Tuesday, March 30, 2010


28/30 The number of people who say hello as I walk by on my way to the store
14/15 The number of people under the age of 18 who yell “Miss” or “Jefrau” (pronounced yefro) as I walk by, only occasionally accompanied by other words
5/15 The number of adults who do the same
3/42 The number of learners in my 5th grade class it takes to get the whole class out of control
7/42 The number of kids I can count on 100% to cause problems in my grade 5 class every single period
2 to 23 The number of kids in the library on any given afternoon
2 to 15 The number of kids actually reading in the library on any given afternoon
5/5 The number of times I have enjoyed the rain here during the rainy season
0/5 The number of times I have enjoyed the humidity after the rain
99/100 The number of times the answer to the question “how are you?” posed to a Namibian is “Fine”.
8 to 30 The number of times a day I am greeted with “so” or “so, Miss” as a complete sentence, not followed by any other thought and not used as a conversation opener.
1 The number of new students in my grade 7 class as of last Thursday.
1 The number of new students it takes to send the entire grade 7 class into an uproar.
1 to 9 The number of notes I get to intercept every day in my classes.
98 The percentage of those notes that are love notes

Monday, March 29, 2010


Another one, just because I feel like I’ve been giving too many profiles of the boys.
Queen is one of my grade 6 learners (well, this queen, there is one in grade 5 too… I will save her for another day). She is one of those girls that I definitely wanted to be when I was younger; she is smart, pretty, fun, caring, and popular. She gets teased like everyone else (middle school is brutal) but is usually very happy. I met her mother who is a teacher in another town and seems very supportive. Queen currently lives with a grandmother or aunt, like many of my kids.
She had a really rough week about a month ago where something was very clearly wrong. She didn’t bring her books to class, never did her work, and would just stare at her desk or the wall all during class. It was terrifying to see, given how good of a student she usually is. I tried to talk to her about it, which just made her burst into tears that I could tell something was wrong, and so I backed up to just being supportive. Eventually she got better and things went back to normal, much to my relief, but it was scary for a while.
Usually she and mclean are the ones I can count on to shout out answers during class, and she can also be counted on to laugh when her fellow classmates are acting out in some amusing fashion. She has a fantastic smile that always feels incredibly sincere. She is one of the learners who balances out kids like Delvin, and makes teaching fun and feel worthwhile.


Time for another profile! Delvin is one of my 5th grade boys, and is very much one of the ones who makes teaching them absolutely awful sometimes. He is what we call “difficult” or “bad” or “obnoxious as all get out”. But he is also one of those boys who acts out to get attention. I can count on him to be talking, singing, drawing, fighting, throwing things, or any number of other disruptive behaviors any time I look over. He’s one of those problem kids because if I give in and yell at him, he gets the attention he wants, and if I ignore it he just misbehaves more. Sending him out of the class or to the principal does very little. Fun.
I know he just wants attention because of days like today, when he came to the library. He behaved perfectly and in fact spent the entire hour I was there talking to me. He would bring over books and point at pictures or ask questions about me and my life in the U.S. His English isn’t great and he has a tough time differentiating between the English and Afrikaans that he has learned, so a lot of sentences come out with incomprehensible grammar mixed with words I can’t understand, but somehow we manage. He walked me home and wants to come “donderstag” (Thursday, I think) to show me a rap his brother did. I’m thinking that if he and I become friends it might help his behavior in the classroom, since so far the only thing that has made any impact is me pulling him aside for a chat about his behavior (don’t get your hopes up, he got better for maybe one class). At least I have him to keep me on my toes and make sure teaching doesn’t get too easy or routine…

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Class Updates

I was asked for some updates on my classes so here you go!
Grade 7 arts continues to be student teaching although yesterday I talked to them about mythological creatures like centaurs and griffins and then I had them invent their own creature by mixing two animals and drawing it. They actually had a lot of fun with it, and some of the pictures were pretty incredible. There were a few less creative ones like a “half donkey-half horse” but some really fun ones like a “giraffe lady” who could tie her neck in a knot and a snake woman who had snakes for arms. I’m looking forward to marking those this weekend!
In grade 6 and 7 BIS we are still learning about encyclopedias and I have them doing a scavenger hunt where they have to find the answers to questions by figuring out which volume the answer is in. It took longer than expected because the copy machine broke so they had to copy all the questions from the board, but we got to start answering them this week and now that they get the idea, I think next week will go smoothly.
Grade 5 Religion has been a lot of fun the past couple of weeks. We’re still learning about judiasm and we have been doing the story of Moses. I tell the story and have volunteers come up and act it out while I talk, and they think it’s hilarious when I use learners like puppets. Last week we ended with the 7 plagues and they had to pick one to draw, which was pretty amusing. Next week we will be getting to the 10 commandments and I think I might have them make “false idols”. I use a lot of drawing and art with them because the English comprehension is so low, but they have been doing a good job following the stories.
Grade 6 natural science we are learning about electricity and static electricity. Everyone had fun rubbing rulers on their heads and using the charged rulers to pick up pieces of paper, and we learned about lightning with “happy charged clouds” and “sad clouds with no electrons” who fight to even things out. Grade 6 math is going alright, we’re working on strategies for addition right now, which they are pretty good at. We continue to do the multiplication flash cards, and it is helping some learners, but it’s still kind of lost on others.
Grade 7 Religion this week was pretty intense. We were talking about Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees and then comparing it to modern day refugees and talking about those situations around the world. It was kind of scary how little they knew, and the discussion turned into their first exposure ever to WWII and the holocaust. It was scary to me that they hadn’t heard about it, but they could tell from my demeanor how important this was to me, and actually paid a lot of attention and asked good questions. We might talk more about it next term when we learn about Judiasm.
So that’s where we’re at! This coming week is another short week, we have good Friday off and I have friends coming Thursday night who will then go with me down to Swakopmund for the long weekend. I’m already excited, but enjoying having a much slower weekend to relax!

Site Visit

This week was my site visit from Jocie, my field director. She has to go watch every volunteer teach and speak with their principal, just to see how things are going and to help come up with ideas for improvement. I was the last volunteer for her to come visit, and was only nervous because she told me all about how amazing the other volunteers are in the classroom.
Jocie arrived Thursday afternoon and we had a good time chatting. She taught me how to make home made macaroni and cheese, which was incredible. She’s always a lot of fun to have around, and we had a good time cooking and eating.
Friday morning she came and saw part of my math class and part of my natural science class (she planned to see the whole thing but got an emergency call from another volunteer part way through and had to handle that situation). My grade 6 learners were really well behaved, so that helped a lot! We then came back to my house for break time and talked about my teaching and what my principal had to say about me. Apparently the principal is pleased with my work and happy I’m at the school (my parents would say I shouldn’t be surprised but she does seem to get annoyed with all my questions a lot). She actually made a comment about how my I am good at keeping my classes disciplined and keeping the other teachers in line. No idea what that refers to, but Jocie and I thought it was amusing.
We mostly agreed that from here on out I need to work on establishing more routines in the classroom, especially with grade 5, because I think that will help with discipline. I also want to continue to work on classroom management, although my grade 5 classes have gotten a lot better over the past few weeks. A lot of this I might focus on more for the second term, however, because apparently exams start soon! No idea when, which is typical, but apparently they are a lot sooner than I expected.

Friday, March 26, 2010


The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.
- Flannery O'Connor

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won't understand
Don't accept that what's happening
Is just a case of others' suffering
Or you'll find that you're joining in
The turning away
-Pink Floyd

When twilight drops her curtain down and pins it with a star,
remember that you have a friend though she may wander far.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Goodbye to the my little family…

Today I finally talked to my principal about the “lost boys” (as my parents have taken to calling them) and the result was exactly what I expected—I didn’t get in trouble and neither did they, but now that she knows (and I know that she knows) they have to go. The boys are currently seeing if they can beg their way back into the hostel, and seeing their bags packed in their room makes me sad every time I walk by. I guess it will be nice to have privacy (and food!) again, but it is going to be awfully quiet without them around. So, a little too late, here is the promised profile of my boys:
Chester is 16 and LOVES to talk. He hardly ever stops, unless another adult shows up for some reason (at which point he gets super shy and says nothing until they leave). He is a jokester and hangs out around the house the most. He is always dressed immaculately and is definitely a leader. He is an orphan since his mother died two years ago, but he has an older sister who helps pay school fees and such. He loves to talk and McLean loves to ask questions, so the two of them get along really well and have become like brother and sister. He teases her and she pesters him while they sit on my back porch, I love eavesdropping and the sound of them laughing always makes me smile.
Martin is a year younger than the other two. He is the most childlike, not because he is the smallest, but because he attached himself to me very early on in the kind of way you might expect from a younger boy. He is quiet, but not timid. He has no problem waltzing into my room to ask to borrow something or just say hi. He gives off a vibe of just being very considerate, and the girls love him.
Pietrus (I call him peter because it takes a lot less effort) is the most quiet of the group. He is a little more serious, and spends more time doing work than the others. His big distinguishing feature in my eyes is how attached he is to his family. He brought his sister to meet me the second day he came here and they spend a lot of time together. He tells me all about his mother (and apparently has told her all about me!). He is currently OBSESSED with the song “Just be your tear” by Tim McGraw, which he discovered on my computer. Seriously, I have heard the song probably 60 times in the past week. It’s a bizarre contrast to the hip-hop and rap that they usually choose…
I feel like this explanation is completely inadequate. How can I describe the way Martin hangs around near me just in case I want to chat? Or the sneaky smile that Chester has when he’s trying to get me riled up about something? Does it make sense to say he’s winking with his whole face? Sorry if I’m getting over-sentimental, but I’m going to miss the sound of them whispering at night when they’ve gone to bed and the way they always make me an extra plate of food when they cook. It will be so weird to watch a movie uninterrupted (or alone) and to not have their friends dropping by. I hope they come to visit a lot…

Independence in Windhoek

This past Sunday was independence day for Namibia and they celebrated the 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, and to enjoy the three day weekend, I met up with 6 of my friends in the capital, and it was a weekend of surprises. I suppose I’ll go in chronological order and try to keep it brief!
My first hike was wonderful because there was a baby in the truck with me. She spent the first 20 minutes giggling as I made faces and the next hour asleep in my arms. I was in heaven, as you can imagine. The next hike was less ideal, as I had to listen to a drunk man debate two high school boys about some of the stupidest things possible. The fact that I was sitting sideways and the smell of the man next to me’s feet, combined to make me carsick, which didn’t help. Fortunately one of the boys must have said something to the driver because after an hour he pulled over and yelled “teacher come sit here” so I got to ride up front, and he was very pleasant, telling me all about being born again and his job delivering papers.
I was the first to arrive, so I got to spend some time by myself with Jocie and Moses (my field director and her husband) which is a rare treat. I went to their house and had his infamous spinach salad for dinner and we just drank wine and chatted, which was awesome. She is currently in the middle of site visits, so I got updates on all of my friends too! I went back to the hostel to wait for the others and Kristen arrived just as I got there. We sat at the bar and waited for the rest and caught up. A brief aside- we stayed at a place called the cardboard box, which is a hopping place to be if you are a tourist. It was packed with college age people enjoying themselves, and sketchy Namibians trying to pick them up (our friend Phizel was there and we teased him endlessly about trying to find a white girlfriend). It was weird to hear so many American accents and to see so many white faces! Everyone slowly trickled in and after catching up (and meeting an obnoxious peace corps vol who rubbed all of us the wrong way) we made our way to bed.
Saturday we started with some shopping, for those of us who need to stock up before returning to the bush. We wandered around town for a bit and had a delicious lunch at our favorite cafĂ©. At around two we were at a bit of a loss for what to do, since everything closes at 1 on Saturdays, but we knew we wanted to just sit and talk more than anything, so we went to Moses’ uncle’s bar in Katatura. We spent the afternoon like most Namibians and started drinking early. We played pool and enjoyed the jukebox, made friends and shocked the people passing by who did not expect to see so many white people in the middle of shantytown… It was a lot of fun, and a very chill way to spend the day. We stopped off for dinner at an Indian restaurant (Kristen and Wes had been dreaming about it for weeks) and went to bed pretty early.
Sunday was independence day. We knew we wanted to see Moses perform, but thought we had a few hours (he was supposed to play in the evening) so we enjoyed a liesurely lunch and walk around town. Kristen, Jena and I broke off into our clique for a few hours to chat and have coffee and then we met up with everyone else at the celebration. There are two stadiums right next to one another and it was set up so that one had a concert with rotating performers and the other had a soccer match (Namibia vs. Botswana). We watched the second half of the game, enjoyed some music, and danced (which meant people for thirty foot radius around us were watching). Unfortunately, my friend Ashley’s purse was stolen by a group of kids, though. She got it back later but her camera and debit card were missing, which put a damper on the evening. We enjoyed some fireworks and Gal Level’s performance (the big name singers, also personal friends of ours, we’re so cool) and made our way out. Sadly, we missed Moses since he got bumped to an earlier time and was done before we even got there, but we enjoyed the other artists.
We met up with Jocie, Moses, and Tangeni at the hostel where we stayed during orientation. Sundays they have a braai so we enjoyed some food and hung out until Lenga (our Afrikaans teacher) showed up to take us out. We piled into a kombi that he had flagged down, and sang the Namibian national anthem (and the star spangled banner, just for kicks) all the way to a surprise destination, which turned out to be a different bar in katatura. We were a little hesitant but met his friends who were kind, fun and surprisingly non-sketchy people. We got to watch lenga rock out to some Britney spears (and other things, he is an amazing dancer) and eventually progressed to a dance club, along with our newfound entourage. We danced until the wee hours of the morning and all had an incredible time (I played matchmaker all night too, which was quite entertaining).
Sunday everyone made their way home. My trip was less than ideal, but this post is already quite long, and it’s not a good story, so I will just end here and wish you all a happy Namibian independence!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More more questions!

This time I'll let you figure out the questions for yourself :)
Porridge is more the consistency of mashed potatoes than what you are probably picturing. Even a little thicker. You make a little ball and eat it with your hands. It is not as delicious as mashed potatoes, but always comes with something to dip it in so that the flavor is overwhelmed by something delicious. Also, I do my laundry by hand. I have a big sink out back that I can use, which is nice, and a clothesline too. It is considered highly inappropriate to hang your underwear outside, but this got really frustrating because a. it doesn’t dry inside, and b. I only have a place to hang one thing in my room so I would have to wash every day. I now hide my undergarments inside of shirts and pants outside, and so far no one can tell! Sneaky!
I am slowly getting more adult friends. I have one woman in town who had me over for lunch and I have gotten to know one of the other teachers better, which is really nice. She offered to take me for a braai at brandberg mountain with the high school principal, which sounds incredible. Mostly I am starting to recognize faces better and pretty much everyone in the location knows me by now, so I’m trying to expand the brief conversations I have with everyone. It’s going slowly, but I can really see progress now.
I’m going to do a post about the “lost boys” soon so that you know more about their personalities. For now their future is unsure, we have been holding off talking to the principal until after this long weekend. They are still here and now it feels totally natural to have them around, it feels a lot more like a home with them here. And I found out today that behind my back they refer to me as their “mother”. Mostly joking, of course, but it is a little maternal the way I have to wake them up in the morning, go with them grocery shopping, remind them to brush their teeth (Peter has been having toothaches lately), scold them about washing dishes or leaving lights on, and asking about their day when they get home from school.
As for the whistle/mace I feel very safe in Uis. I don’t go out much at night, and never alone, but even so I wouldn’t be too worried. Windhoek is a little more dangerous but some other members of my group have mace and we are always careful to travel in groups and try to keep a low-er profile.
We did the electric slide without music (just me counting) but I’m hopefully going to get the “cha cha slide” from my field director soon, which has the instructions in the music (so it’s a listening activity too!)
Soccer has been… sporadic. I haven’t seen the girls since netball started but supposedly that will be winding down soon, we’ll see. The boys still practice every day but I honestly have not had the energy to go out there for too long, although I do go watch sometimes.
As to why my friends liked Uis so much… I honestly think they like my house (it is quite nice... well relatively) and just the home-y feel. They liked that I know everyone around, and the house was bustling with all the kids here. But it’s also a quiet little town and, aside from the heat, was a nice way for them to just relax and have an excuse to do nothing (there is nothing to do!) And of course it’s always just nice to see eachother, the three of us really really like one another.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Miss, It’s time for eating!

So I know I have posted a lot in recent days, but I wanted to give you a little insight into a few sporadic moments from my day today. If you are pressed for time, just check out the last one ☺
Moment 1: Talking about recycling in my natural sciences class. First period of the day, most of my learners are still half asleep. I look at them and ask, “so why should you care? Why do we recycle?” (which is one of the things they need to learn) after a blank moment… I shout “alright, you don’t care right now but I’m gonna make you care!” and actually get a few laughs. This is a joke they would not have gotten a month ago.
Moment 2: Reading in the back of a classroom during my free period. I hear a little “tap tap” and look over to see my favorite small child (a little 2nd grade boy… we barely talk but he is always within a 5 foot radius of me. Never actually interacting… just always close) waving through a window less than a foot from my face while he’s supposed to be in class. I should not have encouraged this behavior, but I couldn’t help but laugh.
Moment 3: Teaching grade 5 the electric slide for the last 15 minutes of art class today. It completely failed… they didn’t learn much and of course it’s grade 5 so it was a discipline nightmare, but their exclamations of , “Miss can dance!” were too funny and they loved the idea of line dancing. I didn’t mention they would fit right in at any wedding back in the states.
Moment 4: Sitting in the library today with some grade 3 learner I kind of know (as much as we can know each other without speaking the same language). He is leaning on the opposite side of the table from me showing me pictures in a book and pretending to read. Has the biggest grin on his face and is missing his front two teeth.
Moment 5: At about 6:30 I was checking my email, trying to perk up a bit since today was very long and I was feeling burnt out and a bit depressed (I used up all my happy at school). I was typing when suddenly the boys come in and tell me, “miss it’s time for eating”. I shut the computer and they put it away and bring out a plate of porridge and a plate of chicken. We prayed and washed our hands in a little bucket of soapy water, then shared a traditional communal meal and talked about the day and the food they eat at home. It was exactly what I needed to cheer up and was just too adorable. I cannot believe how attached I have gotten to these boys…

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A wonderful weekend

This weekend was exactly what I needed after this week. Friday night, I showed the boys the movie Gladiator… they missed a lot of the plot but absolutely loved it anyway. I woke up Saturday morning at 8AM to the sound of furniture being moved. I crawled out of bed and splashed some water on my face, I couldn’t let these boys clean my house without helping. After an hour it was sparkling. Literally… they cleaned every surface possible and I used a couple drops of shampoo to mop the floors in an effort to cancel out the smell of boy.
Kristen and Jena arrived at around 3 on Saturday and they loved my house. We spent the rest of the night talking, making pizzas (amazingly enough to share with the four boys and McLean), baking chocolate chip cookies, drinking wine (none for the kids!), and listening to music. It was a wonderful combination of getting to talk just the three of us and the party-like feeling of eight people crowded into one room singing along with music. We walked McLean home and stopped on the way back to lay on the netball court and admire the stars. We can see the Milky Way and more stars than I ever knew existed, it was awe-inspiring. We even saw five shooting stars over the course of the night! We fell into bed around midnight, all very content after a wonderful afternoon/evening.
This morning we were woken up at 7:30 (groan…) but enjoyed some real coffee (well… folgers instant, still better than the daily grind) and breakfast on the front porch. I showed the girls the library and we went to the china shop. We stopped for a cool drink at the shop, as a side note I feel better knowing they think it is insanely hot here too, and I found them a ride home for later in the day. After lunch and a little more chatting, the girls left.
But the house was far from quiet. One of the boy’s sisters and her friend came over to teach me how to make porridge. There were also two girls watching a movie with them and three of my learners on the back porch. I actually had 11 kids at my house. They have slowly trickled away and now I’m procrastinating from lesson planning, enjoying the sound of Chester and McLean talking on my back porch. It’s amazing how attached I have gotten to these boys in a short time… even if they did put sparkly stickers all over my fridge.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A quick, cute story

Yesterday in BIS I was trying to teach my grade 6 learners about encyclopedias and how to use them. I figured I would just show them that they can be fun by having them just look through to find something they think is interesting. A lot of the students were enjoying themselves, and really having fun paging through their books. But one student, Elrico, was unimpressed. He was leaning back in his chair, not even looking at the book and doing the minimum amount of work possible. Elrico is by far the coolest kid in grade 6 so of course at least two of the other boys were following suit and not participating.
I went over and picked up the book, convinced I could show him encyclopedias can be fun (wow… I’m a nerd). He had the “I” volume so I paged through to a picture of an iguana and read that they can get up to 6.5 feet long. I showed him the picture and showed him how big 6.5 feet is. He FREAKED OUT. He didn’t believe me and called all the other boys over to tell them. He was showing them the picture and the distance that I had shown him. I kept going and leafed through to “insects” and found a picture of a wasp laying its eggs inside of a living tarantula. I explained that the eggs hatch and devour the spider alive from the inside out. Once again, quite a reaction. Needless to say, I think I proved my point that encyclopedias can be interesting ☺

New questions

Here are some questions I got from my wonderful father: I (as a humble blog reader), would like to get a little better feeling about who your 5th grade class is, vs your 7th grade class. What do they do or say that is challenging or characteristic (this class compared to that one), or are they fairly willing or passive students? Are you doing better with one age or study group vs the other? Since you don't beat them, how is discipline going as compared to your other teachers? It is interesting that you like your problem students more. Why is that?
And the answers (as best I can convey them):
My 5th grade class is the biggest. They speak the least English and are by far the worst behaved. There are some kids who quite literally act out just to get me riled up (they like to push my buttons). I have to dumb down the lessons a lot because of the English comprehension factor, and the class is never quiet. Generally they stress me out the most, but there are a few students I really like and connect with.
Grade 6 is the one you have heard the most about because they are the ones I see the most. They are the smallest and best behaved and have the kids that I know the best. I know each of their names and personalities, and even a bit about most of their lives. Recently they have been frustrating me a lot for some reason, which is a new development, but that might be more a reflection of my state of mind than their behavior.
Grade 7 is basically in between. Most of them are well behaved and pay attention most of the time but there is a small fraction that don’t. They are also the easiest to reason with since their English is the best and they are the oldest, so a chat about respect that I had with them actually went a long way. Sometimes the class is dominated by Matias, a boy who is… very involved. He has about 100 questions and loves to talk, which can be very helpful in moving the class along as long as he’s on topic… but I can tell you more about him later.
The question of whether they are willing or passive is interesting. I have been talking a lot with one friend about motivation and our conversations tell me this will not be easy to summarize but here goes: the kids here are willing to do a lot—they will run any errand, clean the classroom, write 14 pages… as long as it requires little mental effort or creativity. As soon as I ask them to figure something out for themselves (things I know they can do- I’m not a monsrer) even the best students will start to pout. It is very frustrating, but that’s what they have been brought up to expect from school.
And now for the discipline issue. It has been difficult not beating my students. Ha well that came out wrong, but I mean they do try to see what they can get away with knowing I won’t hit them. And a lot of the time when someone misbehaves the other students say, “Miss just beat him”. I learned from a return volunteer the good response of “he needs to learn to behave without being beaten” which they seem to understand but it is still difficult. I was talking to my friend Kristen about how difficult it is because we both came in thinking we could eradicate corporal punishment at our schools but that will be very hard to do if we, as the only teachers who don’t beat students, have discipline problems. It has been difficult too because I feel like I don’t have backup in my principal or the other teachers because if I try to get help, they will just beat the students for me. It has been difficult, but I’m hoping the idea of using respect and responsive punishments will just take time to get through to them. We’ll see.
Lastly, I have no idea why I like my problem students the best. It may be because they tend to be the most animated and frequently the most talkative (usually the problem). Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. I honestly don’t know.

Friday, March 12, 2010

New Roommates

Yesterday (Thursday) on my way to the library, I was approached by two boys from the high school asking if they could rent the extra house in my room. I talked a little bit with them and told them honestly that I have no idea whose house it is or who they need to talk to if the want to rent it, but suggested they ask the principal at my school. She wasn’t there so I agreed to meet them at 4 when the library closed to introduce them. At 4 she still wasn’t there so I said they would just have to wait until tomorrow and they smiled and nodded and went off to find a place to stay for the night.
I expected not to see them again until Friday so you can imagine my surprise when I went to investigate a noise outside and found them (plus one other boy) lurking sheepishly in my back yard. This was at around 7:20, just as the earliest signs of evening are starting. They told me that no one else would take them in and asked if they could stay just for the night. Here’s the problem: I had learned from another teacher at my school that the kids needed a place because they got kicked out of the hostel, so I was a little nervous. I confronted them about it and they told me the story. Apparently they got caught jumping over the fence around the hostel… which they were doing to go to class… because the man with the key locked the gate early… I’m not entirely sure if this is accurate, but I kind of believe it because it’s quite possible the head of the hostel wants to make an example of some “misbehavers” to help with discipline. We were told to be very strict and harsh our first week of school as teachers for the same reason. I didn’t feel unsafe around these boys, but I was a bit nervous I might wake up with my laptop gone… nonetheless I couldn’t let them sleep outside knowing I have a free room so in they came.
My fears were somewhat assuaged when one of them brought me the ring I left in the bathroom after my shower and said “miss you left this!” frantically. I slept restlessly but the night went without a hitch, except I had to get up at 4 to wake one of them up for a track meet. Today we played cards, talked, listened to music, and I showed them the movie gladiator on my laptop. They missed a lot of the political plot but when I asked (after 2 hours…) if they wanted me to pause it so they could take a break, they literally yelled “no! No!”
I like them a lot, and trust them a lot more now. It is a little weird though because they are used to being told what to do and having to report their actions. So they tell me where they are going and what they are doing constantly. And they went to bed on their own promptly at 8:30, washed their uniforms, and do their dishes after eating. Actually, they gave me a hard time about how clean the house is (“miss, if we are staying here we really must sweep tomorrow”). I will tell you more about their personalities later, but for now this post is quite long enough!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


So here’s my drama for today: I am still sick, which means I am exhausted. Unfortunately, it has been affecting my teaching but some classes (grade 7) have been very understanding and have even been better behaved than usual. In addition, two of the five teachers for upper primary are gone to a two-day conference. This means I no longer have free periods because I have to babysit/teach whichever class is unattended. Also add to this the stress of government inspectors coming to the school today. I actually left classes with two periods left in the day because I had finished all of my scheduled classes for the day and was no longer effective in any capacity. I said I had a fever and went home to sleep, which, to be honest was absolutely necessary. I woke up feeling somewhat refreshed and went to library where I had a great success (just to give you one happy thing for today;) ). I have been struggling with younger kids wanting to use the library but they don’t know how to put the books back and don’t speak enough English for me to teach them. I am currently mobilizing “library helpers” to teach the younger grades, but they are a week or two from being ready. Today my brilliant idea was just to select a bunch of books at their level (or with fun pictures in them) and put them in a box with the instruction that those are the only books they can use. This plan led to about 20 five to eight-year-olds sprawled on the floor with books—awesome.
But the day doesn’t end there. I have no water. I thought this was because of the water shortage in the location (a pump at the water plant broke) and didn’t question things, I just haven’t showered for two days and was prepared to buy bottled water. But today during my nap, two notes of “disconnections due to overdue accounts” were slipped under my door showing a balance of $27,500 for water and $800 for sewage from whoever lived here before me. Fabulous. I have the principal working on it now and I got enough to drink for today and tomorrow from another teacher but I certainly hope it gets fixed in time for me to shower tonight… the heat, dust, and being sick all combine to make a pleasantly filthy Tina. Sorry if this post sounds incredibly whiney, but this is just how today has gone. Also see the previous post for an in depth investigation into why I might be feeling a bit negative…

Culture Shock

Before I went to Honduras when I was 17 I had class after class about culture shock from the organization I went with. I was again barraged with information about this cultural adjustment cycle when I studied abroad (both from Macalester and my program in the D.R.) and I have read about it in International Studies classes. So it was no new material for me when we had a session on cultural adjustment cycles during orientation for living in Namibia. But for those of you have not been exposed to this lovely cycle, here is a brief run down:
Initial Enthusiasm: everything is new and still relatively exciting and confusing.
Initial Culture Shock: Frustration with the new culture and system, rejection of things as “stupid” or not as good as they might be in home culture. Accompanied by homesickness, sadness, anger, and feelings of disconnection, which all may or may not have actual causes.
Initial Adjustment: Recognizing what you know and don’t know, ability to build on skills and understanding of culture that have already been learned. More comfort.
Further Culture Shock- more of the same but to a lesser degree
Further Adjustment: full adaptation to living in a new culture. Develop routines and habits that fit within the system, comfortable in the new location.

When I was in the D.R. I very clearly remember one day which was exactly two weeks into my study abroad. I had to turn in something for a class, but it had to be in a specific notebook which I could only buy in one place which was closed. I finally found someone who would let me make a photocopy only to go to the photocopy place and find that they only had odd sized paper. It was about 4 hours of terrible frustrations with a stupid system and even after it was finished I still felt depressed. I felt homesick in a way I had never felt, despite having lived away from my parents for three years prior to the experience. It was a textbook culture shock day.
This is the point I’m going through here now. Some of you may be saying, “but up till now it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies! You tell us about feeling bad and frustrations all the time!” And this is definitely true. But the first period tends to be filled with a feeling of just struggling to stay afloat when everything is new. Now that I am settling in, things are more commonplace and a lot of the initial rush is gone. Unfortunately first year teachers also have a very similar cycle, so my field director was not at all surprised when Monday I asked her, “why am I even here? I’m wasting my time with these kids who don’t understand me and I could be home with people who actually care about me.” My friends here weren’t shocked either. Some even agreed with how I felt. And I do still feel that way. Not all the time, but enough that this week has been stressful (not to mention the water and illness situation… stay tuned). Knowing that this is normal helps. Having people here who feel the same helps. Knowing that my friends are coming on Friday really really helps. Getting to watch National Geographic on my computer when I’m sick helps. ;)
This post is not me wanting pity, encouragement, or even understanding. I just wanted to talk a bit about culture shock and explain why some of my posts this week might seem a bit angsty. Are there any questions about what we just discussed, class? ;)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Four (very) short things

1. Today my students made fun of me for sounding like a man (since I’m sick…)
2. I have come to realize that 90% of my favorite students are boys and of those boys 90% are the troublemakers. That seems backwards to me.
3. I did not think it was possible but the “rainy season” means it is even hotter here. Ew.
4. I should have studied psychology more before coming here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An update on classes

In science we spent the last week talking about decanting, filtering, and distilling and soluble and insoluble materials. It was a lot of fun because this was the first time we got to do actual experiments—I brought in empty peanut butter jars and they had to guess what would happen when we mixed water with salt, rice, oil, and a pepto bismol. I also made a funnel out of the top of a coke bottle and we got to filter some dirty water. They got really into it and had a lot of fun guessing what would happen with the different materials.
Dealing with grade 5 is, overall, getting easier (I think). It is still exhausting, and they are terrible but in art last week we did different rhythms and at least 2/3 of the kids got it/ wrote their own/ seemed to enjoy it. I also gave them a word search that I made for BIS on Wednesday and I don’t think I have ever seen them so quiet or focused in my entire life. If only they had been learning something…
Math continues to be a lot slower than I expect, but they seem to be getting the use of flash cards (at least some of them) and I think they’re starting to understand approximation. I’m eager to get to comparing (greater than/less than) because I have more fun games and ideas, but I have to remember to go at a pace they can handle.
Grade 7 has been doing their “student teaching” in art, although classes last week were disrupted for the athletics day and this week they had another visit from OYO so we’re a bit behind schedule. On the plus side, meeting with the “student teachers” each week has been helping me learn their names and get to know them all a bit better.
Also the library (not a class, but still) is going really well. I continue to have a lot of kids showing up and have been teaching the older ones how to treat books and how to figure out where they go. I wrote a letter to an organization asking for some more non-fiction so keep your fingers crossed that we get a donation soon! Also the overdue/late fees seem to be adding up quickly so hopefully i will be able to get some cassette players for all of the tapes we have. I also hope to get some pillows or chairs, since right now the kids all have to lay on the floor.
Anyway, that’s how things are progressing! Please let me know if you have questions or if there is anything more you want to hear about! I love hearing from all of you and it seems each week I find out I have a new reader!

Lunch in the location

Hello! To those of you who check this site twice daily looking for an update, sorry it has been a few days. To those of you saying, “Phew… thank goodness she’s not bombarding us with posts constantly”—you’re welcome and sorry for starting up again ;)
Today I had lunch with a friend of mine in the location (yay friends!). She is a mother of a 1st grader at my school who I met at the parents meeting and have seen several times since then, and who has been promising to get together since then. So today she sent her niece to pick me up and walk me to her house for lunch. Lunch was delicious; it was my first time having goat, which is a lot like beef except a bit tougher. That combined with rice and a tomato and pea salad filled me up on delicious home-cooked food.
But the most enjoyable part of the day was just being in the house. Inecia (the woman) is incredibly outgoing and definitely likes to be in charge. She has four jobs… the ones I can remember are as a counselor, a member of the Uis city counsel, and owner of the Sundowner (the only “club” in the location). You can tell that she is someone who knows everyone, and it’s very easy to feel comfortable around her. She also has a very friendly husband who made me feel like I’d been dropping by for lunch for years. There are also four kids in the house: the niece who is probably 15, the first grade boy, and twin three-year-old boys who are “naughty, naughty” but pretty hilarirous. The family plus the constant flow of people dropping by made the house bustling and full and a lot of fun. We had lunch, watched some history channel special, and she showed me pictures. Unfortunately I’m feeling sick today so I had to leave a bit early to go lay down, but I left loaded down with raisins from Henties bay and promises to visit soon.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tina shoots and…

So last week I was told that I had been appointed as a netball coach for the girls. I quickly pointed out that I have never seen, much less played netball, and while I would be willing to try, I’m sure there is someone more qualified. As my principal looked at me like I was trying to worm my way out of it, I threw in that I’ve been working with the girls soccer team and so she made me soccer coach instead, alongside the two male teachers at my school.
Today I showed up to practice as the first and only female soccer coach that Brandberg Primary has ever seen. The man who was coaching (surprisingly not one of the teachers appointed, I’m still confused) seemed to have things under control so I told him to let me know if I could help and mostly sat off to the side and watched and cheered (good practice learning the boys’ names!). At the end I played ball girl for a bit while they were doing shots on goal—we have a SUPER good goalie named Dlamini who is a lot of fun to watch.
Then they called me up to shoot (“jefrau, jefrau di le jefrau!”). Now, I played soccer for… oh… 11 years when I was younger, but haven’t touched a ball since high school. I have enough trouble keeping these boys respecting me without making a fool out of myself in front of them, so I tried to politely decline. They would not take no for an answer so I stepped up… shot… and had possibly the most beautiful score of the day. Their reaction was hilarious. Cheering, laughing, it was so loud, mostly just exclamations of “you can kick the ball!” So in addition to inadvertently breaking down racial barriers, apparently I’m having an impact on gender norms too, and without even trying ☺
Oh also, I played in bare feet, since I came straight from buying bread and was wearing my flip flops and all the kids go barefoot. It was so painful. Running on hot sand full of rocks and broken glass… interestingly enough my feet felt the same way they feel when I wear my black high heeled boots for more than two hours… maybe when I get back I’ll be able to walk in them better!

Affirmative Action

I found a book/report in the library about affirmative action in Namibia and decided to page through it. Part of it I think is really interesting, so I’m going to share here. For those of you who don’t know (and I don’t expect anyone to…) Namibia gained independence on March 21, 1990 and this represented the end of apartheid. At this point, since it was popular internationally and they were restructuring the country anyway, the government decided to implement affirmative action. The laws were convoluted and had lots of back doors but were unique because they identified which groups needed to be represented, specifically black men and all women.
The thing that I found interesting was that obviously these laws meant that new people had to be hired. But the government had already promised civil servants that they would not lose their jobs, basically assuring the white male civil servants that racism would not be turned around against them under the new black leadership. So the only positions to be filled were the creation of new positions and those left vacant by retirement. The immediate response was to have the number of civil servant posts jump from 50, 000 to 77,000 between 1990 and 1992. This was, however, financially unstable and that soon became apparent. They started implementing large scaling back, and obviously affirmative action became something that was debated and improved upon over the coming years (the book was not specific about the response to the scaling back), I just think it is interesting how much race plays a part, specifically fighting for rights based on race without acknowledging that if both sides do so the solutions are impractical. That wasn’t as eloquent as I would have liked, but hopefully you get the point.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


The level of attainment of the kids countrywide in Namibia is horrifying. To give you some idea, in order to progress to the next grade, students must attain a C in math and English and a D in every other subject. This is even scarier when you see the grading scale:
A 80%+
B 65-79%
C 45-64%
D 30-44%
E 0-29%
And kids are constantly being held back. Most of my grade 7 boys are 2-4 years older than the girls in their class because they have repeated several grades. I’ve been led to expect this level of grading, but it was still difficult to mark exams for a class that I thought understood and find that the class average was a 43%.
The low standards are frequently blamed on teachers, and, in my limited experience, this seems to make sense. Teachers are frequently absent, and I have already discussed the lack of importance placed on class time. It is still acceptable for a teacher to write a “summary” of the material on the board and have the class copy it as their learning. Other vols have seen this frequently, and teachers usually even leave the classroom after they write something on the board. Furthermore, many of the teachers have low levels of English themselves and I often help other teachers understand the math, English, or science that they are teaching. To be fair, not all of the teachers are bad. I have seen several enthusiastic and smart teachers, but if the kids are missing the basic stepping stones, it is almost impossible to proceed. I’ve already briefly touched on the difficulties of teaching rounding and approximation when kids can’t add or multiply, much less teaching science in a language that they can’t understand well enough.
The government’s response to this is to lay out exactly what teachers need to do. The preparation for classes must be written daily and there are very explicit marks that teachers must meet. Today I went to a “workshop” for upper primary math teachers to talk about assessment, grading, schemes of work (calendars) and much, much more. Mostly, we had to go over all of the paperwork; paperwork that is the product of trying to force teachers to work. All this really ends up doing, however, is adding more confusion and a lot of extra work to already exhausted teachers. It’s a really interesting struggle between the ministry of education trying to motivate teachers who are…. Well, frequently lazy and undereducated. And the result that we see is just a ton of paperwork.
The workshop itself was just a man who attended a conference explaining to four of us (subject heads from the cluster schools and me) the updates to the math syllabus and continuous assessment forms. I won’t try to explain any of it here except to say that they are unnecessarily complicated and horribly confusing, even to teachers who have been doing this for 30 years. I enjoyed spending some time with colleagues, though, and got a nice lunch, even though it meant missing yet another day of classes (I left work for them to do in my absence, we’ll see how that goes…).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Feeding program

Today, as the teacher “on duty” I got to supervise the school’s feeding program since the women who usually do it were not here. As far as I can gather, this is a government sponsored feeding program for children who have been identified as needy. There is a HUGE cauldron of porridge cooked up and at break time they all come and get their plates and get served a substantial portion of it. It is served with big metal cups that look like measuring cups (the kind that measure 2 cups at a time and have a little pour spout) and there were three grade 7 boys helping me.
The kids receiving the food show no embarrassment about needing it, which is fantastic. And they reported back to me later that it was delicious, so that’s a good sign too. It seems now the only problem is that students lose their plates or bowls and then go hungry, so buying some cheap plastic plates in bulk might be my breakdown for donations to the school (I’ve been trying to avoid buying things/ giving money so people don’t expect anything). Overall, it was pretty cool to see, since I have definitely read about programs like this before.


I’ve been asked to keep up the profiles so here’s another! Immanuel is also in my grade 6 class and he is (shhh… don’t tell) absolutely one of my favorites. I think he’s older—maybe 13 and he’s tall and skinny. He is super shy and usually pretty quiet, but can also surprise me and be a total goofball. He has this ridiculous walk that he does when he’s proud of himself (if he’s turning in a test or worksheet) that I swear came straight out of a bad 70s movie.
He takes a lot longer than most of the students to do his work, and is frequently the last to finish, but I’m doing everything to encourage that because I know if he takes his time he is incredibly intelligent, he just makes mistakes if he rushes. He also surprises me sometimes because if I interrupt them to explain something that everyone is struggling with, I will be convinced he is working and not listening, but when I go over to check on him, it’s clear he has heard and absorbed every word. Lately he has gotten really into some of the Berenstein bears books, and gets super enthusiastic about them.
My second week at school in natural sciences they were told to make a pie chart of people they can go to if they have a problem or need help. They had to make one at school which had at least one teacher and one friend, and one for the community which had at least one family member and one friend. As I was trying to explain it to him I said, “ok now think about a teacher that you feel like you could talk to if you need help.” He unabashedly and matter-of-factly replied, “well that would be you miss,” completely unaware how much this warmed my heart. I tried to keep from smiling too big as I said, “okay then that’s what you write here” and left him to continue.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The ride home

Heading back from Tsumeb was a bit more exciting than the way out had been. For one thing, I waited not knowing when my ride was going to come. At 3 I was starting to get nervous, at 4 I was panicking (not helped by the trippy movie I was watching) and at 5 I headed to the kombie stop to find a ride. At this point it was also pouring rain, so I arrived soaked to be yelled at by very aggressive drivers trying to convince me to take their ride only to have the guy I was waiting for call as soon as I found a suitable bus.
He picked me up and I was drenched, but it was nice to see a familiar face and know I had reliable transport all the way home. I got more nervous, however, when I found out someone had seen him driving me into town and told his wife, who had thrown a fit and ransacked his truck looking for evidence of an affair. I felt pretty guilty and it was clear that this was a fight that had gone on all weekend, but he still showed up to take me home. Whoopsie.
The ride back was mostly uneventful, full of nice conversation and I felt surprisingly comfortable with my new friend and we talked openly. The one interruption to the calm came when we almost hit a kudu that ran out into the road… which was terrifying but made me happy that I was with such a good driver. I also got to see bats, birds, springbok, dik diks, bunnies, and a porcupine on the way back, which was pretty sweet.
I made it home fairly late so I’m exhausted today, but it was nice to be back and the kids loved being at the library (their enthusiasm makes me feel so great!), now I just have to catch up on all the work I skipped this weekend!

p.s. another fun moment (not to complain, I just want to make sure you know how life is here…) on the way back from the store, I had a woman call me a liar repeatedly when I told her I couldn’t loan her two dollars. To be fair, it was a lie, I COULD give her money, but I chose not to since a. she is a stranger and b. I don’t lend money. Lots of fun.