Thursday, April 30, 2009

fail better

"Ever tried. Ever failed. Never mind. Try again. Fail better."

heat rash


i've already developed heat rash. like 2 days ago already. on the inside of my arms (opposite my elbows) and a little on my chest. it's hot. not heat like i've never experienced in terms of intensity... it's the duration that's a problem.

all day. all night. it's hot. it just barely cools down at night. and that's the problem. the day's heat slows you down, yes. but the night's heat wears you out. and week after week that's frustrating, exhausting and stressful. physically and mentally.

'my graduation speech'

i think in spanish
i write in english

i want to go back to puerto rico,
but i wonder if my kink could live
in ponce, maygüez and carolina

tengo las venas aculturdas
escribo en spanglish
abraham in español
abraham in english
tato in spanish
"taro" in english
tonto in both languages

how are you?
¿cómo estás?
i don't know if i'm coming
or si me fui ya

si me dicen barronquitas, yo reply,
"¿con qué se come eso?"
si me dicen caviar, i digo,
"a new pair of converse sneakers."

ahí supe que estory jodío
ahí supe que estamos jodíos

english or spanish
spanish or english
now, dig this:

hablo lo inglés matao
hablo lo español matao
no sé leer ninguno bien

so it is, spanglish to matao
what i digo

¡ay, virgen, yo no sé hablar!

Tato Laviera, Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe.

thinking in circles

there's actually a cool breeze blowing out on the veranda. just got out of the shower, so that's also keeping me cool. the boys next door are reciting their morning Qur'an.

i'm thinking too much. wondering even more. have so many questions. a lot to say. even more to write. but i don't know where to start and, even if i did, where it would end. because, like my mind, my words would just go in circles.

"But when they made love he was offended by her eyes. They behaved as though they belonged to someone else. Someone watching. Looking outside the window at the sea. At a boat in the river. Or a passerby in the mist in a hat.

He was exasperated because he didn't know what the look meant. He put it somewhere between indifference and despair. He didn't know that in some places, like the country Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance.

Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent. Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. It was never important enough. Because worse things had happened. In the country that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and horror of peace, worse things kept happening.

So Small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully. Like a rich boy in shorts. He whistled, kicked stones. The source of his brittle elation was the relative smallness of his misfortune. He climbed into people's eyes and became an exasperating expression.

What Larry McCaslin saw in Rahel's eyes was not despair at all, but a sort of enforced optimism. And a hollow where Estha's words had been. He couldn't be expected to understand that. That the emptiness in one twin was only a version of the quietness in the other. That the two things fitted together. Like stacked spoons. Like familiar lovers' bodies."

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.

the kayes heat


there was more than a few times yesterday when i had to put stoicism aside and admit (at least to myself) that it was hot.

1st... as soon as i stepped out in the afternoon and turned the corner, i met with this gust of wind... can you believe that even the breeze here is intolerably hot? it was like a blow-dryer in the face.

2nd... right before bed, i passed out on a small mattress in the living room. i woke up to go to the roof and sleep a little later and my thigh/arm areas were clearly visible as sweat marks on the mattress. they still are. nasty hot.

3rd... sleep on the roof is tolerable, if only b/c it's a relatively cool day. yet one still has to keep drinking water. at one point i was having a tough time sleeping, so i wasn't thinking about drinking (just itching!)... i woke up, not too long ago, with my tongue fat and dry in my mouth.

days are a continuous balance of sweating and drinking here... all without peeing! with that kind of dynamic equilibrium who needs to urinate?



on the train [from Bamako to Kayes] now. early morning. left last night. can't write now [it's too bumpy]. i will soon. i will write about Bamako and this scenery i'm seeing on the train now, insha'Allah...

...nice day in Kayes. still hot. really hot. but not unbearable. Kayes, much like Bamako, is – i won't say under-developed but not over-developed. buildings are low. trees (mostly neem) cover them. lots of trees planted. streets are relatively clean and really quite organized.

i'm impressed. both towns (they're cities but feel like towns) are refreshingly modest. they fit.

anywho... i can't stop sweating so i'll stop. Mali reminds me of the SW. United States, of course.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

a "direct" flight


...i'm sitting in the departure lounge here in Douala waiting to – of course – depart. been traveling so much these past few weeks that this almost doesn't feel any different. in fact, i just realized that the reason this "direct" [Cameroon Airlines] flight will take so long is b/c it's about as direct as a bush-taxi ride.

1st we go to Cotonou (Benin). then it's Abidjan (Ivory Coast). then Bamako (Mali). and finally, for those still hanging on to their sanity by a thin thread of patience (although i wouldn't be), the "direct" flight stops in Dakar (Senegal). won-da-ful!

i'm surprised we're not just dropping people off at their respective villages along the way. the co-pilot hovering slowly while the captain fetches people's luggage and bids them bon voyage before they depart.

anywho... i'm getting cynical and stupid. truth is, i'm tired of traveling and i can't wait to get to Bamako. wish i had gifts for everyone, but i'm afraid i thought of all that too late.

BTW... i just caught the 1st 1/2 of the KSA vs. Cameroon match. i'm disappointed i won't know who won until we reach Bamako. especially b/c i've got this Cameroon jersey [more on the jerseys] on. it's really attracting attention! what will the Malians say? :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

just a little, but a lot

in Bamenda... a few things to do here ($, email, Dr. and shave) before i leave for Douala. before too long, insha'Allah. came in late last night. finished marking exams around noon and filling my marks at school around 2pm. left teh house around 5pm. got in here @ 10:30pm.

yesterday, as i was leaving school (it had just rained... and has been raining hard in Wum) i found myself gently picking my way through the rivers of mud and down slippery paths. the rainy season is upon us. 1 year has passed.

i think back fondly of Babadjou. what comes to mind is that i perceive all this in different ways now. just a little... but a lot.

quick note on a moment of clarity... looking up at a poster here in Amity Bank and seeing the world "NOTRE" in french, i realized what Notre Dame [the cathedral & university] means. "Our Lady!" gotta love these moments of clarity.

Friday, April 17, 2009

menchum falls

it's past 1am... a lot of work left to do in terms of marking papers. need sleep though. we went out to Menchum Falls. took pictures. walked back to Befang. ate fufu. drank sweet drinks.

Mathais fixed the lights, not the hot water heater. roof still leaks. front door lets water in when it rains. faucet in kitchen is bad. fridge clean. laundry, too. i itch from time to time... like mad.

more on muhammad

just finished reading "Muhammad" by Marting Lings. what a book!... moving. powerful. well written. exhaustively researched. diligently referenced. i was moved to tears on more than one occasion while reading.

that said, i wonder how a non-muslim would feel about the book. names and relations are confusing, even to me. polygamy, violence and the treatment of medina's jews, among other topics, are what i'd like to hear a non-muslim reaction to.

so many people have expressed an interest in reading the book. thinking about passing it on to mike to read. asking him those same questions above.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

rappels que l'on fait la journee

back in Wum... i believe most of the rest of the crew (my stage) is in Limbe. mid-service Peace & Freedom. i'm here b/c i've still got these 3rd year tests to mark AND b/c we (my students and i) should be going out to Menchum Falls tomorrow, insha'Allah.

i took the overnight [bus] from Yaounde to Bamenda last night. watched Cameroon draw with Ireland, then rode up here... to find the house a little dirty, no electricity, most everything in the fridge spoiled and my plants dead.

there's also a note from the Dean of Students about having my marks in by 28 May! i have to get these marks in b/c i'm off to Mali by Tuesday night, insha'Allah. no Limbe this summer but also not too much quality time here at post, either. and the days keep "passing me by..."

last note: prayed jum'aa yesterday in the Grand Mosquee @ Tchinga, Yaounde. new imam there from Saudi. decent khutba [friday sermon]. the man's voice is beautiful. the muezzin's, as well. the mosque is so big... beautifully decorated. i was moved. happy.

teaching 'teaching practice'

5/30/2002: TOT Day 3
Teaching Practice Session
Traci and Mohamad... intros!

To familiarize PCTs with the structure of teaching practice at TTCs [teacher training colleges] and their duties/role therein.

By session end, PCTs will be able to...
  1. Describe how a typical teaching practice operates at a TTC... skit!
  2. Mark student-teacher lesson plans (and guide student-teachers in developing lesson plans?)... Traci!
  3. Observe, evaluate and give feedback on student-teacher lessons... Mohamad!
Flip chart, brown paper, markers, e.g. lesson plans, TTC evaluation forms and teaching practice schedules.

-Traci and Mohamad perform skit with assistance from 1 PCT
-Process skit after going over the purpose then objectives of session (objective #1)
-Traci leads exercise on marking lesson notes w/Mohamad writing on flip chart (objective #2):
  • review SMART objectives, lesson plant format, etc.
  • use Mme. Pafe's TELE-aid [teaching-learning aid]
  • handout e.g. lesson plans to be marked
-Mohamad leads exercise on observation/evaluation of lessons w/Traci writing on flip chart (objective #3):
  • Dos and Don'ts of lesson observation
  • handout e.g. evaluation forms and discuss
  • discuss feedback techniques and ask 2 PCTs to critique both facilitators as practice
Review and asses objectives and questions...

learning styles...

5/28/2002: TOT Day 1
i prefer to learn by doing, thinking through concepts and trying things out myself. so that makes me a...
  • type 4: common sense learner
  • type 1: imaginative learner
  • type 2: analytical learner
  • type 3: dynamic learner
Catering to different learners...
  1. imaginative – drawing/music/poetry
  2. analytical – theory... the rules or grammar
  3. dynamic – talking, work and/or movement
  4. common sense – examples and real life application people process in different ways and someone drawing or talking to themselves may be actively learning in their own style:
  • students learn in their own style 25%
  • schools validate the way type 2s learn
  • ~70% of learners are not type 2
Four styles can correlate to 4 stages of a lesson:
  1. motivation (imaginative): who are my students?
  2. information (analytic): what am i going to teach?
  3. practice (common sense): how am i going to teach?
  4. application (dynamic): have i reached my goals?
...therefore, if lesson plans incorporate these 4 stages you will (more or less) cater to the 4 styles of learning.

Teaching is...
-art... style
-science... methodology
-skill... must be done

now... how do we introduce learning styles to PCTs? and how do we apply it in training the PCTs?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

okro soup and nuclear war

bought my tickets [to Mali] yesterday... June 6th through July 1st. TOT starts this morning, but i have a few more emails to send out to set up the trip.

...full moon out last night. found myself in Marche Mokolo (looking for sandals), so i walked over to Dairou's. they were making dinner... couscous du riz avec sauce du gumbo! [pounded rice with okra sauce]. very good.

met an RPCV from Guider, Dairou's hometown (in the North)... she's married to a Cameroonian, working in CAR. work is well with Dairou. good for him.

Pakistan and India are posturing for war. more later...



went running this morning. didn't accomplish much else...

been trying to get through this book by Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. and as i'm lounging around the volunteer house so many people have asked about the book:

how is it? who wrote it? who's reading it next? can i read it?
i should ask for more copies of it... AND for [my brother] omar to read it!

Monday, April 13, 2009


saturday morning. yet another [TDW] session today. insha'Allah only in the morning. going to Dairou's for lunch. gotta develop films and buy plane tickets. as well as a few other added times to my "to do" list... noting that none have really been crossed out yet.

spoke to the embassies today... the USA folks will send me the application for Paul. KSA people are all gone except the Big Cheese and he's not available. i'll try to see him or send him the letters/photos.

what else?... that's it for now...

tech [TDW] sessions were taking a lot out of me. all of us were getting silly at the end of the day yesterday... didn't get to do much on account of ending later than expected, ~1:30pm.

i did buy a spotting scope from Chris [a PCV leaving the country] for 35,000cfa [$55-60?]. didn't make it to Dairou's, though. it rained. didn't buy tickets, either. they closed.

i did manage to send 2 emails in 45 minutes... and i'm worried i may have gotten scabies here at the volunteer house [in yaounde]! :(

same day... quick note. according to our PCMO [Peace Corps Medical Officer] i can't have scabies. at least not from the volunteer house. incubation is 2-6 weeks. so she thinks it's something else. unless, of course, i got scabies before i got here!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

always work

another long day. we worked throughout: early morning. break. late morning. break. afternoon. break. evening. over? PCVs... always working. or talking about work. always work.

Eli, Mike, Shanna and i worked out the EE session. gotta type it up tomorrow. have not done much marking [grading exams] or letter writing.

gotta call 2 embassies tomorrow (during 10am coffee break):
  • USA Embassy: speak with Cultural Attache about the cultural exchange program.
  • KSA Embassy: speak with the 2nd Secretary and set up an appointment.
OK... just talked to Sandy for a while. she's fine and it looks like i'm buying my tickets [to Mali] on my own. will check direct flights and thru Dakar w/Ivorian Air. gotta get my credit card.

on training...

so what is TDW?... it stands for Training Design Workshop (which comes before TOT, but that'll come up after a few more posts). TDW is several days worth of meetings b/w peace corps' lead (in-country) trainers and a few volunteers who'll be involved in training the next batch of trainees-soon-to-be-volunteers.

we're basically outlining the incoming peace corps trainees' (PCTs) pre-service training (PST) schedule, making sure we hit all the competencies they need in each of the 5 training components...
  1. language
  2. personal health
  3. safety & security
  4. cross-cultural
  5. technical
...and in an integrated way. i.e. in such a way that these various components reinforce and strengthen each other. this, along with community-based training (CBT) or learning/living with a host-family in-country, is supposed to make training more realistic and relevant. less abstract.

i share all this as insight into how PCVs are trained. a lot of theory goes into this, and much experience and learning on the part of trainers and the peace corps in general. so is this enough?... are PCVs well trained?

i think so. if you come in with the right mindset and skill-set – though what these are is an entirely different, yet very important and relevant debate – i think peace corps training is more than adequate.

but i also think there are things peace corps simply can't train you for. nor can they be realistically expected to. there is a basic set of skills (or, if you like, KSAs... knowledge, skills and abilities) that you need, and peace corps offers them to you in training... but beyond that, each volunteer's experience will be different. that's obvious, right?... life can't be predicted or controlled.

so at some point, being a peace corps volunteer at post – or being human, really – becomes less about control and more about clarity of mind in response to the unpredictable. granted, training people to be better decision-makers can help in those situations. in any situation. but no matter how well you've been trained, they'll always be something you just aren't ready to handle...

that's where this story starts:
in this town. on this hill. in the middle of this road... since the Germans first opened it. if not since the Lord first put it there. there has been this rock...

TDW Day 2

5/23/2002: TDW Day 2

Writing Integrated Competencies (with David)

Integration across language, personal health, safety & security (S&S), cross-cultural (X-C) and technical components of training:
  • Health/S&S: risky behavior (HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drugs)
  • Lang/X-C: cultural notes w/in context of lesson
  • Tech/X-C: context of work (info on ministries/politics)
  • Lang/S&S: survival language skills
  • X-C/S&S: culturally appropriate behavior
  • Lang/Health: survival language skills

  • task: an action (many = activity) towards achieving an objective
  • competency: a desired level of KSA (knowledge, skills and abilities)
  • integrated competency: one that involves attaining level in more than one component
  • learning objective: specific level to be attained after a session/activity (many gained = competency)
  • activity: work towards achieving objective
  • session plan: (many = activity) lessons that, after achieving objective, lead to competency

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

TDW Day 1


5/22/2002: TDW Day 1
...ton of handouts today. a lot of arguing about small points like how many HCN [host country national] teachers at model school and whether the trainees' cross-cultural presentations should be in French of English. the usual dynamics... or politics.

seems like i'll be helping with the EE session... gotta plan it.

Session Objectives: (Santa/Babadjou, 7/15/02 from 8am-12:30pm)
To create awareness of environmental issues present in Cameroon and to encourage integration into lesson plans and secondary projects.
  1. What is EE about in PC Cameroon?
  2. What does that mean for me... as a PCV, personally & professionally
  3. What EE activities can i do?
  4. Who/what can help?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

day after national day


back in Yaounde. at the volunteer house again. spent yesterday in Bamenda. National Day [May 20th] was uneventful. i made no attempt at catching any events, that is. 6 of us took a van down from Bamenda today... Liz, Todd, Eli, Tucker, Traci, Mike and me. funny ride. goofy.

can't figure out what i'm going to do for the 2-3 days b/w TDW [training design workshop] and TOT [training of trainers]. Douala with Sandy? here? no, not here... Kribi? i don't know. we'll see what the others want to do. and if i get things done over these next few days...

bball monster


sports on the VOA this morning... didn't realize that 1 year here translated into the NBA playoffs being in full swing back home. actually well past that, and into conference finals...

in the west: Lakers vs. Kings
in the east: Nets vs. Celtics

wow... Boudi [my nephew] must be glued to the TV and computer screen, driving Rama [my sister] crazy with superfluous stats: offensive rebounds, assist to turnover ratios and bench scoring :)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

what moves you?

what do you do when it moves through you? what do you do when creativity, passion and the need for self expression – is it really about the self? – all mix together and well up inside of you?

do you reach for a pen? to write or draw. do you clear your throat? to sing or speak. or do you dance? moving with those upwelling waves of whatever it is that moves you... what moves you?

is it the same thing(s) that move me? do you know its name? does it have a name? have you spoken with it? does it speak? or is that what we’re here for? to speak. or dance. or draw. or sing.

i’m a writer. i write.

when it moves me... i write.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

all apologies

also 5/18/2002:
something happened in the staff room yesterday. our VP [vice principal] was sitting there marking exams for 1st and 2nd Year students. turns out he gave them tests for all 3 of his subjects simultaneously! 3 questions (one per subject) up on the blackboard.

what's more, that may well have been the 1st time they'd seen him all term! and i thought i was bad. not good to have people like that to compare yourself to. needless to say, his ..students are across the courtyard complaining bitterly. whether it's about his marks or mine, i'm not sure. honestly, i wasn't listening... who cares?

turns out the VP does. he hears one of our students say something and calls for him... it's the 3rd student in less than an hour that he's done this to. asks him why he just cursed him. i didn't hear anything, though the student was definitely shouting in the classroom across the way.

i'm sitting there, with my ears plugged, trying to concentrate on recounting another student's marks... turns out the student the VP is berating leads him to believe (and i'm sure the VP needs little convincing) that i was the one he was talking about. cursing, that is.

so, in front of 4 or 5 students, the VP turns to me and asks why i let students curse me like that? that i should reprimand them. take their papers and give them zeros. i just looked at him, knowing that:
  1. i didn't care if the student was cursing me. i didn't hear and wasn't as intent on listening as he seemed to be.
  2. the student was probably cursing him but, when confronted, decided it would be easier to say i was the one he was talking about.
but i didn't respond. i just gave the VP a dirty look and said something about not listening to students' empty talk.

later that day... that very same student comes to the house, all distraught and apologetic. explaining how he was, in fact, talking about the VP the whole time but couldn't get himself to admit it. he said he couldn't rest and that his conscience was bothering him. that he didn't want to ruin our cordial relationship.

i assured him that he did nothing of the sort. that i'd barely given any of it another thought and that i had a feeling i wasn't the one he was cursing. this is all too funny! especially since we'd just finished with dinner and i was telling Paul and Maggie about the whole affair.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

we call her auntie

this morning when i rode up to my principal's place to get her keys and get her to sign my annual leave she seemed quirkier than usual. kept going on about how she left school early on Friday b/c she had work to do. that she didn't have to stay at school all day / all week by herself. that she had responsibilities (school tasks) outside of school.

you see, i made it to school on Friday just before midday and passed her on the way. no one (none of the administrative staff) where at school and, thus, i couldn't fill my marks. that's what i just finished doing up here in her office. i assured her that i didn't expect her to always be at school, but at least one other admin member: SG [secretary general], DS [dean of students], VP [vice principal] or even the secretary.

she agreed. said something about all of them loitering up in Bamenda and something about how i should go back and write about her as a good administrator. never gave the comment a second thought... until later today. Paul hands me a newspaper (The Herald) and asks me to read what they've written about our "mother." i.e. our principal.

the article – part of a feature named the Unexpected – ripped her to shreds. so caustic. about how evil and mean-spirited this old witch who makes everyone call her "auntie" is. about the controversy surrounding admission of students through the backdoor. and even about personal issues like being greedy, having no children, living alone in a big empty house and trekking 4 miles to school everyday. ruthless.

worst part is there must've been an insider giving up info like that. the VP and another colleague looked, at best, apathetic and, at worst, amused. although scathing articles of this sort could easily hit our VP like that some day. EASILY.

anyway... i figure that's why our principal was all worked up this morning. chip on her shoulder and an axe to grind... her poor house-help! that young woman she has living with her. has to listen to her all night.