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..