Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tsumeb reunion

This weekend we all met up in Tsumeb-- all of the current volunteers, Jocie, and a couple extenders-- for an informal mini reunion. The trip here was rather uneventful, I got a ride with a man working in Uis who told me all about his marital problems for the 3 hours we were together. He was actually quite nice and had pretty good English, so it was an enjoyable trip.
I was the first to arrive, after Jocie, so she and I got some time to chat, which was pleasant. Then I became the official greeting party because everyone got a very enthusiastic (and sincere!) hug when they came in. All but 4 people came Friday night (the other four camped in a national park and joined us Saturday) and we had a nice dinner at a local hotel.
Most of the weekend was spent just sitting around and chatting. Saturday we did a shopping trip to stock up on groceries and other necessities, we played cards and ate and drank. Some of us stayed up until 2:30 each night, but the weekly schedule has everyone so messed up that most people were up and around by 8:30 in the morning too.
It was really fun just to share stories and hear how everyone is doing. It’s amazing to me that most of us have very similar teaching experiences—the same frustrations with discipline, language, and motivation and the same love and passion for teaching and the kids themselves. It was comforting to share horror stories, ideas, and strategies. But at the same time everyone’s living situations are totally different. The people in the north could be in a completely different country, the cultures are so different. All of them live in villages of mud huts, they have taxis that go everywhere, they get lots of rain and are treated very differently by the people around them. Some volunteers have friends and socialize all the time, some are more like me and feel very isolated. One other vol and I spent a long time talking since he’s having very similar experiences to me- he’s in the same size town, has kids constantly at his door, but feels like the adults don’t really want to talk to him.
This morning was full of sad goodbyes and some fast food breakfast. People started trickling out in groups of 3 or 4 as early as 9AM and I will probably be the last to leave, since I’m sitting at the hostel waiting for the same man who drove me here to call and say it’s time to go. It was hard to say goodbye after a weekend of me constantly looking around in amazement at the realization of how much I really LIKE these people and how well they get me, but I’m feeling energized (mentally if not physically…) and the knowledge that with the independence holiday and easter coming up, I will see them again soon.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Athletics Part II

Thursday was our cluster athletics competition (cluster is a group of 4-6 schools nearby) to decide which athletes from each school would represent us at the regional level. It was pretty much a repeat of our inter-school althletic competition, except there were more kids, and it was a little better organized. There were running competitions, long jump, shot put, discus, javelin (although I never actually saw this…), and high jump. My job originally was to be the announcer, but the announcer has to know everything that’s happening and try to organize everyone—a job I was not cut out for given how much time I spent being confused about what was happening. I mostly just hung out, cheered, and watched different competitions until one teacher from another school started giving me a hard time for not helping, so I jumped in and helped measure long jump distances. It was at this point, that I got incredibly, painfully sunburned. At about 2 o’clock I started to feel miserable… I was sunburned, bored, confused about what was happening, dehydrated since someone had taken my water, and hungry. But I powered through and at 4 we went back to the school so that the teachers could all have dinner together, which was pleasant. Sorry the explanation is brief, but it was rather unenjoyable so I'm trying to just move on..
The highlight of the day for me was the arrival of one of the other schools. As everyone was milling about, disorganized, they pulled up in a giant pickup (imagine half pickup- half semi) with all of the kids in the back. Every child was wearing matching red uniforms and they were doing cheers, all in unison. It was incredibly intimidating. They then proceeded to win every single one of the long distance races (the first events). Hard core.
Right now, I am sitting in Tsumeb, where I get to see all of my friends. I will probably report more when the whole weekend is finished, but it is sooooo good to see everyone and really fun to all be together again.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Soccer Practice #2

After library, we found our deflated ball, which is now even more flat, and found about 6 girls for practice. We have not met since the first time because of all sorts of scheduling conflicts (choir, dance practice, library) but I decided today we would meet come hell or high water. Which meant we had a small team. The girls took some shots on goal for a while but after about.. oh… 7 minutes, we got kicked off the field by the high school boys team. Now when I say high school boys, you probably imagine some 15-year-olds with attitude issues. But here, high school “boys” range in age from 13 to 27, and these were definitely the older classes. So despite the fact that they called me “miss” and asked politely, I was intimidated off the field.
This gave me an excuse to ask the boys (the younger ones I said were really good..) if we could play with them, so we took over the netball court and practiced there. (The netball court is just a cement court with two poles at either end that have a hoop on top.) It was amusing. The girls spent at least 50% of the time whining, usually about being hit with the ball or not getting it enough. They would hide whenever the ball came at them if it was off the ground at all, much to the amusement of the boys. And the whole thing was sporadically interrupted by terrified screams when the plastic snake one of the boys was carrying made an appearance. Hand balls were a frequent occurrence, as were dramatic fallings to the ground—not out of faking pain at being fouled, just pouting about something or laughing too hard to play. All in all, it was a success, mostly because I got such a kick out of the whole experience.

School Day

Today was an unusual day at school. We are preparing for the athletics competition tomorrow, and apparently the man in charge dropped the ball a bit. This means that all day about 10 out of 12 teachers were at one of the two fields in town, half of them setting up for tomorrow and the other half making students practice and teaching technique. So most classes were left unattended, and all of them had students missing.
I started out trying to teach, taking advantage of the open classes to take small groups to the library to teach them how to use it. In math class since there were only 9 students, I taught them blackjack, which they loved. I made everyone who was present take their quiz and then we had some “mental math” competitions, which were scary because these kids couldn’t do 26-7 or 6x4 in their head.
After break I was asked to help on the practice field but proved inept enough that another teacher took over. I’m not inept because I don’t know how to have them run, but apparently ‘any way you think is good’ (which is what I was told) was, in fact, not correct. As a side note, I have decided the teacher who took over for me is going to be my friend. She is a temporary teacher (don’t ask questions, I have no idea why…) but she is young, friendly, and good with the kids.
I went back and spent the afternoon holding informal classes using math games, talking about places on a globe, and getting scorched standing in the middle of a field to watch long jump practice. Mostly, the day was complete chaos. It took a while to get over the fact that now, instead of just losing one day of classes I had prepared (tomorrow) I was losing two, but as soon as I accepted it, today became an opportunity to have fun and get to know some of my students better. And to make them do simple math. ☺

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Answers to some good questions

To answer your questions: the school environment kind of drives me nuts, especially if I'm already tired or frustrated. But i'm trying to learn to make it work for me, and it is a very good lesson on just letting things go. It's a reminder that about 95% of the stress i feel is stress i put on myself... There aren't too many exciting African games i have learned, besides a few hand clapping games and such. Mostly we play a lot of hangman, which I re-named "letter-letter-word" or "the dissappearing man" since I draw a stick figure and erase part of him for each wrong letter to make it a little less upsetting. I also do some lessons just pointing at things on the globe or answering questions about the U.S. I have tried unsuccessfully to teach them "heads-up-7up" which was definitely my favorite game in grade school, but so far it seems to be too confusing.

Just in case I forgot where I was…

Today after a long, stressful, and exhausting day of teaching I was watching an episode of arrested development to relax before heading back to school for “study”. I heard a noise coming from the back of the house, and at first dismissed it thinking it was probably the kittens who live nearby and occasionally dig through my trash. But as the noises got louder, I figured it might be a student being too shy to knock, so I went back to check it out. As I open the door, I see on my back porch (all within 5 feet of me…) four goats. Two of them had their front legs resting on the edge of the sink and were trying to eat my dirty dishes. I started laughing and shooed them all away. I decided this was a good reminder to do my dishes, so I washed them and the goats disappeared around the side of the house. When everything was clean I went back inside to watch my show, only to discover that they had moved to the front porch and two of them were now standing on the little ledge and staring in the windows. A little more shooing and I could watch the rest of the episode in peace. Too funny.
Not quite as exciting, but I also almost got run over by a donkey cart on the way to buy electricity. Donkey carts go much, much faster than I thought, and I still can’t believe that they don’t fall to pieces as these rickety looking things go tearing down bumpy, rocky roads at a breakneck pace.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

add one more to the list

Number 9. The red neck bug. Have started invading my home and the town, look like a cross between a beetle and a fly maybe? have a little red collar around their neck and are very good at playing dead if you brush them but don't kill them. Are super annoying for two reasons: 1. They are everywhere. 2. They sting. Last night apparently i sat on one and had painful blisters full of their poison/pus? on my leg. Awesome. And of course I felt ridiculous because it was basically my butt. I'm better now, don't worry, but it brought some amusement to my fellow volunteers once they realized I would be fine.

New Friends!

Yesterday’s trip to the store and the friendliness of the people has convinced me I need to make more of an effort to be social. Yesterday evening I went to the shop in the location and got a fanta pineapple (so delicious) and sat out in front of the store for a while. People would say hello, some chatted for a bit, some asked for money. It wasn’t too successful, but I felt good about trying and I am starting to recognize some faces.
Today after McLean showed up to help me clean at 8:30 I realized that I would probably go crazy if I spent another whole day in the house, so I set off back to town to go to the coffee shop. Today I actually walked most of the way there, and it was pleasant. It was hot and sunny, but the breeze was enough to make it tolerable. After about 3 miles, someone offered me a ride and this was my first introduction to Philip. He is a middle aged afrikaaner living in Uis and is super outgoing and friendly. We drove right by the coffee shop since it was closed and I decided a coke zero and a chocolate bar would suffice before walking back. I was sitting outside enjoying my treat when phillip came out and yelled, “I told my wife about you, she says you have to come to the house!” So I went and met his wife, their twin 15-year-old daughters and 19 year old son.
They told me to make myself at home and that was surprisingly easy to do. I spent 2 or 3 hours chatting with them about music, movies, life in Uis and in South Africa (where they’re from). We watched TV, played with their puppy, and I got a tour of the fruit trees grown in their garden. We had a long talk about racism, since apparently the older afrikaaners living in the town were scandalized when they befriended black people living in the town. The kids play with the black kids across the street and Philip and his wife are very obviously friends with everyone in town.
So anyway, after a few hours they drove me home, loaded down with homegrown mangoes, grapefruit, and lemons. I was so excited to have met someone but got mildly frustrated about the whole experience after talking to a co-teacher who made it clear that I was being judged for spending the day with a white family. I have a hard enough time showing I’m not racist here that this probably won’t help, and all I wanted to do was shout “these are the first people since I’ve been here who have asked me to spend time with them!” but I didn’t. Oh well, still totally worth a wonderful afternoon!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pictures of the library, before and after

The last two pictures are the "before" shots.

First Volunteer

I was asked in an email if I am the first volunteer in Uis, so I thought I would share that answer here. No, I am not the first volunteer in the town, but I am the first volunteer at this school. There have been other World Teach people at the high school and there are volunteers teaching there now from Uganda and in the past from Peace Corps. Being the first volunteer at Brandberg Primary may explain a lot of the challenges I have, since they don't know how little I know about the system here and we don't know what to expect from eachother. My field director said that it could provide some new challenges, but my job is to communicate clearly what I know, what I need help with, and what I need them to do for me so that future volunteers can avoid some of these problems.

Saturday Morning Trip

I woke up this morning at 7:30 without an alarm, despite having gone to bed at about 2:30, and myself reaqdy for a trip to the grocery store. My usual ride being unavailable, I prepared to walk the 5 miles to town, do some shopping, and walk back, thinking it could be my exercise for the day. Slathered in sunscreen and with my new sun hat, I set out.
I passed one of my grade 7 students sitting in front of her house drinking “sugar” or sugar water. People here put sugar in everything (and a lot of it!) so this didn’t surprise me too much, but given her face and what I know about her attitude, it might also be a local remedy for a hangover. I walked along and came across a group of little boys, some of whom I recognized from the school. They had car tires and were preparing to race them down a hill (kids here actually play that game with a bicycle wheel frame a and a stick where they run along side it and try to keep it rolling—I thought that was just in old movies). They stopped to watch me pass and say “good morning teacher, how are you?” just like they’ve been taught in class, and one of them ran over to grab my arm. A little while later I met a group of little girls who also greeted me and proceeded to walk behind me and talk about me. It was all in Khuekhue but I know the words “teacher” (yefrau) and America (Amerika) which, along with my name, were used frequently and accompanied by wild gestures that I can only guess at. I passed the local bar and even at 8:30 AM there were three or four men standing outside having a beer. I ended up walking alongside two high school girls living at the hostel and also headed to town so they talked to me. All of this was before I left the location (the part of town where I live, meaning I hadn’t even made it to the highway.)
It turns out I didn’t have to worry or prepare for walking because pretty quickly someone pulled over to give us a ride. This gives me an opportunity to talk about the main form of transport in this country: (hitch) hiking. Before you panic and get images of me climbing into a car with an axe murderer, there are a few things you need to understand about what makes hiking here a little different. First of all, there is a country-wide system in place. Generally, there are designated “hike points” where you wait for a ride to a specific place. It is also not free (although it is from the location to town). There are set prices to go to different places, which are slightly less than you would pay for a taxi and meant to cover gas and expenses for the driver and keep the riff raff out. Finally, you have to remember that although Namibia is a pretty big country area wise, there are only 2-3 million people living here and only 3,000 in my town. This means I’m never actually climbing into the car of a “stranger”. Everyone is my principals’ brother’s wife or the sister of a student at my school or the nephew of my neighbor, etc. even when I’m coming from a place as far away as Swakop.
I got to the store and was excited to get some sources of protein other than peanut butter and some fresh fruits and veggies. I bid farewell to the two high school girls and, determined to get at least some exercise, set out walking back. I’m starting to recognize people and in the stores those who know me greeted me, one man even ran out of the gas station just to holler good morning. I met Vicki, the owner of Vicki’s coffee shop, the only such place in town and talked to her and the man who works at the conservancy for a bit. I might head back tomorrow for a cup of good coffee or a milkshake.
Before long, a truck pulled over and I recognized one of the little girls from my school in the back, smiling and waving, so I hopped in. In the car, I got to talk to the owner of the shop in the location for a bit and was totally embarrassed when she remembered the exact day that we met two weeks ago and I couldn’t even remember her face, but I think I covered okay. They dropped me off and the last leg of my walk home a man helped me carry one of my bags and talked to me about moving to Uis to become a mechanic. He was very friendly and assured me that he likes it here, even though he moved to this town knowing no one. I got home just in time to scare off the scrawny little kittens who live in my back yard and are terrified of people (although last night one sat on my windowsill and watched me watch a movie for at least 20 minutes). Just thought I’d share what a “quick trip to the store” around here is like!

Friday, February 19, 2010

School Atmosphere

Since people keep reminding me that even the dullest day here is (apparently!) interesting to you, I thought I might take this opportunity to describe the atmosphere at the school. There’s no real coherent way to do this, but here are the main points
-During break, after school, and between classes kids are everywhere. They are shouting, talking, eating and everything you would expect of school children in the U.S. The big difference I have been able to see is the violence. Hitting, chasing with ropes and sticks, punching, tackling someone in the dust, putting something in a head lock are all things that at my elementary school would have gotten you sent to the principal’s office. Here, it’s a constant.
- The kids are little worker bees, and I don’t necessarily mean in class. They are sent to do errands all the time. The littler ones usually can be seen picking up trash in handfuls from around the school grounds to take to a trash can. The older boys are used for carrying stones, desks, chairs, trash to be burned, branches cut off a tree that’s being torn down, etc. And children of all ages are used to run errands for teachers—they buy snacks during break, make tea or juice in the staff room, carry books, deliver messages, sweep classrooms, anything. But this isn’t seen as a chore, or necessarily a privelege. It’s just assumed that they will complete the task and they do it without seeming to mind. My politeness when I ask a favor (can I look at your book? Will you show me where this is?) is lost on them, because they are expected to do things all the time.
- Copying a paragraph or summary off the board is a completely acceptable way to teach/learn. This might explain why some of my kids are so behind. In the younger classes singing a song over and over and over is how something is taught. I know this because the library is right next to the grade 1 classroom and I hear them sing the same song every single day at LEAST 10 times. I’ve learned it, so I’ll share:
I love mathamatics
And how about you?
I love doing adding
One plus one is two.
There are four more lines too, but they’re usually so jumbled I can’t tell what they’re saying.
-Classes are not all that important. Teachers have no problem walking into a class and asking me questions or for a favor in the middle of me teaching. It’s incredibly frustrating for me when someone wants me to fix the computer in the office and I have to explain why I need to wait 20 minutes to finish class. Similarly, they have no problem pulling kids out of my class to discussed the aforementioned chores expected of students. It also means that if a teacher is busy or forgets sometimes a class just isn’t taught and obviously if someone is sick there are no substitute teachers. This means a class full of students is expected to sit at their desks and make relatively little noise for a 40 minute period or however long it takes for their teacher to show up.

These are the biggest differences I’ve observed. They can sometimes be incredibly frustrating, but also great if I learn to take advantage. I can get lots of work done using students as helpers and take periods where they’re sitting quietly without a teacher as an opportunity to practice skills we don’t have time for in class or do some quality bonding with fun games. When it comes down to it though, being here makes me realize kids are kids the whole world round!

Night Terrors

So two nights ago, I woke up with my heart pounding at 2AM. I was positive I had heard a rustling noise coming from behind my head. My mouth dried out and I clutched my phone and flashlight, ready to call the police and run as I listened for the sound. I heard it again. Was it footsteps outside my window? Was someone trying to break in? I strained my ears and lay, almost holding my breath, for what seemed like forever until I heard it again. I realized it was not footsteps outside, but the rustling of a plastic bag on my floor. My relief that someone wasn’t trying to break in disappeared as soon as I realized this meant there was something IN my room making this noise. I’ve been keeping a plastic bag as a trashcan and realized something must be rustling that. I panicked anew. A mouse? A rat? A snake??? It took me a couple more minutes to work up the courage to turn on my flashlight and as I did I saw caught in the beam of light… a cockroach. It was digging around in my trash and as I shined the light it fell into the bag. Disgusting, but manageable. I climbed out from under my mosquito net, took the bag into the kitchen, went back to bed, and promptly fell asleep.
This prompts my top 8 list of least favorite bugs here (in no particular order):
1. Cockroaches
2. Mosquitoes
3. Flying ants
4. Wormy-millipede things
5. Wall spiders (harmless but terrifyingly fast)
6. These red beetles that make an awful buzzing noise as they flit around.
7. Grasshoppers (may seem counterintuitive but having one banging into your walls and ceiling while you’re trying to sleep is so annoying)
8. Uncle longlegs- related to the daddy longlegs, but has a smaller body and thinner legs, almost impossible to see until you touch it or it moves.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The outsider...

Today was an awful day but it inspired me to write a bit about the feeling of isolation here. Not to turn this into one of my international studies courses, but it’s something I have to deal with constantly so I figured I might as well share it.
In emails and on the blog I know I mention feeling lonely, but the causes for this are more complicated than they seem. Obviously, a huge factor is missing people from home. But I also feel very much like an outsider here, and, as my parents nicely put it, that’s because I am an outsider. This plays out in several different ways in my day-to-day life. First, there is the language barrier. Everyone here speaks English, but very few of them choose to do so. They’re very good about using English in staff meetings but otherwise as soon as I am not immediately involved in a conversation (which is most of the time) they switch.
Today a big thing I struggled with was dealing with the feeling of being taken advantage of. This obviously is something I have to worry about most frequently when I meet men here, because their intentions are very rarely anything other than trying to date me (still better than intentions in some of the other countries I have visited). This means that I must keep a distance from even curteous and friendly men, until I know for sure that that’s how they will stay. But it applies to women too, often because they assume I have money. I will make a new friend and feel excited until they ask for money. This happens quite often, and I’ve gotten very good at explaining that I’m just a poor volunteer… Today the problem was co-workers trying to get me to do their work for them. Two women, who have both spoken probably 3 words to me since I arrived, approached me for help today and I gladly said I would do what I could. My attitude changed, however, when I discovered “helping” meant writing essays for them. As in essays that they needed to write to be able to teach upper primary classes (something along the lines of 500 words on how to use a textbook to support teaching but not use it as a crutch). They did not want me to proof read or offer suggestions, they actually asked me to write the essays myself, and proceeded to argue with me when I said I didn’t think that was fair (which I think I said quite politely).
The last aspect of this whole outsider business that springs to mind applies to the kids, typically my biggest allies. There are times that I feel like they think I am a joke. They treat me differently from other teachers, and while this is to be expected, it often means they show me less respect, question me more (not ask questions, mind you, question me), and refuse to follow directions. This applies even more to some of the younger children who I don’t see in classes, and has gotten increasingly frustrating this week with opening the library.
I didn’t mean for this post to be quite so depressing (or long!) and I’m not trying to evoke pity or encouragement to stay strong, I just wanted to make sure I explained why the world teach warning that “loneliness is often the biggest problem faced by volunteers” is true, despite the fact that I am surrounded by people.

p.s. as a side note I was recently asked in an email if I want people to post comments on the blog so I thought I would share my answer here for everyone to see. You most certainly don’t have to, I understand the idea of internet posting shyness, but I encourage you to if you feel a strong response (I do check to see if people comment). More importantly I think most people reading this have been emailing me, which is also helpful because it lets me know what you find interesting, what I should explain and who you are! So I do ask just let me know if you’re reading in any way you would like!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

After school activities

I opened the library to students! Yesterday was the first day and upon entering students had to read the library rules and at check out I had to explain the process. I actually had about 10 students yesterday and 14 today who are all coming in and reading and taking books home, which is quite exciting. I still cringe a bit when they take books out and don’t put them back perfectly, but I’m sure I’ll get over that soon, I’m just used to having it just the way I like it ;)
After closing the library today I walked around the location a bit and watched some of my learners play soccer after they begged me to. I just thought I would share that these kids are really GOOD. Playing on dirt or concrete their whole lives makes them experts at trapping and controlling the ball. It was really impressive to watch, just thought I’d share for all the sports fans out there.
I also stole some of the furniture from my housemate’s old room for my room so things are just feeling more and more comfortable here. And I’m trying a new experiment inspired by “ice” that they sell here, basically like popsicles made in a plastic bag (too delicious) but mine are made with instant coffee and lots of sugar. Hopefully this can be a nice (cold!) reward for surviving the day and give me a jolt of caffeine before opening the library. I’m excited to see how this works out.
Sorry this post isn’t too interesting, it’s been quite a slow day around here, although we did talk about alcohol abuse in science today and that was really interesting since it is such a big social problem here. All of the kids have seen and dealt with drunks a lot, but don’t really understand alcohol’s effects, why people drink, and why its dangerous. Classes like that make me feel really valuable as a teacher, which is always nice ☺

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Hope I don’t need a Rabies Shot

So this was my first weekend back in Uis after spending the past two in Swakopmund. It was much, much slower around here. Saturday morning we had cleanup at the school at 7AM (lots of fun after staying up until 2:30 trying to send pictures on free internet…) which mostly involved hauling around rocks to fill up ditches where water flows when it rains. It was nice to do some physical labor, and the kids (and principal) really liked that I helped and got my hands dirty. I had one little girl who must have been 5 or 6 walk back and forth with me on each trip and skip next to me when she wasn’t carrying rocks. We smiled and encouraged eachother (without speaking- she doesn’t know English yet) and whenever she got too tired I would pretend to be exhausted and need a rest. Too cute.
After clean up there was a neat dance performance by some of the older girls and then the kindergarten (before pre-primary, mostly 2-4 year-olds) had their athletic competition. It involved mostly races like running, sack race, jump like a frog race and was perhaps the most adorable thing I have ever seen.
The afternoon was spent reading (with McLean) and taking a short trip (guided by McLean) to the china shop in town where Chinese people sell Chinese goods, which are all sorts of different things like clothes, blankets, jewelry, dishes, fake hair, etc. for super cheap. I got a nice sun hat and we picked up bread and milk across the street and headed home.
Sunday was also pretty uneventful, save for the parents meeting. It was three hours long and all in Khoekhoe… and I had to be there. So much fun. Fortunately, I got to play with the principal’s 18 month old daughter the whole time, and I think the fact that she liked me endeared me to the parents. Although she did bite me hard enough to break the skin, hence the title of this post. Adorable little brat. Apparently the first 20-30 minutes were talking about me and my housing situation. No idea what was said or decided but people were speaking quite passionately. I think they don’t like the idea of me living alone… but no one felt it necessary to ask me what I thought.
Before the meeting I cleaned the entire house, built a little table out of some shelves I found in the garage, and re-organize to adjust to living alone. The afternoon was spent lesson planning and cooking, which all made me feel quite domestic. Anyway, I hope everyone had a fabulous valentine’s day party! I was sad not to have my annual party complete with piñata, but had a nice Sunday nonetheless.


So I have decided to do some profiles of some of my students, so that stories I tell will make more sense. I can’t do all of them for several reasons. First, I have a lot of students. Second, I don’t know some of their names, and third I don’t know some of their personalities (you’d be surprised how often numbers 2 and 3 DON’T line up). Given that she factors in to my weekend pretty strongly, I thought I would start with McLean.
McLean is a girl in my 6th grade class and she is probably the smartest one there. She sits in the front row, has an answer for every single question I ask, and is incredibly curious- you cannot believe how many questions she has. I think she’s 11 years old and she can be quite bashful.
McLean has made it clear since I’ve been here that she does not really like her family. It started out more subtlely, but at this point she has outright told me. This means she doesn’t like being home so she spends a lot of time at my house. A LOT. This past weekend I came home to find her taking a nap on my back porch and she stays until at least 7 almost every night. I’ve told her this is fine, I want her to feel like my house is a safe place, as long as she doesn’t expect me to entertain her. This means whenever I read I do it outside and we read together, or she keeps me company while I grade, and we have a lot of conversations about race. I’ve gotten better about just shutting the door when I need some alone time and she knows she can stay if she wants. It can get exhausting, but it’s still nice to have someone around.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


So today right after the staff meeting I had to bring in two of my 6th grade boys to see the principal. I don’t actually know what they did wrong, but another teacher told them this had to happen today so we had our meeting. The whole experience was difficult because I felt like I was being blamed for not controlling them, even though I know the other teacher was trying to be helpful. The principal was questioning them and yelling at them and kept trying to explain to me that these boys were misbehaving because they lived with their grandmothers. After they got reamed out for a while, I got up enough guts to say I don’t think they’re bad boys (I really don’t) but one of them is the definition of ADHD- he literally cannot sit in one seat for an entire class, and he cannot focus on more than one question at a time. I explained that I think he just has too much energy and gets distracted so I want to try giving him something to do with his hands during class and see if that helps. The principal seemed to think this was an okay idea and today we tried it- I had him color in a checked pattern on a piece of paper- and I think it might work. The other boy, the principal thinks, just has a hard time reading and so as he gets confused he just stops trying and stops paying attention, I agreed and we’re going to meet for some reading practice after school from now on.
The whole experience was bizarre, though, because these are two of my favorite (shh… don’t tell) students and I know they are both very bright. They are some of the best at being engaged and responsive when they are focused. I know I probably give them too much free reign of the room, and that’s why we had to go see the principal today, but I really don’t like being called out on it by someone else and not just for the sake of my ego. I feel like I’m trying to understand these kids and why they’re all over the place, instead of forcing them to sit in their seats and copy from the board which, although they might be quiet and “disciplined”, doesn’t mean they’re actually learning anything.
I can’t decide if this experience has made me more or less inclined to go to the principal for help dealing with my 5th graders, either. I’ll have to see how next week goes since this past week to prove a point I kept about ¾ of the class after school in detention. Maybe they got the message…


During orientation we were given a session on “namlish” or Namibian English. The words are technically English but are used in very bizarre, amusing, or confusing ways (sometimes all three). So I figured I’d share some of the most common:
“borrow me a pen” – used to mean lend me a pen, I have taught my 6th graders that they won’t get anything from me unless they say lend or “can I please borrow”
“I am coming”—actually means “I will be right back”. Horribly confusing since someone will say “I am coming” as they leave the room.
“now”—means in at least 5 minutes, maybe just sometime, might not ever happen…
“now now” – in 5 minutes
“now now now” – right now.
“learn me how to tie my shoes” – just a bizarre confusion of when to use learn and when to use teach.
appel – actually just a pronunciation thing, this is how they say apple (look closely for the difference…)
“Must I give it to you?” – means “would you like this?” but it always makes me feel like I’m forcing something out of them…

And my favorite:
“what what” –used to mean etcetera or so on or stuff. As in “I’m going to the store to buy some milk and what what”

There are plenty more, mostly just a lot fewer pleases and thank yous than I’m used to, but that might just have to be my next project with them!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Breaking news!

Yesterday it rained in Uis. The night before was the first time I’ve even seen CLOUDS here and all afternoon it was off and on POURING. It was crazy. Surprisingly, didn’t cool things off to much, mostly just made today awful because it was humid in addition to a billion degrees. It looks like it’s threatening to rain again, I’m excited because it is so fun to sit on my back porch where there is a tin roof and listen to it fall.

A typical Day in Uis

5:54- Wake up, wash face, breakfast of cornflakes and coffee
6:45- arrive at the school. The school is made up of three long buildings running parallel to each other that contain 5 classrooms each. Running perpendicular to these is another building which has the office, store room, and the principal’s office. Behind that building are the bathrooms.
7:00-7:15 Daily staff meeting. Involves greeting everyone else, praying together/ reading from the bible, announcements from the principal and staff (Mondays and Fridays this is replaced by the all school meeting outside where students sing prayers, the national anthem, the bible is read, and announcements to students are made)
7:20-10:00 “morning” classes. I’m basically teaching a part-time load (1/2 to 2/3 as much as other teachers) so during off periods I either work on lesson planning in the staff room, work in the library, or read.
10:00-10:30 Break. We head to the staff room for tea time. Teachers contribute $50 Namibian monthly and get a tea bag or a cup of coffee each day with sugar (we make it ourselves). This is also when I eat my apple and 2.5 rusks. It is not my favorite time of day since 95% of the time the other teachers are speaking in other languages. I have a very hard time making small talk here that doesn’t feel like I’m just asking hundreds of questions and getting one-word answers, so I often just read or space out. Also, during this time the kids are wreaking havoc outside and women from the town come sell snacks in the school yard.
10:30-1:10 “afternoon” classes. Same as before break
1:10- 1:45 Depending on the day, detention.
1:45-2 lunch, typically a peanut butter sandwich and some guava yogurt with granola. Side note: guava yogurt with granola is God’s gift to man. Probably the third best food in the world (after chocolate and buffalo wings)
2-5:30 Various activities. Often working in the library for 1-2 hours, sometimes attending athletic practice, sometimes a short nap and reading, frequently lesson planning/preparation. Also the time when students come to visit.
5:30 Shower. By this time of day I am hot and the water is warm.
Sometime between 6:00 and 8:00- Dinner. Consists of rice, noodles, chicken, eggs, bread, cheese, tomatoes, cauliflower, peanut butter, or yogurt (usually some combination of them) depending on the day.
After dinner to 9:45: checking email, reading, cleaning, watching shows/movies.
Sometime between 9:15 and 10:15- Bed

And that’s my life! Today was my first day doing “study” after school (having kids come in for some more one-on-one attention or just extra practice) and that seemed to go well, so that might be happening more often. I was also asked to describe how things smell here, and my only answer is this: dusty. The classrooms smell overwhelmingly stale and dusty in the mornings before we open the windows and outside smells… dusty, except if you get within 20 feet of the kids bathroom, but that’s another story. More interesting might be the sounds. It may be because I’m so close to the school, but I can hear children shouting almost all day. Parents yell too and there is the infrequent sound of a car clattering by on the rocky road outside my house or music being blasted from a house somewhere nearby. It is incredibly noisy except during meal time (1:15 to 2:15ish) when it is dead quiet and after about 9 when things die down.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Weekend 3 since coming to Uis

I cheated and went back to Swakopmund this weekend, but it is totally fair because in addition to seeing Jena, the girl who lives there, another volunteer named Kristen and my field director and her husband all came. We had a lot of fun just talking, enjoyed leisurely meals and window shopping, and really enjoyed ourselves. We also got to meet a girl named Carrie who has been volunteering here for the past year and her now fiancé (we got the news at dinner) who is a really nice Namibian guy. I have no really good stories from this weekend, but spent the entire time feeling so happy I was just bubbly and Kristen, Jena and I all would spontaneously just get excited to be with eachother and exchanged a lot of hugs.
I also made a friend on the way home today. I met a girl who I think is 24 and is moving from Swakopmund back to Uis to live with her kids and grandparents. She just chatted away about all the drama in her life and made a list of all the things we can do together in Uis (go see the White Lady cave paintings, ride her grandparent’s donkey cart, see the town together) and I am very excited to know someone. The ride back was uneventful except as we stopped in Henties Bay, all sorts of people came out to stare at me sitting in the back of the truck with two other people (both black). The conversation had with our driver was translated for me and apparently went something like this:
Woman: do you realize there’s a white woman in the back?
Driver: Yes, I know!
Woman: And she’s sitting with two black people?
Driver: Yes!
Woman: Doesn’t she mind?
Driver: No, she’s actually quite nice!
I think this is hilarious. Makes me feel like I’m breaking down all sorts of walls and expectations here, who knew it was so easy ;)

Interhouse Athletic Competition

Friday was our interhouse competition which is basically like a field day- all of the students compete in races, long jump, shot put, and high jump and the top three in each category and age group go on to compete against other schools in a could weeks. As predicted, it was a bit chaotic. We split into the red and blue teams (go blue!) early in the morning and they did cheers to pump up and build team spirit. The most bizarre one for me to hear was:
Are we blue? Yes!
Are we blue? Yes!
Are they blue? No!
Are they blue? No!
Shoot the red team! Brrrrrr (making machine gun motions)
Shoot the red team! Brrrrrr

It was not expected, and most of the rest were in other languages so that’s the only one I really picked up…
The races were fun, everyone cheered and I wish I got a video of the pre-primary kids racing, it was adorable. We only got through races and the high jump, but the day was great (aside from being quite hot). Parents came to watch and cheer and sell treats like chips, sausages, and ice (like popcicles- served in a plastic baggie that you bite the corner off of, waaaaay more delicious than I expected). I spent the day playing photographer since I didn’t know enough to help organize and that was a lot of fun. I wish I could send more pictures, but they take forever to upload. All in all, a really fun day for everyone though!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quick trip to the store

So today after school and a small load of laundry I asked my roommate if she was going to town because I needed more bread. We set off on our quick trip and picked up another teacher on the way. The shopping itself took me all of 2 minutes and them at least 15 and as we headed back with a teenage boy and mother with a baby strapped on her back also piled into the car, our car died halfway between town and where we live. It turns out there was no gas and the car came to a shuddering halt. We let the two guests out and then sat… and sat.. and waited for someone to stop and help. Finally a truck from telecom, a big phone company here, pulled over and picked up my housemate and carted her off to get a gallon of gas. She returned 5 minutes later, filled up the tank, turned the key and…. Nothing. For the record, at this point I said, “I think it sounds like the battery is dead.” We pushed the car back down the slight incline towards town with me and the other teacher running behind, but the battery would not start so she pulled over into some shade on the side of the road where we waited some more. After a little while the principal happened to drive by and picked up the other teacher. I felt weird leaving my housemate alone since we were out for my shopping in the first place so I stayed behind. To wait. Eventually a mechanic showed up, fiddled with every single part of the engine, tied the car to his little car to tow it and declared “the battery is dead”. As we towed it back towards town, he was able to get it started and we returned home at about 4:15, two hours and forty-five minutes after we left. Quite the adventure.

And here are the other highlights from today:
I actually cried at school today. No one saw me but I discovered that despite my principal assuring me all the paperwork for me to get paid my meager stipend was complete on Monday, what she actually meant was it’s complete if I had sent in all the forms. I brought her the form she had given me, filled it out and handed it over to be faxed. She said, “great! This is all. I assume you already sent everything else to the regional office?” In my head I said, “Sent WHAT? WHERE is the regional office? HOW was I supposed to know to do this? WHY would you even think that I know what you’re talking about??” But out loud was just no. This combined with her not understanding why I wouldn’t want to wait the three months to get my paycheck from the automated system (despite my asking, “and how will I pay for food”) was what left me so frustrated I broke a little. After a call to Jocie, my field director, and a little more work I think I got it all sorted out but phew, it was a rough morning.
We got a visit from an organization called OYO today. They travel around 3 different regions in Namibia and teach about HIV and AIDS in schools through art, writing, and poetry and use what students produce to make a magazine that they pass out. The guys who taught were very nice and really enthusiastic and apparently come back once a month to talk about different topics (today’s topic was dating). Seems like a pretty cool organization.
My seventh graders got really into a textbook scavenger hunt I made to get them to learn about the different reference parts of a book, that was pretty cool.
And the big exciting news for today, I convinced my principal to give me the cupboard that is sitting in an unused classroom for the library. It is going to make SUCH a big difference organizationally, I can’t even believe it.
No classes tomorrow because we have our interhouse athletic competition, sounds like it could be fun but I have no doubt it will be an organizational nightmare. You can bet I’ll tell you how it goes!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

22 girls in flip flops and one flat soccer ball

So the title pretty much sums up our first practice today, although I should also mention the 30+ kids who were hanging out, trying to take the ball, and eventually were herded off to the sidelines. Oh and I think maybe one of the girls had ever touched a soccer ball before. It was an adventure and while I don’t think we’re going to be taking Namibia by storm, I think everyone had fun.

5 random things I think you should know

1. The kids here call me “miss”. Not Miss Tina, just Miss. And they say it constantly. And they use it in the third person when talking to me as in “Does Miss have a brother?” or “Is Miss tired?” It took me about a week to not ask “is who tired?”
2. Obama is everywhere here. People love him. In Windhoek, the cool boys/ men wore huge, baggy T-shirs with his face on it and at my school you can tell the wealth kids because they have Obama backpacks. You don’t see any Miley Cyrus paraphernalia here, it’s all Obama.
3. My housemate is moving to the hostel at the high school. I think it’s only mostly because I’m a terrible roommate ;) she will be a paid supervisor there and I’m only a little concerned about things getting lonelier.
4. Sorry for the teaser in the last post, here’s the story of the racial incident. When we were at dinner, the women we were with were, as you may have picked up, quite drunk. And loud. After about twenty minutes an older white woman (all the women we were with were either black or basters which is half white) came and said “could you please just be a little quieter.” After the initial shock, they freaked out and went into a long conversation about racism and how even though apartheid is over whites are still trying to keep them down. Not that I don’t think racism doesn’t still exist here, quite the contrary, it is present and a big problem. While this may have been partially racially motivated, I think she was perfectly reasonable to ask them to be quieter and the four of us who were sober enough were very uncomfortable with the situation.
5. A quick story about the house where I live. Apparently in 2007 a male student came to visit his teacher here and he must have come at night because the teacher’s boyfriend thought he was a robber and shot him. The young man took two bullets to the kidneys and died. The kids tell this story as a very sad one but think that the house is bad luck (it doesn’t stop them from playing here though…). We’ll see if this story freaks me out when I’m living alone.

That seems like such an awful note to end on! So here’s one last thing: I think I figured out why the kids follow me so much. The only two other Americans to ever visit were two guys about my age who came for 5 days and taught art and P.E. Apparently, they spent the entire time just playing with the kids, so I think there’s a combination of the expectation that I will play all the time and the thinking that Americans are just fun, friendly people. I’ll take it ☺

Monday, February 1, 2010

Galavanting in Swakupmund

Friday afternoon when the school’s competition ended, Jana and I went out with some of her colleagues. We went to a cute little bar for a round of beers… followed by another… and another… as Jana and I struggled to say that we hadn’t eaten all day and really needed dinner, but our wanting to eat was not us saying we weren’t having fun and wanted to leave. In fact, it was really fun. These women spoke fluent English and some were close to our age, others just acted like it. The conversation was full of teasing, gossip, whining, and some real discussions about culture and current events. It was refreshing. We did eventually convince everyone to go out for pizza and had a very awkward racial experience (maybe I’ll talk about that later) but overall the night was very fun.
Jana and I started our Saturday pretty early since she lives in a hostel with the girls (like a boarding school) and it is impossible to sleep past about 7:30 on weekends. We had a fabulous breakfast at a little café and did enough grocery and school supply shopping to last me for the month. We walked around town quite a bit and up and down the beach quite literally from one end of the town to the other. Swakup is adorable. Almost all of the buildings are very german looking (colorful cottages with wood accents) and the brick sidewalks make it feel like you could be in a little German town. This isn’t surprising because of its history and also because now it really is a tourist town geared mainly towards Germans. We had dinner at the lighthouse restaurant next to the ocean and got to watch the sun set over the sea- it was fabulous.
Sunday was another café breakfast and spending time at a little bookstore before waiting due to all sorts of miscommunications about my ride home. I finally got picked up though and after stopping to pick up seal meat to feed to his cows (apparently a common feed here??) my principal, the large woman, the 5 year old and I headed back through the desert. We did get to see herds of springbok and although I enjoyed the weekend immensely it was nice to get back to familiarity (and my students waving as I drove through town).

Only other news is that you are looking at (reading the post from?) the new girls soccer coach. First practice is Wednesday, you know I’ll keep you posted.

The drive to Swakupmund

Some of you might have known that this past weekend I was planning on going to Swakupmund, the closest town with another volunteer in it. After not being able to get in contact with her Thursday and knowing that I will probably be going next weekend since a bunch of vols from the north are trying to come down, I decided to just wait but asked one of my co-teachers how I would get there just for the sake of knowing. This co-teacher then came to me at around 11AM and said “you leave at 12!” so I got permission to skip out early on our goodbye party (which I found out later was also a welcome party for new teachers- i.e. me) and packed in about 10 minutes. Then it was a matter of piling into the cab of the pickup truck belonging to my neighbor the High School principal (the same knight in shining armor who broke me out of my room last week) next to an unfortunately large woman with her 5 year old daughter. Only unfortunately large because I had to sit in the middle and wrap my legs around the stick shift on a manual car, you can imagine my comfort.
The drive there was pretty uneventful. The first 2/3 of the journey is through desert and when I say desert, I mean desert. It is all sand and sun baked rocked, and some sparse grasses (which also look completely sun-baked but are apparently abundant enough to support a pretty big population of springbok and kudu). While driving though, after about an hour you look up and the atmosphere has completely, suddenly changed. The sky full of grey clouds and the air is perceptibly more moist, almost like a really light fog. If you look down there are the most bizarre plants- it’s pretty much still only sand but there are clumps that look like mounds over graves that are densely green. There are no green plants anywhere except on these bumps, it’s very weird.
We drove through Henties Bay, a cute small costal town and got onto the tar road to Swakupmund, so the last leg of the trip was much faster. It’s all along the coast too, which is gorgeous, desert straight to the sea, interrupted only by sporadic abandoned ships stranded during floods.
And then we arrived in Swakupmund. At this point, I still hadn’t been able to get in contact with Jana, but decided even if she wasn’t there I could get a spot at a hostel and enjoy the weekend. Still, I went to her hostel and some 6th grade girls said they knew her and could show us where she was. I showed up at her school’s all-day athletic competition just as it was wrapping up to discover she had also been trying to call and text me and was not at all upset to see me just show up. Phew.