Monday, February 11th, was Youth Day here in Cameroon.  In anticipation of the big day, schools largely ceased to hold regular classes for the entire week prior—instead, students rehearsed for concerts, practiced their dance performances, prepared for football (soccer) matches, dribbled basketballs, or simply milled about.  Despite the general chaos last week, we managed to entice an impressive number of our students away from the festive milieu to begin a unit on photography.  “We know it’s cliché,” we told our classes “but a picture can be worth a thousand words.  We want the best photos possible for your project websites.” 

We began each class with a PowerPoint presentation outlining basic types of photos—landscape, portrait, close-up—and a few photo composition concepts—viewpoint (high, low, and eye-level angle), balance, background (busy or plain), light usage.   We each searched through our personal photo libraries to find exemplary (hopefully) and not-so-exemplary examples to illustrate each concept.  After this mini-lecture, we let students loose with cameras and a list of photographs to be taken.  They loved it.  Class ended with a short quiz, art-history lecture style.  We showed six images and asked students to identify the concepts illustrated in each. 

When we were not holding regular classes or organizing extra classes, we had the opportunity to practice marching with our students as they were corralled by teachers and principals into straight lines.  Many of the school prefects (apparently prefects exist outside of England and Harry Potter…) snapped into leadership mode and herded their peers into order.  The more reluctant students muttered under their breath and dragged their feet.  But everyone, regardless of attitude, had an uncanny ability to march.  Left, left, left-right-left.  Their arms swung in near unison (there’s always a stray limb moving against the tide), and their legs moved in practiced steps (although there seems to be a split between those marching with knees lifted high and those who try not to bend their knees at all). 

Youth Day in Cameroon is all about marching.  Roads are blocked off for the purpose, and a grandstand is set up for the adult spectators.   In Buea, the march always takes place at Bongo Square, one of the main thoroughfares in town, and students march past a bandstand set up there.   We arrived early in the morning at a large field in Buea to await our students—and the thousands of others—who were to assemble for the march. It took several hours for all of the kids to gather, so we kept students entertained by sending them out on photography missions and playing silly games (one of Josh’s favorites involved posing for photos behind the beautiful new YAN banner with a bunch of kids; just before each photo was taken, he would yell a prompt—“Make a face as if a hippo just appeared in the middle of the field!”—and elicit silly faces from everyone involved.)

At around 11:00, just as the sun was approaching its apex (and just as Josh’s neck began to turn a tomatoey shade of red), students began to move forward in waves.   Our students joined the thousands of others converging from educational institutions around the area—all wearing uniforms and colors of their schools, carrying club signs, banners, flags, and pictures of President Paul Biya.  Somehow, the entire student population in a town of 100,000+ managed to morph from mob into several kilometers of human grid by the time they passed the grandstand full of parents, teachers, and big wigs (e.g. the Governor of Southwestern Cameroon).   YAN club looked awesome.

-By Josh and Clara 

P.S.  We’ll save for another day (or another discussion forum) an analysis of militaristic marching as a way to celebrate youth.