Monday, November 22, 2010

Waka Waka - Learner Dances, Ogongo & Okahao

video

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? Ohhh...no, 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

Neighbours
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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Exam Woes

I hate this. ... What am I doing here? ... What the hell is wrong with everyone?! These is just a selection of my most..diplomatically-phrased thoughts that have been lingering torturously in the forefront of my mind the past few weeks as the first term of the school year coughed and choked to an end, and the exam period sputtered labourously into effect. At the end of last year I was excited to embark upon a second year, drunk on my misguided notions that I had mastered the northern Namibian school system and that this year would be a breeze. In truth however, apart from having a little bit more understanding of the Ovambo culture and language, I've found many aspects of this year more difficult and frustrating than last. This first term exam period has been no exception. In fact, it would not be a drastic exaggeration to say that the past few weeks may have been the most frustrating, exhausting, and maddening conglomerate of responsibilities and events that I can remember.

The real fun started exactly two weeks ago when, in a last-minute staff meeting about nothing in particular, I raised the question of when term exams were set to start. “That is a good question” is the response I was given. And the topic was closed. After pushing the topic the next day I was instructed that, as a member of the timetable committee (one of my largest mistakes of the year thus far) I should set up the timetable immediately, with exams to begin the following Thursday. It was the Thursday before Easter weekend, which meant that it was the last school day of the week and we did not reconvene until Tuesday. Which gave me two days to gather information for all of the subject papers to be written from my colleagues, concoct and type up a timetable, have it checked over, approved and distributed. That may sound reasonable by the standards back home, but keep in mind that this is not back home, and nothing that involves more than two steps here runs seamlessly. Also, many subjects write multiple papers of varying lengths and compositions, so for a class taking nine different subjects they may write between ten and eighteen exam papers. I should bring your attention to the word committee, which suggests more than one individual appointed to a specific function. Not so in this case. That said, I was so proud of myself when, on Tuesday morning, I presented my principal with a draft of the timetable, posted it and distributed it around the staffroom and asked all teachers to check it over for any conflicts. Nothing was brought to my attention, so, after multiple friendly reminders and warnings to the staff I had it approved, finalised and distributed to all of the 19 classes in our school. Exams were commencing in two days. My work was done. I felt like a rockstar for overcoming this mini solo effort with minimal overall frustration. I was a fool. Beginning early Wednesday I had multiple colleagues with multiple problems multiple times a day coming to me about the timetable with inquiries, pleas, judgements and criticisms. Some changes took a quick flick of a pen, others required me to completely reinvent the wheel and restructure the entire timetable. Eventually I got to the point where if a colleague even looked like they were thinking of approaching me I advised them to reconsider. Some of my colleagues were taken by surprise with my blunt refusals to consider their complaints, and vocalised this in both English and Oshiwambo behind my back in front of my face in the staffroom. I couldn't afford to care. I had over 400 exams to mark and didn't have the time, energy or patience to play host to their issues.

Today is the last day of exams and I couldn't be more relieved. There are three days following this in which teachers are to complete their marking and begin creating their class reports. As of yesterday I have finished my marking but, in the name of self-preservation, I will not let on to that and instead will act as if I am marking to the last minute, like everyone else. There is a static stack of miscellaneous papers on my desk that, if anyone asks, is my unfinished marking. Also, in the name of self-preservation, I am seriously contemplating tendering my resignation to the timetable committee, effective immediately; and in my spare time am sadistically plotting my revenge for the poor soul in charge of the term 2 timetable.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Weekend

This past Easter weekend I hiked with some friends to Rundu, a town in north east Namibia on the Kunene river immediately south of the Angolan border. We were lucky and caught a ride with a car for the 3-hour drive South to Tsumeb and then caught a kombi (an oversized van filled with an impossibly large number of impossibly small seats) north through Grootfontein to Rundu for another 4-hour drive. We were fortunate to have had such luck finding our hikes, and managed to make it to Rundu before dark. We met Kevin at his school, and then toured around the town before stopping at a lodge overlooking the river for dinner. I had a delicious kudu steak with chips and salad.
The next morning we shopped for camping food and goods throughout town and then hiked with a kombi two hours out of Rundu to Divundu. We waited for an hour at the local gas station to be picked up by the camp site Ngepi where we were staying. We rode in the back of a pickup to camp in the dark for the next thirty minutes. Riding in the back of pickups is one of my favourite experiences in Namibia. It feels free. Standing up, resting my hands on the hood, while the homesteads, sand, palms and oshanas fly by. My hair flying around my face like a mane, flies pelleting my face like litte kamikaze pilots.
We arrived at the camp in pitch blackness and found Alana and Tomas fighting with the fire, attempting to boil water. As we set up our tents, Imms, Rachel's boyfriend from Ogongo, had the fire blazing in no time. After enjoying a dinner of pasta, and what we thought was a near-hippo encounter from the river, less than 5 meters away, we made our way to the lodge bar and had some drinks with the locals and tourists there. I saw my first bush baby, swinging from a tree at eye-level in one of the outdoor toilets (all ablution facilities were outdoor there, and were absolutely exotic and beautiful with trees and flowers and shrubbery – little toilet oases). The bush baby is now my new favourite animal. It sprung between trees right in front of my face and it took all my restraint not to reach out, grab him and wear him on my shoulder like a new-age Namibian pirate.
The next morning we went on a boat ride up the river where we saw some illusive hippos in the weeds, taunting us by remaining frustratingly only partially visible. The river is beautiful and bordered by so many shades of green, in sharp contrast to the white starkness of the sandy central north. Something about being on the river was so calming to me; all my life I have lived near a body of water, and these past two years I have missed it.
Unfortunately, the long weekend was not long enough, when you factor in a day of travel time each way. On Monday Rachel, Imms and I made our way back to Ovamboland and I arrived back at home around 5pm. No turkey dinners or egg-hunts, but I had a very satisfying Easter holiday with my Namibian family.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Borrow Me Your Eyes

“Jenny, are you having a class now?” My colleague asked me searchingly as I entered the staff room. I hesitated for a moment, knowing that admitting to having a free period could have me “volunteering” to do God knows what, for God knows how long. At the same time, if she came back into the staffde room in a few minutes to find me sitting there, I would be busted. “Noooo...” I reluctantly admitted. “Ah! Iyaloo! Borrow me your eyes then mama!” She grabbed my hand and started to tug me alongside her. Shoot. Wrong answer. I was then taken to grade 12B where Mrs. Iiyambula and 20 grade 12 learners crowded around me as she used my eyes to demonstrate the appearance and function of the iris, and the pupil. After slowly walking through the crowd and staring each learner in the eye I was asked to close my eyes for 30 seconds before opening them wide, in the sunlit courtyard, while the learners watched my pupils contract. They shrieked and screamed and gasped in excitement before they were ushered into the classroom for the second half of the class to come out for the demonstration. This was repeated again for grade 12E, now even with teachers in the audience. Tomorrow I have a booking for grade 12D. Just one of my many contributions to learning at Shaanika Nashilongo Seconday School.

Monday, March 1, 2010

...March?!

I feel like the victim of a cruel joke played by time. The fact that it's March already, and I'm two months into my second year of teaching baffles me. I don't know if it's the workload – teaching, meetings, extra classes and extramural activities; aging: 24 is coming on far too fast for comfort; or the continent: a combination of the ceaseless heat and the misconception that with a sky this large, the sun inevitably takes longer between sun-ups and sets – but time seems to be holding me immobile, dizzy, as it does laps around me. I thought that returning to Shaanika Nashilongo SS for a second year of teaching would be so much easier, that I would breeze through it with unconscious ease; I had paid my dues last year. Such hasn't been the case. I've found the first two months back at school much more exhausting and frustrating than I had anticipated. I'm at an awkward stage in my growth as both a teacher and a guest in a country and culture that is not my own: I understand my surroundings and culture enough to see things, the good and the bad, more clearly and objectively than last year, but am not proficient enough to be capable of navigating myself around each obstacle hurled at me as gracefully-and tirelessly- as I'd like.

My work and projects 2010:

My class workload at the moment is nearly double what it was last year. Our school is currently waiting for an English teacher post to be filled and until that happens I have taken on en extra grade 11 and grade 12 English class. I'm teaching more class periods than any other teacher at the school, as opposed to fewer. I have enjoyed working with the older learners more than I imagined I would, but the workload has been hard to juggle.

I am currently in the process of spearheading a school newspaper. There are about ten learners on board, writing articles ranging from current events, to sports, to interviews and “personals”. Look for our first published copy coming soon!

I am doing Brian's Winter by Gary Paulson as a novel study in my grade 9 and 10 classes which, for many, is very challenging. However, there are about five learners in my classes who are very talented and proficient in English and once a week I am meeting with them and doing an intensive study of Lord of the Flies. We are only two chapters in, but so far it is going very well and I'm enjoying the stimulating and controversial conversation we're able to have!


Although admittedly I've found the first two months of 2010 exhausting, it's also promising to be very rewarding. I have loved being back with my kids, and am optimistic that my increased workload, once I've adapted, will motivate me to achieve and accomplish more this year than I thought possible.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Athletics Altercation

In true Namibian fashion, this past Thursday evening our school was notified that we were to be hosting an athletics (the equivalent to track & field) meet for schools in our zone on the coming Saturday. As a member of the sports committee at the school I made sure that I was available to be present and help out at the event. I had been at the sports field for a few hours, meeting teachers from other schools and cheering on my learners as they competed for spots in the prestigious athletics meet to be held at a later date in Oshakati. From what I had seen and understood everything seemed to be getting on fine, despite the fact that we were unable to organize shot-put or discus due to the fact that our shot-puts, discuses(?) and measuring tapes were locked inside of the principal's office and we were unable to locate the key. Around mid-day we were enjoying watching and cheering on learners from various schools running the 100m dash in the excruciating afternoon sun when suddenly there was a commotion near the start line. The teacher station was at the finish line, so all I could see were learning shouting and rushing to what appeared to be a skirmish in the crowd. With a couple other teachers I hurried to see what was happening and break it up, and when I arrived I saw one of the teachers from a visiting school being held back by learners as he shouted and tried to get at one of our small grade 10 boys who was crying and trying desperately to get away from the outraged and maniacal man. I quickly took Adam* (name has been changed) away despite other teachers' efforts to hold him there with the teacher. It didn't take long to get the gist of the story: the teacher approached a group of learners who were playing with a ball too close to the running track and told them to move back. The boys moved back-most likely less than the teacher had wanted-and continued playing with the ball. The teacher then spun into a frenzy and started hitting Adam, who had the ball at that time. Adam tried to defend himself and told the teacher to stop hitting him, which only further aggravated the teacher who was open-handedly slapping and hitting Adam in the face and kicking him. I was beyond furious and told my colleague in charge of the event that we needed to talk to this man and that I thought he should have to leave. My colleague, a brand new teacher straight out of college, mild-tempered and compliant, agreed but seemed hesitant about pursuing the matter.

When we returned to where the teachers were collected, animatedly discussing the set of events. I sat patiently and listened to what was being said until the teacher in question shouted that he wanted to go back there and show that kid what respect is and beat all of the learners who didn't listen to every word he said for the remainder of the day. “We need to beat them all!” was how he so eloquently put it. I was beyond my boiling point and couldn't wait patiently for my turn to reason with him anymore. I told him that he was wrong and that he had no right to beat on a child, especially for something so little as unintentionally disturbing an informal athletics meet. Within 30 seconds of voicing my opinions more than 4 men descended on me like rabid dogs shouting that he was within his rights to do what he did; that our learners were misbehaving since the morning and showing disrespect; that a ball has no place at an athletics meet and thus should not be anywhere near the field; that it was my fault this happened since I did nothing to control my “out of control learners” and was sitting there watching them playing with a ball instead of doing something about it. Also among their flawlessly sound arguments was the fact that this is not my culture so I have no say and if I don't like it I should just go home, and that I am a woman so should sit down and shut up. I was furious, at their actions, attempts at justifying what had occurred, at not being able to get a word in edgewise, and almost most of all, at the teachers who nodded every time I said something and who gave me encouraging smiles but didn't have the stones to stand with me. Not causing a stir is the name of the game here..and the stir I was whipping up no one wanted a hand in. Let the little white girl tough it out; better her than me.

Tears of searing rage brimming my eyes that I was trying desperately to hold back were threatening to spill out when another male teacher, whom I had earlier been helping to pick-axe the ground with in preparation for the long-jump event, intervened, delivered a few conciliatory words to the mob of teachers and then guided me calmly away by the shoulders towards where the learners had amassed to have a second chance to talk with Adam and get his story. There was a hush among the learners as we passed, having witnessed first the unjust beating of one of their own and then the words held amongst the teachers. They looked at me solemnly, and almost with a sense of commiseration as I drew lines in the sand with my feet for the learners to stay behind while observing so as not to have any more problems of learners on the field. Not one learner challenged my boundary and I could feel the teachers' eyes on me as I asked the learners politely not to cross the line. Funny, how I was able to control over 500 of them with simple words, a sad smile and lines in the sand.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Water Woes

After a long, hot Monday of classes and re-scheduling the school timetable for the third (and likely not the final) time, I returned home at 3:30 to find five city workers resting in the shade behind my house. This wasn't altogether unusual, and I was proceeding to my front door when they called me over. Four of them were leaning against the faded orange concrete of my house, while one was cranking on a pipe with a wrench. “Miss, we are cutting off your water because you're not paying your bill.” said the only man working, in between violent cranks. I had gathered as much by this point. I tried to explain to them that my water bill is payed for by the Ministry of Education. They told me that they were aware of this but had to cut it off anyways. I asked them why the city could not contact the Ministry and sort it out with them. “Miss that is your job,” a wall-leaner said, “we are doing our job.” No, I wanted to say, he is doing his job, you don't seem to be doing much of anything. After trying to convince them to leave it for the time being and I would go immediately to the school to get it sorted out, it was obvious that a compromise could not be reached. I stalked off, furious at the entire group of workers who of course were just doing what they were told and had no more control over executive decisions concerning my water than I had. I slammed my schoolbooks down in the house and then went over to the school to see if this couldn't be sorted. [It's important to note that I had my bedding soaking in a basin of soapy water at this time- and without water I couldn't rinse the soap out of them and hang them to dry in order to use them for sleeping that night.]

I was in a foul mood but politely explained my predicament to my principal. He dropped everything he was doing and immediately telephoned the town council. I sat in his office for nearly half an hour as he spoke with individual after individual tirelessly to try and remedy the situation. As it turned out the Ministry had dropped the ball somewhere along the way with payments, and schools all over Okahao were having their water cut off. It was not just me, it was my school and half a dozen schools throughout town. Mr. Kamati was unable to solve the problem at the time, but to me that hardly mattered. As I sat there listening to him arguing diplomatically yet sternly with town councillors to get my water reconnected I couldn't help but be touched. His desk was swamped with work, yet he dropped everything without hesitation or any sign of frustration to fight a battle for me. When I left his office he apologized for my inconvenience and promised to do what he could to get to the bottom of it. I thanked him and couldn't help smiling when I left his office.The water didn't matter at all anymore, and I felt foolish for letting it get me bent out of shape. The tenacity and immediacy with which my principal responded to my need touched me. I am truly surrounded by the most amazing people and support system that one could ask for. I have that to be thankful for, and that beats out running water any day.

...that said, I think that it is absolutely ridiculous that, between the Ministry of Education and the Okahao Town Council, an arrangement couldn't have been reached in order to prevent the disconnection of all water from over a dozen schools within the area. There is, literally, no water of over 600 learners-at my school alone- to drink, let alone clean their clothes, brush their teeth, or wash.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Under my skin


I peeled off a dried blister from the bottom of my foot today-to discover that the pocket was filled with sand. I think it's safe to say that Namibia has gotten under my skin. :)

...please forgive me; I needed an outlet as puns just don't translate well here.


Please let me redeem myself with the most precious picture of two boys that I spent my weekend with: Seven and Ju.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bags n All

GOOD NEWS!!

My second bag has arrived!!!! Yaaaaaaay....! Of course both bags had to arrive in perfect Namibian fashion: things take time, but in the end it all manages to somehow work out. Waiting a week for my first bag, and two weeks for my second did cost me a fair amount in phone calls, frustration and time, but eventually, both bags DID make it here-whole and in tact! The final lost- and now found- bag had all of my gifts for learners, incentive prizes and classroom material. I was so desperate for it to be recovered. I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders now that everything that was meant to join me is now here!

All in all the start of my second year here has gone well. The beginning of the year is both more and less frustrating this year compared to last year. It's less so because I know basically what to expect...but it's also been more frustrating for the same reason- I'm more able now to see so many ways in which the process of starting the school year could be expedited. It has been so good seeing the kids. However, I find that some of them have been pushing the boundaries on testing my patience and limits more this year. They feel safe enough to see how far they can take things. I was lenient and maybe a little too friendly last year, so right now I am working at keeping a fun relationship with them but also trying to nip attitude and behaviour in the bud.

We had our “opening ceremony” at school yesterday, in which I was “nominated” (coerced) into being the Master of Ceremonies. Nothing is ever short and sweet here, so the assembly was a solid 6 hours. Imagine how restless, exhausted and bored 650 kids, aged 12-25 would be after a couple of hours sitting and listening, let alone 6! Add to that the heat, cramped room, and terribly redundant and mundane speakers and topics...it was a long day.

I'm looking forward to the weekend. I'm going to visit Rachel- another extending volunteer- in her village of Ogongo where we're going to have a braii (bbq) of game meat freshly hunted from the lands at the Ogongo Agricultural College- Springbok, Kuudu and maybe some Oryx! I can't wait for the delicious, lean meat that we're going to do up with maize and sweet potato! A great topper to a fabulous and exhausting first couple of weeks back in Northern Namibia!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shopping Splendors

Going shopping in Oshakati is always hit and miss. Items that have been a constant on store shelves will suddenly and inexplicably no longer be available for months on end. Likewise, items that have never been previously accessible suddenly appear. It adds an element of surprise and excitement to my occasional weekend trips into town. And on a rare and splendid occasion you stumble upon gems that are far too fabulous to even consider passing up.

Yes, that is a pint of beer hat, a noise-maker and a rugby ball. ALL for under $10!


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My First Day of School

2:30, 3:30, 5:00 (am) – Wake up, unable to sleep. Jet-lagged.

5:00 – Get out of bed and start getting ready for the day.

7:00 – Arrive at school. No one is there.

7:40-8:30 – Teachers start to arrive.

9:00 – Principal's briefing to the teachers.

9:30-5:00 – Collecting school fees from learners and parents. No time for breaks or food.

[Greeted new learners and my learners from last year. So excited to see all of them again!]

[Light rain from 12-3 ; torrential downpour off and on from 3-5...]

5:10 – Walk home barefoot through flooded school ground in ankle-deep water.

5:12 – Get home.

5:14 – Kill 2 cockroaches

5:20 – Make dinner

6:00 – Call Windhoek airport regarding lost luggage. One of two bags has been retrieved.

7:00 – Watch Ratatouille, blog, wash dinner dishes, sweep up and throw out dead cockroaches.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Joys of Travelling

I'm currently sitting in the Johannesburg airport, 37 hours into my journey back to Namibia. My first connector in Calgary to London was delayed 2 hours. I was very very lucky to have had my seat upgraded to "middle class" which was glorious and comfortable. Unfortunately it made my next 10-hour leg out of London back in the gallows of the plane seem much tighter and less pleasant than I remember.. Heathrow airport was nothing short of chaotic, with flights being cancelled and indefinitely delayed left right and centre due to snow and cold weather conditions. Two flights to Johannesburg prior to mine had been cancelled and ours was nearly cancelled after being delayed over 4 hours. 5 minutes before the flight was to be altogether cancelled the pilot made the executive decision to fly on without the luggage. I can't decide if I was relieved to get off the ground, or panicked at the realisation that retrieving my luggage later would be an undoubtedly frustrating process. In Johannesburg they wanted to restrict my carry on luggage and I had to speak to 2 people before having a chance to speak to management and have an exception made to allow me to bring all of my belongings. I'm told it will be 2-3 days before my luggage reaches me in Namibia. The good news is that I should be in Windhoek in approximately 4 hours (knock on wood) and should (again, knocking) have a ride to meet me. But that remains to be seen. To top it all off, I both look and smell like someone who has been travelling in the same clothes for almost 2 days. Staying optimistic! If it were easy, where would all the fun be?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Big Thanks to All for Year 2

Tomorrow I leave the frozen north to return to the much less frozen north of Namibia. I've had the most amazing month back home - despite the fact that it flew by in a blur - and want to thank everyone, family and friends, for all of the love and support that I received. My fundraiser in early December was a huge success! Due solely to your support I have been able to afford a second year of volunteering in Namibia. I was also able to purchase a class set of novels for my English classes, over 50 new books for the school library, school supplies and incentive prizes for my learners, teaching materials and classroom decor. I could not have done any of this without your generosity and overwhelming support. I can't even begin to express my gratitude.

2010 promises to be a year of new challenges, adventures and excitement and as sad as I am to be leaving my home here in Canada, I am equally excited to return to my home in Okahao. I promise to make an honest effort in relaying my experiences via blog regularly. If along the way you have questions, concerns, ideas or comments (or just want to say hi! :) please please feel free! My email contact and address are posted on my blog site.

All the very best in the New Year. Cheer Canada on for me as we rake in the Gold at the Olympics!

With much thanks and lots of love,
Jen