6 November 2011, Sunday
“Hearts will never be practical, until they are made unbreakable.” – The Wizard of Oz
This week was definitely better than last week, but these kids still break my heart on a daily basis. I’m going try and just hit the highlights of the week to keep this a bit shorter, but I also want to tell you about my host family, so I apologize if this runs long again.
Monday morning I was sitting in the staffroom by myself during first period, reviewing for my lessons I was going to teach that day. I had just sat down when a little girl walked in, sat down on the other side of the room and asked me “Miss, how is it to lose one’s mother?” Then she started crying. I crossed the room, sat down next to her, and pulled her in for a hug. I talked with her for a while and found out that she is a grade seven learner and her mother passed away on Thursday. Her father died when she was a baby so she is now an orphan. I got the impression that she stays at the hostel because she kept saying she wished she could have been there when her mother died to hear her voice one more time. She told me that now she has no hope left and she wished she could die too and be with her parents again. I did what I could to comfort her and assure her that her mother doesn’t want her to give up. That she is up in heaven looking down on her and wants her to go on to do great things with her life. Some teachers filtered in and out while I was talking to her, but eventually one of the teachers came and took her to her class. I don’t feel qualified to counsel these children who are dealing with such unfortunate, heartbreaking situations.
This week the upper primary learners had two writing exams. On Tuesday they had to write their English language exam and on Thursday they had to write their African language exam. A typical school day is from 7:10 am to 1:00 pm. This includes four 40 minute periods, a thirty minute tea break, then four more 40 minute periods. On days when there are exams, there are four 40 minute periods, a thirty minute tea break… then chaos interrupted by an exam. What is suppose to happen is that there is still a class after the tea break, then the exam starts at 11 am. It’s suppose to last an hour and then they have the last couple classes of the day. What actually happens is that after the tea break the students run around trying to find pens for the exam and get situated in the correct order in which ever classroom they are taking the exam while the teachers run around making more copies of the exam and trying to find a piece of paper for each student to write the exam on (not because they are short on paper but because they didn’t start getting ready for the exam until right before they were suppose to give it). The exam inevitably starts late and they let the students write until they are finished instead of for just one hour. When all the exams are finished, the teachers leave the students in the rooms and go home, no matter how much of the day is left. This meant I didn’t teach several classes on Tuesday and Thursday. It was kind of nice, but it put a couple of my classes behind. One thing the previous volunteer told me before she left was not to try and teach when no one else is teaching. She said the kids won’t hear a word I say and half of them won’t come in the classroom because their other classmates are running around outside the classroom.
On Thursday, I tried to convince one of my learners that he wasn’t stupid, but I lost that battle. I could not get him to tell me he was good at anything or that he was not stupid. I couldn’t even get him to just say the words “I am not stupid.” He just kept saying to me “miss, I am just stupid.” I asked him what he wants to do after he finishes school, and he told me he wants to have children so he can beat them. So many of the teachers here do not encourage their students. If they don’t understand what the teacher is trying to say, the teacher just tells the learner they are stupid and can’t learn. If they aren’t learning or they are misbehaving because they have no idea what is going on in the class, the teacher beats the learner. From what I’ve seen, this doesn’t teach the learner to behave, it makes them stop for the time being, but leaves the learner with a feeling like they want to get back at the teacher for hitting them. Most of them don’t do anything back to the teacher, instead they take out their anger on each other by beating each other. And more than once I’ve heard learners mention that they are going to beat their children when they grow up, and it’s because that is all they know. So on Friday I had a discussion with one of my classes that was ahead of the other ones about their goals in life and what it’s going to take for them to get there. It went really well. It took a little encouragement, but eventually they were all coming up with things they wanted to do after they finish school. I made sure to tell them that I believe they can all accomplish those goals and if I come back in 15 years I expect to see them all happily working at the jobs they listed for me.
On a more positive note, I have been teaching electricity this week and my lessons actually went really well. At first I wasn’t sure how to explain electricity to a bunch of grade six learners without some sort of circuit board so they could understand when electricity was flowing and when it wasn’t, but I talked to one of my friends who mentioned a book called There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings by Kenn Amdhal. With a lot of help from my brother, I managed to download the book over the weekend and copy it onto my nook. It explained electricity using little green men instead of electrons. The book is really well written and hilarious. I definitely recommend it. Anyway, I adapted the story, made a bunch of paper and marker drawings, and told the story of the greenie boys and girls who live in Narnia. I left that drawing up on one half of the board and on the other half of the board I drew a circuit with electrons, a switch and a lightbulb that mirrored my drawing of the greenies. When I got to the part where I was explaining how a lightbulb works, in several of the classes I had a student go “Oh I get it! It’s just like the story!” The first time that happened I could have hugged the kid I was so happy. My greatest success was a boy who told me that he really liked the story and this class was fun. This boy had been raising his had all through class, answering my questions, and asking additional questions. This was the same boy who was disrupting my class last week and who I made draw me a picture of why he was disrupting my class; he is the same boy who cried as he told me that his mother had died.
After I finished teaching that particular class, the learners asked me if I could stay in the classroom. For some reason they had a keyboard in the classroom and they wanted to sing for me. I told them I didn’t have a class for the next forty minutes so I could stay. As they tried to hotwire the keyboard to a plug, I took out my camera, which they loved, and I took pictures of them and my lesson that they loved so much. Unfortunately the battery died before I could take pictures of the music or video of their singing. Eventually they got the keyboard working and one boy played the piano while the others sang and danced. It was unbelievable to see. Of course they could all sing, but for that half an hour they were all playing together. No one was picking on anyone else. No one was beating on anyone else. No one was throwing anything at anyone else. No one was stealing from anyone else. No one was tattling on anyone else. In that moment I was so happy I felt like crying. I told the learners how happy it made me to see them all getting along so well. Thankful
ly, that’s how I ended my week at school. Then this weekend, I stayed at my flat at the hostel instead of with my host family because a couple other volunteers were coming to town for the weekend and they needed a place to stay. It was really good to see some of my friends from our group again and just share our experiences over the past two weeks.
So my host family: I live in a huge two story mansion that is about a 40 minute walk from town and an hour walk from the school. My host father is a pastor at the Lutheran church and my host mother works at the same school as I do. My host father is only around about every other week because he also works in a neighboring town. This is my host mother’s first year at the school. She said she hasn’t worked in over ten years because she is blind in one eye and can only see 10% out of the other eye which makes it difficult for her to get a job. Together they have three children. The oldest boy lives in Windhoek. The next oldest is a girl who is my age, and then they have a son who is about to finish grade 12. The daughter has a five year old son, and my host father had three children before he got married. One of the sons of one of his older children also lives with us. So that’s four “kids” plus me in the house, my host parents, and then another lady who lives in Windhoek but has been staying with us since I’ve been here. I don’t know how long she is staying or why she is staying with us, but she’s nice enough.
The house is unusually large for a Namibian family, and I do have my own room on the second floor. The unfortunate thing about such a large house is that it is easy for people to hide in the house. When I get home from school each day, everyone is usually in their own rooms either sleeping or watching tv. So I usually go to my room for a nap and then to plan my lessons for the next day. I go downstairs again at 6:30 to watch a TV show with my host mom, sister, and the other lady. After that, I eat my dinner at the dinner table with the two smallest boys (9 and 5 as near as I can guess) while everyone else takes their plates to their rooms and eats. After dinner, I clean the kitchen and help the 9 year old wash all the dishes. He and I have become pretty good friends, and the youngest boy just loves playing games with me.
On Thursday evening, I was watching TV with my host mom and the other lady and they asked me if I knew any black people before coming to Namibia. I said yes, I’ve grown up with black people. Some of my good friends are black, and especially in the city where I finished college there were a lot of black people. They were surprised. They said they were worried that I was afraid of black people. And they said I must work to make lots of friends in the town because this will be my home for the next two years. I go into town several times a week. My host mom almost always leaves school early, and sometimes she forgets to arrange another ride for me so I walk to town and then walk home. Sometimes I just choose to go into town because I need to do some shopping or just want to wander around town and familiarize myself with people and places. Last weekend I made friends with one of the guys that works at the post office. This weekend I made friends with a woman who runs a place called the Joy Center which provides food and housing for children who are orphaned, vulnerable, or have been abused. My host family doesn’t see this because they go home and go to sleep. When they asked me how I like living in the house, I said it was very much like living in an American house. In American houses, people tend to go to different rooms and do their own things and then come together for dinner. The other woman agreed it was very much like their house except they never ate meals together. But she said I must work harder to feel like part of the family. The next day I went to stay at my flat for the weekend.
Today, I went to lunch with my friends before they left. When I got back to my host family, no one was in their rooms. I dropped my bags in my bedroom and when I got back downstairs, there were plates set at the table. Then my host mom told me it was time to eat, they put all the food in the middle of the table, and we all sat down to eat. I was completely stuffed from the meal I had just eaten in town, but it was clear they had done all this for me. It was the most awkwardly awesome meal that I’ve had thus far in Namibia. I loved being able to serve myself because I didn’t pile my plate full. Usually they dish up my plate and it’s way too much food. Sometimes I can sneak some to the dog, but usually I eat all of it, so it was really nice to not have to each so much today. And for a while they tried to make conversation with me. They asked me for about the 10th time what kinds of foods we eat in America. Then they switched to talking in KKG and then not talking at all. But for some reason I really enjoyed the homie yet awkward feeling of the whole meal. My host sister just piled her plate full and sat there. When the other woman finished she excused herself, then my host sister left the table and took her plate to her room to eat. When I finished I helped put all the food away. My host mom just went upstairs again, but I helped the two smallest boys wash and put away all the dishes. The five year old was having a ball rinsing the dishes for me and getting water everywhere. I can’t wait to move into my own flat in December, but since I’m stuck with this host family for now, I’m going to try to make the best of it. I’m looking forward to this week. I’m convinced it’s going to be even better than last week. I started working on learning the 160 names of the learners in my classes last week and they really liked that, so I’m hoping I can remember even more this week.
This is why I’m here… 😀