lyrics + disclaimer

Life is short, so let's go live it.

**all opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps or any official US or Namibian organization.**

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Another World

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make one of those “10 things I learned in the Peace Corps” lists, but this is the closest I’ve come so far:

back in the US

I’ve been back in the US for about a month, and it’s one of the hardest facts to understand. It’s wonderful to be home, and I miss my Namibian life as well – but trying to compare the two is pretty much an apples and oranges situation. Sometimes it even seems hard to remember how day-to-day life was in Namibia; but then, sometimes it seems hard to comprehend why things are as they are here in America.
Being back with family is one of the best parts!

Today I was running up a hill in Seattle (they are the bane of my current existence – my village had no hills and I’m really out of shape!) thinking about, of course, running. I mentally berated myself for letting my fitness level get so bad, and spent a good half mile trying to figure out why I’m so unmotivated. Then I started comparing my situation to my exact same situation a few months ago in Namibia. I was running even less, and yes I wanted to be in better shape. But I was proud of the life I was living and the goals I was accomplishing, and I was in better shape than nearly all of my colleagues… so I stopped worrying.

This obsession with perfection is one of the things I have always found hardest about American culture. It is so easily to slide into that routine of expecting 150% (from everyone, about everything, always), and it’s something I’ve been guilty of my whole life. It’s also something that exactly opposes most cultures of the developing world. While I’m working at a summer composed of kids who fly across oceans to learn algebra for a few weeks, my learners in Namibia are just trying to maintain the 40% necessary to pass their classes. They’re preparing for a beauty pageant and, you know, most of the time they seem pretty ok with things. Although I would love for them to be pushed a bit harder in school (for the career opportunities if nothing else), even after 3 years I find it difficult to understand why we seem to be trying so hard to make them American kids. I was stressed as heck during high school, and I definitely did more than I needed to—and I can’t necessarily say that overbooking myself to the point of exhaustion really did anything for me in the long run.

The whole Pride festival and other recent Supreme Court rulings also made me happy to be home.

I guess I can’t say which is better. I really miss the pace of life in Namibia, and the way you are really able to stop and enjoy whatever it is you are doing. Then again, it’s hard to miss some of the sexism and extreme conservatism that showed up on a daily basis. In the same way, the liberal society and amenities in the US are great, but I’m not so convinced about our personal belief systems. In the end, I have to say I think the most value came from having the amazing opportunity to experience both, and to learn from mentors and friends versed in both cultures.

Unity and tribalism

whoops! Here's a post I started drafting about two months ago and never got a chance to post:

Teachers on my last day of school

“The best thing about our staff is that we can work, learn, and play together,” my principal opened our staff meeting on Monday for the beginning of the new term. This is particularly impressive because our staff does not consist of self-identified Namibians. It consists of Namas, Coloureds, Wambos, Caprivians and Kavangoans—representing most of the major tribes in the country.

It is true that we get along most of the time, and I do think that it is usually to the advantage of our learners. Having representatives from all tribes means it is pretty unlikely for learners to feel cheated or discriminated against based on their tribe. They are exposed to a wide variety of cultures just by coming to school, and I think they learn a lot from this.

My going away party with some of our staff

But there are no real utopias, right?

Even our perfect combination of teachers, I learned at the end of last term, bear their grudges and hold their stereotypes of each other. After a day of enjoying each others’ company at our staff party, some of my colleagues suddenly broke out into an hour-long battle along tribal lines. ‘Wambos steal jobs,’ ‘Namas are lazy,’ ‘Namas don’t go to college,’ ‘Wambos want to take over the country,’ etc. All of these stereotypes have their place, and yes, are based on some fairly accurate trends as far as I am concerned.

But the worst part for me was that they didn’t voice any of my own, privately-discovered generalizations:
Wambos are really kind and will love to share what they have with you.
Caprivians work harder than anyone I’ve ever met.
Namas love to laugh, tell great jokes, and are a blast to hang out with.

Obviously I notice strange things because I’m not from here and I’m not involved in the race-wars. But let’s try not to judge people by the skin they wear.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A trip to Wamboland

Over the past school holiday, I took my first extended trip with Namibian friends. It was awesome.

With my colleague in the village

I went to the northern part of the country, dubbed ‘Wamboland’ because, although it consists of several regions, the majority of the area is inhabited by those of the Oshiwambo tribe. (Volunteers call it ‘O land’ because all of the regions start with the letter O… but no Namibian understands if you refer to O land!) I traveled with my friend/short-term housemate/colleague who I’ve worked closely with in Tses this year. She was excited to get to show off the white girl to her friends and family, and I was excited to see another place and way of life. Plus we’re good friends. It was a win all around!

 the headman's family we visited in the village

I found Wamboland really interesting because to start with, the culture is SO different from the Namas where I live. People in the north are extremely respectful and adhere to tradition much more strictly than those in the south. There are arguments to be made, of course, that apartheid didn’t break apart the culture in the north the same way as in the south (family units were left alone – Wambos sometimes came south to work for Boers, but in the south the Boers actually took over the land and disrupted the local communities). It was really something to walk around the biggest town in Namibia (excluding the capital city) and not be harassed.

visiting a UNam campus with some friends (Oganga? something like that. It's a crop science/agriculture specalty campus)

The coolest part of my trip was, of course, staying with my friend and her family and just seeing how they live. They have an extremely modern house, but even there some things are done traditionally. My first evening we ate mahangu, traditional millet porridge (don’t chew because there is sand inside!), traditional spinach and mopane worms. Yep, worms. Meme (mother) was extremely entertained watching me try to eat it! Luckily she wasn’t one to be offended if I didn’t try something, but “Aunt Francis from Kansas says two bites of everything,” as Dad always told us.

learning to make mahangu (and getting laughed at)

bon appetit!

When we went to the village to stay with my colleague’s cousins, we experienced yet another lifestyle. Here, they actually harvest and pound the millet into meal themselves; they pick the worms out of the ground to eat; until a few years ago they fetched water from a pretty gross-looking watering hole. We visited the headman and brought him gifts, and saw a few different homesteads where different family groups live. It was sad to see how dependent people are on the land, because northern Namibia is in a serious drought again this year and already they are starting to suffer from it. (Side note – all of them blame climate change for the string of recent droughts. Catch up, America!)

The water hole near the house

part of the family

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Too many Kids, Not Enough Parents/Time/Attention/…

One of the things, which I’ve always known but have been especially hit with this year, is that there are not enough parents around for all of my learners. Every time I have a bond with one of them, I want to give them my attention, time, motivation, and help. Sometimes this means buying a new pair of school shoes (thanks everyone at home who has helped to make this financially possible!). Sometimes this means calling them in for extra study time or one-on-one tutoring. Sometimes this means sitting on the front stoop of my house and just spending time together.
But the thing is, there’s not enough time. Just to give you an idea, here is an example of my kids’/my schedule during the week:
6:45-1:30 school
1:30-2:30 lunch
2:30-3:30 resting time
3:30-5:00 afternoon study
5:00-6:00 sports practices
7:00-8:30 evening study
9:30         lights out (for the kids… but seeing as I’m now an old grandmother my bedtime is usually not far behind!) 
 It’s awesome that we keep them busy, especially the hostel kids who have limited supervision as it is at the hostel (2 supervisors on duty at any given time, for up to 144 learners). But it becomes a problem when you’re looking for time to take the kids one at a time or in small groups!
 In terms of being a teacher, I’m lucky. I don’t have my own kids/husband/family to worry about, so I have more free time than most. I’m teaching fewer classes than my colleagues, so I have less stress with lesson planning and marking. I tend to be organized and dedicated to work, so again I have more time to give than many. But the sad fact is, and I know it is true at nearly all Namibian schools, these kids just don’t have enough support. When I was young, I remember my parents checking on my homework EVERY DAY so that it would be finished for tomorrow’s classes – and we simply can’t do that for each of 250 learners in our school! How can we give them all that they need in order to grow up into disciplined, moral, educated young people?

Either way, I’m lucky to be close to a lot of the learners and have them come to me when they need help. And I take that role as seriously as I can!

Oranjemund – it’s a “private town”

At the end of March I traveled to the small, PRIVATE (?!?) town of Oranjemund with some of my athletes. In true form, the Regional Athletics (track and field) competition was postponed twice, only to discover that “we need a track to hold the competition,” so then it was moved from our capital Keetmanshoop to Oranjemund. Although it’s only 400-500km away from Tses, it took us two days and more than 8 hours of travel on questionable roads to reach our destination.

But the view along the way was exquisite – not many people in Namibia get the chance to see the Orange River (marking the border between South Africa and Namibia), because it’s a private area. The entire area around Oranjemund (starting about 100km before it on the road leading there) is private-access. You need a permit to enter – thank goodness we were traveling with a Ministry or we would have had trouble! They gave me enough confused looks as it was – first because they thought I was a learner, then because I had a passport instead of a Namibian ID, then because they didn’t understand my accent…

The kids and I at the mouth of the Orange River

Oranjemund is private because the area is owned by a diamond company. Yep, that’s right, diamonds. There are signs everywhere stating, “Stealing diamonds hurts all of us.” Diamonds are a pretty big industry in Namibia and a huge source of national income, and it was cool to actually see where the mines are (even though I couldn’t tell you what any of those buildings are for).

Once we reached Oranjemund, the town, we realized that it is basically a little oasis! The water must cost a fortune, but every lawn is watered and has grass; the roads are well kept-up and everyone there is RICH. It was very strange. But we had a great time and met some really kind people there (one nurse who helped out one of my kids who cramped up in the COLD and misty weather asked about the school, and then proceeded to send me home with two huge trash bags of really nice clothes to distribute to the kids! Namibians helping Namibians, love it!!)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rain in Tses

...falls... rarely.

About 1-3 times per year (at least in the 10 or so months I’m actually IN Tses to witness it), it rains.

Okay, sometimes it sprinkles or drips, but in my experience, 1-3 times per year, it RAINS hard and for more than 30 minutes. When this happens, everyone celebrates! The dams will fill up again, plants will grow, animals can eat and drink. We’re much more in tune with the water cycle here than I’m used to in the U.S.

The funny thing about living here is that, although the ground is always parched and cracked, very little water is absorbed. The rest all runs off (taking all kinds of rubbish and small plants with it) into rivers and streams. Although it’s more frequent in the North where the rainy season is really serious, it’s not that uncommon for small villages to be cut off from the rest of the country by a river which has suddenly appeared.

The Tses River after the rain… compared to the Tses River the rest of the year

Although I don’t think it was more than waist-deep, this tiny river had a strong enough current that it was actually impossible to cross! (I know… I tried.)

The Tses River, among many others, flows into the nearby Fish River, which flows into the Orange River, which flows into the ocean. The Fish doesn’t flow the whole year…but after the rains, it flows and flows and flows!

We went to visit the waterfall which is about 20km away from Tses. It’s the first time in 3 years that I have made it to the Fish while the water was still falling!

Nobody told us… don’t swim in the water. It will make you sick for days. (Totally worth it though!)

Our 25th!!

On 21 March, 2015, Namibia celebrated its 25th birthday. 

As in America, this Independence Day merits a huge celebration - but unlike in America, many Namibians remember pre-independence life and are really actively grateful for the independence they enjoy today.

Of course we celebrated the day at school!

Kids prepared for our Independence celebration at school

One class performing their dance

Traditional Namastap dance performance

Grade 10s reenact a scene from the South African freedom fighters' movement movie, "Sarafina"