Friday, June 7, 2013

A Cameroonian Wizard

Meet: Esembe. 

For the first few weeks here in Cameroon, this guy was always showing up at the house where I am staying, but I honestly had no idea who he was. One day, though, I figured I'd sit down and chat with him to learn a little bit more about who he was. When he told me his life story, instantly, I knew it was blog worthy.

Esembe is about 30-years-old. The first thing he'll tell you about himself is that he is a mathematics teacher at a school here in Kumba. The dude LOVES math. He is always talking about mathematics, whether it is solving an equation, the practice of mathematics itself, or his experiences teaching in school. His passion for mathematics is rivaled by none.

For Esembe, he is unique in his love for mathematics, which might be part of the reason he loves teaching it so much--Because so many people find math difficult and complex, and for this reason dislike it, Esembe wants to show them a simpler, important side to math, one that has many valuable forms of real-life application.

Esembe likes to describe the problematic state of mathematics in Cameroonian schools through the following words:

"People have no problem counting their money. But when it comes to 'x' and 'y,' they don't know what to do," he says.

Touche, Esembe.

There is another, more serious problem that Esembe also faces when teaching mathematics in school here in Cameroon: He has had threats made on his life.

Throughout May and June, students in Cameroonian schools are going through a process that they refer to as "writing exams." Essentially, the school year has neared its end and students everywhere are studying for the GCE, which stands for General Certificate of Education and is the standard end-of-year examination for students as it applies to their respective grade levels throughout schools in Cameroon.

Therefore, as a teacher, Esembe is currently administering exams. He tells me that he often catches students cheating, which normally warrants failure of the exam in Cameroon. But Esembe lets most students go with a slap on the wrist. He does so because he says that if he failed a student for cheating, he would fear for his life. In the past, he's told me, students have threatened him with knives while he is administering an exam.

Despite these issues, however, Esembe keeps on teaching and is remarkably optimistic about his livelihood as a math teacher. I'm guessing that his unusual optimism has something to do with a near-death experience Esembe had when he was just seven-years-old.

It's obvious that Esembe was born intelligent. He tells me that he has been interested in technical fields, such as chemistry, engineering, and mathematics, for as long as he can remember. While most seven-year-olds are still learning how to read books, Esembe was busy building his own toy cars.

But it was while building a toy car that Esembe was toying with electrical wires, trying to install headlights on his car, and nearly electrocuted himself to death. At seven-years-old, he was in a coma for six months.

Remarkably, somehow Esembe survived. Today, his right arm is basically dysfunctional, and he only has feeling in two of his 10 fingers--the two he proudly tells me he holds chalk with in the classroom--but the man is going strong. I'm willing to personally nominate him as the greatest mathematics teacher in all of Kumba. 

During my conversation with Esembe the other day, he said one of the most quotable phrases I have ever heard, and it was these words that actually convinced me that Esembe deserved a blog post.

"People see me walk into school and they say, 'This man is handicapped. He cannot teach.' But when they see me do mathematics, they know I am a devil. I am a wizard."

True dat homie.

The Jonathan Walters Project

DISCLAIMER: Please, readers, do not repeat the words used in this blog post at home. The stunts and award-winning jokes performed in this article were those done by a licensed professional with advanced degrees in sarcasm. The information contained in the blog post is not at all true. The Cameroon Football Development Program does not at all endorse this blog post. Thank you for taking the time to read this notice.

[This one is for Marc Murphy, a legend in his own rite.]

Far, far away in a land called England, playing for a mysterious team called Stoke City FC, there is a footballer named Jonathan Walters.

Some of you may not know him, but in short, this man is a legend. When his team is down, he puts his team on his back. When a goal is in need, he will score it, be it in his own, or his opponent's goal. He may not convert his penalty kick opportunities, but it is certain you have never seen anyone blast a ball so high and far, and with such velocity, over the goal from such close range. He makes David Beckham's Euro 2000 penalty miss look pathetic. He is the all-time leading scorer of Chelsea FC--A legendary achievement by a legendary man for a legendary club.

As Kevin Battista, a world class footballer who is still yet to recognize the greatness of the United States Men's National Team, once put it, "Jonathan Walters is a world class striker."

Except one could argue that Battista does not even give Walters enough credit. Jonathan Walters is a world class player. He excels in all phases of the game.

So why do we bring Jonathan Walters to your attention? Because due to his legendary ascent to the top of the world football ranks, he has become an integral part of the CFDP mission, the most vivid representation of individual success we are trying to show young children here in Cameroon.

When we introduce children to the name "Jonathan Walters," we teach them about his legendary status, encourage them to work to reach the heights he has achieved in the professional footballing world, and remind them that the more own goals they score against their own teams, the more times they fail to convert penalty kick opportunities by rocketing the ball far over the net from just 12-yards away, the more likely it is that they achieve their professional goals.  Jonathan Walters is a model of success not only for young children in Cameroon, but for children in all parts of the world.

Before meals, or at the dawn of a new day, many people remember to thank the Lord above for the blessings he has bestowed upon them. Me, well, I thank Jonathan Walters. I thank him for the inspiration he has instilled in my own life, to pursue greatness, and to score goals, regardless of the net at which I shoot.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Leadership Training: Session 1.2

Saturday, June 1, 2013

We held the second session of our six-week Leadership Training course this Saturday morning with nearly 30 football coaches and adult volunteers from youth football academies around Kumba who want to become certified CFDP leaders with our program. Half the sessions are in a classroom indoors where we cover CFDP curriculum, and the other half are outdoors on a football pitch where we show the coaches how to implement CFDP-specific football drills that they can use at practice sessions with their respective teams.

Overall, the day was a success. We began around 7:15 a.m. and finished around 9:15 a.m. During that time, we covered five different football drills. There were even more people in attendance today than there were at our first session this past Wednesday. It's good to know that youth football coaches in Kumba want to know what we have to offer.

Until next time...

More Photos from Limbe, Cameroon

Here are some photos from when we went to Limbe the second time around on 26 May. The second photo doesn't look like much, but I'm basically staring down a live volcano. You can't see the tip of the mountain because it's surrounded by clouds. The volcano has erupted twice in its history, the last time being around the year 2000, at least according to one or two people I asked.

The Race to Leave Cameroon

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Will you take me back with you?"

These are the words nearly every Cameroonian asks me when we meet for the first time and I tell them that I am from the USA.

Cameroon is nice. People here are very peaceful; parts of the African wilderness are incredibly scenic; the fruits are exotic, and even free of cost at times if you are willing to walk through the forest, or "bush" as they say here, to pick them.

At the same time, however, corruption is prevalent, infrastructure can be poor, the electricity grid fails frequently, etc. And because people have limited access to small TVs and spotty Internet connections, they know it's not like this in other parts of the world. So it's obvious why many people seem eager to leave and go someplace else.

To me, the race to leave Cameroon is sad. People here are patriotic, happy to wear their country's colors on National Day, and dying to see their national football team return to the powerhouse it once was on the African continent. But in reality, no amount of patriotism would ever stop one from leaving Cameroon if they had the opportunity to go to Europe or North America.

I think it's sad to see people discontent about the state in which they live. You see that, naturally, people tend to move around and settle in communities in which they feel they belong because they live similar lifestyles, or share the same ethnic background, etc. You'll see in the US, for example, "Chinatowns" within many of our nation's big cities, or "gay communities," as in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Ma. It's nice to see that people are free to move around to settle in places where they feel they belong.

The saddest part, therefore, about the race to leave Cameroon is that although many people know other places exist and dream of visiting, for many, it is completely out of reach because the expenses of traveling out of the continent far exceed what one may earn over the course of months, maybe years here. It's not that Cameroonians are in a place where they feel they don't belong, but that they are restricted from traveling by obstacles that are completely out of their control.

I feel guilty knowing that to some of these people, I am a representative of what, for them, is a "better place." I feel guilty knowing that in September, I will return to life in a country with considerably more wealth and development. I don't believe, however, that the proper solution is to help everyone export themselves to Europe or North America. The proper solution is for us to help make Cameroon a better, more developed place so that Cameroonians can feel comfortable and happy in the land they call home, and that is why we at CFDP wake up and go to work every morning.

Anyway, the whole reason I have written this story is that today, a few of my friends left to run the race away from Cameroon. Four children that were living in the house in which I stay here in Kumba left for London, England. Their names are Jarret, Jadden, Ibrahim (Bubba), and Princess (Mama). Their father had already been living overseas and returned to Kumba this week to bring them back to London with him for good. Bubba and Mama are too young to understand the significance of their move, but Jarret and Jaden, who are each about 12 or 13-years of age, were obviously ecstatic. They had only discovered that they would be leaving for good just a few days before--truly, the African way--but throughout the week they were giddy with excitement.

Here are their pictures:



Bubba proposing a toast.

Mama, really enjoying her cup of water.

  • Could you tell that they are two sets of twins?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Pick-up Footy with Eintracht Frankfurt

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I went to a local football pitch today to sit in on one of the practices for Kumba Lakers, a club team here coached by a member of CFDP's Management Team, Kama, and I ran into a guy that was playing alongside me in defense at a pick-up game in town last week. So, I'm making small talk with this guy and it turns out that he used to play for Eintracht Frankfurt, a team in Germany's Bundesliga, which I would say is the second best professional domestic football league in the entire world. I can't say that that's ever happened to me before--Playing footy with a professional player, let alone a player who was playing professionally in Europe, home to the most competitive leagues in the world.

Anyway, I believe he told me his name was "Carlo," although I could have misunderstood him, as I often do when speaking with Cameroonians. I tried googling him, but couldn't find anything on the Web, so there is a good chance that I didn't get his correct name. He told me that he was playing in Frankfurt as recently as last year until he injured his knee, and now is at home in Kumba for rehab. I can see that one of his knees is noticeably weaker than the other, but given the fact that he is running around, even playing in pick-up games makes me wonder if he'll be going back to Europe any time soon?

Okay, well that's my cool note for the day. Peace.

Leadership Training: Session 1.1

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I could not get a computer quick enough to write this post. This morning we had the first session of our six-week training course for coaches and young adults associated with youth football academies around Kumba Municipality who want to become certified CFDP "leaders." Although I wasn't quite sure what to expect, it went extremely well.

Let me explain to you briefly how "training" factors in to the CFDP process. There are schools, communities, and football academies throughout Kumba with which CFDP is partnered. A "partnership" with a school, community, or youth football academy means that at that particular institution, there is someone who implements regular "CFDP sessions." A "session" normally consists of warm-ups (stretching and jogging), ice-breaking activities, football drills, and educational discussions that revolve around life skills topics, HIV/AIDS awareness, etc. So you see how the CFDP session is dynamic in the sense that it can function as both a way to run an after-school program, as well as a way for coaches of youth football academies to implement a training session with their players. Anyway, in order for football coaches, school teachers, and young adults in the community to implement CFDP sessions at their respective institutions, it is necessary that they be trained in our curriculum, or the "CFDP way of doing things." Therefore, we host annual training courses for people who want to become certified as new CFDP "leaders," as well as refresher courses throughout the year for existing CFDP "leaders."

Wednesday's session was part of our summer 2013 training course for leaders from football academies around Kumba. (We train leaders from football academies and leaders at schools and community centers separately.) These academies will be participating in the CFDP 2013-2014 U-16 Football League, which means that they will be playing in CFDP tournaments and friendly competitions throughout the year. The first of those tournaments takes place over the course of 6-7 weeks this July and August. As I've mentioned in previous posts, all matches, whether they are part of a tournament or just a friendly competition, will have an educational theme and will feature a pre-game ceremony with activities and the reading of motivational statements pertaining to the match's theme to reinforce the educational aspect of the CFDP League. Therefore, as part of our six-week training course, we are not only teaching coaches the CFDP curriculum, but also having them help us develop educational themes and pre-game procedures that will become an integral part of each match and will help bring out the "CFDP-ness" of our league.

Going in to Wednesday's session, I was really nervous. Adjusting to life in Cameroon over the past month hasn't always been easy. For example, although the South West Region of Cameroon is English speaking, people prefer to communicate in Pigeon English, and I'm not too good at that. Also, most days, people in the street keep barking "white man" at me, and although they mean no harm, at times it grows annoying. The food has made me sick; I wake up covered in sweat each morning because it's so hot--I'm not at all trying to complain, just trying to reinforce the fact that this has been one hell of an adjustment. So now, Wednesday was a whole new obstacle for me: I had to speak in front of a classroom full of Cameroonians. I came here in many ways to be some sort of teacher, a transferrer of knowledge, but I'm only 22-years of age and many of the people in the classroom Wednesday were years older than me. I was worried they would not want to hear what I had to say. I was also worried that many of them, being football coaches, were only in attendance to hear about football, and would not want anything to do with the educational component of CFDP.

Despite my anxiety going into Wednesday's session, I came out extremely satisfied with the way things went and overwhelmed with excitement for the way I now expect our training course to progress over the next few weeks. The session could not have gone any better. We were scheduled to begin at 7:00 a.m., but because this is not America, we began at 7:30. We started off by leading a few "ice-breakers," activities designed to ease tension in the room and help people get to know each other. Next, Collins spoke and introduced everyone in the audience to CFDP by explaining the organization's history, where we currently stand, and our vision for the future. (Just as a side note, if you haven't heard me say it before, Collins is a genius. The man is pure intellect. Before I came to Cameroon, I had been reading letters and documents he would send to Justin, and his writing style alone, which stuck out to me as very eloquent, hinted that he was a smart man. Since I've been working with CFDP in Cameroon working with Collins at the CFDP office, my suspicions have been confirmed. Seriously, I basically feel honored to be in his presence any time he's around!) Anyway, Collins spoke in such a way Wednesday that if you were in the audience and left feeling unexcited about the organization you would soon be a part of, there must have been something wrong with you. After Collins, Caroline spoke for a few minutes to explain to everyone how our programs at schools, community centers, and football academies each work.

The final part of the session was mine. Since we had just introduced the leaders to CFDP, I wanted to now give each leader a chance to introduce himself or herself to us. I went around the room and had each person stand up and tell me a few things: His or her name, why there were attending our training course, and what CFDP could help them achieve. When I asked each coach why he or she was enrolled in our training course, their responses were absolutely wonderful. People were saying things like, "I am here because I want to be a leader in my community," "I am here because I hope that CFDP can teach me how to properly communicate with young kids," etc. etc. I was absolutely thrilled!

There are days in Cameroon when I find it really difficult. I grow homesick. I REALLY miss my girlfriend. But it's days like Wednesday, when, because I am with CFDP and engaged in something so incredibly redeeming, that I know it is totally worth being here.