In the next few weeks, President Paul Biya is scheduled to visit our town of Buea (southwest regional capital of Cameroon—hence the visit.)  To prepare for his arrival, the city is receiving something of a makeover—buildings that are too close to the road or deemed unfit to represent the town have been spray-painted with instructions reading ‘demolish before...’ or ‘paint white.’  Other buildings have already have already reached their expiration date and now lie in piles of rubble.  Still others seem to have escaped their fate, sporting demolish dates that have already passed. 

We’ve seen other signs of the preparation that goes into anticipated government visits: in the Government High School of Limbe (link to Wikipedia page) there were buckets of heliconias welcoming official visitors from the state.   As we waited to meet with the Limbe principal and pitch YAN’s programs to a school that is new to our organization, the heliconias launched us into a conversation with Walters on pollination and the diversity of flowers and birds in the area.  Perhaps we’ll use our binoculars and giant ‘Birds of Sub-Saharan Africa’ book we brought with us to explore, with some locals, the rainforest that rings Mt. Cameroon.

When we were ushered into the office of principal Ayompe Haddassah, we explained our desire to expand YAN’s programs to Limbe and were met with instant interest.   This has been the reception we’ve received at each school we’ve visited thus far—everyone seems to agree that media literacy with a social justice focus will be good for their students (frankly, we’re not surprised).  After discussing details of timing and class size, Ms. Haddassah showed us into their computer center (all the students stood up and greeted her in unison) and began making arrangements with the media center director and other teachers to accommodate YAN’s programs once a week. And, just like that, the YAN program was welcomed into this school. In Cameroon, it seems, things tend to go glacially until someone in command comes along—then, suddenly, things really start to move. 

Our reception at two other schools this week was equally enthusiastic. The principal at the Lycee Bilingual in Molyko was excited to welcome YAN back for the third year in a row, and noted that students had been asking her all week when YAN was going to start again. Likewise, the technology director at the Government Secondary School in Buea Town was intrigued by YAN’s program, and was eager to invite us to teach there this year, for the first time in YAN’s history. With our connections at two new schools and at one that we have been working at for several years, YAN is now expanding to serve new communities and new populations. We will figure out in the coming week how many students, exactly, will be participating—but for the time being, we are excited to be expecting between 60 and 100 YAN students at these three high schools for the 2012-2013 school year. 

For our students, this means (we hope) a new opportunity to use information technology to answer questions and solve problems in their communities; for us, it means a lot of planning and curriculum development! We will be spending the weekend and much of next week updating YAN’s curriculum and putting our own personal touches on each of the dozen or so “modules” that make up a full year of YAN.

Curriculum development is not the only challenge we’ll encounter in the coming weeks. Just getting to each school is something of a difficulty in itself. Going to the school at Limbe is perhaps the hardest challenge; it requires (we learned yesterday) a 30 minute taxi ride to the Buea bus station, a 45 minute bus ride in a cramped minivan to Limbe, and another 30 minute taxi ride to the school—and then the same route, in reverse, to get home. The Molyko Lycee, while not far away, is also a 15 minute taxi ride to get to. Plus, it’s worth remembering that the ubiquitous 90’s-era yellow sedans that serve as taxis here fit a minimum of six people—a driver, two people in the front passenger’s seat, and three in the back. Occasionally, we encounter cars with two people in the trunk, their heads pushed against the back seats and their legs dangling out into the road. Squeezing many people into small cars is something of a way of art in Cameroon. Lastly, though the Buea Town Secondary School is within walking distance, our challenges there are more technological than geographical. Since this school has no Internet, we have had to devise new ways of implementing the YAN program there. (A quick plug for donations to YAN—$0.75 provides one class’ worth of Internet to two young Cameroonian kids!).

We thought we’d end this blog post with a quick list of some of the cool new things we’ve encountered in the last few days. This list, I’m sure, will be a recurrent feature of our blog; it’s at times funny, at times sad, and always a representation of daily life here in Buea.

  • Two days ago, as we sat inside in the mid morning, we saw two men come up to our house and unload several bags of cement and a rectangular mold. They told us that they were going to make cinderblocks for a wall, and indeed they did—after an hour with the mold, they had laid out about 50 cinderblocks to dry in the sun. Then, as is pretty common in Cameroon, the rain came, wrecking all of their hard work. They piled up the cement again, covered it, and waited under our awning for about three hours for the rain to stop. (Just to juxtapose this story with our own, that same morning we were working on a blog post for about 45 minutes and then lost Internet connection when the rain started. The rain stops most daily activities here pretty abruptly, and we can see why—but luckily, the rainy season is slowly coming to an end).
  • Coming home from Limbe yesterday, we encountered our neighbors with their very cute three kids outside our house. They were roasting something that smelled delicious for dinner—3 big field rats, which had been split open and splayed across a charcoal grill. Later that night, Josh opted for a fish, grilled in the same way on the street above the house. It was delicious— served with pepper sauce, grated carrots and sliced onions, all wrapped up in a plastic bag with just the fish’s tail sticking out.
  • Last night, as we were kept awake by the furious bleating of a goat tied up outside our window. This launched us into a discussion about the best way to silently kill the goat. Which, it turns out, is a pretty good thing to discuss if you are trying to fall asleep.
  • On our morning walk today, we walked by a man feeding his chickens with some bread pieces in his front yard. Evidently, one of the chickens was not following his directions, because he was muttering to it, “you are a very stupid fowl.” Josh asked if he had ever encountered a smart fowl, and he emphatically replied, “yes, often!”

And that’s about it for now. We’re off to plan curriculum, and perhaps head to town later today to see about buying a table for the living room and a big bucket for the bathroom. The water only runs occasionally, and so showering and flushing the toilet can be a challenge. Life here is good—it’s always fun, even if it isn’t always easy.

Until next time,

Josh and Clara