Amongst the Dead Grass

You can’t drink water fast enough. You never thought you hope for clouds so much.  The dust jumps off the earth, as if the ground is too hot for even the dirt, and bellows onto everything as you slowly simmer in the balmy nights. Amongst the dead grass rolling over tired hills you have found magic in the heat. For one thing every yoga session is a hot yoga session. For another the improbability of rain makes any social event safe. And when nothing is better than a cold drink and fresh words your social life hasn’t been better.

In the past few weeks you’ve been to two very different picnics.

One on the breezy lake side of the crater lake Lac Tison with a bunch of hippie rastas. As men and women cooked together Bob Marley wooed our souls as we BBQ’d meat, made couscous (not the type you’re thinking about) with sauce and a refreshing mint lemon salad. After eating everyone dangled about like the growing mangos as trip hop music eased us into the night.

The other picnic was with rich Cameroonian bachelors, which is a totally different ball game. The parking lot the picnic was in felt like a desert compared to Lac Tison as two goats died to satisfy everyone’s hunger. Your taste buds were confused by the succulent meat, fun conversations and misogynist comments.

It had been a while since you let yourself be whisked off by friendships. You spent so long mellowing in a depression and carefully piecing yourself together with the ink of a pen and yoga that you forgot how to get back into the overflowing river that is Cameroonian social life. But man oh man is the water refreshing and fun. As your pulled from shore to shore, rock to rock, you are swept away by how caring and wonderful people are.

The other night a friend asked you what were some of your fondest memories. You recounted some cute childhood ones, but now you know that amongst the sun burnt hills and confused dust that the time you’ve spent here, the conversations you have webbed together, the friendships made, will be some of your best memories.

 

No poem. But in preparation for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read Day) day that is happening fashionably late by a week here is an image from a children’s story I made about three monkeys on Mt. Ngaoundere to share with the cute little prison suit Primary School kids.

3m10001

Development

The holidays went well. Your mother visited, which of course you realized how good it was once she left. There is nothing like having your mother around for the holidays. You were so pleased that she had a good time, even though you had to take 2nd class on the train, which was an unique 15 hour hell. 

Even though it is routine for there to be a bad class or two in a week it still surprises you how one bad hour of teaching can spoil the week. Why can’t we let go of the burning coal that is frustrated and anger? All it ever hurts is yourself, yet you routinely find yourself standing there like a fool holding a hot rock. In class you remind yourself how to be positive and focus more on the students than on your own emotions. 

The other day, while typing up the results from your teach training you realized that all the participants marked that they had changed their views on corporal punishment because of the sessions. Within seconds your burnt out self lit up with no energy for the last leg of service. Maybe 80% of your kids will fail but hey, some teachers said they changed. 

The grant to repair the primary school was funded within two days. It is amazing how easy it is to get money, yet how hard it is to make a lasting change. You really do hope that repairing the school and having the books form America will help. You know it will help. How could a book hurt? But as your watch the kids run and play and try to learn even as they’re hit for not having a passing grade you ask yourself where the change will come from. 

You have found that in Peace Corps we try everything we can to make a change when we fail to see the change in ourselves. At times the best way to make an impact on the world around you is to alter yourself first. And you have been doing that. You feel alive and developed from your constant practice of creativity, wether it be physical in yoga or mental in the over 100 poems you’ve already written. Yes you have seen a change in your community and students but for your own future you see a change you have always wanted and worked towards. 

 

Gaining Weight (101)

I’ve gained weight this past year

something that has never really happened to me

one day my pants just wouldn’t fit

I nearly said ‘I be damned’

days and months slowly creep upon someone like that

all these minute decisions that push up

lost in the folds of a skin that when faced with the obstacle of weight gain

shrugs his shoulders and just makes some more room

-welcome home. 

Dead grass of a golden brown

Your days, unlike the unchanging blue sky of dry season, have been varied. The teacher training you did to promote positivity in the classroom, based on Design Thinking, worked about as well as it could. Your heart melted a little when the participants suggested they check up on themselves to make sure they were practicing what they had begun to preach. And on the days you see those same teachers making kids kneel outside or smack them lightly on the head you just tell yourself, maybe the smack wasn’t as hard as it used to be…. But you would be lying if you said you didn’t understand why they do what they do. A class of over a hundred students is hard to manage, and force and negative discipline does, on the surface seem like the answer when the students finally become quite. But just because their mouths aren’t moving doesn’t mean their minds are. It might sound corny, but it is because it is dead true: everyday is different. One day can be amazing while the next you have to hold yourself back from crying. Crying at the insanity of the world, crying at the meanness children can have and the poison of habit. But on the days that are good the dead grass is a golden brown, the dust a light sand, the rude children are just kids while the good teachers are prophets in the desert.

In the confounds of your mud-brick house that is pretending to be made of concrete you find yourself amongst the words of a poem a day or in the water color set you decided to give to yourself instead of the children. Even as termites create metropolises in your walls it doesn’t really matter because with each yoga exercise and each magical Sunday run you are building rivers and valleys in your soul.

To be honest you do feel as burnt out as the hills, recently set on fire to clear the land. But you are hopping that with the approaching vacation those ashes will mix with the dirt and give nutrients for you to finish strong.

 

Playing with bottle-caps (65) 3/12/15

I walked next store to buy bread and

on my neighbor’s veranda was a group of girls, dancing, singing and smiling in rhythm

like one would at a wedding or in a sixties douhop group

the girls encircled three others and started raining down bottle-caps, like one would money at a traditional wedding or party

amongst their laughter and smiles their worn school clothes morphed into bright, gay, fabrics

as the bottle-caps glistened, like falling diamonds from the sky

 

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

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.

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.

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.