Winfield’s Boucher serving in Peace Corps in Cameroon

May 11th, 2007 by admin

Thursday, May 10, 2007

(Editor’s note: Ashley Boucher, 24, of Winfield is a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, in West Africa. Ashley joined the Peace Corps in June 2006 and serves in a small city near the capital, Yaounde. She is a 2001 graduate of Winfield High School (Kansas) and earned a bachelor’s degree at Southwestern College. Her parents are Troy and Michelle Boucher.)

Here are Ashley’s responses to questions in an e-mail interview with the Courier’s Dave Seaton:

QUESTION: Where are you and what is your assignment?

ASHLEY: I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. I’s a country on the west coast of Africa and is called “Africa in miniature” because of the diversity of its people and environment. My post is Bafia (known all over Cameroon for its amazing pineapples!), a town roughly the size of Lawrence, in the central province. I am an English teacher at a government high school, Lycee Classique et Moderne de Bafia.

Cameroon’s two national languages are English and French. I teach in a Francophone area. I teach ages 10-20 and my class size ranges from 33 to 77 – very small for a Cameroonian public school. Some classes at the lycee have more than 100 students.

I also work one-on-one with the principal and vice principal of the school to improve their computer skills. Our school is very fortunate to have two computer teachers as well as a computer lab with about 25 computers. The only problem is that often, especially when it rains, there is no electricity to run the computers.

QUESTION: What is the reaction to you as an American?

ASHLEY: The natural street reaction when I am in Yaounde or during market day in Bafia, is to call me “la blanche” (the white one), especially if someone wants to get my attention or sell me something. But when they stop to talk to me, most people usually assume I’m French, English, German, or some other European nationality – mainly because that’s where most of the white people who visit Cameroon come from.

But people aren’t exactly shocked when I tell them I’m American. The Peace Corps has been in Cameroon since the late ’60s, so a lot of people have encountered a volunteer or two. In fact, there was a business volunteer in Bafia several years ago. As far as Cameroonians’ reactions to America’s current politics, there are people on both sides, just like in the U.S. Some of my students would rather playfully argue with me about George Bush and Saddam Hussein than review active and passive voice. But then there are those who see America as “that great place on top of the hill,” that great dream to reach for, as one of my friends said.

QUESTION: What would you like to accomplish?

ASHLEY: I want to show people that Americans do realize that the rest of the world is out there and that we are in fact interested in helping people and making the lives of others better. By being here and going out and talking to people and teaching my students, I want to show that Americans can be something other than self-absorbed warmongers.

QUESTION: Please describe some of the people with whom you work most closely.

ASHLEY: The people I work most closely with are my colleagues in the English department. Besides me, there are three other teachers in the English Department, including the head of department. One of my colleagues, Robert, spent two years of his teacher training in Scotland, so he likes to talk to me about how things were in Edinburgh. Sometimes he understands my unfamiliar behavior better than those who have never been outside of Cameroon.

Elizabeth, my counterpart, comes from Bamenda in the Anglophone area, where they speak English in school and Pidgin in the market, as well as all of the dialects spoken at home. Pidgin is a language all its own. At first it seemed like a simplified form of English, but I soon found out that when Elizabeth and her Anglophone neighbor spoke Pidgin, I had no idea what they were saying.

I also work rather closely with my principal on the computer. As I have spent time with him, I have realized he is a very respected member of his community and church. He is very enthusiastic about working with me and Peace Corps because back when he was in high school, his English teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer, and they still keep in touch through e-mail.

QUESTION: What lessons have you learned so far: about yourself? About your hosts?

ASHLEY: I feel like I have done all of my growing up in the last 10 months. College was a growing experience, but I was still so sheltered; even a year working in the “real world” didn’t change me so drastically and affect me so positively as this (experience). I can fix my own plumbing now (to an extent), I can kill large spiders with zest, and I’ve learned the satisfaction of eating a chicken that I know had been the one pooping on my porch for three months. These are just a few little things, but they all add up.

The most wonderful thing about this experience is that even when I go back to the United States, I can never be the same as I was before. No one can take away from me the fact that I’ve spent 10 months in Africa. It’s not just that I will know what a luxury it is to have running water every time I turn on the tap or electricity all the time. I’ve experienced another way of living life, another cultural attitude towards the world.

I also know that the lives of those around me will be different because I am here. For example, three of my younger students that live in my neighborhood, Jimmy, Berthold and Stephane, come to see me almost every day. They like to sit and ask me questions or just look through my Newsweeks. I know that as they grow up, they will have a different view of America and Americans because I was their teacher and their friend. Now for them there is something tangible and interactive in a world where there had previously only been Jennifer Lopez and Shakira music videos.