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It’s Thanksgiving time once again, and this year I will be on a job interview at the same time the turkey will becoming out of the oven. How bizarre. I need to take every opportunity that I get, but when it comes down to it I miss being an active part of my family.

Living in another country has provided me with new way of seeing life. There is unconventional beauty everywhere because things are interesting. Life here is exciting because it is out the ‘norm’. Sandy has helped me reflect, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the ‘norm’ is necessary and I hope for that again.

I am from the Jersey shore. Life there is nothing like that horrible MTV program ‘The Jersey Shore’. I find assumptions that it is, ignorant and insulting. I did not tan in a box everyday nor do I fully understand what a GTL is, I am a local. They aren’t. I grew up riding my bike to the beach, and walking around my town barefoot to visit my neighbors on their porches.

I am the definition of a beach kid, born and bred and so was every friend I had up until I graduated high school. I learned how to swim in the ocean when I was one, ride waves on a boogie board when I was three, and swim against rip tides and body surf soon after. I am a scuba diver, my friends are divers, my parents are divers. I grew up watching guys leave school with their surf boards sticking out of their trunks to ‘hit the waves’ in mid January.

I spent my youth at the beach club where I spent all day with my friends swimming and having epic barbeques with my family till midnight. It has a dream like quality in my mind, I know its real but it was a bit too perfect.

Serious sandcastle contests, and swim meets with other beach club teams were the height of importance. Toe stubbing on the pool deck made Carebear Band-Aids fashionable, I don’t actually remember wearing shoes in the heat. Searching for shells and for hours keeping track of who found the most sea glass, building forts out of lounge chair cushions, water fights in the cabana while doing the dishes. I grew up there. We kept the same friends, discussed colleges on the beach talked about boys under the empty lifeguard stand after the beach closed. Made failed efforts to sneak into the nightclub next door, the bouncer was my school gym teacher… he grew up in the cabana next to us. Winter months are a vague memory, everything was a rush till the weather warmed up and we could jump back into the pool.

The beach club was demolished when I was 17 to build large unattractive luxury homes for the tourists from the North to stay in during the summer. Things can’t always stay the same.

Going down to the Point Pleasant boardwalk to play ski ball while my grandma played electronic poker, made me a pro at the game. By time I was 8 years old I had my own style of throwing the ball to win epic points. I’d win tickets worth enough to buy that cool neon eraser in the shape of a teddy bear for the tip my pencil.

I have a clear memory of being seven years old; walking back to our car, I see my fingers sticking together with sugary pink residue from cotton candy Grandma let me have. I remember sitting with gram and mom on the beach on metal and fabric chairs watching the town orchestra put on its weekly summer concerts. I loved sitting on my grandmas lap and falling asleep. The orchestra left just last year, no more concerts, only memories.

Now I take my younger cousins to the same boardwalk to eat waffles and ice cream and salt water taffy. We play the same games, and ride the same rides I did as a kid.

When I got older and moved to New York, I still got my summers in Jersey and would visit the beach some weekends in the winter to see the grey color of the ocean. Still taking my bike out in the cold wind to feel the sinus cleansing salty air, I would watch seagulls make tracks in the light snow. The people who work at the deli around the corner know my family and ask how everyone is doing when I stop in to grab a sub. Some things don’t change, but they probably will eventually.

We grew up with Hurricanes. My mom used to say they would open the back and front doors of Tradewinds to let the water run through. We used to make a game of racing the waves that flew over the seawall on our way home where we would tape X’s on our windows and prepare to clear out water that would inevitably flood our basement.

Last month the east was hit with Sandy, an ironic dainty name for a massive coastal super storm. Beach clubs were ripped from their pilings; boardwalks flew up like a bed sheets, local dives gutted by massive flooding and wind. My childhood hometown was ok with some damage and power down for over a week, but compared to everyone else, we were extremely lucky. People have died because evacuation was never something taken very seriously before. ‘Riding the storm out’ was a normal phrase people will use less now. Homes have been lifted and dragged out to sea. A friend of our family is currently borrowing my car because the three they owned floated away. Boats were sprinkled like confetti around and through split open homes. Towns were shut down because they were deemed unsafe due to open gas lines. Fires started, a roller coaster fell off a pier into the ocean, and many displaced now live in shelters. The stories I’ve been hearing are nightmarish, the pictures even more heart wrenching. We’ve never had one as extreme as Sandy and I’m expecting things to look different when I visit next month.

It is disturbing to watching events play out from so far away, and not being able to do anything is even more troubling. I am now a paying subscriber to the NY Times online site to heal this disconnection slightly. I get to see how the rest of the world is seeing my community; emotional, strong, hardworking, and loving. New Jerseyians take care of each other and we are proud of what we have. I call home as often as possible to see how friends are doing, getting their homes fixed and lives back together. All I’ve heard is how nice people are being, and I feel really proud of everyone.

I wish I were home to help out. I will be home in exactly a month, I promise to do my part and give as much energy as I can muster to ‘Restore the Shore’. Restore the possibility of making new memories similar to what I am privileged to have.

So to friends, family, and neighbors- in the spirit of Thanksgiving I am thankful for you, the memories that I share with you, and for the faith in knowing more will be made because we are a determined crowd. I’ll see you in December with bells on and possibly work gloves.

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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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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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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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