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La Fête de Noël à Dschang (in Photos)

Delmas, looking sharp in his party clothes.

Elvira Hélène was much happier before she put her party clothes on.

Delmas, sporting his Obama party clothes, and the tree.

Pretty awesome.

Marinette, who did most of the cooking and preparation for the party, and Elvira.

Lindsay, all dolled up, loves having her photo taken.

...however we had less success with filming Elvira.

Maman, a happy grandmother, with one grumpy 1-year-old.

Of the many characteristics we share, I discovered another thing that little Lindsay and I have in common: an insatiable appetite for plantains.

Gateau, fish & chicken, batons de manioc, coco yams, and more...

Ma belle fille.


Historic Occasion: Breaking Ground's first official partnership is signed!

The Breaking Ground - RIDEV team, along with potential partner-to-be, Taguem Fah.
Left to Right: Taguem of COREDEC, Théo of RIDEV, Lindsay of Breaking Ground, Elsa of RIDEV, and Paul of Breaking Ground.

After much anticipation and planning, I am proud to announce that Breaking Ground formally established its first official partnership this past Thursday. Our new partner is RIDEV (the Research Institute for Development), based in Bafoussam in the West of Cameroon, just an hour from Dschang. RIDEV's programs are perfectly complementary to ours, and in collaboration with them, we will be stepping up our system of evaluating both a community's level of mobilization as well as the success of the project after its realization. Additionally, our work with RIDEV will provide our "partner communities" with access to capacity building programs in the fields of revenue generation, community health (with a focus on HIV/AIDS), information technology, and more.

To learn more about RIDEV, check out their website.


Ultimate Frisbee - Les Lions v. Les Tigres

I am such a proud frisbee coach! After much delay and anticipation, Les Lions faced off agains Les Tigres tonight at the little football pitch down the road. This time, the rules and concept of the game stuck. You don't run when you have the frisbee. When your teammate has the frisbee, you run to get open and catch it. When your opponent has the frisbee, you wave your arms wildly in front of them, but you DON'T touch them. This means, logically, that you don't tackle them, bear hug them, steal the frisbee and run, etc! After a couple of failed scores in which the frisbee was tossed through the football goals, the concept of catching the 'bee in the end zone stuck.

Our Keuleng Frisbee crew - showing the tattered colored bands (uniforms).

With strips of two shirts - one blue, one peach - tied around our heads or arms as team uniforms, we played - stopping frequently to explain a rule or return the frisbee to the correct team. It started off pretty scrappy, but soon became apparent that the kids who lived in close vicinity to the frisbee had a serious edge on those who hadn't thrown around as much. Three from the Chefferie - Steve, Lily, and Arol - dominated the game. Not only did the get the concept of getting open, but they all have sweet throws and AMAZING hands. Arol, the smallest of the three, seems to be able to snatch anything out of the air. As I stood back and filmed, I couldn't believe how well the three of them could string together passes and move the disc down the field. Again, what a proud coach!

Some shots from the evening (many blurry because of the low light):


Solstice! Et autres petites commentaires...

Despite the fact that I am in a place where the sun shines 12 hours per day nearly all year round, I'm still happy knowing that it's solstice today, and that the short, dark days at home in Maine will soon be growing longer. Happy Solstice, everyone!

Some commentary from the past few days:

After a week of working in Yaoundé, I traveled back to Dschang this past Saturday. I managed to hitch a ride with Jean Nkengsa, a native of Doumbouo, the village where I worked in 2006, as he and his wife were making the trip from Yaoundé to visit briefly before the holidays and delivery Christmas gifts. The trip was long, but pleasurable – not only because the backseat of a Land Rover is an improvement over the ¾ of a seat I'd otherwise have occupied in a row of a bush taxi, but also because the air temperature and humidity dropped as we climbed into the highlands of the West.

Upon arriving in Dschang, we stopped by Jean's mother's bar, right in the center of Dschang, for a beer. The day before, students throughout Cameroon had received their semester grade reports. There is something incredible in the way that an entire community will celebrate the success of their students. In sitting drinking my Pilsner (a new beer made by Guinness, which is VASTLY better than any of the other pale, water beers available), I watched the celebration ensue: a middle-aged man stepped into the doorway of the bar and beamed as he announced to Jean's maman that his daughter had passed her final exams. (It should be noted that in the Francophone regions of Cameroon, schools function in a French system, with high rates of failure and repetition. Though there is a certain amount of shame associated with having to repeat a grade, it's accepted as a normal part of going through school here.)

So, this man arrived, announced his daughter's success, hugged la maman, shook the hands of all present – all the while beaming – and then departed, undoubtedly to continue spreading the news around town. Meanwhile, each time a newcomer arrived at the bar (and we were there for hours), les mamans would announce the man's daughter's success, and there was cheering and dancing – all in her honor.

Imagine what the state of education in Cameroon – and the entire world, for that matter – would be if government officials shared the same pride and enthusiasm for their childrens' successes.


Taxis in Yaoundé

While there is, in some ways, an art to taking taxis in the capital city of Yaoundé, much of one's success relies on pure luck. Passengers-to-be stand waiting on curbs, often clustered together in places where taxis can easily pull over. Taxis approach, slowing to a roll, and their drivers listen as potential customers state their desired destinations. If the taxi, likely already partially full, is headed in the direction of your destination, the driver will honk or motion for you to get in. You pay per seat (200f CFA is the current standard rate, up from 100f CFA in 2006), and a fully-loaded taxi seats four across the back seat and three in the front (driver included).

Yesterday, while trying to get a taxi, I stood in a line for nearly 10 minutes, my destination rejected over and over, sometimes with the taximen even shaking their head at my suggestion. As the line of waiting customers thinned, the man to my left looked at me and the woman on his other side and said, "Okay. It's a race. Who is going to get a taxi first?" All three of us had been standing there together, watching everyone else get into cabs, and feeling somewhat helpless. The three of us laughed in solidarity, but then eyed each other competitively, and we were off to the races. Cabs came and went, and then finally, one accepted the mans offer. We high-fived him and laughed, and then off he went. I won second-place, leaving our poor competitor behind to wait for who knows how long.

It's moments like those that remind me how much I love being here.