Monday, November 25, 2013

Thorns & Roses

Thorns and roses is one of our family traditions. At the end of the day, or trip, or event, everyone gathers together and shares a thorn from the day, paired with a rose. A thorn is some bad part of the day, a low point. The rose is a bright part of your day, that made you smile and brought you joy. Sometimes we add rosebuds, something you are looking forward to tomorrow or in the near future. It is not a nightly ritual, but we do it often enough that the children enjoy it, and are even becoming better about sharing and being thoughtful.

The thing with Mission work is, sometimes it is difficult to notice the roses when your hand is gripped so tightly around the thorns. In a day full of uplifting experiences, it is often the frustrating class or the annoying or baffling interaction that I come home talking about. Sometimes I just want to vent, but that venting can become tunnel vision focused on the thorns.
Of course, this isn't true just for mission life, it is true for life in general. (Thought: for a Christian, can there be anything BUT mission life?).

So, it's good to recognize the frustrating thorns AND the beautiful roses, everyday.  So, here are a couple of my own "Thorns and Roses" from recent weeks, and a few rosebuds:


-Schedule disruptions that nobody else seems surprised or bothered by;
-"White man price," where vendors assume that just because I CAN pay a higher price, I will; 
-When the water goes out at the same time your whole family gets a nasty stomach bug;


-I am continually amazed at the beauty of Kumbo and the NW region;
-Shopping for fabric and having clothes tailor made is pretty fun;
-Getting to know the people here and building relationships with them, and catching a glimpse into their lives;
-Getting email, snail mail, and even the occasional package from friends and family back home. Thank you so much! We have written many response letters, please be patient with us and the mail!
-Spur-of-the moment Philly Cheese Steak parties, with last-minute dashing off to find ingredients, and replete with surprise guests who turn it into a birthday party. It was actually our second accidental birthday in a week. we seem to be adept at having people over, then having someone else show up whose birthday it is.
-Getting to know Falan, a friend of my deceased brother who was in Kumbo for a month at Shisong, through Dr. Ellen Dailor, who is here through Mission Doctors Association, which is the sister organization to Lay Mission Helpers. Got all that? It's not quite," My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night," but it is close;

-I recently obtained a Lamnso' primer, and it is very helpful in learning the language;
-Our friend Sara, from New Mexico, will be visiting over Christmas!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Brick By Brick And Linear Equation By Linear Equation

Last year, only 25% of Saint Augustine students who took their ordinary level GCE test passed the mathematics portion. On top of that, some students who come into the school do not read very well. On top of that, a passing grade is 50%. On top of that, most students think that math is difficult. The low academic standards, the perceived difficulty of the subject I teach, and a general sense that some students aren't striving for excellence but rather are satisfied with "good enough" have all been recent sources of frustration for me.

What am I supposed to do? I am here to teach mathematics, but will I be effective? Will my students actually learn anything from me? Do they even care?

A talk with fellow LMH-er Ryan Martin, and a talk with MDA-er Ellen Dailor, helped pull me out of my funk. Ryan reminded me of what we had learned during formation in the Spring, that what was most important about our mission was how I do my job, the attitude and the example I set, not the results. Dr. Ellen Dailor reminded me that this kind of work is incremental, often building upon other's prior work, as well as laying the groundwork for those to come after us. What we do is built brick by brick. (Rome, or rather St. Elizabeth's Hospital and Cardiac Center in Shisong, wasn't built in a day, was the essence of her point.)

Of course that is true! I am teaching these children in the middle of their academic careers, after they have been formed, for ill or for good, by their parents and their previous teachers. I also won't be the last teacher they have, and it is my job to prepare them for life, and for their future learning. Still, when a student turns in a test she worked very hard on, and gets a big fat "0/100" in return, it can be disappointing for the student and the teacher.

So, I am trying to face the challenges ahead with a fresh attitude, looking to teach the students that need remedial work what they need while providing a challenge to the students who "get it." And in the meantime, my love and kindness or lack thereof will teach the students way more than any of the math we go over in class. THAT is a humbling thought, because it is very easy for me to become frustrated with teaching, or teaching in Cameroon, or teaching Math in Cameroon. I need to remember that my students deserve my best and that I need to try to persevere and perform well the task at hand.


Friday, November 8, 2013

The Artist And The Juju

Eric and I have been meeting some fun and interesting people. Sunday we trekked with our Peace Corps friend to find an elusive bar we heard was located on top of the neighboring mountain. On the way we were to try and locate a plant nursery that we were told had rosemary seedlings! After about 5 up- hill miles we arrived at Eden. Or what seemed like Eden: a lovely farm bursting with fruit trees of every kind, fields of wheat, and general sense of peace and loveliness. The man who ran this nursery is called King George and was utterly delightful. Full of enthusiasm for nature and his education program he poured himself out into us. He had been working this place for about 20 years after several failed attempts to start an educational nursery farm. Of course we forgot our camera. (Though we have made plans to come again soon.) I was happy because he encouraged me to keep composting, which some locals had told me was stupid and wasteful.

After this stop, we wandered along the hilltop to the bar and met several more friends. We met a fantastic artist who is trying hard to sustain his small gallery here in Kumbo. We are hoping to go visit him and see more of his work. It is great to meet local people working hard to make Kumbo a richer place to be. While we sat and had our beer and soya two troupes of  jujus passes. Jujus are part of the traditional religion and they are men dressed in costume, each a different character according to traditions, and they are accompanied by an entourage. Some are mean and if you do not bow and avert your eyes they will whip you or hit you with sticks. Others beg and don't leave until you give them something. It is amazing to be in a crowd of full grown adults, dressed well and otherwise very respectable, crouching and hiding from costumed men. I got down and hid behind my chair; they are scary! We are still trying to learn about what jujus mean but it is difficult to find somebody to translate these complex systems of belief into a way we understand.