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!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm here!

So, I arrived in Windhoek last Wednesday, and have been incredibly busy since then.  The travel time was incredible to get here.  Besides the 2 flights to get to Philly, we took a 2hour bus ride at 3 in the morning to get to JFK.  We then sat at the airport for 5 hours until could even check in and  move past security.  That was followed by a 15 hour flight to Joberg, and then a 2 hour flight to Windhoek.  We immediately got in a bus and drove for an hour to Okahandja, where we will complete our 8 weeks of training.

So, it's been almost a week now.  We have learned many things.  Sessions usually last from 7:30 to 4:30.  We talk about how to emotionally survive without having a breakdown ( apparently after a time we will al start to go crazy and argue with cows and chat with goats).  We have more serious talks about how to be healthy, through making sure that our water is clean and that we eat more than meat and starch ( apparently that is a normal meal for Namibians. Veggies? What are those?).  This morning we started learning the local language for our site.  I will be attempting to learn Otjiherero, a major language here.  Despite this, we still don't know where we will be living for the next 2 years.  Kinda crazy.  I've been able to narrow it down s bit based on my language.  I do know for sure that I won't be in the south, along the Angolan border, or in Caprivi.  I may be somewhere in the Kalahari or west near the Skeleton Coast.  I'll tell you in a few weeks when they tell us.

Here are a few photos from our hike to Pride Rock (no, not from the Lion King!)

Peace and friendship,