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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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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

fire warriors2

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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I was very home sick last year, I had just gotten my appendix out and I was learning how to make new friends while living and working with them at the same time. This year is different. Hurricane Sandy threw me for a doozy but as things have settled down so has my homesickness. I’m a bit behind on US stuff- Most of the time I can’t even check anything besides my email. Social Networks and skype are blocked at school due to a shortage of bandwidth and the internet may be out at home or not strong enough to use skype or twitter. I’m ok with it, but I wonder if others that feel they need the updates can understand.

I’m excited for a peppermint mocha at Starbucks,  long distance calls without my phone shutting off because I won’t be using a pay-as-you go phone, sitting on the couch watching ridiculous mind numbing cable to the light of our christmas tree, take out chinese food, checking my email in 2 minutes because it loads in a millisecond, movie theaters, riding my bicycle, going through a drive through, taking public transportation into the city, a new seasonal change, knowing the water will be on at anytime of the day any day of the week, predictability of drivers, some Sandy relief help and all that normal christmasy family stuff…. all things I don’t have in Cameroon.

All things I like but don’t always miss when I’m abroad. What’s cool though is the appreciation I get to feel. I felt it last year, but this year I don’t feel the need for all this stuff as much and it seems to bring out whats most important to me. Relaxing!… oh yeah family is up there too..

Yay Christmas, Yay planes, Yay USA vacation!

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My grandfather and grandmother with her sister Masie and sister in-law Eleanor .

When I was growing up I had a really wonderful grandfather.  I spent a lot of my time at my grandparents house and most of my memories from childhood are of him. He made a lot of time for me. I remember playing, learning, and  hearing stories about growing up in Jersey City. Technically Albanian his family lived in Italy for generations before migrating to the states. He always said he was Italian and we never thought to disagree.

He passed away when I was seven, so all I remember is how fantastic he was. Its like my brain squeezed out all other unnecessary memories so I could save those.

Poppi, Mimi, My mom (the little one) and her sister.

As I went through childhood, we followed Italian traditions like La Vigilia or Festa dei sette pesci  The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas eve. I remember my mother telling me the story of her big trip with poppi back to Italy. I can picture her as a young adult guilting her 6ft 4 father to get into a gondola he was scared of. I remember knowing that I needed to go and see this place, maybe it would help me feel more connected to him.

During my sophomore year of high school I got an opportunity to join a exchange program at my school following a student failing and getting kicked off the trip. I consider this fate taking action. I got to live with a family in Lucca for a week and take day trips with my school. I went to Florence, Rome, and Venice. I saw art and culture mix in a natural way that seemed like it was part of the peoples identity. I think it made me feel very comfortable in my own awkward teenage head. I could identify and appreciate it. I loved paintings and so did they. Soon after that trip I felt a pull to go back, I knew it was a place I needed more time with.

My college offered a study abroad program my third year, and I knew where I wanted to go before I knew there were any options to go there. My Parsons teachers didn’t really approve of these programs, because of the party like reputations they had. I was not interested in hearing negativity and set up plans full steam ahead.

After landing in Florence I got into a taxi by myself and set off to find the office that had a key to my new home. I didn’t know anyone, I was alone and scared shitless. It sounds odd , especially after living in NYC, but you never feel totally alone in the US. Everyone knows your language and its relatively easy to talk to people. When I went to Italy I had never been on a plane alone, and didn’t know any Italian.

After I got my key and arrived at my new studio apartment; I looked out my window, down at the leather market below, and breathed a sigh of relief. I decided to go for a walk, because I was scared to.

I think this was an ‘a ha’ moment. Being able to get over something by getting through it has helped me accomplish a lot. When I got out side I made a left, walked about half a block, and stepped into a bakery. I saw a young girl behind the counter and asked if she spoke english. After asking how to order the correct way in the language, I got huge smile and an enthusiastic short Italian lesson. This was a wonderful introduction to the hospitality that is Italy and how the rest of my time there would be.

Through out the seven month period I traveled all over Europe. I learned how to bargain confidently, see a major city in 2 days, sleep in a hostel with 10 strangers,  I learned how to get lost and not freak out, I learned how to enjoy a quiet walk, and among many other things I learned how to oil paint for myself not for a project critique. I spent a lot of my free time in the  many Florentine galleries sketching, and started feeling a big connection with the way renaissance and pre-renaissance painters used colors and movement. I was studying illustration at Parsons before I left, and when I came back to the states just wanted to paint. I think a few of my teachers thought I went a bit batty.

Following  my study abroad experience I went back a couple times with friends and still couldn’t shake the connection. Each time coming home with feeling that I couldn’t get back soon enough. A few years later, after I decided teaching would be a great way for me to give back to the world, I found out about teaching abroad.

I thought it would be a great route for me to possibly live in Europe and have the opportunity to go to my favorite place more frequently. But after going to the job fairs I soon learned that this was everyone elses idea too and Europe would not be so easy to get to. I took the job in Cameroon on great faith that I needed to experience living abroad. Maybe that was what I was really craving, a new culture.  After being here a year I think that might be the case in a lot of the ways because I’m very happy and having a great time. During my time in Yaounde I’ve gotten to think about who and what I find important, and have made big choices, felt the consequences, failed and succeeded. I’ve learned more about myself and what I am able to deal with. But I still feel that original pull towards Europe, how annoying.

In the last two months I’ve been back to Italy twice. The first time a vacation to Florence the second Turin, both ended up having a purpose. I got to visit two international schools and meet the people who run them. The concept of actually reaching my goal is a bit overwhelming and maybe to good to be true. Apparently it is very difficult to get an American an Italian visa so they will be looking more to see IF they can find an equivalent or better candidate from the EU. I won’t know for a few months from now if this is a real possibility, but I am content with any outcome. I feel like what ever happens I am closing a huge chapter and opening a new one. I have tried my best and taken risks. I have never been this close to realizing this ‘dream’. Its all very wishy washy in my mind and I think of my grandpa. Its like he’s taking me on this adventure indirectly. He implanted this seed in my brain as a kid that has helped me find opportunities now.

Ah Bella Italia..

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