Friday, November 04, 2005

Settling In and the real work begins ...

Approaching my eighth week here in Moutourwa and I can't believe how quickly the time is passing...not only am I beginning to panic about how quickly this school term is flying by and how much there is left to do, but I am also quietly fretting that my year here is going to be over far too quickly.
School is going very well. I feel much more settled and teaching and controlling classes of 100+ kids feels totally normal now! The amount of work there is left to do though is slowly dawning. Cameroon likes celebrations, that's for sure. Since being here, we've already celebrated, Teacher's Day, Career Advisor's Day, Sports Teacher's Day, Ramadan (the Extreme North of Cameroon being predominantly Islamic), and this Friday is Pupil's Day, all of which mean a day off school! Apparently, all these days are 'international,' not that I've ever heard of any them! Covering the 14 units in each book to complete the curriculum seems even more unachievable considering that from the second term onwards these celebratory days are even more common! This feeling is compounded by the fact that each term we have to set two sets of 'mock' exams. All very well but by the time you've given the exams, marked them and spent a couple of lessons going through error corrections, I'm not quite sure when exactly you're meant to teach!

Living wise, all is going exceptionally well. I have spent the last couple of weekends in Moutourwa, rather than heading out to Maroua. This way, I've been able to get to know my neighbours much better and other people in the village as well as giving me time to mark all the hundreds of papers from the first set of tests! I've got more used to the water situation and can judge much more when I need to ask my neighbour to fetch me some, although saying that I have run out at the moment so I'm sitting here sweating buckets, sucking on limes in an attempt to quench the old thirst whilst I wait for my neighbour to come back from the well!
I still haven't quite mastered the old cooking either to be honest but fortunately I'm getting quite into the Cameroonian trick of turning up at people's houses at lunch time! This way I'm actually getting fed. My friend Fodjo is especially good at taking pity on me and often actually 'beeps' me to tell me to come over! I did repay the favour the other day when I made chick pea curry and fried potatoes which he thought was the most bizarre thing he had ever tasted!
My neighbours are Muslims and so have been fasting for the past month as it has been Ramadan. They eat at 3am before sunrise and then break the fast at 6pm once the sun has set. To break the fast, they first drink a delicious nutritious drink called 'la bouille' made from crushed peanuts, boiled milk, sugar, water and lime juice which takes about 3hrs to prepare. Now that I'm good friends with them I have been getting regular evening deliveries of this bouille so I at least feel that nutrition level wise things are on the up!

As for the heat, I can't really say that I've fully adjusted but the sun seems less oppressive than when I first arrived. Although I like to tell myself that this is because I'm becoming a sun baby and adjusting accordingly, everyone here likes to tell me that has nothing to do with it and in fact it is because the 'cold' season is setting in! Hmmm, I'm not so sure their idea of 'cold' is quite the same as mine, especially considering the other day the vice principal was wearing a coat and complaining that the cold weather was setting in and it can't have been less than 28 degrees! I have so far resisted the temptation of buying a fan though in preparation for the hot season when apparently you don't even bother to turn the fan on as it just blows hot air!

Having spoken to other volunteers, it's dawning on me that I've been really lucky to find myself in this community. People here are so open and friendly and I have made some really good friends, not only work colleagues but neighbours, students and the like. In the village itself, even the gawking from the children is subsiding somewhat as they become more used to me. I have had some clothes made too from Africa cloth so dress wise I seem to fit in slightly better too which may have helped somewhat!
Thus far into my trip and I haven't read more than 60 pages of one book! Suffice to say that loneliness hasn't really been a factor, apart from in the first couple of weeks. To be honest, I'm finding it difficult to find enough hours in the day to do all the things I'm doing! A typical week day consists of getting up about 5.30am, having a nice cup of tea i (if there is sufficient water that is!), followed by the twice daily bucket wash. Fortunately most days at school I don't start until 8.15am so I can take my time getting ready and listen to the radio (if the signal is good) before heading off to school on foot. Every day at school is different and I finish at different times so the time I get home varies greatly. Most days I am home by about 1.30pm though. Due to the heat, everything stops from about 12.30pm until around 4pm when the visits recommence so these few hours are usually spent cooking, lesson planning and getting some shut eye!

Ramadan festival was today which meant no school. I headed off to school this morning to fill in report cards (which takes lots of time considering the number of students!) before heading to various people's houses to wish them 'Bonne fete.' Unbeknown to me you do not just go to someone's house, wish them Happy Ramadan and leave, oh no. You stay maximum 45 minutes at each house and, because everyone is so generous and welcoming here, you are expected to eat a full on meal of fufu, meat and sauce followed by at least two cakes for dessert and drink at least one litre bottle of Coke or Fanta (being Muslims soft drinks are the order of the day). This was fantastic the first house we visited and I was very pleased that I wouldn't have to think about what I was going to eat for lunch..... however by the sixth house, the old stomach was beginning to start rejecting everything else I was attempting to shove down it and the old food sweats were breaking out! Coupled with the general sweating from the heat, these food sweats, as I'm sure you can imagine, are rendered that bit more unpleasant. Attempting to make polite conversation whilst repressing the urge to release a mega burp after 6 litres of pop is no easy task I assure you! Suffice to say that on returning home at 2pm I had a good lie down in an attempt to give me body time to digest the overload! At least now I know what to expect for Christmas!

Until next time……

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