Friday, June 27, 2008

God and money

11/14/2001: post 1 of 3 for the day...
it always comes back to 2 things here. it seems like these 2 things are the underlying factor, the motivation for all endeavors undertaken. God and money... not necessarily in that order, either. an often unharmonious – or at least ironic, if not hypocritical – combination. but it always comes back to these two things. Mike, Kay, Nat and i made that observation at our NASTA meeting. to be fair, i think that could be the case any/everywhere.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

pedagogic feedback

notes from our "official" feedback meeting with the PPIs [instead of individual feedback, we were brought together as a group of teachers and lectured to on our teaching performance]:

don’t move unnecessarily (only to check notes and with discipline issues).

“clap for him/her,” not appropriate at this level.

-technical terms:
should be spelled out on the board but notes need to be dictated.

-dictation & discussion:
discuss notes then dictate or dictate and discuss at appropriate intervals but don’t mix too much. keep eye out on students and continue with dictation when about a dozen look up.

-board work:
3 or 4 sections, not too many. write form left to right. subject and topic must be clear and underlined... no wavy lines! [that was directed at me!]. date on upper right corner.

-objectives: should be spelled out at start of lesson and checked at end of lesson in evaluation, not “conclusion” [also directed at me!]. General Objectives are for the entire unit, while Specific Objectives are for individual lessons.

-future reference: it is a reflection of how prepared (or unprepared) you are when you constantly refer to covering material (specifically technical terms/concepts) in future lessons. case in point, my 1st deforestation lesson with 3rd Year. i kept talking about covering Global Warming and Deforestation in the next lessons... either the terms/concepts need not be introduced until they are covered or they need to be covered right then if necessary for that lesson (there are exceptions and this can be done at a minimum).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

pedagogic interruption

early Tuesday morning. more teachers here at school than usual. on account of the PPIs [provincial pedagogic inspectors, i think] here. they observed both of my lessons yesterday... 2nd Year EE and 3rd Year Applied Science. that was fine. all went well. guess i’m used to having someone watch. weren’t awesome lessons. but just went as usual... haven’t gotten feedback yet.

would like to hear something about the pace of my lessons, especially in regards to note dictation. i’ve been trying to do discussion then dictate notes but that always leaves me pressed for time and with incomplete lessons. i suppose i could work on abridging my notes... they’re always a little wordy and even confusing sometimes. anywho... i digress.

back to right now. i’m observing Paul’s math class, 3rd Year. the Administration rearranged today’s schedule to allow the PPIs to observe as many teachers as possible. so we’ll have 20 minute lessons in succession from now until break. i, having been observed yesterday, will not teach today... of course no one told me that. came here as early as ¼ to 8 for not. no matter... get a chance to observe some colleagues. will watch Peter as well. again, i’m digressing...

all i wanted to note was the difference between these types of observations/visits in the states and here. there the visitors would do their best not to disrupt the schedule. stay a bit longer or move around to watch a variety of classes... not all, of course. here, the schedule is totally disrupted (in fact, all this is artificial... the PPIs are getting little indication of how we teach in reality).

on a more general level i guess i’m a bit bitter about disruptions like these. i’m losing a lesson today. every time a holiday or some event (CPDM March, Teachers’ Day, Clean-Up Campaign, etc.) takes place classes are put on the back burner. a reflection of how high a priority education has here?

i don’t know... maybe i’m being unfair. holidays, snow days, and all that disrupt school back in the States. my issue is the way people bend over backwards for higher-ups. and in this case (the PPI visits) that should be exactly what they don’t want. how useful can these artificial observations be?

Monday, June 23, 2008


the NASTA [national science teachers association?] conference is on this weekend here in Bamenda. Nat, Kay and I were here yesterday. interesting talks about Error Management and Evaluation by a French pedagogic advisor to the Resource Center.

also a short discussion on forests (deforestation, resources, benefits, etc.) by a woman named Clair from the Bamenda Highlands Forest Project. it was almost the same lesson i gave Thursday in class!

i was excited about the prospect of getting support from an org like that for environmental education class/clubs. will talk to Clair today. she’s taking us on a trip to a Montane Forest up in the Santa area. looking forward to that, too. sorry i didn’t bring my camera though.

today Mike is giving an HIV/AIDS presentation. condom balloons and all!

last day of the NASTA workshop went well. Mike’s presentation was very good. issue of promoting abstinence vs. condoms came up. it's disturbing how some people here will make condoms look bad (defective/ineffective) to make abstinence look better or look like the only choice.

the only choice?... in an ideal world, perhaps. but the fact is that these same people admit HIV/AIDS is an issue and thus admit kids (15-24 being the most infected age-range) are not abstaining... so how does that not correlate with the notion that promoting abstinence alone is ineffective???

i’m a bit torn myself. b/w the ideal of promoting abstinence and being realistic. regardless, i think it’ll need much more than just an American promoting abstinence or the of use condoms. Cameroonians need to promote both as well.

taking a step back... it should at least be discussed more. being informed about both sides and then making a decision. saying condoms are ineffective b/c they sometimes don’t work does not reflect an informed opinion.

on another note... we went on a great little hike afterwards. want to go back up to that forest area. reminded me of Shenandoah in many ways! amazing views. cool facts.

we gave 500cfa for the excursion. annoyed that Bamenda Highlands probably saw none of that. instead we were “invited” to drinks with our own funds! i didn’t have one.

OK... enough bitchin’. i’m still in Bamenda. need to write a couple of lessons then leave late afternoon... waiting for mama to call.

“I am not everyone, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

pondering patience


was pondering patience this morning. due in part to an extended dars [lesson] yesterday evening with the muslim brothers. we were doing the alphabet in arabic class. it took ~2 hours after ‘isha [evening prayer]. part of me wanted to scream with frustration. afterwards my mind was all over the place... i wanted to hit something.

same ol’ frustrations. commitment i didn’t want, but somehow found myself in again. commitment of the nature that always increases. i just don’t want to feel obliged all the time. sometimes i want my time, whenever i want it... not having to worry about that guilty feeling of letting someone down. but i guess that’s the sense of community. the ties that bind, if you will.

anyway... i didn’t scream and i didn’t hit anything. i bit my tongue and put it aside... my stress, that is. to sleep on it. and this morning i pondered patience. doesn’t seem like a big deal... yesterday. a couple of hours. we live.

patience is a wondrous thing. seems like as you practice it it spreads and settles upon you. and it applies everywhere all the time. patience. calmness. serenity. quietude. a way to deal with anything. a certainty that “this too shall pass” and “no condition is permanent.” but enough about that...

i went out to GTHS. a brisk walk from the house. ~25 minutes. through some shaded back roads. the campus is large. a lot of cypress. an allée up front. trees along the various courtyards between buildings. large workshops. alive with hammering, sawing, running wire, drawing plans... and a beautiful site bounded by Eucalyptus trees all around.

i think it’d be nice to teach there. interesting bunch of students. appealing atmosphere... with all the practical work and all. and the campus is just story-book. but alas... i’m here at GTTC. small, uninteresting grounds. same with the student body, i’m afraid. and an unforgiving commute. more than anything... NO CYPRESS TREES! GTHS had those all around. patience though. no condition is permanent.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

slowly happier here

another Sunday almost past. another week. soon another month. soon another year. all blessed and productive, i pray. anyhow... we cleaned the mosque this morning. then had our meeting after a short break.

a long, drawn-out meeting. as always. it really is too strange how familiar that feeling is. the frustration, bewilderment and battle to bite my tongue at MSA meetings. long and with a mind-numbing, nerve-wracking attention to detail... the trivial ones it always seems.

patience, though... that’s the key word. i am going to be patient and let things flow. it really is an experience in group dynamics and people skills. above all, it’s about patience. can’t say that enough.

Omaru came around today. we spent the late afternoon chatting on the balcony. good kid. i enjoy his company. quiet, uncomplicated and kind.

i’m tired now. didn’t have that wicked nap today. don’t think i will. haven’t done much, if any, “work” today. desk work, that is.

Mohamad would like to say that he’s slowly happier here. he misses home like mad, like always. but, nonetheless, he’s happy here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

good to be the king


been staying up late recently to do work. seems like the only time i’m productive and uninterrupted... but it means that i have to take wicked naps during the day. wish is cool, i guess. i was also physically beat today. that added to the nap time.

Paul and i ran to Lake Wum and back. early, like ~6am. cold out there. the lake is nice. large. way out there. SDO has a house overlooking it. a nice spot... “Good to be the king.” i also did my push-ups/sit-ups... felt deprived of energy and O2 for much of the morning. a food thing, i think. Allah ya’eenah ‘alla Ramadan [may good help us during Ramadan]. although i won’t be running then.

i just realized that it would be nice to reach Bamenda before Ramadan, but don’t know if that’s feasible. need $. need to em@il! guess i could wait until Thanksgiving but site-visits roll around then. we’ll see...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

another big moon

another big moon over Africa tonight. saw it last night and this morning. the evenings are cool and comfortable. wish i could/would spend more time out there. stepped out for just a moment to admire the badr [full moon, in Arabic]. Jarvis and Karin [my neighbor's children] were outside doing school-work on my porch under the “security light.” kinda cute.

anywho... the moon reminded me of Ramadan. in about 2 weeks time it’ll be upon us... grace us with its presence. i said a little prayer out there. i’ve been praying for comfort and serenity [tama'neenah wa raaha] in my heart here in my new home/community. also prayed to see both the beginning and end of the blessed month. and, of course, to see my family “soon”... safe/sound, richer in knowledge, wisdom and faith ['ilm wa hikma wa iman].


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

follow the lead

Halloween’s come and gone and it’s now November. i want to be able to get in a zone in terms of getting the little “projects” done that keep piling up in my mental to-do list. like the SOWs (EE and Moral Instruction). reading NGO project proposals. putting together an EE club. writing my lesson plans in advance. writing home regularly. and a # of little ideas that come to mind every now and again... tutoring programs, HIV/AIDS presentation, b-ball tournaments, gardening, novels, etc. etc. etc.

i suppose i need to start staying up later... keeping it to 7 hours of sleep! or maybe waking up earlier??? before fajr??? we’ll see... “IBM = Insha’Allah, Bukra, Ma'alaish” [God willing, tomorrow, it's OK]. final note, the President of MSA [Muslim Students' Association] Bamenda sat in on our Moral Instruction class today. he even took an audio recording of the lesson (on the Hadith of Gabriel). couldn’t help but think about what PC would think about it... the “govt,” as well. i suppose one will never lose that looking over his shoulder feeling/attitude. it’s a shame though... sad, too. i can hear moms saying “don’t get yourself too involved." and i wonder (as i always have in hindsight) why i do.

it’s a calling... but if so, why the “looking over the shoulder?” why the frustration and the doubts? we’d always rather follow than lead, i guess. the lessons we learn the hard way are the enduring ones... and i learned about leading 1st hand. still a bitter taste in my mouth. but again... no one asked me to lead. don’t know why i automatically see it as that. somehow i don’t know how to toe the line? be active but not take on too much. gotta learn how to follow i guess.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

not writing

sometimes you’re driven to write. sometimes you’re not. like now... but i’m writing and not really thinking about it, so maybe i am driven to do so. don’t have anything in particular to say. just writing...

(now i’m not writing)

...don’t have much to say here. i’ll stop. huh... OK, r-i-g-h-t!

Monday, June 16, 2008

long letter home


so... i left Bamenda on a Sunday and didn’t realize just about everything would be closed. American stores, email, etc. did get into Vatican [store]. bought olive oil, a drying rack, mustard and some plastic wear. got mail and a small package (full of candy!) from home... just finished reading a letter from my moms.

so... ride in from Bamenda was all right. long, uncomfortable and DUSTY! but i guess that’s no longer even novel, you know? i wrote a long letter home throughout the day (from Bamenda and Wum)... kinda neat. at the Slum. Symbol [bush-taxi] Park. en route. at the mosque. here at home. all kinds of things came up... but i guess that’s typical.

i went to a Hausa wedding. even wrote about that. i basically did everything yesterday but prep my lessons. which i did this morning and kinda hated myself for... well, not really. it got done and they went well, but i still need to really start applying myself to the work. i still have much to do but it’s been a long day and i’m tired.

2 thoughts to end with...

-thought #1: thought about submitting my sharru al-baliyyatu ma yudhik essay to the BBC’s Network Africa program... you know, as a daily proverb entry. just not sure if the tone of the essay is... i don’t know, too judgmental? maybe i’ll have someone read it.

-thought #2: actually a note. i was able to take examples of each type of underground stem adapted for storage to class today: bulb, corm, rhizome and stem tuber... i.e. onion, coco-yam, ginger and yam. i’m proud of that, thank you very much!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

rich list

back in Bamenda... a can of roasted peanuts, one full can of coffee and a bag of avocados richer! oh... and richer b/c i know there’s family back in Babadjou that really cares for me. also spoke to the family back in DC that really loves me.

all is well there... slow to no mail b/c of the ANTHRAX issue in DC. spoke to Aboudi and left Nunu a message wishing both Happy Birthdays. gotta send moms my “wish list”... she’s coming in early december! i don't think that's sunk in for me yet.

i’m in the slum alone. kinda nice but also strange. and yesterday even a little scary. especially after this weird guy came inside the fence and was begging for a place to stay or money. had to talk him into leaving and maybe meeting me in the morning if he really wanted help. anyway... my wish list:

-about 44 items of food, clothes, music, books, electronics...

that's what was on my wish list! i won't go into detail. mostly to spare myself the embarrassment, b/c i can't believe i asked for so many random things. they must've seemed like necessities at the time. in hindsight, they were all luxury items. things i could've either found alternatives for in cameroon, or simply lived (comfortably) without.

what's most disturbing is that i was just coming back from babadjou - from a host family with simple means - carrying a lot of food and a lot of love. you think that would curb my consumer cravings just enough to make my list that much more modest. of course not! to say nothing of the fact that i'd just turned away a beggar the night before from our front door. you can see why i'm embarrassed by my rich list.

"what is little and sufficing is better than what is great and distracting."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

back in babadjou

cool, crisp Saturday morning in Babadjou. God, i missed this place!... more than i knew. and this family, too. the “small town-ness” is what i miss most, i think. that all the kids know your name. all the elders greet you. that winding dirt road to our neighborhood, i miss that too. the knob... seeing that from the endless different vantage points around babadjou. only difference really is the maize. it’s gone... and more of Babadjou appeared when it disappeared. neat... seasonal changes. not brilliant fall color but it’ll do.

Oh... my room. NEVER thought i’d miss that place! but i do and i’m even comfortable in it. i looked up in there once and thought about the next stagiere [trainee]. how awkward and uncomfortable it’ll 1st look and be. cold, too. i’m tempted to leave a note. about the room, the fam, the town... how it’ll all soon grow on you and then (probably right then) you’ll leave and miss it. it’ll be your room, your family and maybe even your town soon. but maybe they need to find that out on their own... whoever it is.

Kay and i had a small lunch in Mbouda yesterday. the fam at her place didn’t get in until later in the afternoon. we got in at like 10:30am. but i saw Felone running back to her house to see Kay... too cute. speaking of cute. Isma is adorable. bigger... that child is going to be a big girl. and talks A LOT... mostly patois. there are 2 things they can’t get her to stop doing; eating and speaking. the cutest age... also the terrible 2s though. and Mira is due in early December. can’t wait for that... happy and healthy baby and mom, insha’Allah. Petit isn’t here... in Douala. Maya is. Das and Madame Susanne are well... still working. the head of the family and the head of the family.

ate riz avec sauce de arachide yesterday. fine meal. today i hope to prep some coffee to take back with me. also thinking about buying the fam a new propane (refill, that is) bottle. to help out Mira a little... but i don’t want to rob the new trainee from the "country kitchen" experience. i sat there for a while myself yesterday. Mira promised she’d let the trainee work in there with Madame Susanne. no one can keep up with that lady... except maybe Isma. soon enough, insha'Allah.

Friday, June 13, 2008

new journal


new journal... i like the size and the line-spacing. worried about durability a little. anyhow... just wanted to open the book with a few thoughts. the last journal was the 1st i’ve ever finished. in terms of a whole notebook, that is. but in so many ways all this – “my peace corps experience” – has only just begun.

so i pray for many, many more happy, healthy, liberating and relieving books to go through, insha’Allah...

this morning i attended/witnessed my 1st assembly here at the GTTC. completely student run. impressive. anthem. gospels. announcements. sermon, too. took some photos. felt a little closer to the students. they became a little more like... people. thus far they were/are just “students.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

#2 fo' Cameroon

this is the first page of my new journal... "#2 fo' cameroon," as it says in the middle there. think of it as cover art... though it's on the first page just inside the cover. while i didn't do this for my first journal, all the rest (4, in total) have this kind of an image/inscription adorning the first page.

it starts with the basmalah... "in the name of God, the Merciful (in essence) and the Merciful (in action)." then that's my name (Mohamad A. Chakaki) in English, below the basmalah. flanking it, and just below, is my full name in Arabic (محمد عبد اللطيف الشققي).

"my own, personal journal..." is my nod to cameroonian special english. for some reason the double adjective "my own" is often used when expressing the possessive. that would make "my own, personal" a triple possessive, i guess. anyway... Wum is Wum, and N.W.P. = the Northwest Province.

the arabic in the middle is a famous verse of the Qur'an (20:25-28), known as the Prayer of Moses. it's a traditional way to start a speech or open a discourse... in this case, with myself. it reads: "Lord, expand my chest (i.e. increase my awareness), ease my task, and untie the knots from my tongue so that they my understand what I say."

finally, at the bottom, i quote from the Peace Corps World Wise Schools Handbook... in which Beth Giebus (Teacher & PCV in Morocco, 1990-1993) writes in her essay Sharing our Stories: "Speak to clear your throat of the stories welling up inside. Speak for the sake of peace. Keep the conversation alive."


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

red cross reject

so i used to donate blood to the red cross pretty regularly when i was in college. this was almost 10 years ago. i recall reattempting to do so after returning from the peace corps, but i can't remember exactly when or why it didn't work out... it didn't. something about my travels, surgeries and the risk of exposure.

they called me back again last month... i guess they really needed blood and must've been looking through their old files. i tried to explain what happened the last time i came in to donate, but to no avail. they wanted me to stay on hold and wait for a nurse to walk me through the series of screening questions. i said i'd just rather come in and do that in person.

i did... and the result was no surprise. of all my recent travels to countries in africa, latin america and the middle east (and to rural parts of those countries, as well), they were most concerned with my two years in cameroon. not the surgeries there... just simply living in cameroon was too high a risk of exposure for the red cross.

we're talking about exposure to HIV/AIDS, of course. anyway... i was expecting this. in fact, i came in knowing that this would probably be the case. but also the best way to get them to stop calling me, i thought. the nurse handling my case was very kind and considerate... overly concerned with my reaction to being "rejected" (in my own words). which i totally understood.

i got a letter in the mail from the red cross shortly after my visit... to follow up on the matter and inform me that i wasn't eligible for donating blood. "indefinitely deferred," is what they termed it. anyway... i tore up the letter (not out of anger, but just in the process of cleaning up) before i realized it would be worth posting here.

in short, they don't want my blood.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

stand for teacher

forgot to post this a little while ago!...
mom sent me another poem. 2 actually. this time about teaching. the highs and lows of this calling. the 1st is a poem on how exalted the status of a teacher is, by Ahmad Shawqi, the Prince of Poets. the 2nd is a response to Shawqi’s poem, by a teacher... it’s about how lowly the status of a teacher can be:

Stand for the teacher and honor his rank...
...for a teacher is almost as a prophet
Do you know of someone nobler than...
...he who nurtures minds and hearts
You encompass all, the Best Teacher...
...You taught with the pen the earliest people
You brought this mind forth from darkness...
...and guided it to an enlightened, radiant path
For if the teacher is not just, then lost... the spirit of justice in youth for certain
If the teacher’s insight lapses for a moment...
...then those under his tutelage will lack vision
If guidance and counsel are based on whim...
...and on arrogance, then call that misguidance.

a response by Ibrahim Tuqan:

Shawqi says, knowing nothing of my plight...
...“Stand for the teacher and honor his rank”
Sit, I implore you! Is someone honored...
...who for growing children is a close friend?
Anxiety grips me when the Prince says:
...“for a teacher is almost as a prophet”
If Shawqi tried teaching for but an hour...
...his would be a life of hardship and stress
A teacher’s lot is frustration and depression...
...visions of notebooks day in and day out
Hundreds upon hundreds when they are graded...
...a path leading to nothing short of blindness
Don’t be surprised if I cry out one day...
...and fall down murdered between those desks
For anyone seeking suicide I have found it...
...for a teacher does not live a long life.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


“Beauty is found in the mind of he that looks, not in the object looked at.”
-Proverb (from this morning’s Network Africa Program on the BBC)

beauty is in the eye of the beholder, indeed.

everything is beautiful... all is beautiful. life. death. pain. joy. youth. old age. flowers. trash. the “beautiful” and the “ugly.” relative terms that they are. sometimes it takes a special mood to see the beauty in things. the mundane or “ugly” things. a mini-paradigm shift, if you will.

it may be inspiring and overwhelming... one event that you can pin-point and say “that’s when i began to see it this way”...or a gradual, seeping in and diffusing of “you know, that’s beautiful.”

either way, the end is similar... beauty where you or others did not and do not see it. like in the serene face of a hideously disfigured child. or the agony of a young widow’s loss. anything, everything can be beautiful.