well, insha’Allah." but i’m thinking a trip to Bamenda and a call home may be worthwhile. i can get a few books and an SOW while i’m there.

we had a long staff meeting, 10:30am-1:30pm. discussed everything from professionalism, subject schedules, discipline to social activity and service fees... this latter issue took up most of the time by far. by the way... i teach Monday through Thursday, 2 periods per day.

here’s my to do list for Bamenda:
• email home (have them call the Slum)
• go to Teacher’s Resource Center
- get Bio Form I-V SOW
- get copy of Loh Michael’s EE book
• go to Presbook and preview book prices
• get 4 recommended resource texts (Agric. Science?)
- get 2 upper level bio texts used in stage
• get PB and honey?
• Kitchen things: frying pan, sauce pan, kettle and dowlat qahwa [coffee pott]
• take... address book, GTTC SOW, journal, old lesson plans, money (most), lease...
• find landlord and sign lease
Jum’aa [Friday] Prayer
• Amity Bank (check on interest issue)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

slow, quiet day in wum

it’s a ¼ to 6... sun is going down on another slow, quiet day here in Wum. i’m out at the front of my garage listening to the endless coverage of the news in the US on the BBC. Jarvis, Karyn and Lizette [3 of my young neighbors] just finished cleaning the house. they took a while but i imagine it’s pretty clean. have not been in to check it myself... still wet.

i made an “appearance” at school again today... just that, an appearance. staff meeting tomorrow morning at 9am. seems that i’ll have 8 hours/classes this term. both Applied Science and EE for all 3 years (year 3 having 2 streams). i have not, as of yet, seen the books we have at the library... will attempt to do so and decide on whether i should head out for Bamenda for books and other things.

will also have to see if this colleague of mine will, indeed, move in for a little. spoke to Kenneth about it today... said he was looking to move houses himself and that i should direct the man to him. hope that works out... turns out i may not be ready to share my personal space just yet.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


September 11th, 2001
... this’ll be one of those days that every American will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news...

2 commercial airplanes crashed into the twin towers. they’ve partly, if not mostly, collapsed into Manhattan. another airplane crashed into the pentagon and part of it has also collapsed and caught fire. car bombs went off in front of the capitol and state department and there’s more... an airplane has crashed in Pennsylvania, too. and F-16s are “dealing with” another hijacked airplane.

...i was/am in my kitchen in Wum, Cameroon. i first heard it on Kuwaiti radio, then Cameroonian and then the BBC. needless to say there are chills running up and down my spine. i’m concerned, confused and sad.

achebe poems

“...Charles’ attitude was undoubtedly the healthiest in these circumstances. If one didn’t laugh, one would have to cry. It seemed that was the way Nigeria was built.”
-Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease... indeed, sharru al-baliyyatu ma yudhik! : ( :

...since i’m quoting from Achebe, here are a couple of poems from No Longer at Ease and Anthills of the Savannah, respectively:

We retunred to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
-T.S. Elliot, The Journey of the Magi

Africa tell me Africa
Is this you this back that is bent
This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous son, that tree young and strong
That tree there
In splendid loneliness amidst white faded flowers
That is Africa your Africa
That grows again patiently obstinately
And its fruit gradually acquire
The bitter taste of liberty
-David Diop, Africa

Saturday, April 12, 2008

farmers and graziers in wum

also 9/10/2001:
last note... and this just happend. i sat down to talk with a pastor and a colleague of his at a local NGO. they approached me about a project (oxen farming with local women) and, specifically, to help get funding from US organizations. sounded like an interesting project. with an interesting background.

a few local issues surfaced. mainly farmer-grazier conflict. came up again and again. not sure if they’re on a side in that matter but i get a feeling it’s with what they called the “natives,” farmers that is. there are religious/ethnic issues underlying all this. graziers are Muslim Fulani (i think they call them Akus here). farmers are Christian and local.

i also walked into Heifer Project International’s office today. they do work along the same lines as this local farmers group. much more funding though. and they’ll be getting the new Agroforestry PCV here in Wum.

anyhow... i let the 2 men know i’d read and comment on their proposal. also that i’m reluctant to commit and not even sure what kind of help i could be. still it is all very interesting. especially the local farmer-grazier issue that surfaced.

it even has its local government drama. bribes, damage to farms, harming cattle and shootings! i’m looking to accompany Omaru on one of his cattle drive days and meet his brother, the Chief Fulani. also want to talk to the Heifer Project supervisor here in Wum. about this issue in particular and their work here in general. hope this all plays out well...

oh... i found No Longer at Ease in the school (well, actually the Dean of Studies’ library). it’s about bribes in local government, too. timely. actually it’s more-or-less the sequel to Things Fall Apart. the protagonist is Okwonko’s grandson. and i think the main theme is the same but in a more modern context. will elaborate on this when i finish.

GTTC Day 1

i’m tired. it’s been a long day, but i’ve got a few things to write...

i wrote letters to Uncle Nezar, Rama, Omar and Nunu. i’m finished with Cry, the Beloved Country. finished it a couple of days ago. great book. need to write about it.

went to school today. 1st day. only a few teachers. even fewer students. staff meeting rescheduled for Thursday. i was up for fajr (morning prayer). they fixed the loudspeaker at the mosque. i can hear it from here. i walked to school in a little under an hour. all the students in their baby blues, navies and khakis made for a pleasant atmosphere. they were excited and all. especially the little ones.

whatever apprehension i had last night (and i had some) left on that walk in. it’s pretty, not spectacular. but i remembered that it would be great to teach again. little ones and adults. i’m dying for that intellectual interaction. not totally disappointed with the slow start at the GTTC though. i’m sure i’ll find my hands full in no time at all.

Friday, April 11, 2008

madeleine in morocco

you've probably noticed that morocco seems to come up in my journals whenever i'm talking about presence... or lack thereof! indeed, my top choice for a peace corps assignment was morocco. and, on some level, i wasn't able to get over that. it seems like whenever i felt less than present in cameroon, i thought about this magical place i'd never even been to.

with that in mind, i thought i'd introduce someone who is actually present in morocco. my good friend madeleine (maddie and i went to grad school together, where we were both interns on a community forestry program in new haven 2 summers ago). maddie is now in morocco with the peace corps. on assignment as an environment volunteer.

there are some interesting cross-cultural connections here... i'm writing this blog about my time as a middle eastern + muslim + american in a country in sub-saharan africa. and maddie is writing articles for her hometown newspaper about being an american in a middle eastern muslim country in north africa. so... here's some of what maddie's been writing home about:
madeleine has some great insight into moroccan culture and the life of a PCV in a muslim country. as for me, i've yet to visit morocco... only in my daydreams, i suppose. but like my mother said, "morocco's been there for a long time... and it's not going anywhere. so why are you in such a rush?"

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


there’s this essay in the World Wise Schools (WWS) Handbook entitled Better Remember This. by an RPCV from Kenya. it’s beautiful and inspiring. there are many great essays in the handbook. PCVs seems to have a way with words. indeed, the last essay in the book is about words and it ends thus: “speak to clear your throat of all the stories welling up inside. speak for the sake of peace. keep the conversation alive.”

i’m uplifted by the stories. the shared experiences put in such eloquent words. at the same time, they make me want to stay here and do good but also to go elsewhere (the North or Morocco) and feel more at home. i’m not sure if that last part is accurate. i’m not sure if i’d feel more at home in either of those places. i imagine the longing for more familiar places and people is a typical step in this adjustment cycle.

it’s confused for me though. i don’t’ want to go home. i want to go to a place like Morocco. but who says that’ll make it better? or prefect. and maybe, like my recruiter said, i should stop trying to make it perfect and just let it be. and yet part of me is already writing hypothetical letters to Peace Corps Morocco and talking to our CD about the feasibility of it all. patience Muhammad. patience. don’t try to make it perfect. just let it be. and if it won't, then see what you can do. and we’ll see...

...this went into my Peace and Freedom journal. it should’ve been written in there in the first place. the WWS Handbook also made me want to write to my brother Omar. to tell him about the strange dream i had last night. the 2 big ugly fish i caught in my room. how i was scrambling to find something to knock them over the head with. the small rolling pin i found in his room that just wouldn’t do the trick. or maybe it was my futile efforts that were the problem???

and that vivid image of the fish flopping around on his bedroom floor gasping for air—or, more accurately, gasping in air. that noise of their wet, slimy flesh flopping around on his floor like wet flip-flops. or rain drops. wait! i’m up. it was/is raindrops. it’s been raining all night and the sound of water coming off the roof and splashing down into the mud filtered into my dream. oh... and that reminds me, i forgot to take my mefloquine yesterday. huh...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

ashia ya!

a noteworthy cameroonian pidgin phrase made its first appearance in my journals just a couple of posts ago... ashia! where do i begin with this most versatile, most meaningful and, indeed, magical phrase?

ashia adapts... the word can mean different things in different contexts. but no matter the form it takes, the essence remains the same: compassion. connection. oneness. it’s deep like that.

ashia can mean sorry if you spill something. excuse me if you bump into someone. "are you OK?" if someone stumbles. it can express empathy or condolence for someone’s pain, grief or loss. it can be used in recognition and appreciation of someone’s hard work.

ashia can even be a hello or "how are you?"... as you pass someone on the street, for example. especially an elder or a group of elders. at which point you’d either say "ashia ma" or "ashia pa." and in response, they’d say "ashia" back, or "thank you my pikin" (i.e. my child).

some of my favorite ashia instances, and ones that do well to illustrate many of the uses above, were heartfelt exchanges with visibly pregnant woman laboring down the street. "ashia mommy" in this instance is a greeting and recognition of their status, their effort and even their pain.

the magic of ashia, and other pidgin phrases like it – though there aren’t any quite like ashia – will be clearer as my pidgin gets better. i’ll do my best to pause and explain such phrases as they come up in my journals. recognizing, of course, that some things just can’t be explained or captured in writing... e.g. the tone of voice, facial expressions and situational context of such phrases.

pidgin is a language meant to be spoken. i learned some basics during training, but picked up on the nuance of pidgin (without coming anywhere close to mastering it) through my day-to-day interaction with both the children and elders in wum. again, it’s about compassion, connection and oneness.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

cry, the beloved country...

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzim-Kulu, on its journey from the Krakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griaualand.

The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guard men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.

Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their nature. For the grown red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too many cattle feed upon the grass, and too many fires have burned it. Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or guarded or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The tithoya does not cry here anymore.

The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn way like flesh. The lighting flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth. Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and girls are way. The soil cannot keep them anymore.”

...that's the opening chapter of:

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, not stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.”

...and that's the title-phrase and paragraph from Chapter 12.

Lyric prose, is what the writer of the introduction called it. Not the entire book, although it is close. But the sections when he paints pictures with words like poetry. Often it is of the land, South Africa. a character in the novel just as important as any other... many have said. he’s also poetic when he speaks of the issues that surround the land and it’s people, not just the geographic landscape. of the political issues. the social issues. he describes a land so intertwined with its people (or vice-versa) that when he speaks of one, he also speaks of the other. they are of the same spirit. this land and its people. a richly diverse and seemingly irreconcilable people.

and, at least for me (one who has not seen all this first hand), this is full of paradox. non-Africans (as in the book blacks are simply called “non-Europeans”) laying claim to the land of an oppressed people and justifying that claim by saying they know better and are in a better position to care for it. but, again, i have not been there. and i imagine there are people there, "non-African people," who truly believe this is their land, too. the land of their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers. it is a complicated history and, now, an even more complicated present i’m sure.

Alan Paton says of the unborn inheritor of this land, “let him not love the earth too deeply... let him not laugh too gladly... let him not be too moved... for fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.” a sad truth. that the fear is inevitable b/c the reality is dire. that instead of combating the fear and its cause people are left only with giving up their love of the land and freedom. but luxuries are often mistaken for freedom. and one can give up luxuries, and even compromise on comfort, without giving up or even compromising freedom. in turn, the reward for this compromise is that one can continue to love the land. his/her land. and maybe even gain a deeper, more profound affection by realizing that it is also their land, our land. idealistic, i’m sure. but that is my own humble opinion.

Friday, April 4, 2008

school bike


well, no meeting tomorrow. saw the Principal today and she told me to just come around Monday. thinking i probably won’t go to Bamenda after all. at least not this weekend. maybe after i check out the text/reference book situation at the school library. speaking of books... i wandered into Presbook here. a few interesting titles. literature. religion. geography. didn’t get anything. will look for used copies 1st. maybe ask around, too.

today i rode the bike to school. around noon. i spent some time toeing in the brakes. needs more work though. front brakes are weak. shifting mechanism, too. the ride. nice. i’m definitely out of shape but totally looking forward to getting into it. the time is cut considerably by biking vs. walking... duh! really though, the distance is not the problem. the hills. it's downhill and uphill, both ways.

the last hill is the toughest. scary coming down and rough coming up. once coming in the school gates getting up the climb to the Government Teacher Training College (GTTC) building is nearly impossible. i’ll do it someday. one day. soon. all-in-all biking may not be the best way to get to school. hot and sticky by the time i get there, i’m sure. so... other than the ~1-hour trek that leaves motorcycle. and i have no helmet, yet. ashia for me!

hey... i roasted peanuts today. “fried groundnuts,” that is. also cooked beans and rice. both are all right. peanuts a little on the over-roasted side. but good. the beans a little on the bland side. but good. need palm oil! what has it come to??? “add palm oil to taste.” also need patience with the beans. took all day. made a lot though.

had some issues with the kids. just kinda nagging and always expecting food now. really shouldn’t have opened that door. oh, well... now i’ve got to do this “you can’t come inside the house and you won’t get any food!” and “stop knocking on the door so much and don’t call me ‘Whiteman’!” they’re cute though. especially Petel and Marie-Claire. she’s a stubborn one.

school prep

so school is about an hour’s walk from the. as they say here... won-da-ful! the sun was out and i was sweating. of course it’s not yet the dry season and i was walking with Madame Laisin so we were going at a relatively easy pace. Lord knows i’ll be dripping sweat by the time i reach school come december and january.

biking there?! don’t know. it may, indeed, be necessary at times to shorten the travel time. however, it’ll only make me sweatier. not to mention the road conditions. hilly. rocky at times. from the school entrance to the building more or less impossible. and the buses going and coming along the road at break-neck speed. we shall see... i’ll test the road out on bike tomorrow or the day after.

Madame Laisin loaned me a Scheme of Work (SOW) from my classes. checked out my sections. the recommended references are:

Natural Science:
-Introduction to Biology for Tropical Schools by Mackeans
-Modern Biology for Cameroon GCE by Sarojini T.

Agricultural Science:
-Rural Science I and II by S.N. Tita
Science for Beginners by Ndenge A.F.

...these cover Applied Science, but not necessarily Environmental Education (EE). so i’m a little unclear as to EE. the subject and outline are not spelled out in the scheme. we shall see. she also wants me to take a minimum of 15 teaching hours a week. says that’s what my APCD recommended. HA! right.

anyway... not sure whether i’m going back to Bamenda to get these books. they say they’ve got copies in the library. but the school's Bursar has the keys and she’s not back. school starts next Monday. more-or-less. Madame Laisin is sticking to her guns. wishful thinking, though. i know she knows barely anyone will be around. we’ll see...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

wum in the afternoon


i left the house this afternoon around 3pm. nice day out. intended to pass by the Special Branch (police intelligence) office then go onto the Principal's. the office was closed. the Principal and i did the protocol rounds yesterday. but a few of the officials we didn’t actually meet.

so the Special Branch wants some info on me... i guess it’s their job to make anything and everything seem hush-hush. “some information.” anyhow... i gave madame laisin that last embroidered damascene table cloth. maybe a bit too premature for gifts. she really liked it, though.

i strolled on the way to the Principal's and back. walked up to where the Baptist Church is. sits atop a hill overlooking Wum. great spot. wonderful view. spectacular landscape. even the walk back home was serene.

i suppose i haven’t been out much in the late-afternoon here. usually napping. the sun is low. the town a little quieter and calm. today there was a soft breeze. and i heard music from a few places along the way. it was good for me. to many more.

by the way... finished Anthills of the Savannah today.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


so my last entry had a somewhat tangential comment on the recently privatized Cameroonian electric utility, SONEL. who bought it just a few months before i (an american peace corps volunteer) first started interacting with it at post? an american firm, of course. AES Corporation... “one of the world’s largest power companies... in 28 countries on 5 continents.”

i bring all this up b/c i think there are some interesting parallels (and perpendiculars, if you will) b/w AES’ presence in cameroon and the presense of american peace corps volunteers. not the least of which is an american expatriate living off a government stipend (me!) paying a majority american utility company (AES-SONEL = 56/44% partnership b/w AES and the Cameroonian govt.) for his electricity bills in central africa.

don’t read too much into this and other connections i’ll be making. my intention isn’t to unravel a conspiracy or grand plot for global corporate hegemony... just to offer some context for what it was that i and my other peace corps volunteer mates were embarking upon, in terms of both the scope and scale of our work as “agents of sustainable development.”

in that regard, it’s interesting to note that AES has a corporate social responsibility program (see here for AES’s CSR work) with a focus on things like community development, environment and HIV/AIDS... all the same issues i would be working on! par example, see the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) summary to the IFC project that helped finance a new power plant in Limbe, Southwest Province. there's a mention in there of environmental and social management plans and programs.

my fellow volunteers and i often found ourselves discussing the scale at which we were “doing development.” what we thought of as small, of course... often just one person in a town or village. especially as it compared to bigger, more technical organizations that we saw and/or interacted with in Cameroon: USAID and GTZ come to mind... but also other volunteer organizations like the British VSO and the German DED. not to mention the likes of the UN, World Bank and IFC.

AES is by no means a “development organization,” but it’s interesting to compare the size and scope of their CSR-related work to that of a peace corps volunteers. an apples to oranges comparison, no doubt. but peace corps isn't really a small organization (some PC stats)... it’s more like an upside down pyramid–many upside down pyramids, that hit the ground where one volunteer is stationed. in my case, this pyramid started with the $265 million budget approved by congress and the president to the US Peace Corps in 2001... and ended in a small town called Wum.

i won’t say much beyond that now... but this theme will come up again, especially as some of my fellow volunteers and i begin to discuss the merits and demerits of different approaches to sustainable develolpment. peace corps’ included. and especially as i start to interact with the peace corps administration (both in yaounde and washington, DC) more towards the end of my service. with that in mind, i'll end this post with a word or two on hindsight...

hindsight is 20/20, right? and in rereading, researching and posting my journal entries to this blog (and the web-based medium is certainly essential in this) i’ve started to see and make some of these interesting connections, in hindsight, that i either overlooked or simply couldn’t have seen while in cameroon. examples include the fact that renowned cameroonian author Mongo Beti passed away about a month after i first started reading his novels...

again, don’t read too much into such things. just interesting connections and a way to locate what i was up to within a more global context. there are also the points that i brought up above with AES-SONEL and, ultimately, the fact that i helped bring the motorcycle i fell off of (the same motorcycle that appears in the picture above my profile on this blog) to wum in the first place. stay tuned for more on that! :)