More from Bafang

August 15 9:40 pm

We’ve been taking pictures and video of everything that we’ve been doing here, so there will be a lot of visuals to share, but for now most of the visuals are on devices I don’t have access to (or for those who prefer not to end sentences with prepositions: to which I don’t have access). And I am very busy, so for now, my words will have to do. In addition, I know that the pictures will still be available later, but the clarity of the experiences will not.

I wrote about what we did this afternoon during the first day of our teacher training, but let me back up now and talk about what else has happened and what else we have done since I’ve been here.

After landing in Douala yesterday at 5 am. I was able to get through the passport, customs, and baggage pick-up areas without difficulty, and Jacqueline and Olivier were waiting for me right outside the door, one of them taking a video and the other taking still photos. (If you haven’t yet begun following Aumazo on Facebook, you should do so—you’ll see updates about what we’re doing and Jacqueline is posting photos… Yesterday, for example, Jacqueline posted one of the photos we took outside the airport.) We drove to the hotel (where they’d spent the night in preparation for my arrival) so that I could get a shower and change—brushing my teeth was particularly welcome. Then we got back into the car and started driving to Bafang. The drive was bumpy and intense. I was very glad to be in a big car—they’ve recently purchased a 2001 Jeep Cherokee—and the roads here make it worth having a true SUV.

Even though I was exhausted, I actually felt pretty good. It’s not nearly as tiring to travel by myself than with a group of students, for example, and everything had gone smoothly. And, amazingly, I was actually able to sleep a good bit during the ride.

There was a point on our drive here at which I realized that I was choosing to sleep not only because I was tired, but because I just couldn’t take in all of the intensity—the dirt, the cars, the intermittently very rough road (if a road is under construction, people just go around the sign and drive on it anyway), the motorbikes weaving in and out and around the cars, the people crowding around the car whenever we came to a little “market” area (these happen at intervals along the road that appeared random to me… all of a sudden you’re just in a little area in/along the road where people are selling nuts or fruits or packaged bread or grilled meat, etc.). We stopped at quite a few of these, although not all of them, and Jacqueline bought provisions for our stay here. She likes to contribute food to the mission to help feed us and the seminarians who are staying here.

We finally arrived in Bafang, and although my room wasn’t ready yet, we were able to settle in a bit and get some internet access, and talk with each other and with the priests and seminarians here a bit. It was good to be somewhere. By the evening, the experience of driving here was already fading and I was feeling much more at home. Jacqueline asked me what I was noticing in my reactions as we drove—this was after I’d had a chance to wake up after sleeping quite a long time—and she asked if it was overwhelming…and I said yes. It’s just so different. She said that the first time she came back to Cameroon, she felt completely overwhelmed —and trapped by so many people encroaching on her space as when we arrived in the different market spots (which, again, feel quite random… you’re just driving along and suddenly a bunch of people come up to your car holding things up to buy), but that now she’s able to go back and forth between Cameroon and the US and not feel that overwhelm.

We had lunch around the table with le père Sylvestre, the Rector here—or possibly his title is Dean, since it’s actually a cathedral here. He is just great—just a few years older than me, very dynamic, very funny. We had pangolin as our meat. Jacqueline had shown me a video earlier in the day of a pangolin running around. I think it was the actual pangolin that we ate. The food here is absolutely delicious—incredible, spicy sauces, beautiful fresh fruits, and very fresh meat. The flavors are fantastic.

After lunch I had access to my room, and I unpacked. The electricity had gone out earlier, so we’d already lost the internet down at the main part of the mission (where we eat, and where I was able to send you a few messages), and now I didn’t have electricity in the room, but it’s not like I really needed it for anything. We also don’t currently have running water (!). I’ve got a bucket full of water to use when I need to flush the toilet. And, of course, I’m not supposed to brush my teeth in running water anyway, so I have bottled water for that. Jacqueline has given me purification tablets to put into the bucket of water so that I can use it to wash with and not run any risks.

After unpacking, I took a nap. I was really exhausted and feel immediately to sleep. I woke up at some point and thought I was getting up, but I then went back to sleep again. I finally woke up at around 5:30 or 6 and got dressed, brushed my hair, had a prayer time and did some journaling, and generally tried to put myself back together. Jacqueline showed up after having been at the 5:30 mass and having hung around the lower area to write some emails, and we decided to go have some food. After a long conversation around the table, we went to bed.

This morning, I slept late, but once I was up, life was immediately interesting and engaging. I had breakfast with the seminarians, who had been up since 4 or 5 am and had just finished the big mass for the Assumption of Mary. Then Jacqueline and Olivier joined me to do some planning for the day, and soon after it was time for lunch—I had just eaten breakfast, but the lunch was so delicious that I couldn’t resist joining in. It was another opportunity to talk with and listen to le pere Sylvestre, and I was blessed with stories of the beginning of Aumazo. It turns out that he is the one who was Jacqueline’s partner here in Cameroon at the beginning, when she first founded the organization in 2005. The stories they told were of hardship and frustration and resistance by everyone around them as they tried to get this project moving. The stories are also of deep commitment, love, and clarity of call. The presence of God has been palpable throughout this project; I know that I have felt a deep sense of call myself as I have been involved. I will ask them if I can write down some of the stories and share them here. I’m not going to give any details here now because I am not sure I will get the details right, and they deserve to be told as they actually happened. What I can say is that both he and Jacqueline are incredibly brave and loving people, and that I am deeply honored and privileged to be joining them on this path. I’m also grateful that those particular hardships are behind us, and that we are now moving into the work of teaching children—which is what Jacqueline has had in her heart and mind ever since the first day she created this project in her kitchen in Silver Spring, Maryland.

After lunch, Jacqueline, Olivier, and I headed to the village—the famous Bankondji—so that we could meet with the women of the village and talk to them in person about the tutoring program that’s starting next Monday. They were all gathered together in a room in the village having their meeting. We waited outside, as is the protocol, until we were invited in. We walked in to great warmth and hospitality—there are photos and videos of all of this, which I look forward to sharing—and I was given many hugs and taught to greet everyone in the local language (…I can’t remember the name of the language—I will need to ask Jacqueline in the morning). Jacqueline then talked to them about the program. Finally, I said a few words (in French, since I don’t speak the local language!), thanking them for their kindness and hospitality, and expressing my excitement to finally be in Cameroon, and especially in Bankondji which, for me, is the star on the map of Cameroon, the most important spot, since Aumazo is how I have become connected with Cameroon. We exchanged our mutual thanks and enthusiasm, and then Olivier, Jacqueline, and I got back in the car so that we could get back to the mission in time for our 3 pm meeting with the teachers.

Tomorrow we start the more formal training with the teachers. I’m using the All Kinds of Minds framework I learned from Rachelle Adams and Shannon Needham when we were at Barrie—I’ve translated some of the core materials so that we can use them together in French. (If you are interested in learning about All Kinds of Minds, visit allkindsofminds.org, and especially helpful might be the Learning Framework page – allkindsofminds.org/learning-framework – as that’s a document I chose to translate and share here.) It will be fascinating to see which of the constructs and principles make the most sense here versus how they land in the US. I chose to use this framework with the teachers as a way “in” to creating a more egalitarian learning environment. First we will explore the constructs for ourselves—what are our own strengths? what are our own weaknesses? what are our own affinities? How do we, as adults, leverage our strengths in order to manage our weaknesses? What difference does it make when we are able to do work that we are truly interested in? I am hopeful that the ambiance we created to day via InterPlay will help us as we explore these ideas together, and I plan to continue to use InterPlay forms throughout our training as a way to deepen our comfort with each other. (If you don’t know anything about InterPlay, visit www.interplay.org to learn something about it…. and, if you are lucky, there will be an InterPlay group meeting near you!)

In Bafang, Cameroon

I arrived at the Douala airport yesterday morning, August 14, at 5 am. It’s now almost 7 pm the next day, August 15, and I write this from the mission in Bafang where we are staying. Today was supposed to be the official first day of our teacher training program, but since it was actually a holiday here, we changed the plan from a morning training (since everyone was actually at church this morning for the Assumption of Mary) to an afternoon get-together. Since I’d planned for today’s first meeting to be a time to get to know each other, it worked out quite beautifully to spend time together in the afternoon. It is a small group–just three teachers, one French teacher, one English (as a foreign language) teacher, and one math teacher, plus the coordinator, who is a teacher herself, and Jacqueline, Olivier (her son and the main presence of Aumazo here in Cameroon), and myself. I wasn’t sure if I’d be using my original plan, which included a good bit of InterPlay as a way to create the Circle of Community I had intended for day 1, or whether we’d just spend the time casually talking, but I found that the InterPlay forms just made sense as a way to get beyond the formality of meeting each other while sitting stiffly in a circle. So, after our original introductions and sharing, I had everyone stand up, stretch, and we jumped into InterPlay–first, we shared our names again, with a gesture, and then we did three rounds of Babbling, and finally I had people use the “I could tell you about” form, where each person had a partner and said back and forth to each other things that they could tell about. For example: Person 1: I could tell you about… my trip here to Bafang. Person 2: I could tell you about… the trees in my village. Person 1: I could tell you about my daughter who is leaving for college. Person 2: I could tell you about the students I teach. (etc.)  It was beautiful to watch the group connect and get more comfortable, and by the end of our time together they were saying things like – “This felt like being a kid in elementary school again” – “I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying, and it was really interesting to hear what I was going to say” – “I love to have fun, and this was an opportunity to have fun.” I connected what we had done to what we would be doing with the students next week, and they were very open and enthusiastic.

 

On my way to Cameroon

I’m going to experiment with blogging during my time in Cameroon this month working with Aumazo, Inc. Although blogging has not appealed to me in the past, Jacqueline Audigé’s work through the Aumazo project is so powerful and important that I would be remiss not to do my best to share in some way what I am seeing and learning and doing while I am working with her for these two and a half weeks in August, 2016.

Right now I am at the Casablanca airport awaiting my final connecting flight, which will take me to Douala.

For those who don’t already know me, or who don’t know the history of my relationship with this project, here is a quick overview.

I first heard Jacqueline speak in the spring of 2013 at an assembly at Barrie School (where I taught French from 2009-2016). Jacqueline was (and still is) a Barrie parent, and she spoke passionately about the work she had done to begin building a school for girls in her native village of Bankondji, Cameroon–work that had taken her in unexpected directions, including creating a construction business as a for-profit arm of the business. Her patience, flexibility, intelligence, humor, and heart-centered dedication took my breath away, and I immediately knew I wanted my AP French class to work with her and get involved in her project. We were only able to speak briefly that day, but we connected at greater length at the school’s spring carnival a month or so later, and we decided that she would come to speak with my class in the fall. The rest is history–that first class got very involved, creating an official partnership between Aumazo and Barrie, running the first Gala fundraiser at Barrie for Aumazo, and doing a really beautiful service/project-based learning project over the course of the year. (You can read about the work we did that first year in this piece written for Carney Sandoe’s publication The Puzzle – Service Spotlight: Barrie’s Aumazo Partnership.)

Because I ran my AP French class as a two-year cycle, we had some of the same students in class during year two of the project, and we were able to dive more deeply into the project. We hosted a fundraising and awareness-raising movie night in the winter and the second annual Gala Fundraiser in the spring, for which then-senior Aidan Creamer created two wonderful videos (one in English and one in French), which have been featured on the Aumazo website and on the Global Giving page for Aumazo. You can see his videos here. That video, together with our on-campus gala fundraiser, helped to raise the money for the road that was completed this past year, granting year-round access to the school site.

Year three of the partnership saw an elective class about Aumazo as well as involvement by the AP French class. You can read about the impact our work together had on several of the students here on the Aumazo Impact page. I was particularly fortunate to have one very talented and dedicated student who worked on the project for all three of the years–Eva Rocke; you can see her testimonial on the Impact page. Another student who showed long-term dedication was Edmun Pope, whose photo and short testimonial can also be seen on the Impact page. He was involved for the two years he was in my class, and he is hoping to stay involved in Aumazo as a senior this coming year. Finally, Ebrahim El-Taguri and Michael Abate surprised and delighted me by choosing to focus their senior “Global Advocacy Project” on Aumazo, running a highly successful book drive. I have some of those books in my suitcase right now! Again, read about what they have to say on the Impact page.