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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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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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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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Last year my high school students created two large scale murals on the school walls. One in the hallway between the music and art room and one outside on the walkway to the canteen. When I first started painting murals I sort of had to teach myself the correct way. I was not taught the right way to measure or grid. Didn’t even know how to grid until the job at the NJ Devils stadium. So its pretty amazing to me that I can teach it properly now. Watching them take initiative and act as a successful group inspired me to create a new Service Learning group The Meaningful Mural Project. Service Learning happens every other Friday at ASOY (the American School of Yaounde, where I teach). Our school reserves half the day for students to come together into groups to find ways to help or impact the community. Last year I was in charge of 8th grade, and their Sanitation Project. We focused on boiling water. A lot of villagers won’t boil their water because they consider it a waste of fire wood. Unfortunately well water can carry cholera and other diseases.

An example of a cook stove we made out of mud

We learned how to make ‘improved cook stoves’ out of mud and went into a village to educate the villagers about how to build them. During this experience we also learned how cooking by an open fire can cause cancer and blindess, there for making the the continuation of the project important to try and perfect the process as well as educate more of the community

This project is still continuing with other teachers, while I have chosen to teach my students something more personal to me that maybe other art teachers in the future may not be able to. The Meaningful Mural project is stemmed from the mural arts program in Philadelphia, USA. There are over 3,000 murals in Philly. Each placed in neighborhood’s that will benefit from their presence. You can learn more about this at www.Muralarts.org.

A mural can affect a community positively, while teaching the local children a craft that will afford them a skill for their future.  So this week my 10 students, that have chosen this project, will be visiting the Cameroon Catholic orphanage Foyer de l’Esperance, where they will have a chance to see the environment they’ll be working in. They will meet the kids they’ll be working with, and interview them to provide information for research.

A wall in the orphanage my students may be painting.

Students will use this information to choose appropriate imagery that the children will identify with in a positive way. At the end of this project the orphanage will be left with a piece of art that will hopefully help those students feel important on a daily basis as well as many generations to come.

Last week I gave a slide show and used podcasts about the ‘mural mile’ self tour in Philly to teach the students about how subjects are chosen and why they affect those specific types of  neighborhoods. We talked about the economics of the people, what their families might be like, and why they would be affected by this picture. We discussed the way the image was laid out in ‘composition’, why that was important, and how the colors made them feel. If you want to go through the power point and see what the students learned about click on this link:

Service learning Murals PowerPoint presentation.

I’m really excited, and want my students to feel the impact they will have on these kids lives. Its hard to project this ‘affect’ to students by just telling them. This week should be interesting, I will get to SEE my students be leaders  (hopefully) and  interact with kids using knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom through bilingual interviews (the orphanage is francophone). Wish us luck!

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The cherry farm I got lost in

So I haven’t written anything since I left for Europe last year, I want to catch you up. Alot has happend! Traveling, my amazing family, and friends took up my life for 2 months of bliss. Provence was amazing, after flying from Cameroon I took a train from Brussels to Avignon and rented a car, GPS and bought a guidebook to start my trip off right. I am so happy I rented a car, I would never recommend trying to huff it on public transportation in this part of France. Half the fun was getting sent on incorrect routes by my GPS. At one point, straight into a private cherry farm/dead end (I ate some cherries off a tree and proceeded to back my car 1/4 mile down the grassy hill I drove up). It was a freeing experience to feel completely independent with no right or wrong itinerary to follow. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous to travel alone, because that would be ridiculous. I love traveling with people and sharing the experiences and making memories, but at this point in my life I feel like if I have the opportunity to do something, I need to grab the bull by the horns and get the courage to face it. What if I don’t get another chance? During this week I went to 9 different villages met many people, smelled real lavender, saw beautiful sites and ate amazing food before meeting up with friends and heading to the Riviera and up to Paris for a week. Before I let this get too far behind I’ll start with Provence…

Hill top town of Les Baux de Provence

1. Les Baux:

Les Baux was the 1st stop on my adventure. You cannot really stay in the village of Les Baux. There are only 2 hotels there, and they both fill quickly. So, I stayed right outside the city. I was exhausted from traveling, and decided to ‘eat in’ at the hotel restaurant the 1st night. This was my first experience with amazing French cooking; my little inexpensive simple hotel served the most amazing duck and goat cheese salad. Heaven. Next day I woke up at 9am.. no one in France wakes up that early so I had a solid two hours to stroll around the village virtually alone. A medieval city that once ruled over 900 villages Les Baux is a fortress with remnants of medieval architecture set inside cave-like stone slabs. I was able to tour Upper Les Baux where I learned about the fortress and how it functioned as a city containing many types of buildings and homes. I then went down to the lower part of the city for lunch. I honestly feel like the food in France made this trip. Yes it was gorgeous and amazing, but man their food and wine even beats Italy (and that’s a BIG statement if you know me and my Italy obsession.) While looking over the valley and sketching, I ate steak, fries, salad with a ‘petit’ bottle of wine..there was no wine by the glass. What is a solo traveler to do? Build up her alcohol tolerance.  Afterwards I walked a.k.a. hobbled around the shops, I was able to use my French to talk with the store clerks (French is much easier to speak in France comparatively to Cameroon). I bought an artisan necklace, a bouquet of lavender, and a silk scarf, went to the Museum of Satons where clay figurines are made look like specific types of people (famous to this part of southern France). Afterwards stopping for a scoop of lavender gelato before heading to the ‘Carrières de Lumières’ set in a former bauxite quarry. Here images of french paintings are projected on 40 foot walls in complete darkness. A Pretty amazing start to my trip.

Church of St. Michel in Rousillon

2. Rousillon:

Rousillon is a small village in the Vaucluse known for its location above the Ochre cliffs. At one time, it served as a quarry for dye (the ochre color). At first I thought of using this as my base town but thankfully decided not too for more than 2 nights. The town itself is oh so small and oh so high with next to no parking and a very windy road to get there. Yet, it is quite beautiful and quaint with a spectacular view of the cliffs and valley. The Church of St. Michel is the highlight on the tour of things to see, with winding streets with many buildings tinted orange or pink. It was a nice place to relax, my ro0m at ‘le Clos de la Glycine’ had a a cute sitting area with fantastic view of the cliffs.

Abbey Senanque right outside of the hill top town Gordes

3.Gordes:

Gordes is a hilltop town, and once again I woke up early arriving before every other tourist. I took a look at its pretty view above the valley and proceeded to try my hand at boutique browsing. Linen is very famous here. I went on market day and bought a hand woven straw bag locals typically use when food shopping.  After walking around a bit I found a seat at a small cafe with a view of the central square where the market was set up. I sketched and drank Café au laits, the second just to give me more time to observe the people. I  left with my basket of goodies and proceeded on to  the most interesting part of my visit, the Abbey Senanque, a small very modest functioning monastery below the town. There is a tour of the monastery but I skipped it because of a timing conflict. I walked around the grounds and got to sit in on part of a Catholic mass the monks were giving. The church inside is grey stone and plain but the echoing voices on the cool walls gives you an otherworldly feeling and calmness. Afterwards I walked through the lavender fields they grow and found a shady bench to eat the lunch I bought at the Market of fresh multigrain bread, green olive pate, lavender cookies, and strawberries!

I stayed in the tiny town of Lourmarin for 5 days as a base it was perfect.

4. Lourmarin

Ah Lourmarin, what a wonderful village to call home for 5 days. I used this town as my ‘base’ while traveling to other places and rented a room in a house where an artist lives. My room, was extremely relaxing, and had huge wooden doors that opened to a view of the Chateau de Lourmarin. It was surrounded by a garden and gated in with a communal balcony for breakfast.  Lourmarin is sort of an in between size compared to the other villages I visited. Not as famous as Les baux but more restaurants, shops, and parking then Rousillon. Lourmarin is known for its friday market, taking up the whole town selling everything from frozen fish to handwoven panama hats. I was able to come back after a long day of traveling to get lost in the winding streets and order a beer at a local cafe where everyone is french, no American to be seen for miles. The last night I was there I ventured out to a pizza place that was highly recommended by the people I was staying with. To get there, I went the quick back way and had to crouch through small hidden tunnels next to local homes and gardens to end up in a small square already packed with dining locals. Afterwards I walked home following the lit up Chateau. Such a peaceful experience.

St. Remy de Provence famous town market!

5. St. Remy

St Remy is large and very popular with tourists. Lucky for me I was there in early June, which is actually off season for Americans. I was surrounded by older french tourists whole like me enjoy sitting and observing. When I got there, not early enough this time, parking was a nightmare. After an hour of driving around I found a spot, this ended up being great because by time I got out of the car I knew a lot of the street names and locations. I hit up the market first. This market unlike any other it is so popular they have 2 a week. One for Antiques only, and the other for… everything else. It took over the majority of the streets this small city. I was on a mission to… of course find lunch, but an olive wood cooking spoon for my mom. SO many choices, there were at least 4 stands for every one type of item.  I found the spoon and beautiful olives and cheese for lunch. But before trying to see the sites on the map, I sat with my older french comrades and drank coffee and watched people. The cafe I chose was fantastic, my favorite memory of the trip actually. I had a full view of the market, and street. I was sitting up high on a bar stool and shared a table with an older gentlemen who thought my sketchbook was fabulous, I was drawing people that were sitting at the table in front of me. I couldn’t understand him, but he kept giving me the thumbs up. A woman was singing old french tunes in front of the cafe and every one was singing with her. Songs you’d hear in romantic comedies (which is sort of my impression of france, one big setting for the perfect movie). I actually sat there for 2 hours nursing the same 2 cups of coffee and eventually caving for an orange juice. After deciding I needed to try and see something on the map, I pried myself away from the cafe and headed to a cultural museum where I learned about their history of making linen and proceeded on a route to Glanum a ‘grand’ celtic ruin on the edge of town. I only headed back to my car when I felt like I might collapse from walking.  I stopped to buy fruit off the side of the road to take home for dinner, I swear I could taste lavender in the apricots and cherries.

Arles, my favorite lunch place of the whole week. Cold Rose`, a salad with crispy pancetta, a fried egg, with a curry balsamic dressing. The owners golden retriever even sat next to my feet the whole time.

6. Arles

A city best known as Van Gogh’s inspiration was a stop I had to make. When I was in high school Vincent Van Gogh was my favorite artist.  Here, I got to walk the streets and see what he saw on a regular day. Arles is large enough to get lost in and I needed to follow a map. I walked to most of the spots he observed while painting, my favorite being the Starry Starry Night by the river. Along the way I shopped, stopped at their big cathedral in the center piazza and paid entrance to walk through the tunnels of their small coliseum where they still have bullfights. After a perfect Parisian lunch on a side street off the main sites I started to walk back towards the car and decided to take a breather before the hour drive back to Lourmarin. I took a short cut through a park and sat on an empty bench and decided to draw some flowers and a tree stump. On my way out I noticed a plaque with a Van Gogh painting. Turns out Van Gogh stopped there often to paint too.

Lacoste and its lovely winding romantic streets

7. Lacoste

At the foot of the palace of Marquis de Sade, home to the author of erotic novels, Lacoste echoes very very quietly. Going here was a last minute decision. Savannah College of Art and design owns most of the town using it as a study abroad extension, but it was off season. Off season is my new favorite term for what’s great about Europe. I walked through the empty winding streets, brown cobblestone making up every wall, and saw my reflection in the empty windows. I spent time taking photographs of the sculptures that filled the empty corridors, and of the views you could see peaking through the buildings that stood looking out to the perfect view of the valley.  I didn’t go into the palace although it was interesting with grass covering the now ceiling-less walls. They wanted 7 euros to enter, A bit ridiculous, so I continued to wander.  My walk ended at a cafe on the cliff side of town where I had my very first goat cheese omelet while overlooking my next village ‘Bonnieux’.

The view of Bonnieux from Lacoste, looks like a fairytale.

  8. Bonnieux

I was first told about Bonnieux through a Fodor’s blog. I was looking for a base town and one of the woman swore this was the best place to stay when traveling.  I chose not to stay there based on an article I found later describing it as interesting but ‘a large uphill town with few restaurants.’ Saying this town is uphill is an understatement. Every street you turn is a ‘switchback’. When walking you need to use stairs to get to the next street over. I parked at the top and walked down through the residential area, got lost in the beauty of this fairytale like atmosphere only to realize I had to walk the 10 minutes back at a steep twisting incline. It is a town made up of ancient stone structures uniform in style only unique in shutter color and flower pot choice. There are few restaurants but many galleries I went into at least 5 on the two ‘business’ street blocks. The art wasn’t very exciting but there was a great impressionist influence, many tributes to Cezzanne. Before heading back to Lourmarin, I stopped and bought lavender honey to bring home as a souvenir and an Orangina to cool off. I sat and watched the sunset before finding my way up to my car with which I drove the wrong direction home… This was the town that sent my gps on a tangent insisting the way home was through the cherry orchard. So, I still feel like I made the best decision by choosing a day visit.

Paul Cézanne’s Art studio

9. Aix en Provence

Aix is definitely not a small town. Even a little over whelming after being in such small villages for 5 days. But its beautiful, and I got over that feeling quickly. When I first started planning this trip I  wanted to come here for 5 days. The pictures looked so romantic and the streets like a ‘miniature’ paris. I love ‘strolling’, window shopping, and sketching. Here, it was much easier to blend in and feel like I belonged. One of the days I sat in a a cafe killing time for 2 hours drinking rose` and painting in my sketchbook.  Later that afternoon I walked out past the boarder of the center of town to a residential area known for Cezanne’s Art studio. Every 1/4 mile or so I’d see a sign letting me know I was headed in the right direction until I reached a line of people in sneakers and fanny packs. The grounds were small. A wall kept a small chunk of forest attached to the modest two story home. Below you paid the fee to walk up the stairs, to a one room studio with 9 foot ceilings and 5 foot windows. A lot of the people I came in with said ‘this is it for 4 euro?’, ‘no museum or library?’, ‘you can’t even buy a soda’. Of course I can understand why people like to have ‘extra’s’, I mean I enjoy the MOMA in NY and they have 2 different restaurants. But this felt like a tomb, preserved from the moment he left. It was so great to try and imagine what it would have been like to work in that room with those items around me and with a view of those trees. My friend Elizabeth was meeting me the next day but after being alone for a week I was getting a little desperate for something to distract me and headed to a movie theater. After being in Cameroon where there aren’t any movie theaters this was exciting. I saw ‘Prometheus‘ in 3D and English, I got out around 12 and was met by a festival in the street celebrating the history of Aix. Talk about sensory overload. I went from a plot about the future and aliens to a whole village of real people dressed in period clothing. They Danced circles around each other while a band lead by 18 yr old fluters was bizarre. In the states it wouldn’t be considered cool to go dance with my friends and grandparents at a local renaissance festival. But here it seemed like an honored tradition that everyone enjoyed. I watched for about an hour took videos and clapped along.

To be continued… look for France Part 2: The Riviera and Paris

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Some of my very good friends from this year will not be returning for the next academic year and surprisingly it has made leaving Cameroon bittersweet. I honestly can’t say enough how much these people have impacted my outlook on living here and its hard to imagine it with out them.  Although I’m excited for a change of pace outside Yaounde it will be hard to say good bye.

Having exciting plans has made this ending to my year easier. Those of you who don’t know me may think its odd- but I’m actually stopping in France for 3 weeks in a build up to see the Boss. Before I knew a date that I would be able to go home on my friends  and I booked Springsteen tickets. Tomorrow I am off on an adventure through Provence then meeting friends in the Riviera to end up in Paris where another friend will be waiting to join us for my 1st E Street European tour to see My Man July 4th before ending in Amsterdam. I am beyond excited, I am so happy to have friends as spontaneous as I am to book a trip around a concert. I plan on updating this at some point to let you all know how I’m getting along and how I am surviving before touching down in the comfort of the States.

A tout a lour Cameroon, Bonjour Paris! See you soon JERSEY!

Bruce Springsteen: Oil on Canvas 2008 courtesy of http://www.myericajones.com

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Kribi Woman

26×26″ oil on canvas

After I had my appendix out we all went to Kribi for Thanksgiving. I spent a lot of time sitting and people watching since I couldn’t go swimming. I’ve talked about women’s attitudes in Cameroon before, and this lady wasn’t very different except for feeling of contentment and confidence. Her outfit was epic. Hearts everywhere in a wrapped pagne down to her ankles with earrings to match. She was alone but showed no signs of awkwardness. I wanted to concentrate on her emotion, conveying her positive view into the light.

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