Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Health Club outing...

The weekend wasn't only taken up by English Club activities as we had also organised for our health club to take a trip out to a nearby village the day after the bilingual madness to do some awareness raising activities. The plan was to leave Moutourwa at 7am in a bus that we had already arranged to collect us the previous week, arrive in the village of Titing around 8 and do some general awareness raising activities in the market before holding a football match in the afternoon between a team form Titing and a team from another nearby village. All very well planned, but as usual even the best planned things seem to encounter a few problems here! The original bus didn't actually turn up until 2 hours after the proposed start time, but our spirits weren't dampened and all 27 of us crammed into a 17 person bus (I have no idea how!) and we set off for our outing. Unfortunatley the unforseen circumstances didn't finish with the late bus.....rather more importantnly, the football team from Titing didn't turn up for the start of the footie match! They were too busy enjoying themselves with the traditional wine in the market! Luckily for us, we quickly recruited some of the peer educators who had to whip off their smart trousers and shirts and get ready to play the match! The team from Titing did eventually turn up half way through the match, but I wouldn't exactly say they were in such a fit state to play!

The day in itself was really quite successful apart from the minor hitches and we managed to run a quiz about HIV/AIDS in the market before the match and then the peer educators used the opportunity to chat with the locals about the issues during the match. as well as perform sketches etc in an attempt to get the message across. Most people in the village didn't speak French, but rather their local language Guiziga, so all our activities were translated into the two languages to target as many people as possible. It was really interesting to see the attitude to the disease among the's clear that there is still much work that needs to be done in increasing awareness about the existence of the disease and methods of prevention. When asked how he could catch HIV for example, one man replied that he wasn't entirely sure but regardless he was sure he could never be at risk because he washes himself everyday! What was concerning is that this was not an uncommon repsonse.

All in all though, the day was a success and we all piled back into the 17 seater bus to head back to Moutourwa for 6pm where we had organised a meal for all the peer educators to thank them for their efforts.

At the moment, I'm hoping to get some some funding from VSO to arrange another visit to a different village. Whilst in Titing, we also had the opportunity to meet and chat with their local commitee against HIV/AIDS to see how they appraoched the sensitisation of the population. What became evident is the lack of consesus existing between the differing local commitees. In the district of Moutourwa, there are at least 10 different commitees in the differing villages, however there is no communication or exchange of ideas between them about good practise etc. The commitee that we met for example said that if they discovered someone with the disaese they would tell them directly that the only thing that was going to happen is that they would die! Not really the supportive approach that our commitee is trying to project. I'm hoping that VSO will also provide the funding for the organisation of a workshop, where we invite all the local commitees form the area and spend a day discussing our different approaches etc. This way we can hopefully come to a consensus about how to approach the task of raising awareness so as to have more of a concerted effort in trying to reduce the infection rate here in the extreme north. Fingers crossed the application is accepted!

The peer educators at work!

27 people in a 17-man bus!

Some of the local children we're hoping to influence!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

International Youth Day

I'm getting more and more used to the fact that Cameroon evidently loves to celebrate on every possible occassion and therefore it came as no surprise that we were going to celebrate the supposed 'international Youth Day' on the 11th February (anyone else heard of it??!!) What was quite surprising however was that despite the fact that the celebratory day fell on a Saturday, we still managed to miss three days of school in preparation for it!

Unbeknown to me, marching is apparently of great importance in the execution of any kind of celebratory event. All schools from the area – maternal, primary, secondary, colleges and the like were to descend on Moutourwa to march around the sports field whilst the dignitries (ie the Mayor, the traditional Chief of the village, the divisional officer who represents the President of Cameroon in the district of Moutourwa etc) watched! This being the case, the three days prior to the celebration were taken up by march practise – yes you heard me right. This basically consisted of us heading out to the sports field at 7am and watching the students march around it for three continous hours whilst we shouted words of encouragement and advice from the sidelines – I lost count of the amount of times I found myself shouting « shoulders back, chest out, sing like you mean it ! » Army commander in the making I reckon.

The day of the actual event, we all converged on the football field at 9am to wait for the start of the events. Sticking with tradition, things didn't start on time so by the time the marching did kick off, we were already near fainting point what with the 45 degree heat and the absolute lack of any type of tree/small bush/plant in sight under which to seek shade! So, did all this marching practice come in useful I hear you cry.......well all I can say is that I was rather surprised to discover that instead of the entire tour of the football pitch that I was expecting, the 'march' consisted of a 10 metre stretch in front of the seated dignitries lasting approximatley 10,25 seconds! Not quite sure the three days of missed lessons was totally justified, but apparently most other members of staff and students were actually very put out that we didn't have the entire week off! - In schools in the town that is precisely what is just our Principal who decided that this was rather excessive!!

After the marching, certain of us were invited to the Divisional Officers residence where a cocktail had been laid on. Suffice to say lots of meat and a good few beers were consumed. We were meant to all reconvene at the football pitch at 3pm for the start of the afternoon's activities..the final of a football tournament that had been played in the week running up to the celebration. Leaving the cocktail it was already 2pm so the Principal, Xenia, Fodjo, Asongwe and myself all piled into the Principal's car and we headed off the the nearest bar to pass away the time before heading over to the footie pitch. Well after a good few hours in the bar, we decided that it was probably only polite to show our faces at the match and so we all piled in again and headed over to the pitch just in time to catch the final 10 mintues or so before heading back out in the direction of another bar. This being a major celebration in Cameroon, everyone was out in force and it was at about 7pm that the bars started to run out of cold beer, before finally ruinning low on actual beer stocks! After searching for a drinking hole that still had some drink to offer, we finally headed home at 10pm. At this point, I must say that the prospect of making it out to the 'soiree' that was organised seemed relatively low. Fortunately Fodjo was there to ply us with food and after a quick power nap and lots of water at his we made our way out to the fete where Xenia got to experience of Cameroonian slow dancing, or 'blocking' as it is commonly referred to in these parts (ie no moving, touching up kind of thing!) The necessary early rise the following day for Xenia's departure was quite problematic to say the least!

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bilingual stress!

Cameroon being a bilingual country, there were big celebrations on the 3rd February for bilingual day. Despite a few moments of severe panic, late buses, projectile vomit and serious amounts of beer, the bilingual weekend that I organised actually went off pretty well!
The events for the day were to take place in the Foyer Culturel (a building that is often hired out to groups in the village) and I'd organised for the DJ (there's only one in the village)and for the lights to be installed earlier in the day so all would be prepared for the scheduled 4pm start time. Unfortunately, an unavoidable trip into Maroua very early Thursday morning increased the stress levels of the whole day. Not only was the event supposed to start at 4pm, but I was supposed to be at the Foyer at 2pm to let the DJ set up and the lights to be arranged before the kids were due to arrrive at 3pm for the final rehearsals. The fact that I was still stuck in Maroua at 2pm, having waited two and a half hours for a blimin bus meant that all the good proposed plans quickly evaporated. Fortunately for me, this whole concept of 'African Time' which up until this point has been slightly more on the frustrating than the beneficial side, came in very handy! Arriving at 3.30pm and it soon becomes clear that not only is the DJ nowhere in sight, but the student with the key to the building hadn't even turned up either! Fortunately, just as I arrived, so did everyone else and so we were able to get the room ready before the start of the show at what turned out to be 5.30pm! The evening went really well and I was really proud of my little kiddies (half of which are older than me!) for all their hard work and effort and we celebrated by all going to the bar for a well deserved beer courtesy of the school!

The hectic week didn't stop there and my organisational skills (what organisational skills I hear you cry) were severely put to the test that weekend. For Bilingual Day, I had arranged for 5 other schools in the Province with VSO volunteers to bring their English Clubs to Moutourwa for a day filled with activities. Whilst this seemed like a great plan when suggested, the fact that it was a day after the English Club evening in my school, meant that the stress levels were rather higher than normal! All seemed to be going reasonably well however on the Friday afternoon as I ran around from pillar to post ensuring that the food for the expected 60 people was organised, the DJ was booked, the tables and chairs were provided and the invitations for the guests of honour (ie the Principal, Vice-Principal and Discipline Master) were distributed. The fact that I hadn't really prepared any of the ressources for the games and quizes on the Saturday, nor done my much needed washing of clothes, or cleaned the house was of no bother to me as plans for Friday evenong consisted of doing just that. All very well until I receive a phone call at 7pm from one of the volunteers who lives in a village about 3 hours away saying that her and her posse of 10 would be arriving in Moutourwa in approximately 40 minutes!! Minor panic stations to say the least! The problem of no mobile coverage and therefore no possibility of communication to inform me of their plans came back to haunt us again!
After a quick whizz over to some friends houses, leaving poor Xenia with the task of washing clothes and cleaning the house, I managed to arrange places for them all to stay so by the time of their arrival at 9pm the stress levels had marginally decreased! This being the case, the fact that few resoources had been prepared for the morning was put aside and we decided to head out for a well deserved beer with Colette, the VSO volunteer, her other colleagues and my Prinicpal. Whilst this seemed like a very good idea, the one beer that rapidly turned into four on a completely empty stomach (no time for food with all this rushing around) and the 2.30am bedtime made for a very interesting 6.30am wake up call which involved rushing out of bed as fast as possible just in time to projectile vomit outside my front door. Classy. Suffice to say the subsequent running around that had to be done before the ETA of 8.00am of all the other clubs was carried out with some diificulty but before I knew it, it was already 8.30, everyone had arrived (including the Inspector for Bilingualism in the Extreme North who had decided to rock up!) and the organised tables/chairs and my students were the only thing absent! After this shaky start, the actual day went really well, despite frequent trips around the back of the building to be sick...I'm sure this was flu induced as opposed to anything to do with alcohol....seriously, alcohol can't make you that ill can it?? The day consisted of quizes, sketches, grammer games, poems and songs involving all the groups from the differing schools and prizes were distributed and certificates produced for each participant. After the hectic day, I'd organised for a meal at one of the bars in Moutourwa so all 60 of us headed over, joined by some of my colleagues from school and my Principal. I was just gutted that I couldn't eat any of the yummy food for fear another projectile vomit incident. That'll teach me - beer IS evil.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bilingualism and biscuits....

So, back to school with a vengeance! The third set of exams for the year meant that most of my first two weeks back after the holidays were spent correcting papers and filling in report cards...the one aspect of teaching that isn't quite so much fun! Things at school are getting really busy which is good, although still acred at how quickly the time is flying by. The computer project money has come through finally and so we have started to rennovate the classroom. The only problem now is that the computers that were meant to arrive in Cameroon at the beginning of September were placed on the wrong boat and sent to South Africa!! This being the case there is still no sign of computers and I'm starting to fear that we will soon have an excellent computer room with no computers!! I've been told that they're due to arrive on the 8th February but considering the arrival date has already been put back three times, I'm not holding my breath!

Preparations have also been going along nicely for Bilingual Day which is this Friday 3rd February. Our English Club has been rehearsing for a week now and we have a whole evening of activities planned with poems, sketches, a debate and songs (yes, that would be Westlife again!). Last night I had all 25 members round my house for the entire evening whilst we rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed again in an attempt to coordinate all those moves to the Westlife song! I even dreamed about Westlife last night......I think its driven me mad! The events are actually taking place tonight rather than on bilingual day itself.....Cameroon being the football crazy country it is, there was no chance of hosting an event on the day of the quarter final football match of the African Cup of Nations (despite the fact that it's not even Cameroon who are playing - they play on Saturday!) I've arranged for all the other English clubs in schools with VSO volunteers to come and visit Moutourwa on Saturday for a day of English Club activities although I think we will strategically have to have our break during the match else no one will turn up!

The African Cup has been keeping me away from beer for the past week and a half what with two matches a day there has been no time for bar action which has come as a welcome rest! Instead, I crowd around one of my friend's TV's with all the other 50 people who have come to see the Indomitable Lions (ie Cameroon) or anyone else for that matter, play. Fingers crossed we'll reach the final as I reckon that the atmosphere will be immense!

Other preoccupations these past few weeks have included yet another visit from home! This time my friend Xenia has come for a visit which is really nice. Like Em, she came laden down with goodies such as chocolate biscuits and numerous bars of Dairy Milk. Suffice to say I ate the entire box of choccie biscuits by myself all in the space of 20minutes....i'm still dreaming of how good they were, even if I did have stomach pains for 2 days afterwards! Having already tasted the chocolate that Em had brought over, my neighbours wasted no time in coming over straight away and raiding the fridge and chomping all the dairy milk....I think they realised that if they didn't get in there quick, they'd be none left!! Don't worry though, I did manage to grab a couple of kilo bars for myself ;)

I think Xenia's enjoying her visit so far and there's only been one incident of hideous food since she arrived (how we ever thought that dried whole fish that absolutely stunk could ever be edible, I'll never know) so all in all she's been quite fortunate! I did think she might get arrested last week when we came into Maroua as she forgot her passport, something you must never do in Cameroon if you don't have an ID card, and which is an automatic arrestable offence! Fortunatley, the policeman who got our bus on was more interested in practising his English, rather than checking our ID so she survived another day!

Anyway, off to buy the prizes for the quiz tongiht - a couple of biros and exercise books should do the trick!

Fingers crossed that it'll all go well considering this is the first thing that I've been solely reponsible for organising since being here so if it's rubbish the buck stops with me and considering we've even got the Mayor coming to watch the panic is starting to set in.....!

Bilingual Day rehearsals in my garden!