Happy October! This countdown is ticking down quickly. Two months from today I will be back in the States! I am still eager to return home, but that is now being coupled with being anxious about finishing my work here. Grade 10 exams started last Tuesday, so my class schedule has decreased a great deal, so I’ve been doing my best to be productive in my new found free time. I have officially embraced and adopted lists in my time here. I used to do it time to time in college, but now it is a secure part of my routine. I look forward to arriving to school, settling in at my desk, and making my to do list for the day in my planner. I knew it ran in the family, but it didn’t know it would infect me too! J But the satisfaction of crossing off an accomplished task is fantastic! But I found the lists are a good visual reminder that I have plenty of things to do and there’s no reason yet to be bored.
Despite this method, this update is long overdue. I’ve been meaning to share with you the day tour I managed to take with the grade 10 learners back in September. As tours seem to be, it was a wonderful, extremely fun and successful day.
After our disappointments with government transport to go to the coast over the holiday, I made the decision to instead try to take all of the grade 10 classes, the class added late had been exempted from the previous tour, to the Ruacana Waterfall and its hydro power electric power station. We again attempted to get government transportation, as it is the cheapest option. Following some unclear answers, again, I decided to pursue private transport. The principal helped me to arrange with a man in the village who owns a combi bus. The goal was to allow all learners to attend without having to pay, so the man was kind enough to lower his price to fit our budget. There wasn’t a conformation until the Thursday before we went but we were confirmed and the trip was a go!
I purchased 15 loaves of bread, 4 sticks of polony, biscuits, and a few cases of Pepsi to feed the hungry 63 teenagers. So on the morning of Saturday, the 20th of September, 2 combi buses arrived about 30 minutes late, but gave learners enough to show up in their uniforms as they had been told. On tour, learners are expected to wear uniforms, but some still showed up other clothes. Mr. Sheya, who was the best team mate to have with me that day, promptly sent them running home to change their clothes.
Due to shopping, I met the buses en route, in the town of Outapi. As I approached the busses, boys were hanging out the windows, laughter was falling out, and huge smiles. All were enthusiastic to greet me, “Miss Briana!” Their excitement was contagious. After all the obstacles and difficulties I had planning the tour, I hadn’t allowed myself to be excited about the day, nearly dreading it. The instant I saw the learners, I remembered why I had put in all the work, learners LOVE tours! They love the chance to go away from home for the day, see something new, learn something new, and spend their pocket money at a big grocery store. As I climbed into my bus, girls shook my hand as they greeted me, a sign of respect and being especially eager to see someone. As one did it, others scrambled to find my hand. Mr. Sheya had made 1 bus for the boys and the other for the girls, with the aim of encouraging good behaviour. Thus I was the master of the girls bus for the day which proved to be a whole lot of fun for me.
Then we were off. Ruacana is about 150 kilometers from our village, perhaps 90 from the town of Outapi. En route, we stopped at the Omahenene Fishing Project. The project was established by the fisheries ministry of the government. The project produces hatchling to send to independent fish farmers throughout the north and also has its’ own fish ponds producing tilapia. It was a Saturday, so there was only 1 employee able to give us a tour, but I was grateful he did it with a smile on his face. The group was big and I was worried about learners intrest. But as he spoke next to the tanks filled with tiny tilapia, learners couldn’t get close enough. They were also filled with questions to try. Later as the guide showed some bigger fish that were still in the tank stage, the fish scrambled and splashed, producing screams and laughs from learners who go splashed. After seeing the indoor operations, we were taken on a tour of the many fish ponds raising the fish until they are an appropriate size for selling. The system seems quite brilliant to me. Give income to entrepenuerial individuals and groups (I know a fellow volunteer who started a fish pond with her HIV/AIDS support groups as an income generation project) and provide fresh protein and healthy food to Namibians.
After visiting the fish farm, we headed north to the power plant. As it is a power plant, there were lots of rules to follow and signing in to be done. Due to our group’s size we were split into 2 groups to receive our tours. To keep it simple, the girls bus went first. At the entrance of the power plant is a sign stating the plant’s safety and accident record. This and Mr. Sheya’s warnings of the dangers in a power plant, many of the girls were reluctant to go. Many started to say to me, “Miss, I don’t want to go.” I of course asked them why, they only said they were afraid. I tried to make it clear, the accidents were for workers, not visitors. That we would have a guide and if they followed his instructions and stayed with the group, they would not be in any danger. They seemed to partly believe me, but I was adamant they should go, it would be worth it!
The plant is built into the mountainside, so to reach it, one must walk through a long tunnel. I think it would be extremely safe to say, NONE of the learners have walked through a tunnel before. Now this, piled on with the accident record, girls were lagging farther and farther from the front of the group. I stepped back and continued to encourage them. Many of the girls started to hold hands. Wilhelmina came to me and said, “Miss, may I hold your hand?” I told her of course. We interlocked hands and arms. Another girl Aune, quickly came to my side and asked, “May I hold your hand too?” I quickly grabbed her and have her a smile. As we got closer to the tunnel, Aune started to squeeze my hand, she was really scared. I kept saying reassuring things and demonstrate my interest in what we would be seeing. I realized how these girls were feeling is not so unfamiliar to me. For much of my life, I’ve had an anticipation problem. The key example is roller coasters. I would be terribly afraid and eventually I would get talked into sitting in the car. After the ride, I would have a huge smile on my face and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I knew, I just had to get these girls in the roller coaster car. As we entered the tunnel, the 30 or so girls were in straight lines of chains, holding each others hands tightly.
It was a hot day and as we got farther into the enormous tunnel, the temperature quickly turned to cool. The tunnel is big enough for large trucks to enter, so learners were curious as to how such a big structure could have been built. At the end of tunnel, the ceiling opened up to a huge area with an almost warehouse like field, but our ceiling and walls were simply the outside of the mountain. The guide weaved us along generators and turbines explaining their function to learners along the way. We reached one end and there was a stairwell leading to the control room. The stairs were maybe enough for 2 floors and were open between each step. The girls had started to make some noise as the guide went to the top. As they started going up the steps, I realized this was also something unfamiliar, stairs, open stairs at that. They slowly navigated to the top, gripping the hand rail to the top. In the middle I climbed the stairs, trying to look confident and unafraid, as if to say, no problem! You can do it!
In the control room, a nice presentation was given further highlighting how the power station works and its history. Climbing down the stairs was another challenge. The guide then led us into a narrow staircase. More exclamations from the girls and amazement at how much work it was for them. At the top of the stairs, we were able to see the flow of water into the power station. It was definitely the strongest stream of water many of them had seen. Back down the stairs again and now the noise was excited and happy. As we slowly walked out the tunnel, excited chatter and laughs filled the empty space. I asked learners what they thought and got many responses of “nice and cool.” They assured me they were happy they went. One of the brightest girls in grade 10, Lucia, walked next to me for awhile. She eventually commented, “it’s a good thing we didn’t go the coast, we would have lost important information if we had gone there.” Somehow she knew exactly what I needed to hear. This trip had been thought of in my mind as a replacement and a band aid. But in her mind, it was as good as it could get.
We reached outside and spoke excitedly to the boys about was ahead of them. We hung around the buses, drinking water and I took several photos of learners for them to purchase as we waited for the boys to emerge. Eventually they did among the same excited faces. Then Mr. Sheya and I went to work creating 62 polony and butter sandwiches. Again, no better teammate. I don’t know if any other of my male colleagues would have crouched on the ground with me assembling sandwiches for learners, much less with a smile and stories to tell.
The learners quickly ate and we were off again. We drove to the top of a nearby hill to get a better view of the lock and dam system on the top of the falls. Mr. Sheya recognized the chance for a teaching moment and explained to the learners what they were seeing. I must admit, this tour was as a much a learning experience for me as it was for the learners!
We piled back into the buses and quickly drove to the falls viewpoint, as it was now late afternoon. To reach the viewpoint, you must cross the border into Angola, so again Mr. Sheya seized the learning chance and asked the border patrol to give a short presentation to the learners. After the presentation, we moved across into Angola. Again, the learners were EXCITED. At Ruacana, it is possible to reach the bottom of the falls, but it requires going down and climbing up a LONG series of stairs. On my previous visits with volunteers, my calves have been sore for a day following the long climb. It was hot and wasn’t sure how many learners would be up for the climb. I was surprised to see almost all the learners quickly follow Mr. Sheya, nearly running, down the stairs. I tried to convince the few at the top and resigned to leaving them after several answers. I pulled up the rear, moving quickly down the stairs. The learners and Mr. Sheya had reached the bottom long before me. I waved from a few flights up and took a few pictures. Being so far below me was certainly a novelty for them. I encouraged them to shout to hear the echo that produced. Due to the fact there is a hydro power station, there are times of the year when the falls is practically “shut off.” This was unfortunately one of these times. But the learners seemed not to notice. They were ecstatic to be sitting at the bottom of a deep canyon, with a river flowing by them. I arrived at the bottom and took some fun pictures of the kids enjoying the scene. After a few decided to head straight up, while Mr. Sheya and I took a few to the old power station that is situated at the bottom.
After the smaller groups of us headed to the top. Mr. Sheya pulled up the rear, but I was behind a few of the girls. My theory on climbing, and in tackling most hills, is to keep going. Slow, but steady and not stopping unless absolutely necessary. The girls were not feeling so up to this, but in my adrenaline rush of the day, I started encouraging them in Oshiwambo. Tu yei! Let’s go! Endelela! Hurry! I’m so anal about never speaking Oshiwambo to learners that the sudden phrases coming from me, put smiles on their faces, and I’d like to think distracted them from the hard work of going up the stairs. As we reached the top, the learners who had gone up earlier, sat at a perfect perch to watch their tired colleagues reach the top. It was really hot and dry, and I’m a sweater. So the learners were extra impressed to see Miss Briana come to the top sopping sweat and out of breath. They couldn’t keep their smiles in.
By now it was nearly 5pm and the drivers were eager to get home. So we quickly jumped in the car, I made the driver stop to let us refill water, and headed back Nakaheke. It’s a tradition that on tours, kids sing songs on the bus. As I was on the bus full of girls, they definitely enjoyed the chance to belt it out. So I heard the usual choir songs and songs with the name of where we were traveling inserted in. Then they surprised me by taking out Jesus from a name of a song and inserting, “Miss Briana.” I had become God. A little awkward, but I could they were thanking me and making it clear, they ENJOYED their day. I’d like to think they were also singing to all the people who helped make their tour possible!
We reached school around 6:30, enough time for learners to walk home before dark. I was exhausted, smelly, and exhilarated. The first few weeks of school had been a struggle for many reasons and the excitement and gratitude from the tour was exactly what I needed. It definitely propelled me through the last few weeks of the busy teaching schedule.
Despite all the difficulties, frustrations, and disappointments of trying to plan a tour, that day made it well worth my struggle. The enthusiasm and energy from the learners prove the hard work didn’t go unnoticed.
So. There you have it! This is lengthy already so I’ll just share one more story. It was the morning of my birthday, which also happened to be the first day of grade 10 exams. I was leaving my house to walk to school and my brother, Conrad, was at the gate talking to one of my grade 10s, Taimi. I instinctively greeted him in Oshiwambo. Normally, I would have switched to English and greeted Taimi, with how are you. But I thought, hey, it’s the first exam today, it’s my birthday, let’s have fun and I’ll greet her in Oshiwambo. So I said, “Wa la la po Taimi?” To which she replied with the typical, “oh! I’m fine miss, how are you?” I couldn’t help but smile! That’s exactly what I do whenever a learner tries to greet me in Oshiwambo, I show my disappointment then answer them in English. Taimi had done the same thing to me as if to say, I only speak English to you miss because I KNOW English. That’s how it works!
It was pretty great. Sometimes you stop and think, is ANYONE really paying attention? Apparently so J
With that, I’ve got 7 weeks. I’ll be in America by 11 December and Minnesota by 12 December! See you soon!
Last term! Last term! Last term!
But first a follow up to the grumpiness of last entry. I had mentioned the story of the missing computer. I had told the manager of the post, this is your problem. Then I allowed myself to go on holiday. Soon after, my principal called the post office where our computer had mistakenly be sent. He informed them that he would be coming the next week to collect our computer and if it was not there, he would then make a visit to the police. That was Saturday morning. Tuesday he received a call from the post office saying they had managed to decipher the signature of the person who took the box, called them, and they had returned our computer. Which post office should he send it to? So the next day they sent it to Outapi, where my principal promptly summed it up. By this time I was no longer in the area, I received two cryptic text messages from my principal. The first said “Got it. The Computer.” That was the best news! But with out any story. I quickly replied asking for it. A few days later I got, “They found the person who took it and gave it back.” That was all I needed to hear. After all the hassle, all I had really needed to do was threaten them with the police. I guess I should know this by now. Learners aren’t on time or go into their class until someone threatens them with a stick. Seems to be the same with the post office. Like my learners, they get away with what they can, until someone notices and says, “you’ll be in trouble if you don’t stop.” In the end, I am simply glad our equipment was returned to us, no matter how surprised I was that that was the case. I am also grateful that my principal is willing to back me up and go to bat for me. I know other PCVs don’t have that same support and as this story shows, it clearly is valuable. Helps make me a little more enthusiastic about proof reading reports and letters to the region! J
Back to the last term thing, I have to keep repeating it because I can barely believe it myself. It’s strange how time has gone. Sometimes I feel like this has been a long experience, sometimes I feel like only a few weeks ago I arrived. But because I know the end is coming soon and I’ll be returning to somewhere very different, I’m having many moments of: This feels normal! Woah! Things that I had to think about to understand and accept or learn to deal with, now feel like that’s how life has always been.
For example, how I know that when the principal greets the staff as a whole no one is truly expected to respond. There are a few mumbles of “fine, how are you sir?” but nothing rousing or enthusiastic.
That going to buy milk in Okahao, may involve standing in line in a stifling hot concrete building (Vols call that store the hot box), waiting for 30 minutes because the person at the checkout has decided to use all of their change to buy all of their bulk food. I don’t blink when the meme behinds me presses up against me the entire time, mumbling about her discontent.
That often times an expected response to questions is a long drawn out oookkkkaaay.
That everyone in a 15 kilometer area knows my name or knows the village I live in and that I am expected to know the same about them.
That coming into a staff meeting my principal will say, “just few few points to discuss” and I will be sitting in the same place 2 hours later.
That climbing into a back of a pick up truck and traveling to my village or on the way to town, is one of the most relaxing and freeing experiences. There’s something about weaving through the fences and trees, feeling the wind in my face and hearing the chatter of Oshiwambo that puts me in a new place.
That the music coming from the nearest cuca shop at night no longer feels like a disturbance, but comforting and reassuring.
That I spend afternoons talking to a nearly 3 year old in two different languages not truly understanding each other but being totally content. Her vocabulary is rapidly expanding and I’m struggling to keep up. She is fine with just an eewa or ee from me. Yesterday I said a few things to her in English to which she responded, okay Mee Briana. She and I have seemed to reach an understanding.
That not being comfortable when I travel is completely normal.
That greeting everyone in passing, upon meeting, or if we happen to be in the same place, is expected and when done, can make life a whole lot easier.
There are more normals I can’t think of now, but you get the idea. That sums up the worry of being back home. My normals won’t match. There’s a hope that I’ll fall into the old normal, but it may be a bit tough. Despite that, I am glad to have had a chance to experience a new normal, with the challenges and surprises that brings.
Here’s to a countdown!
Today is one of those days. I think it’s a symptom of the end of the term. I’m surrounded by my colleagues and not by kids. In this setting my frustrations seem to grow and my patience thins.
In addition, projects have stalled and expensive equipment is missing. Our tour will not happen in August. Our request for a bus was denied, but not until the end of July. This means I kept planning appointments, accommodation and getting learners excited for the tour in August holiday. Then just 2 weeks ago, the only transportation affordable for us was no longer available. Now I’m scrambling to see if we can put something together for September. But again, the ministry bus is not definite. It “might” be used for another purpose, the officer is “not really sure.” If they don’t end up needing it, then it’s ours. Great, thanks.
Also the last computer that needed to be repaired is missing. After many phone calls and arguments, I finally found out the company that repaired it, sent it on the 15 July. The other times they repaired and sent to us, it took 2 days to reach our post office. It is still no where in sight. I’ve called the main office, no answer. Our local post office doesn’t seem to be able to track it from their office. I called the larger branch and we had quite a difficulty understanding each other. Now one post office says it was sent to the wrong address, while the company we purchased from said they sent it to the correct address. Both sides sent faxes of the form they filled out with the addresses. The faxes are unreadable. Now what? I called the postmaster for the region and in so many words told him it was HIS problem. We’ll see if that helps. This has DEFINTELY been the most frustrating experience thus far. The fact that everyone says, I’ll call you back, but by 48 hours later, they still haven’t. If this was a small parcel, or even one that personally belonged to me, fine. But it’s a COMPUTER that belongs to our school. The entire process of dealing with the store we purchased from has been an entirely frustrating and tiring experience. It’s definitely put my coping mechanism of telling myself that I control what I can and let everything else go, to the test. Despite that mantra, this situation has gotten to me.
I realize some of this negative attitude is because it’s the end of the term. Not to mention my second to last one. I think in both of those ways, I’ve lost some of the most important patience. Partly it’s the lack of concern I receive for how one person’s actions effects another. I know this happens everywhere in the world, but somehow I feel like I’ve been dealt more than my fair share lately. Due to the fact I am so different, I’m starting to feel like I’m not really seen as a person. It’s fine to bother me and invade my space. Whatever someone thinks about me, it’s fine to say out loud, so many pre-tenses seem lost. I’m tired of being studied, observed, and examined. I know all the reasons it happens and it’s understandable. But in many ways I’ve reached my limit and ready to be less intriguing. I’m ready to be ordinary and regular. Walk down the street without someone’s head turning all the way around or being shouted at to say hello. I’m tired of being the white celebrity.
Wow, this is a rant. But I guess it’s honest and it’s the biggest feeling I have at the moment.
Here’s one good thing that happened today. So we have this fancy TV now. One of my biggest fears would be teachers would just come and watch, leaving learners out. At this point, the TV doesn’t seem to be that popular with a majority of teachers, it may have to do with not feeling comfortable with the technology.
But today, I walked into the library, where the TV is housed, to find a colleague allowing 50 or so primary learners around the TV to watch coverage of the Olympics. He made sure they walked in slowly and tried to arrange them so they could all see. So many times discipline here is simply yelling angrily and becoming upset easily. He seemed amazed at the number of learners who came to watch, but understood why they were so interested. They’ve never seen anything like this and as long as they weren’t crazy, it was a good opportunity for them. So 50 grade 1-4 learners, huddled together, saying “Mem!” when they were surprised and gasping at moments, watched the USA basketball team play Angola. Quite appropriate I think. The learners behaved and quietly watched. The difficult part came when it was time for them to go home. It took quite a bit of coaxing and a switched off TV before they would leave the room.
I suppose I was so inspired by this because it’s something I don’t think I could manage to do. I feel in control of grade 8, 9 or 10 because they would understand my instructions and I know those learners well. Thus I feel grateful that someone else sees the reward of exposing such young learners to new things. With some of the initiatives and actions that have been taken by my colleagues lately, I feel less like things will be idle when I leave. It seems some things will continue to evolve and grow.
With that in mind, it gets me to thinking about what is the benefit of me being here. In terms of purely English teaching, it is a pretty good exposure for the learners. Because of where they live and who they are surrounded by, it may be the only chance for them to talk with a native speaker which when learning any language can be a huge benefit. In terms of general development, things like computers, policies etc, my newer colleagues seem to have a plethora of good ideas and new strategies that have already started to benefit the school. Many of them are not that different then what I would have suggested. Such as the new HOD suggested we should recognize the top learners at our last assembly of the term. Some teachers were opposed, as it would take more time at assembly on the last day, when everyone is itching to go to holiday. But I think it’s an excellent idea, the kids who work hard don’t get enough recognition, and spoke up about it. That seemed to be the support that was needed to run with it. Yet the idea didn’t come from me, I just seconded it. So why am I of any more benefit than a new Namibian teacher? I think the biggest benefit comes in the fact that I teach much fewer periods than my colleauges. They teach 38 or 39 periods out of 40, while I teach 25. This is due to the fact as a volunteer PC says we must have at least 30 percent free for that purose, to do other projects and implement new ideas. For that reason, my presence is a benefit. If only new teachers got the same buffer, only 70 percent load for their first 2 years, I think the changes seen at Namibian schools would be drastic. But that’s only my opinion. Yet that’s what I’ve come to in my two years, my ideas aren’t necessairly better, I just have the time to put them in action. With that said, I still am impressed what my new colleagues have done in a short time here.
So I’m off to holiday. Last one! Amazing how so many things of this experience now feel normal, which a year and a half ago were new things to learn. It seems to happen so quickly!
Lots of love,
So sitting here in the library on a Friday afternoon I’m trying to find my words. It’s just me, the primary school kids who take 3 hours to clean their classroom because it’s fun for them, and the cows (there are cows that get let into the fence everyday to eat the dead grass that remains). And sitting here I know I am long overdue to update the blog, but my brain is feeling a bit mushy as it usually does by Friday afternoon these days. Yes, yes, I’m busy, whats new? So I feel guilty with all my excuses for not sharing with others who don’t live inside my head. Today during period 8 while, 9B was looking at newspapers, magazines, and borrowing books I felt a glimmer of inspiration. I will you about my favorite things and my not favorite things. Perhaps the easiest way for me to share life with you at the moment so let’s go.
My current Favorite things
- Learners when they hunch over a book or newspaper- leaning in so closely and intently as if they have 2-3 minutes to take in all the information and memorize the picture before someone suddenly causes the book to vanish beneath their fingertips.
- When learners scrunch their face in attempt to understand me or something they are reading. It’s such an intentful look, as if it will help the words make sense.
- Kakune saying something that slightly resembles “Howareyoui’m fine” to me on repeat after I arrive home.
- Coffee and oatmeal in the cool mornings
- The cows that roam the school grounds as the removal system for the dead grass. I’d grown used to goats around, but something about the enormity of a cow can put a smile on my face.
- The phrase “Not Serious.” Perhaps I have mentioned it before, but it is one poor usage of English in Namibia that I have embraced. It can refer to a learner, high tech store employee or the store’s policy, a malfunctioning computer program, or the water situation in general. Fantastic. It’s the perfect opposite for fantastic. Not serious.
- Dried pears. I still really don’t like the real thing, but the dried version is my current favorite treat.
- Watching 3 male colleagues gather around 1 computer, watching someone install a program. The interest in fascination seems so similar to the male stereotype everywhere. It’s also a favorite thing that Mr. Sheya was doing the installing and he was happy to have the audience, teaching as different things happened. I don’t know if I could be as patient or pleasant in that situation.
- The grade 10 parents meeting we had on Wednesday. They were supportive and enthusiastic about the tour planning and eager to have their children go. They also gave smiles and support when I explained in 1 sentence I was sorry for not speaking Oshiwambo they gave me huge smiles and appreciation for just managing the one sentence. I was humbled by their acceptance and a bit disappointed in myself that I had practiced that sentence in my head for a few hours before I said it. Nonetheless, the whole room was smiling.
- Spending time at other volunteer’s houses. It’s an interesting comparison and everyone has reached a true comfort point, so it’s cool to see the impact and connections everyone has made in their own place.
- My principal said, “when you arrived I didn’t think you would stay 2 or even 3 months. I thought you would think this is a silly place and then leave!” Mostly I like it because he used the word silly.
- Making learners imagine. I don’t think that word is said very much in primary school so it’s one of my favorite things to ask grade 9 or 10 learners to do it. This week they had to write a journal entry about if they could fly or read people’s minds or be invisible, what they would do (We were practicing using could, would and should) and the way some learners’ eyes get big and fidget in their seat, you know, you just know, their brain has been waiting YEARS for a teacher to say such a topic. Then their ideas are always interesting, they always are able to surprise me!
- New ideas! From my colleagues! It’s inspiring! Now only to take them into action…
- 6 months to go. When I let myself I enjoy dreaming of snow, Christmas cookies, familiar faces, and Caribou coffee.
So not to be negative, but…
My least favorite things
- Teenage boys. Are they this lame everywhere? And did I really like them at one point, meaning when I was a teenage girl? Eesh.
- Customer service in Namibia. Perhaps systems of planning in general. My dad had mentioned that in planning their holiday that the main system here is faxing. I’ve encountered it as I try to plan a tour. We don’t have a fax machine at school so it becomes extra steps and work to put things into writing. Often I call somewhere and then they tell me I have to fax to which they won’t respond to on their own, I also have to make a follow up phone call to see if they received it. If they did, they will tell me yes and say they are sending their answer or quotation via fax. Eesh. It’s annoying, especially when the nearest fax is 30 km away. I just don’t like faxing anymore. I hope I never have to fax ever again after this tour is over.
- Conveniences that are taken away. The electricity doesn’t work, the gas runs out and doesn’t get replaced for a few days, or the water tap is out because of a broken pipe somewhere along the line. I realize all of these are HUGE conveniences considering where I live. But the thought is once you have it and then it’s taken away, it’s worse than if you never had it. This term all of these things have not been in working order. It’s tiring. But that said, for each situation I get help from my family, or the principal, or a volunteer in town who has electricity. I never have to suffer alone.
- People have always been interested in my “stuff.” I’ve gotten used to it not making me uncomfortable, but lately I feel like people are paying closer or attention or maybe I’m paying more attention, but it makes me want to crawl into a hole from time to time.
- 6 months to go. I want to feel like I’ve done all that I said I would do. Leave projects in a place that my colleagues can take them up and learners feeling equipped.
So this is something I wrote last year about an event that happened not long after I had started at my school. I submitted it to Peace Corps here and it was published in our newsletter with positive reactions. So I'd like to share with you too! Cheers!
Life is hard. It’s never easy, no matter where you live or what your job is. I try to tell myself that when life gets hard here. When I have a difficult day or I am feeling frustrated, I remind myself, it’s not just Namibia, that’s life. It is not easy. Yet I also try to remember that there are different rewards here than those I would get if I was doing some other type of work. That as I get frustrated or tired, there are some incentives that are worth moving through the hard stuff to get to.
There was one particular moment that I first truly realized this during my teaching in northern Namibia about three months after I arrived at site. To reach my village from my nearest town, I go to the petrol station that is at the far end of town and wait. Taxi drivers ask me, “Tsandi,” the next town down the tar road. “Aiye, no,” I reply. A look of confusion fills their face, “Ombalantu?” The next town after Tsandi. “Aiye,” I repeat, this time with a smile. “Peni,” they inquire, where could this oshilumbu possibly be going? “Onakaheke,” I say extending my hand to the far side of the road, pointing that I am somewhere off into the homesteads. The taxi drivers will often shake their heads in amazement and move on, looking for another customer.
I walk to the concrete steps beneath the Shell Petrol station sign and unload my bags. Immediately, a petite woman with striking eyes greets me. She addresses me as Meme Frau, suggesting that she is from my village, she knows I am a teacher. She then tells me in English that she is the mother of one of my grade 8’s, Petrina. She smiles broadly when she says it, the words her daughter has spoken about me, floating around in her face. Immediately I see the resemblance between the mother and daughter, big eyes, round face, both a brand of strong beauty. I reply, “Oh! Petrina is very clever! She is always answering questions nicely.” And she truly is. It had been difficult walking into the grade 8 classrooms, with learners who were unsure if they understood me and very shy to take a chance to participate. I made a seating chart just from the class list, Petrina’s place was in the back right hand corner of the room. I can still see her in her first hair style of the year, swept up into a side pony tail, wearing a green track jacket over her uniform, skirt too short, showing off her skinny strong legs. She not only answered questions, she answered them with authority. Standing straight up, hands at her sides, not hiding into the desk as many other learners did. She was confident in her English, willing to shout it across the classroom, for all to admire. I was willing to call on her often, as she made a valiant effort and her classmates and been slow to respond in the first months.
After I tell her mother that her daughter is clever, she again just smiles and asks if I am going home. I say yes and agree that we should find a hike, a lift with a baakie going to our village, together. After awhile, a baakie does pull up and the tate kulu driving shouts, “Nakaheke!” To which the mother looks at me and says, “let’s go.” I am pulled into the cab, as a teacher, a foreign teacher at that, I often get the comfortable cab seat without even a request. Petrina’s mother sits next to me, our legs wedged together to make room for the manual stick. The back of the baakie fills up with others headed home and the driver takes off, in the opposite direction we normally go. Petrina’s mother seems to sense my confusion, and says, “we are taking the old way. No one really goes this side anymore.” I nod in understanding as the driver stops at the post office to run one last errand.
I hear Petrina’s mother sigh loudly, I can tell she is searching for words to say. Language barriers often make for awkward silences. Then she begins. “Petrina says to me, mommy, there is one teacher I know loves me more than all the others. She says it is you, you know.” Great I think, I have tried not to play favorites, but it is hard in such a judgmental subject as English. The area between right and wrong is fluid and so I often let those with strong voices, like Petrina, participate as often as they like. Petrina knows this, that I have seen her talent and I let her use it. Her mother continues, “She is always trying to speak like you. Even when we are at home, she is walking around speaking your English.” She says it in a way as if to say, there is no need for English at home, we all understand Oshiwambo properly there, but Petrina cannot stop the English from coming out. Finally she says, “I can see she is trying very hard.” If she had stopped there, had left it at those words, I would have been pleased. I knew walking into this job That I may not get perfect test scores, but I may be able to inspire learning in some of the learners I taught. Help them see that it could be interesting and perhaps, fun! But she adds something more that hits me straight in the gut. “Thank you,” she says squeezing my hand. Then she is finished, those are all the English words she desired to say. A learner’s mother has thanked me. I am struck, I don’t even know how to respond. Thank you, she said all those things so she could thank me for inspiring her daughter to walk around speaking English. Petrina’s mother is the first parent I have met and the fact that this first encounter includes a thank you is more than I could ever ask for.
So when it is a hard day, or I’m frustrated trying to explain the difference between the present simple and present continuous verb tense or I am sick of saying, “Capital letters at the beginning of EVERY sentence!” I think of Petrina’s mother, of the few words she searched her mind to say and then I imagine Petrina walking around her homestead, speaking in simple English phrases for simply the sake of hearing her own voice speaking the language.