Friday, October 8, 2010

Training Continued- and details about my teaching post!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Today was Day 2 of training at the Embassy in Yaounde. Today I learned that I will be flying to Maroua next Sunday.

Mignon took us to Taco Tuesday for Lunch at the Marine house on the grounds of the Embassy, which felt like a real transportation back to the US. Salsa and guacamole and green chiles have never tasted so good!

Highlights from this day include a lecture from a Language Professor at the University of Yaounde 1, who was also a Fulbright who came to the US to do his PhD work at UMass! What a small world! He gave us a great deal of info on the Academic Situation in Cameroon, and we learned a lot about the structure of public universities and what we can expect.

In the afternoon, we had a conference call where all 3 of us got a chance to speak with our contacts at our host universities. It was so nice to hear the voice of someone who knows exactly (or close to…) what I will be doing in Maroua. I spoke with Michael Apuje, director of the department that I will be teaching in! He sounded excited to talk to me about my arrival- which was very reassuring!

The University of Maroua is one of Cameroon’s 7 public universities that receives it funds from the Cameroonian government and was founded in 2008. I will be teaching at the Ecole Naturale Superiuere, which is a Teacher’s Training College at the University. French is the primary language of Instruction. I will be assisting at least 2 courses, one on Academic Writing and one on Multiculturalism and Current Events. These classes will be between 45-90 students, but I will be teaching with another teacher.

The English Language Club that Kate spearheaded was a big it, and I am so happy to be continuing the awesome momentum that she started! I am also hoping to observe or audit some other classes at the university, so it sounds like there will be plenty to do!

I also learned that I will have my own apartment in a university apartment building, which is home to many other international people working at ENS, and is within walking distance to the place where I will be lecturing.

It was a huge relief to hear that “my apartment is all set. All that it needs is hot food!” I’m not sure if there will be internet access in the apartment, but there definitely will be in my office (!) at the university. Hurray!

For dinner, we were invited to eat at the home of some wonderful new American friends. They are two young American couples, Kelly and Bill and Lindsay and Brian, all of whom are teachers at the American Schools here in Yaounde. Between the 4 of them, they have done a great deal of traveling in different parts of the world mostly working as teachers, and they had great advice and a real “inside scoop” for Americans living in Cameroon.

Learning the ropes: Beginning training at the Embassy

Monday, October 4, 2010

I arrived in the Yaounde airport to a dark and rainy city. After getting off the plane, there was a man standing outside the gate holding a big sign that said "Jade Christina," just like the do in the movies! His name was Dairou (I think that's how its spelled) and he was very friendly and was a great welcome into the country. As he was driving me to the hotel, which was about a half hour away, I realized that I hadn't really spoken to anyone in about a day, and was ridicoulously chatty, and was asking him all sorts of questions. He didn't seem to mind! When we arrived at the Hotel Azur, Meera one of the other ETA's, came running down the stairs to greet me. We then found Eva, the third of our team, and hung out for a while in my room. Nothing could have felt better than finding those two after traveling alone half way across the world for so long. At the moment, I knew that one journey had ended, and another had begun.

Early Monday morning, we headed to the US Embassy for our first day of training. As Eva, Meera and probably anyone else that I met that day could probably tell, I definitely had not gotten enough sleep. Regardless of my half-open eyes and disorientation, I tried my best to take in everything as much as possible!

The Embassy is close to the Hotel Azur, in the Bastos neighborhood of Yaounde. It is set away from bustling Centre Ville- center of the city (although with Yaounde’s amazing spider-web of a layout, its hard to really say where the center is exactly!) An Embassy car came to pick us up every morning and drove us back in the evening at the end of the day. On the short drive, we descended the hill from Hotel Azur, and drove around a huge rotary with a yellow metal statue with the number 50, a peace dove and two hands, symbolizing the 50 years of independence. From the rotary, there is a breathtaking view of outer Yaounde’s lush rolling green hills and valleys, and many rainbows caused by downpour rain showers that scatter throughout the day. I guess that must contribute to how Yaounde can stay so beautifully green!

From the outside, the Embassy looks like a compound—a sprawling tan angular building surrounded buy a high guarded fence and surrounded by a lush green golf course. On the first day, everyone is very friendly and welcoming even though part of my conscious self was probably still in the air somewhere between Yaounde and London.

In the beginning, after handing in all cellphones, cameras and computers to security, passing through various metal detectors, giving our passports to a Marine officer behind a thick and foggy class window, we were ready to begin the day.

We met Gerald, our contact from the DC training and Mignon, the Foreign Service Officer who works in the Public Affairs Office at the Embassy. She is a young American woman from North Carolina stationed in Yaounde for 2 years, and she is really lovely. Even though she just moved to Cameroon, she seems like an expert at her job and has done an outstanding job making us feel at ease. Mignon and Gerald are doing a thorough job helping us clarify a lot of the ambiguity of our situations, and a lot of the details are finally revealing themselves, which is a huge relief!

Throughout the week, we had meetings with Jen, an outstanding ESL teacher who was one of the facilitators of our teacher training sessions in Washington. It was a surprise and a real treat to be able to learn from her again, and really effective and productive in our small group of 3. Jen is a former Fulbrighter herself, and is from New England but is teaching in Finland and has traveled all over the world working doing different forms of International Education work.

On the first day, the presentors included Gabriel, a Peace Corps coordinator who spoke on Managing Expectations, a Health Safety Lecture by the Health Practitioner who is from Massachusetts!

At the end of the day, we met Mackenzie, one of the research Fulbrighters who is living in Yaounde and auditing classes here at Yaounde 1, the public university. It was so great to see her after such a long time and to hear that she's enjoying her explorations in Yoaunde. After that, Meera, Eva, Jen and I went to the Tchinga neighborhood and had dinner at a buffet style restaurant, and I got to taste my first real Cameroonian food! Rice, fried plantains, salty beignets, beans, steamed greens, chicken- really delicious! I also had a chance to call my bank from an international phone booth, and check up on the status of my incoming card's arrival. Those booths are always fun.

After dinner, we met Joe, another research Fulbrighter doing research with the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and who will be stationed in Yaounde for the majority of the time, for drinks at our hotel. It is such an enormous comfort to have other people in very similar situations here, and to feel like part of a team. Since we will all be dispersing to our own corners of the country soon, it feels really important to soak up time with each other as much as possible!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Flight: BOS --> Heathrow --> Zurich --> Douala --> Yaounde Hurray! (Also entitled: "Stupid Me")

Hello Out There! Greetings from Yaounde

Due to spotty internet access, busy days of training at the Embassy, and the crazy adjustment to life in “Mini Africa” (as Cameroon is frequently called), I’m a bit behind on my postings. A lot has happened over the past few days, so bear with me!

One of the main lessons that I have learned in my training for this assignment is the importance of remaining both flexible and calm. I think that the beginning of this trip a true testament to my ability to use these skills, and I’m glad (and seriously surprised) to report that in my first moment of would-be disaster/freak out, I actually remained quite composed. After a wonderful send off from my family at Logan, I boarded my plane and set off for Heathrow. About 3 hours into that flight, I had an urgent aching feeling that I was missing something. It turns out my ATM card was nowhere to be found. (Flash FWD: This was taken care of, and thanks to the amazing work of the US Embassy and DHL, a new card is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, so keep fingers crossed, please!) This did however, cause for a pretty anxiety-ridden journey….Although a flight attendant did give me $20, which in that moment felt like a million!

Luckily, I had some wonderful reading material with me on the journey, which eased my wandering thoughts of potential financial disaster, as well as the daunting and butterflies-inducing reality that I was flying over the deserts of Algeria and Chad: that on one of my 4 flights (Boston, Heathrow, Zurich, Douala, Yaounde), I was holding three books: Season of Migration to the North (remember this, John!?), Half the Sky (shout out Elizabeth!), and the Boy Scout Handbook (yeeeehaw Jen!).

That's bout I got in me now, but much more to come soon!

Signing off,


Sunday, August 22, 2010

News Sources

Here are some quick fact news sites and timelines on the history of Cameroon:

BBC News-
Cameroon Country Profile:
Timeline: Cameroon's Key Events:

CIA World Fact Book:

US Department of State:

and... (of course) FIFA:

Cameroon "music and images":

Monday, July 19, 2010

Preparations continue....

Bonjour! Salaamma Alaikum!Hello!

Although I don't know that much about the linguistic overlaps between Arabic and Fulfulde, it makes sense that there would be some intermingling between the two, especially since Maroua is so close to Chad, where Arabic is an official language. Maybe that copy of Al-Khitaab should come along, eh?

Kate, the current Fulbright ETA in Maroua, has been a quite the saving grace for me, with (what seems to me at least ) an overflowing wealth of knowledge and very helpful and thorough advice. In a recent message, she taught me that the phrase to learn is "ceda ceda mi don ekkito foulfoulde" (seh-duh seh-duh me dun eh-kee-toh fulfulde) which means, "Little by little I'm learning foulfoulde." So there you have it. I will utter that in my sleep till I get it right! THANK YOU KATE!

Recent updates:

1. I have received word that I am not supposed to arrive in Cameroon until October 1. So, that gives me a bit more time to gather myself and enjoy the states before I go! Hopefully, July and the rest of August (and September, I guess!) will hold some great time camping with friends, and some good old family time (especially with my sister when she gets back from her fantastic workshop in Colorado!) Gots some mountains to climb!!

2. Team Cameroon (the 6 mighty Fulbrighters!) has been a great comfort to me, sharing advice and logistical tips via very lengthy email chains. I feel lucky to be part of this team and can't wait to see them all in Yaounde!

3. Last week, I got vaccinated for Polio, Yellow Fever, Rabies and Hep A. The Beth Israel Travel Clinic is a fascinating and very helpful place, and all in all eveything went fine (other than the fact that the rabies vaccine is neon pink! whhhooooaaa!)

4. Just sent in all the peices for my visa today (including my passport- yikes!). Sent it all out from the Pride's Crossing post office- the same place where I sent out all my college apps. Kinda a full circle thing :) Hope it all comes back in one piece.

I've spent a lot of time rereading my notes from the orientation in DC, and there are a couple things that I wanted to put down here.

More and more, I'm realizing that very major component of foreign travel (especially now, as an "official" representative of the US), is understanding how others see you and the culture that you are coming from. In his lecture on "Public Diplomacy and Intercultural Competence," Michael Vande Berg of the Council on International Educational Exchange, cited Dianne Hofner Saphiere's idea of US Cultural Values as described in the work "Cultural Detective." According to Hofner Saphiere, a list of US Cultural Values is as follows:

Time: Time is a valuable commodity- don't waste it!
Control: Take Charge!
Law and Order: Play by the Rules
Capitalism: Live the American Dream

Now, of course the US is such a big place, and it seems impossible to create umbrella values for the "collective American self," I personally think that this is a very thought provoking way of looking at oneself. I don't know if Hofner Saphiere's definition of a "value" is something that is displayed through action, or if it is something that people just "consider to be important." Complicated. While I have not read Hofner Saphiere's work in its entirety (and hope that I have cited it correctly!), I think that, to an extent, she provides an accurate portrayal of cultural values that may be so engrained in us as Americans that we don't even realize it (maybe with the exception of "equality....." which I find problematic...) I just wanted to put that out there, and see if anyone had any thoughts. Do you find these accurate??

*Also, dear AUCPer's does this sound reminiscent of Debby-Debb's Friday class?? I liked it much more this time....

Another really memorable speech "tid-bit" that I wanted to include was from Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College and a very acomplished woman and inspiring speaker who has extensive experience living and working in West Africa.

In her speech, Wilson-Oyelaran advised all of us doe-eyed listeners of the complexities of international living and cultural exchange in Sub-Saharan Africa. She offered us a sort of ethos; some bad habits to avoid, some rules to follow, or at least keep in mind while we were away. I found her words very powerful, and thought-provoking for and American like me who is about to approach life and cultural immersion in Cameroon. I apologize that here her eloquent ideas are definitely very roughly paraphrased!

Her "rules" were:

1. Recognize and be aware of what it means to be a guest (versus a host) in the context of your host country.

2. Be very careful with how you respond to the things that you encounter on your journey.

3. Be flexible.

4. Be cautious with what you write and publish on the internet. Take time to reflect on what you write, and keep in mind the value of the editing process. Be aware of the proper time to press the "send" button, and when to press the "delete" button. (I will!!)

In another very powerful part of this speech, she outlined a set of "syndromes" that we should be wary of, and careful not to fall into as we embark on these journies. They are as follows (although, again, grossly simplfied from what the speaker gave):
1. The Missionary Syndrome
2. The Curiosity Syndrome
3. The "Going Home" Syndrome
4. the "I am Intellectually Superior" Syndrome

Although some of these Syndromes may be easier for me to fall into than others (I don't really have much fear of falling into the "Going Home" syndrome- my cultural roots in Africa stretch a bit too far back for that....) it was humbling and grounding to hear that laid out out loud, especially coming from someone who is obviously a well-versed and practiced cultural worker.

Just some things to keep in mind....

À Plus Tard. Sey yeeso. See y'allz latahhhh..

Monday, July 12, 2010

A first entry!

Hello readers!

So, here it all begins. In written, blog form anyway.

I'm totally new to all of this blogging stuff, and kind of feel as if I'm in a movie, and that the words that I'm typing should be projected as a voice-over, but maybe that is a normal feeling to most any first-time blogger.

To start, I'll tell you what I know, and what has happened thus far.

In September of 2008, during my senior year at Oberlin, the inevitable and ever-daunting question of "what to do next" was ceaselessly lurking in my brain. Out of curiosity, I started looking into what applying for a Fulbright grant would entail. For several reasons, I decided to postpone my application until the following year. After many essay drafts, and endless emails incredible support from professors, mentors and friends (to whom I am ever-grateful), the application was complete.

I chose to apply to Cameroon for an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grant. This seemed to fit with both my interests and background (turns out having a BA French and Comparative Literature, as well as all of those hours of TAing language classes and working as an ESL conversation partner under your belt could actually be applied to something! Hurray!), and therefore the grant for which I was most qualified. Something that excited me about the assignment in Cameroon was that the ETA posts were in universities, specifically teaching as assistants to English professors in a Teacher's College, teaching the teachers... sounds great!

After applying in September (word to the wise: for future Fulbright applicants, APPLY THROUGH YOUR UNIVERSITY! My experience with the Fulbright committee at Oberlin was very supportive, and the faculty on the committee are experts at this sort of thing...obviously.)
I heard back in January that I had been selected as a finalist, and then on a sunny day in April (as the lovely Alice Manos can tell you, she was there!!) a big fat envleope arrived in my mailbox. Not thinking anything of it, I picked it up with the rest of the mail. It was from the Institute for International Education (IIE) in New York. My moment of "OH SHIT!" flushed through my entire body, and there it was: THE LETTER.

After the Honeymoon period and the shock factor wore off, I started doing some research one where I was acutally going. By the time I went to the Fulbright Orientation in June, (which was an experience in and of itself!) I found out the following:

1. I will be leaving in mid-September 2010 and returning in mid-July 2011 (9 months, to be exact...) I am currently trying to get all my "Ducks in a line" as far as visas, vaccines, flights etc. Just today, I received a letter stating that I have "Medical Clearance" and am good to go from the US side of things. We'll see how the anti-Malarial drugs go...

2. I will be teaching at the Université de Maroua, which is in the Extrême Nord (Extreme Noth) region the Cameroon, up near Lake Chad. Maroua is a Muslim city where people speak French and a language called Fulfulde, which I am making babystep attempts at starting to learn...
French and English are both National languages of Cameroon, but it seems like the language that the majority of the people speaks depends heavily on the region.

3. There are 5 other "Fulbrighters" going to Cameroon as well, although for the most part we will all be stationed in different parts of the country. The 2 other ETAs, Eva and Meera, will be teaching in universities in the southern part of the country, while the 3 researchers, Devon, Joe and Mackenzie, will be travelling throughout the country for the duration of their grants. We will begin our journies in the capital city of Yaoundé, for an in-country orientation at the US Embassy, with our trusty, wonderful go-to friend Gerald, who works for the Department of Cultural Affairs there.

Whew! That's all I got for now. A good opening? It's very strange to think that I am sitting here on a beautiful, green, breezy New England day, and will be writing to you all from this same "place" from the deserts of Maroua (which, for the record, is VERY, VERY close to the equator, but still on the Northern side!)

Hope you enjoy, and keep up on this journey with me!