Clara and I are sitting in our living room on Saturday at noon. It has just started drizzling a little bit, a signal that the dry season is slowly shifting into the rainy one. The children who live next door are doing a lot of yelling and crying this morning, and–weirdly enough—the soundtrack to “ The Sound of Music” is wafting through the walls from our neighbor’s television (Clara is thrilled about this unexpected appearance of a childhood/lifelong favorite.)  And I’m sitting in a big, comfy chair (whose bamboo frame was made by a craftsman down the street in Molyko), trying to decide what to write for our blog this week. Three stories come to mind, and since I want to tell all of them but am not sure how to organize them coherently, I think I’ll just go ahead and write:
The first story takes place Monday, and features Bridget, a student at GHS Limbe. Bridget is not a part of YAN—she didn’t apply to join back in September, and only learned about the program a few weeks ago from her friend Cippora, who is one of our YAN students. But Bridget asked if she could sit in on classes and learn a bit about basic computer use, and we were more than happy to have her join us (we’re exploring ways to expand YAN’s programming beyond our 90 students, incidentally—perhaps by holding occasional one-day computer skills sessions, we can get even more students, and especially girls, interested in computer technology). In any case, Bridget just created her own e-mail account, and wanted this week to try using it. We set her up at a computer so that she could work independently while other students completed their YAN assignment for the week (more on that later), and she started composing an e-mail to us. While we were helping YAN students with their own work, she came up to us every little while with unusual (but very sweetly asked) questions. “Would you call a store where you buy eggs a poultry store? Would you say that you ‘break’ an egg or ‘crack’ it?” Clara and I, though a bit confused, answered her questions, and then watched as she got back to work with whatever she was writing. The class came to a close; Bridget said goodbye; and then I checked my e-mail and noticed a new message from her with the subject line “A JOKE (the talking chicken).” I’ve copied Bridget’s e-mail below; see if you can figure out the meaning of the pidgin at the end!
There was this baker that went to buy a tray of eggs from a poultry store.  He bought the tray of eggs and brought it to his bakery.  He decided to bake a cake and on cracking the egg, he noticed that it was empty.  The confused baker in his state of doubt cracked three other eggs and they were still empty.  He took the tray of the leftover eggs and went back to the poultry store.  The man at the poultry store refused to believe the baker's story and cracked four other eggs from that same tray.  Those eggs were still empty.  While the baker and the man at the poultry store were wondering what was going on, a hen started laughing at the poultry saying "wuna feel say na only wuna fit use condom."

So, that’s story one from this week! The pidgin, by the way, translates “do they think it is only them that can use condoms?”  I think this is a good sign for the prevention of teen pregnancy and the reduction of HIV/AIDS in Cameroon.
Story #2: In YAN classes this week, students got to post on Facebook their descriptions of “How Things are Done in Cameroon” (If you haven’t checked out their writings already, go to Leave a comment if you’d like!). Since this activity is all about using Facebook for communication and social networking, Clara and I decided that it would be interesting to start class with a conversation about how Facebook has helped other individuals communicate under more exigent circumstances. I did some research on the Arab Spring uprisings, and then typed the following short description of Facebook use in the overthrow of President Ben Ali in Tunisia, which we read with students at the start of class:
The dictatorial President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ruled the North African country of Tunisia for 23 years and controlled almost all of the forms of media—newspapers, television, radio, and Internet. A few years ago, a growing group of Tunisians decided to gain the right of free speech and protest the government. However, this was very challenging to do, because the government controlled the media and made it very hard for protesters to communicate information and organize protests. So, groups started organizing themselves using Facebook. Facebook was a particularly popular tool for them because it was anonymous. Users created accounts with fake names, and then communicated with each other; by doing so, they avoided meeting in person and potentially being arrested.
So, what did the protesters post on Facebook? Well, the government was so controlling and brutal that they often arrested and beat up protesters. Onlookers would take out their cell phones, take a video of the police beating protesters, and post the videos on Facebook. One horrible video showed a man being beaten to death by the police. Posted and watched hundreds of times on Facebook, the video set off a wave of anger as Tunisians became aware of what their government was doing. Millions of people watched the video, and then became so angry that they joined the protest themselves.
Facebook also helped protest leaders in Tunisia to communicate where and when protests were going to happen, and as a result, thousands of people attended public demonstrations against the government. Protest leaders also started chatting with other protesters in other countries (on Facebook, of course!). As a result, the Tunisian protesters actually helped inspire Egyptian protesters to overthrow their own president, using protest strategies that the Tunisians taught them.
*Adapted from “So, Was Facebook Responsible for the Arab Spring After All?” by Rebecca J. Rosen, retrieved online at If you check out the article, make sure to look at the photos included; there's a very cool shot of graffiti that reads, in French, "Thank you to the people. Thank you to Facebook")

At one of our schools, we were in the midst of reading this text when the principal—who needed to borrow a chair from our room—entered our class for the first time this year. She listened to what the students were reading for 10 seconds or so, and then walked out, muttering to herself, “They should not be teaching my students about protesting.”
Concerned that the principal had misunderstood the purpose behind our lesson, I found her after class and explained to her what we were doing in YAN classes this week. We hope she comes back to observe another class more fully sometime soon.
The last story for this blog post comes from the past two days, when we had to travel to Yaounde to extend our Cameroon visas. The Cameroonian government only grants 6-month visas to visitors, so we’ve been aware that we would have to do this ever since our arrival back in September. For the past few weeks, we’ve been organizing the paperwork to extend our visas: printing copies of our flight itineraries, typing and getting signed letters from each of our principals and from our local counterpart attesting to our work in Cameroon, and even buying a fancy and very official-looking YAN stamp.
On Thursday afternoon, we gathered these materials and headed for Mile 17 in Buea to take the 6-hour bus ride to Yaounde. The plan, we were hoping, was to spend Thursday night in Yaounde (there’s a great fast-food pizza shop there that we had already decided would be dinner that evening) and then wake up early on Friday to request our new visa. We had heard from fellow expats that we would likely have to leave our passports in Yaounde for a week or more, and the return to pick them up with the necessary stamps. We had also heard that the visa office would only grant 3-month extensions, meaning that we would have to repeat this process sometime around mid-April. Nonetheless, we were optimistic as we set off for Yaounde that things might, somehow, work in our favor.
We were among the first people to arrive at the Immigration office on Friday morning at 8:30 am. Armed with our stamped paperwork and our passports, we started knocking on office doors and asking people (in my mediocre French) where to go to extend our visas. A helpful man finally explained that we first had to pay to have our letters stamped and certified, and that we needed extra copies of our passports. (I love the photocopy process in Cameroon—we were sent outside the Immigration office gates to a dusty street corner where two men had set up copiers on rickety old tables under beach umbrellas). After a few more trips up and down the stairs of the Immigration building, the man told us it was time to submit our paperwork to an office in another building across the way. We did so. In return, a man stamped our paperwork and a receipt, gave us back our passports, and asked that we come back Monday with our materials to continue the process. It was 9:45 am.
Again, I used my crappy French to try and explain that the situation was urgent. We had classes to teach Monday, and Buea was far away, and we would not be able to return anytime soon to continue the process. Was there any way, I asked, that we could request an expedited visa? We would wait all day if necessary. We were told no.
We returned to the immigration building somewhat disheartened, but tried again to ask for an expedited visa. Finally, we were told that we could request an audience with the director of the immigration police to plead our case. We met with the director, who read our letters of introduction, and then told us that he would issue us a 6-month visa extension. Suddenly, it felt as though things might be moving along!
Sadly, I was wrong. We returned downstairs to wait for the visas to be processed, and sat on crowded benches trying to read our books as people came and went around us on similar business. Many Cameroonians were there to pick up their own passports; and several foreigners arrived, presumably trying to do the same thing that we were doing. The hours passed, and we read and read and read (all told, we think that we each managed to cover about 250 that day). Around 1:30 pm, a woman came up to collect the $200 in cash that we would each have to pay for the visa. We paid, and then kept on reading.
At 4:00 pm, it started to seem unlikely that anything was going to happen. We were told that our passports were awaiting one final signature from the immigration director, who had stepped out for lunch and hadn’t yet returned. I decided to wait a bit longer, hoping that maybe he might come back; Clara headed off to collect a bag from our hotel, and we planned to rendezvous for a late bus back to Buea.
Miraculously, the director did in fact return around 4:45 pm. 20 minutes later, my name was called, and I picked up our two passports—now covered in official-looking stamps, and now allowing us to remain in Cameroon for 6 months. Of all of the triumphs I have experienced in life, this one ranked pretty high up there. Buoyant, I called Clara and told her the good news. We hopped on a 7 pm bus back to Buea, arrived at 1:30 am, and slept in late. And now—here I am.
As a brief post-script to this long story: around 2:30 on Friday afternoon we met a Belgian volunteer who was also waiting for visa extensions for herself and 2 companions. She was astounded that we had managed to accomplish so much in one day, and explained to us that she had started the visa extension process one week before, and had been told to return to the visa office every single day of the past week. She also had only managed to get a 3-month extension, so sadly she will be back at the immigration office in April to repeat the same process. I left with my new visas before she had gotten her passports back, so I’m not sure whether she ever received them—and her situation was actually pretty urgent, as her companion’s visa was set to expire Tuesday, meaning that he was coming close to being in the country illegally. I do sincerely hope that she got all of her visas, and it seems silly to describe my 8 hours of waiting for visas considering that she waited for 1 whole week. But it certainly feels nice having new stamps in our passports, and knowing that we are welcome to stay here in Cameroon—at least until July!
One last post-post-script, since I can’t resist: last Saturday, we took a 12 or 13 mile walk to Limbe to go to the beach, and snapped some great shots of dusty Cameroonian backroads along the way. The large plantation you see in a few of these shots is called Tole, and the crop being harvested is tea!