Monday, November 22, 2010

Waka Waka - Learner Dances, Ogongo & Okahao

Here's a video compiled of clips of my & Rachel's learners shakin' it like only they can!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I spent this past weekend in Ogongo, a village just 'that side', where my friend Rachel teaches at Ogongo Combined School. We had planned for a girls' night of baking, homemade pizza, facemasks, pedicures and scary movies. As is often the case, it did not work out exactly as planned. Not all the women showed up, but they were instead replaced by Jory, a lecturer at the Ogongo UNAM Agricultural Campus, and Joseph, Rachel's hilariously excitable Rasta(ish) roommate and colleague.

We rented a movie (for the first time since we've been here...the things you discover!) which we thought was Friday the 13th, but turned out to be a [terrible] modern sequel to the saga. Pizza and baking was a success, but we replaced the pedicures and facemasks with a game of Catchphrase - an electronic game where you are given a phrase/name/thing in English and have to explain it to your teammates without using key words. It was a lot tougher with non-native English speakers than Rachel and I could have anticipated.

The next morning I was supposed to return to Okahao, but was instead roped into helping friends of ours move houses at the University campus. The only problem was the dvd - it was only a one-night rental and it had to be returned to Oshakati that day. No problem. We were told that there was a university bus going to Oshakati that afternoon and we could send it with them. Unfortunately, when we tried to hail the bus driver as he was leaving the gate, he drove right past us without stopping. "He gets like that when he's drunk" was the explanation Imms gave us for his behaviour. [Note to self: don't catch a ride with the UNAM bus in the afternoon] However, there was a car following the bus. The driver stopped and we handed him the dvd and asked if, in passing through Oshakati, he could drop the dvd at the rental shop. He agreed and off he went. To us this request seemed perfectly normal, and we didn't give the dvd another thought.

However, upon reflection later that night, Rachel and I realised that we probably couldn't get away with this back home. In North America could/would you stop a stranger to get them to return a dvd for you, with no assurance that the task would actually be done? Most likely not. Conversely, what would you do if someone flagged you down and asked you to return a dvd for them? Regardless of whether or not you would do it, you would think the person was a nut for asking. Why? I feel like it is situations such as this that will cause me the most grief back home/ get me the most wtf?! looks when I ask someone to run across the street to mail a letter for me, or volunteer to do a task for a stranger. I'm going to miss the helpful spirit of Namibia.

Monday, August 9, 2010

In the chaos and confusion that so aptly defines exam time at Shaanika Nashilongo SS, I have found that I need to find solace in the "little things". There are a few small pleasures each day that help to centre me, calm my breathing, and remind me of how much - beneath my thin outer layer of frustration - I really do love it here. Some such pleasures include:
- Starbucks coffee to start my day (thanks Dad!)
- Relishing the sometimes absurd/adorable English employed by my learners on their English papers
- The black and white baby goat that bleats distraughtly for its mother during every exam period, as if mourning the silence that envelopes the school [or its inability to follow the herd]
- Yoga. 10 minutes of sun salutations at 5:30 in the morning is all it takes to at least give me a head start.
- Marking papers in my doorstep between 4 and 5 with a [small] glass of red wine. The heat of the day is retreating, but the sun is still warm on my face. The sun is low in the sky and the school grounds are a warm golden colour. Everything is so peaceful, and I'm able to enjoy all of the quiet beauty around me that I so often miss in the hustle of the everyday.
- Lupe Fiasco & Freshly Ground [if you don't know them - get to know them!]
- "Dramas" performed by the children two doors down (a delightful mish-mash of sword-fights, martial arts, running around screaming, song and dance and obscure dialogue)
- West African peanut butter stew and homemade bread

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pimple = Love

This morning I woke up with an enormous pimple on my chin. A real nice big red mound, rivaling Kilimanjaro as Africa's grandest peak. As is always the case with pimples, bad hair days, or a coffee stain on your white t-shirt, I was conscious of its existence in my every interation. In every conversation, trying to draw attention away from my face. Nonchalantly wrapping my scarf over the bottom half of my face, pretending to be chilled by the cool morning air. In North America, the polite thing for others to do would be to pretend as if it didn't exist. Pimple? What pimple?, I didn't even notice it! Don't worry; it's hardly even there... Not the case here. In true Namibian fashion, it was brought up by everyone I interacted with. Good morning Jennif- oh wow! What's that there?! What happened? Oh, it's very big neh? Exactly what one wants to hear. It's not at all meant to insult; it's just observation. If I see that you have a pimple, why should I pretend that I don't see it? What made it worse was they were all smiling when they were commenting on it. As though the hit to my vanity brought them some sort of perverse pleasure. A few of the colleagues took it to another level though, by zoning in on my chin and snickering amongst themselves. I wrapped my scarf tightly around my chin and pretended that I didn't notice.

It wasn't until I was in the library with Mr. Iipinge, a young male colleague that I discovered everyone's interest in my blemish. In traditional Ovambo culture there is a belief that if you have a large pimple, or a skin outbreak, someone loves you and is longing to be with you. In their words "Someone is dying for you". There was no reason given for this belief; no foundation or validation, it just is what it is. However, there are parameters. The blemish must be on the chin area, or down the centre line of the face. I wondered: What if the pimple is on the side of your face, or somewhere else? The response: Well then you are just unfortunate.

I love this place. Only in Namibia, can unsightly blemishes be linked to love. And why not? Why not try to make something beautiful out of an ugly situation? I have untied my scarf and am wearing my pimple with pride. Someone loves me.

Over the past week I have catalogued different explanations/first reactions that I have received to my chin...situation. A few include:
- Sooo....who is he?! (Mr. Iipinge)
- Someone is in love with you, but too much of a coward to tell you.
- Someone is dying for you.
- Someone is thinking of you/wants to propose you [ask you out].
- My dear, you must be sexually starving! (My friend Charles from Ogongo)
- Who wants to [double eyebrow raise] you?! (Also Charles)
- You must be madly in love..

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Photo submissions for Glimpse Correspondents application: Here are a few of my favourite photos from the past two years - enjoy!
Himba mother and child in Opuwo

Thimba child and bull - outside of Opuwo, Kunene region

Dune 45

Ovambo woman and child in traditional dresses

My colleague Meme Connie and myself in traditional wear

Cultural dance at the school

Dancers lined up in a row

Making friends at a colleague's homestead

Meme Connie's Mahangu field

Inspecting the crop

Chasing the birds..

The location in Tsumeb

Cultural Dancing

My 3 colleagues, enjoying a braii feast

Okavango Delta Sunset

Southern Namibia town; a boy with his homemade wire car

Swakopmund Fishing

2009 Flood Season

2009 Flooding
Okahao sunset

My neighbours playing rugby in our yard

Grace, my lovely and shy neighbour

Beautiful Manga

Hanging out, watching a soccer match at the school

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Soccer in the Heat of the Afternoon

The late afternoon was heavy and still, letting on nothing of the frigid morning air that had dissipated with the rising of the sun in the winter sky. Dust hung lazily in the air, stirred up by the passing trucks on the adjacent dejected dirt road. All was calm as learners studied quietly in their classrooms, but there was a hushed anticipation in the air. As the bell rang, signifying the end of study, learners herded out of the classrooms, swarming to the soccer field, abuzz with excitement at the pending soccer match: teachers vs teachers, Shaanika Nashilongo vs Etaleleko, a potent rivalry within the northern Namibian town of Okahao.

As the time of the match neared, and learners had formed a complete boundary around the perimeter of the uneven dirt field, the teachers took the field. Learners laughed and shouted with glee at the sight of their favourite teachers donning shorts and inside-out team t-shirts, a sharp contrast to their formal school attire. Both teams were composed of all males, each with only one female player aside. Miss Jennifer, of Shaanika Nashilongo SS – undeservingly dubbed
Ronaldo in an early school advertisement for the event – generated a great deal of excitement, standing out as both the only white player on the field, and the home team’s token female. Teachers of all ages and fitness levels laced up for the match. Kaka! Ronaldo! Messy! Pele! cheers could be heard from all sides, as learners cheered on and provoked their teachers endearingly with the names of football greats. The teachers laughed obligingly and played along, enjoying the amusement of their spectators.

The buzzing died down as teachers took to their positions, and abruptly returned in a roar as the ball was touched and the game was in play. With every kick, pass, misstep or stumble from either side, shrieks of laughter, applause or shouting erupted from the sidelines. Shouts in both English and Oshiwambo were indecipherable.

They lady is going to be a problem! An Etaleleko defender shouted good-naturedly to his teammates after Jennifer made a rush down the right wing.
The only problem, Jennifer thought to herself, sweating from both the heat and exertion, is the fact that we are fifteen minutes in and already I’m tired.

The game progressed at an honest pace for the next thirty minutes, with Shaanika Nashilongo applying serious pressure on the Etaleleko net, yet halftime found the game scoreless.
Jennifer substituted off during the second half, for Meme Mahata, a large and jovial woman who worked in the hostel kitchen. The crowd roared with pleasure as they saw her take the field.

Shortly after the commencement of the second half Shaanika midfielder Joseph Kandjinga scored, spawning shrieks and cheers from all sides of the field. Shaanika maintained control through most of the second half, with many good chances, until near the end of the game when Mr. Festus Kandjala unleashed a cannon of a shot top-corner to clinch the game at two nil in favour of the home team. At the concluding whistle learners and teacher spectators alike rushed the field, amassing in the centre jumping, shaking hands, hugging, laughing and singing in pandemonium. The excitement was tangible. Learners and teachers alike celebrated together as comrades, something rarely seen in the strict school environments of northern Namibia.

As spectators and players alike filtered off the field, retiring for their evening meal the field became barren once again, with only the dust that loitered ponderously in the air left to attest to the compelling match that had ended only moments earlier.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Okahao Afternoon

A friend of mine called me Tuesday afternoon telling me he was in town and wanted to meet up. Elvis is currently living in Windhoek but his job has him travelling around the country. He grew up in a homestead in a rural area near to Okahao and was looking forward to touring the area. He said it had been over ten years since he'd gone deep into the bush where he spent his childhood. After a couple of beer at a local shebeen, Elvis, his cousin Shiimi (who, coincidentally is my favourite taxi driver and one of my favourite Okahao residents) and I drove deep into the bush down rural dirt roads, through oshanas and standing water, as Elvis recounted tales and stories from his childhood relating to the different structures, trees, bushes and termite mounds that we passed.

Elvis told me the history of a dirt road that was built as a personal driveway for a minister “puppet” during the liberation struggle who was known especially for his cruelty and punishment of the people in the area. He forbid anyone to use this road, aside from himself and his personal guests. Those found driving or walking on his road (off to the side in the bush and grasses was fine, so long as you were not on the road) would be punished, often by means of beating or humiliation. The cruel minister met his demise when locals had finally had enough and planted a bomb along the road. His cruelty, lavishness and self-importance had made him an easy target for liberation fighters. Of course, after his death, he was replaced by another minister, but it was a moral victory for the oppressed Ovambos of the area.

We were stopped by some kukus (old women) who were collecting money for their parish so we sat and chatted with them along the roadside, sharing caterpillars and discussing how Okahao has changed. They were family friends of Elvis – who they know by his Ovambo name Hamutenya, meaning sunshine – and shared old stories of his childhood.

I waded through the Oshanas (stagnant flood/rain water) with Shiimi to collect omavo, which are beautiful water lilies that, below the surface of the mud produce tubers or “ground nuts” that, when cooked are similar to a sweet potato. The omavo became my favourite last year, when the floods were really bad. They filled the oshanas on both sides of the main road, creating a beautiful freshwater meadow of purple and white.

Then Elvis let me shoot his gun. Unfortunately guns are quite common, especially in rural areas, for protection from both people and animals. I've become desensitized to them, as every security guard at every atm and many stores in Oshakati and other towns, openly carries a rifle to dissuade any funny business. I have always wanted to shoot a gun. Not at anything in particular, just to experience it. I thought I would be so cool, but was surprised at how nervous I was. It was heavy, and I felt this frightening power holding onto it with both hands. It was louder than I expected, and had more of a kickback than I anticipated – reminding me of the story my dad told me of his first hunting trip in northern Canada, from which he returned with a prize caribou and a black eye. After two shots I handed Elvis back his gun, satisfied..and collected my shells as souvenirs.

We stopped at a collection of shebeens about 5km outside of Okahao where we stopped for drinks and socialised. People are always surprised to see a white person in rural northern areas, and even more surprised when I greet and try to converse with them in Oshivambo. So between us showing up in a car, buying a round of drinks, and my skin colour, we attracted quite a bit of attention and interest. We shared some drinks, miscommunications and laughs. I politely refused a vulgar marriage proposal, bought two pairs of earrings off of a big meme who introduced herself to me only as “Big Mama Africa” and we were on our way again.

We concluded the afternoon with a turn through the location in Okahao and discussing the original buildings and infrastructure, most of which is now decrepit and crumbling. I was told of one of the first self-made developers, Tate Etombo, in Okahao who made the first (of only two) two-story building in Okahao. Etombo in Oshivambo means testicles, a nickname which he gave himself to signify power or force, not unlike the saying back home “he's got balls”. He took pride in the fact that he was not educated but had made a name for himself just by doing. He designed and built the two-story building by himself, without a construction background, which explains the now sagging outer staircase and crumbling walls. Tate testicles is no longer in business for himself – that I am aware of – and most of his projects are left abandoned and in disrepair in the town.

The evening finished with a dinner of butternut, rice and potato salad for me – meat only for my Namibian comrades, then I returned home just in time for a night of Star Wars episode 3 with the neighbouring children.

That evening, as the kids were swinging metal poles as their imaginary light sabres and I was watching the sun illuminate the silhouettes of the palms and baobabs on the horizon I found myself so at peace and content with myself and my surroundings. When it comes down to it, my nightly reflections are not about examinations, timetables and vocational and cultural frustrations but instead on the magic that happens when I surrender to the beauty, history and fascinating wonder that embraces me around every corner.