I’m sitting in my living room at 3 pm on a Thursday afternoon. Classes have been cancelled here in Cameroon due to Ascension Day, and so with no school, our Buea Town students have been hanging out in town all day. I did manage to corral a few of them earlier today to come to our house and do some YAN work, and so now five of our students are sitting with me around the table, editing videos on our computers (I coaxed them here with promises of popcorn, and now Clara is glaring at me for making greasy snacks whose oil will now end up on our computer keys. Oh well). During other classes this week, I’ve consistently been amazed by how quickly students have figured out how to use iMovie and Windows Movie Maker for video editing, and today is no exception: these five, after a demonstration lasting for maybe a couple minutes at most, are now flying along with selecting clips, discarding extraneous footage, and adding transitions and text to the clips they keep. Silvanous is continuing the editing work that Junior started earlier this week on their video about cholera in Cameroon, for which they interviewed a local doctor and nurse; and Kennedy, Jude and Mingeley just stepped out with a camera to shoot the conclusion of their video about water pollution in Buea.

Editing is one of the last tasks our students will do to complete their YAN projects; in fact, somehow, improbably, we only have 2 weeks of classes left before the end of the school year. It’s hard to believe that almost one full academic year has passed since we first arrived here and nervously stood in front of big classes of unfamiliar young faces to pitch YAN to students; now, we’re preparing for a graduation ceremony (June 1st!) to conclude the year and present diplomas to acknowledge our students’ efforts and accomplishments. Then, we’ll wrap up our time in Cameroon with an internship program, where we’ll support a dozen of our best students to serve as interns at local NGOs in the Buea area. We’ve already arranged partnerships with organizations like ICENECDEV, where several interns will work to create a blog about that NGO’s work in a local prison, and at ERuDeF, where interns will document that NGO’s projects supporting agroforestry and cross river gorilla preservation (shameless plug: if you or a friend would like to support one of our student interns, you can do so for a one-time donation of $60! This amount offsets the cost of providing transportation, food, and internet access to one of our student interns for the entire duration of the internship, and every dollar goes straight to them. To learn more, visit our homepage at www.youthadvocacynetwork.org). 

But back to our students, who have been hard at work for the past hour (and who have actually increased in number—Josiane and Lucia, along with a little sibling named Norbert, just came by to see what’s going on). Silvanous is almost done with his project, and is putting in credits and some music to go along with them (he’s been interested in adding instrumental music, so I showed him John Coltrane and Bill Evans as possibilities). And Jude, Kennedy, and Mingeley are busily rearranging clips, with lots of giggling every time they come upon an outtake. In the background, some drumming has started near our house—in fact, we’ve been hearing drumming all week long, which we’ve told has been happening to mark a special event that took place last Sunday and will take place every Sunday for the next month.

When we first arrived here in Buea, we were told on our first night that our house was located next to Pala Pala field. This unusual word was at first nothing more than a location to tell to taxi drivers and friends wanting to visit us at home. We soon learned that Pala Pala in fact refers to a local form of wrestling, which sometimes takes place in the open field adjacent to our house. For months, though, we had not seen Pala Pala take place—that is, until this past Sunday, when we heard loud drums coming from the field (much like the ones I hear right now) and decided to wander up and see what was going on. When we got to the field, we saw hundreds of people standing on the perimeter of the field, where a small wrestling ring had been drawn. Drummers sat on a raised platform under a big tree in the corner of the field, beating out a steady rhythm on large hewn logs (they’ve been doing so ever since, in the afternoon and evening, to mark this month of Pala Pala wrestling). White signs ringed the field, each written with the name of a Buea-area community—Bokwoango, Bova, Soppo, our own Buea Town, and many others. And in the center ring, under the watchful eye of a referee, two incredibly muscular men grappled and locked heads while the onlookers cheered wildly. A friend of mine came by and explained how everything works. Young men and women from each community, he told me, come to the field in the early afternoon and look over at the men and women who have come from other communities. Each man or woman then selects a partner with whom they want to wrestle. Later in the day, the pair is called to the ring, the referee blows a whistle, and the match begins. A whole Pala Pala match consists of three one-minute rounds; the winner is the first wrestler who can pin his or her opponent, or who can lift his or her opponent entirely off the ground. If neither has happened after three rounds, the match is considered a draw; and if either wrestler is forced out of the ring, the wrestlers simply reset themselves in the center of the ring and start again. Over 100 such matches can occur over the course of a day of Pala Pala; at the end of the day, the matches are tabulated, and the community with the most winners is considered to have won the competition. During our few hours of watching Pala Pala, we saw lots of inventive ways wrestlers used to egg on their opponents or get them off the ground—one of the most common was for wrestlers to swat at each others’ heads before locking shoulders and engaging. Most of all, though, I was impressed by how amiable the whole event was. No fighter walked away in anger from a fight—most, in fact, hugged and then went their separate ways—and everyone was included, from men to women to kids to even a German volunteer, who wrestled and won (when he won, the onlookers went wild and carried him on their shoulders from the field!). The whole event was pretty cool—and apparently, it will continue for the next month, when there will be a Pala Pala match every Sunday. I’m trying to convince some friends to come and do Pala Pala with me in front of the whole Buea community. It’ll take some convincing, to be sure; but it would be pretty cool to do…