Friday, December 14, 2012


The holidays have arrived.  The school year ends early December, and all of us volunteers have the next month to travel.  Some of us are spending some time at our sites, while others will be hiking constantly.  For me, I'll be in the later group.  My village clears out when school breaks happen.  If I wanted to stay, I'd have the cows and goats to talk to.  It'll be nice to be able to see the country, though.

We've already started our Namibian adventures.  Last week we spent time at a conference center for Reconnect.  There we talked about what had happened over the last few months at our sites.   We had some sessions about serious issues like white privilege and funded projects.  There was one on libraries in the country and getting books for our schools.  The person in charge was a previous volunteer who decided to come back to the country after service.  He assured me that while they usually don't like  books from out of country, I was fine because they are getting checked before they are sent.

Spending the week in the big city was a nice change to being in such a small village.  This week we have been chillin' on the beach. On Wednesday some of us decided to go skydiving.  It was one of the most amazing things I've done.  After about a 30 second instruction pre-jump, Sara and I loaded into the tiny plane with our jump buddies.

Roughin' it Peace Corps style!

Poor girl had slept on a desk the night before.  Don't ask my why!
We got to spend the next half hour flying over Swakopmund and the dunes.  The weather was perfect.  The guy I was connected to thought it would be a great idea to pretend to push me out a few times.  Our plane didn't have a door, so the possibility of falling out was a real one.

I was the first to jump out.  I didn't have time to think as my legs were dangling over the edge of the plane.  Next thing I knew I was falling in the air.  I don't remember much of the free fall, but the view was amazing after the  chute was pulled.  He let me take charge of guiding the parachute for a while, which was amazing.  We spun in circles and dived.  By the time we landed I was ready to go again.  We tried to see if we could go again for free, but unfortunately they had almost gone bankrupt from giving jumps to people.

Now the week is almost over.  Tomorrow a few of us head to go camping.  We decided to rent a car which will make getting there soo much easier.  We'll camp for a few days in the Naucluft mountains, with a day trip to Soussusvlei.  Google it and see the pictures.  It's absolutely beautiful.  We will go to Luderitz, another seaside town, for Christmas, then back up to Windhoek for me to get my Christmas dog.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


It saddens me how quickly I have come to accept stereotypes in the country as fact.  Since stepping foot off the plane in Namibia, I have been constantly told that many of the men in the country are players.  They will try to sleep with you.  They have many girlfriends, and cheat on the ones they do have.  This was told to me constantly.  I admit, they did it for my safety.  They wanted all of us female volunteers to be prepared for the onslaught of attention we would receive from the men.


We would get approached on the streets.  Strangers would come up and ask to marry us.  Introduce us to their friends as their girlfriends or wives.  It was easy to believe the stereotypes;  it happened so often to me and my friends.  I learned early on to never go out at night without a male friend around.  It just wasn’t safe.  My host mom even thought it was funny when  a strange man started being very forward with me.  He told me that his car was across the street and he had a house in town.  I didn’t know him.


So, after months of hearing these stereotypes, and even worse, seeing them and experiencing them with my own eyes, I started to believe that all men were pigs.  I was at a wedding, which was an affair that lasted all weekend.  I had met this amazing family: a girl my age, her longtime boyfriend, son, father, and mother.  I had spent the weekend with them, and had been thrilled and awed to hear about how the parents had been together for almost twenty years and were planning a giant anniversary party around Christmas.  It made me happy to see an honest man willing to love one woman.


I had exchanged numbers with the daughter, excited to make a local friend.  The next night I received a text from the father, asking if we could get to know each other better.  My happiness was shattered.  This man wasn’t what I had hoped he had been.  He was just like all the rest.


So, I started to believe that every man I saw was a cheater willing to sleep with anyone.  That they left their wives and children to move to ‘greener pastures’.  Until I was hiking back to my home one afternoon.  I was sitting in the back of a baki (truck), when this family joined me.  It was a father, mother, and their two young children.  They all looked nice, so it seemed they had spent the afternoon in town.  The father sat down, and his children climbed in his lap to take a nap.  For the next hour, he was making sure the sun wasn’t on them and that they were comfortable.  He was so concerned about them.  He would stroke his daughters hair absentmindedly as well. 


I realized then that I had given in to the stereotypes of the country.  I had believed upon first sight that this man was like the rest.  But spending an hour with him, watching him interact with his children made me realize that not all men were like I had been told.  Not all of them were like I had seen.  It made me both ashamed of myself and ecstatic that there were exceptions to the stereotype.


I can’t wait to see what other horrible stereotypes are false as well!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Letters for the Library

After spending so much time getting the library in working order, I came to the realization that getting donations is going to be a bit more difficult than I had hoped.  We have the books ready to go, but the funding to send it over is being elusive.  People are more than happy to help when they get some sort of recognition, like a tax break, but without that they are much more wary about giving their hard-earned money.  I cannot blame them. 


I had written a letter, which I gave to my mother to forward on to potential donors.  In this letter I wrote about how the books we have at this school are ridiculously old, and above the reading level of the learners.  All of the good books have already been read by them, and they either don’t read or read the same book over and over.  I included pictures showing the potential of our fantastic library space, and how sad it is that the shelves are all but empty.


One of our teachers has been gone for the last week and a half, and I have taken advantage of his now teacher-less class to practice various teaching methods and lessons.  It occurred to me that many of these learners have no motivation to do any work.  There are about 8 different assignments which are graded, and it is those which constitute their overall grade for the class.  Everything else is done purely as practice.  To make their assignment more real, along with helping out the school, I informed the kids that I was working on getting more books for the library.  I told them that I had written a letter, but it would be much better if their wrote to the potential donors.  They were very excited.


English, especially writing it, is especially difficult for these kids.  Yes, they do write, but their grammar, punctuation, spelling, and creative thinking are lacking tremendously.  They have been brought up in a learning environment where no one speaks English natively.  Their home language is the language of instruction until Grade 5, at which point they are expected to be able to learn in a foreign language.  Unfortunately many of their teachers are not qualified to teach English, and often feel uncomfortable., Which often results in their returning to their home tongue.


So, by the time they get to secondary school, they have the ability level of someone much younger than they are.  A solution that the kids, the teachers, the ministry, and everyone in any education field agrees to is that if the kids develop a culture of reading, they will be able to unintentionally absorb grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  They will be able to see different writing styles, genres, and, I hope, a passion for reading and writing.


So, I informed the kids that they would all be writing a letter explaining why they need good books to read.  I left it open for their ideas and creativity, and told them that the top 10 letters would be typed up and e-mailed to America.  I have never seen such devotion to their work.  I made sure to stress that I would not be looking at grammar, or anything but the message they put.  Many came up with good, but obvious answers.  It will help our spelling and grammar.  But some kids were very surprising.  I was unable to reduce the list to 10, so with the potential winners I went to my fellow teachers and asked them to help me choose learners who are struggling behaviorally and academically, but could use some success.


I have to say, it worked.  So far we have only spent one afternoon painstakingly typing one letter, one word at a time.  But boy do they work!  Their spelling, and grammar, and punctuation are atrocious!  But isn’t that the point?  These are children aged 15 to 20!  Supposedly they have been learning and speaking English since they were 6.  But their writing still resembles that of an American 8 year old!  I know that their message will come through much better than mine, because really, the books aren’t for me.  They are for these unfortunate kids who live an hour and a half drive from the nearest shop, with absolutely no way to get reading material.  If they do not improve their English, they will be the ones who can’t find jobs, not me. 


As an avid reader myself, I would be perfectly happy reading the books in the library.  Even the ones written in the 1920’s.  But I am a proficient reader.  It would make sense to me.  To these kids, it's daunting and gibberish.  So, here I am, hoping that there are people in the world who are more interested in helping children succeed in the world than to get a tax write-off.


Here is one of the kid’s letters.  He has spent hours trying to type it.  I dare you to read it and not feel your heart strings pull.


Dear madam,

First of all I want to say good after noon or morning at the library.

I have to tell you the problems about the library book   to read and understanding what is going in the book so that I can take and read those thing that is inside the book please. 

I have to talk about myself how I can take this book to read them in the library because the teacher they not allow us to go and read the book in the library so that we can read good story

At the school also we need good book to read easily for myself only  because  me I like to read story book and magazine also about the HIV and AIDS to know what  we going allow  to do when we can doing sex  you cannot get HIV and AID in the school or on my w ay  if I thing about the school book here . I thing I am in the school where I am teaching every day until school out .I like to pray to god so I can be good reading in the school except in the class only because I like  to try  my spelling word to write  again  in the same so that I

Can writ easily and I can become reading learner in the class .so that I  want to tell you about the book that is here in the library now the teacher or secratery now give us to read it is ok but just bring us at the library or give us book to read that was my good news for all teacher and secretary and myself.



With many thanks


My poor library!  No wonder the kids don't read. They can't!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Knock, Knock, Nobody's Home

Well, I think I updated the blog a few days too early.  My boring old life here in the village isn’t so boring anymore!


This morning my house got broken into and all my money and some electronics were stolen.  Yay for me!  The sad part is that I didn’t take the broken lock as a sign of a burglary until hours later. 


Upon entering my house during break time I noticed that some of my things had been moved on my trunk.  Freaked out, I checked and saw that all of my expensive things were still here.  So, of course that meant I was crazy and nothing was stolen.  Hours later I come home from a computer class to hear that one of my neighbors saw one of the learners leave the yard.  So, upon closer inspection of my things, I noticed that all of my money (both Namibian and American) was gone, as well as my iPod, speakers, and a memory stick.


As you do when you are robbed, we called the police, and I was able to spend the next few hours freaking out about the security of my home as well as my missing things.  The door to the house wouldn’t lock, and it was getting late.  I could honestly care less about the money.  Yes it was a lot of money, but I have enough to survive.  But now I didn’t feel safe in my own home.


Thankfully the learner who my neighbor saw wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.  He had only gone a few kilometers away in the hours it had been since he had broken in and we had reported it.  The police quickly caught him, and in an act of even greater stupidity he had (almost) all of my things on his person.


Que scene where I spent the next few hours of filling out a statement with the police, and trying to fix the door.  Door problem solved temporarily and ridiculously long statement finished.  Unfortunately I will probably have to court to give my statement and testify against the kid.


The saddest part is that this was a learner at my school.  He was a repeater in Grade 10, and had finished his exams 2 days prior.  He left to go home, like all of the other Grade 10s, but decided to stay a few extra days for some ‘extra-curricular activities’.  It makes me so sad that kids are doing these things, especially to their own teachers.  It really shows how few opportunities these kids think they have in life.


If there’s one good thing that came out of this, is that the Peace Corps understands the limitations of my village and what we can fix so that this does not happen again.  I am looking forward to seeing the improvements and now I am extra positive that getting a dog is a good idea.  If he is sitting at my door, people are much less likely to try to break in.  I was tempted to have a moat built around the house, and fill it with hippos.  But, I’m too lazy to dig that trench and don’t think it’d be a good detention for the kids.  Also, the hippos would probably not get along very well with the dog.  Too bad. 


It seems that as soon as I say life is boring here, something comes along to spice up my life a bit.  I hope that next time instead of someone robbing me, it’s something really cool like winning the lottery or seeing all my kids get A’s on their essays.  One can wish!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Life So Far



It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here, and I wanted to update you on what’s been going on in my life. 


Not much.  I’ve spent the last month in my village, and I am slowly trying to figure everything out and get to know everyone.  Despite being such a small community, it’s been a bit difficult to actually get close to anyone.  Yes, we are all on amicable terms, but it seems that as soon as the school day is over, everyone retreats to their own homes and we see each other again the next school day.  This itself is not a bad thing, but it does make getting close relationships all the harder.


I have been able to work more at the school, which is extremely nice.  As my mom has always told me, ‘Keep the secretary on your good side and things will always be easier.’  I’ve taken this to heart, even though it’s not a task by any means.  My secretary is a fabulously lovely woman!  She is very intelligent and incredibly kind.  She is always there to make jokes, chat, and help me whenever I need.  I have also been slowly been learning more about my colleagues, as well as letting them know about me.


This is the real point of what we call ‘Phase 2’ of Peace Corps.  This is the 2 months before the new school year, where I have the opportunity to integrate without the stresses of being a full time teacher.  I’ve been lucky to be able to practice my teaching.  I’ve applied my current teaching methodologies to Namibia in hopes that it applies here, and so far so good!  I was very worried that everything I learned about teaching wouldn’t be applicable here, but thankfully it is.  It’s been nice to be able to see if my tricks and skills with the little ones would apply to secondary students and they do. 


These kids are both very young and very old at the same time.  They love stickers and positive reinforcement to an extent that American teenagers would scoff at.  It’s surprising that things I’ve done with my Kindergarteners work with 18 year olds!  At the same time, though, these kids are having sex with each other, getting pregnant and who knows what else, and going to the next village to get drunk on weekends.  They think it’s fun to turn the power to the teachers’ housing out at night, and generally do stupid obnoxious things.


Thankfully those are only the 5%.  And generally the Grade 10s.  I spoke with my principal about what I will be teaching next year, and we have tentatively agreed that I will do all of Grade 8 and 9 English, as well as BIS  (basic information science).  BIS generally means how to use books properly as well as use research tools such as dictionaries, indexes, and the internet.  We don’t have the internet at the moment, but I’ve made it my goal to get it at the school before I leave. 


So, weekdays are usually pretty fulfilling here, but weekends are different altogether.  When there is no school, the days can drag on forever and there isn’t much to do.  I need to start making more of an effort to establish relationships with the teachers so that we can get together on these boring days.  Thankfully everything takes longer to do, such as laundry.  I must do it all by hand, so every Saturday I at least have something to do for an hour or two.


I’ve also taken up running again, which is a great stress and boredom reliever.  I have no idea how far I go, but I try to increase my time every day.  It’s been really nice to have a goal (be able to go an hour easy for now, and a half marathon in a year).  Some of the kids and spouses have noticed what I am doing, and after getting over the shock of the ‘that crazy running white chick’ have either joined me or asked if they can.  The more the merrier I say!


I know that once I get my own class, I’ll have plenty to do.  I’m already trying to establish weekend classes for the community in various computer skills, from basic to editing and creating electronic grading.  That’ll both keep me busy and help improve the community.  I really want to have at least one teacher helping me though.  If I do everything myself, the project won’t be sustainable once I leave.  It’s so easy to just say I’ll do it, but that’s really not the reason I’m here.  I want the community to be able to help itself. 


Oh, in new news, I’ve officially decided to get a dog.  I’ve been debating it for the last few months, considering I live in such a remote place and dogs are horribly mistreated.  When I leave for my vacations (which I need to do considering there’s really no one here for a month), what would happen to the dog?  I wouldn’t be able to take it with me for such a long time, and I couldn’t leave it by itself.  So, after talking to a community member that I trust, he said that he would love to watch the dog for me.  I don’t think he knows how to do that to my standards, but I trust that if I showed him what to do, he’d be able to make sure it was looked after.


I’ll be getting him or her from the SPCA in Windhoek on my way back to site after Christmas.  It’ll be a great gift to myself, and will help me not be so bored and lonely on weekends.  I’ve had many offers of puppies from people who know I want a dog, but I think getting an adult dog is a smarter idea.  Also, I want to make sure it has all the shots and is fixed.  Preparing for it is going to be fun as well.  I’m going to make a dog house out of old desk frames and tarp material, and any time I go to town I’ll pick up a little bit that I need, like food and a leash and other stuff.  Very exciting.  I’ll post a picture when I get him or her!


Other than that, not much has happened.  Just practicing my teaching and preparing for next year, which is difficult with the lack of resources.  A fact which may help me to get the internet.  It’d be so much easier to create effective lessons with resources found on the internet.  We’ll see how that goes!



Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy Aniversary!

The staff of my school was invited to the 70’s anniversary of one of the local primary schools.  A week before the event, my principal asked if I would like to attend.  Of course my response was a resounding “Absolutely!”  Now, I said this not because I wanted to get out of my village (I’ve only been here for a week, not even close to long enough to get cabin fever), but because I want to get as much cultural emersion as possible.


So, two days before the event, my principal informed the staff that she was going to be gone all weekend to attend a wedding of a family member.  Huh.  Luckily the teacher who I live with was also interested in going.  Saturday morning arrived and we crammed into the school baki (truck) and made our way the 25 km to the primary school. 


The event, which started at 9am, began around 11:30.  There were representatives from most of the local schools, as well as past learners from the school itself.  We were treated to many forms of entertainment, ranging from local youth performing oviritje (Herero music) accompanied by music, learners dancing different traditional dances, as well as dancing from the random Herero women who just got the urge while the music was playing.




The focus of the event was not only on the achievement of teaching youth for 70 years, but it was also a fundraiser to build a hostel (dorm) for the learners.  While this school is not quite as far away from civilization as mine, it still is quite far (over 60 km from the nearest town).  This prevents many learners from being able to make the commute.  To help their numbers grow, the faculty decided to turn two of their classrooms into unofficial hostels.  The problem with this is that not only do the children need to cram together, but the bathrooms are very far away.  At night they must use a bucket because it is dangerous to be out after dark (snakes and scorpions, and, they range from 6 to 13).


I was very impressed to see how the school decided to host a fundraising event to raise the money for their hostel.  All too often organizations become reliant of foreign aide to solve all their problems.  These organizations have legitimate concerns, such as needing a hostel, or fixing the roof, or providing sports equipment/fields for the kids.  But instead of trying to get the money in country, they put their hand out and wait for the money to come in.  Fortunately I have not seen any of that here.  This school worked very hard to get donations, from other schools, the ministry, various organizations, and the local community.  They planned the event, had a VIP dinner (which I was invited to.  Delicious food!), a raffle for a sheep (which I should have bought a ticket for), and they sold t-shirts (which I did buy!). 


It is effort like this which makes me think that I will be able to make a difference.  I am not just in this country to teach English.  I am here to be a catalyst for change.  These schools need and want help.  They just don’t know how to get it.  If I can be there, listening to their needs and concerns, I can plant the seed for them to be able to solve their own problems.  They need to be reliant on themselves so that they can pull themselves out of the hole they are in.  Doing this will also allow them to have pride and feel successful.  My goal is that when I leave, I will have no credit for any of those seeds I planted.  I want them to say, “Wow, I am so glad Mr. Muhau started that boy’s club” or “Ms. Murangi sure worked hard to make the computer lab run smoothly”.


Ode the the Internet

Ode to the Internet


Woa is me, the one who must wake up in the middle of the night to use the internet.
Why must you be affordable between the hours of shut eye and rooster’s crow?
The obscene beeping in my ear does not help your cause, but what can a poor girl do?

So I wake, and I walk, and I plug in my communication to the world beyond the cows.
My eyes have yet to focus, yet I am already knee deep in e-mails.
As I come to my favorite part, I hold in my groan in consideration of my neighbors.

Why are you so slow, Internet?!
Page Cannot Be Displayed is not something I want to see so early.
All I want is to see the world through 11 inch eyes.

But you continue to lumber, just as if you were the cattle outside my house.
You let me see, but keep those pages I want just out of reach
Page Cannot Be Displayed

I have done so much in my short life here
And all I want to do is share it with the world
But what do I see? 

Page Cannot Be Displayed
And that infernal, evil rotating circle

Round and round with nowhere to go
It sits on my screen, letting me know that patience is not my greatest asset
Well I’m sorry, Internet, but I only get one hour of your time!

But I must think logically, which is hard for a sleep-addled mind.
I live so far from civilization
No ATMs, or grocery stores, or coffee shops

No paved roads, or cars, or anything of the like.
No, what I have are cows, and chickens, and screaming children.
Donkeys and horses, and slow internet.

I must think logically, or else
So be content with waiting, for patience is a virtue.
While I cannot upload a photo, I do have thousands of words.

Words which can paint pictures much more brilliant than that of my point and shoot.
Words which leap from my brain to the page any time of my choosing
Not just the middle of no time

So I will be content, and happy,
And write my pictures, until…
Page Cannot Be Displayed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

It's official!

Well, it’s official. 

 As of around 10am yesterday morning I am now a card carrying Peace Corps Volunteer!  I spent the morning packing all the little things, and saying goodbye to my new family.  We then all made our way over to the training center, and gave our oath the both America and Namibia.  Apparently as federal employees we had to give that awesome ‘foreign and domestic’ oath you always hear on TV.  It was kind of cool. 

 There were a whole bunch of speeches, both by the embassy, the Ministry, and selected trainees (pardon me, volunteers).  It was a really nice event.

My Namibian family at my goodbye party the night before.  The woman in pink is my mother, Alma.

Looking snazzy before becoming official volunteers!

Not long after, I hopped on a combie (Namlish for van) with all my things, and made my way to my new village.  It’s crazy!  No more training every day.  No more seeing the wonderful faces of my new friends every day.  No more Americans.  Just me in my new (and awesome) house, surrounded by teachers and learners, ready to take the world on.  Or at least start observing the teachers/learners and tutoring for the next few months.

I’m so glad that my principal is amazing!  We had the opportunity to sit and talk yesterday, and she seems really open to letting me get my feet wet before I start teaching my own class.  At first, while we were talking about the next 10 weeks of my life, she said that I would be taking over 2 periods every day.  I’d be expected to have lesson plans and be on my own teaching.  You should have seen my face!    She obviously did, because she started laughing and told me she was joking!


Now,  for the next 2 and a half months, I am going to learn as much as I can about my new community, while hopefully gaining more experience in my Otjiherero and, if I’m ambitious enough, some Afrikaans.  I’ll be seeing how my learners learn, and trying to figure out the best way to teach them.  I’ll also start working on the computers, as well as showing some of the teachers how to be more efficient with their marking. 


They say that Phase 2 (which is the next 10 weeks) is the slowest of my service. I hope to prevent as much boredom as I can.  Which is why I’m up at 4 in the morning, utilizing the free internet time, to upload my blogs and download as much as I can!

American Cultural Day

Early Saturday morning, a few of us trainees walked from our homes in the location (a word for the more run-down suburbs of towns where black Namibians were forced to live in during the era of apartheid) to the training center.  We had been planning for almost two weeks, and the day had finally arrived.  We would be showing our new Namibian families our American culture.  We had been so privileged to experience the many different cultures of Namibians a month prior, and it was our turn to sing and dance and cook foods from our land. 

Just like the incredible diversity the Namibians have, we wanted to show our families the wonderful diversity that America is so known for.   Unfortunately most non-Americans only know us from the television shows they see on TV.  This was a day for us to not only show them that we are so much more than the Amazing Race and Barack Obama, but also how we as a culture have embraced the cultures of so many other countries.

We began the day slowly, like all events in Namibia do.  Having a better understanding of ‘Africa Time’, this did not bother us like it would have two months ago.  Slowly, family and friends trickled in, and we showed them some dances we know.  Of course, we began with the Macarena.  We tried to get some of our friends to join, but they were much more content watching us make fools out of us.  That was fine, because we were having a lot of fun.

After a few speeches from our trainers, it was our turn.  Our language groups had written and practiced speeches in our new languages, thanking our families for all of the wonderful kindness and patience they had shown us.  These people, who do not have a lot to begin with, were willing to take us into their homes and treat us like family.  To many of them, everything we did was completely foreign and confusing, much the same way their actions were with us.  But we slowly had a beautiful cultural exchange.  Our speeches acknowledged their kindness and thanked them profusely for their love and friendship. 

Here is a video of my speech in Otjiherero.  I must warn you, that while I did write the speech, it was done in English and translated.  Therefore, I probably only understood half of what I was saying and just memorized the pronunciation of the other half.  Still, I don’t think I did half bad for only 2 months of language training and 3 days of practicing the speech!

(Well, apparently there's not going to be any videos from me.  The internet here is so slow that it won't let me upload them.  I will hopefully figure out how and put them up as soon as possible.)

Finally, the most important part of the day arrived!  The food!  Those of us that had been in charge (myself, Laurel, Sam, and Lindsay) had spent the last week buying food and supplies during our lunch breaks and after sessions for the different groups.  We had people making Mexican food (tacos!) Italian (pizza, spagetti and garlic bread) Southern (mac and cheese, which I ate 2 serving of.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone.)  Desserts (pies, cookies, and cake) Jewish (latkas, for the new year), Cape Verdian (a wonderful bean soup from the two who transferred from there), American (chili and cornbread) Asian ( curry, and other dishes I can't name) and Breakfast (french toast and scrambled eggs).  Even though I was unable to try everything, I could tell that everyone was really enjoying the food.  It was nice to not only show our thanks for the families taking us in as their own, but also show them what we find ‘normal’ food back home.  It was also really nice for us to be able to eat ‘normal’ foods!

While preparing for this day was incredibly long and stressful, I was so happy that I had chosen to be part of the committee working on it.  It was the least I could do for everything that has been done for us over the last 2 months.  This was also an unofficial goodbye party for all of us and our families.  In less than a week we will all be gone from Okahandja, living in our new homes.  I know, though, that I will always have a family to turn to in Okahandja.  I hope that I will be able to visit them, and them me, many times over the next 2 years.  While we have not always seen eye to eye (which is normal for 2 completely different cultures with no knowledge of the other), we have learned and grown so much!  I will miss seeing them every day, and I hope that this event showed them how much I care.  How much we all care about our new families.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Heroes Day

On August 26th, Namibia celebrates Heroes Day.  This day commemorates the heroes and heroines who fought against German and South African oppression.  Many of those who fought and lost their lives were Hereros, the tribe who’s language I am learning and will be living with for the next two years. 


Unfortunately, there was controversy around that time, and the celebration and commemoration was cancelled for that weekend.  There are three different groups of Hereros: the Green Flags, Red Flags, and White Flags.   Okahandja is the town of the Red Flags.  The Red Flags and Green Flags have been arguing about the placement of their holy fire, and the local police cancelled the event to prevent fighting.


Thankfully things were resolved, and the events were able to take place the next weekend.  I am lucky enough to be living in the same town where the events are, so it was easy for me to attend.  It was very exciting.  All of Saturday consisted of dancing and partying (not really the commemoration, but those Hereros sure love to party!  I missed that day because, truthfully, I wasn’t really comfortable being surrounded by a whole bunch of drunk guys who always hit on you.)


Side note:  Many Namibian men will hit on you every day.  For some reason it’s what they do.  It puts us volunteers in a very sticky situation.  Greeting people is very important in Namibian culture, and to ignore someone who has greeted you is considered very rude.  But, as Americans, we stick out like sore thumbs!  Which means we get lots of attention from people we don’t want talking to us.  Should we say hi and have the possibility of them thinking we are attracted to them, or do we ignore them and offend them?  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  But the attention is not intended to be rude.  It is just their way of telling us that we are special and they would like to know us.  I know this in my head but it still will take some time to not automatically assume the worst.


I decided it was safer to not be around the celebration and risk getting potentially scary attention from really, really drunk guys.  I mean, I walked through there at 9 in the morning and there were already some pretty drunk people!  But Sunday morning was a different story.  Every Herero that was in town, and many who had come from out of town, processed from the Herero field to a local grave site, where one of the Red Flag leaders was buried. 


The tribal leaders were in the front, followed by many of the men, starting with the older ones and ending with the very young boys.  After the men folk had gone, the women, dressed in their traditional dress, followed.   It was beautiful and sombering to watch.  We walked for about an hour, when we arrived at the grave site.  The tribal elders knelt down and prayed for everyone.  I was so thankful to have the opportunity to see this very special Herero event. 


Apparently the White Flag Hereros are based in my shopping town, Omaruru.  I hope to be able to attend some of their events as well!  It will be interesting to see how similar and different they are. 

Herero chief blessing someone by spitting on them (still don't know how this is a blessing, and when I was asked to join the line, I respectfully declined!)

Young Hereros practicing their marching.   They were sooo cute!

The different Herero flags.  The red one is for Okahandja, which this event was in.

Herero women marching to the grave site.  They were probably bummed that they all went to the same store to get their outfits!

Herero men marching.  The older ones were in the front, and the younger you were, the further back you were.

                                                                       Herero chief.

                     Everyone listening to a blessing given by one of the chief to the grave of one of the old hero chiefs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Site Visit!

So, I spent the last week travelling to both my future home, as well as my shopping town.  It was an inconvenient time to visit a school, considering all of the learners were gone for school holiday, and most of the teachers were stressed about finishing the marking of their exams.  It was unfortunate that I was unable to really see what my school will be like.  I came to my village with a very negative view.  I had been travelling on a gravel road for the last hour and a half, only passing through two tiny villages.  I was realizing that it would take me that long any time I wished to purchase anything, from groceries to clothes, to chocolate! 


I did not fully appreciate how amazing my site is until after I got back.  My school is situated 90 kilometers from the town of Omaruru.  The village consists of the school and a few houses scattered around.  There is no store, no shebeen (haphazardly constructed drinking establishment, usually made of scraps of metal and anything else that can be found.  It is definitely not legal, but is usually the place to go for most people), no nothing.



Which really bummed me out.  How was I supposed to live without anything!?  I would have to plan a month in advance, when I got the opportunity to go to town.  I don’t want to say that I did not enjoy any of my visit.  The school itself is in amazing condition.  They were able to fix all the damage a few years ago, which is a point of pride for my principal.  Mrs. Mbai came to my school, Otjiperongo Junior Secondary School, five years ago.  In those five years, she has increased both the learner’s scores, and also renovated the buildings and tightened ship, so to say. 


I will have my own classroom, which I am taking over from a past volunteer.  Having your own classroom is not always a possibility in Namibian schools.  Schools are usually too small, and do not have enough resources (classrooms, books, desks) for everyone.  My school actually has too much space, and they are looking to invite more learners in the future.  


I will be teaching English to Grades 8 through 10.  They would like me to also teach Basic Information Science, which is a lot like library skills, or PE.  I’m not sure which one I would prefer.  I will also be taking over the library, which is very exciting.  My first goal is to get more books.  We are fortunate to actually have a library, which consists of multiple rooms and the option to expand.  The one thing that I always wanted to work on while here was a library, and now I get that chance!


My house is also amazing.  It’s funny how much my opinion of the quality of things has changed.  When I first came to the country, I was struck by how run down everything looked.  But, now I see a different way of life.  Of course this country is not as wealthy as America.  Like, at the house I am staying at during training, I am spoiled.  I have my own room, with walls and windows that prevent bugs from getting in.  There is running water and electricity.  My house in Otjiperongo is also like this.  I will have a living room, full kitchen, bathroom with a shower (no more bucket baths, even though there is no hot water), and 2 bedrooms!  I will be sharing the house with another teacher until December, when she will leave and it will be all for myself.


One of my favorite things about the site is that there are cows, everywhere!  I guess you would call them free range.  Meaning they can meander pretty much anywhere they want.  No fences for them.  If they want to walk right by my house, they can.  Same goes for the goats.  I was sitting on my porch (yup, I have one of those as well!), and spent a good two hours just watching the animals.  It was great. 


The silence will take some getting used to.  I love the quiet, but it is very quiet.  Granted, I was there when there were no kids around.  I’m sure that in a few months I will be complaining about how loud it always is!


I guess the phrase I am using right now about my site is ‘cautiously optimistic’.   It is so beautiful and serene there, but I am afraid I may go a bit stir crazy.  We’ll see.  I’m going to make the best of it, any way it turns out. 


Here are some pictures of my life for the next two years.



The Little Things

There are certain things which I love about this country.  I was sitting in my room, veggin’ out, when all of a sudden I heard some beautiful singing.  At first I thought it was from the radio, but then, as I looked out of the window, I saw a procession of women walking down the street to a neighbor’s house.  I walked to the door to watch and listen to the amazing singing.  I turned to my sister and asked her if she knew what was going on.  She informed me that the girl at that house was getting married the next week, so they were singing for her.  A week before she is to be married, she is brought to her house, where she will stay until the wedding.  She is not allowed out of the house for any reason for that week. 


I had been in a blah mood for the last few days, after my site visit.  I had had a taste of freedom and what it felt like to be able to do what I wanted without having a family always wondering what was going on.  Coming back to Okahandja, I was not as excited to be surrounded by my host family, always asking what I was doing, and where I was going.  As soon as I heard the singing of the women, something changed.  There was this beauty to both the song and the tradition.  It lifted my heart and soul and gave me a peace within myself.  This country has such a rich culture of community and tradition, and the song was a gentle reminder to me of why I came. 


I am here, in Namibia, not only to help the future become better people, but to also allow myself to learn and grow.  I think that many Americans have reached such a blend of culture, that we have in fact lost some of the beautiful, simple things which make us great.  There is an ambivalence that I have noticed in myself, the inability to see the wonder in being part of a community.  Coming here, my eyes have started to open, allowing me to see what the world is really like, and how I can become a better, not as an individual, but as a member of a community.  Where the self is less important than the whole.  I hope that everyone has at least one chance to experience something like this.


I wish that I had been able to make a video of what I saw, but I doubt it would have meant as much to you as it did to me.  I hope that I will be able to experience many of these cultural revelations, and that I can share my joy whenever I can.  It truly is  wondrous how such little things can change how someone thinks entirely. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pictures, finally!

So I finally brought my laptop to the cafe, so I can actually upload some photos.

Finally arriving in Namibia!

The pots used to cook intestines and stomach on cultural day.

The chicken was alive a few minutes before, and delicious an hour later.

Fat cakes.  Enough said.  This is probably why Peace Corps volunteers gain weight here.

Mopani worms.  Neither slimy nor satisfying!  Word of advice:  do NOT eat!

Me in my traditional Herero outfit.

                                        Yes that is my butt, under a towel conveniently placed.

Visit to the local primary school.

On a walk with some neighborhood kids and my little sister (in the front with the pigtails)

Gotta have my coffee!

My little nephew!  So cute!!!  He finally stopped being scared of me!

Site Announcements!

Yesterday was a very long day!  We had our LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) in the morning.  Pretty much it consisted of a native talking with us and us responding to their questions.  Here’s a question:  How much do you actually expect me to know after 7 days of learning a language?  Seriously?!  I know that much is expected of us, but that was brutal!  The whole point of the LPI is to find out where we are in our language learning.  They will conduct another one during the last week of training, and they want to see what improvement we’ve made.  So, in that respect, I’m not too worried about failing miserably.  I am proud of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned in such a short time.  I was just frustrated that I sometimes didn’t know what she was asking, and other times I had no way of responding in my Otjiherero.  At this point I can say my name, where I am from, why I am here (Ami mbi omuriangere oyefrou.  I am a volunteer teacher), and a little bit about what I like to do and my family.  But then my interviewer started increasing the difficulty of the question, asking me things above my ability.  That was the point, though, to see what level I was at.  I understand that.  But it was hard to sit there unable to respond to something.  I left the interview feeling worse than coming in to it. 

But…..the day ended amazingly!  After lunch we learned about our sites.  Finally!  I mean, it’s only been three weeks since we’ve been here, but it seems like it’s been forever!  I knew, based on where people speak Otjiherero, somewhat where I could be placed, but it was really a mystery.  It was really cool how they told us.  They made a giant map of the country outside in the dirt (sand), with different names of towns and villages.  Then, one by one, they called our name and where we would be staying and had us find our town/village.   I am going to be in a village called Otjiperongo.  Population……..50.  You heard me right.  50.  As in 5.0.  As per the school’s application, they want me to teach grade 9 and 10 English, as well as 8 and 9 Basic Information Science (read: computer skills) and PE.  They would also like me to run the library and help my learners gain a love of reading.  I am so down for that!!!  When I first started to think of my life in the Peace Corps, I thought, “I’m totally going to start a library, and it’s going to be awesome!”.  While I won’t be starting the library at my school, it is going to be awesome.  Trust me.  And my learners are absolutely going to love reading.  Hopefully as much as I do.

I will be living at school, at what they call a hostel.  Pretty much it’s teacher or learner dorms.  Since the village is so small, most of my learners live much further away.  To actually get them to come to school (which is sometimes difficult at this stage of their education), those who live very far have the opportunity to live at the school.  I will have a 2 bedroom place of my own, with my own bathroom, kitchen, running water (both hot and cold), and electricity.  I’m hoping that the school has internet that I can borrow (steal) from them as well.  That way I won’t have to buy my own.  I’m pretty spoiled in terms of living arrangements.  I definitely won’t be living in a mud hut, though some people I know will!  No more bucket baths for me!  Nice warm showers whenever I want, without having to heat up the water. 

I am very excited about my placement.  It’s hard to get a read on what it will be like based on the few pages of details they gave us though.  They warned us that it will most likely be very different than our initial assessment of the place.  That’s why, on Saturday, I will be going for my site visit.  My principal (who I’ve been told is awesome!) is going to meet with me on Thursday, where we will talk about who I am and what my interests are in terms of the school.  Then, we will travel to the school, where I will spend 3 days learning more about the school, meeting the other teachers, as well as visiting the village.   I will then spend the next 3 days shadowing the current Peace Corps volunteer there.  That’s right, they have a volunteer there who I will be taking over.  Which is nice in a lot of ways.  They already have exposure to American culture, and I will not be such a shock to them. I will also be taking over her place, which means the house is probably stocked already with supplies like pots and pans.   

I am so excited for my life here in Namibia, becoming a part of a community and making a difference.  I know that I will have the opportunity to change many lives, including my own.  I will need to be open to new experiences and different ways of doing things.  I think that if I stop comparing everything to how it’s done in America, I am going to have an amazing time here!