The Boy Who Bikes in the Rain

You got caught in your favorite bean shack (that you call the diner) in a fresh rain of the rainy season and wrote this about your favorite village kid:

The Boy Who Bikes in the Rain

The rain falls as it does,

The plants breathe in deep, reverberating neon green.

The dirt roads play at being rivers

As a boy on a bike zooms by

Woosh

Each time he enters your site he is in a new position on the bike,

Like some comedy montage;

First no hands

Then no feet

Then jumping over a slight bump,

As the clouds above descend below.

You later ask him why he biked in the rain

And he said it is because he always wanted to play in the rain and never had.

Isn’t that the essence of spring?

Breathing in deep, trying a new color of green?

Termite Wings

The sky is clearly frustrated, almost constipated with rain as you stare out over the rolling hills of the Adamawa from your school. Off in the distance you see a goliath of dust emerge, cranky, woken by the bellowing winds of a sky releasing anxiety. You stare transfixed as the first exhale of weeks of sun swirl around you. Some instinct, thousands of years old, tells you to turn just in time as the goliath rushes by, eager to work off its frustration with a dash across the countryside.

The days up to this have been great. One of your counterparts has shown you so much work he has done and work he wants to do with you that you feel almost obsolete. You are eager to plan during the summer with him to help encourage teachers not to insult or hit their students.

Teachers here act more like frustrated and mean big brothers than educators. You’ve heard stories of smart kids not responding to a question they know the answer to because they don’t want to be called stupid or forced to parade around answering questions till they eventually get something wrong so that the teacher can reassure him or herself that they were right in the child’s perceived ignorance. You would be madder at teachers, you are mad, but you know where they are coming from. For months you were not yourself, for months you were the teacher waiting for the stupid answer, just wanting to make a kid kneel at the front of the class so that you could feel some semblance of control in such a chaotic situation. What prompted your switch was just fatigue, you got so tired of using so much energy to be someone you weren’t. But how to help other teachers to make a switch when all they’ve known are teachers, bosses, cops, store clerks, moto drivers, mayors even religious leaders being rude, mean and condescending to assert a meager image of dominance to secure themselves in a world of so much insecurity and unfairness?

During a day of constant rain you deep clean your house. No small feat when to mop you must bend over with a bucket of water and questionable rag, Cinderella style. Afterwards you sit on your now clean floor, worried that you just dirtied it and watch the grey sky during a pause in the rain. Spread sporadically across the sky are termites flying in what appears to be no particular direction. This happens after every rain, and soon you’ll find their wings on every feasible surface outside, the termites themselves already gone, probably eating away at your mud-brick walls. They hide somewhere out of sight, for god knows how long, developing, growing, and after a dose of falling sky they emerge, flying, liberated of a moist, suffocating dirt. So you wrote a poem:

With the sighs and cries of the tired sky come termites,

Deep from some place unseen,

So it must be serine.

The termites fly in the liberated air,

Hesitant of future rain,

But glad to be able to fly after months of

Living, growing and just being.

Tired you watch,

Learning how to grow,

How to develop unseen,

To wait for a fresh sky to fly in.

First Rain

School has been enjoyable since you’ve stopped trying to be such a discipline heavy teacher and started being yourself. Surprisingly you notice it is easier to control the class and yourself.  The library competition, that was supposed to be five weeks but ended up being almost three months, ended well and you finally started to feel content at school.

Reading to children you find to be beyond enjoyable. Small smiles filled to the bream with feeling. That’s what is amazing about children, they feel all of their emotion in one powerful surge.

As you teach at almost every school in the village your walks through village is like walking through a shooting range of shots of ‘Monsieur Thomas!’ Also ‘Nassara’, but you don’t mind because the children who say it usually only go up to your knee, who can get mad at that. You are hoping, believing, that your popularity with the kids is from being nice to them and trying to give respect instead of hitting or insulting them as teachers in all levels do. You see hope and even though you could easily look the other way you don’t want to, you want to keep on believing, if not in change here, than in education in general.

The village boy that used to basically live at your house barely comes by anymore and it hurts. You can’t imagine what having a child will feel, or does, feel like.

Jump to the day where you partook in a music video for your friend and got invited to the near by ranch that is straight out of Out of Africa for a night of good food and times.

Your days blend but you’re okay with that.

You’re going to Yaounde to work on a committee to help design the Education sector and are excited to see what work can be done, also to have a free tripe to Yaounde. You’ve been thinking about the bacon cheese burger to be had for over a month.

The first rain came thundering over the mountain like the Rhino from James and the Giant Peach. You couldn’t make it home in time so you decided to enjoy a walk in the falling sky. At home you reflected on where you were at last time it rained, months ago. You smile to yourself thinking of the person you have become by this point as you relish in the cool air of the rain.

With the rain comes the full fruition of Mango season. Literally it rains mangos as children through rocks and sticks to knock down the fruit. Throughout the city you see youth of all ages navigate the crater roads and motos with a stick over twice their length to catch the most far flung Mangos. There is an interesting feeling in seeing a once a year thing, it is like in that moment everyone around you is sharing the same memory, of rain, fruit and spring.

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

DSC_0007

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.