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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm proud of you, Jen. Hang in there. I know (firsthand) how important it is to be sensitive to Namibian culture and try to understand why people do certain things, but I also know how easy it is to become protective of the kids and enraged by some attitudes/actions. Your colleagues are part of the cycle; you're teaching the kids how to break the cycle and respond in a different way.