Monthly Archives: July 2013

Welcome Miss Marsha’s Mom

31 July 2013, Wednesday

Karen again…

Finally, the first day of visiting Karundu Primary School!  Tuesday morning, bright and early at about 6:30, we walked through the hostel on the sidewalks where the children were gathering, greeted on all sides by smiles and ‘Hallow, Miss’ or ‘Good morning, Miss.’  Marsha’s flat is on the end of the girl’s hostel building, so we walk past the dining hall and boy’s hostel building to get to the gate in the wall that separates the hostel from the school.  The smiles and greetings from the children are a beautiful way to start the day.

Every day at Karundu begins with a staff meeting at 6:40.  At my school in America, the information shared at these staff meetings would be sent to all teachers in an e-mail.  Marsha introduced me to the staff.  In addition to welcoming me to Namibia and the school and a hug from the principal, the staff reacted similar to many others since we started going places together:  ‘You look like sisters.’  What mother does not enjoy hearing that she looks as young as her daughter?

Here’s an aside to the story of our first day… Concerning our looking alike, Marsha was able to keep me grounded.  She had pointed out to me earlier something I was already aware of, but was forgetting:  when Namibian people see white women, they are focused on our skin and hair color, which is so different from their own.  They are less aware of the facial features that are different, so we look more alike than we really are.  This has been very true for me in reverse when meeting Marsha’s learners.  The first few days I struggled to see the differences that would help me to put names with faces.  I found myself noticing colorful clothing they wear over their uniforms to stay warm, so I would think ‘Stephanus is in the red sweater,’ knowing that if Stephanus wore a different sweater the next day, I would not know him by name.  Gradually, as the week went on, I found that I could much more easily see their individuality, and now it feels strange to write about how much they looked alike those first few days.

In general, the learners were very excited to meet me.  The first class had a greeting spelled out on multiple pieces of paper with a letter on each.  Marsha and I enjoyed watching the organizers try to get everyone in order so we could read the message.  When Marsha realized that the message was longer than the room was wide, she invited them to move outside, where they could spread out.  Her room is on the end of the building, so we could do this without disturbing other classes.  It took Marsha a few minutes to figure out what they were trying to spell, but she helped them arrange themselves so their message read “Welcome Miss Marsha’s Mom.”  Each student said their letter and then they all welcomed me to Karundu.  At Marsha’s prompting, this was followed by several songs.  What an amazing way to meet these children!  The next two classes also sang the Welcome song and other songs Marsha requested.

Click here to see a video of the learners welcoming me to the school.

Marsha’s plan for the day was to have me tell the learners about myself, followed by answering their questions.  I told them that I also teach math in America, to 7th and 8th grade students.  My first day I had trouble remembering to use the Namibian terms:  grade 7 and grade 8 learners.  I shared pictures of each of my three classes from Holy Spirit Catholic school, where I teach.  I explained our school uniform, which required defining the word ‘plaid.’  A few of my students had used a non-uniform pass the day I took the pictures, so I needed to explain that they had earned the passes and could come in play clothes one day.   Passing these pictures around the room resulted in a number of questions, as well as their interest in Miss Marsha.  I wish I could remember all that they were curious about, but I will do my best:

Miss, are there any black learners in your school?

Why are there no black learners in these pictures?

Are these two brothers?  (One boy had his arm on the shoulder of the boy next to him and they have similar builds.)

What classes do the students take in America?  I told them that our school day starts at 9 AM, which got a big reaction, since they start at 7:10, then explained that it doesn’t end until 3:30.  The fact that American learners eat lunch at school was interesting.  At Karundu they get a half hour tea break in the middle of the day, about 10 am.  School ends at 1PM and they go home or back to the hostel for lunch.

Why didn’t you bring your learners with you?

Do you beat your learners?

Do learners pay school fees?

Is Miss Marsha first born?  (Multiple classes asked this, letting me know that first born is good in Namibia)  This led to a discussion of Marsha’s family.  They liked her brothers’ names: Mark and Scott.  I have not heard either of these names here in Namibia.

How old is Miss Marsha?

What season do you like best?  This led to a discussion of winter, skiing, sledding, slippery roads that are not safe for school busses, and snow days off from schools.

The girls are also in love with my hair, just as they have been with Marsha’s since she arrived at Karundu.   They asked if they could touch it and now I frequently have hands playing with my hair when I am at the desk answering questions.  On day I was standing near the door when the class dismissed and I think every girl on the way out played with my hair.  Oddly enough, I love it.

Starting that first day, I receive hugs from many of the girls on their way out of class, as well as high fives.  These children are wonderfully loving and joy-filled.  I’m writing this with only two days of school left before I leave, and I already can’t imagine never seeing them again, never knowing whether they got into a good secondary school, or what became of them.  These are very special young people and I hope and pray for good lives for them all.


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Eight Women in a Van

30 July 2013, Tuesday

Karen again writing the blog…

My last experience of traveling like a Namibian Peace Corps volunteer was as interesting as the first.  Our flight left Katima, the northern town in Namibia, to return to the capital, at 1:35 pm on Sunday.  The earliest we could get breakfast at Jollyboys backpackers was 6:30 am, so we were packed and ready to eat by 6:30.  We checked out shortly after 7.  There was a taxi inside the Jollyboys gate that could take us to ‘Roadside,’ where we would get another taxi back to Namibia.  Knowing that we should pay 30 Kwacha for this ride (thanks again to the Jollyboys staff) and 65 Kwacha apiece for the ride to the Namibian border, we were on our way.  Arriving at Roadside, there were about 8 drivers waiting to help us.  When we said where we were going, they waved us toward a van, saying it was the next vehicle going to Katima.  We were the first passengers, so we knew the van would not leave until it was full.  We hoped that ‘full’ would be 3 in the back, 3 in the middle, and one person in the front, besides the driver, since that was the number of seats and seat belts.  We left about an hour later with 4 women in the back, one holding a girl baby, 4 women (including Marsha and I) in the middle row, one holding a girl baby, and one young woman in the front passenger seat.  The road was good for the first 60 km, where an intersecting road leads to Botswana.  At this point the driver pulled over and 3 women got out, then he drove down the road toward Botswana.  We knew he was going to Katima, but this was unexpected.  It turned out that he was going to a roadside petrol stop, like the driver did on Friday.   He then returned to the intersection and the 3 women got back in the van.  We never did know what the 3 women were doing when they got out of the van.

The next 140 km of road alternates between decent road and unbelievable potholes.  Marsha was almost asleep next to me when I saw that the van was headed straight for a group of potholes and the driver was not slowing down.  My first thought was ‘maybe you can skim right over the top of these holes.’  It turns out, you can’t.  The van hit the potholes, after which it took the driver about four swerves back and forth across the road to regain control of the van.  Again, my thoughts were clear:  ‘this van could roll, with 8 women, 2 babies, and no seatbelts.’  That didn’t happen, but the back passenger tire was destroyed, as was the rim.  The eight women and 2 babies piled out and agreed that we could change the tire ourselves, if we had to.  Marsha and I agreed later that we did a lot of praying for the rest of the drive, since we knew we no longer had a spare tire and another flat would almost certainly result in our missing the flight to Windhoek.  The rest of the drive was problem free, although crowded, and we arrived at the Zambia border post at about 11:20.

Now the time became an interesting problem.  We were sure we had changed time zones and lost an hour on Friday.  This should have made it 10:20 in Namibia, but after we had passports stamped out of Zambia, and passed through customs into Namibia, the taxi driver’s clock indicated that it was just after noon.  We had planned to spend an hour in the town of Katima, but if it really was noon, rather than 11 am, we needed to get to the airport.  We decided to be safe, rather than sorry, and had the taxi take us straight to the airport.  A sign on the door of the airport cleared up our confusion.  It turned out that the time in Katima was after noon, but the flights were Namibian time, not Katima time (as though Katima is not part of Namibia, which it is.)  We had a little over 2 hours before the flight left, but we had food with us, so we just relaxed with our lunch.

The volunteers I have met all agree that they get safer, more comfortable rides when they hike (hitch hike, for us non-Namibians) than when they take taxis.  Hiking is a common form of transportation in Namibia, where so few people own a car.  One huge disadvantage of hiking is that you don’t know how long it will take to get a ride.

Marsha and I traveled from Windhoek to Otjiwarongo on Monday afternoon, but we had reservations on the Sunshine Tours bus.  It was very comfortable, in that everyone had their own seat and a seat belt.  The luggage was in an enclosed trailer behind the small bus.  We arrived in Otjiwarongo at about 3:30 Monday afternoon, bought a few groceries, and caught a taxi to the school.  The children who stay in the hostel were outside and word that ‘Miss Marsha is back’ spread quickly.

I can now fully appreciate any reluctance to travel around Namibia.  For Marsha, living in Otjiwarongo, there is no need to travel for supplies.  She can just walk into town for groceries.  Many of the volunteers have to hike (again, read hitch hike) to a town, sometimes as far as 200 km, to get to a grocery store.  Marsha has shared with us that the freedom to drive herself wherever she needs to go is one thing she misses most here in Namibia.  I fully understand that now, having experienced travel, Namibian style.


A note from Marsha:  Boy do I have stories to tell about traveling around Namibia.  I’ve been trying to spare the details since I don’t want anyone to worry about me living over here more than they already do.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned in this blog that mostly my means of transportation around the country is hitch hiking, but since my mom is writing this one, I guess it’s ok to be a little more honest…  TTFN, Marsha

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Waterfalls and Rainbows, Two of my Favorite Things; Marsha wins against the baboon

28 July 2013, Sunday

Karen is again taking over the blog writing…

Having arrived in Livingstone after dark on Friday, the first order of business on Saturday morning was to go to the ATM and withdraw Zambian currency.  We made a list of our expected expenses while in Zambia, including the 70 Kwacha each that we would be paying a taxi to take us back to Namibia on Sunday, somewhat less than the 100 Kwacha each that Sam charged us on Friday.  The staff at the desk at Jollyboys is amazing; they told us what it would cost for each of our taxis.  Jollyboys provides a free bus to the falls in the morning, about 10 km, but we would need to pay for a taxi to get back in the afternoon.  We also bought apples for lunch, which we forgot to take with us, and needed money for park entrance fees.  After breakfast at the hostel we caught the bus to the falls.

There is truly no way to describe Victoria Falls.  One end of the canyon is in Zambia and the other in Zimbabwe.  Water falls the entire length of the canyon. At no time can you begin to see the whole falls from any point on the ground.  It is as though the whole length of a lake ends in a cliff and the water from the lake falls over the edge into a canyon.  There are no words to describe this majesty, but the pictures will give you an idea of the beauty.  Sun shining through the mist produced by the water hitting the bottom of the canyon resulted in glorious rainbow after rainbow.

We started by entering the Zambia park and walking a short path to the first view of falls, then following the path to the view of the water above the falls.  Water stretches away from you and the only indication that there is a major falls nearby is the mist rising out of the canyon.  The path leads back around the end of the canyon and along the edge of the canyon that is opposite the falls, allowing visitors to see falls after falls.  We crossed the Knife Edge bridge to continue on our side of the canyon, putting on the light ponchos we brought to keep from being soaked by the mist produced by the falls.

Before leaving the park, I told Marsha we should check out the Boiling Pot trail.  She pointed out that it goes to the bottom of the canyon and we would have to climb back out, but she was willing to do it.  As we started down this path, there were many baboons, large and small, climbing around the hills on either side.  They were so cute!  I took a number of pictures, including one of a large baboon sitting close to a bench.  A moment later, we found why the local people don’t think they are so cute.  The large baboon approached Marsha and reached for the bag she carried across her shoulder.  We had been warned that the baboons would try to take bags and cameras, especially if the bag had fruit in it, but no-one mentioned how you get the baboon to go away and leave your bag alone!  I know I wasn’t much help.  Marsha tried to turn away and walk away, but at one point the baboon had a hand on the strap of her bag and she had to hit it away.  She took every opportunity afterwards to wash her hand to ‘get rid of the baboon.’  I felt bad for not helping in some way, but I also really wish I had a video, or at least a picture, of her baboon encounter, considering that we know she came out on top!

The rest of the walk to the Boiling Pot included crossing a couple streams on small stone bridges.  We kept thinking “Disney got it right,” because it was so picture perfect and looked like something you would see in Disney World.  We came out on a large rock shore of the river, with a view up to the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  This was the best view of the bridge and we were glad we made the trek down, even though we did have to climb back up.  Fortunately, we did not encounter the large baboon again, but Marsha carried a couple sticks (useless, really) and a decent sized rock (a throwing stance with a rock in your hand seemed to scared them a bit) and we made it back to the top without any more baboon encounters.

The falls stretch much farther down the canyon than you can see from the park on the Zambian end of the canyon, so we decided to leave the Zambia park and walk to Zimbabwe.

Crossing the border is done by having your passport stamped to leave Zambia, then walking across the huge bridge that is “no-man’s land”, since it is not in either country.  This is the bridge that the bungee jumping and canyon swing takes place on, so we stopped and watched several bungee jumpers.  I enjoyed watching, knowing that Marsha already had that out of her system!  We then went through the Zimbabwe border, filling out entry forms, paying for our visas ($30 USD), and getting our passports stamped.  After paying the entrance fee to go into the Zimbabwe park, in USD, and walking a short distance to the end of the canyon we were treated to more wondrous views of the falls.  I think the most impressive views were from this end of the canyon.  We could only see Livingstone Island when the mists were at their lightest.  Rainbow falls, the only place Marsha saw rainbows last December, was the least impressive of the rainbows, but still beautiful.

By about 3:30 we were ready to head back to the hostel, since we had walked a number of kilometers, still had to walk back to where we would get a taxi into Livingstone, and crossing two borders in the process.  Knowing that it would be dark and cold by about 6, we headed out.  We did have to take some time to watch some more bungee jumpers and to buy me a t-shirt between the two borders.  Back in Zambia we got into a taxi and only had to wait a few minutes for the taxi to fill up, becoming a ‘shared taxi’ and reducing the price to less than half of a non-shared taxi.  We were too tired to walk into town looking for dinner, so we again ate at the grill in the hostel, bought internet time to let the US know we had made it safely to Zambia, and went to bed, ready for another travel experience the next day.


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Traveling with Marsha, Namibian Style

25 July 2013, Thursday

This blog entry is written by Marsha’s Mom.  I’m trying to help Marsha in any way I can; by doing the writing, she can work on something else for a while.

I left Minnesota on Monday and arrived in Namibia on Wednesday afternoon.  My flights to Africa included a 2 hour delay leaving JFK, but South African Airlines already had me rebooked on a later flight to Namibia when I arrived in Johannesburg.  I had made arrangements to be met at the airport by someone from the Chameleon backpackers hostel where Marsha and I were staying Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Marsha had her medical check-ups that day, so we ended up getting to the Chameleon within 15 minutes of each other.  Wow, it’s great to be back together!

The one sight we did not get to during our December visit was Victoria Falls.  I love falls, and Victoria Falls is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.  Marsha and I had made plans to get me there on this trip.  I’m glad we went, but I now know how much worrying she did about getting us there and back.  I really appreciate what she went through to make this happen for me!

On Thursday morning we went to the Zambian embassy in Windhoek, to see if we could get my Zambian visa before heading to Zambia on Friday.  A very nice embassy employee made it happen even though I didn’t have the two passport photos I was supposed to have.  She copied my passport to get the photos and I had the visa in about a half hour.

We flew to the most northwestern town in Namibia on Friday, arriving about 1pm.  A very nice young woman in the airport called a taxi for us and had him take us to the Namibian border, wait while we had our passports stamped, then take us to the Zambian border.  When we left the building after going through Zambian customs, we had many Zambian taxi drivers asking if we needed a taxi.  One man said he just needed 2 more people to fill his car going to Livingstone.  Since taxis don’t leave until they are full, this seemed to be the fastest way to get going.  Marsha asked him if the price of Nambian $100 per person was OK, since she paid about that last December.  We did not have Kwacha (Zambian money) yet.  He said the amount and Namibian currency were OK and led us to the car.  It turned out that he (Patrick) was not driving, Sam was, but he was riding along.  They already had another couple in the taxi, so we ended up with 4 people in the back of a small Toyota.  Much of the 200 km is filled with potholes, so the driver has to slow down often and the drive takes about 3 hours. He stopped early in the drive at a roadside stand, to buy petrol.  They had gas in plastic cans like we keep for the lawn mower.  Using a 2 liter plastic bottle for a funnel, they put 2.5 liters of gas in and we were on our way.  There are no real gas stations until Livingstone, so the drivers in both directions bought gas at these roadside stands.  Unfortunately, he forgot he had driven 20 km earlier, so we ran out of gas about 20 km short of Livingstone, at 5:30, when it would be dark by 6:30.  The car was also overheated.  Fortunately, the 2 white ladies had full water bottles with us.  We waited by the side of the road for the engine to cool off enough to put the water in before they realized it was also out of gas.  We could have been waiting a long time for Patrick to be taken somewhere to get gas, but fortunately, a passing truck had gas in the back.  After they all realized they had a plastic oil bottle that could be used to measure the gas, Sam bought enough gas to get us to Livingstone and we were again on our way.  It was now dark and the other lady riding with us started talking about the possibility of elephants and other animals in the road.  Sam drove much slower the last 20 km and we arrived safely at the Jollyboys backpacker hostel about 7pm.  Unfortunately, Sam had NOT agreed to taking payment as N$100, and said we owed him the equivalent of 100 Kwacha each.  Marsha tried to argue, but we were tired and ready to have them go away.  After much discussion of exchange rates, we paid N$200 each (about 20 USD, cheap, really) and checked into our cute hut at the hostel.  We had dinner at the grill at the hostel rather than leaving to find something in town.  Jollyboys has hot water, so we had nice, hot showers, and went to bed.  We needed to be ready for our one day Victory Falls visit the next day.

– Karen

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Ek kan nog steeds skryf Engels baie goed.

(I can still write English very well.)

9 July 2013, Tuesday

“Being brilliant is not enough, young man.  You have to work hard.  Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift, and you use it for the good of mankind.” – Spiderman 2

As some of you may recall, about this time last year I was on my way to GTOT (General Training of Trainers) to prepare for the new group of trainees to arrive in Namibia.  Well, another year has come and gone and again I was selected to be a resource volunteer at the training for the newest group.  Group 38 will be in Namibia about three weeks from now to start their two months of training.  Because I managed to successfully plan and run a Model School last year, I was invited to come back and make that happen again, hopefully with a member of group 36 under my wing so I can pass on my “wisdom”.  However I will not be attending GTOT this year because in order for Peace Corps to save money, those of us who also helped with training for Group 36 and experienced GTOT last year were not invited to participate in GTOT this year.  I was a bit disappointed not to be included in the planning, but it does give me an extra week of teaching this term.  The part I was most excited about for GTOT was seeing which members of group 36 were selected to be resource volunteers.  It’s fun for me because I got to help train them and here they are, “all grown up” and ready to train another group of newbies.  I can’t believe it’s been a year already.

With this new group of volunteers arriving at the end of the month comes more excitement.  Many members of the new group will be replacing people in my group, including myself.  I actually know quite about about how I’m being replaced, but the members of group 38 are not suppose to have any idea where they are going until several weeks into their training, so I cannot publish that information yet.  But this post isn’t really about the new group or GTOT.  This post is about something I accomplished lately, who’s idea steamed from a discussion during last year’s GTOT.

One of the biggest problems facing teaching volunteers in Namibia and across the globe really is classroom management.  Most of us are not trained teachers.  For those who don’t know, my degrees are in Physics and Civil Engineering.  The way I run my classroom comes soley from discussions I had with my mom (because she is a middle school math teacher) over the years and any tid bits of advice I picked up from resource volunteers while I was in training.  I feel I have been fairly successful in creating a good learning environment in the classroom and running my classroom with appropriate classroom management, but I know most volunteers struggle a lot in their first year.  During GTOT last year, we attempted to gather ideas on a few good classroom management stragegies from different volunteers and compile them into a document that could be shared with the incoming trainees.  We came up with about a 2 page document with a few different ideas, but in the back of my mind I felt like we should have given them more.  One of the biggest complaints I have heard about Peace Corps training is that we are not given enough technical training to complete our jobs here.  We get lots of information about how to stay safe and mentally and physically healthy, but as far as teaching, we all felt quite unprepared.

Sometime shortly after the new year, I decided that I wanted to compile more ideas about teaching and about classroom management from as many volunteers as I could reach.  The original goal was to just gather different ideas.  I wanted to put together a document that volunteers could turn to when they ran out of their own ideas and wanted to see what other people were doing.  I started by sending out emails to all the education volunteers in Namibia with a bunch of questions about teaching.  I got maybe 10 responses from the 50 or so volunteers.  From there I added everyone to the facebook group for Peace Corps teacher in Namibia and used that a a forum to pose quesions.  I got much better response that way.  Between text messages and additional emails, I managed to gather quite a bit of information.  And what began to take shape was a booklet on how to teach in Namibia.  Everything from how to prepare your classroom to setting up a classroom management plan to writing class rules and more.  I figured, why does each volunteer need to reinvent the wheel when they start because so many other volunteers have great ideas.  I wanted this booklet to provide concrete examples of what actual volunteers are doing.  We are all provided with The First Days of School book by Harry and Rosemary Wong when we get to the country and it does give a good outline of what to do in a classroom if you want to sit down and read the whole thing.  However, it was written for teachers in American and it doesn’t give many real examples.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I came up with a booklet that a lot of other volunteers were anxious to get their hands on because we all still need new ideas for our classrooms.  Thankfully I found some awesome people to edit it for me and just last week I sent the finished product to my bosses at Peace Corps with the suggestion that it be printed and distributed to all the incoming trainees.  The group meeting for GTOT this week is going to decide how the information will be distributed to the trainees, but two of my bosses wrote back to say that it was an excellent idea and well written.  One of them even posted it in a Peace Corps Dropbox and informed me that it has already been downloaded by Peace Corps staff in South Africa, Ethiopia, Panama, and Cameroon.  Hopefully this is just the beginning and over the years other volunteers can add their ideas to it so new volunteers will have an easier transition into teaching.

Here is a link to the Bright Ideas booklet that I put together if you care to take a look.

Bright Ideas

In other news, my mom arrives in Namibia one week from tomorrow!!  I am so excited to have her here.  This weekend I will be traveling to the capital for the Close of Service (COS) conference for my group.  At that end this conference, I will have a fairly firm date of return to the good old US of A!!  Look for some upcoming blog post here, written hopefully by my mom!

TTFN, Marsha

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