During our meeting with the school, the instructor told us about a seminar taking place that was being put on by the Ministry of Secondary Education. He suggested that if we talked to them and asked to speak to the person organizing the seminar, we could learn more about this training that was taking place. You’ll remember that I talked to you a little bit on the phone about this? This training sounds like it will be far greater than anything I will be able to come up with and I was interested in getting involved in some capacity so I could see what they were doing and possibly even bring some training materials away from it so I could use it in our training.
I ended up going down to the Ministry and miraculously we managed to go straight to the Regional Delegate—unfortunately that was the delegate of primary education, not secondary education. Apparently there were separate ministries for that. It makes sense I think. One thing that became very clear to me was that dressing sharp is tacitly required around the world. Everyone, young, old, men, women, was dressed out of a catalog. The higher ranked they were, the better their ensemble. It was no different from the principals of all the schools I’ve been meeting really. Dressing nicely is very important here if one wants to convey a sense of power. Volunteers were advised before coming here (on the Peace Corps Website) that wearing shorts of any sort here was looked down on as an adult and not a sign of professionalism or even intelligence.
We bounced around to a bunch of different officials at the second ministry (each one a higher rank than the last) before we were seated in front of the regional inspector of computer science (named Rose, she was actually a rank below the regional delegate. A very serious lady with a thick French accent, we tried to see if I could serve as a trainer there. Was it presumptuous of us to try to assist in the training? Maybe, but I don’t think there’s much harm in at least offering to help.
“Oh yes, he has experience teaching.” Andro piped up for me in response to a question by Rose.
Eh, I could have answered that but Ok…
“Brandon here is an expert in teaching computer science to both students and teachers and has a lot of knowledge and skills.”
Woah, an expert? Take it easy Tiger.
Despite the lofty praise Andro proceeded to drape over me, Rose stared from one to the other, clearly unimpressed. At some point I had to cut in to start answering her questions as I surely would have been promised as the singular chance all of Cameroon would ever have of understanding to understand even a keyboard. When we had finished, she asked me to write my name and qualifications on a note card (I tried to make them sound as technical and official as possible). As she mulled over the bit that I had scribbled onto the card, a man entered the room.
“Ah yes.” She said, turning towards him in her chair. “Though I am the director of this training, Mr. Something is in charge of coordinating the trainers…I could not make such a decision without him”. Now, his name wasn’t actually Mr. Something, but I can’t remember what it was and he sure dressed like something snappy so I figured it’s a good alias for now. Mr. Something looked over and smiled at us very beuraucratically and whispered something into Rose’s ear as she handed him my little card of qualifications.
If I had known this many people would look at it I would have added a little something to it… I thought wistfully.
“What are exactly did you want to help with?” He inquired, looking down at my card with a frown.
“Well, I think this would be better if you could show me your list of subjects so I could get an idea of what you’re attempting to do…” This was partially true, but I was also partially interested in seeing their list of topics so we could duplicate it at HINT and include them in our training as well. Shameless, I know. Mr. Something started ruffling through some papers on Rose’s desk as she pulled open some files on the computer. Andro and Kristi watched in silence, clearly intent on letting this scene unfold without getting involved now. After much searching, Mr. Something pulled out a packet of papers and laid them in front of me. I glanced through it, trying to get a feel for what I was capable of teaching.
Hmm…computer basics, that’s easy. I don’t want to teach that though, too difficult. Ah, Word that’s cake. Excel! Excellent, I’ll definitely advocate for teaching this one. Wireless networking, OK, I kind of get that. Infrastructure…hardware..hmm, some of these I don’t know all that much about…goodness, operating system design?! Really? Information systems! What? Data management?! Who knows this stuff??? Machine processors? Damn…yeah I’ll just kind of slip it back like I didn’t get to see all that… I hastily folded the packet back up.
“Yeah, I feel pretty good about most of that stuff. But I definitely would prefer to be a part of the Excel course, that’s definitely my forte as I use it a lot for my research and everything…” I trailed off. Rose clicked a bit more on the computer and exchanged a few phrases in French with Mr. Something. I sat in my seat, staring at the packet of courses in front of me, already regretting coming here.
“What about this?” Mr. Something asked, opening up the packet to the page about information systems and data management.
Damn! I bet you all do need someone that knows that horrible mess.
“Ah yeah…that’s actually one of the things that I don’t actually know that much about. Sorry.” I mustered, laughing weakly (alone).
“Ah, I see.” He said, pulling the packet away.
“Actually, could I get a copy of that packet? To have an idea of all the topics being taught and such?” They looked at each other.
“Uh..sure. I will print it now.” Rose said, clicking away again at the computer. Once again we all sat in silence as she attempted to print the course syllabus. At last, the printer started but clearly this was going to take a while. I pulled my backpack closer to me to distract myself with something.
Click. I looked around. What was that? I think I still have junk all over this thing. I need to clean it out. I thought, shaking it up and down a little. I peered inside. Where’s all my pens? I specifically brought them for these kind of meetings. I looked up and saw Rose and Mr. Something standing over the printer, investigating it.
“What happened? The printer stopped?” She said, perplexed.
Ah hah! Here’s my chance. If I go up there and whip out a miraculous fix, that’ll make me the tech wizard and they’ll have to give me a position. I smiled devilishly as they continued to peer at the thing, pressing buttons. Yeah but what if I screw it up? I have no idea what’s wrong with it—
“The power is off.” Rose said with surprise. “It won’t turn on.”
That’s odd, why would the power suddenly turn off? I looked at the power cord coming out of the back of the printer and followed it over to—Oh no. I looked down at my back pack and cringed. Please don’t tell me— I lifted it up. #$&%! Sure enough, there was the power strip to which the printer was connected, the little switch flipped to the “Off” setting. Looking up, I could see that Rose and Mr. Something had not yet discovered my stupidity. Leaning over, I kicked the switch back onto “on” (rather stealthily) with my foot. Viola! The printer sprang back to life, whirring and sputtering as it attempted to recalibrate.
“Oh…the power is on again.” Rose stated rather blandly.
Yep, so now if we’ll just move on—
“Ah, I see, you must have turned the power off” Mr. Something said, peering over the desk at the power switch next to my chair.
“Oh, yeah I think I accidently did, moving my bag and…but yeah, I flipped it on now. Sorry about that.”
Behold, the great technical savior of Cameroon ladies and gentlemen.
They ended up allowing me to serve as an assistant “facilitator” which was basically a fancy term for someone who goes around and helps people that were having trouble following the teacher’s instructions during class—a very helpful job to be sure, but not exactly one that requires one to “teach” and not a very useful use of time for me. The printer would never fully recover and the file would ultimately never be printed. As I was walking out, I thought I’d give it one last effort, hoping to leave the meeting with something to show for my effort.
“Perhaps, could you transfer the file to a USB drive?” I asked Rose. She paused a bit, and then nodded.
“Yes, Ok. Do you have one?” I bounded happily back into the room.
“Oh yes, just a moment.” As I fished for it in my backpack, Rose looked over the desk at me with slight apprehension.
“It does not have…virus does it?” Remember that I mentioned that viruses are really common in Africa and are a serious threat especially on USB thumb drives because people spread them every time they plug them into an infected machine and then into any uninfected computer afterward. But I had never let anyone use my thumb drive so it was definitely clean.
“Oh no, definitely not.” I happily replied, inserting it into her computer. I walked over to her side of the computer as I waited for the usual confirmation screen to pop up…instead her antivirus manager popped up with a series of warnings stating it had discovered new viruses.
“Virus!” She cried.
What? No way! How? I never put— It then occurred to me that I had let Deric use my thumb drive once to copy over some computer files on another computer. Well, maybe it’s only a small thing. I mean, her antivirus software caught it so— At this point the computer screen flickered.
“What is…?” her voice trailed off as she stared helplessly at the screen. I watched in horror as the computer began to cancel all programs and shut down, the system clearly compromised.
Why? Why?! Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?