Saturday, June 26, 2010

Witch Hunt Update

A little update on what has been going on and some answers to questions about the whole ordeal!
The kids are back in school and the teacher who has been accused is on leave for an undetermined amount of time while a group from the ministry of education investigates the whole thing. The investigation involves a lot of interviews and meeting with everyone involved one-on-one. While the teacher is gone, we have divided up her classes (there will be no replacement teacher...) so I am now also teaching grade 7 math. A bit of a disaster this week as i tried to jump in on what they had been doing, but it's getting better now that I'm on the same page as the learners.
So in answer to some of your questions about the whole thing:
I honestly have no idea if what the kids were doing was a big act or not. I believe that they honestly believe what was happening to them was true, and I think that if they convinced themselves of it enough that it is probably real for them. That being said, the kids involved were some of the more dramatic learners, and while not kids I would necessarily expect this sort of thing from (Mclean was involved, for example) I can see them getting swept up in the excitement.
I am not afraid for my safety. While it's true that I am the only other non-Damara at the school, my relationship as an american is very different from the inter-ethnic relationships here. I do not think this sort of thing could be turned on me either, since no one would be able to explain where i learned African witchcraft.
This sort of thing has happened before, not at my school, but up north. It has not happened for several years however, and is by no means a common occurrence. We have been all over the Namibian news (TV, paper, radio) for weeks now.
I will let you know what the investigative team decides!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ch ch ch ch changes!

In addition to the witch hunt madness currently taking over Uis, there have been two other big changes in community life. The first is the start of the world cup. Soccer fever is rampant here, and everyone is soooo excited to have the world cup so close. Schools have been having jersey days, and a lot of conversation is about the games going on right now. It's really fun to have everyone so excited!
The other big change is the arrival of the World Teach summer volunteer in Uis. Her name is Jen and she will be around for two months. It's nice to have someone new to talk to and i feel like an expert when i get to answer questions about life and logistics here. It's a little annoying, though, that everyone keeps saying "now you have a friend!" which I understand is them expressing excitement but my reply of "I had friends before too!" just gets met with laughs (or in one case "no you didn't!"... great, thanks :) )Nonetheless, it is fun to have another white person in the location and another native english speaker too!
The last change is that my computer is temporarily out of commission. I just want to give you a heads up that blog posts may be more sporradic and it could take me a bit longer than usual to respond to emails. thankfully Jen has access to the computer lab at her school, so I should be able to use that (once the internet gets fixed) but I just wanted to give you a heads up!

The Witch Hunt

Last Friday, I walked out of the library at about 9 in the morning to go teach class and I could hear screaming. i went to the main courtyard and was surprised to see kids crying, screaming, writhing on the ground, and behaving erratically. There were also about 200 adults from town assisting the kids and herding most of them away from the courtyard over towards the soccer field. My first thought was that this was some sort of play, since everything was so dramatic. But i asked around and was told that demons had been in one of the classrooms and had attacked/infected several of the learners. The town had come out to pray over them, including 5 or so pastors who were performing exorcisms. I got to watch and take pictures for FOUR HOURs as the possessions and exorcisms continued, with one learner ending up being tied hand to feet because she was attacking a pastor. another learner clung desperately to my leg and clawed at my pants while mothers yelling "out! Out in the name of Jesus!" dragged her from the staffroom. needless to say, it was a very bizarre day.
The problems continued however, because my colleague (Jane Doe) was accused of being responsible for the whole thing. She had stayed home friday to get some paperwork done, and while she was absent some "possessed" learners (and, i think, some parents too) completely destroyed her classroom while looking for snakes.
This whole week, no learners have come to school. They say they are afraid, but mostly it is the parents protesting, saying the kids will not come back until the teacher is sent away from the school. There have been constant meetings of the school board, visits from the ministry inspector, parents meetings, a trial by the traditional leaders (led by the chief, who i have a newfound respect for since he has been so level-headed in the midst of hysteria). Yesterday the national news came to film a protest staged by the parents around the school.
The whole thing has been very interesting and frustrating. I'm trying not to get too involved, because this is something I don't feel i can address with the required cultural sensitivity. I will let you know what happens as further developments arise!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Esau… oh Esau. I honestly cannot believe I have not written about him yet. My friends here all know Esau’s name (and Mclean’s) because about 90% of the stories I have are about the two of them. Esau can (and frequently does) single-handedly make or break my day. It’s actually a joke with the rest of the 6th grade class because he so dominates the classroom atmosphere.
Esau is in his seat about 10% of the time. The other 90% is spent either wandering around, standing right next to me, sitting next to whichever girl he is currently ‘in love with’ (read- currently tormenting), sitting next to someone he is trying to copy off of, or just sitting next to someone he can distract. He is also constantly talking. Constantly.
Despite this, however, he can still be great to have in class. He is actually quite quick and bright, he always tries to give an answer, and I can count on him to volunteer for anything from writing something on the board to letting me push him (gently, of course) as a demonstration of a contact force. He can be very entertaining and can be a good student, at least on the days when he hasn’t decided to make my life a living hell.
Some days, Esau decides to pick a fight. “Now Tina,” you say, “you are much to intelligent to get into a petty fight with an 11-year-old.” And I used to think that you were right. But when you have a learner accuse you of helping another learner cheat on a test, or of giving him bad marks because you are attacking him personally… it’s a little more difficult to not get sucked in. And despite years of trialing and debate practice, logic doesn’t really work with him. It’s only so disruptive because he refuses to stop arguing, pouting, and putting up a fuss, and kicking him out of the classroom results in him standing at the windows yelling at me. Even on days he doesn’t pick fights, sometimes his classroom antics have everyone so distracted that class cannot continue.
This behavior might sound to you like something to be dealt with by, oh I don’t know, school administration or his parents. But you have to realize that while the situation may be worse with me because I’m an easy target (I get offended by accusations of dishonesty and don’t know the system…) he poses the same problems to his other teachers (including the principal) who have no idea what to do with him. He also lives with his ANCIENT grandmother, who very clearly (as observed from the numerous times she has been called to school) cannot do anything about how he is acting.
On days when I can stay in a good mood and remember to treat Esau as a co-conspirator, he is one of my favorite students. On a day when I am already frustrated, Esau is a master at finding and pushing my buttons. Either way, he is a dominating force in my days at school and those of everyone else he meets.

love it, hate it

1. Seeing “aha” moments in class. I love when a kid is staring at me blankly and then goes “oh! Miss this is so easy” and starts working furiously on a problem. Awesome.
2. Sitting in the library during an off period with Gideon and Dlameni who have wandered in since their teacher is absent today. I can’t keep from giggling as they ask question after question about the world cup, dinosaur sex, or gangsters in the United States.
3. Having a fourth grade boy I kind of know tell me I look beautiful as I go to class, despite the fact that I haven’t showered in two days because it’s so cold, my clothes are faded from hand washing, and I’m totally breaking out.
4. Sitting on my back porch with a cup of tea and a good book while the sun goes down, listening to the sounds of a soccer game from the field.

1. Blank stares as I cover the topic that inspired so many “aha” moments in class yesterday and realizing I have to talk about it again. For the 6th day in a row.
2. Having learners actually laugh at my visible frustration when they will not be quiet.
3. Having first graders bang on the door and spy through the holes in the paint on the windows to watch me eat an apple during break. It stopped being cute four months ago.
4. Walking into the staff room during break where everyone is talking in khoekhoe., having them tease me about how I should be able to speak it by now, and then go back to speaking khoekhoe. This is only so frustrating because it is what happens about 97% of the time, the other 3% is official meetings or responding to a direct question that I have asked.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


There has been an interesting cultural issue in my school lately so I thought I would try to share what I know.
Two weekends ago, I was talking with learners who first told me about a visit from a pastor at which four girls were apparently possessed. They were called up on stage, started behaving strangely, ranted, raved, spoke in tongues, and one attacked the pastor. When the pastor asked who sent them, one of the girls said that “Jane Doe had sent her to destroy his powers” (except Jane Doe is the name of my colleague, a fellow teacher at the school). You can imagine I was shocked, but given that these were kids, I decided to wait to see if anyone else said anything.
The following Monday, Jane Doe came up to me and asked to talk. She was incredibly upset and we spent an hour and a half after school with her telling me everything. Apparently, the version I had heard was 100% accurate. And parents were upset. This teacher had come to school and found salt along her windowsills and at the base of the door to her classroom (a supposed remedy against witch craft).
She also informed me of the struggle that she has had working at this school because of ethnic discrimination. She is the only non-damara (besides me) at the school. Several other teachers have been run off by certain members of the staff. Apparently the girl who said her name at the service was the daughter of one of the women who has been most difficult to her, and whether the mother put her up to it is still to be seen.

How to react to this is difficult. It’s not a situation I feel like I can be very culturally sensitive about (“this is ridiculous!” might escape) so I am trying to just be supportive and see what happens. Fortunately, the kids have been good about it. She spoke to two of the girls involved, and they claim to have been in a trance-like state (“everything was green where I was”) and have no memory of the incident. The kids know that she is not responsible, however, and have written letters of support and cards telling her how much they like her after seeing how upset she was. The teacher has gone to the town head man as well as her pastor, who are both going to try to address the problem.

Not a problem we would have to deal with at a school in the states! I will let you know what happens!


Today after school we started a week long after school conference about identifying and helping at risk and vulnerable children. Today included a sharing of some statistics I thought you might find interesting about Namibia:

-1/3 of grade 1 learners reach grade 12
-By 2020, there will be 250,000 orphans under the age of 15 in Namibia (consider also that the population is just over 2 million)
-35% of Namibians live on less that $1 per day (USD)
-50% of kids do not have basic material needs met (food, clothing, shelter)
-33% of rape victims (or victims of attempted rape) are under 18. 12% are under ten. (there is a belief that if you have sex with a virgin it cures HIV. Another variation is that sex with a baby will cure it)
-60 to 70% of children have been exposed to alcohol or drug abuse in their towns.
-20% of the population is HIV positive.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A run in Uis.

I’m tired. Even without having study after school today, three periods straight with the same grade (6th grade science, math, and religion) has left me exhausted, even after an afternoon siesta. Nonetheless, I’m determined to get back into shape, so I throw on my sneakers and head out the door for a run.
On the weekends I can go to the second soccer field in the mornings and run on the track that’s around it, but week days the field is occupied by a men’s soccer team (not my preferred spectators…) so I follow my usual route: a donkey cart path to the settlement. The ground is totally uneven, and the road is made of stones about the size of my fist, so I have to stare straight down to make sure I don’t sprain an ankle (and look for snakes, since I’m paranoid). As I weave my way through the now brown hills, I hear voices:
“Miss! Miss!” High pitched and squeaky from some very little kids at my school.
“Tiiina!” From a guy who sells gemstones outside the grocery store in town.
“Hey! You! Hey!” From the woman sitting outside her house, which is made of corrugated metal.

I give each of them a wave, and try to keep going.
I stop when I reach the goat path, which is currently occupied by about 75 goats being hearded back from a day grazing on the hills to a large fenced in area in the middle of the settlement (the settlement is about 10 minutes away from where I live and is where all the tin houses are). I sit and watch them as they comically hobble down, bleating and complaining, sounding frighteningly like my classes on the day of a quiz. It’s distracting, and relaxing to watch them parade by, but I can’t forget that here it’s winter and the shortest day of the year is approaching, so even though it’s 5:00, I only have about 20 minutes before the sun disappears behind Brandberg mountain. I turn to head home.
On the way back, I run into Matias, one of my grade 7 learners. He walks with me for a bit:
“Miss! Are you exercising?”
“Ha, I’m trying! But I’m tired today. Where are you going?”
“To watch the TV!”
“But shades of sin isn’t on for two more hours! Where will you watch it?”
“I know, but I can play the soccer first. I am going to my father’s house.”
“Ah ok. So do you think I can get to my house without walking?”
“Yes miss! Go!”
And spurred on by the knowledge that he’s watching, I make it home, thinking that a cold shower isn’t sounding quite so bad.