Grilled Eggplant

Time is already behind you waving telling you what a great visit he had and hopes to see you soon. Two months of school are finished. You have finally arrived at the point where you can ignore the bad students and focus on the good ones. One student finally got a perfect score on a test, with extra credit, something that only happened once last year. With your counterparts your seminars on positivity in the classroom and non-violence have been working well. Each seminar there are less participants but the ones that come every class are supporters of the idea and even recommending ways to make sure they all stay on track together. Before the seminars started you were in a dark place, you had basically gave up. But somehow you decided to start to write a poem a day and with each verse and silly poem about curtains and mustaches you found yourself climbing back out of the heavy ooze of depression. The day before the seminar started your counterpart said we should print out questionnaires for potentially every teacher at the school, and you asked why, and he said we have to hope for the best, always. You smiled, he was right. Finally free you started to cook more interesting dishes and the joy from it is like no other. You find traits of yourself in everyday activities. You are observing more. You are growing more. You are smiling more. Even the cat you got, that drove you crazy, now brings you joy as he always steals your sit the instant you move. So here is one of those poems:

Grilled Eggplant (21) 20/10/15

In simple words I lost my cool in class while teaching and threw a student’s notebook across the class

Hours alter the shame simmers like goals that keep breathing red

Till I grill some eggplants, much like how I was grilled by my students,

And try something new, mixing this and that, seasoning with cumin and salt for quite a tasteful dinner that was very much unlike me in class

I hope soon, I will be like that grilled eggplant, mushed, and seasoned with ingredients that separately are not good, but together dance perfectly on the tongue just right and are a delight

En Haut

The summer is over and you’re on top of Mt. Ngaoundere for the first time since summer started. You saw chimps in the forest of the East, your host family in the South and two weddings in the North West. When you came home though you had to rush home for a death. Your life cracked and came back together in a new way, parts tarnished, parts polished. A good friend visited for a few days before you flew off to Togo. It was nice to be with an old friend in Togo; her in the midst of the new life in her and you in the midst of dealing with a new death. You reflect on all of this on top of the mountain. Above you a golden brown hawk, or falcon, drifts gingerly on some invisible current of air. Below you you hear a cry and look to see one of the elusive monkeys of the mountain. You watch butterflies dance in a way that you could call aquatic above the almost neon grass shinning against the bluest sky. You breath in the air that stretches past the sight of eyes and feel the warm embrace of the sun. The summer is over and you feel ready.

The school year is starting and you feel prepared. The first year of teaching is always the worst and no one is good at it at. You know what you need to do this year and are excited to do a better job. Somehow in the midst of the challenges of teaching in Cameroon you love the process, you love seeing knowledge and learning build. You know you have found something you want to do, if not for your life then for a good portion of it. You have literacy projects planned for the primary and kindergarten that you are excited to develop. The children are happy to see you again, and who can’t be happy at the laughter and smiles of children? Outside of Peace Corps you have to start getting your life ready for afterwards; grad school applications. In reality you have less then a year, about ten months.

Time has become some passing comment.

Before the summer your hope was gone, sapped dry, like a child sucks a honeysuckle. You felt like the end of dry season, dirty and cracked. About you now are seas of green with islands of ancient rocks perched atop the waves. At night the spill of the milky way stretches beyond the reaches of comprehension. The cool air of the moto drive makes you forget the frustrations, for you are going somewhere, it is the journey, and you are ready for the challenge.

Beka Hosséré
Beka Hosséré

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


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.