Thursday, April 29, 2010

Up North

I have spent the past few days visiting the North of Namibia. I jumped around spending each night with a different volunteer and the days were spent in some of the bigger towns or just hanging out at people’s sites to see what it was like. Instead of boring you with a “first I did this, then I went here” sort of post I thought I might just talk about what in the north was different for me so here we go.

Differences between what I’m used to and Northern Namibia
1. It’s a lot greener. Uis is semi-desert but the north is full of trees, grasses, and bushes. It’s not quite tropical or jungle-y but it’s definitely more of what I imagined when I thought about going to Africa. There are little ponds/puddles (called oshanas) all over too because there is more rainfall.
2. There are shabeens everywhere. Shabeens are little bars, usually one room cement spaces but they are all up and down the roads there. The best part is some of the fabulous names they have. Some of my favorites are: water melon is life, gangster’s paradise bar, enough bar, lucky special bar, and plan b bar.
3. A lot of the towns aren’t really towns or central communities, but rather just separations of the houses and businesses along the road. It’s more of a “from here to here along the highway is ongwadiva” which has made it difficult for some of the volunteers to get involved in their communities, but also means everything feels very connected and almost more like one big town.
4. There are taxis everywhere. That’s how we traveled all over. Coming from Uis which has no taxis it was a big change.
5. The people are different. There are different tribes up north, so the people tend to be darker skinned and speak a different language. This means I couldn’t greet people like I can in Uis. They seemed incredibly friendly to me and when I accidentally got dropped off in the wrong town I made a bunch of friends and had to take my picture with some of my new “sisters” before I was allowed to get in a cab to where I needed to be.
6. The big towns: I liked Oshikango a lot, it is a border town (on the border of Angola) and is about 1/3 Namibian, 1/3 Chinese and 1/3 Portuguese so it’s a pretty interesting mix. All the shops are china shops and Portuguese markets and it almost has an industrial feel (good Chinese food though!!). Ondangwa feels really big (long) and mostly had a lot of strip malls and that sort of thing. Oshikati I didn’t spend much time in, but it seemed like there were more markets but still lots of big stores. In case you haven't noticed, all of the towns start with 'o' (the small ones are ondangwa, ongwediva, onhanu...) it gets incredibly confusing for those of us who aren't used to it!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Future Travels

Hello! With my summer break about to start, I thought I would let you know what the travel plans are just because posts might be more sporadic (or more regular, who knows) and it might be trickier to get in contact with me.

April 23-26 or 28: up in Northern Namibia with some fellow vols
April 28-30: Windhoek
April 30-May 10: Capetown (my phone may not work, if you need to get a hold of me send an email, I will try to check it often)
May 10- 21: Traveling with my parents!! Yay.
May 21-25: Midservice in Windhoek
May 26: Back in Uis for the start of term 2

Hopefully I will keep you updated but just a bit of a warning!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kristen and Jena

I have also had a request for a profile of some of my fellow volunteers. Since Kristen and Jena are the ones I am closest to and the ones I see most often, I figured I could tell you a little about them. Also, the three of us are the babies of the group, we are the only ones who graduated from college in 2009 and we all live in the Erongo region.

Kristen is a sassypants. She always has a sarcastic comment ready and answers any question with plenty of attitude. That being said, she has a huge heart and is actually kind of a sappy sweetheart (shh.. don’t tell her I said that). She is from Virginia and studied social work, which is what she wants to do. She always lights up when she talks about social work and has great stories from some of the things she has already done. She is also obsessed with cats (her cat radar rivals my baby radar) and loves wine. She can be pretty shy, especially around big groups, and gets really intimidated by traveling here, but once she’s comfortable with you she chatters away (especially after a glass or two of that wine she loves…). I don’t really know what else to tell you except maybe to mention that I sms (text) her somewhere between 5 and 50 times every single day.

Jena is… well.. sweet. She is kind, caring, friendly and almost never cranky. She is basically just a nice person, which (along with the fact that her kids are devil children) means she has a lot of difficulties with discipline. She’s a little hippy-ish and spent a month after graduating from college working at a children’s home in Tanzania and then spent several months backpacking around southeast asia. She already has tons of friends all over Swakopmund. She is from New Orleans and her mom is an artist, which for some reason totally helps me understand why she is the way she is. Jena is a lot of fun because she’s always up for anything. Sorry if this makes her sound like one of those people who is so nice they are boring, because that is absolutely not true about Jena, but I don’t know how else to describe her!


I have had a few people ask me about the religious situation here in Namibia, so I thought I would do a quick post on what I have observed. According to the CIA world factbook, Namibia is 80 to 90% Christian (50% Lutheran at least) and the remaining 10 to 20% is indigenous beliefs. This means that Christianity is everywhere. People assume you are Christian (other volunteers struggle with this) and there is absolutely NO separation of church and state. Every meeting begins with a prayer, Mondays and Fridays there is a bible reading for the whole school and there is daily prayer/reflection for the staff (all of this is at a government school).
That being said, I (and several of the other vols, including the ones who came because they felt their Christian faith compelled them) find the religious beliefs here very frustrating. This stems mostly because the main belief and the passages that are always emphasized are about how God will give you what you ask for and god is always supporting you. For example, before exams started, the kids were told to pray that they do well and God will help them. Personally, I prefer to think that God will help give you the capacity to study, people to support you, and the desire to do well but that at least some effort is required on your part.
It is also a little frustrating because since everyone is Christian, no one questions their beliefs and most of my learners have thought very little about their faith. They have rote, memorized answers to any question about Jesus or God, but don’t even conceptualize what those answers mean. Part of what I have been trying to do with my grade 7 religion class (since they’re supposed to be studying Christianity) is have them actually critically think about and assess their faith. I think Christianity can be awesome, it has wonderful messages, and it can help to make these kids better people if they can use it as a tool, but right now that doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead, it is used as an excuse to be lazy and a reason to be prejudice against people who aren’t Christian.
The last thing that I will say is that the use of the bible during our Monday and Friday assemblies can be difficult too. Aside from just being told to ask God for anything they want, teachers have also used verses from the bible to justify or explain corporal punishment, which obviously I have a problem with. I let this motivate me to actually choose and read myself during the assemblies which fall on my “on duty” week, and I try to choose passages about caring for your neighbor, justice, love, etc.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Exams started this week so I thought I would give you a little breakdown of what that means for everyone involved:

For the learners: They take one exam every day from 8:30 to 10:00. This is extremely stressful for them, I had one girl actually start crying during the exam today and another who looked like she might. I actually like it because it is the best behaved I have ever seen them—they actually sit quietly and focus on a task for at least an hour. It’s baffling. It also means that they have an hour and a half of study before the exam, which is usually spent in quiet anxious reviewing, a half an hour after the exam for break, and then two hours of review before they go home. This last two hours is… less quiet.

For the teachers: This is also incredibly stressful, not because of the exams per se, but because we have to turn in all of our marks (grades) for the entire term. And we have to put them on these stupid, confusing forms, and there is a separate form for each learner for each class. Considering how many learners and classes we all have, it isn’t what I would call fun. Add to that proofreading, copying, and marking all the exams.

For me: I spend a lot of the time kind of confused because the idea that I have no idea what exams are like in Namibia is lost on the people who are supposed to help me. For example, it took me three days to figure out how much time learners got for each exam. There was a little extra confusion too because I was told that the exams for math and science that we are sent by the government would not actually be used for the marks on their grading sheets. This meant I had to write separate exams (two for math, one for science) and find time to administer them to grade 6. Writing the question papers took approximately 6 hours total, given I had to figure out what approximate length, question style, and material should be. I wrote them on time and lost a lot of my weekend, only to show up Monday morning and have the principal tell me we can just use the government exams. After reading the govt. exams over, however, and seeing how terribly confusing and beyond what my kids have learned they are, I showed her my exams and she was impressed enough to let me administer them too.
The most ridiculous part of this week has been marking for the whole term. I have been marking as I go, for the most part, but didn’t actually have a class list for grade 5 until about a week ago (so I couldn’t record their scores) and I discovered that grade 7 needed more marks, so I went back and graded some of the activities we had done. This would be fine except for all the empty spaces in my grade book. Some learners just don’t give me their work, some lost their books, and some never did it to begin with. I don’t really want to fail half of my students so I tried giving out slips of paper telling every student what they were missing. Didn’t work. Then (based on the success story of a fellow volunteer) I wrote all of the tasks we did this semester and under each one wrote the name of the learners who haven’t given it to me, and posted these lists outside the library. I had learners falling over eachother to turn things in. I have no idea why it worked, but I now have only 1 missing assignment for grade 6 and grade 7 got most of their stuff in too. Unfortunately, I think a lot of this was lost on my grade 5 (especially the boys) but they are the ones who didn’t do the work in the first place, so a zero might be an accurate reflection of the class for them.

Needless to say, this week is exhausting. I’m usually at the school, constantly busy from 6:45 until 5pm (minus the hour long lunch break). But it also means the term is almost over, and I am so excited for the holiday! I hope life is less stressful for all of you back home!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Holy Moses...

Alright! One of my assignments for my 5th graders was to write the story of Moses, which we spent three weeks learning about. Here are some of my favorite responses (don’t worry, this isn’t meant to scare you like the science test, I think these are amusing)

Once upon a time there was Moses, Pharoh and Israelites. God came to moses and he said “plz Moses lets this people go” and Moses said “I will try” and Moses go to Pharoh and said “let my people go” and Pharoh said “no” and Moses said “If you ton’t want blood water lets my people go” and Pharoh said “no” and than frogs came and Moses came to Pharoh and said “lets my people go” and Pharoh said “no” and then gnats came and Moses said “If you ton’t want this gnats let my people go” and Pharoh said “no” and than the flies came and Moses came to Pharoh and said “lets my people go” and Pharoh said “no” And boil came. And moses go to Pharoh and said “lets my people go” and Pharoh said “no” and than hail came. And Moses go to Pharoh and said “lets my people go” and Pharoh said “no” and than locusts came. And Moses said “lets my people go” and last thing he do is draw a cross on door and Pharoh said yes and they were live in deserts.
*Fabulous understading of the plagues, no? ☺

the Moses and vero and the and the Jises came and the and the Moses is sea nau vero (Moses say “now pharoh”) the moses is hello the piples and the vero and the vero is not hello the piples (hello=help) but the moses is hello the piples but the vero is not helb the piples but th emoses is help the piples… etc.

Moses want to take away the Israelites but pharoh does not want that Israelites will go and moses say let me take my people and pharoh say no and moses take them to the Deserts and Israelites was thirsty and God say to moses beat your stick on the mount sainai and water came down from mount sainai and moses go up to the mount sainai and Israelites think that moses die and Israelites was hungry and manna came down and they make a false idol.

Once upon time there was Moses and his Israelites. Moses cau (go) to the Pharoh and let my people sis (says) Moses and Pharoh sis no. I yil (will) mika blood in the rifah and the pharoh sis no and the moses and sed mebeh o doent Moses beb me.
*he had a good start… these things tend to make a lot more sense if you read them out loud, just fyi.

You’re welcome for actually typing these out ;) This will hopefully lead to a discussion of religion as I have witnessed it in Namibia, but for right now I have been grading, copying, writing, cleaning, teaching, and supervising library since 7am so I think I’m going to go watch a movie and let my poor brain recover…

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sunday in Uis

Yesterday I got up early (well early for a Sunday… around 7:30) and went with Peter, his friend MJ (who you will hear more about soon…), one of my learners named Diana and her two little sisters to the “white sand mountain.” A little background so that it makes sense: my town was founded here in the middle of nowhere because of a tin mine, which is no longer operating. Tin is found here on stones that are white speckled with a sparkling black (the tin) in a pattern that reminds me of mini shiny soccer balls. To get the tin then, there is a lot of white stone ground up and discarded. This white stone has formed a hill larger than any of the nearby natural hills and it lies about 3km away from where I live. So away we went, and we climbed (it was quite a hike) up the little mountain and were greeted at the top by breathtaking views.
To one side you could see the location and beyond that the lonely dirt road disappearing beyond the horizon between two lonely mountains. In the other direction was the town which is framed by Brandberg mountain, the highest peak in Namibia. Behind us was the abandoned mine with all sorts of weirdly shaped buildings. It was gorgeous.
Unfortunately, I was the only one who brought water, and I did not plan on supplying the whole party, so we straggled back to the house mostly out of thirst. (I don’t think I’ve ever thought that much about water before in my whole life!) Afterwards, I spent most of the afternoon at the school working on writing exams and getting paperwork together for the end of the term, and came home to watch Last of the Mohicans with MJ.
So my entire weekend (not exaggerating, they came and sat at the school while I worked) was spent with Peter, MJ, and Diana. Peter and Diana met Friday night and have been hopelessly and shamelessly smitten ever since. It got old very fast to be followed so constantly by middle school flirting. This left MJ and I some good bonding time, and fortunately he is an articulate and fun kid. Nonetheless, I am not too sorry that I FINALLY have a little alone time tonight!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A good Friday evening.

Yesterday was the last Friday of classes that we have before end of the term exams start (more on the exams to come soon, you can be sure) and it was one of those days that made me glad I have a month long break from teaching grade 7 art…
Fortunately, it was a nice evening. I came home and did some marking on my front porch and listened to music for a bit so that I could feel productive. Then a couple of my learners came over to talk and we picked the wild cucumber that is growing in my yard (not for eating, but apparently works for killing lice) and they laughed as I dissected it to see what was inside this prickly yellow fruit. Then a few of the boys that I am not furious at came over and we all talked and listened to music and watched the sky change colors as the sun went down. I cooked a nice dinner for myself while they entertained me, and it was a lot of fun.
Then I got a surprise visit when a friend from the post office (look who’s got connections!) hand delivered a package from home. I was so excited my hands were shaking as I opened hand-made valentines from my mock trial team. The kids kept laughing at me as I got increasingly more and more excited by the silly things that the team had put in the box, and I was giddy for the rest of the night ☺
After dinner, as the kids dispersed I got picked up by a new friend I met and we went into town for a couple of drinks. I had a lot of fun talking to this guy, heretoforwith to be referred to as Victor, because he works for the tourism board doing conservation work. He is very passionate about the environment, has traveled all over Africa doing work with Oxfam, Peace Corps, the US Embassy and various Ministries of the Namibian Government and he worked in Australia so his English is very good. He is the person who will be called if elephants invade any towns in the region, and he had great stories about being stuck on a boat in Botswana in a river full of hippos.
I came home early to watch Rocky III with Peter and then fell asleep quite happy about the day!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Oh the Irony

Today I was teaching my grade 7 religion class about hammurabi’s code (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). We talked about what it meant, what the Bible says on the subject and then they had to apply it to the death penalty. At the very end of class I was wrapping things up when there was a disturbance from the back of the room. I went over to find a boy on the floor and asked why the kid next to him hit him. The response was “he beat me first”. I FREAKED out. I literally yelled “aaaargh!!! This is exactly what I’m talking about!” I was so animated and so clearly flipping out that they all actually paid attention and listened to what I was saying. Mostly they thought it was funny, but man oh man I hope they got the point!

Easter Weekend!

Things I did for the first time this weekend:
1. Eat ostrich meat—tastes mostly like beef, but absolutely delicious!
2. Learn to drive a stick shift—I got to drive in circles on an empty soccer field, quite exciting
3. Have egg liqueur and ice cream for Easter breakfast (mmmmmm)
4. Climb dune 7, the highest of the sand dunes outside of Swakopmund. It was sad how difficult it was, but was a lot of fun and gorgeous to see, despite being covered in sand for the next two days!
5. Jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet. (!!!) Many of you know one of my biggest fears is heights, so this was quite an accomplishment (I think). I was terrified but after a beautiful 10 minute flight along the coast, I jumped (strapped to a professional) out of the plane. The first 5 seconds were absolutely awful, I was convinced I was going to die and had that awful sinking feeling in my stomach that you get on roller coasters for longer than I thought possible, but after that it was incredible. The chute opened right on cue, we did some turns in the air, and we landed without a glitch. It was a pretty amazing experience.

The weekend overall was incredible. It began with three friends (two vols and a girlfriend) coming and spending Thursday night at my house, which was wonderful, since they are two of my favorite people and I rarely get such unrestricted access to them. It was a fun night, mostly just full of chatting. We then drove down to Swakopmund to meet up with the rest of the group (we were ten in all) and spent the weekend walking on the beach, eating too much, talking, and doing the above activities. It was a ton of fun, as always, and we worked very well as a group, even with so many people. It just made it hard to come back!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A lesson in naïveté

Most of you know I’m still one of those people who is convinced that I can somehow help to save the world. My definition of what that means is clearly a lot more realistic than it once was, but nonetheless, it is an attitude that I have fought to maintain. It is a belief that has also gotten me called naïve more than once, and I don’t argue with my critics. I think even trusting that the world can be changed for the better, and thinking that people are, deep down, good and have the capacity to care for one another, is something that requires a bit of naivete, if only to prevent the cynicism that it is so easy to fall into.
Nonetheless, all of you know that four weeks ago I took in three boys to live in my house. The first night, I half expected to wake up and find my computer and any money I had gone. But, I took a risk and let them stay. They then turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me in Namibia. I came to trust and love them very much, and defended their character to the other teachers and miscellaneous adults who were concerned about them.
I think the fact that I got behind them so much and let myself care about them so wholeheartedly is what made today the hardest. It turns out that over the weekend, a teacher and the woman who owns the house saw someone inside and went to confront the person. The boys had taken a key from my kitchen drawer and snuck in after I left Thursday morning. They lied and told the owner that I had asked them to watch the house. Then, when I came home yesterday, they lied to me. They told me someone had tried to break in but had been scared off. They said the owners had come to get them and asked them to stay at the house. I was so freaked out I didn’t question the story and was glad that they were there last night.
Today, however, the boys were caught in their lies. It was my job to tell them how disappointed I am, how let down I feel and that they have to (once again) get out. I know all of this sounds a bit melodramatic, after all these are 15 year old boys lying about something that any kid might. But this has been very difficult for me. I think it’s the fact that the trust I had in the only people other than my learners that I really strongly care for, has been completely broken. I think it’s the fact that I’ve been made a fool out of, in front of the teachers who are all thinking (and some saying) “I told you so” and my world teach community, who were notified of the “break in” for safety reasons. Or it could just be that today was a pretty awful day even before I had to deal with all of this anyway.
It is, however, a good opportunity for me to reflect on that glimmering naivete that I try to maintain. Being optimisitic and hopeful is what I am really striving to be, but I still think you have to be at least a little naïve to not turn into a cyinc, especially living in a place like this where it would be so easy to blow off all of the poverty, lack of education, and health issues and just decide that they cannot be solved. Wish me luck in trying to balance these character traits, despite the little reminders that it’s too easy to get burned.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Natural Sciences Test

This is a sample of the test I gave on Wednesday and some of the answers. The number in parentheses at the end is how much each question is worth.
(First there was a matching section, not too interesting)
2. List three ways to purify water and explain two of them. (5)
-- The purify is a fung that are thai the of as whant the maibe runing and you come out from the howes then the sham of the chauts are shoting.
--dissolve, fillister, dican (she will actually get two points for this for “filtering” and “decanting”)
--you are have soil, water. You are having white thing that comes from trees purify a water
--decanting is when you pour a dirty water to the another container so then the dirt can be let behind. Distilling is when you boil dirty water and catch the steam. (don’t you love McLean?)

3. What colors are in white light? (3)
some sample colors: green, red, pink, yeliew, peple, palpl, clear, ret, geren, yelau

4. Give two advantages of solar energy. (2)
--Eive you cook dety watar. That is solar energy.
--solor is gut
--we must by with the Big Money so tha we must not by again (this is correct). We must ues for the light.
--it safe money
--The solar energy is give becaus you can not bahe egaim and agaim becaue she is good (again, correct)
--It is not dy bay gaen and gaen (see a trend?) it is shiny not. It is very expensive.
--if you but some thing in the sun if you but some thing in the put it will be boil.
--static electricity force (a common technique, just copy words from earlier in the test….)

5. What is recycling? Give two reasons to recycle. (4)
--recycling when you recycling something
--is when you do something again and again. It is cheap, to save oil. (I love Queen too…)
--If you put sand (soil, rooks) in the contoner an you put water and you puer it in an other container
--paper shiny
--ba cos we wot energy energy is good to pealpas.
--mater like pland and animals

6. What is a force? List one contact force and one non-contact force. (4)
-- one non contact force
--the force that let you pick up paper with a ruler
--you can be pull you can be push (two points!)
--a force is a pull or a push. Contact force: touch. Non-contact force: gravity and magnent (amazing!)
--it is static electricity. The force that let you to pick up a paper is called a contact. If you hold a ruler and you live it that is call a non-contact.
-- that is what you but in the little boll into the water then the little boll haves been gads into the water and then you maebe but in the bauts into the water then the water is bust in the bauts then one bust our egaim (this refers to an experiment we did, and might actually get her a point)
--a force is some thing that is map by a panis and a non-contact force is ome thing that is not map by a panis (she may be confusing our sex-ed chapter in here… no clue)

7. What is displacement? Why can’t you just use a ruler to measure the object’s size? (3)
-- electricity static
--is when you used the the sunlight
--displacement des tiat
--wen something or some one takes anergy from something is displacement
--is when you measure something like a object because sometimes if you measure it is small big and having circles (2 points!)
--when you put the ruler on top of the had the is displacement
--a ruler take our electricity

8. Explain how lightning works (5)
*here I wish I could show you the pictures. I explained lightning using “happy clouds” that had lots of electrons and “sad clouds” that didn’t have any. This image alone seems to have been understood better than just about anything else this lesson. Sadly, about half of them, when told they could draw a picture, drew a circuit instead. Here are some of the writing that accompanied the pictures:
--then is mean that is displacement
--when the clouds electrons have been taken by the one wich is on the top and other clouds don’t have then the lightning light and it hits the ground and all of them get back (five points!!)
--if the clout or the tree don’t have energy one time that the clouts de repaying that were the lightning hepens (actually will get some points! I explained taking electrons like taking money so “repaying” is a good word to see here)
--before: the calsa that is up is having all of the energy after: and that the lightning is deveing te energy to the callsa
--the ligh can haul hight if the electricity guts thaon the ligh is good four my ligh is alih whaks wits a electiuity went a ligh whats hab works willf the electiuiy
--lighting happens when the cloud on the top take all the static electricity to it self so lighting happens so that all the clouds must have the same amount of electrons (incredible!)

The last question was a chart they had to fill in. 2 learners actually did it correctly, so I think I will have to throw it out and maybe just make this an in-class project…
I hope you enjoyed seeing what I’m dealing with every day!! ;)