Live and Love

Poem written during another teacher meeting

Live and Love (23/02/2015)

The rock has watched the village grow

The clouds roll and the rivers flow

The old man, hands shaky, points to the spot

The young man wields the sledge hammer and hammers at the boulder he stands on

The sound of cracking stone is like a child’s cry

It carries through the air making the leaves tremble

With the stone they will make the foundations of a house where they will live and love

The walls are mud

One night a robber, sledgehammer in hand, breaks through the house and takes everything they own

During dry season, when the stone is so hot you can feel the heartbeat

They will set the field on fire and loose control and all is burnt

The children will play on the nearby rocks

Planets in space

As the house falls slowly into the earth

Season by season

As they grow and the memory of the men who chiseled and sweat and beat the rock till they felt in control is nothing more than names that pass on the lips of the old who talk of them as side details for a story about who spend their life hammering a rock

The stone is black and dirty

The rain finally comes and washes the stone melancholically

While it carries it through the mud to be engulfed by the earth

To live and love

The winds of Dry Season

You had so much hope for teaching till you stepped into your first class of the new year and within a swoosh it was gone. It is hard to keep positive when a jeopardy game turns into a fistfight. The anger caught up in the school, in the students and teachers can get to be too much. The whole school system, and the society in large part, is built upon the idea of bullying. You have yet to hear a teacher five praise to a student, only call them idiots, yelling at them saying, ‘have you ever stepped inside my classroom’. Outside the school it is much the same. If you are a Grande (rich guy with influence) you can cut lines, tell people they are worthless and all around yell and no one can say anything to you. The frustration at the whole system, at the whole country, made you almost cry in front of your 7th graders.

While sitting at your favorite bean mama, even though you don’t like her beans you just like her company, you looked across the soccer field at the elementary school and decide to take the jump into working there. The Directress was onboard instantly with your plan to read to the youngest class and just like that you began reading Le Petit Prince to a room of precious, though talkative faces who love to smile widely when they say your name. The joy of the little change brought back a slight breeze of optimism as you and the children drew a Boa eating an Elephant. Even the older classes responded so well to a simple song about vowels that you found yourself walking onto the high school grounds with a smile inside.

One weekend you excitedly dawned the suite you had made in Vietnam. It is a little tight now, which you want to attribute to your working out everyday for the month of January (minus two days of just doing a downward dog), but it probably is the fact that you haven’t had a piece of fruit in months. With your post mates you are taken to the grooms house, and after spending two minutes getting your shoes off you put them back on to go to the Chef’s house for a quick prayer. On the way to the Chef’s you partake in a little parade and marvel at the different colors of the various Bubus, wishing you had gotten one already. The women, waiting at the Chef’s, are equally colorful, a village of rainbow fish. At the Chef’s would feel awkward for being made to sit on the couch while everyone else was on the floor, but you know your pants are too tight to sit down on the floor well. From the Chef’s there is a general walking around the Chef’s compound in confusion while people yell in Fulfude, making you wish you started Fulfude lessons earlier. From there you walk outside to watch the groom and the two women who found/got him a wife sit on a couch while various people throw money in a large bowl. A man yells at you that since you are white you should put some money in. A man who you know, but don’t know the name of (almost everyone you know) tells you not to worry, you don’t have to do anything. You smile at kindness. Queue a dip into town to avoid a long and awkward dinner and when you return to the village around 10:30 the party is in full swing. You and your post mate sit, yet again, on a couch while you watch people dance in a circle around a man who should be lip singing but looked more like he was just gasping for tiny breaths of air. You and your post mate join the dance a few times to numerous smiles. By around midnight you are in wonder that everyone is still awake as you make your way home to sleep.

The next day was a very different party, a party for your post mate. You surprised yourself again by making a carrot cake and apple pie. It was a relaxing day of eating, drinking and enjoying the company of friends.

Tuesday was some sort of bad day like you had never had. But a night’s sleep brought you back. The days can be such a swing, and if the days are that way then of course that means the weeks can be too. At times it feels like the giant gusts of wind that sends dancing dust devils down the street and make you and others duck from the sand. Other times it is that slight breeze you needed to keep from sweating also brings a smile your way.

Home

Seventy two hours of traveling later you arrive back in Ngaoundéré. You try to remember why you needed the vacation. Then the thought of school reminds you.

One train ride of manioc (cassava) whiskey.

Wait two hours on a bus to go six hours. You’re in a city whose pronunciation makes no sense, Dschang (Chang) but you get to kayak.

A road that forgot it was a road later you’re in Bamenda. Faces from training, smiles, hugs, empty places of the people that left. Pointless and frustrating training sessions. Hazy nights that have a lingering sensation of fun.

Seven hour bus ride to a volcanic beach. It is hard to tell the difference between the air and water. The rainforest spills out onto the black-sand beach as the volcanic mountains hide shyly amongst clouds. The bay in Limbe is surrounded by oil rigs. In the middle of the bay, almost spitting distance it feel, from the touristic beach there lays, obscenely, an oil rig. Wave of frustration at corruption. But damn good fish. Burgers and pizza at a rescued wild life preserve. Aw at the life around.

Night bus. Shhh, it is not allowed.

The North West is the complete opposite of the Adamawa as the earth reaches for the sky in numerous mountainous arms. One fall off a moto, deep gash on the helmet later you’re on a road that exists only in the air, dust, cough. Talla, a tiny, hilly village. So cold. Old man meeting in a room whose walls have blackened from smoke. Chug palm wine, these old men would shame a frat boy. Meet a king (?). Dragged into a secret dance that you are not allowed to describe, though it would only take a sentence. Juju (ghost) in your face. Gasp. Goat for dinner.

Waterfall back in Kumbo. Sketchy car ride at 5 am to a three hour wait for a bus where you lingered on the brink of insanity.

Yaoundé. over twenty dollars for a lunch. But it was a bacon cheeseburger. You feel like you are in Lost in Translation as a you have an Old Fashioned at the top of the Hilton after you got a free ride from a stranger.

Countdown to the train. In Ngaoundéré. You have been calling Beka Hosséré home and it finally feels that way as you return. You never thought you would have missed a toilet that was only a hole in the ground.

Christmas with Americans, Dionysus style. Pause, then New Years with martinis in a nalegen on a roof. You marvel at the beauty of the Adamawa as bats leave for their hunt with the backdrop of a blood orange sky.

It is a new year and you keep the person you want to be in your mind. You continue to wonder who has time for anything. You continue to be happy. You continue to try to love. You continue to try to hope.

Fire in the distance

Ash falls from the sky at random moments to remind you the past is never truly gone. Even burnt it will find its way back to you.

Your new post mates are settling in just as you wrap up your first Grass Roots Soccer. You painted a water pump with the GRS students and almost pulled your hair out, but survived.

The principal might have turned against you but you try to brush it off.

There are days where you are as high as the ash in the sky, then you fall down and dissolve. The fire of teaching is both rejuvenating and destructive.

You are about to leave for training and am excited to see your friends.

Even though teaching is like the fire you find you are too. Burning on past memories and creating new ones out of the sky.

Bienvenue

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Bienvenue is one of this children that will forever inspire. He lives in Bissock, a small village outside of Ebolowa, the capital of the southern region of Cameroon. Bienvenue (a common name here) was, as his name suggests, very welcoming. He is the only male in his family of I-lost-count-of-how-many-girls. His father is somewhere, the only news ever really heard was that he bought Bienvenue a bike, but then took it. Bienvenue loves two things: reading and animals. His love of reading has gone unmatched with anyone else met so far in Cameroon and it breaks the heart knowing that he can rarely afford a book. Should’ve left him countless. One day, while waiting for the host family, Bienvenue described in detail his love for animals and his adventures into the forest where he used to have a pet monkey (no lie). Now Bienvenue has a dog by the name of Police (the name for just about every dog in Cameroon) that follows him everywhere. Bienvenue is an inspiration not only for Cameroonian children, but children everywhere by his love of learning, nature and people. On hard days when teaching is really like herding cats memories of this little guy are like a fresh breeze.

Dry Season

The winds have changed. Your lips have a faint memory of cracking. Thirst hits you way harder than it used to. Your post mates have left in a dust devil but you know their names will linger in the village air for years to come. Your students cause some other type of heat in the classroom to a boiling point. Sometimes it is a devil’s tango, you forgot to look at your lesson plan and have to wing it and your students get frustrated therein frustrating you. It is a preverbal human feces tempest.

Within the dry season there are cool winds. You are spending more time with Amadou, the child Danny your old post mate took care of. The children next store come over to draw now and you found a kid that is writing a story he wants to make into a book. You laugh with your coworkers more than squint and smile in confusion. Your house is set up, asking you to cook more and relax. Time is on your side if you just remember to look at it.

Dry season is filled with winds that change, they can be heated and knock the air out of you or they can be cool and drag your frown into a smile. Honestly living here is just like living elsewhere new, you adapt to new things, your embrace the awkwardness of getting to know strangers, it just happens that you are in a small village in Cameroon is all.

Cher

The sun has started to get searing as the shade has become like a chill memory. Your post mates that you have bonded with are about to leave to be replaced with people that you know you will get along with, but any change in social life after over two years of it still gets to you. But your couch is like no other. And the past week was the first week in a while where you found yourself with nothing to do, so you climbed Mount Ngaoundéré and watched a questionable amount of television.

Friday’s are hell. Five hours of teaching. Five hours of almost 300 students to control at different times. In the last class of the day you feel something snap as the students start talking loudly.You are frustrated. You don’t want to be that mean teacher, but what other method do you have to deal with so many? You ask what they want. They want a song. So you start writing out the only song you know by heart. Believe by Cher. You spend the next hour trying to hide your smile as you make countless unknowing children ask if you believe in life after love? The situation is flipped. Floor is ceiling type of feeling. You’ve gone from wanting to smack a child to wanting to dance.

That is how time goes though, one second you are sad and angry but one line of Cher can turn things around.

Patience

It has been over a month since you finally moved into your house. It is still barren and cold even in the hottest days. Little by little it is becoming a home.
Your village is where you are comfortable. You get tired and annoyed having to go into town for anything. The other Americans in your village are exactly the type of Post Mates you wanted, but they are being replaced soon. You are glad to know them, to see how things go in your village.
Teaching is not so much teaching as speaking loudly and staring firmly. The smallest class is 57 students and the largest is 76. There is a constant hum of little voices. You try to get things in order because if you don’t you will be overpowered in a second. It is draining and not how you wanted to teach. You give yourself six weeks to get used to it all and think of new ways to teach so many minds that want nothing to do with it. But they still love having a white teacher. The same student you made kneel at the front of the class for the whole hour will smile and wave at you on the street.
Is it the system or the kids?
All in all you love it. You love the hating but liking your students. You love the milky-way above your head as you walk home, gliding on a muddy road. You get tired of not figuring out what or how to really cook here, but you love the little dinner of a shack that makes the only beans you will ever love. You love the little disco lights in the one room bar in the village where you play chess with your Post Mates.
You find yourself sitting in the waiting room of the Norwegian Hospital in Ngaoundere waiting for blood tests. The waiting room is a tin roof with benches that became a music hall when it downpours. You end up waiting three hours and buying your own syringe, yet never got too mad or frustrated.You wanted to white man your way into being seen quicker and even thought of bribing someone to get you ahead in line, but you decided to wait like everyone else. You looked around you and realized there was no reason to be impatient or frustrated, what else was there to do? You couldn’t go do the other things you had planned because of the rain and if you did somehow this task would be sitting there waiting for you.
Patience is born in poverty out of necessity. You have to wait for help, for water, for food, for friends, for credit to call home, for bread, for electricity and even family. Waiting is an act of hope and when you are stuck in a place with nothing with at times nothing to do all you can do is hope. That is what you have been learning in your village and at work being around so much poverty. Patience. Hope.

Some poems written recently:

Rain in Africa (16/09/2014)

The sky becomes shared time
as it falls in fatigue
like an exhausted man on a bed
-liquid sigh splashing
the bed twists and forms to his body
His breath cool as it swirls
around quite mouths
for the tin roof is loud
but the silence is warm

Teaching (26/09/2014)

The voice hurts
eyes wonder
stomachs growl
the air is half frustration
half ennui
carbon dioxide of poverty
relearning how to breath
but the chalk is chocking me

White man (26/09/2014)

Are you a girl?
Where is my candy?
Can I go to America with you?
Why are you here?
That is a good idea.
No problem.
Find me a wife.
-let me fix what the white man
breaks, makes, fakes.
-The world is irate

Waiting

After a week your house is ready. The house is florescent blue and pink to match the candy land feel of your landlord’s house who is a silversmith. While staying at the case (a peace corps hostel basically) in Ngaoundéré you’ve felt true boredom and lazyness. You let yourself have a holiday of beer to sub do the lethargy. Sometime in the early week a $100 of yours disappeared, yet you aren’t as mad as you should be. All attention is on the house, yoga in the morning and reading naked in bed. You’re excited to get to know your little village over the mountain, since you’ve learned that Beka Hossere means behind the mountain. You’re excited to start what you’ve been waiting for, even though the thought of actually teaching is a little too much to handle. You’re just excited to stop waiting for something.