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What a wonderful year. Not perfect in the way that everything went my way all the time, but perfect because I feel really happy and better than I did before the school year started. Four weeks ago my mother came to visit marking the end of my experience in Cameroon. She came to meet my friends and then help me pack up and leave before going on a Safari adventure together in South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana. I will hopefully talk more about our epic adventure together in a later post, but now I really want to give a healthy “good-bye” to my home away from home.

Cameroon is the easiest and hardest place I’ve ever lived. I was taken care of by everyone, given shelter for free, introduced to instant friends who are also new to the scene or been around a while and looking to be-friend someone new in the tiny expat community. I was also challenged by the restriction of time.. there was plenty of it and everyone moved slower. I learned patience and understanding that culturally I was different and the only person who was going to change was me.

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Cameroonians are kind and passionate, I feel like I was able to depend on people when I needed them. I always tell people the turning point in becoming comfortable was my experience of having my appendix removed (you can refer to that blog post ‘A CAMEROONIAN APPENDECTOMY: PLAY BY PLAY’ for more info.) At that moment I knew I was cared about and there were people looking out for me.

Lucky me, that I got to understand that feeling with people outside of my family. I love that.

It was hard leaving quick. I left the last day of school. Most people were very busy and we said goodbyes fast without a lot of emotion. But its nice to think of it more as a ‘see you later’ than a ‘final curtain’ type goodbye. I love that I will get to see some of my friends over summers, And thank you internet! Facebook.

I am excited for my future. I feel like this chapter of life will add a little extra fuel to every experience hereafter. I observe people on the streets, birds and plants, I see what is beautiful and interesting about ordinary things. I am thankful for what I have, who I have, and what I am going to experience as life goes on.

I am more open minded, I don’t care as much about what people think of me, I am appreciative of my life.

I really hope everyone takes chances. Someone told me once that, “anything worth doing is a little scary”. Cheesy as it sounds I think about that almost everyday, growing pains are not just a figure of speech. I don’t want my life path to be the safest or easiest, I want it to be the most exciting and full filling. Life is short, do what makes you happy. But, challenge yourself, and TRY new things. DIFFERENT things.

The 2 years in a nutshell (things I’m most proud of): Moved to Cameroon alone, got my appendix removed in a West African hospital (*pats self on back*), danced with Masaai warriors, swam in the ocean at night, road a horse on black sand beaches, taught kids to make murals in Yaounde, spent a week driving around Provence alone with my terrible ability to speak french, road a motorcycle (which I was always scared of) around a mountain and LOVED it, learned how to pee in the wilderness (without care), swam with great whites, drove on the opposite side of the road, drove in CAMEROON everyday, went to Italy for a job interview even though it was a long shot, witnessed Cameroon win a football game, went on Safaris, got through my 1st two years of teaching, and met inspiring people.

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I have so many more memories than this, but will keep them to myself. I have stories upon stories that I laugh about a lot and am sure will bore my grandchildren with one day. 2 years, but it was just a kick start. I just got a job in NYC at a fabulous school with high expectations of inner city kids. I am beyond thrilled and excited. The new adventure begins, I’ll start collecting new memories…

Lucky me.

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This beautiful 4 inch African  bug greeted me at my door this morning at school: I would LOVE to know what it’s name is. He has hung onto that door all day long, every students pointed it out. Awesome.IMG_0185Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.- Cicero

 

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The Meaningful Mural Project has been an interesting experience. Both rewarding and challenging. My students created an inspirational piece for the Foyer de l’Esperance Orphanage in Yaounde, with the concept that it could change the boy’s everyday lives. I think they’ve managed to accomplish this. This orphanage is full of boys who have run away from home or have been put there by their families. It is one of the better facilities  and the boys seem happy. Yet we wanted to give them something to motivate them to achieve above what is expected and remind them to believe in their dreams. The very last finishing touch, a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. states, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

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Students taught the boys side by side how to paint with a brush, which they had never used before, mix colors and share a space to create something beautiful. They learned how to grid and will hopefully be able to use this new skill in their future.

They worked as a team and developed trust for each other and my students.

Our 1st day at the orphanage we interviewed students in groups. Asking them about their hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes. This would fuel our concept for the mural composition.

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We were given a tour by the head nun and got to see where the boys slept  and a classroom they learned in everyday.

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After this first week we went back to the classroom to brainstorm and create our image. Students combined their ideas and came up with one complimentary concept of all their visions.

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We then added a proportionate grid to our chosen wall and began to transfer our small drawing to scale.

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After we began painting, the boys joined in and my students taught them one on one or more..

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After about 20 hours of painting we had a finished product. Check out our whole painting team!

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Colors and strong tradition. I am completely inspired by these people. Masaai of Tanzania: Look for more to come!

Masaai Women

Masaai Women
oil on canvas
36 x 48
sold

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Fire Warriors
oil on canvas
36 x 48

The beginning of  this project required a lot of brain storming. We first interviewed the kids at the orphanage to find out what their hopes and dreams were, as well as their likes and dislikes. We held the interviews in bilingual groups some students translating english questions into French. We then went back to the classroom to discover imagery the orphans could relate to through the interview results. Through a system of tiered voting, students created  compositions and then chose which ones they liked the best in the end. We then rook the winning idea and recreated it as group to make it more appealing. The final result looks like this:

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Assigning buddies to my students has helped them teach the children what they are doing the whole way, one on one. After painting the wall white the students created a grid which helped us transfer our drawing using blue chalk lines, rulers, and pencils. We then labeled the grid boxes to match our drawing with numbers and letters. We had a few hiccups, causing us to shorten the drawing to fit the wall but kept moving.

Then we photocopied and blew up the gridded drawings to hand out as guides to the children and my HS students. Helping us transfer the large scale drawing in an hour and a half we had time to spare for playing hand games in a large group.

Last week we began painting. And in all honesty I was impressed with the ease my students had teaching the boys. There is one orphan, Vincent who speaks English, he acts as head honcho and translates all of my instructions. My students all speak at least a little french and have no problem communicating. The orphans think my broken French is ‘giggle worthy’ causing me to use it more often.. They love standing on the ladder. If one person gets off to get more paint, in a flash, there is another boy climbing to take their spot.

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Each day when the boys are finished I ask them to “laver les mains, si vous plait”… maning in my terrible french please wash your hands. Instead they all proceed to take all their clothes off and jump into their communal bath/ pool thing. Every time, no exception, since we’ve been going. Its pretty hilarious, diving and jumping and inadvertently splashing all my freaked out students.

We got a great start and we go back today to continue working … more updates to come in the future!

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What would life be like, if it went exactly as we planned. I think what ever has lead me in this direction in good. Definitely not what I had planned for myself, but I’ve learned a lot and I think thats better that anything else. I have recently been turned down by what I would have thought was a dream job (see entry “my love affair with …”) I ignored the flaws because I wanted it, but now that I look back at the school I would have given two years of my life to , I think maybe it wasn’t that great. Italy is in my future, just not this August and I still look forward to it.

What IS great, is that I have four more months here. I feel really lucky. Cameroon has been a great place for me to grow up a little more. I’ve done things differently here, making a lot of decisions about who I want to be. I am content with the idea that I don’t know what is around the corner… and I’m even excited. Next year maybe I’ll live in Philly, maybe NYC, maybe a place I would have never thought about. Its another chapter that may have a plot twist down the line… who knows!

 

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Image

  • Oil on Canvas
  • 36x 16 inches

We were at the fish market in Kribi and these kids were selling fried meats to the people having beers watching the tide roll in. Balancing large items on heads is a big thing out here. Its like at birth they are taught this talent. In this case ceramic plates, but there is an assortment of items that can be carried with ease. Like the man who sells plastic clothes baskets +50 at once, or the woman with the 50 lb container of water with a baby strapped to her back carrying gallon buckets in each hand I saw the other day. Some times with cloth wraps to display the weight like in my painting, many time with out like the woman with the baby.Its pretty awe inspiring. I makes me think of where this talent was tossed out. The neck is at the center of the body. So many american back problems probably wouldn’t exist today..

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