Thursday, August 28, 2008

9 months left

one question: has 9 months ever seemed so short and so long all at once?

you know what i’m saying? this academic year will soon be upon us. then – hmmm... i am not and do not want to count the days. but whenever i tell my people here that i’m leaving by next June they over-react. ya’ll get that too?

they start talking about “but can’t you ask to stay for one more year, or two?!” r-i-g-h-t! they’re all thinking it’s too short. as flattering as that is, though, i’m thinking these are gonna be a long 9 months. Oh, my God!
  • confidence/composure/determination... out the window!
  • apprehension/doubt/hyperventilation... won-duh-ful won-das!
[that's pidgin for "wonderful wonders"... an uncommon but comical expression of emotion]


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PCV talk

it’s just Wednesday... guests are gone. it’s getting hotter in Wum. sun comes out during the day. much more rain at night. i miss the heat. i know i’ll be cursing the dry season soon enough. but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

speaking of bridges, the worst foot-bridge in Wum was just fixed! today. by a church group, plus the assistant mayor. newly elected. good stuff. baby steps. makes many people’s lives (including mine) easier. and i had absolutely nothing to do with it!

Todd and i had a few good conversations over the last 2 days. on development, PC Admin, gender roles, PCV life, etc... you know, typical Peace Corps Volunteer talk. what we always talk about. regardless, it helps.

gotta love that we [PCVs, our stage, Todd and i...] couldn’t be more different, in so many ways, yet with all this in common... Peace Corps, that is. and that makes all the difference. i’d like to think all of us are better listeners now, more open to varying view points and less judgmental with whom we befriend.

hmmm... enough PCV talk.


Monday, August 25, 2008

fast or slow?

in Wum. Todd is here visiting. just came back from dinner at Maggie’s [my yet to be introduced agro-forester post-mate!]. what to say? not much... belly hurts. still getting over this amoeba thing. off the drugs but my stomach is still RUNNING.

we have less than 1 year left. strange, no? i try not to think about it. but when i do i can’t help but think that it’ll fly by. who knows... if anywhere life could move at a snail’s pace, it would be here.

these holidays seem forever long. still a few weeks until school starts. but then one thinks that the rainy season has almost come and gone... so which is it? fast or slow? I–DON’T–KNOW?!


Sunday, August 24, 2008

2nd year mark

here in Babadjou... in the place above ADP [the bar/restaurant we used to meet at in training]. Kay, Natalie and Traci are here. we’re doing the cross-cultural session on the Cycle of Adjustment with the new trainees tomorrow. then Kay and i will be here for the rest of the week. all is well.

haven’t written in this my Peace & Freedom journal for a while. just got it back from Kay. what can i say? i feel obliged to make note of the whole 1 year plus mark. it becomes especially evident here at PST [pre-service training], with all the new trainees. it’s been rough... these past few weeks. coming back from Mali. not going home. missing home. thinking about the year to come.

thinking that it may just FLY by. or that i may continue to question myself. all this. hmmm... i’d like to say that, again, all is well. i am happy and healthy... although sometimes a little less than both. but c’est la vie. all right... here’s to regular entries full of inspiration and enlightenment for ALL of us!


Saturday, August 23, 2008

years from now...

me... mohamad! [2002]. in Bamenda with the NW crew. this my peace and freedom journal is still in Adam’s custody, so to speak... after having passed from me to Natalie to Kay to Adam to Kristen for a single entry and back to Adam. i just wanted to read through some of the entries. yours and mine. ahhh... nostalgia.

i was just telling Adam how happy i am that we’re keeping these books. keep writing ya'll! years from now these’ll be the memories that bring everything back. happy and sad. i hope everyone out there is well... healthy and in high spirits. i miss you guys!

Mohamad A. Chakaki

Friday, August 22, 2008

wild wum

just a quick thought. it’s kinda funny what we get used to. habituated to. or at least not shocked by anymore. last night there were 2 or 3 dozen cows on my front lawn. one of them kicked out some big shot’s front headlight and he and the Fulani man moving the cows down the road were discussing the matter over while the herd grazed just outside my door.

mind you this was at like 8 in the evening. i was not at all vexed. just hung out on the porch and watched the herd. beautiful animals. big eyes. love the shape of their horns. kinda smelly though.

anyhow... then this afternoon there were a handful of young men (and a couple of dogs) chasing after a big pig... must’ve gotten away from its owner. they disappeared behind my house, up the hill into the neighborhood. it’s great living right off the main road. sometimes you can just sit out on the porch and watch the day’s events unfold. or the evening’s events.

like when a local delegate (not sure which ministry) crashed into the electricity pole across the street... right outside my window. it was a little before midnight. he must’ve been drinking. came flying down the wet street only to skid-out, hop the ditch and slam into the pole. the high-tension wires on the pole snapped the next afternoon. the pole caught fire. lights went out. kids from the nursery school had just gotten out. thank God.

Wum, again, is quaint and quiet. but sometimes i wake up and it feel like i’m in a city from the sounds of the street. cars, people, music, cows, pigs and snapping high-tension electricity wires.


p.s. i can’t believe it’s October already! it’s Fall now back home... seems like just yesterday we left, no?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

i used to be a teacher...

mohamad here. 2008. washington, DC. the previous post on teaching-learning got me thinking... i've been blessed to continue learning & teaching (and i've gotten better at both!) at several schools since i've left cameroon.

one of them in particular – Al-Fatih Academy in Northern Virginia – and the students there truly helped me understand just what this teaching-learning two-way street means. here are some thoughts on that:

i used to be a teacher
now i only want to learn

who was teaching anyway?
and who was truly learning?

my elders,

they sit in small chairs
my teachers,
are learning how to read
my guides,
do not know where they live

listen to what they taught me:

"close the door on teaching,

open the door to learning."

i used to be a teacher

now i only want to learn

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


today i had one of those special lessons where one can honestly say the students truly became dumber for having sat through and listened to it. i think i knew going in that what i’d prepared was going to be hard to pull off... and that’s being generous.

i could just say my lesson sucked. on paper and in the classroom. i could see it on their faces. the boredom. the confusion. total lack of comprehension. anyhow... enough with the drama. i suppose, at least, I learned a valuable lesson today:

don’t prep lessons the morning of. have foresight. listen to that cynical, often pessimistic voice saying “they’ll never understand this!” :)

all good though. you live and learn. i hope i’ll learn... it’s an interesting and humbling feeling when you're teaching and you know you’re just getting nowhere but you can’t stop. what can you do? i want to be like “OK, just forget everything i told you today... we’ll try again next week.” where’s the RESET button when you need it???

we’ll, that’s enough about that. i hope all ya’ll are doing well in the classroom. patience. confidence. and just admit when you suck (to yourself, at least!), but do something about it. now i’ll try and practice what i’ve preached. peace.

aho! Mohamad 
9/25/2001 Wum

Monday, August 18, 2008

bad dream

i’ve got a question... do you all have bad dreams? you know, disturbing ones. even nightmares? i generally do NOT. the mefloquine’s been giving me more vivid dreams, but that’s all. last night, though, i woke up to an all too disturbing/vivid image... not a nightmare, really, only a fragment of a dream... of me killing someone else.

before i knew it i was up and the combination of energy, shock and guilt/regret that was making my heart beat faster was too real. as close to scary as any of my dreams have been for as long as i can remember. so strange!

i’ve heard of people really flipping out while on mefloquine... but that’s another issue i suppose. just wanted to share/document my little BIG experience from last night. i pray it never happens again.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

about ISA

this is me, mohamad. 2008. i wanted to interrupt for a bit. a little hindsight i'd like to share. about something that came up in passing in my previous post, but should be addressed. it's about ISA, my old school.

honestly, i hesitated in hyperlinking to ISA's wikipedia page. even mentioning the school entirely. but i did. it's not that i think the wikipedia page is biased. though most everything about the school in the news, from 2001 through today, has been (see the "Controversy" or "References" sections in ISA's wikipedia entry). not just biased... but xenophobic, at best. and, at worst, racist. i guess that's why i wasn't sure if i wanted to go there.

in fact, i wasn't even sure if it was an important part of this story... of my being in cameroon. of peace and freedom. and of presence. but it actually is. much of this is about how "an Arab Muslim boy who grew up in America came to understand himself (and the world) more fully in Central Africa," right? well, ISA is a big part of how this Arab Muslim boy grew up in America.

it's interesting to note, if it hasn't already become an obvious theme, that one of my struggles in cameroon was coming to terms with my American identity. i remember thinking, during training in Babadjou, that i'd never felt as American in my life as i did in cameroon. somehow i'd taken that for granted growing up in America, even in my cross-cultural bubble of a school (see our curriculum)... and even through 4 years of college and a couple years of work in the US. it wasn't until i really had to deal with a 3rd culture in my life – cameroonian – that this became most apparent.

in some ways, i was more like a cameroonian than an american... especially if those cameroonians happened to be muslim. but even if they weren't, many of my cameroonian friends and colleagues noticed these similarities. particularly when my very arab mother came to visit. but both they and i also noticed that, in many more ways, i was unlike them (and my mother, for that matter) and more like my american compatriots. this was my arab muslim american hybrid identity. contrapuntal, as Edward Said so melodically put it.

but back to ISA... the cultural bubble where – though they didn't teach us music, much to my younger brother Offendum's offense – one or two of the independent melodic lines of my contrapuntal perspective (the arab muslim, that is) were nurtured. the only thing that was (is?) really wrong with ISA, as far as i was concerned, was that it didn't explicitly teach this arab muslim boy that he was also growing up american. because he was.

so i had to wait to learn that – i mean really learn that – in cameroon. in many ways, and in hindsight, i'm thankful for that delay. thankful b/c now i get to tell this story... and b/c i'm really happy with where this story is taking me. so i give thanks.

family OK

i spoke to my family the other day, in Bamenda. all is well. they, too, were/are a little freaked out by the situations in NYC and DC. this was also the first time i spoke to my niece and nephew since i left home. i miss them.

at first it was a little strange on the phone... it takes a 7 and 9-year old a minute or two to “get going.” i myself was at a loss for words... wanted to just reach inside the phone and hug them! it was good talking to them.

they’re a little anxious b/c their old school shut down and now they’re moving to a new one. a week into the term. they were at my old school... the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA). the Saudi Embassy decided it was too risky to keep the institution open, i guess. not sure what’ll happen with all the students and teachers??? what to say? except c’est la vie.

enough about all that.. even thinking about what’s going on back home disturbs me. i’ve yet to see photos or footage of the attacks. would rather not have those images in my head. anyway... i say Natalie and Kay back in Bamenda. good to see them. i was telling Kay how i miss ALL you guys. we wondered what you were up to?

is this all still an exercise in patience (in the name of cross-culture, of course) for you all, as well? wow!... i hope that didn’t come off as bitter or negative as it sounded. b/c i’m not at all. all is well. can’t wait to see all of you. peace.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

9/11... how is everyone?

...i’m not sure what to say??? i feel compelled to write b/c it’s tuesday night. now, i know it’s not a must that we write every tuesday. i am thinking of you all, though. wondering how your 1st days at school went. what subjects you’re teaching. how many hours. indeed, how well you’ve settled in so far.

i can picture us—well, not “picture" b/c it’s not so much seeing as much as sensing—all over these 3 provinces [NW, SW and West], each up to their respective quelque chose, if you will. i’m also wondering how you all are reacting to the news. i was tuned to the radio ALL afternoon. but there’s only so much one can take.

i don’t want to hear anymore. i don’t want to turn on the radio... but i know i will have to soon. i was, and still am, confused and concerned... shocked and disturbed, of course. i am having a hard time imagining the scale at which all this is happening back home. the poor people.

there were chills up and down my spine every time i heard an “eye-witness” report/testimony. there were so emotional. and the melodramatic BBC anchors didn’t help... “a terrorist attack on America.” God, i hope everyone back home is well... for all of us. the strangest thing for me here is that this really isn’t news to anyone but me... so i’m thinking of you all.


Friday, August 15, 2008

walking in wum

OK... so it’s been 2 weeks without Peace and Freedom. the formal session, that is. i’ve been procrastinating with starting this journal. i’ve been in Wum for almost a full week. it’s nice here. i like it here. the drive “up” from Bamenda was gorgeous. i say “up” but it may well have been down, geographically speaking. into Menchum Valley. Kay and Adam came along for the ride. we stopped at Menchum Falls. a spectacular site.

back to Wum. it’s small. not too small. decent market. post office. several schools. a mosque! very excited about that. there are many muslims here. many from the North. some from Nigeria. i guess they’re really all the same people [i.e. tribe] regardless of the border b/w the 2 nations. generally speaking, the people in Wum are very kind. nothing but “you are welcome here” and “we are together” all around.

my house is big. 3 bedrooms. electricity and running water. it’s actually much too big for me. there’s another apartment next door. the building is a duplex, so to speak. now, either my vice principal will be living there or, as rumor has it, another PCV. yup, there may be an Agro-forester here in Wum come early next year. that would be something!

enough about Wum. about me... like i said, i’m happy here. i guess i can say i can see myself being happy here for 2 years. no problem. i hesitate though b/c i know that those lows come right after you say something like that. but, seriously, all is well. it’s early, i know.

today i took a stroll through Wum. just promenading, if you will. found myself up on top of a hill where the Baptist Church stands. great spot. amazing view. of Wum and the surrounding landscape. it was late afternoon and the sun was out but not hot. there was a soft breeze. enough to make the trees sway and leaves rustle... i love that.

i walked back through town and the streets were calm and quiet. people around, but not many. there was music, too. for the 1st time in a long time i’ve felt extremely at peace and serene here where i am. i’ve had a couple of those moments here in Wum. maybe it’s the place. the environment. maybe it’s finally being out of training and having time to think and reflect. time to take a stroll through the town and just relax.

whatever it is, i’m down with it. totally. again, it’s still early. things may get busy with school starting. even hectic at times. i’ll just try to remember to relax. be patient. with myself as well as others. and find / go to more of my “happy places.” like that spot on top of the hill by the Baptist Church.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008


PFJ = Peace and Freedom Journal. i mentioned these 'traveling' journals when i first described the sessions our training group started to hold in Babadjou during stage. after we left to our respective posts we couldn't meet every tuesday night, like we did in training. so we decided we'd share thoughts in our journals and then exchange journals every time we met.

i've been wondering how to incorporate these into the flow and timeline of my own journal entries, now at January 2nd, 2002... as you can see in the post below, the PFJ entries start back at September 4th, 2001. so i took the opportunity of answering my own rhetorical question (wussai peace and freedom dey?) to start from the beginning.

think of it as a flashback... then a flash-forward! a story within a story, if you will. there are about 35 entries in my PFJ that i'd like to share, from 9/4/2001 through 11/12/2002. all my own, b/c i won't be posting the entries my fellow volunteers shared in my journal (about the same number as i have) when it was in their possession.

finally, i've got a few more journal entries out there in PFJs that are no longer in my possession... my stage-mates' PFJs, that is. perhaps we'll all get together and talk (or blog) about it one day. another peace and freedom session. aho!

peace & freedom, the title

a word or two about the title of our little therapy session, as i often [endearingly] described it in the early days. at 1st, i couldn’t stand the name, "Peace and Freedom." it felt kinda cheesy. a little corny and melodramatic, i guess.

it wasn’t until i heard the phrase used in a sentence that i understood. “...for your own peace and freedom.” ahhh! i get it now. for my own peace and freedom. that’s where it comes from. i believe Robert is the 1st person i heard use it in context. then Kristen.

needless to say the title grew on me. fast. Peace and Freedom. it’s got a ring to it now. they mean so much, too. those 2 words. they mean peace and freedom in the most profound, inner sense. my own peace and freedom. our own peace and freedom.


Monday, August 11, 2008

wussai peace & freedom dey?


1/2/2002: continued...
anywho... today’s been a busy day at Chez Chakaki. our 1st guests were the kids for the drawing lessons. then (2nd) Ali-Festus [from Heifer International] and i sat and talked plants for a bit. Gilbert the carpenter (3rd) came to install a few things and take a few things... mama's been putting him to work! then (4th) the guys from Upkwa (Mu’aath, Ali, Adam, Abubakr and Sule) came for lunch.

before the meal was over (5th), Justine and the HM [Head Mistress] of the Nursery School had joined us. how mama pulled off that magical meal, i don't know! now (6th) Apollo the plumber is in the bathroom installing the shower... and breaking more than a few tiles, too. Oh!... and (7th) Paul and his siblings ducked in for a second or 2 to bid adieu to mama before they left.

mama is at my principal’s house now (8th). that’s the reason Justine came here in the 1st place. to tell us that the principal is leaving tomorrow. i didn’t go on account of waiting for Apollo and Gilbert. don’t know if Gilbert will show and Apollo is doing more harm than good at the moment.

i was supposed to clean up after our midday meal, but Apollo had to cut the water... so the place is just a mess. kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms. guess we’ll be cleaning up tonight. but if Gilbert doesn’t show and i know Apollo won’t be finished...

Omaru and his mom are coming to visit tomorrow (9th). the HM of the Nursery School wants to pass by again (10th)... Friday morning we clean the mosque, prayer, then Akimje’s place (11th). not to mention having to pass and greet Kenneth (12th). and finally, leaving at 5am Saturday morning. Lord! wussai my Peace & Freedom dey? [where is my Peace & Freedom?]

Sunday, August 10, 2008

grassland compound


New Year’s came and went. i was in bed. no big deal. interesting that people here celebrate more on the evening of January 1st (that was yesterday)... slept through that, as well. everyone was out and about in fine clothes yesterday... took a bunch of photos with the kids yesterday! all in New Year clothes.

mama is giving Levite and Jarvis drawing lessons now. nice of her... they’re enjoying it! very serious. Hamza (dirty-faced, swollen-mouthed [gum infection], little-big man Hamza) is transfixed here in this adult world... like a fish out of water. quiet, docile and attentive all of a sudden.

mama and i have been snapping lots of photos. good to send home. we’ve been experiencing more of Cameroonian life here at post. went out to Ukpwa and saw the grassland and Mu’aathu’s village. great people. great place. want to spend more time out there. want to live and teach out there... more realistically though, just spend some holiday time and maybe even a secondary project out there.

there's something about the grassland and the compound... how i thought “Africa” would really be. those 2 things [landscape and living arrangement] had mama saying the same thing when we went out to visit Omaru’s place... a compound in the grassland. i’d like to spend an evening or 2 out there, as well. just to watch the sun set and rise. i’m sure those are spectacular sites/sights.

Friday, August 8, 2008

happy anniversary!

today is mama and baba's anniversary... almost forgot. no present for mama. but heartfelt understanding, inexplicable gratitude and utmost respect. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! :)

christmas music

in bed. it’s morning. Paul [my neighbor] is playing Christmas music. really loud. Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby, i think. Jingle Bells, White Christmas... does it make me feel? i don’t know??? ambivalent, i guess:
  • 1st: the setting is off... it’s out of context. it’s not Christmas, it’s not white out and one-horse-open-slays are about as far away from here as possible.
  • 2nd: it’s Christmas music. i don’t celebrate the holiday... but that’s not fair. the music is more cultural than religious. more American than anything. i'm just not sure i ever liked the music.
i suppose that’s why it’s so strange to hear it here... and strange that it gives me that warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling on a chilly morning like this. it reminds me of home. i miss home. the things i took for granted and never thought would trigger feelings like this.

ambivalence. my mind thinks, “Great! Christmas music... followed me all the way out here” and my heart feels the presence (or is it the absence?) of family to hug, hot chocolate to drink and serene winter landscapes to take in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

mission to kala

back in Wum... just finished reading another Mongo Beti book, Mission to Kala. 2 days, short book. it’s Friday so i’ll quote now and elaborate after jum’aah [prayer]:

This unshakeable stoicism in the face of all life’s accidents and vicissitudes is probably the town-man’s greatest loss, when he abandons village, tribe and local culture. We who choose the city have lost this ancient wisdom: irritable, ambitious, hot-headed, fed on illusion, we have become the world’s eternal dupes. view life “without a trace of illusion or ambition.” is that what Medza learned on his mission to Kala? what i’m learning here. to see things differently. more simply. not simplistically. but, in fact, closer to reality... for what they are, for better or for worse. to be patient. with things one can’t change AND things one can change but not necessarily in one word/argument/outburst/stroke whatever.

because, ultimately, things can’t be changed that easily. people don’t change that easily. at the risk of contradiction, life isn’t that simple. it is complicated. people are complicated. the wisdom lies in seeing and accepting that. it is simple, life simply does not make sense or follow set patterns (needless to say, neither do people) ...and when one accepts that, his or her life is made simpler.

is that what Medza learned in Kala? that life is totally unpredictable. and the more we rebel and protest the more it seems not to go our way. when we finally accept the “absurdity of life,” as Medza does, we’ll be better equipped to deal with it or accept whatever complexities it brings. simple.

Monday, August 4, 2008

grinning ear to ear

there are some things i don’t expect or ever think i’ll see/hear/taste/do here in cameroon... not crazy stunts or nasty food. simple things, things that happen all the time back home. but i’ve been so out of the loop, so deprogrammed, so well-adjusted that when they happen i just sit there in awe. jaw dropped and mouth agape... grinning from ear to ear like a silly little boy.

i never expected to see mama interacting with Cameroonians. Special English has a whole new meaning! but when mama and the imam of Masjid al-Rahma here in Douala (a Malian man) held an extended conversation on topics ranging from bin Laden and Sept. 11th to development in Africa to cultural/intellectual exchange b/w west and east (past, present and future)... all in fusha [classical Arabic]! i just sat back and watched/listened in amazement. BIG GRIN and sometimes a giggle or a shake of the head... disbelief. never thought i’d see that here.

Douala... this city has everything, for better or for worse. the gap in wealth is disgusting... b/w locals and ex-pats and b/w poor locals and rich ones. as an aside... where do i stand?! i suppose i never expected to see supermarkets like Score [owned by Pick 'n Pay, South Africa] and Cash Center or every American/European product you can think of on the shelf for 10s of 1000s of cfa [central african francs]. maybe it’s good i see this from time to time... decreases reverse culture-shock in the long run. remember that people are living like that still.

but i don’t want to think of that... what happened to simple living? small is beautiful? Babadjou! let me wrap up this entry... never thought i’d eat hummus, labne, babaghanoush, falafel, tabouleh, fatooosh, kebbeh, sambosa... all that. moms and i ate at this Lebanese restaurant, Le Pacha a few times these past 2 days. not cheap. i had that silly disbelieving grin on my face more than a few times as i ate that food. kattayef... wow!

will i be grinning and disbelieving like that when i get back home in 2 years? to all those little things that i took for granted... family, friends, food, flowers. i hope and pray so. to feel like a little kid again. a fresh look on all those things... an excitement and joy overflowing. small is beautiful. and little things make me happy.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

leaving limbe

Limbe Botanic Garden
Dr. Ndam


that’s the contact info for the conservator at the Limbe Botanic Garden... a Mt. Cameroon Project. hope i can spend the long break in Limbe doing horticulture and education at the Garden.

i want to get my hands dirty again. find myself in amongst the trees and flowers there. learn about tropical plants. do some EE work with their interpretation/PR department. establish some connections... that’s what i want [insha'Allah].

in Douala now. at a cafe in Akwa with mama. my mind is on a million things. where to go / what to do / what she wants to buy, etc. will be back again tonight to talk about grinning from ear to ear these past few days. until later...

Friday, August 1, 2008


sat down with Tonya and Sarah [fellow PCVs that also teach at TTCs, i.e. teacher training colleges] and chatted about EE [environmental education]. this is Sarah’s 1st year SOW [scheme of work]:

First Term
WK 1: Our Environment
WK 2-3: Ecosystems
WK 5-9: Plants
WK 10-12: Water

Second Term
WK 1-5: Animals
WK 7-8: Air
WK 9-12: Soil

Third Term
WK 1-2: Population
WK 3-4: Urbanization
WK 5-6: Biodiversity
WK 7-8: Revisions and EXAM