Monday, January 21, 2013

Paperwork and Pedagogy (and another petit problème)


While in Douala, I was staying with my friends and hosts, Evan and Lisa. They both teach at the American School of Douala. Evan is a science teacher, working with grades 6 through 10 (9th pictured below), and Lisa is an ELL teacher, working with all grades (8th pictured below). After months of relatively aimless traveling, it was good to have a chance to get a different type of intellectual stimulation and think about teaching again. 

Mr. Murphy teachin' SCIENCE. I got to wear some of his teacher clothes (tie, of course)
Ms. Penor at work with the francophones

"Thinking about teaching", however, only involved a small amount of me actually teaching in the class, although I did do some of that. Mostly, it was Evan and me talking for hours about science (Why do the tropics have two seasons at all? What exactly causes hot air to "rise"? How does solar radiation actually cause things to heat up? Where can we find enough invertebrates for a dozen sixth graders?), and me helping with a lot of the non-teaching things that Evan has on his plate besides planning for 5 different classes every day. One day that was designing new lab tables, one it was trying to figure out what materials one needs in a Chemistry classroom, and one day it was cleaning and taking inventory of the materials he already has:

mm... Pringles
The fun part about being sent to an American School on the other side of the world, is you end up with a collection of whatever past teachers have gathered and discarded, all without the full amount of regulation or oversight that one would see in a school in the states. If I was lucky, the bottles were sealed and labeled. Sometimes, labeled but not quite sealed:

...I'm sure that cap was like that before...
Sometimes, not labeled OR sealed...

Taste test, anyone?
Thankfully, Evan also had three rubber gloves in his inventory (not three pairs), so I was able to wear one of them while working, saving two for emergencies later. For any of you worried about my safety while riding a motorcycle around Africa, rest safe knowing that the more miles I put under my wheels, the further I will be from this cabinet.


The other reason for staying in Douala for a few days was to prepare for that motorcycle trip. I was lucky to find a bike within the first week of being in town, but that was only the first small step in getting ready to take it through several African countries. On top of the receipt of sale, vehicle registration and license plate (for which I'm still waiting), I need insurance (done), a drivers license (eh...), a carnet de passage (kind of like a passport for the bike. I need the registration before I can apply for that) and visas (one down, one to go).

Vroom vroom! At least it's paved here
Sick of waiting and itching to get out of the city, I decided to test my paperwork (mostly a collection of receipts at this point) and head to Yaounde for a few days to apply for my Gabon visa. I had been told that there were several checkpoints on the way where I would have to show my paperwork, but they didn't seem to care about motorbikes. Instead, they pulled over taxis and buses and trucks all around me and waved me on through. The only stop I needed to make was to grab some oil and some delicious Mbongo at a roadside stand.

Mbongo with bushmeat (they called it "antelope") and some starchy roots

Le petit  problème

After the ride to Yaounde, I found that my back wheel was a bit loose (no biggie, right?). Rather than risk the ride back to Douala, I made my third mechanic stop of the trip. Not exactly what I hoped my first week with the bike to look like, but that's how it goes. $8 and a couple hours later, I left with a solid bike and a little more confidence in the melee that is African city traffic.

Wah wah... luckily, it's not $80/hr for labor here

Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures in Yaounde, so you'll just have to imagine the relentless mosquitos without a bed net (but with plenty of malaria prophylaxis), the simplicity of a 6hr visa from the Embassy of Gabon (most visas take days to weeks to process), water polo and bbq with French EU workers (I am constantly jealous of, thankful for and embarrassed by other nation's linguistic education, especially while I can barely follow a conversation in French, which I studied for 5 years), and trying to keep up with my couchsurfing host, Manu, and his 650cc Honda on my 150cc Lifan (while dodging taxis, motos and pedestrians). I did, however, take this picture on the ride back:


Paperwork encore 

Now that I'm back in Douala with visa in hand, I still have to wait for a few more documents before I can leave for good. I am planning on heading off for a week or two in Cameroon once I get everything but the carnet, so I at least won't be stuck in a crowded city for the entirety of my visa duration. Adventures await!


  1. Hi Shawn;

    I wanted you to know I am following your adventure from our home in Oregon. My wife and I are friends of your Mom and Dad. I am enjoying learning about these out of the way places. Your courage to go forth into the unknown is impressive. I wish for you safe traveling over the course of the next couple of months.

    John Smith

  2. Auggie was very impressed with your motorcycle! He wants to know if you have tools.

  3. I want to know if you have tools, too!

  4. I just want to know if you have a sharpie!

  5. Sharpies were on his original packing list. I think we need an update.