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.