Any teacher will tell you that the best part of their job is interacting with students (clichéd, but true).   Last year when I was leading ten-day intensive biology and conservation courses with Ecology Project International, I lived and breathed my students—we spent every hour of the day together (and many hours of the night while walking the beaches of eastern Costa Rica looking for nesting leatherback sea turtles).   As a result, I very quickly came to know each of them—I knew their academic strengths and weaknesses, knew if they liked rice and beans, knew how fast they could solve a riddle, knew what their parents did and whether they had boyfriends/girlfriends.   It was terrific.

Our first month of teaching here in Cameroon did not yield the same sort of student-teacher closeness that I had grown used to in Costa Rica.   Every week (but only once a week), we meet with ninety students from three schools in two cities.   Although we structure classes to include ‘get to know you’ activities and team building, we simply haven’t had the time to really get to know our students in any way but an academic one, to foster the candid discussions that strengthen trust and magnify impact.  

This afternoon at Government High School Buea Town, it finally felt like we started to push beyond the purely academic and connect with our students on a personal level. Class was a choreographed dance of sorts—Josh took half the students up to the nearby Internet Café to create e-mail accounts  (this school has no Internet connection), while I drew color-coded diagrams of an inbox, told cautionary tales about spam, and described when and why to CC or BCC  (conveniently, carbon copies are not a relic here in Cameroon).   After forty-five minutes or so, we switched.  As I walked my group up to meet Josh, I was bombarded with questions—do you speak French?  You don’t?  It’s important to be bilingual.  Oh, you speak Spanish?  Cómo estás?  I’ll teach you Pidgin if you teach me Spanish.  Is it true that Barack Obama is part of a cult?  Do you want some groundnuts (Cameroonian peanuts)?  Josh was similarly inundated as he brought his group towards me—do you speak French?  You do!  What about Pidgin?  Josh explained that he can speak ‘small, small’ Pidgin, which prompted hysterical laughter and simultaneous encouragement. 

After class, Josh and I strolled back towards home with a group of students who live in our direction.  When we stopped to buy okra for dinner, Lucia stopped with us to greet her mother who was selling assorted vegetables and spices in the market—I know this woman because she has the best onions in town, but I had no idea her daughter was our student.  The feeling of community around us continues to grow.  Lucia proceeded up the hill with us, munching on soft Kumba bread and inquiring about how we would be cooking the okra.   “I am going home to cook dinner too, you know,” she announced.   When I asked Lucia if she had any brothers or sisters to help with dinner, she said she had two junior brothers.   I told her about my own junior brother.  Laughing, we agreed junior brothers are not always the most helpful people. (For the record, I love and admire my brother very much, even if we still fight over who’s going to wash the dishes).  We also agreed we would cook dinner together sometime soon.


P.S.  Here are a few picture highlights from the week so far:  Josh in action (with an odd expression that his students from last year would likely recognize) and some very cute student camaraderie.