Principal Madame Lois looked into the crowd of students (light blue shirts, dark blue shorts or skirts) packed into the cavernous auditorium, waited a moment for semi-silence, and addressed her school through a buzzing microphone.  She explained that clubs are just as important as the classes in maths, chemistry, civics, history, Spanish, French, and English.  Clubs give us the opportunity to develop skills we will use later in life and that allow us to be good ambassadors of our school.   You cannot learn teamwork in a classroom, she told the room.  You learn about it in a club.  You cannot learn to dance or sing in a classroom.  You learn that in a club.   Your club leaders are your teachers outside of the classroom and we must thank them for their work.  Madame Lois gave a special welcome to ‘our friends from YAN.’

We were excited to be invited to the official launching of clubs at the Lycee Bilingue de Molyko (the oldest secondary school in Anglophone Cameroon and the first YAN site), as it gave us an excellent opportunity to recruit YAN participants, so we had arrived an hour early with a poster describing YAN and a large supply of applications. We set up a table outside the auditorium, and were immediately mobbed by young students eager to read our sign and find out what YAN is about. One boy started reading the poster, and upon seeing the words YAN, murmured “YAN! Yes!” under his breath, his elbow crooked and his hands balled in a fist in a gesture of success.

Others had questions for us—what is YAN? When does it meet? Can students previously involved apply again? Several girls, more entranced by Clara’s hair than by the sign, reached out and felt it. After an hour of waiting for the assembly to start, we finally saw the students line either side of the walkway and clap as the principal, flanked by trophy-wielding students, processed into the auditorium.

The assembly, when it started, was a cacophonous affair. Throughout, there was noise. Lots of it. Students—over 500—had filled the hall and stood along the walls, and they talked to each other for the entire duration of the assembly, including when others were trying to speak. The event began with the school’s choir beautifully signing the national anthem. The principal officially launched the club program for the year. Several groups of students danced for the crowd with quick steps, fancy turns, and all of the sensuous energy exhibited by high schoolers the world over. Then, the club leaders spoke (the Integrity Club was among the first). At some point during this time, a number of children began walking amongst the teachers with trays of food. Approaching the principal first, they offered each adult skewers of meat, small donuts, and twisted pieces of fried dough. They also brought around a container of drinks, amongst which were Fanta, malt beverages, and beers. It was also at some point during this time that we stood up, took a microphone in hand, and introduced YAN to the school. The murmurs of the students made it hard to know whether or not we were heard, but the many applications we handed out after the event suggested that there is great interest in YAN’s work at the Lycee this year.

We thought it would be fun to end with a few random observations from Buea, as we have done before. So, here goes:

  • Yesterday, we were invited by a friend of ours to visit the Buea Central Prison, and we had a fascinating experience sitting in on a literacy class he taught there (subject: the pronunciation and use of irregular verbs in the present, past, and participial forms). The inmate-students were clearly captivated by the lesson, and participated with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation. Our friend is working for an organization that puts on literacy and vocational classes in the prison, with the goal of providing prisoners with life skills they can use once they exit the prison.  (Next month he will also be leading a course on human rights for the prison wardens.)  One of his organizations’ more pressing projects is to help develop a prison farm program, in order to give prisoners something to do during the day and supplement their diet—they are currently provided seven green (and raw) bananas a day unless they receive support from their family while incarcerated. We were very impressed by the partnership between the prison and this organization, and by the thoughtfulness and thoroughness with which our friend worked towards improving the lives and life opportunities of incarcerated men; we hope to volunteer for his organization in the months to come.
  • Walking to the Buea market a few days ago, Clara was struck by a sign sitting by the side of the road advertising dental advice.  We took a picture to document this example of dental care in Cameroon—note the pile of molars in the corner. (All the children at the Lycee have white smiles with no sign of missing molars.) 

  • Yesterday, we were sitting on the porch of a house with our friend Walters, waiting for a man with whom we had scheduled a meeting to come out. We had gotten into a discussion with Walters about elections and people in power, as we both are in the process of completing and mailing in absentee ballots for the November General Election in the US. In the midst of our very erudite discussion, a man came out of a field carrying a sack—we assumed that it contained some sort of fruit—and walked onto the porch and knocked on the door of the house. When a woman answered, he opened his bag to show her what he was selling—a two foot long severed cow leg, hoof, hair and all. The haggled for a moment or two before it became apparent that he was asking for too much money for the cow leg. He put it back in his bag and walked away. We continued to wait for our meeting, talking about women presidents around the world.
  • Finally, an update on the goat situation.  For those of you who haven’t read our blog posts yet, we have been serenaded late at night and early in the morning by the incessant bleating of a goat—a sound that is indistinguishable from an inconsolable child. This morning, we woke up to see, out our window, several men holding a small goat down on a large banana leaf, its legs tied together. Those who have been to West Africa may know that this scene does not bode well for the goat involved. Several hours later, we looked again to find several large, charred hunks of goat meat crackling over a charcoal fire. We thought we had finally escaped the goat’s bleating, but just five minutes ago, a loud sound eerily like a baby screaming has confirmed that our nemesis was not destined for a dinner table tonight after all. On a final note, we have learned why the goat always seems to be outside our window. It turns out that this goat lives right next door. No, not in the grass in front of the neighboring house—he lives in the room directly facing our window. That’s right. In the house directly across from our own, a goat lives in a room on the bottom floor.

 Until next time,

Josh and Clara