Author Archives: Marsha

There and Back Again… Four months in America

8 April 2014, Tuesday

“I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” – Garth Brooks

For the past four months I have been meaning to write one final blog post to officially wrap up these adventures in Africa. I have all sorts of excuses (none of them very good) about why it’s taken me so long, and I realize that I’ve probably lost a lot of viewers’ interests. However, the time has come to say the last few (ok, let’s be honest, it’s probably going to be more than a few) words on the subject and move on with my life. I know most of the people who read this will probably be family and friends who cared enough to subscribe to this blog and get email updates, but the subject matter of this post is probably going to be more beneficial to other Peace Corps Volunteers who are finished or about to finish their service.

 

We were warned. As volunteers about to finish our service, we were told that readjusting to life in the States was going to be difficult. Jokes were made about people breaking down in the grocery store when they saw how many different kinds of chips there were to choose from. We were advised that most people wouldn’t really care about what we’d been doing the past two years and those who did care would never fully understand what our lives were like in the Peace Corps. We were told to prepare an elevator speech to summarize our service so we would know what to say when we inevitably got the question, “So how was Africa?” And on our way out the door we were handed a voucher for 3 free trips to see a professional counselor, “should you return home and find that everyone now looks green or something.” To Peace Corps’ credit, they took good care of us and I don’t know how they could have prepared us any better for coming home.

Actually getting home took a while. As I departed Namibia, it was raining. Clearly the country was sad to see me go. Truth be told, my last month in Namibia was more of a challenge than I had bargained for and I was ready to get on that plane. Unfortunately, there are no jet ways to planes in Namibia so I was handed an umbrella and ran to the plane through the pouring rain. A couple hours later I landed in South Africa where I boarded a plane bound for good old US of A, and 16 hours later we landed in Atlanta. As we were pulling into the gate, the pilot announced that Nelson Mandela had passed away while we were flying. One more 3 hour plane ride and I was home in Minnesota. My parents, my brothers, my grandparents, and my good friend Nancy were there to greet me with posters, flowers, food, and open arms. And I was so glad to be home.

The next few days were pretty overwhelming. The first stop after the airport was out to lunch at one of my favorite chicken places, Rasin’ Canes. It was delicious, but mostly I remember being cold and overwhelmed. The temperature difference between Namibian summer and Minnesotan winter was about 100 degrees (literally, not an exaggeration). Even though my parents thankfully brought my winter coat to the airport, I still sat at the table with it zipped up to my nose as I watched everyone around me pull out their smart phones and explain to me what apps were and comment how wouldn’t it be great that soon I too would be able to use Snapchat (still haven’t figured that one out)? And while I didn’t break down and cry in the chips isle of the grocery store, my first trip to Walmart was a little more than I was ready for. I would like to blame the cold and exhaustion for my eyes welling up as I realized I didn’t know where anything was any more and I couldn’t find my parents. It was at least a week before I set foot in Walmart again.

From there I expected… well I don’t remember what I expected, but whatever it was, that’s not what I got. The plan, so far as there was a plan, for my return to the States was

  1. Visit the family and friends I hadn’t seen in two and a half years or longer
  2. Apply to grad school
  3. Find a job to keep me busy until grad school

On paper it looks pretty simple, but even before I got back, I knew it wouldn’t be. More than a year before I came home, I had looked into the possibility of starting grad school in the spring semester so that I would have very little “down time” between Peace Corps and my next adventure. Unfortunately, what I found out was that some of the Civil Engineering classes need to be taken in a specific order so I would have to wait and start in the fall. This left me with about 10 months I needed to fill with something, preferably something engineering related.

Instead of gliding right into the “plan” it felt like I stumbled and tripped my way through the next few months. The first weekend I was back, I traveled to Chicago to meet up with some of my very incredible friends. It was fantastic to see them again. A lot had happened while I was away. One got married, two got engaged, and the fourth spent a year living on practically nothing while volunteering as a physical therapist in Chicago. Now all four have very successful careers and from my vantage point seem to be doing incredibly well for themselves. I couldn’t be happier for any of them while at the same time feeling jealous of how they appear to have it all figured out.

The next weekend we (and when I say “we” in this post I will most likely be referring to my parents and myself because most of my hometown friends have long since moved away and my parents are now the center of my social life) traveled to Washington to spend Christmas with my dad’s side of the family. Again it was great to see everyone. It felt like a real vacation and for a while there I felt like I could actually relax, yet in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t sticking to the “plan.” However, at the end of my 2 week stay, my cousin invited me for a tour of his work at B/E Aerospace and even arranged for me to meet with a person from human resources. B/E gave him his start when he was a student at the University of Washington and I have to say I was quite impressed by their workshop and the pieces or airplanes being constructed. Now the “plan” was coming together nicely. I could see myself moving out to Washington at the beginning of the summer for the B/E summer internship which would transition nicely into grad school in the fall. Shortly after returning home from Washington I filled out the first of many online applications.

It’s easy to type it now.        I filled out the application.          See, easy. At the time, it was more difficult than I ever could have imagined. You see, something happened shortly before I left Namibia that had a bigger impact on me than I realized at the time. Last year a good friend of mine wrote that I inspire her because of my “courage and undying self-confidence.” However, words were spoken to me at the end of my service that for the first time I can ever remember crushed that self-confidence. It wasn’t immediate. It took a while for exactly what was said to sink in to my mind, but when it did, it took root there and spread. Every day I woke up to those words. I began to question if I had made some serious mistakes in how I went about my service in Namibia. And from there, everything became a question. Worst of all, I began to question my faith. I probably haven’t really written much about my faith in this blog as it tends to be a topic that makes people feel uncomfortable and I would never want to push my views about the topic on anyone else. But for the sake of understanding where I’m going with this story, let me just say that I rely pretty heavily on God to guide me through life. “In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everthing.” Philippians 4:13. Remember that “undying self-confidence” I was talking about? I’m pretty sure it came from God. For quite sometime, I believed I could do anything. (I know what all you older people are thinking, young kid in her 20s, of course she thinks she’s invincible) Parents always tell their children they can be anything they want to be and my parents are no different. And I believed them. I always dreamed big. When I got my acceptance to the Peace Corps, I believed God was pointing and saying “that’s the way you should go. Follow that path.” Joining the Peace Corps felt more right than anything I had ever done before. Whenever things got difficult over there, I would always ask God to guide my hands to do the work he had sent me there to do. No matter how difficult it got or how many times I wanted to go home, I stayed because I just knew that was where I was supposed to be. I can’t fully explain it. I just knew that was where I was supposed to be. And yet, when I got home, I questioned that feeling. I questioned if it was really God who sent me to Namibia, if it was really God who pulled me through those difficult days or if it was just my own pride and stubbornness. For the first time in my life I questioned if there is a God. That doubt scared me most of all. The thought of being wrong for the past 26 years terrified me. The thought that maybe I’ve been doing this all alone my whole life frightened me. So confidence non-existent and faith shaken, I stared at the application to B/E for several days before I found enough shadow of confidence to fill out the application and from there to finish my application to the University of Washington. About six weeks later, B/E rejected me.

Fear of failure is a powerful thing. I know my parents expected me to spend the better part of January filling out job and internship applications, but I was stuck in my own head. And I found my own head was a very lonely place to be, but my own stubbornness kept me there. I didn’t want to admit that maybe I needed some help. I didn’t want to believe that one person’s words could have such a huge affect on me. I stayed up until the early hours of the morning watching TV each night so that by the time I crawled into bed, my brain just went to sleep and I didn’t have to listen to those words over and over again. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to just sleep through the whole next day until my parents got home from work, I was awake by 8 or 9 with a whole day to fill. Days that should have been filled with applications and interviews. I tried to keep myself busy by unpacking and sorting through all my old stuff, reading, watching TV, painting, or whatever I could find to keep my mind occupied. A week went by and we were out to dinner with my brother and his long time girlfriend. Over dinner, my mom asked me if I would like to help her coach math league in the morning. I asked how early she started and then the comment was made that if I went to bed at a “reasonable time” it wouldn’t seem very early. That hurt. It was just a passing comment but it hurt more than it should have and pushed me over the edge. When I got home, I headed straight for the shower and started sobbing uncontrollably. It’s been a long time since I’ve had people around who notice or care about my sleeping habits. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for welcoming me home and never complaining about having me in the house. They even include me when they want to go out to dinner or to a play or even for a week in Florida. But that night I just wished I had the house to myself. I had been judged so much the past two years by everyone who saw me inside and outside of my home that I really didn’t want to be judged by my family too. And it all just spiraled down from there. I started thinking about how much I miss my kids and how far away they feel from me here. I thought about what was said to me before I left and how much truth could be in those words. I missed my independence and most of all, I missed my confidence. Fortunately, that was probably the lowest point.

A few days later my mom got me a job working in the cafeteria at her school. Lunch lady was never a profession I saw myself in, but at least it was something. The other three ladies I was working with were so interested in the Peace Corps and after a day or two, I really enjoyed telling them my stories. Up until that point, I sort of dreaded questions about Namibia. I didn’t want everyone to see me as the girl who lived in Africa. I wanted to put it behind me and just slip back into life in these United States with no one else the wiser. I figured when people asked me questions about Namibia, I wouldn’t be able to come up with adequate answers. Anytime I was with my mom and I said something critical about Namibians, my mom (who to her credit has been to Namibia twice) would correct me and soften or amend my statement, so I learned to keep my mouth shut. But in that school kitchen, I was on my own. I felt free to answer their questions, most of which were harmless like “what did I eat?” or “how big were the classes I taught?” However, the story they were the most interested in and asked the most questions about was the time the teachers went on “strike.” I know my mom wouldn’t have approved of the story (and she almost always turns out to be right) so I probably shouldn’t have shared it, but it felt good to tell a story that really portrayed a big challenge in my service. As great as it was, my service definitely had its ups and downs. Peace Corps is not something to be entered into lightly. It’s true that it’s the hardest job you’re ever going to love. My fellow lunch ladies will probably never fully understand what they did for me by welcoming me into that job. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning and a place to slowly but surely build back a tiny bit of self-confidence.

At the end of January, I took a trip to Michigan to see my mom’s side of the family. I had seen my grandparents already when they welcomed me home at the airport, but this gave me a chance to spend some real time with them and visit my aunts, uncles, and cousins. While the real intent of the trip was to visit family, I relished the idea of being able to run away from my fear of failure and the thought in the back of my mind that kept saying I should be filling out more applications and figuring out what comes next. Unfortunately I forgot to take into account that my mind would also be traveling with me. It was great to get to spend some real quality time with my grandparents, but I kept being nagged by that voice in my head saying it had been a whole month and I’d done next to nothing to get on with my life.

When I got home, the first thing I did was attend a career fair at the University of Minnesota. I came away from that day feeling more confident than I had felt in a month. No, no one had offered me a job on the spot or even an interview, but one of the men at a company I’m very interested in working for some day said he wished he had all day to listen to me talk about my time in Africa. Another woman said she didn’t have any positions for civil engineers but that I had made such a wonderful impression on her that she wanted me to email her so she could do some checking in other branches of the company for a position for me. I left my resume with about 10 different companies and collected a handful of business cards. Unfortunately, everyone I spoke with who had positions available said I needed to apply online. All the business cards I was given were for the business not the specific person I spoke with at the career fair. I returned home and over the next several days proceeded to fill out online applications for the companies represented at the career fair. And then I waited, and waited, and waited. Most of the companies were nice enough to send me an email confirming they had received my application, but up till now I have only heard back from a handful of applications, all of which were rejections.

And so I moved through February. Somewhere in the middle of the month I was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Washington. Now, I should mention that my attending grad school is really contingent on some sort of financial aid, seeing as I didn’t make a whole lot of money volunteering. So as exciting as being accepted to the program was, I was still waiting to hear if I would get a place on the research track which not only would allow me to do research but would also provide me with a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. A few days later I found out I was invited to visit the University of Washington and was being considered for a research position. At the beginning of March, the university flew me out to Seattle for the weekend along with about 20 other candidates interested in the University of Washington. I figured it would be like a day of interviews where the professors would be looking for who they wanted to work with. This was not the case. It was more of the professors promoting the school and their program. I was very impressed with the professors and excited by the work being done by current graduate students. I spent quite a while talking to the head of the civil engineering department as well as another professor who had also traveled around southern Africa in his younger years. I thought I made a great impression and I ended the day feeling pretty positive about the whole experience. It really felt like that was where I wanted to be. As we left that day, one of the professors told us they would try to have the first round of financial offers made by the end of two weeks. She did warn us that they were also in the process of hiring a new faculty member so it could take a little longer than two weeks. That was four weeks ago and I’ve long since passed the point of being optimistic. I’d like to believe no news is good news, but I think my optimism joined forces with my confidence and both have gone away.

During March I was also accepted to the University of Minnesota but told that I would not receive any financial aid. So here I sit. Four months down and nothing to show for it. I’ve lost track of how many companies I’ve applied to and how many I haven’t heard back from. I’ve had exactly zero interviews. There are tiny voices in my head that like to mention things like maybe it was a mistake to spend two years in Africa. Maybe no one wants to hire someone who got an engineering degree and then didn’t use it for two years. Maybe my resume isn’t as strong as my reviewers told me it is. Maybe my cover letters aren’t impressive enough. Maybe I should be making follow up phone calls and pestering people more. Maybe I would have a husband and be starting a family if I hadn’t gone away for two years. I feel like I’m stuck. I’m stuck in this one place with no idea how to get out.

I don’t know what I’m doing wrong and at the same time, I don’t know what I would do if I did get an interview. If I’m brought in for an interview in Rochester should I tell them that I may be moving to Seattle in the fall? If I get an interview for one of the entry level positions I applied for should I tell them I may be going to grad school in 5 months? Should I also be looking for positions in Seattle? What if I got an internship in Seattle and then didn’t get a financial offer for grad school? I have a few more contacts I can reach out to, but should I ask them for help now when I’m not sure where I’ll be 6 months from now or should I wait and contact them when I know which direction I’m going? I’m so disappointed in myself right now that I’d hate to disappoint my contacts to by not being prepared. This feels a lot like the position I was in at the end of my senior year of college when I didn’t know if I was accepted in the Peace Corps or not so when I was going to interviews I didn’t really know what to say. In that case, it didn’t matter because at the last second I was accepted to the Peace Corps, but I feel this time my luck may be going another way.

Just to add to my confusion, my mom mentioned this weekend that someone she knows is looking for a nanny this summer. I would love to be a nanny this summer. That sounds like a lot of fun to me, but at the same time it sounds a lot like giving up. What if grad school doesn’t work out and I need to find an entry level position? That’s probably not something I want to postpone till the end of the summer considering postponing my career for two years in Africa doesn’t seem to be helping my cause. If I knew for sure I could attend grad school in the fall, I would be all over that nanny position just to not have to look for a job anymore. As much as I would like to do something, anything engineering related, at least it would be a step forward and I would know that I could do engineering in the fall. All this running through my head, I asked my mom when the family would need to know by? I could tell by the tone in her voice, as she told me the family wouldn’t wait long, that she wished I would just apply for the nanny position and be done with it.

I can’t imagine what my parents must really think of their 26 year old daughter living at home again for these four months. The very same daughter who had a perfect GPA in high school and was part of the high school soccer team, band, and math league. The same daughter who earned not one but two degrees in just 5 years. I’m sure they never thought that I would be the one to move back home and struggle so much to find a job. And while I may have mentioned a few instances where living under the same roof again has been a little tense, it’s entirely my fault. I’m too sensitive to comments and criticism right now and they have truly been nothing but supportive now and since the day I was born. They are amazing and I couldn’t be more blessed to have them as my parents.

Of course they may have some objections to me writing this particular post. There is a chance that one of those companies I applied to could read this and decide I don’t have the mental stability they are looking for. However, this post goes beyond finding a job. This post is really for anyone out there who might find themselves in a similar position. Or maybe I’m as alone as I feel. And not that I have any answers or advice to give, but I think just knowing you’re not the only one can make a difference.

I don’t know what’s going to happen from here, but what I do know is even through all the struggles and disappointments these past four months, I am finally starting to feel more like myself again. For Lent I decided to give up thinking about what was said to me before I left Namibia. It is definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever given up for Lent, but I am a better person for it. Maybe pushing it aside is not the best way to deal with the problem, but it seems to be working for me. Now instead of being so afraid and passive, I’m just frustrated by the whole situation. Two years in Namibia taught me a lot about patience, but even those years didn’t prepare me for four months of waiting. The irony in all this is that I read the book Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss to my learners just before leaving Namibia. I wanted them to understand they could go anywhere and do anything, and now here I am living out that book. Shortly after returning home, I hit the slump, and “unslumping yourself is not easily done.” And now I’m in The Waiting Place. (my kids loved that part of the book because I began to read faster and faster and faster as I read about all the things you could wait for. They loved to hear me speak fast English) If I remember correctly, next I should come to the place where Boom Bands are playing… maybe that’s a university, who knows?

 

So now, you’re probably wondering, was it worth it?

YES! I wouldn’t trade my adventures in Africa for anything. I met some really incredible individuals and I learned a lot about myself and another part of the world. I’m sure it was truly the toughest job I’ll ever love. And knowing what I know now, if given the opportunity to go back in time 3 years and make the decision all over again, I would still choose to join the Peace Corps, and here’s why…

 

 

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A Fond Farewell…

3 December 2013, Tuesday

“You’ll know I’ll always love you.
You’ll know I’ll always care.
And no matter how far I may go,
In my thoughts,
You’ll always be there.” – Dreamgirls

Well, my bags are packed and I’m ready to go.  I’ve said goodbye to my colleagues, kids, friends, and host family in Okahandja.  All that is left is the final paperwork, closing my bank account, last trip to medical to make sure I’m healthy enough to come home, and final interviews.  Yesterday I exchanged some of my Namibian dollars for a 100 USD.  When they handed me the note, I questioned whether it was real.  The USD was almost bluish in color and hand a blue stripe down the middle.  One the back it also had a goofy looking 100 printed very big.  As I questioned whether I had been given fake USD, I realized that I don’t remember ever having a 100 dollar bill before, so I really have nothing to compare it to…

Anyway, let me say just a few words about my last few days in Namibia.  The Thursday before I left, the school threw me a going away party in combination with two teachers who are getting married over the holiday.  It was a really nice party especially considering the feelings expressed by my principal the week before that were apparently shared by other members of the staff.  One of the other teachers made me a traditional Damara dress to wear for the occasion.  The principal gave me a coffee mug with the school logo on it and a canvas bag with Namibia embroidered on it.  The whole school chipped in and gave me N$1200 cash.  The principal gave a speech about me which he printed, signed, and stamped with the school stamp, an interesting gesture.  Then one of my favorite teachers, a grade on teachers, stood up to thank me and give me her gifts.  She was crying before she even started talking, and then so was I.  She gave me a huge wooden carving of Africa, a bracelet, a t-shirt for me and one for my mom and even a small present for my grandma who sent over a couple plastic animals.  But the best part was her speech.  She talked about how she used to beat the children in her class, but one day when I was in there, I saw her stick and she told me she used it so the kids could point to words while they read.  Sometimes though, the stick would tear the paper.  I told her I had just the thing, and I found a pointer that had a big plastic finger on one end that someone (cough, Nancy) sent in a package at the beginning of my service.  She loved it.  She said from that point on she didn’t hit her learners any more.  She also thanked me and my family for all the animals they sent for her and to me for coming to read with her learners.  She is such a wonderful woman and I was so sad to say goodbye to her.  There were quite a few colleagues I wanted to say goodbye to, so as not to hurt any feelings, I wrote a little Christmas card to each one of my 40 colleagues.

Saying goodbye to my learners was much harder.  The last two days of school, there were no exams to write and teachers were just working on calculating final grades, so many of the learners didn’t come to school.  The last day of school I had promised to give away my bike to one learner who came to school for the whole day.  I started the day by writing down all their names and putting them in a bucket if they came to school.  A group of learners then accompanied me around the whole school as I handed out my cards.  My learners also received cards a couple days before.  I spent about a month writing out 163 Christmas cards to each one of my learners.  I anxiously waited for a package to come in the mail which had a picture of each one of them and a class picture for each learner, but in two years, that package was the only one not to show up.  I had even printed out a couple hundred random pictures from the past 2 years that I was going to give to the learners.  Unfortunately, I had told them about these pictures coming, so every day they asked me about the pictures.  When it never showed up, I compromised by taking all the pictures I had of my family and friends (think several hundred) and letting them choose which ones of those they wanted.  They enjoyed picking through my pictures and asking who was who, but they really wanted the pictures of themselves and of me.  At 10am on that last day, I chose a name from the bucket and gave my bike to Anna Johannes.  Then I drew a second name for the large pictures from last year that were hanging in my class all year.  That went to Tobias from 7B.  From there, I’m not quite sure what happened.  A teacher called me away for something, and when I went back to my class, most of the learners were gone.  A few were left waiting to say their goodbyes, but as I was hugging them and we were exchanging “I love yous” one of the other teachers walked in wanting his grades.  I explained I didn’t have them, but he hung around my door snickering as I hugged the last few kids and they told me they loved me and I told them the same and how much I will miss them.  If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.  I think I’ve been imagining saying goodbye to Namibia for a year or more now and no goodbyes went the way I imagined.  But, I’m ok with it.

My last day in Otjiwarongo, my former neighbor Betty threw me a going away braai at her new house.  That was a lot of fun because a few of the newest volunteers were there and they got to meet Betty and see how amazing she is.  Hopefully they will continue to keep in touch with her.  One of my teacher friends was also at the braai with his fiancé and a bunch of other Namibians.  It was a big affair.  The food was fantastic and the weather was actually cool.  The hardest part was the end of the evening when I finally had to say goodbye to Betty and the kids.  I gave them an album with a bunch of pictures of us in it and a nice letter telling them how much they all mean to me.  It was a tearful goodbye and I know I’m going to miss them so much.

The next morning, my transport actually arrived early.  I left at 7:40 am, but thankfully there were a few new volunteers staying at my house to help with my gigantic bags and to see me off.  It was a pretty hurried goodbye to the place I called home for the last two years as the driver wanted to get on the road.  The volunteers replacing me who I’ve lived with the past several weeks weren’t even awake yet to see me off, so I felt kind of like I was just sneaking away.

I spent the weekend with my original host family in Okahandja, saying goodbye to Mama Alta, Caleb and Esme.  It was a really nice weekend with a lot of people in and out of the house.  Her place feels so much like home to me.  Many of the neighborhood children I met two years ago came to say goodbye.  Mama Alta’s brother, sister-in-law, and two sons came and stayed from Saturday to Sunday.  Mama Alta cooked a huge meal on Sunday and throughout the weekend kept telling me how much she was going to miss me and how I’m just such a kind and respectful person and that’s why we got along so well.  On Monday morning my ride picked me up at 5:40 am, so Mama Alta and I shared a teary goodbye in the dark while Esme, Caleb, and Cornea were still asleep inside.  That was by far the most difficult goodbye of the week.

Now I’m just chilling in the capital and waiting for Thursday.  Of course there’s still a lot to do around here with having to close out my service. And there are some other volunteers around to hang out with and go out for some good food, even though most of my plans when I get back home involve foods I want to eat that I haven’t had for more than two years.

My next, and possibly last, blog post will be from America.  And on that note, I leave you with some goodbyes from my learners.

Click here to see Vanessa’s farewell speech

Click here to see Ujama’s farewell speech

TTFN, Marsha

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The Long Goodbye…

18 November 2013, Monday

“The more you care, the more you have to lose.” – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I taught my last lesson about two weeks ago.  Exams started on Friday last week.  Last Wednesday was my last prize giving ceremony with my learners.  Today I gave certificates to the ones who are currently earning an A or B or have improved the most or asked the most questions or was always coming on time, etc.  There are only 5 other members of my group currently still in Namibia from the 38 we started with more than 2 years ago.  I’ve said so many goodbyes in the past couple months that I’ve lost count, and it’s not over yet.

My colleagues keep telling me that I must be counting the days as I’m leaving Namibia so soon.  Honestly, I know I’ve got about two weeks left in Otjiwarongo and about another week left in Windhoek, but I couldn’t tell you the exact number of days.  I’m not ready to be counting down yet because I’m not quite ready to go yet.  I know last night on the phone I told my parents I was ready to come home because I’m so frustrated with the Grade 7 Farewell Party that I have been planning for months now.  But this afternoon I was working with four girls who will be giving speeches at the farewell party and everyone of them mentioned me and thanked me for all that I have done for them and the school.  I was able to choke down my tears in the moment, but I’m afraid that come Friday when they give the speeches in front of the teachers and their classmates that my pride just may overflow and start running out of my eyes.  These kids are the reason I stayed this extra month to finish out the school year and I just have to keep reminding myself of that I the management of the school tries to thwart my plans for a fantastic Farewell Party.  Hopefully in the end everything will work out like it always has and the kids will have a great time and enough to eat.  Their farewell party is suppose to be my farewell party also, but I don’t think very many of the teachers are actually going to come.  Wednesday is pay day, so it seems they all have plans to travel this weekend.  It’s fine with me though because I really only care about having the opportunity to celebrate with my learners.

In addition to the farewell party at the school, I will have three other opportunities to say goodbye to all the amazing friends I’ve made over here.  Next weekend we are celebrating Thanksgiving at my place and right now the plan is for about 13 other volunteers to attend.  We’ve ordered two turkeys and I’m organizing who is going to make and contribute what.  I will be making a couple pies of course.  The following weekend I will be leaving Otjiwarongo.  That Friday is the last day of school for the learners.  Then in the evening I will be going to Betty’s new house for a braai (BBQ).  Betty and her four kids lived next door to me for most of my service and just recently moved into an actual house.  I would consider them my closest Namibian friends so I’m very excited to get to spend my last evening in Otjiwarongo with them.  Plus, you haven’t tasted real meat until you’ve tasted meat cooked by Betty.  She also purchased a big stand up swimming pool which we will set up for the first time on that Friday.  And a few more volunteers will be coming in for the celebration, so I’m pretty excited about the whole event.

The following Saturday I will be traveling to Okahandja to spend the weekend with my original host family.  I know that saying goodbye to Mama Alta will be one of the most difficult goodbyes of this whole affair.  She has been so wonderful to me throughout this whole adventure.  She has welcomed me into her home on many different occasions just as if I was her own daughter.  It has been great to know that I always had a place to go home to over here.  After Okahandja it’s off to Windhoek for a couple days to complete some paperwork, close out my bank account, etc to be allowed to leave the country.  Then a two day plane ride later when I will be back in America and greeted at the airport by two of my grandparents who I haven’t seen in more than two years.  Every time I think that I’m not ready to go home I just remind myself of all the wonderful people who are waiting for me on the other side of the ocean.

Shortly after returning to the states I will be off to Chicago for a weekend to visit with some of my closest friends.  Then I’m headed to Washington for Christmas so I can see my other grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who I haven’t seen in forever.  Sometime in January I’ll go the other direction to Michigan so I can spend some real time with my grandparents, aunt, uncles, and cousins on my mom’s side of the family.  After I’ve had a chance to catch up with everyone, I’ll be looking for some sort of internship or temporary job I can work at until hopefully starting grad school in the fall.  To make my life just a little more exciting over here, I’m also frantically working to get my grad school applications finished as one is due December 3rd, just two days before I leave Namibia.

Before wrapping up this post I want to give another huge thank you to all the people who have sent any sort of letters or packages over the last two years.  Your constant support has meant more to me than you will ever know.  I wish there was a way to demonstrate how much the gifts you sent have impacted the learners.  The volunteer who is replacing me was able to sit in on one of my classes where I gave the prizes to the learners and she was taken aback by how excited the learners got over just receiving the strip of stickers they had earned for the term.  The pride in themselves is just written all over their faces.  And then I start pulling out the prizes and they just go nuts.  I couldn’t have done any of those rewards for my learners without your help, so thank you and God bless you all.

One final note, I’m still awaiting one final package that seems to have been lost in the mail.  It would be the first package in the 2+ years I’ve been here to not reach me.  Inside the package is a picture of every single one of my learners, a class picture for each learner, and additional pictures that I have taken of my learners over the past two years that I was planning to give to the learners.  They know I was planning to give them their pictures before I left as a going away/Christmas present.  Every day at least one learner is asking me when they are going to get their pictures and it breaks my heart that they are not here yet.  At this point I’ve explained the situation to them, although most of them don’t really understand, and asked them to pray that the package shows up this coming weekend.  So if you’ve got an extra moment and you could send up a quick prayer as well, we’re probably asking for a miracle here, but it just couldn’t hurt.

See you all very soon!

TTFN, Marsha

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Workshops and Workouts…

26 October 2013, Saturday

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.” Tomorrow Never Dies

I’ve only been 26 for two weeks now, but I can’t believe all that I’ve accomplished in that short amount of time.  And yet, I feel like I’ve had more time to relax this week than I have in a very long time.  Let me start from last weekend…

Last weekend was my long awaited Learner Centered Education and Classroom Management workshop.  There were several weeks leading up to last weekend that I thought were going to be the death of me and I seriously questioned my sanity in trying to plan a workshop so close to the end of my service.  I have even handed in my last semi-annual report already, so this workshop didn’t even “count” if you will.  Thankfully it will be reported in 6 months time by a couple other volunteers who helped in the planning and presenting, but that’s not why I did it.  I think this was really my last ditch effort to make a difference in teaching in Namibia.  I think I was just so tired of people not listening to me about how corporal punishment doesn’t work and seeing the same “copy the lesson from the board” style of teaching day after day that I needed one last all or nothing push to be heard.  And believe it or not, the message got through.

After weeks of phone calls trying to arrange for a place that could accommodate 80 participants and then spreading the word to all the volunteers, some of whom are living in villages without access to internet and their emails.  From there it was registering participants and making sure they had Namibian counterparts to attend with.  It was coming up with sessions to present and coordinating with two other fantastic other volunteers about who would plan and present what sessions.  It was making sure everyone knew when to arrive and was informed about accommodations and meals available and reimbursements for transport.  It was answering questions about what to wear and about the agenda and if volunteers could bring more than one counterpart.  It was responding to all the text messages in the week leading up to the workshop about volunteers who had to switch counterparts and volunteers whose counterparts backed out at the last minute.  It even included housing a few people at my house who came in a day early.  But finally the big day arrived and I felt much better being in a lodge with my two co-presenters and being able to actually talk about what we were going to present the next day and tying all our sessions together.  Details fell through the cracks here and there, the wrong number of copies were made and some sheets weren’t copied, the projector was forgotten in Windhoek, but we begged and borrowed another one, some sessions ran longer than expected, but whatever happened, we made it work.

In the weeks leading up to this workshop, I heard stories from so many volunteers about how excited they were for this workshop because it seemed so necessary.  One volunteer who just got to a village in the north told me he doesn’t even know where to start to address the corporal punishment in his school.  The principal only shows up to discipline the learners and he makes them kneel on stones on the sidewalk while he beats them over the back of the legs with a hose.  Most of the stories I heard were about how they really want to stop the use of corporal punishment in their school.  It was a daunting task to be sure, and I never could have done it without the help of my two amazing co-presenters.  The first day of the workshop we gave a lot of information about how to present using learner centered activities.  In Namibia, many of the teacher teach either by lecturing at the students or by simply writing a passage on the board for learners to copy into their books.  There is no push for critical thinking, and the large number of learners who can’t read English struggle the most.  In our sessions, we gave many alternatives, different games to play to get the kids interested in the subject while learning at the same time.  We talked a lot about different ways to divide kids into groups and have them learn from each other.  After the workshop, I even felt more excited about teaching and tried a couple of the techniques in my class this week that I learned from my co-presenters during the workshop.  Other volunteers even emailed me this week to tell me how excited they were about teaching again after the workshop.

The second day of the workshop was the hardest.  That was the day we addressed corporal punishment.  The volunteer who started the day presenting is also from my group and has been in Namibia for two years.  We discussed that we both have a pretty good understanding of why teachers in Namibia still use corporal punishment.  When the government declared corporal punishment could no longer be used, no alternative was provided.  Most teachers in Namibia don’t have another idea about how to discipline children.  They were raised on corporal punishment.  Even the recent university graduates are some of the worst offenders when it comes to corporal punishment, so their education does not include how to manage a class.  We spent the first couple hours of that Saturday discussing why corporal punishment doesn’t work and why we need to move forward and away from it.  This was a very difficult discussion, especially because it included volunteers from the newest group who have not yet had a chance to observe and understand the motivation behind corporal punishment for the Namibian teacher.  However, all in all, I think the message came across loud and clear, with only a few people offended.  But maybe that needed to be done.  After that session, I gave two sessions about classroom management, one talking about creating a classroom atmosphere of respect and acceptance and another session about writing a classroom management plan: establishing class rules and procedures.  For many of the Namibian teachers, that was the first time they had been given most of this information.  The first time it had really been pointed out how much of a role model they are for their students.  The first time they were told that many discipline problems can be solved by simply creating a classroom environment where the kids feel safe and accepted.

At the end of the day, we left some time for questions and concerns.  We tried throughout the day to address where there might be challenges and how to address those, but we figured there would probably be more questions at the end of the sessions.  Instead, it seemed no one had anything more to say, until one Namibian counterpart raised his hand.  He said he has a small pipe in his classroom that he uses to beat the learners, but when he gets back to the school, he and his learners are going to bury the pipe.  I’m pretty sure I teared up in that moment.  I was so taken a back and so were my co-presenters standing beside me.  For a moment none of us said anything.  I think because we couldn’t really believe we had heard what we heard.  After that, another Namibian counterpart said that she and her volunteer were going to join the discipline committee at their school and change the way they discipline learners.

The rest of the workshop was kind of a blur.  We only had Sunday left and we saved that day for the participants to write out a short lesson and present it using learner centered activities.  Volunteers and counterparts came to us throughout the day to get copies of our presentations to give at their schools.  Namibians asked me if they could get certificates from the workshop to give them more credibility at their schools.  So one Monday I drafted a certificate to be sent out as proof they had completed this workshop in classroom management and learner centered education.  60 volunteers and counterparts attended the workshop.  Maybe by tomorrow they will have forgotten what they learned.  Maybe by next week they will have tried learner centered activities and failed.  Maybe the learners were just too unruly without a whip in the classroom.  Or maybe, just maybe, that pipe will actually be buried.  Maybe one school will actually change their discipline plan.  Maybe some learners will actually be challenged by their teacher to think critically, to go beyond just copying and regurgitating the information.  I leave this country in just over a month, so I will probably never know what happens next.  But I choose to believe that changes will be made; that this last ditch effort was not in vain.

On a completely different note, there is no rest for the weary.  When I returned to school on Monday, it was right back into the mess that will be the rest of my time here.  Actually, that’s not true.  I took Monday just for me.  On Tuesday, I held a meeting with the committee I formed last week to raise money for the grade 7 farewell party.  Last week they decided to have a game day after school on Wednesday this week to raise money: one dollar = one game.  They came up with all the games and who was going to bring what.  I told them they were in charge of advertising and spreading the word.  Of course, they hadn’t.  Wednesday was a disaster, but I kinda figured it would be.  However, it did give my committee a chance to make sure they had everything for an actual game day and to see the kind of work that goes into planning it.  I decided we should try again on Saturday at the hostel.  And that’s what we did today…

It went so much better today.  We played for a couple hours and the hostel kids were our biggest contributors, which was nice because they were the school tour was also this weekend, so the ones who didn’t get to go on the tour were still at the hostel.  This gave them something fun to do as well.  In two hours we made almost N$100 (10 USD) but still every little bit helps.  So far the kids have raised about N$1 300 for their end of year party.  They keep telling me they want to have it at a lodge, but I know they won’t be able to raise that kind of money.  Plus I doubt a lodge would be willing to take 163 unruly 7th graders for an afternoon.  Still, we should be able to plan something nice at the dining hall in the hostel, and unlike previous years, everyone will be allowed to attend (not just the kids whose parents could afford N$50 for their kid to attend the farewell party).  I know this last month is just going to fly by, and I intend to enjoy every minute I get with these amazing kids.

TTFN, Marsha

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More to See Than Can Ever Be Seen, More to Do Than Can Ever Be Done

12 October 2013, Saturday

“You fall into bed when you run out of hours, and wonder if anything worth doing got done.” – Steven Curtis Chapman

When I came to Namibia just over two years ago I was 23 years old.  Yesterday was my 26th birthday, my third birthday in Namibia.  When I came over here, I think I secretly had the hope that when I returned to America, I would still feel 23 and like no time had passed.  Such a naive idea that I could come back the same person and pick up at the same place I left off, but I knew I didn’t want to miss anything by being gone for two years.  There are, however, some sacrifices that have to be made.  Even now as I get in touch with people back home to make sure I see them when I get back, I know I’ve missed weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and friends starting new jobs and settling down into new lives.  In many ways I feel like I’m two years behind my closest friends who are married or engaged or looking for their first home or working at their first full time job.  However, my hope to return home feeling like the same 23 year old who left two years ago is history.  I definitely feel like I’ve lived 26 years or maybe even more.  Teaching 163 kids every day has taken years off my life.  I love it but there are days when I feel like I’ve spent everything I have, and (in the words of Steven Curtis Chapman) “crawl into bed when I’ve run out of hours and wonder if anything worth doing go done.”  But just as I start to feel bad for poor old Marsha, I remember just how AWESOME my life in Africa is….

Today I joined three other volunteers and another American traveler for a day trip to Etosha National Park, and let me just say that my 26th year of life is off to a Fantastic start!  We had an incredible day of animal sighting today!  I went to Etosha last December with my family, but December is in the rainy season, so the animals are harder to find.  When it rains, the animals have no need to go to the waterholes.  However, it has not really started to rain yet this year and the weather is incredibly hot right now, so the later it got in the day, the more we saw at the waterholes.

When we first entered the park early in the morning, the first thing we saw was a female lion wandering around through the bush.  That was pretty awesome, especially since two of the volunteers with us are from the new group so they have only been in Namibia about 3 months and this was their first opportunity to see the African animals.  About a minute after our lion sighting, we saw a giraffe and then zebras and antelope.  This was all in the 17km from the gate of Etosha to the first lodge where we paid for our entrance to the park.  After we were in the park, we headed north a bit to a waterhole where a pride of lions likes to hang out.  They weren’t there.  The next waterhole was dry, so we decided to stick to the manmade waterholes.  Once we got to the first manmade waterhole, it was like something out of the lion king.  There were zebra and springbok and ostriches and oryx and all kinds of birds gathered around the same waterhole.  As we watched, some of the springbok walked away and the zebras took their place in the water.  A few minutes later a herd of wildebeest joined the waterhole.  We figured that was a pretty cool sighting.  Little did we know what was still to come…

As we drove along, we came across some more giraffes and then a huge convention of zebras, more zebras than I ever would have thought could inhabit one place.  By about noon we reached a lodge in the middle of the park.  We stopped to have some lunch and check out the waterhole at the lodge.  That waterhole only had a few kudu but some of the tourists said they had seen a few rhinos at a waterhole earlier in the day.  We were really banking on the weather getting warmer and more of the animals heading to the waterholes in the afternoon heat.  We turned around from the lodge and headed back the way we came, stopping at some of the same waterholes again.  The first waterhole we came to had some zebras and antelope and two giraffes, a mama and a baby.  It’s so funny to watch giraffe drink because they have to spread their front legs really wide to get their heads down to the water.  For a while it was only the baby giraffe drinking while the mama kept watch, but after a few minutes, the mama bent over and had a drink herself.  It was really cool to watch.

The next waterhole had many antelope and zebra but nothing we hadn’t seen already, so we didn’t stay long.

The next waterhole had one giant elephant!  We watched him wander up to the water.  Then he started splashing in the water and spraying water on his back.  Elephants are just such incredible creatures to sit and watch (provided they are not trying to trample your car).  We just sat for quite a while and watched this one giant elephant play in the water.

Then we drove for maybe 15 minutes to the next waterhole.  We didn’t see hardly anything on the way.  There were only a few zebra and a couple oryx at that waterhole.  The next one we thought held a lot of promise because we had driven by it earlier and it was just beautiful, but there was nothing there.  At this point we were nearing the end of our trip.  Our next waterhole was one we hadn’t been to before and was kind of out of the way in the bush.  We couldn’t even see it as we drove up because there was a little rise hiding it from the main road, but we figured there was something there because a couple cars were already parked.  As we drove past the little rise, we encountered a herd of more than 30 elephants in the waterhole!!  Now I saw quite a few elephants in Chobe, Botswana last December, but it was nothing like seeing all these elephants enjoying the water.  We discovered pretty quickly that there were several small elephants who were in the middle of the water and all the bigger ones were standing around protecting them.  The small ones were clearly all different ages with one teeny tiny one in the very middle clearly loving the water.  He wandered around quite a bit so I did get some picture of him, but he was just rolling in the water and splashing the other young elephants and sticking his head under the water.  He was absolutely adorable.  We sat there for quite a while watching the elephants chase away the rest of the animals while they babies played in the water.  It wasn’t until they started walking towards us that I got nervous and suggested we leave.  Clearly I’ve been in Namibia too long and taken on some of the locals’ fear of these humongous creatures.  Too many stories of cars and huts trampled by elephants.  The rest of my car wasn’t quite as worried.

As we were busy recounting how incredible it was to see such a herd of elephants, we came up on the next waterhole and could see there were cars stopped there as well.  We saw some giraffes standing up around it so we rushed over and as we got closer, we saw a rhino!!  I had yet to really see a rhino over here.  There was one trip to Windhoek where my driver pointed out a rhino in the distance, but to me it just looked like a very large white rock.  This rhino was very close and even stopped to pose for me to get a great picture of him.

That was our second to last waterhole.  We knew we wanted to stop again at the first waterhole on our way out where we saw so many antelope and zebras in the morning.  As we were driving to the last waterhole, we passed another huge elephant!  This one was not in the water and looked for all the world like a moving statue because he was so white.  He was soooooo tall and standing very close to the road.  We stopped for some pictures, and even though he looked very old and moved very slow, he made me just a little bit nervous.

 

old looking elephant by the road looks just like a statue

old looking elephant by the road looks just like a statue

he was soooo huge!

he was soooo huge!

At the last waterhole, it looked pretty similar to how we found it in the morning except that this time there were two huge elephants there as well.  One of them even posed for me as he was taking a drink.  Such an incredible day trip, but it wasn’t over yet…

 

at the last waterhole.

at the last waterhole.

posing for me while he drank some water

posing for me while he drank some water

On our way out of the park, there was a huge elephant practically on the road.  There were cars stopped all around it, but we needed to get the car back and we had already seen so many elephants that we decided not to stop.  Instead we drove just a few feet in front of it.  If I had been driving I wouldn’t have been able to do it.  He was clearly moving onto the road, but our driver just went for it and we are still alive to tell the tale.  We thought for sure that was the end of it, but just as we were getting to the park gate there were a bunch of cars on the side of the road again.  We realized they were looking at another lion sleeping in the shade of a tree.  As we tried to get a picture of him, I slowly started to realize there was a lion sleeping in the shade of about six different trees in the area.  It was a whole pride of lions!  What a phenomenal day of animal sightings!  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to get back to Etosha when it wasn’t the rainy season.  I only wish my family had been able to see what we saw today.

The day ended with a quick stop in the Farmhouse in Outjo for some great food and a chance to catch up with the volunteers staying there.  Then it was home again where my former neighbors just brought me a cake to celebrate my birthday!

My birthday yesterday was pretty fantastic as well.  I made a cake for my colleagues and a cake for each of my four grade seven classes.  We had a great time singing and making snowflakes and eating cake.  They were all so impressed that I could bake.  It’s fun that some of them are so in awe of the fact that I can cook for myself and do my own laundry and make cookies and make cakes and still be good at math.  If nothing else, I’m at least a role model for some of these young girls.  I got so many hugs and cards yesterday and so many people singing and wishing me many more birthdays that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.  I felt like a celebrity.  And after the tea break, there wasn’t really any school anymore because most of the teachers were gone, so I just decided they made my birthday a school holiday!  After school I went out for lunch with some of the other volunteers where they made sure to tell the waitress that it was my birthday, so she brought me very fancy slice of lemon meringue pie with whipped cream and different fruits.  I didn’t even know they did that in Namibia.  It was a pretty great last birthday in Namibia and a pretty great start to the next year of my life!

TTFN, Marsha

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Some Things Never Change

5 October 2013, Saturday

“I think it is the drama in life that makes you strong.” – Something’s Gotta Give

Two months from today I will be on a plane headed home.  The closer that day comes, the more I seem to be ready for it.  I’ve spent most of today listening to country music and thinking about what it’s going to be like to be home again.  Plans are starting to take shape for my first couple months at home and it’s getting me excited to get back.  I finally know where I’ll be spending Christmas and I’ve started making plans to get together with some of my friends.  At the same time, I’ve been avoiding my phone as it rings off the hook today.  Some things never change.

This weekend is a home weekend at the hostel which means there are not 200 children running around outside my window.  I love the quite, but the school has taken this opportunity to plan yet another gala dinner.  This one was suppose to be planned by the parents at the school for the parents at the school, but some of the teachers and the principal have been involved in the planning.  On Monday we had a parents’ meeting to inform the parents about the dinner and how important it was for them to attend because the Permanent Secretary was going to be speaking and it would reflect badly on the school if only a few parents turned up.  After the principal gave a rousing speech about turning out for the dinner, he asked who wanted to buy tickets and no one raised their hands.  I could tell he was more than a little worried.  There also wasn’t a big turnout for the parents’ meeting because last weekend was pay weekend so everyone was off  “chopping their money” as we say in Namibia.  In the moment he decided that instead of just having the gala dinner, there would also be a braai (barbeque) going on at the same time.  That everyone could turn up and those who wanted to buy a ticket for the gala dinner could do so and go inside to eat while the rest of the people could stay outside and pay to eat at the braai.  How this was suppose to solve the problem, I’m not quite sure.  Anyway, back to my ringing phone.  I am entirely certain that the principal woke up this morning and decided that we need a powerpoint presentation for this dinner.  However, I had my own agenda for the day and before I leave, it would be really great if he stopped thinking of me as his secretary.  I’m more than happy to teach him how to use powerpoint so he can make his own presentations but I’m done with his stories about not having enough time so could I please just do this one for him.  And I’m especially less inclined when he tries to contact me the day of.  He tried twice from his phone and once from another number and then had one of my colleagues try from his phone, but I’m not falling for it.  Unfortunately, my replacement moved to Otjiwarongo a couple weeks ago, so when he couldn’t get a hold of me, I’m pretty sure he went to her.  She texted me around noon to ask if I had a picture of our learner who competed on the national soccer team earlier this term.  Oh well, she can pick and choose where she wants to help out or not.  Maybe she’ll be more lenient on what she’s willing to do for him.  I just wish that in two years he would have realized how I could help him and teach him instead of just trying to force me to do or fix anything to do with technology.

Speaking of things never changing, I thought I had made a difference with some of my learners this week.  There are a handful of them who have decided they are not going to finish grade 7 and have stopped coming to school.  Yes, it’s the troublemakers who are not around but they are some of my favorite learners and the ones who most need someone who will not give up on them.  I told their classes that I wanted these specific learners to come back to school.  I reminded them of the story of the Prodigal Son and told them if they could bring said learners back to school that we would sing and I would give everyone candy from America (my parents recently sent me a ton of smarties)  On Tueaday, 7C brought their lost son back.  They even had his math book and he was writing in class.  I asked him if we would be seeing him for the rest of the term and he said he would be there.  That was easy.  Unfortunately, the next day he was not at school and hasn’t been seen since.  Some things never change.  However, I seem to be the eternal optimist, so when 7B brought their lost son back to school on Thursday, again I pulled out the candy and we celebrated.  This boy hadn’t been seen since the first day of the term.  School is exceptionally hard for him and his English skills are lacking.  However, we happened to be playing a game that day and he actually got into it.  At the end of class when everyone was writing down the homework, he borrowed a paper from someone so he too could write down the homework.  He asked me if I had a book for him and I assured him that by the next day I would find a book for him.  He told me he would come every day from now on.  A few class periods later, he was back in my classroom during my free period.  I know coming back after being gone for so long was probably really hard for him and he probably took a beating in a couple of his classes, so I didn’t push him to go to his class.  Another to troublemakers also showed up and hung out in my classroom for that period.  They were asking me questions and challenging each other to math problems on the chalkboard.  I thought it was great.  And then Friday came and the book I had dug up when to waste as my second prodigal son didn’t come back to school.  Some things never change.  Yet clearly I hadn’t been kick enough for one day and still believed someone could surprise me.

On my way into town after school, a very nice car slowed down as it was passing me going the opposite direction.  The driver was a very nicely dressed young man and I wondered what he and his car were doing in the location.  He said “hello, how are you?” as I walked by.  I said “fine. And you?” but never made eye contact or stopped walking.  The previous weekend I had nearly caused a car accident walking to town.  I knew it was pay weekend so many people would be drunk and so as to not draw any extra attention to myself I dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap with my hair tied back.  I didn’t feel attractive in the slightest, just comfortable.  However, as I was walking to town, a car full of men drove by me going the opposite direction and promptly started honking and hanging out the windows to get my attention.  The difference between this and every other weekend was that they had to drive on the wrong side of the road to be next to me and a car was coming from the opposite direction.  Thankfully everyone swerved at the appropriate moment and I just kept on walking.  However, this nicely dressed man in his nice car this weekend started to say “Can you help…” and I thought maybe he was just lost and I could help him figure out where he was going.  So I turned around and looked in his window and asked “Can I help you with something?”  He said, “yeah, I was wondering if I could marry you.”  I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes and gave a very exasperated “Of course” as I walked away.  I was speaking to myself because of course he wasn’t lost and only wanted to hit on me but it wasn’t until a few blocks later that to him, hearing me say “of course” could have been taken as a positive response to his proposal and then I was exasperated with myself all over again.

As much as I’ve loved these last two years and teaching these phenomenal kids, I’m sure that it’s about time for me to go home.  It’s time to change up the routine.  Plus, American men will let me walk down the street in peace because I’m sure they won’t be attracted to the girl who hasn’t had a proper hair cut in two years and has gotten down to only bathing a couple times  week (which is still better than many other volunteers).  I’m so looking forward to good family, friends, and food in just two short months!

TTFN, Marsha

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When it Rains it Pours…

14 September 2013, Saturday

“The more difficult something is, the more rewarding it is in the end.” – Big Fish

So I was awake at 2 am this morning and do you want to know why??  I heard what I thought was a downpour and a radio just playing static.  But the rain sounded closer than just on my roof.  I drug myself out of bed and opened my bedroom door to discover rain pouring out of the ceiling in the kitchen, the laundry room, and the hallway.  I think my first reaction was to check my radio and make sure it wasn’t on and just playing static.  It wasn’t on.  At the same time, two of the other people sleeping in my house woke up to see what was going on.  I should probably mention that it was not raining outside. Only in my house.  Because the rainy season doesn’t start for at least another month or two.

My next thought was that a pipe had burst in my ceiling and I needed to get the water shut off to my house. So I called the hostel superintendent.  The phone rang a few times before he turned off his phone.  I threw on some sweatpants and a sweatshirt and ran over to his house, which is still at the hostel, and knocked on his door for about five minutes.  No one answered but a light was still on in his house.  I went back to my house where the water was still pouring out of my ceiling but a little bit slower and the sound like the radio making static had stopped.  I called one of the other teachers from the school who also stays at the hostel and after a few rings he groggily answered the phone.  I explained that water was raining from my ceiling and the hostel superintendent wasn’t answering and I didn’t know how to shut the water off.  He said he would be right there.

He showed up just a few minutes later, in his boxers and a tank top, with wrenches in hand.  He proceeded to climb up into my ceiling to assess the situation.  At this point the third extra person in my house woke up to see what was going on.  Getting into my ceiling is not the easiest thing in the world because we don’t have a ladder.  To get to the ceiling, I put my green, metal trunk on top of a student desk and thankfully my teacher friend is about 6’6” tall and could get into the ceiling by standing on top of my contraption.  He took a few pictures and assessed that the water heater had runith over, whatever that means.  I turned off the hot water and we drained what was left in the tank by turning on the hot water in the bath tub and eventually the raining of water slowed down enough that I was pretty convinced it was going to stop.  I thanked my teacher friend a thousand times for coming in the middle of the night.  But all is well that ends well, he stopped by this morning to check how we were doing on his way to a funeral.  I assured him that the water had stopped and no one had drowned.  A few hours later he texted me to say that help was on the way.  Apparently he took it upon himself to track down the hostel superintendent and make sure he called someone to come look at my water heater.  A few minutes later the superintendent called me to say someone would come look at it today.  I am still waiting for them to show up, but it’s nice to know I have such great friends here that I can count on any time of the day or night.

Where the water came through my ceiling in the hallway.

Where the water came through my ceiling in the hallway.

Where the water came through the ceiling in my laundry room.

Where the water came through the ceiling in my laundry room.

This is just the latest story in a saga of my house trying to tell me to get out of here.  Let me just preface this next story by saying that one must have appliance in Namibia is an electric kettle.  Everyone in Namibia has an electric kettle because the thing to do in the morning is drink coffee or tea and at various times throughout the day there are designated tea breaks.  I, like everyone else, own an electric kettle.  It served me well for just under two years, but a few weeks ago it decided to go kaput.  I had traveled with it to Okahandja so I could make use of it while I was at PST to have oatmeal and hot chocolate in the mornings, but it didn’t survive the trip.  I purchased a new kettle the next day and considered myself lucky that one had lasted me two years because many volunteers have to replace their kettle a couple time throughout their service.  Not even two weeks after purchasing the new kettle, it also went kaput.  I hadn’t even gotten it back to Otjiwarongo yet.  When I did get back to Otjiwarongo I went and bought myself the coolest kettle ever!  I always look for one which detaches from its base, but my newest kettle spins on its detachable base!  And somehow the heating element is hidden inside the kettle so I can’t see it and all the deposits building up on the it.  Plus, there’s this cool floating red bead that shows me how much water is in the kettle.  It’s just an awesome kettle and it was the cheapest one with a detachable base.

The mighty new kettle!

The mighty new kettle!

However, my appliances were not finished with me yet.  Two years ago, one of the first things I bought for my house was a mini oven with two burners on top.  The volunteer I replaced made it through her two years with just a two burner hotplate and no oven.  I decided I couldn’t go two years without baking something, so I was quick to replace the hotplate with the mini oven.  The mini oven has served me well over the years.  Many a pan of brownies has been baked in that oven.  Last year for my birthday that oven worked not stop for four days to bake enough cookies to feed all 164 of my grade 6 learners and all 40 of my colleagues.  It’s a great little oven.  Unfortunately, last week I was baking cupcakes with the neighbor kids when I realized that they weren’t cooking very fast.  I stuck my had in the oven only to realize it was barely warm and the heat was probably coming from the burner we were using on top of the oven to cook dinner.  I was really upset at this point because the kids kept asking why the cupcakes were taking so long and they couldn’t understand that the oven was broken.  About an hour later after I had just had it with everything around me I decided to try finishing them in the microwave, which pretty much worked.  The thing that bummed me out the most was that I realized that for the first time in my life I wouldn’t be able to make a birthday cake for my birthday.  Fortunately my Namibian friends came through for me again.  My neighbor, Betty, just so happened to have an extra oven just like mine that she wasn’t using; it was literally gathering dust in the garage.  She said it would be ok if I borrowed it for the next three months but she warned me that when she used the burners on the top it tripped the circuit breaker.  So I have continued to use the burners on my original oven in the kitchen and I put Betty’s oven in my laundry room to use the oven part.

And just for fun, my radio which I listen to every morning as I get ready for school decided to have an annoying buzzing sound in the background as it played.  Fortunately, it seems to be better now.  All of my appliances are rebelling.  They are saying they served their two years and now it’s time for me to go home.  I would agree, but there are a few things left I have to do first.  Thankfully I have such great friends to lean on around here.

Throughout this past week I have been talking to the two other people who I asked to help me with the education workshop I’m planning for next month and they are both very excited about it.  They are ready to jump in with both feet and do what needs to get done to plan some awesome sessions.  And while I’ve had to go through the headache this weekend of getting quotations on venues, I’m glad to know they are so into what we are trying to do and I’m not going to have to do this all alone.

I don’t know how I got so lucky as to be surrounded by so many amazing people both here and back home.  Just to make sure my weekend had a nice high note, one of my very good friends called to tell me she is now engaged!  I’m not going to name her here because I know I was one of the first few people she told and I don’t want to ruin her surprise with anyone, but I’m just so excited and happy for her and so incredibly honored at her effort to get in touch with me so soon after it happened.  I can’t wait to get home and finally meet this guy who has stolen her heart.

The last month has had a lot of ups and downs, but despite it all, I can’t believe how fast the time is going.  I don’t think I’m really any closer to wanting to leave this place but at the same time I so desperately want to get home and hug all the amazing people there who have been so supportive of me these past two years and managed to stay in touch with me even across such a large distance.  In the mean time I guess I’m just going to have to settle for the hugs my learners give me on the way out of the classroom.  Can you believe it?  7th grade kids ranging in age from 12 and 16 want to hug their teacher at the end of class.  I really feel completely blessed to have so many phenomenal people in my life.

TTFN, Marsha

PS I also taught my grade 7C a valuable lesson about community service this week.  At the end of last term they decided to steal prizes from each other that I had given them.  I said that meant this term they would not be able to earn prizes.  That concept didn’t really sink in with them until they didn’t see their sticker chart on the wall at the beginning of this term.  They begged me to give it back which was what I was expecting.  They wanted to earn their chart back by sweeping my classroom and I told them that wasn’t good enough.  I explained that they had been very selfish to steal things from their classmates so we were going to go do some community service which was selfless.  I decided that we would take one class period to go read story books to one of the grade one classes.  They didn’t want to do it, but I made them take one day last week to practice reading the stories to each other.  That was pretty funny to see 7th graders reading grade one level books to each other.  Then this week I took them to the grade one class where they spent 40 minutes reading books to the small kiddies.  It was so cute to watch them and I think they actually enjoyed it, which I hoped they would.  The grade one teacher was impressed because many of her little ones started reading right alone with the grade 7s.  I think she was a little skeptical when I approached her about the idea, but I think she really enjoyed it when she saw what was happening with her learners.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but I think it was a success!

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Great Expectations…

8 September 2013, Sunday

Calvin

In one of my favorite episodes of Community, Troy is describing Annie’s personality to her.  He say, “you expect everybody to be better than who they are, and you expect yourself to be better than everyone. Which is cool.”  I can relate.

Peace Corps warns us during our Close of Service conference that finishing our service and returning to the States will present many different challenges.  One of the challenges we are suppose to watch out for is the feeling at the end of our service like we didn’t accomplish anything and our time here was not valuable.  When I first heard this, it didn’t really register with me.  I’ve kept myself very busy during the past two years; I’m made a lot of friends and taught a lot of kids; I wrote a book and I designed a two week long training for new trainees.  Two months ago at the Close of Service conference, I didn’t think I would have to face the feelings of, essentially, failure.  Yet there are times when Peace Corps really knows what it’s talking about.  They were right during PST two years ago when they said you would have very high highs and very low lows throughout your service.  I experience a lot of those, especially in my first year.  This second year has been a lot more even keeled, at least until recently.

Yes, Model School was a pretty good success two weeks ago, but there were a lot of problems I had to deal with throughout the two weeks.  It was far from perfect and it left me feeling like it will be a challenge for another couple of volunteers to take over next year.  My boss even suggested on several occasions that a few people in the office should sell some of their cows this time next year so they can afford to fly me back to run Model School again.  From the feedback I received, many of the trainees found it a very successful exercise in preparing them to teach at their sites.  But there were a few negative comments about some of the organizational issues.  Yeah, it was a good training, but I expect more from myself.  Since this was the second year, I feel it really could have been better.  And I definitely should have been able to leave it more organized and easier for someone to step in next year and pick up right where I left off.

 

Fifty six percent of my grade 7 learners failed their end of term exam last month.  That means they answered less than 30 percent of the questions on the exam correctly.  That was at the end of my 5th full term as a math teacher and I still had less than half of the grade passing the exam.  I expect more from myself.  It leaves me wondering what they are getting out of my teaching and would they have done just as poorly with a Namibian teacher or would they have done better.  My one consolation is that the exam didn’t hurt them so badly that they all failed math this term; only 8.5% of my learners failed this term.

And I would like to believe that even if I haven’t left my learners with a better understanding of math that maybe I was able to pass on a few lessons about life and how to be a better student and better person.   Unfortunately I don’t think that is the case.  For the last two years, I’ve know that 6/7A and 6/7C were my two better classes.  They paid good attention in class and had good behavior all around.  6/7D gave me a hard time but most of those learners could somehow still learn and do well despite all the crap they put me through for 40 minutes every time I saw them.  6/7B struggled the most with both the subject matter and discipline in the classroom.  I thought I had at least the discipline under control as I took drastic measures last term and essentially stopped teaching their class.  I only wrote the lesson on the board and then stood at the front of the class and kept them from saying a word as they wrote it down and worked on the homework.  They hated it and a few weeks later we returned to normal teaching and they seemed like little angels.  Well apparently it wasn’t a permanent change as about Wednesday this week they returned to the little devils they started out as.  Even 7C who I could always count on to be so well behaved and engaged in the lessons has changed into a bunch of teenagers before my very eyes and has very little respect for me anymore.  At the end of the last term I found them stealing from each other the prizes that I had just given out.  I informed them that this last term they would not be able to earn the prizes.  That means there is no longer a reward for the ones who come ask me questions about their homework.  The questions from 7C have stopped except for one boy, Benjamin.  I had hoped that all my kids would learn the value in asking questions when they don’t understand.  I had hoped that even next year when they went off to secondary school they would continue to ask questions of their teachers because they would realize how much it improves their grades when they understand.  Now I feel I was just mistaken.  All they ever wanted was the stickers and without the stickers, they don’t feel compelled to ask any questions.  I expected at the very least to have taught them the value of asking questions, but I’m afraid that message didn’t stick.  When I leave hear in less than 3 months, these kids that I invested two years of my life in will go back to learning they way they always have; taking a passive role, copying summaries from the chalkboard, and just attempting to memorize at least 30% of the information so they can pass the class.

I never got the library out of the garage.  The soccer program I was asked to assist with last year ended and never started up again this year.  The afterschool tutoring program that I tried last year failed.  Or maybe I just didn’t work hard enough.  The letter writing program I had between me and my learners last year has all but ended.  I believe my counterpart who I worked on the science fair with will still continue next year, but I don’t know if I managed to fully convey to him the importance of the kids doing some sort of research with the project and reading about what other people have already done.  Plus, I did all the typing and sizing and printing of the learners’ work for their poster boards.  I don’t know if all that will get done next year, especially without me pushing for more boards so everyone can participate.  Looking back over the last two years, it’s hard to imagine what sort of impact I made around here.

And the kicker is that somehow people have started to look to me as some sort of (for lack of a better word) teaching “expert.”  Everyone seems to think that I have such a great classroom management plan and my learners behave so well and I’m such a great teacher.  In fact, the staff at Peace Corps believes so highly in me that they want to squeeze every bit of time they can out of me and have me plan a workshop to teach learners centered education to volunteers and their counterparts.  I agreed to do it because I thought I could also include in the workshop some information on classroom management and alternatives to corporal punishment.  Since I have been unsuccessful in getting rid of corporal punishment at my school or even convincing the school to adopt a different school wide discipline plan, this workshop might be my last platform to make a difference.  However, as I began the planning this weekend and was doing some research on learner centered education, it became quite clear to me that I do not use very many different learner centered education techniques in my classroom.  I’m no expert on this.  In fact, if you’ll remember, I have no teacher training what-so-ever.  There was no Model School when I went through PST.  I don’t have a degree in education.  So what am I thinking in taking on a workshop where people may have actually studied learner centered education?  And I already know that Namibian teachers don’t want to use the classroom management plan that I use.  It’s too much work.  They all have lives and families and businesses outside of school.  I have the time and the resources to devote to a more elaborate classroom management plan.  My colleagues use corporal punishment because it worked on them when they were in school and it’s a quick, in-the-moment solution to the immediate problem.  How can I hold them to higher expectations?

When I give this workshop, I could go in there and present on the information I’ve researched on learner centered education and classroom management techniques.  It could be a very informative workshop and most of the volunteers and their counterparts would leave with their heads spinning full of a bunch of, hopefully, new information.  For those trained in education, hopefully it would have been information they had heard before.  However, I expect more out of myself.  I don’t want to just convey the information; I want to demonstrate it.  I know many Namibian teachers, and I’m sure the volunteers as well, have a hard time implementing abstract concepts.  It’s better to provide many concrete examples that they can draw from to implement in their classrooms.  But I’m no expert.  At this point I can’t even say with confidence that what I do in my classroom works.  And I hate that I’m doubting myself about this because I don’t want my doubt in my abilities to be reflected in this workshop.  I’m tempted to rely on some words of wisdom from a very wise uncle of mine “Just act like you know everything and it not just baffle them with bullshit!”  Unfortunately, I don’t think bullshit is going to get me out of this one.  I need some confidence in what I’m going to talk about.  I don’t know where I lost my self confidence this week, but I sure better find it soon.

I expect a lot from myself.  God gave me a lot of gifts and a lot of talents.  He put a lot of brains in my head and I can’t let that go to waste.  That’s why I always expect more from myself than from anyone else.  And with that, I do still expect a lot out of the people around me.  And before you all start thinking I’ve started taking my first malaria prophylaxis again and am subsequently depressed again, let’s end this on one high note.  Over the past two years, I have expected more from my learners than any of their other teachers, and most of them have risen to the challenge.  When I started, they were not used to doing homework every day.  The first few weeks, I would be lucky to get half of the class to complete an assignment.  Now, two years later, I am proud to report that about 80-90 percent of my learners are doing their homework on any given day, and at the end of the week, just over 50 percent have completed all of the homework assignments for the whole week.  Yes, I do offer stickers to the ones who have completed all their homework in any given week, but I’m trying to still hold out hope that doing math homework has now become a habit that will carry over into secondary school.

And to those of you who are still sending me mail, I love you and thank you for it.  I’m sorry that my turn around time is really slow right now.  Along with teaching my final term at the school and planning this workshop for next month, I am also working on grad school applications and essays and my resume.  I have my Description of Service to write for Peace Corps along with my final semi-annual report, which I think is actually due sometime this month.  In addition, I’ve had trainees staying with me this past week to observe me and other teachers at the school and it two weeks time, my replacement will move to Otjiwarongo and start observing at the school.  While she is here, I’m hoping she will also be able to help me with some preparations for an end of year party for the graduating grade 7s that can also double as my farewell party.  I am also working on finding and printing pictures of each one of my learners to give to them at the end of the year (hopefully with a nice personalized note from me) as a Christmas/going away present.  Three months is starting to feel like an awfully short amount of time.

TTFN, Marsha

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The Beginning in the End

24 August 2013, Saturday

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

I wish I had new stories to tell, but sadly I think my new stories are getting fewer and farther between.  Lao-tzu said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  A year ago today I took that first step into Namibia, and now I feel as though I’ve walked those thousand miles and then some.  In fact, I may have doubled back and am now walking the same path again.  Instead of new stories, I’m starting to see familiar stories.  What is new is my point of view and the way I feel as I retrace my steps.  For better or for worse, I feel this blog is going to become more reflective and less “action packed” if you will as I wind down my service here in Namibia.

Each year at this time I have returned to the place where it all began.  Last year I was doing something new; I was leading model school.  This year I am retracing my steps and leading model school again.  Sure, this time we have more learners attending and it is a new group of trainees, but it feels very familiar.  I’ve been here before.  Tonight I took a moment to sit outside on the bench where I sat two years ago and remember what it was like to first come to this place.  I remember the current volunteers who were with us for those first few days.  They sat outside with us for hours answering our endless questions.  They were such a blessing at that point in time.  I remember people sitting on the small patch of grass in the middle of the center to do yoga or stretch after a run.  I thought about the evenings we spent all huddled around the table and squished on the benches under the grass roof just talking and getting to know each other.  We weren’t here for long; only a week before we moved in with our host families.  It seems so long ago and yet it seems like it was just yesterday.

This evening I also went back and read my blog post from 25 August 2011.  Even now I can remember the emotions I was feeling then.  I was so excited for what was to come and so nervous about the stupidest things, like the food and shots.  Well, I still want to cry when I have to get a shot, but mystery meat no longer scares me.  In fact, we’re going to have a braai on Thursday this week and I suggested we bbq sheep because it’s one of my favorites.  I’ve grown a lot over these last two years and I’ve gained more skills and life experiences than I’ll ever be able to put on my resume.

One of the fears I had when I decided to join Peace Corps was how this experience would change me.  I know I’ve grown and changed a lot over the course of my life and I really liked the person I was two years ago.  I was a little worried that maybe Peace Corps would give me a “I have to save the world” mentality or something along those lines.  Looking back it was a ridiculous fear.  I don’t feel the need to save the world.  I don’t think the world needs saving.  I think it’s a pretty great place.  Yes, there are starving kids in Africa (so clean your plates people) but it’s not a terrible place.  Even the hungry kids find reasons to smile, and in my classroom, a lot of times I’m the reason they are smiling.  I’m not saying the world is perfect, but life is good and we’re all gonna be ok.

Living in Namibia has also increased my self-confidence and my self-esteem.  I have had to live a very independent life style over the last couple of years and somehow I’ve managed.  In fact, I’ve really enjoyed it most of the time.  I do all my own cooking and shopping and cleaning and deciding where and when and how I want to go places.  (although most of the time my decision is to stay home)  When I got sick I took myself to the doctor.  When it’s Saturday, I can spend the whole day in bed watching movies if I so desire.  Most of the time I can do my own thing and I really like it.  Of course I’ve spent my fair share of time with other volunteers but that has only increased the confidence I have in myself as well.  Last December, myself and two other volunteers figured out how to travel from Namibia to two different African countries, something we had never done before.  But then a month ago I felt confident enough that I took my mom on the same trip between Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  Not only do I have the confidence and independence to be alone or in a small group, but I have the confidence to be a real leader.  I was never trained to be a teacher, and yet, I have so much confidence in what I am doing that I feel comfortable standing up in front of groups of new trainees and giving them advice about how to teach Namibian children.  I have so much faith in myself and my abilities now more than ever.  Two years ago I believed whole heartedly that Namibia was exactly where I was supposed to be and it’s as true now as it was then.  I’m pretty sure I can keep the self-confidence when I travel back home, but it’s my new found self-esteem that I’m a little worried about. 😉

There are so many days here in Namibia where people tell me I’m beautiful.  My learners tell me all the time.  Any time I wear my hair differently they tell me how beautiful I look.  If I happen to get some new clothes, they always comment and say “Miss, you are looking beautiful today.”  A few weeks ago I got a new pair of boots and I was greeted by the same reaction from my learners as the day I first wore skinny jeans to school.  The whole class joined in in a chorus of “Ahhhhhhweaaaaaa!!!! Miiiiiiiiissss!!!” which is their way of saying I look very stylish.   I always feel good about myself here.  Just this week I was walking down the street with another volunteer and a man in a car honked at me.  I didn’t think twice about it, but this volunteer asked me if I get honked at often and the answer is yes.  Men frequently profess their love for me on the street and I’ve had more marriage proposals than I can count.  Sure, it’s kind of annoying but I prefer to take it as a compliment.

Another change I’ve noticed is that I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of “African time.”  I don’t get as stressed any more if I have to wait for a ride or wait for a meeting to start.  Life here happens on its own time and I know I’ve become much much more flexible.  As my boss, Paulina, would say I’ve learned to “chillax.”

I’m not the same person I was two years ago when I got off the plane, but I don’t think I’ve changed so much that those of you I haven’t seen in a while won’t recognize me.  I’ve just grow up a bit, that’s all.

I just keep looking at all these new trainees and all they have a head of them.  This is probably the only time I’ll cross paths with most of them; for me it’s nearly the end, but for them, it’s just the beginning.  Some days I ask myself why I didn’t decide to stay for a third year.  And the answer is, just like I knew two years ago that I was supposed to be in Namibia, somehow right now, I know I’m suppose to go home.

TTFN, Marsha

P.S. For those who haven’t heard the news, my plane ticket to come home has been booked.  I’m scheduled to land at the MSP airport at 10:20 am on Friday December 6th!

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Scary but Exciting

18 August 2013, Sunday

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.” – Coach Carter

So I was in the middle of revamping my resume so I can finish my grad school applications and get started on the job search when I was struck by a nostalgic moment.  Peace Corps has been great about offering support for how to return to the US and I’m working my way through a fantastic Career Resource Manual.  But I’m currently at the part where I need to put my professional experience on the paper and somehow condense down everything I’ve done and learned in the last two years to a few sentences.  It’s hard.  And I’m sitting here in the same center where I was brought my first day in Namibia and thinking about the beginning of this adventure nearly two years ago. I can see the place where we all gathered around in the evenings talk, play games, and get to know each other.  There’s the dining hall where we all had our first experience of Wheatbix (a Namibian breakfast “cereal”) and different Namibian meats.  There’s the piece of lawn where a few of our trainers first taught us how to take a bucket bath and wash our laundry by hand.  Little did we know that piece of grass may be the only piece of grass we would see for the next two years.  I keep thinking about how little I knew then; about how hesitant I was walking around town, especially if I was by myself.  Now it’s all changed.

On Thursday I worked a full day at school and then hiked to Okahandja.  Since my mom started telling stories about how I actually travel around Namibia, I’ll be completely honest and say that I hitch-hiked.  One of my colleagues gave me a ride to the side of the highway and within two minutes a pick-up truck stopped and picked me up.  Turned out the two guys inside were police men which I had guessed by their license plate even though the car was unmarked because normally I wouldn’t take a car with two men while I’m alone.  They were nice, but typical Namibian men.  They asked for my business card and phone number.  They talked about how we should be more than friends, we should be family. And after two years in Namibia I’ve gotten to be a pretty good expert at diffusing those kinds of situations, giving a firm “no” without pissing them off.  Getting out of the car did take a little extra time though as they each wanted their picture taken with me.  One of them was actually a journalist for the police so he had a really nice camera in the car.  This is not the first or even the second time that a Namibian has asked to take a picture with me.  On occasion people (usually men) will stop me and ask to take a picture with me.  My mom also saw this while we were touring around Victoria Falls and I think she was a little surprised that I just agreed to let some random men take a picture with me.  I don’t see a whole lot of harm in it and they enjoy showing their friends the picture they took with the “white lady.”  But I digress…

The next two weeks I will be with the newest group of trainees, running Model School for them.  On my way to Okahandja, one of my bosses from Peace Corps informed me that there was a mistake and they didn’t actually mean for me to come until Friday.  I quick texted my host mom in Okahandja to see if I could stay with her and the problem was solved.  However, as soon as I got to the training center, my phone rang and the volunteers running a session inside had questions for me about the session they were presenting.  So it was to their great surprise and relief when I stepped through the door a second later.  It’s nice to be needed.  It turned out they had tried to present the idea behind model school and the schedule the trainees would be following even though I had created the schedule with the help of a different volunteer who was also not there yet.  So the trainees were all confused and the other volunteers had just been telling them to save all their questions until Marsha got there.  Which meant I didn’t even get a moment to breath before I was presenting, but I got everyone’s questions answered and I think they are feeling much better about what is to come.  They were also given the book that I wrote about teaching in Namibia, so my reputation clearly preceded me with this new group.  I think I’ve got a lot to live up to.  The other volunteers were telling me that they had been referencing my book in their sessions for the last two weeks and were asking why I didn’t do anything like that for their group last year.  So I guess my book is a hit.

I’ve only spent a couple days with the new group, but so far so good.  I thought it would be a lot like last year, but I feel differently about this group. Almost jealous in a way.  Last year I was training a group who I knew I would be working with for the next year.  I knew that someone out of that group I was going to train this year to take over the planning of model school.  With this group, I know many of them I won’t have the opportunity to see again after I leave this training.  And knowing what is ahead for them, I jealous that it’s nearly over for me.  I see how nervous they are to get up in front of a room full of kids this week and I realize that fear is gone for me.  I’m comfortable here.  One of the trainers who I met for the first time two years ago and who calls himself my “brother from another mother” asked me a few days ago why I look so calm and happy and fashionable (Mom, I was wearing my new boots).  I told him that I feel completely comfortable and at home in Namibia now.

(2011) my "brother from another mother" - look how short my hair was back then

(2011) my “brother from another mother” – look how short my hair was back then

What scares me is going home.  Looking around at the new group, they had all sorts of technology things that I had never seen before.  One girl had some sort of a kindle, but she wasn’t reading a book on it, she was looking at facebook.  Then they started talking about Pintest and someone has explained it to me before and told me I would really like it, but I’m still not really sure what it is.  Yesterday we were having a “Fun Day” at the stadium with all the kids who will be attending Model School this week and all the trainees started teaching a dance to some of the Namibian children.  All the trainees seemed to know the dance so I asked one of the other volunteers if it was something they made up last week to teach the kids and she told me that it’s a dance in America now called “the wobble”?  (Which made me think of Weebles)  But God only knows what else I’ve missed in the last two years.

Coming to Namibia for the first time was scary, but exciting.  Everything was new, but no one expected me to know what I was doing.  Everyone knew that I was new and I was learning right along with the 37 other trainees I traveled here with.  I expect going home will be scary but exciting as well.  It will be scary in the sense that this time I will be doing it alone.  I’m American, so people will be expecting me to understand life in America.  I mean I lived there for 23 years.  Two years out of the loop shouldn’t make much difference, right?  I should be able to just fall back into my old routine.  But what was my old routine?  I can’t remember and that’s scary.  Unfortunately, I think it might be gone and I’m probably going to feel pretty lost.  I’ll probably also feel pretty homesick for this comfortable life I made here and my Namibia friends and family who I will most likely never see again.  At the same time, there’s still excitement to coming home.  The whole reason I’m leaving this comfort zone I have created instead of staying for a third year is so I can get back to the family and friends I haven’t seen for more than two years.  I don’t know what all I’ve forgotten about life in the States, but my family and friends have been in my thoughts and prayers since I left.  I miss you guys!  …and real pizza (with pepperoni). and bagels. and Panera (I’m making myself hungry). and being able to drive.

I think these next three and a half months are going to be pretty rough.  My mom pointed out that my first year here I had a lot of ups and downs, lots of highs and lows, but that this second year I’ve been much more even keeled.  I think there may be some rough seas ahead and the storm will probably continue for a little while even after I get home. But in all honesty, I’m not entirely sure what to expect.  I’m going to try to just enjoy the time I have left here and make the most of it while at the same time looking forward to all the familiar faces I’m going to see in just a few short months!

And now, back to my resume…

TTFN, Marsha

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