31 July 2013, Wednesday
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.