It was a weekend of rain, long walks in Buea (by Clara—she’d like to add that it was more like power walking for 15 miles behind Cameroonians in track suits), and lots of lying in bed with vague bouts of nausea (by me—I won the dubious honor of “who will be first to take a round of Cipro”). We also had a chance to participate in some excellent late-Saturday-night karaoke with our Peace Corps friend Nate and his Cameroonian friend Serge, who regularly transforms his office into a karaoke studio complete with microphone and a huge projector for lyrics. Serge has a hauntingly delicate voice for a six foot plus man, and he sang a perfect rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” before lapsing into a local favorite, the Nigerian brother duo P-Square’s song “Chop My Money” (literally, “Eat my Money”—an ode to a beautiful woman who the singer invites to spend freely because “I got plenty dollars in my name”).

The week started off strong with two excellent classes, one in Limbe and one in Buea Town. Our Limbe trip started with the usual taxi ride-to-bus-to-taxi rigmarole that we are starting to get used to. On arrival, we were pushed in three directions at once by taxi drivers trying to charge us far too much for our short trip around town (“2,000 cfa to get to the zoo? No way! It costs 300!”), and even witnessed two drivers getting into a verbal spat over who would get to take us. (On our way back from Limbe, incidentally, the same thing happened, with two bus drivers starting to physically fight over who would get to drive us back to Buea). Upon our arrival, we stopped as usual at the Wildlife Center (locally known as the zoo, an unfortunate misnomer), an incredible facility that cares for apes that were captured to be consumed as bushmeat or kept as pets. Less than 20 feet from an enclosure where a baby gorilla clambered across its mother’s back while munching on bananas and an old male sat sullenly in the grass, we ate delicious veggie burgers and prepared for our upcoming lesson.  

(One sign from the Wildlife Center, copied below and written in Pidgin English, reads “Monkey population don over small! If people continue for catch them for bush, them go finish all all!” Can you understand it?)

Our second lesson, part of YAN’s first module of classes on social justice and activism, provides students with a chance to research how activists have used technology to solve a community problem. We read with our students the story of 12-year old Craig Kielburger, a Canadian student who brought the issue of child labor in South Asia to international attention through his organization, Free the Children. Then, we gave them worksheets and research materials and released them to work.  They read about how doctors use cell phones to help patients living far from medical help, how Google helped survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and how social media helped catalyze the events of the Arab Spring. Students at the end of class articulated precisely what we had been hoping they would learn: that modern technology has saved lives and toppled dictatorships, and that the tools that our students have access to make social activism possible, even in Cameroon. Energized but tired, we returned to Buea Monday afternoon in a van with holes so large that the dusty road was visible beneath us.

Today marked our first class at the Buea Town School, so when we arrived at there, we taught our first YAN lesson (described in a previous blog). We played a silly name game, introduced YAN and the idea of advocacy through Internet networking, and played another game—this one with dried beans—to simulate the effects of global inequality (pictured below).

As with all of our other groups of students, the Buea Town group was motivated, involved, and sweet—and almost too deferential. They followed directions perfectly, addressed us as “sir” and “madam” when they spoke, and they always stood up to speak.  They also brought amazing ideas to our conversations. As class ended, our students sat writing about their vision for a “perfect Cameroon” while I played pianist Bill Evans’ “Live at the Village Vanguard” on my in the background (an album I got from my father, which I think is perfect for classroom silent writing times). Some students addressed governmental corruption, some health, and some education; but all seemed to love sitting and writing for ten minutes about what a perfect country would look like to them. Students everywhere, I have noticed in my two years as a teacher, love writing about themselves and their dreams. In fact, in Boston and in Buea there are a few elements of teaching and curriculum design that differ, but there are many more that seem the same. Behavior management strategies I formerly used in my charter school in Dorchester work equally well here; creating objective-driven lessons and essential questions helps keep our lessons here tight; and when a student is not participating, a cold call is perfect for bringing them back into a discussion. And then, of course, there is the universal strategy of giving kids a quiet space to write about their hopes for their homes. These first essays our students drafted will form the basis for the projects they will take up in YAN this year (not to mention, for many of them, the content of the first e-mail they will ever send, when they create an account and forward us their essays next week).

We returned home to cook dinner and relax, and two boys from class dropped by to visit. I stood on the front porch with them, asking about them and talking about me as I tried to crack a coconut (with impressive results—through strategic tapping, I managed to crack the shell all at once, leaving the meat intact like some sort of primordial dinosaur egg). The boys had participated enthusiastically during class, and were eager to hear what we would do next week. They told me that they really liked YAN and wanted to work with computers when they grew up. I told them that I was really happy they were in YAN, and that they should visit us any time. People here tend to drop by for long visits whenever you are home, which can be overwhelming at times, but I think I’m starting to like it as long as more kids like these come by.

It’s raining once again tonight. Clara and I just finished a meal of fresh avocados, tomatoes, and lime-coconut rice (an invention that didn’t go quite as well as we intended), and we’re excited for tomorrow, when we head to the Lycee Molyko. But first, perhaps I’ll brave the drizzle for my favorite dessert: puff puff (roughly akin to donut holes) drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and sugar. Who needs mocha chip ice cream when you’ve got treats like this?

Written by Josh