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Leaving Cameroon is both exciting and surprisingly nerve wracking. I’ve almost gotten used to this lifestyle, almost. What is it going to be like to go back to a place where everything is extremely accessible and I blend in? I’ve been living by myself in a fairly quiet apartment. At home there are people coming in and out of the house pretty regularly, my parents who I love dearly, want to know my plans so they can coordinate, and I am not integrated into peoples lives as I was 5 months ago- people have to make room. When I lived in New York it was easy to visit home, only being and hour away. When I lived in Italy, my family came to visit me. This is the first time I will really be ‘visiting’.

What am I really looking forward to?

New York, you have no idea how amazing that city is until you become comfortable there. My museums, which I believe got me through the stress of college, are safely the same as I left them and so is Cafe Fiorello’s. I plan on ice skating and spending New Years with my friends and seeing a Broadway show with my mom. I am excited about what it will feel like to be there and after living in Cameroon the traffic and subway delays shouldn’t even bother me.

Hanging out with my mom. We’re supposed to be making cookies together. At first I was thinking I didn’t want to do anything when I got back- but I realize this is definitely not a chore.

See all of my cousins. I am a lucky girl with over 20 cousins, whom I actually feel close to and miss seeing.

My friends, I’ve known most of them forever, and I have no doubt that we’ll be making many awesome memories that I can take back with me

The Grove– for some reason I’m really looking forward to going to this outdoor mall with those expensive stores you wish you could buy ON rack all the time, but you would go broke after 2 outfits. I plan on buying a latte at the Starbucks there and shopping the sale sections at J. Crew and Anthropologie, and maybe the Papyrus.
(Apparently I have this new appreciation for gift cards. It’s amazing to me that there are stores devoted to these beautiful little things that create feeling in people. They are printed, and put on display to be chosen for specific people who may find deep meaning in the words, who keep it for a month and then throw it away. There aren’t really printed cards here. Finding anything here that isn’t second hand is amazing never mind a 3$ greeting card with glitter.)

It’s Christmas, so I get to feel warm and fuzzies with my entire family. I get to live with a huge Christmas tree in a gloriously decorated home (to my mother’s credit, she is obsessed with perfect decorations)

-I really want to go to Franks and The Windmill. These places are staples of the Jersey shore and not to be ridiculous, but the best deli and hot dogs in the whole state.

I’ll be home for 3 weeks.
Will I be sad to leave, making me have to re-adjust again? Or will I look forward to leaving because of all the excess stuff that I don’t have to deal with, and the simplicity of life here?

I don’t know and… I shouldn’t spend time wondering because I guess it doesn’t really matter. As cheesy as this sounds- I’ll be home for Christmas with my family and friends. Consequently I am very lucky. I’ll just concentrate on that.

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Thanksgiving in Cameroon didn’t really feel like a special American holiday to me. I was in the hospital when the school had the big turkey dinner, the weather is 75 and above pretty much everyday, the leaves didn’t change, and there were no turkey posters or fall decorations hanging in any store windows or my apartment for that matter. It felt like a long weekend. I had planned to go to Bamenda to visit a friend, but my injury kept me from taking the long 6+ hour drive. Instead my friend Kaitlin and I tacked ourselves onto a trip to Kribi with some of my other friends. You’ve heard of Kribi already. Night swimming, fresh fish, living on the beach etc.. So we were all pretty happy having our own type of Thanksgiving dinner in paradise.

Thanksgiving at the Fish market in Kribi

On a side note, since I was unable to swim due to stitches or drink the lovely coconut shell alcoholic beverages due to anti-biotics, there was a lot of time for reading, sketching and painting. Along with my everyday sketchbook, I got to open my new watercolor sketch book. I thought I would share the water colors:

men taking a fishing boat out to sea


View from the Tara Plage


Tree at the water falls

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Last week I got appendicitis. Yes, the kind where your stupid non- working organ decides to act up and make your life miserable. Growing up with a nurse for a mother, you tend to over look real pain and think ‘what can I do to make this go away so I can get back to real life?’.

3am Friday morning: I had started having stomach pain, but went back to sleep when it felt reasonable.I got up in the morning and dressed for work thinking I ate something weird the day before and made a conscious choice of Tea instead of coffee in the teachers lounge, and sitting while prepping for my class instead of standing. The pain increased by time I had to teach so I walked down to the kindergarten to ask them to wait untill I got back from the nurse. I felt light headed. After the nurse gave me Tylenol and Tums I went to take a nap on cushions that I sprawled out on the floor of my classroom. 5 mins later I realized this was a bad choice. I wouldn’t be able to stand up to teach the 4th grade either. I decided to go home and wait out the pain till it stopped. haha. I drove home and realized lying down made the pain worse. I started to panic and woke up my mother in the states to ask what I should do. (asking her medical opinion has become a reflex)

10:30am:
I explained the pain I felt through out my abdomen and explained a strange sharper pain in the lower right hand side.
“Mom, is that where my appendix is?”
“Um, no.”
“Its on the other side?”
“ Um yes”
“Its probably just a gastric intestinal virus”
“Should I take any Cipro?” (I brought a portable pharmacy with me when I came in August, Cipro (and antibiotic) was one of those prescriptions.)
“No, don’t take anything. Why haven’t you gone to the doctors?”
“I don’t know I thought I would feel better…”
“Well go to the doctors! Don’t wait.”
“OK”
Later I found out that she thought I had appendicitis but didn’t want to freak me out. And I would have. I wouldn’t have handled the rest of the day quite as well.

11:00am
The Nigerian school nurse and my savior, Comfort (yes her real name) came with a driver to start me on my tour to finding the truth.

11:30: We entered the doctor’s office at the French Clinic. A simple room with a desk and a medical table (the kind with a cushion for laying down). The doctor didn’t speak English so Comfort translated. Up on the table he felt around my entire abdominal area.

“Does this hurt?”
“Yes”
“Does this hurt?”
“Yes”
“Does this hurt?”
“Yes”
Then pushing on the lower right hand side,
“Does this hurt?”
“owwwww”
“Voila!” …. Then non-discernable French and shaking yes of the head to Comfort.

Pushing again… in the same lower right hand side.
“owwwww”
Pushing again..
“owwwww”
Pushing again..
“owwwww…..owwww… ok…. (pathetically) …. Ha-ha um ok yes it hurts.”
“viola!” then the same not non-discernable French with gesticulations towards Comfort.

“Ok Comfort, what is going on?”

Well the French Dr. thought it was my appendix… um duh. But like any good doctor wanted to make sure.

Around 12:00pm we arrived at a clinic where they do blood work. My hand vain is so small so they use a pediatric needle to get blood.

At 12:30 we arrive at clinic where they have ultrasounds. Everything is brown, the floors walls, and ceilings. The benches and even the flowers are made of dried strategically cut open chestnuts surrounded by wheat. I got to spend an hour watching pregnant ladies walk in and out of a room before I got to go in. The Cameroonian ultrasound technician was very nice, all smiles, I think if I was getting this ultrasound for a pregnancy I would have felt right at home. After using 4 different handles and angles to see the home of the culprit causing all the stress, we found out my appendix was 13 cm instead of the normal 6, and it would have to be taken out.

The technician informed us that the only doctor in Cameroon, yes the whole country, that could perform the surgery using laparoscopy was leaving for vacation the next day and I would have to rush to see him today to see if he should or could take it out.

2:30 We finally enter Hopital D’Esse where my Cameroonian doctor is located. Its next to the train station, about 8 mins from my apartment in Bastos. The hospital’s aesthetics is of small concern to me. I had heard about African hospitals but had no idea what to expect. My friend Sarah called to see what was going on while I was walking in.

“Is it clean?”
“I don’t know, I mean it’s pretty shabby, but I don’t know what standards I’m supposed to refer to.”

Later I would learn that for African standards it was pretty good. Everything was on computers instead of notepads; the cockroach were small and few and far between, and there was a comfy chair, although falling apart, with a cushion in my hospital room… a room all to myself where I didn’t have to share it with 4 other room mates.

My Doctor, Dr. Oumarou, knew little more english than the French dr. so he tried very hard to be clear with me when he could. He looked at the ultra sound pictures and my blood work that said my white blood cell count was high and explained that I could be in surgery in an hour. The ‘Theater’ was already prepped. He showed me a picture of what my appendix looked like at this time, and what would happen during surgery on his Ipad. He would even have a copy of the surgery on tape so I could watch!

So, basically I had just enough time to call my parents calmly and tell them I was getting surgery and would call them as soon as I got out.

So at that point, Nurse Comfort was given a list of the things I needed during surgery and sent out to get them so I could go under. Yes she had to go pick up the surgical items that pertained particularly to stereoscopic appendectomy, and the medications and saline I needed afterwards for shots and IVs.

4:00-5:00: Many things happened leading up to the surgery…first a man (male nurse, but didn’t really know at the time) walking into my hospital room with a box cutter asking me in French to take my pants off, in which I replied “um.. no.” 10 minutes later I was in a room full of nurses having a fun conversation while shaving my stomach. While, the male nurse kept telling everyone in my room that I was afraid of men.

5:30 the assistant director and his wife came to stay with me and bring money for the surgery. They were awesome and very comforting.

6:00: Tearing up a little before surgery, the anesthesiologist asked me why I was afraid and proceeded to tell me that “if you didn’t stop being emotional you’ll have to have the surgery tomorrow due to high blood pressure”. Cameroonian’s are not the most sympathetic to pain, or fear. They are pretty hardcore people and apparently la blanche are not.

On a side note:
To prove the point further I once saw a two-year-old fall smack face first onto cement. In the US the child would start crying and run to his mother for comfort. But not Cameroonian babies- this child stood up kept walking and looked at me with this scary angry face. His mother was right next to him and never once budged to pick him up.

Basically the Cameroonian staff thought I was acting weird.

At 7pm I left surgery and was wheeled into a room filled with a large amount of ASOY staff, who were making sure I was ok, my medication was all there, and my bills were being paid successfully. The school had to foot the bill ahead of time, hospitals here are afraid of people not paying because there is no way to track anyone down. Can you imagine being Cameroonian and doing this? You would have to ask every friend, family member and neighbor to lend you money in cash in a matter of hours. Unbelievable.

I spent two nights in the hospital after that where both nights Sarah and Nick, friends of mine, slept on a cushion on the floor. They were basically my nurses. If I needed anything they where the ones to get it, even reminding the nurses to change my medication or saline bag. I was never really alone, everyday my friends from work visited me in shifts.

I was supposed to stay in the hospital till Monday but convinced the doctor to let me go home. Sleeping in the hospital was making me increasingly nervous. The night before I left, Sarah had to search the floor to find the nurses sleeping in a lounge. So I figured I was ok to handle things in my own apt since I was only on Tylenol and antibiotics. That week a friend of mine stayed over night to make sure I could handle things and then was visited regularly.

In the end, although I could have gone skipping this whole experience, I feel very lucky to have the people around me that I do. This school pulls together like a family. This also made me realize how lucky we are for being born in the United States. We are all very comfortable in the US and although I have noticed this in the past 3 months pretty consistently, it is definitely engrained in my brain now. Although people in the US still have bad hospital experience, there is always toilette seat and toilet paper in the bathroom, possibly even soap- and you will most likely wake up with a pillow and blanket after surgery with some type of beeping contraption to tell an alert nurse your saline bag is empty.

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In Yaounde we drive 4 hours, on a one lane highway passing slow trucks carrying gasoline and tree trunks, to get to a beach. Quite different from the easy 4 block walk I grew up with in Jersey. Here you have to work for your ocean. But Kribi has proved itself to be SO worth it!

The first day we got there we stopped at the ‘fish market’ where the fishermen bring in the catch of the day and sell it to towns people and restaurant goers.The fish here is served with heads and tails attached, and yummy spices and onions. No forks in sight Cameroonians eat with their hands and so do we. Pima and vert sauce is served on the side side, one super spicy the other mild and garlicky.
We get food and a show, watching the boats role in, men gathering their nets, chatting it up, and carving boats. 2hours later, with full bellies, we arrived at the Tara Plage, a small hotel literally on top of the beach that late afternoon. It was like living in nature (with 12 other people) for 2 days.

When we got there and we went swimming right away- which was the theme of the weekend along with sleeping, eating, playing poker, and scrabble. I have two favorite moments; one was swimming in the rain. We could ride the huge waves totally alone, the river forming a water slide into the surf, the beach (a cove) all to our selves. I think we all swam for at least 3 hours. The other was swimming at dusk. It was a perfect sunset. One of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

On our last day we got to check out The Lobe falls of Kribi, water falls that drop directly into the ocean, and haggle for jewelry and native wood sculptures.

That night Jeff, one of the teachers, arranged for everyone to eat fish, prawns, fries and plantains a 2 minute walking distance from our hotel on the beach . The only light we had was a bamboo fire and 3 cell phones held up by the guys who caught and cooked the fish. We all stayed up and talked till, couldn’t tell you what time…I didn’t look at a clock the entire vacation. It was definitely a weekend worth repeating… so we booked it again 2 weeks from today.

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How lucky am I? The school is paying for my personal items to be shipped abroad! Seriously, if you’ve ever lived in another country you’d know what a big deal this is!

Yaoundé, from what I’ve learned, does not have any art stores or clothing stores. They have seamstresses that make clothing, and their local art scene is all woodcarving.. I am told taxing is 100% on imported items; this includes things like sneakers, certain foods, and cars. It is hard to get items through customs on a timely basis. I read in a 3-year-old teacher’s handbook to bring things you felt needed to be a specific brand. So if a Walmart was built there in the last 3 years, I will feel a little silly. Either way, I am taking advantage of this wonderful offer.

If you were trapped on an island and had 5 boxes you could fill with things to take with you, what would you bring? What couldn’t you live with out? I repeated this to myself, staring at the art supplies and peanut butter I’d artistically wedged between my shampoo, soap, and contact lens solution.

"the big one ended up being 97lbs"

Ha-ha…5 boxes. I think not!

6 personal boxes and 5 boxes (filled only with art supplies) later, my life is packed securely and on its way to Kingwood Texas where it will be placed in a big container and shipped to Yaoundé. Clearly my top priorities are my everyday items, and art supplies. I am hopeful that during this experience, I will be painting every chance I get.

Beyond the things I absolutely can’t live with out, I got to pack stuff that will help me get settled and feel happy. The top items in that mix are:

Art Books: Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings, Lucian Freud, Picasso and Matisse, Tim Burton, Frida Kahlo.

Novels: The Fountainhead, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Human Stain. My NEW Kindle is joining me so I really have no need to bring too many.

Food: Peanut butter, ketchup (it’s very different once you leave the US, probably made more naturally, but I like the stuff with the corn syrup) and Oatmeal. Brownie mix (if anything this will help me make friends), Wheat thins, black liquorice, and ginger snaps. During my stay in Italy, not having certain American food products, (and spending 12 euros on peanut butter) helped bring on a bit of homesickness.

I know when I get there, there will be more things I wish I had, but adapting to my surroundings is part of the experience. I’ll probably find even better substitutes. Who knows? But it will be OK, and I’ll have my ketchup and art supplies to keep me happy!

Lesson of the month: If you forgot to pack something, it probably wasn’t that important.

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I am by no means a writer, I consider myself a painter, museum lover, observer, and now an art educator. I am moving to Cameroon in August to be an art teacher at an American School in its capital Yaoundé. SO I thought, if I ever started seriously thinking about blogging NOW. IS. THE. TIME. This blog will give you a look into what its like teaching abroad in Africa and maybe eventually other places, what I’m doing to get prepared and what my life is like while I live and teach there.

So why do I have MAP LOVE?
“My Senior Art Show in NY, me with one of my paintings”

I went to Parsons School of design to become an illustrator, and in my 3rd year went to Florence Italy to study painting. This 7 month trip to Italy sort of changed my outlook on my life. After graduating I decided to move home and freelance as a painter (kind of crazy). No more New York everyday, which at the time was good, I was tired of the way New york made me feel. This is weird, I know coming from a 21 year old. But I missed the slow life, I missed seeing the same people every day. New York, which I love now again, was not doing that for me at the time. During my 4th year of college I was living by myself in a part of brooklyn over an hour from every friend I had in the city and hating it. I wanted to paint, and spend time with my family. So I move back to Jersey.

I went back to Europe with my good friends, went backpacking for a few weeks at a time spending only a few days in most cities, getting a taste of the culture, and meeting many characters in short intervals. It always felt different and a little disconnected after actually living in Italy where I was forced to stop and look around… and I mean STOP. When I lived in Italy I saw the same people every day, visited the same cafe to get the same cappuccino, saying “bon journo” to the same locals and visiting the same museums over and over. Yes I traveled on the weekends but Florence felt like my HOME. It was beautiful, and filled with tradition. I have learned that knowledge and respect of tradition is a one-way ticket to connecting personally with people.

“My cousin Lisa and I in Roma”, “Venezia”, and “Tami and I in a glacier- Luzern, Switzerland”

After 3 years of trying to make it as a painter, rediscovering Asbury Park, my love for Springsteen, old and new friends. I went back to school to get my masters in education.

Why on earth would an artist want to put herself in a classroom EVERYDAY?

I love painting.I love making things with my hands. It is hard for me to describe what creative expression feels like. It is emotional, exhausting some times, but mostly invigorating and I always feel accomplishment. It is one asset that I know will always be a part of my life, and I will always do. Yet in the end, I don’t feel like I’m individually making a real impact on the world by only painting. We only live once! Teaching kids to reflect on their thoughts at ages where they can be impacted, is a way for me to make my mark on this planet. I can give them an outlet, I can show them a way to reflect on their history in the making, on different cultures by introducing art history and those artists who felt it profoundly. Teaching makes me feel like painting does. It is emotional, exhausting at times, but mostly invigorating and I always feel accomplishment. It’s really fun most of the time too!

So why Africa? Ok so really I think most people reacted with excitement and some not so much. I was actually asked more than a couple times by different people “you couldn’t find some place closer to get a JOB?

“Yaounde, the Capital of Cameroon”

Well yes but it wouldn’t be as exciting.

I am considering this an adventure, with only fear of the “unknown”. I will have the opportunity to be inspired by situations that I would have never encountered before, and get to envelope myself in a new culture. No matter what it’s like, I’ll get to teach kids about ART. How great is that?

So stay tuned, there’s ALOT more to come!

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