Ms. Calarco brought her 360 degree camera and took lots of photos!
You can look at them here. Which one is your favorite?
Our day started at a school started where special activities were taking place all day to celebrate National Youth Day, which is held every year in February in Cameroon. This day celebrates children all over the country!
We met a new friend named Linda who goes to area schools and starts Peace Clubs. These are so important in Cameroon right now because of the fighting taking place in the Northwest and Southwest regions. There are families who have had to leave their homes (including Farmer and his family) because it’s not safe for them to be there.
We were honored guests and sat in the front row. Students sang, danced and recited poems about Peace. They also showed us some of the things they created in Peace Club, including a Peace Pillow they presented to us. We gave them soccer balls, art supplies, bracelets and bookmarks made by our students.
On the way home, we stopped for ice cream, which was so refreshing! The temperature in Cameroon has been in the 80’s and 90’s every day, and it’s hotter than we are used to! We rested a bit, and then went to a Youth Festival, where we met teenages who have started Peace Projects. These students won awards for their projects and we had the honor of presenting the certificates!
Everywhere we go, there are people who either know Farmer or have heard about the wonderful things he has done with gardens and providing access to clean water. He really is a hero in Cameroon!
It was fun spending time with Tantoh’s cousin, Walters, who owns a cocoa farm and is an artist. He took photos for us and cut up the sugar can we brought home.
Farmer has done many water projects, but one of the most important was bringing water to a village called Njirong. For over thirty years, they were able to take advantage of a spring from a neighboring village because of conflict. In 1997, a boy was out hiking with his dog, and discovered a source of fresh water in their own village. Three years ago, Farmer helped set up a water system so the people could easily get water, however they have to go down a hill to get it. Now he is working on raising money for a solar pump so the water can be pumped up the hill for the villagers. We met a man from this village and Farmer showed him the book and the page in the book about Njirong; he was so proud of Farmer!
We ended our evening like we have been doing every day - sitting on the balcony and sharing stories!
Every morning we sit on the balcony, watching the city come alive. This morning, there was extra excitement when we saw what looked like a small parade of young people in uniforms heading up the street toward the soccer field. Farmer Tantoh explained it was a soccer team being led by someone who was heavy - in Cameroon, you don’t see many heavy people, probably because their diet is different than ours. The rest of the team was chanting to support this person. We thought this was a really nice thing for the team to do.
Breakfast this morning consisted of delicious bread (served, of course with plantains, french fries and an omelet). After a ride along a mountainside, we stopped at the studio of a well-known artist in Yaounde named Mr. Ndofoa. He has been doing artwork for over twenty years and everthing around his studio is painted or decorated. We each bought one of his paintings!
On to one of the highest points of the city! Mr. Ndofoa painted the decorations on the rock we stood on for the pictures. We stopped and purchased some sugar cane from a man selling it on the side of the road, then stopped at another market and bought a few handmade items to bring home.
Then we had a birthday party for the book “I am Farmer” - today was the day it was officially published and people around the world could purchase it! Farmer and Quinta’s boys had never been in a swimming pool so we arranged to spend the afternoon swimming at the pool at the Hilton Hotel in Yaounde - that was so much fun! Amazingly, while we were swimming we were lucky enough to experience a beautiful rainstorm.
Afterwards, a quick stop for pizza (we were so hungry we forgot to take a photo!) and a visit to a doctor who is from Farmer’s village. Farmer’s dream is to have a hospital built in his grandmother’s village, in her honor (she is 95 years old). Early to bed tonight!
Cameroon is made up of many regions. Farmer Tantoh’s Eco-Lodge is located outside of the city of Bamenda where there is currently conflict between two groups of people, There has been fighting and people have been hurt, so Farmer thought it best if we didn’t go to that part of Cameroon. That means we aren’t able to help put in the well, but we are still able to post the pictures of it being put in. Here is a video of Farmer Tantoh explaining the process.
Today Farmer Tantoh drove us to the Mefou Primate Sanctuary, located in a forested area outside of Yaounde. A primate is a classification of mammals that includes gorillas, monkeys and other similar animals, including humans! Hunters, also known as poachers, have tried to kill these animals and sell them. They leave the babies, who can’t survive on their own, so the sanctuary rescues them and takes care of them in this natural environment. There are about 400 animals here, including gorillas, monkeys, chimpanzees, mandrills, baboons and guenons (a type of monkey).
Do you see the HUGE tree we are standing by? The wood from this type of tree is used to build ships. There were many other types of trees in the forest. The people in Cameroon have discovered how to use the leaves and bark for medicine.
As we drove home from the sanctuary, we saw a man selling handmade African drums, so we stopped and each purchased one. We stopped by the market and purchased more bright-colored African cloth, and headed home for a delicious dinner of spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce made with fish. We ended the evening receiving gifts of Kaba dresses from the man whose house we are staying in, and we sang and played drums together.
We started Friday with a delicious breakfast of plantains, fish stew and Cameroonian coffee to prepare us for another day of learning and helping out at the farm. The owner of the farm, who we call “Ma Justice,” because she is a judge, joined us.
We took a long walk around the farm and saw fruit and vegetable trees and plants, as well as fish ponds. There are also many forest areas, unlike the farms we are used to visiting in New York. We watched Farmer Tantoh’s friends Julius and Mary harvest leaves from the Huckleberry plant (also known as black nightshade).
When we returned from our walk the cooking began! Farmer showed us how to de-feather and butcher a chicken, which was grilled over an open fire. We removed the leaves from the Huckleberry stems, chopped them up, washed them and put them in a pot over another open fire. We made fou fou out of corn flour and water and cooked that over an open fire, too. You can see from the video of Ms. Calarco stirring it that it is hard work!
When the fou fou was done cooking, we wrapped it in banana leaves to give it extra flavor. We ate a communal meal, sitting on benches. People in Cameroon eat many of their meals without utensils - it was fun to lick our fingers, and not have to wash extra items!
After a short rest back at the house we had a wonderful dinner with Ma Justice and her husband. I gave their grandson, Davy, the bookmark that Eddie made. We will be giving the other bookmarks out when we visit local schools.
To end our evening, we went out to hear some local musicians sing and play instruments (piano and keyboard). Farmer Tantoh loves to sing and dance, and went up on stage with them!
(And he also shared the great news that the materials for the well have been purchased - with the money YOU donated - and work will start on it tomorrow!)
After a breakfast of fried plantains, french fries and delicious Cameroon coffee, we headed out to a farm owned by a friend of Farmer Tantoh. Farmer knows so much about agriculture and plants and he shared his knowledge with us! We saw Cassava plants, avocado plants (called “pear” in Cameroon), palm trees, pineapple, mango and papaya trees and much more. We even got to suck on deliciously sweet sugar cane. One of Farmer’s sayings is “Everything you need, you can get from the earth.”
Palm trees are located throughout the farm. In addition to the nuts, that can be eaten and also pressed for oil, the trees can be tapped, yielding 5 liters of juice every day for a month. If the juice sits around, it ferments and becomes palm wine. There are also grubs in every palm tree; in the larva stage, they are considered a delicacy when they are fried up. They have lots of protein and health benefits. Farmer Tantoh is currently doing research on how to breed these grubs so they can be sold.
The vision for this farm is to house an Eco-Lodge, where people can come to learn about gardening and agriculture. We visited a fish pond on the farm where we used a machete to clear some grass around the pond.
We also saw a man making a medicinal mixture to treat typhoid, a disease people get from drinking unclean water. It consists of a plant pounded into a paste, mixed with one raw egg and Guinness beer.
For lunch we pulled up the roots of the cassava plant, and peeled and boiled it over a wood fire. We made an orange sauce out of the oil from the nuts of the palm tree mixed with spices. Delicious!!
Cameroon is known for the beautiful dresses worn by women as well as the fabric used to make these dresses. We went to the shops and each bought some fabric. Which one do you like best?
For dinner, we had a delicious tomato fish stew with rice that we helped prepare, preceded by fried grubs as an appetizer. Farmer fried them in oil with sliced onion, parsley and spices and, although we were hesitant at first, we ate them and actually enjoyed them!
To end our wonderful day, Farmer and his wife Quinta surprised us with beautiful Cameroon dresses that we will wear when we go to church with his family on Sunday!
Today we explored the city of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. We are staying at the home of Justice Mabu, a close friend of Farmer Tantoh. From the balcony we can see the bank that produces African currency in the distance, a nearby secondary school as well as local markets and homes.
Farmer’s wife, Quinta, gave us a lesson on cooking plantains, a vegetable similar to a banana, but a little harder and shaped a bit differently. After peeling and slicing them, we fried them in oil and ate them with leftover chicken from last night and fresh pineapple - delicious!
We exchanged $100 of our United States money and received 59,000 Central African Francs (which sounds like a lot!) Who can figure out what the exchange rate is? (How many African Francs is equal to one dollar?)
We visited a small zoo in Yaounde with Farmer, his wife and three boys. We saw crocodiles, a lion, peacock, monkey, parrott, tortoise and a mandrill. Watch the video and be the first to post in the comments what the parrot said!
In Cameroon, people celebrate a child’s first, and sometimes second, birthday, but birthdays aren’t a big thing after the first two. Today was Quinta’s birthday, and Farmer decided, since we were here, that he would surprise her with a cake and a new dress. We took her to dinner and had delicious mackerel, plantains and potatoes and went home to have cake. A fitting end to a great day! Tomorrow we head to a farm to learn about agriculture in Cameroon.
What a welcome to Cameroon we received! Farmer Tantoh and his friend, Ivo, picked us up at the airport and brought us to a friend’s apartment where his wife Quinta and three sons (Smith (6), Godwill (4) and Favor (2) were waiting for us. Quinta had prepared a delicious feast – fou fou (which reminded us of polenta), fried vegetables (huckleberries, onions, leeks, tomatoes) chicken and papaya. We are excited to explore Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon, tomorrow!
Our second day in Paris was a whirlwind! We started the day with a visit to a community makerspace/food lab. Community members can rent space to work on computers, 3d printers, and use saws and tools. One woman uses the saw there to cut out pieces for doll houses she creates, which she sells to people in Japan. The food lab space is rented by caterers and used to teach cooking skills to the refugee population.
After the makerspace visit, we walked through Buttes-Chaumont park, a hilly park created in a former quarry. We loved the waterfall in the cave!
Then on to Montmartre, a part of Paris with artists and shops, and small winding streets. At the very top sits the Sacre-Coeur chapel, overlooking a gorgeous view of the city!
Then down the hill and an Uber ride to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. In the cathedral square, a large flock of birds congregates, waiting for brave pedestrians to feed them as they perch on their arms.
We worked up an appetite and went to a fromagerie (cheese store), charcuterie (butcher shop) and patisserie (pastries) to pick up items for our dinner.
We ended the evening with a night-time visit to the Eiffel Tower. Every hour after dark, the tower sparkles with lights for five minutes and we were lucky to be in the tower for these lights.
Tomorrow, we head to the airport at 6:00 am, take a 6 ½ hour flight from Paris to Bangui, Central Africa, then a short 1 hour flight to Yaounde, Cameroon. Farmer Tantoh, here we come!
Our travels began Friday afternoon when we left school to drive to New Jersey, where we stayed overnight before heading to JFK Airport in New York city.
We started exploring Paris at 6:00 am, heading to the Eiffel Tower, followed by a visit to the beautiful Saint-Chappelle, a Royal Chapel built in the 1200's and home to the Kings of France for several hundred years. Adjacent to the Chapel were prison cells where Marie Antoinette was held. Then on to the Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre and the Pompidou Center (which has a museum & a public library!) ending our day with a delicious meal at a French restaurant.
It was wonderful having Mrs. Rice, our Art Educator, with us when we visited the art museums. Here is some information from her about the Mona Lisa and Kandinsky works of art: Painted by Leonardo da Vinca, the Mona Lisa, located in The Louvre, is famous for her expression. At that time, artists were supposed to represent only the outward appearance of their subjects; Leonardo showed her soul, with her smile and eyes, that seem to follow you from wherever you stand. The artists initials, LV, are painted in tiny letters on the right eye. As you can see from the photo, it is a popular painting.
Kandinsky was a Russian abstract painter who was sensitive to color and sounds from an early age. Kindergarten students at Herman and Genesee learned about Kandinsky this fall when we went over color, shape and line. The students created their own Kandinsky tree and are currently learning how to create themselves with geometric shapes.
During the past month, all schools in Auburn have been collecting loose change to put toward the cost of the well water system we will be helping Farmer Tantoh install. We are so excited to report that, with generous donations from the community, we have reached our goal of $4,793 to cover the cost of the entire well!
You can read an article in The Citizen about the project here.
We began our journey with a two-day stay in Paris, France to adjust to the time difference and visit museums and sites.
Each year, the Auburn School District invites an author to speak to students in each of the five elementary schools. This year, not only do we have one author coming to Auburn, we have two authors AND the subject of their newest book! Authors Miranda and Baptiste Paul will be visiting Auburn the week of March 25th with Tantoh Nforba (known as “Farmer”), the subject of their newest book, called “I am Farmer.” Farmer is an environmentalist in Cameroon, Africa who is a national hero, for the work he has done helping build community gardens and clean water systems. An Auburn Education Foundation Grant has allowed us to provide an evening program with the Pauls and Farmer Tantoh at the Hilton Garden Inn on March 28th for the entire community.
We prepare our students each year by sharing the author’s books and incorporating meaningful activities connected to their books. This year, we decided to do even more, starting with the idea of educating our students about the global water crisis, empowering them to be part of the solution with a coin drive to help Farmer Tantoh put in a new well, to where we are now, on our way to meet Farmer Tantoh, learn more about the culture and people in Cameroon, and assist in the building of the new water system.
Thank you for joining our journey! While the main purpose of this blog is to share information and photos with our students, we welcome questions and comments from anyone.
Mrs. Mlod (Genesee Librarian), Ms. Calarco (Owasco Librarian), and Ms. Rice (Herman/Genesee Art Educator)