As I reflect on my past two years, I realize just how many lessons I have learned – some technical, some philosophical. Some of the greatest lessons I have collected have surprisingly come not from my knowledgeable counterparts, the teachers or even the traditional chief of the village, but from the plethora of children that call Lokoti home. Here is a sampling of those lessons:
Lesson #1: Make the most of what you have
Whether it is making dolls our of empty bleach bottles or sledding down a hill of mud after a rain storm on a piece of plastic bag, kids definitely make the most of what they have, even when it is not much at all.
Lesson #2: Challenge yourself
One morning during a bike ride, I stopped at a Primary School on the outskirts of town to fill up my water bottle at the school’s water pump. The students had recess at the same time, so I decided to take a break and introduce them to a favorite school yard game from the United States: duck duck goose. However, we changed the words a bit to make it a little more culturally relevant (also as a cover for me, since I didn’t know the word for goose in French). We called it: mouton mouton chevre (sheep sheep goat). Halfway through the game a little boy, much smaller and younger than the other kids was doing the “mouton mouton chevre”-ing when he chose one of the biggest boys in the group to chase him. However, the little boy outran the big boy proving that you can succeed at the impossible – all you need to do is challenge yourself and rise to the occasion.
Lesson #3: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
One day I was walking was running late to a meeting (American late –I still arrived ten minutes before anyone else showed up). I had just taken a bucket bath and a lot of my clothes were still on the line drying. So I tied my hair up in a bun right on top of my head and threw on my kaba (think: an African fabric mumu dress). As I rushed to the school, a girl passed me and said “Tu es belle eh! (You are beautiful!)” So on a day that I felt very frazzled, another person found me beautiful.
Lesson #4: Pay attention to the details
If you ask a kid to draw a picture, you will get a very detailed and technical drawing of an object. The most commonly drawn objects are cars, Cameroonian flags and houses. When kids draw they often draw with a ruler to ensure that lines are straight. They will also add a lot of detail to everything – cars will have gears, the Cameroonian flag as a tri-level pedestal and houses come furnished with couches. When it comes to drawing people, they are much more realistic than my stick figures (which Cameroonian children don’t normally recognize as people). So while creativity may be lagging a bit, accuracy and detail are very present and attention to detail is a good thing!
Lesson #5: Patience is a virtue
Many, many, many situations here have only reinforced the importance of possessing patience as a character trait; however, I was most inspired by the patience I saw in children. While I thought I was finished cleaning beans after a half an hour of picking out stones and pieces of dirt, I always had neighborhood kids reminding me that there was at least another 20-minutes of work left. I have those kids to thank for not having chipped a tooth on an undiscovered rock after two years!