I’ll be home for Christmas…

9 August 2013, Friday

“I’ll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me. Please have SNOW and mistletoe, and presents on the tree.” – Bing Crosby

Oh, this is back to Marsha writing this blog.  Hope you enjoyed my mom’s updates and her perspective.

Just wanted to take this opportunity to inform those of you still reading my blog that I have officially submitted my request for my final day in Namibia.  Assuming it is approved, (and I don’t know why it wouldn’t be) I will be leaving Namibia on Thursday, 5 December 2013 and landing in Minnesota sometime on Friday, December 6th!  I know it’s going to take me a couple months to travel around and visit those of you that I haven’t seen for a couple years, but I’m so excited that I will have the time to do that!  I wish it was possible to see everyone at once, but you and I will both have to settle for a little more patience and a good long visit when I do make it to where ever you are.

Having my mom here for two and a half weeks has made me all the more excited to come home.  It was so great to be able to share some of my real life here with her.  Of course, it was awesome to watch her experience Victoria Falls for the first time.  I was still blown away by the majesty of it and I had been there before.  It was really fun for me to watch her see it for the first time.  Then it was a whole different kind of awesome to introduce her to my learners.  They are 100% the best part about living and working in Namibia so it was great that she finally got to meet them.  During her time here she also got to experience some of the frustrations first hand that occur in the Namibian education system, but I think she still really enjoyed it.  I know I liked having her in the classroom because she was able to help walk around and answer some of the kids’ questions at the end of each class.  She decided after seeing the size of my classes and the difficulty of pronouncing their names that she would rather not teach a lesson, but she did get a chance to sit with me after school each day and answer questions from the learners one on one.  By the end of her two weeks, I thought she was doing pretty well with their names.  The other great part of having my mom her was that she helped with a lot of the grading I had to do each day, which gave me some free time each evening.  She even cooked dinner and washed the dishes almost every night.  It was fantastic!  Then at the end of the day we were able to both curl up on my “couch” (read cot in the living room) and watch a couple episodes of Masterchef or Amazing Race or whatever else I have on my computer at the moment.  It was pretty hard to wake up Monday morning without her around anymore and now my house feels bigger and emptier than it did before, but in just 4 short months, I’ll be headed home.

I can’t believe how fast the time is flying by.  This week and next week the learners are writing their end of term exams.  On Thursday next week I will be headed off to Okahandja to run a two week long Model School for the new group of trainees, just like I did last year.  When that’s finished, it will be right back to school for the start of Term 3.  My boss has asked if I would still be able to plan an Education Workshop before the end of the years, and I may be crazy, but I said I would do it.  So that will probably happen sometime shortly after my birthday in October.  I’ve never planned a workshop before, so I hope I will have time to pull it off between now and then, but I think it’s a really necessary workshop and I’ve got some ideas flowing about how to make it the most beneficial to volunteers and their Namibian counterparts.

Besides all the work I have going for Peace Corps, I am also busy trying to figure out what I want to do when I get back.  The idea has been for a long time to go to grad school and get my masters in Civil Engineering.  I did some checking and it turns out that I would not be able to start a Masters program until next fall.  That does give me some time right now to work on my applications and update my resume and contact my references before the applications are due shortly after the start of the New Year.  Ideally I would like to go to the University of Washington, but we’ll see what happens.  This also leaves me with about 8-9 months after I get back before I would start school.  I know I would not be happy just wandering for that long, so I think I’m going to take a month or two to travel around and visit family and friends before I start some sort of job/internship hopefully around February.  I know my mom would feel better if I started looking for said job/internship now now, but I’m starting to get a bit overwhelmed with the things I have to finish in the next 4 months.  So, if anyone out there hears of something civil engineering related I could do for a few months next year, or just something fun that would keep me busy for a few months (and hopefully give me a bit of money), let me know.

I’m going to miss my kiddies desperately, but I’m really looking forward to being back in the good old US of A!

TTFN, Marsha

my mom with some of my learners after school

my mom with some of my learners after school

both of us with the learners. They enjoyed having my mom around almost as much as I did.

both of us with the learners. They enjoyed having my mom around almost as much as I did.

they all wanted to be in a picture with her

they all wanted to be in a picture with her

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Volunteering, Namibian Style

1 August 2013, Thursday

Karen again…

OK, so the Peace Corps volunteers, on hearing this story, all say ‘We all know to Just Say No!’  Having the time to help, I have always found that I meet the nicest people and have the best experiences, when I say yes to someone needing help.  This is also true in Namibia.

On Wednesdays, Marsha has two periods free after the tea break.  We had both spent the tea break answering math questions for her learners.  They earn a sticker for coming with a question during tea break or after school and get prizes at the end of the term for their stickers, so many students come with questions.  During the free periods we moved to the staff lounge.  The school has wireless internet in the lounge, so I could check in with America.  Mr. Tjikurame, one of Marsha’s favorite colleagues, came in with a large plastic bag containing various sizes of leather pieces.  Of course I asked what he was going to do with the pieces of leather.  He replied that they were going to make costumes for a cultural drama some of the learners were doing.  Having helped with costumes at my own children’s school, I asked if there was something I could do to help.  He said yes, they needed more help, and told me they were meeting after school at 2.

School ends at 1pm.  Marsha and I spent an hour answering math questions, then returned to her flat about 2 pm.  I ate a quick lunch and then asked Marsha what she thought about my going over to the school to see what they needed help with.  I could have helped her with a little more grading, but she said it was up to me, so I headed out.

I found the correct classroom by following Mr. Tjikurame.  It was Ms. !Aibes’s (the ! is one of the four clicks in the Khoe Khoe language) first grade classroom.  She was the other teacher helping with the drama.  There were eleven grade 7 students participating, 6 girls and 5 boys.  This put me in an awkward position.  Since I had only been there two days, I didn’t know their names.  I was pretty sure they were all grade 7 though, so I felt like I should be able to call them by name.  The drama was about a Damara/Nama cultural tradition.  The Damara/Nama people are located north and west of Otjiwarongo.

That afternoon, the work on the drama progressed in what I have been told is typical Namibian fashion.  Mr. Tjikurame had the leather in his classroom, but first he had to go to the tailor who had agreed to make aprons for the girls to wear.  After explaining that three of the boys needed loincloths made out of the leather and noting that maybe I could make a pattern while he was gone, he quickly disappeared.  This left me with no materials to work on costumes, so for the next hour and a half, I stood around and watched the students run through the drama, as far as it went at that point.  The students and teacher were all speaking in the click language, which was fascinating to listen to, but I had no idea what they were saying.

The Ms !Aibes took a few minutes to explain the traditions that the students were acting out.  These traditions are no longer practiced, but it’s important for the children to remember their heritage.  One of the girls was playing the part of a girl who was having her first menstrual period.  This meant she was becoming a woman.  The women of the tribe would escort her to a dark hut, where she would spend the four days or so of her period in the dark.  While she was in the hut, the women would teach her about being a woman.  Once her period was over there would be a cleansing ceremony and she would be covered (they were using a blanket) and moved to a second, light hut.  The women would instruct her in how to behave towards the men of the tribe, now that she was eligible to become a wife.  She would again be covered, then brought out to be presented to the village and everyone celebrated with singing and dancing.  She then made tea for the elders of the village, demonstrating her new role as a women of the village.

While four girls were acting out this tradition, other girls were playing the part of girls of the village, playing a game with small rocks.  Three boys were playing the part of boys of the village, playing a game of marbles.  Two other boys were playing the part of men of the village, dressed in pants with fancy patches and jackets.

Eventually, Mr. Tjikurame returned.  He had no aprons, the tailor didn’t have them done, but he did have the leather.  I was pretty sure I could create these loincloths by making an hourglass shape from the leather, putting it between the boys’ legs, pulling it up in the front and back, then fastening the front and back together at the sides.  I created a quick pattern out of a plastic bag and had a boy try it, then modified the size a little.  We found three pieces of leather that seemed big enough, but when we started talking about fastening the sides together, I realized that the only material I had to work with was the leather.  Cool challenge, huh?  Do it like the tribe must have done it.

Well, I took a pair of scissors, found the longest piece of leather, and started cutting strips that I could use to lace/lash the pieces together.  I also just started cutting into our 3 pieces of leather, knowing that if I couldn’t make it work, we didn’t have any more leather.  I was picturing using my leather lacings to stitch together pieces big enough to cover these boys!  The next problem was getting holes in the leather that I could pull the laces through.  I could not punch a hole with the scissors that were available.  Ms. !Aibes suggested using her paper punch.  I had my doubts, but she got it out and it punched beautiful holes in our leather.  It was a little tricky to use, though.  It was a two hole punch, like we would have a three hole punch in America, and I couldn’t see exactly where the hole was going to end up.  I also sometimes had trouble getting the piece of leather back out after punching the hole, but eventually realized that I needed to take the cover off the bottom and pull off the little round piece of leather, if it didn’t come completely off.  Work progressed fairly quickly as I got better at making the holes and lacing up the leather.  Marsha started texting Mr. Tjikurame to see where I was at about 5, when I had been gone for 2.5 hours and it was going to start getting dark in the next hour.  I was able to get all three loincloths together, although I knew they would probably need additional holes and laces to make sure they stayed up, since I was fitting them over pants and they were going to wear tights (or something) under them for the performance.  Marsha came over about 5:30 to find me, knowing that the children needed to walk home and should not being doing it after sunset.

After school on Thursday I checked in, but the boys were still dressed in their pants and had not brought whatever they planned to wear under the costumes, so I couldn’t really make any changes.  The drama had one additional part added.  I watched for about half an hour, then they quit for the evening.  The cultural festival was the next day, right after school.  The costumes needed those extra lacings and there was talk about making two huts…  I decided to not say anything, since I had absolutely no idea how to create huts and didn’t want to even suggest I might be volunteering to help.

On Friday afternoon, while Marsha was teaching her 3rd class, Mr. Tjikurame came to the door.  He was going to take the students in her last class to make a hut for the drama.  I believe my comment to him, as he and I stood outside Marsha’s door, was “That isn’t going to work.”  I knew Marsha did not want the students to miss class.  She said later that he knew that, too.  She couldn’t believe he asked.

After the last class on Friday, I went to Ms. !Aibes’s classroom and found the students already in their costumes.  The aprons were perfect and had scarves to match.  The boys were in their loincloths, with a piece of leather tied around each arm and their heads.  Whatever they had on under the loincloths didn’t show.  They looked amazing like African boys!  Fancy that!  All three took me up on my offer to put a few more holes at the top and add another lace on each side, to draw the costume much snugger at their waists.  Also, a small grass hut had appeared, as well as some traditional Damara/Nama items, like a three legged pot.  On Wednesday I would have said that there was no way anything was going to come together by Friday, but Marsha has said that it always seems to work out in the end, here in Namibia.

We took pictures, then the students, hut, and props were loaded into the back of a bakkie (small pick-up truck) and they drove off to the stadium.  Marsha and I went to her flat, put on sunscreen, and headed out to walk to the stadium.  A group of 7th grade students met us on the way and sat with us during the festival.  It was fun to have them join us, especially since the performances were all in different languages.  We had students who spoke each language who could translate and tell us what the performances were about.

It turned out that Mr. Tjikurame was the MC for the festival and in his thanking the people who attended he includes “Peace Corps volunteers and their mothers.”  The students did a great job with their performance.  One group was lower primary students (maybe 2nd or 3rd grade) showing a Damara/Nama dance.  They were really cute and a real hit with the entire audience.  A couple groups demonstrated the men doing formation marching that is part of the Herero culture.  It was easy to see the German influence.  Our students did a great job.  They had a camping tent for one hut, plus the grass hut that Mr. Tjikurame made on Friday afternoon, and they placed 3rd in their age group.  They were sitting with Marsha and I when the places were announced, and they were absolutely thrilled.  After the program was complete, popular music was being played on the speakers.  Students from all of the schools were dancing on the track.  It was a joy just to watch them having fun.  Our day ended with the walk back to school, accompanied by most of the Karundu students who had performed or attended the festival.   On Wednesday and Thursday I was definitely wondering why I got myself in to this whole thing, I know working with the students on their drama and sharing in the festival experience will be one of my favorite memories of Namibia and the 7th graders at Karundu Primary School.

-Karen

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Welcome Miss Marsha’s Mom

31 July 2013, Wednesday

Karen again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss, are there any black learners in your school?

Why are there no black learners in these pictures?

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

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

Why didn’t you bring your learners with you?

Do you beat your learners?

Do learners pay school fees?

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

How old is Miss Marsha?

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

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

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

-Karen

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Eight Women in a Van

30 July 2013, Tuesday

Karen again writing the blog…

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Karen

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

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

28 July 2013, Sunday

Karen is again taking over the blog writing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Karen

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Traveling with Marsha, Namibian Style

25 July 2013, Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

– Karen

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Ek kan nog steeds skryf Engels baie goed.

(I can still write English very well.)

9 July 2013, Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bright Ideas

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

TTFN, Marsha

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Celebrating Being American: Our Fourth of July

30 June 2013, Sunday

“The thing to remember is, if we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that too.” – P.S. I Love You

There’s one aspect of Peace Corps service that I don’t think I have emphasized enough in this blog, and I would like to rectify that right now.  There is a portion of Peace Corps that isn’t usually mentioned on any website or Peace Corps literature.  When most people think of Peace Corps, they often picture an American living in some village somewhere in the world (you’re probably picturing a straw hut) and completely surrounded by the local people of whatever country.  What everyone fails to mention is the group of Americans who are also in the same country and in the same boat.  When life gets tough, there are other people around who know exactly what you are going through.  It’s an interesting group of people to be sure.  Being here, I’ve seen people come and people go.  It takes a different kind of person to up and move to Africa for two years.  Yeah, we all have our quirks, but we are all here for each other.

About 22 months ago, I traveled to Namibia with 37 other Americans from all across the United States.  The only time I ever felt alone on this adventure was the plane ride from Minnesota to Pennsylvania.  I had just left my family and friends behind at the MSP airport and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.  When I got off the plane in Philadelphia, I got into a shuttle to take me from the airport to the hotel where PC Namibia group 34 was supposed to gather.  In that shuttle, I met the first member of group 34, and the rest is history.  We spent an intense 24 hours getting to know each other at that hotel before the 38 of us were given plane tickets and dropped off at the airport.  The 38 of us traveled together to Germany, spent about 8 hours sitting around the airport with these people we had known for less than 48 hours, and then boarded a plane bound for Namibia.  We rubbed the sleep from our eyes as we disembarked in -1°C weather at 4 am in the morning and headed for our first full day of Peace Corps training.  Nothing bonds people together like two days of travel at the end of which you’re in a foreign country none of us had been to before.

Our whole group during our first two months of training

Our whole group during our first two months of training

Now, almost two years later, we are living all over Namibia.  We’ve made friends with our counterparts, neighbors, and so many children.  We have made lives for ourselves in villages and towns all across the country.  We’ve set up our houses, classrooms, computer labs, and libraries.  We’ve left our mark.  We’ve met volunteers who were already in the country and have since left Namibia, and we have welcomed new groups of volunteers to Namibia. No matter where we are or what we are doing, our group 34 is only a text message away.  As wonderful as it is to have the support of family and friends back in the States, the people I really rely on to get me through the day to day are the people who understand exactly what it’s like to live and work in Namibia.  I love you all back home and you will probably never really understand how much it means to me to get your letters and phone calls and packages, but there are just some parts of this experience that I will never be able to fully describe to you.

I feel truly blessed to be located in a town that can be a central meeting point for so many volunteers.  Over the past 20 months, I’ve hosted Christmas, Thanksgiving, committee meetings, movie nights, St. Patrick’s Day parties, birthday parties, volunteers just looking for a place to crash for the night, and more.  I’ve met nearly ever volunteer in Namibia (just over 100 people), and I love them all.  In all fairness, I like some more than others, but like I said before, this shared experience bonds us all together.

This weekend a group of 8 amazing people from three different groups and villages all across Namibia gathered at my house to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Come Thursday when you are all getting out the grills and preparing for barbeques and fireworks, those of us Americans in Namibia will be going about business as usual because it is a normal work day for us.  We may dress in red, white, and blue that day, do a special activity with our learners, or make a special dinner but you can bet there won’t be any big gatherings of family and friends and fireworks.  It might be kind of a depressing day if it weren’t for the fact that we’re not alone over here.  Even though we can’t celebrate on the actual 4th of July, we were able to gather a substantial group of Americans together for some good old American fun.  We grilled hamburgers, steaks (from who knows what kind of animal), made French fries and salad, and of course there was apple pie and ice cream.  I hung American flags around the house and we had a really nice day playing games, Baseball, and True American.

Whenever a group of volunteers get together, there are several conversations you can count on having.  There is always talk of work; what have the little buggers done this week; what ridiculous event happened at the school; how frustrated we are by other people’s work ethics or lack thereof, etc.  Once we’ve got all the grumbling out of the way and we are all feeling a little better that we are not alone in our struggles, we will throw in some stories of the kids or colleagues that really surprised us and did something great.  Then the conversation will turn to what date are you planning to leave Namibia and what will your COS (close of service) trip be before you go home.  Our two years are technically up on October 20, 2013, but we are allowed to leave within a month before or after that date.  Some of us will even ask for permission to extend a month to finish out the school year.  My group will find out the specific dates we will board the airplane in two weeks when we have our COS conference.  Most volunteers are planning to leave in October and will then travel around the world for a month or two before heading back to the States.  Once all the travel plans are covered, we usually talk about what we are going to do when we get back to the States.  In my group it’s pretty split between people who want to go to grad school and those who will get a job.  We discuss what state we will go back to, who we will try to move in with until we have some money, and how long we will take to acclimate ourselves back to an American way of life before we go back to work or school.  It’s clear that after we leave here, many of us will probably never see each other again.  Thanks to the social media sites, we will probably keep in touch with Facebook or whatever comes along next.  These wonderful people are a big part of the reason I made it through so much time away from my family and friends.  I will treasure them for years to come.

Happy Fourth of July!  Have a hamburger for me and enjoy the fireworks.

TTFN, Marsha

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Failure, Fiasco, or Otherwise…

21 June 2013, Friday

“There’s a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is merely the absence of success. Any fool can achieve failure. But a fiasco, a fiasco is a disaster of epic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others to make other people feel more alive because it didn’t happen to them.” – Elizabethtown

I really love this quote, and I think I may secretly have been looking for a fiasco in my life just so I could use this quote.  However, in its definition of fiasco, it does not mention a lack of success.  Yes, it may be hard to believe that a “disaster of epic proportions” could be successful, but in Namibia it seems that just such an anomaly is possible.  Here is the saga from the last couple months…

This story really begins about two years ago during one of my first visits to the school.  At that time the principal mentioned that the school was going to plan a Gala Dinner to raise a lot of money for the school.  In a morning staff meeting he stated that he was putting the new volunteer on the Gala Dinner committee.  Now I was a brand new teacher, fresh out of Peace Corps training where I had been told repeatedly not to take on too many additional projects during the first year but to focus on teaching.  Having not even been asked whether or not I wanted to be a part of the Gala Dinner committee, I decided if I was ever asked to attend a meeting or do anything involving the Gala, I would explain at that point that I did not have the time.  However, nothing ever came of the Gala Dinner.  Over the next two years, it was mentioned at several meetings, apparently some half-hearted planning was done, but the result was that the Gala Dinner was postponed indefinitely. Until now…

About 3 months ago the principal decided that we needed to try this Gala Dinner again but for real this time.  The principal is all geared up to build a school hall where we can have assemblies inside and a place to play indoor sports.  During a staff meeting, where I was in my corner marking papers because we were entering about hour 3 of the meeting, the topic of the Gala Dinner was brought up.  I was really only half listening where they were discussing an old committee and something about having keys to a special room in Windhoek or something like that.  Anyway, the next thing I know we are electing 10 members to this committee.  One person is nominated by a staff member, another person seconds the nomination, and suddenly that person is a member of the committee.  We were on person 7 or 8 before one of the young male teachers was elected to the committee.  As soon as that happened he turned to me grading papers in my corner and with a malicious glint in his eye he nominated me for the committee.  I was quickly seconded by other teachers who were hoping to keep from being elected to the committee themselves and who were so tired of this meeting that they just wanted to finish and go home.  Turns out that I had just been elected to the Gala Dinner Committee.

The committee met a couple of times soon after that fateful staff meeting.  We got an advisor from the Ministry of Education, and within no time, the “Gala Dinner” had morphed into a whole dog and pony show.  (Ok, so there was never any mention of including dogs, but the principal was suppose to bring in horses for the kids to ride)  During one of these meetings, the members of the committee threw out ideas and it seems that no one could have a bad idea.  Whatever was thrown out was included.  These ideas were scribbled into a book and then the next morning, in front of the staff (because heaven forbid I get asked to help in private instead of forced to help in public) the principle and another teacher decided that I was the best at organizing so I was going to organize all the ideas and make everything happen.  So in my “free time” I took some of my own precious resources and I wrote on four large pieces of flip chart paper exactly what needed to get done for what was now being called a fundraising event.

The first couple of items on the list included things like “find a location and a caterer for the dinner” and “get a blessing from the ministry” and “send a delegation to the founding father to ask if he will attend.”  In the beginning the goal was that the first president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, was going to attended the event.  Or in his absence we were going to get an article of his clothing to be auctioned.  We were also going to invite the Prime Minister or get an article of his clothing.  At the same time, I had a whole list of places we were suppose to ask for donations for the event.  During another morning staff meeting, I help to write names next to all the different tasks which needed to get done and all the people or businesses that needed to be contacted for donations.  About a week later, no one was looking at the lists any more.  I can’t believe that I didn’t take a picture of these lists hanging in the staff room.

At the height of planning, if I understood everything correctly, this is what the Gala Dinner had morphed into:  a few weeks before the Gala Dinner, there was going to be a bazaar.  Not the kind of bazaar we think of in the States, but basically a barbeque dinner.  They were going to cook some meet, make some potato salad, and sell cool drink and beer.  A few weeks after the bazaar would be our “fundraising event.”  This would include events on Friday and Saturday for the kids.  There would be a bouncy castle, face painting, potato sack races, horse riding, etc.  Then for the adults we were going to bring in experts on business, health, relationships, and make up.  The adults would have to pay for tickets to either hear these experts speak or to have a private consultation with them (not sure which we would have landed on).  There was also going to be a room at the school where they were going to put old learners from the school who had grown up to be doctors or lawyers or athletes or what-have-you and make people pay to go in the room and talk with those people.  There was also going to be a room where they were going to dress of a girl from grade 7, who is a little person, and have people pay to go see her.  Thankfully another teacher and myself squashed that idea quickly and the principal, back off and tried to claim that he really meant she should get a group of other kids and perform a song or a dance.  Also, to entice old learners to come, we were suppose to dig up old photos of the learners and put them up for an auction where they could buy pre-primary and grade one photos of themselves.  Then in the evening, there was suppose to be time for the teens.  We were going to get some performers or a DJ or something for the teens from 7pm to “late.”  In my experience of Namibia, having teens all grouped together somewhere away from their families and with very lax supervision until “late” is going to result in a few babies being made.  In addition to these events, there was to be a Gala Dinner on Saturday night which would be so fancy as to warrant N$300 a plate for dinner or businesses could pay N$10 000 for a table of 10 or the real VIPs could pay N$15 000 for a table of 10.  I know that math doesn’t work out to anything logical, but that’s where we landed.

But before any of the planning for this extravaganza could really take place, we had to settle on a theme or slogan for the event, which took soooooo much longer than it should have, I’m talking weeks instead of hours.  I think the first part of the problem was that we couldn’t distinguish between a theme and a slogan.  The principal wanted the theme/slogan to incorporate the following: building a school hall, bringing together old learners, and celebrating the Day of the African Child.  Because heaven forbid it was something as simple as Under the Sea.  It seemed that nothing else could get done until we had decided on a theme because the them was suppose to be on everything.  Day after day papers were circulated around the teachers to ask for themes and day after day no one could choose one of the themes.  Eventually the initial motivation wore off and reports on progress at the morning staff meetings were fewer and farther between.  Eventually the invitation cards needed to go out so the idea of a theme and slogan came up again which would go on the invitation cards.  In the end I modified the wording until we came up with the following: Karundu PS 31st Anniversary, Fundraise to Educate and Empower the African Child.  I never saw the actual invitation but I believe this was on the invitation… and never seen again.

From there on out, I wasn’t sure if anything was getting done, but I was really just focused on teaching.  I know I am going to miss some school this term for peace corps events, so I really wanted to push my kids through as much as possible to make up for being gone.  About a week before the end of the term, it was decided that the invitations had to go out.  We spent one morning meeting brainstorming any and every person in Namibia that we could invite to the Gala Dinner.  It sounded to me like a list of more than 100 people or more because many of them were companies we were hoping would send a whole table of people.  The last day of school teachers were suppose to pick up the invitation cards for the people they had suggested or knew they could get cards to.  At this point, I believe the invitation cards were in the hands of one of the younger teacher and it was her responsibility to make sure people got the number of cards they said they would take.  From there I went on to the All Volunteer Conference and South Africa.  I didn’t have anyone who I was in charge of inviting.  When I found out that the Prime Minister was going to be at the Group 37 Swearing In Ceremony, I did take the opportunity to mention that we were having a Gala Dinner and that an invitation had been sent to his office and I hoped we would be able to see him there.  I found out a couple days before the actual Gala Dinner that even though we had intended to invite him, no one sent an invitation to the Prime Minister.

When we got back from the school holiday, all the attention was focused on the bazaar which was suppose to happen the second weekend of the term.  One woman was in charge of planning the bazaar.  A few days before we were suppose to begin with the bazaar, the principal called an impromptu parents meeting to inform the parents about the bazaar and the fundraising event.  During this meeting he realized that the tickets were priced too high for the parents to come to the Gala Dinner and the parents were upset because many of them were former learners of the school.  He tried to back track and say that he knew the price should have been lower when in reality, at one point, he suggested the price be N$500 a plate.

As the bazaar drew closer, the amount of teaching happening at the school was considerably reduced with teachers running here and there trying to find tents and animals and drinks for the event.  Finally by the Friday of the bazaar, two goats, a sheep, and an oryx carcass were in line for the bazaar.  If I followed all the conversations correctly, the oryx was donated but we paid for the goats and the sheep. The school also purchased many chips and candy and oros (a Namibian kool aid of sorts made from a juice concentrate) bread and hotdogs for the learners.  As with the spring fun day last year, the learners were forced to purchase tickets ahead of time which they could use to buy food on the day of the event.  On the day of the bazaar, there was suppose to be school until noon (hahahaha, like that ever would have happened) and then the learners were going to be release to the bazaar which would start at the school and then move to a place in the location for the rest of the weekend.  In reality, school sort of happened until 10am.  Then the learners were allowed to start buying things at the bazaar but very quickly the hotdogs ran out and the lines for the other items were ridiculously long.  There was a sound system set up and learners were dancing in the center of a circle, but there was not enough room for all the learners to watch.  The problem we can’t seem to solve is having enough to entertain 1200 learners.  Many of the learners did not spend all the tickets they purchased because again we ran out of food.  And what I didn’t realize until later was that the kids didn’t get any of the animal meat which was purchased.  I stayed at the school after the event was over because I had been left with the keys to lock up.  As the tent and food and such was being moved to the new place in the location, I watch the comings and goings.  The plan was to be up and running and selling food by 2pm.  At 2pm, one teacher was looking for the ropes to tie down the tent.  Another teacher pulled up with in his pickup truck with two live goats and a sheep in the back, so they weren’t going to be ready to eat for a while.  And the teacher in charge of music hadn’t picked up his speakers yet.  I just tried to stay out of the way and avoid the fray.  I had a bunch of volunteers coming to spend the weekend with me, so I wasn’t able to help out with much of the selling and really I’m no good with the butchering part.  What I was able to do was bring some customers with me to help eat the meat.  Being at the bazaar was really nice.  I enjoyed being able to spend some time with my colleagues outside of school and I think it was good for them to get to see me in a social setting.  Plus, the meat was excellent!  I was a little nervous that we wouldn’t actually make any money because while I was there a lot of people were taking meat off the grill and putting it in their mouths, but not a lot of money was exchanging hands.  Although, the unofficial report I heard was that we brought in about N$9 000.

After the bazaar it was another two weeks until the rest of the fundraising extravaganza.  Then the questions started coming in about how many people had bought tickets to the gala dinner.  At first count the answer was zero.  I’m a little confused why the principal told us zero tickets were sold because two minutes later he said he had sold 3 tickets and another teacher had sold nine tickets.  So for the next two weeks I don’t think anyone was ever really sure how many tickets were sold.  During this time I was just trying to stay out of the way.  I didn’t want anything to do with this event that I was sure was going to be a fiasco.  Two weeks ahead of time and nothing was planned.  The principal still wanted to put an ad in the newspaper and a banner across the street in town and make announcements on the radio.  Which means going on four different radio stations to make announcements in each tribal language.  There was no entertainment booked, no experts contacted, no MCs, and as far as I know, no one had contacted the founding father.  Yet they were still going around telling people that he was probably going to come and be the guest of honor.  The meat for the dinner was taken care of because only the sheep and a leg of the oryx was consumed at the bazaar, leaving two goats and most of an oryx for the gala.

The week preceding the event, things took a turn for the worst.  The principal began to realize that very few people had purchased tickets to the gala dinner so he started to get upset with the younger teacher he had entrusted the ticket selling to.  Monday night as I was trying to leave the school I stopped by his office for a completely unrelated reason and ended up staying for two hours as he told me to draft a letter to this person and then to that person and then he needed an invoice form he could use for the people buying tickets to the gala and he needed it now now because the deputy minister was on her way over and couldn’t just do it for him.  So I stayed and helped and then went home and marked papers and wrote my lesson for the next day.  Tuesday morning I was told (again at the staff meeting) that I needed to help a group of people draft the radio announcement so it could be translated into different languages.  Then at the end of the meeting the people I was suppose to work with were sent on a different errand so that never got done.  In the same meeting the principal revealed to us our newspaper ad for the event.  His vision all along was to have a whole page advertisement, but when he went to advertise he learned that one page was about N$10 000.  Even half a page was too expensive. Even a quarter page was still expensive.  He opened the paper to reveal the ad for our gala dinner which was no bigger than a business card, and still cost us a couple thousand dollars.  I almost laughed at the size of it after all that build up.  Tuesday I ran for my life after school so as not to get sucked back in.  Wednesday morning the principal was all in a rage as he brought a stack of posters advertising the Fundraising Event into the staffroom.  He hollered about why what these posters not been hung up all around town and how could he have ever trusted the young staff members.  He yelled that if he had just done the whole thing himself instead of delegating then we could have raised at least a million dollars and instead he didn’t even know if we would be able to have the event.  As to the matter of the posters, I had seen one of them before a couple weeks earlier.  It was suppose to be our full page newspaper ad, but when I read it the English was so terrible I said we couldn’t put it in the paper like that.  I fixed the English and thought that was the end of it.  Where the entire stack of posters came from I will never know.  My guess is that they were in some corner of the principal’s office and he just got upset when he realized the mistake.  However, to rectify the situation, several teachers volunteered to take them around town immediately and hang them up.  One clever teacher voiced my thoughts aloud when she brought up the point that the posters advertised for all the kiddie games and the teen night and the guest speakers.  The gala dinner was only one small line on the poster.  The principal said each teacher who was putting up fliers must write “postponed” next to everything that wasn’t going to happen, essentially everything on the poster.  That was the first we were informed that only the Gala Dinner would be happening that weekend and not all the other events.

Thursday was by far the worst.  I had planned to give my learners their test on decimal fraction on Thursday because I knew Friday would just be chaos trying to get ready for the gala.  Thursday morning I was informed (again at the staff meeting) that I was to make a Powerpoint presentation for the principal to give at the gala dinner.  It was going to be about the history of the school, and several other teachers were paired with me to help collect the photos.  When the rest of the teachers were dismissed to go teach their classes, I informed the principal that I had to give a test to my learners but that I was free during fourth period and could help him with the Powerpoint at that time.  Then he hollered at me “WE ARE IN CRISIS MODE! THIS HAS TO BE DONE NOW. You can postpone the test or give it another time.  You have to stay for the first period and make this Powerpoint.”  I was furious.  I did not come to Namibia to make Powerpoints and he had no interest in learning how to make a Powerpoint.  And I was doubly mad because again I am trying to get my kids through as much as I can and postponing a test will just slow down the momentum I’m trying to keep up with the kids.  I tried to explain this to him but he did want to hear it, probably because we were “in crisis mode.”  I pouted trough the ridiculous meeting where he simply listed what he wanted in his slides.  I couldn’t do anything until the other teachers found the pictures anyway, so I didn’t really need to be there.  For the next two days it was constantly “Marsha, I want to add this to the powerpoint.”  I did manage to make up the class period I missed and give all my classes their test, but it involved taking a class period from the only other grade 7 teacher who was still teaching, so I felt bad.  Friday was just chaos.  I didn’t teach any of my classes, but I did supervise a few classes for other teachers.  I actually spent most of the day proofreading letters to be sent out and finishing the powerpoint.  By the time I finally got to leave on Friday I was exhausted, only to be called back a few minutes later to add another slide to the Powerpoint.  But of course when I got in the principal’s office he was upset because he didn’t have a pledge form for the following night.  So I quickly whipped up a pledge form which somehow meant that I was now also in charge of collecting the pledge forms and typing the invoices for them.  My only respite was that the Peace Corps IT committee was having a workshop in town that weekend and I made the excuse that I needed to go to the workshop.  After leaving school for the second time on Friday and trying to walk to the workshop, I was picked up on the street by one of my colleagues who had a big check that he needed me to write one.

Side note: So one morning that week before the gala there was also a debate about teachers buying tickets for the dinner.  One teacher raised the point that it should be compulsory for all the teachers at Karundu to buy a ticket for the dinner.  Then there was a debate about the teacher assigned to watch the cars outside, whether or not he should have to pay if he wasn’t going to have much time to eat.  Another teacher said it should be compulsory for all the teacher whether they would be at the event or not.  This made a lot of teachers angry.  Still another teacher mentioned that polo shirts were ordered to sell at the event and it should also be compulsory for teachers to buy a polo shirt.  In the middle of this big debate over how much money teachers should be forced to pay for the event they were putting on, one teacher came up with the idea that the Karundu teachers should pledge the money.  If we put together the amount of money for the plates for each teacher plus the polo shirt for each teacher, then the staff of Karundu could pledge about N$18 000.  It took a minute to get the math correct.  But then everyone thought that was the greatest idea ever!  And it was settled, we would pay for a big check from the bank and the teacher would pledge the money.  In my head, I was still thinking “but you still have to pay the money.”  So when the teacher had the big check in his car, that was why.  And the check was laminated so it could be used again and again (meaning we were borrowing it for free, thank goodness) , but he didn’t know what kind of marker to use on it so it would erase.  Thankfully I had some whiteboard markers and helped him fill out the check.  The principal told us to make it out for N$10 000.  Where the other N$8 000 went, I have no idea.  Will we ever collect N$10 000 from the staff? Highly unlikely.

Saturday I went back to the IT workshop until late afternoon when I received a call that I was needed to come put another slide into the Powerpoint.  I attempted to give them the steps over the phone and then via text message, but they couldn’t figure it out.  They did manage to figure out the scanner and get the pictures on to the computer though, so I guess making them into a Powerpoint is kind of meeting them half way.

At the actual Gala Dinner, I was very impressed.  The woman who was in charge of the decorations is one of my favorite teachers at the school; she teacher grade 1.  She did a really nice job.  They just used the dining hall at the hostel, but she decorated it so nicely that you couldn’t tell it usually looks like a cafeteria.  Many of the teachers pitched in to help with the cooking and the decorating.  I worked to get the technology set up and the programs typed up and printed nicely.  Even after many demeaning comments from the principal throughout the week, everyone still pulled together to make a very nice dinner.  Down to the last minute I was being asked to add slides to the Powerpoint.  At one point I vetoed a slide of two of the teachers holding beer bottles and looking drunk.  It seemed very unprofessional.  This was while the principal was not around and I was getting my instructions via another teacher.  I was also told to put in the slide of one of our teachers dressed as a Himba woman.  The Himba live in the Northwest part of Namibia and their tribe wears very little clothes.  If you have ever seen the movie Babies, those are Himba women in Namibia.  Their breasts are out and they cover their bodies in a red ocher color.  The teacher who was in the picture came up while we were discussing adding that slide and she decided she didn’t want a room full of Gala Dinner guest to see her like that with her breasts out.  I got that so I didn’t add the slide and I deleted it from the slideshow the principal planned to play while guests arrived.  A short while later the principal arrived and wanted to check that everything was added to the slideshow.  When he didn’t see the picture of the teacher dressed as a Himba he told me to add it.  I explained about the conversation with the woman and why I couldn’t add it.  He told me he had checked with her that morning and convinced her it was fine.  I did not feel comfortable putting it in without her permission so I told him I wouldn’t add it.  We argued for a minute and finally I told him he could add it if he wanted to but I wanted nothing to do with it.  Pretty soon he realized he couldn’t add a new slide, so he hollered at me until I finally relented and put a new slide in for him.  Then it took him a while to find the picture again since I had deleted it from his slideshow.  I was hoping it was nowhere else on his computer, but eventually he found it and added it to the presentation.  I went home to stew and change my clothes for the dinner.  I debated for a long time whether or not to “accidentally” delete the slide as I was the one who was going to be clicking through the presentation while he talked.

The dinner was suppose to start at 7pm, so I went out about 7:15, knowing that I would still be early.  Little did I know just how early.  One of the MCs never showed up, so they didn’t start the program until nearly 8pm.  After singing the Namibian National Anthem and the African Union Anthem and a prayer, the speeches started.  When it finally came time for the Powerpoint, I left the picture of the Himba teacher.  When the picture appeared, the principal told her she could stand if she wanted people to know who she was, but she stayed seated.  Later in the evening though, that teacher was at the microphone and she admitted to being the Himba teacher in the pictures, so I guess she was ok with it.  Dinner didn’t start until nearly 10:30 pm.  This was a little awkward for me as I couldn’t afford the N$300 a plate for dinner.  (Don’t feel too bad for me.  I’ve saved enough that I could have paid that, but it’s a matter of not giving the impression that American’s have a lot of money.  They know I’m a volunteer but they still don’t understand the concept that I get paid much less each month than a real Namibian teacher.  In reality, I can’t afford all the little things they ask teacher for money for throughout the year, so I really can’t start paying now) The pledging was suppose to start after everyone had their food, so shortly before my table got their food, I excused myself and left the room for a bit.  Then I went back shortly before the pledging started and busied myself with that so no one would notice I wasn’t eating.  Through the pledging, they actually collected about N$30 000, a donkey, two sheep, and eland, 10 soccer balls, and 10 bags of cement from the 60 or 70 people who were present. I’m sure it will be a while before we hear the actual total collected because there were a lot of tickets bought on credit.  However, the school hall will cost about N$2 million so we are still a long way from being able to afford that.  My suggestion would be to forget the school hall since they already have the hall at the hostel and use the money collected to build a library or fix the broken windows in the school or buy books and pens for the learners.  Oh well, we still have all the postponed events to look forward to and bring in some more money, although I think the Gala Dinner wiped out a lot of people.  On Monday the principal mentioned that we should have another mini Gala Dinner for the parents which is cheaper so they can afford it.  He asked the staff it we thought that was a good idea (I think it’s a cultural thing that no one should disagree with their superiors) so no one said anything.  It was clear to me that no one wanted to do that, but that the principal was going to do it anyway.  He is really not my favorite person at the moment.  There are many more little insanities that happened throughout this saga but I’m sure you’re all exhausted reading about them right now and I’m exhausted writing about them. I know it’s a long story but maybe just maybe you’ll “feel more alive because it didn’t happen to [you].” Hope you enjoyed the story of the semi-successful fiasco.

TTFN,  Marsha

Below is a draft of the infamous Powerpoint before the last few slides were added if you care to take a look and what all the fuss was about:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/marshaswatosh/gala-dinner-presentation&#8221; title=”Gala dinner presentation” target=”_blank”>Gala dinner presentation</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/marshaswatosh&#8221; target=”_blank”>Marsha Swatosh</a></strong> </div>

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Little Moments…

8 June 2013, Saturday

“I live for little moments like that.” – Brad Paisley

This week was neither really great no particularly terrible.  Now that I’m sitting at the end of it though, it was a completely exhausting week.  Being a teacher is hard work.  And if it wasn’t for this blog or my journal which force me to reflect on what was really important or significant throughout the week, there are significant little moments that would probably go over looked.  I would like to dedicate this blog post to those little moments.

The first moment that I was very surprised I nearly overlooked happened on Tuesday.  It was towards the end of one of my lessons and my class was quiet and busy copying their homework from the board.  Since they don’t have textbooks, I have to save the last ten minutes of class for them to copy homework problems off the board.  During these last ten minutes I like to walk around the classroom and check that everyone wrote down the lesson or see if anyone has question or pass back papers or occasionally step outside to chase loitering learners back to their classrooms.  On this particular Tuesday, I stepped out my door and looked to my right just in time to see Mr. Zero and another teacher chasing a boy with the biggest, longest stick I had ever seen towards the garbage can.  At the same time they were yelling something along the lines of “get rid of it. We don’t want anyone being beaten and if he asks for another one, don’t get it.”   And they stood there and watched as the boy broke the stick into tiny pieces and threw it in the trash.  Now I don’t know what the whole back story was, but my guess is that one of the other teachers asked this boy to go find him a whip.  This happens frequently and more than once my class has been interrupted by a child who didn’t know any better asking me for a whip to bring to one teacher or another.  Fortunately, this particular boy was intercepted (for once not by me) and told to dispose of the stick.  And Mr. Zero of all people was one of the ones to tell him to get rid of it.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  I usually hesitate to toot my own horn, but today I really want to say that I had something to do with that.  If you’ll remember, Mr. Zero was the one I saw beating children earlier in the year, so for him to stop another teacher from beating is huge.  Now, I’m not completely naïve; I know he hasn’t completely given up his ways of discipline, but at least some teachers are taking a tiny step in a new direction.

The second little moment I nearly overlooked also happened at the end of one of my classes, but for this one, let me remind you of a little back story.  Shortly after moving to Otjiwarongo at the end of October 2011, I was confronted with the task of taking over teaching all the grade 6 science classes.  The volunteer who was suppose to be there until the end of the year had to leave unexpectedly when her mother passed away.  I took over her classes and began my struggle with figuring out just how to be a teacher.  One of those first few days I was having trouble with one learner in particular.  While I was trying to teach he was constantly talking or leaving his seat.  He refused to write anything down but instead insisted on antagonizing the other learners.  One day I had had enough so I went to my bag, pulled out a piece of scrap paper and a pen, and told him to spend the rest of the class writing about or drawing whatever it was that was making him act that way.  He was quiet for the rest of the class and when class was over he tried to run out of the room.  I grabbed him and told him to explain what he had drawn.  He cried as he told me that it was a picture of his mother who had just died.  From that day on, I have had a soft spot for Gregory and he has taken full advantage of it.  He is one of the older learners in grade 7 and most days he still refuses to write anything down or ever do his homework.  I fought with him for most of the last two years over it but I’m kind of sad to say I have given up the battle.  So long as he is not making it impossible for others to learn I let him just sit in class or occasionally drum on his desk.  Even though he never writes, he still volunteers to answer questions, so I figure we’ve reached a happy medium.

Well, Gregory also likes to stop in my classroom during tea breaks and after school to ask me random questions or harass the large group of learners around my desk trying to get help with their homework.  Yes, he can get quite annoying and he does not listen to me if I tell him to stop or to go away.  To make him hear me I have to stand up away from my desk and talk right into his face (which is why I wear heals to school).  Anyway, a couple weeks ago we got to talking about volcanoes and science fairs.  I explained to him how to make a volcano and I guess he really liked the idea because he told his science teacher about it.  He also showed up for the science fair meeting last week.  I took sometime early this week to look up some information about volcanoes and I printed out about 10 pages of information.  I gave them to Gregory at the beginning of a math class and told him they would be useful for the background of his project and to please not lose them.  At the end of class, while everyone else was packing up their bags to leave the classroom, I glanced over to see Gregory completely engrossed in reading about volcanoes.  It was a pretty proud moment for me.

This last story is a little bit bigger than my other little moments, but it happened yesterday morning and it also makes me so proud.  On Monday and Friday mornings, the whole school comes together for a brief morning assembly.  This includes the learners singing a few songs together, singing the Namibian National Anthem and the African Union Anthem as the flag is raised, a teacher blessing the day with a prayer, and then any announcements from the staff.  One teacher is assigned for each morning assembly and Friday was my day.  Lately, whoever’s morning it is for assembly has taken to just leading the kids in the Our Father.  Last year, a few teachers read a shot story before saying a little prayer, but mostly what could be a real rousing event to get the kids excited for the day turns out to be pretty mundane.  However, a few weeks earlier, our new grade 3 teacher brought her class to the front of the assembly to sing a few songs for the school.  Who doesn’t love to see tiny kids sing, especially when they are really good!  The principal loved it and encouraged more teachers to do the same. At another assembly around the same time, a stand in for the grade 7 English teacher made the claim that the grade 7s can’t read English.  The principal decided to further the point by grabbing one of my grade 7 boys and bringing him to the front of the assembly to read a memo he had just grabbed off the staffroom table.  As the boy struggled to find where to even start reading because he had never seen a paper with a letter head and To: and From: and Subject: before the body of the letter, the principal declared that he couldn’t read and shoved him back in line with the rest of grade 7.  I was pissed but it wasn’t until I saw those grade 3s singing that I got the idea to let my grade 7s read at the morning assembly.

At the beginning of the week I started searching the internet for children’s stories with good morals.  It was harder to find one than I thought it would be because I wanted one that all Namibian children could understand.  I wanted something like the Tortoise and the Hare and finally I found The Red Rose and the Cactus.  When I told my learners that we were going to be reading a story at the assembly to accompany the prayer, I got so many kids interested in helping that I decided to also include pictures to go with it.  So I illustrated pictures to go with the story and enlisted the help of my learners to color them.  That way I could have one group of learners walking around with the pictures while another group read the story.  Plus, the little kiddies who don’t understand English very well could just look at the pictures instead of talking through the story.  Then, Thursday afternoon a group of girl approached me to ask me if they could sing at the assembly.  I told them they could come show me what they wanted to sing after school.  At first it was pretty terrible.  I told them to take a few minutes to get organized and practice.  I’m definitely no singing coach.  Maybe 15 minutes later they called me outside to hear them sing again and it was absolutely beautiful, so I told them they could perform in the morning.

Friday morning came and I was nervous for my kids.  I was there early and so were several of my learners.  But then the principal showed up.  He told me that he had a lot he wanted to talk to the staff about so he needed the assembly to be short.  It was still half an hour before school was suppose to start and he wanted me to begin the assembly.  I told him that my learners had something to perform but they weren’t all here yet.  I got really anxious waiting for everyone to show up.

Side note: whenever I decide to go above and beyond what everyone else is doing, I always have a moment where I think it’s going to be a huge failure and I’m going to fall flat on my face in embarrassment.  When I start to feel this way, I always think back to the speech I gave in 6th grade when I ran for student government.  You know, back in those days, student government was really just a popularity contest.  Well, I knew that I wasn’t one of the most popular students, but I got it into my head that if I gave a really convincing and interesting speech, that I could probably win a place on the student government.  So I showed up to speech with a bag of props.  If my memory serves me correctly, my props included a baseball cap with a large paper brain taped to the front of it.  I believe there were also some large Dumbo type ears that hung down from the hat as well and some sort of picture that I taped to the front of my catholic school girl polo uniform shirt.  For some reason I want to say the picture was one of a the Tasmanian Devil that I had drawn, but I can’t for the life of me remember what that was suppose to symbolize.  The brain was suppose to be because I have a large brain for remembering the ideas of my peers as well as the large ears to hear all of their concerns. (Mom, if there’s a picture of this out there some where, I’d really like to have it) As I reached the front of the 6th grade classroom, after my peers had given their cookie cutter student government speeches, and I began to dress in my props, I distinctly remember my 6th grade teacher asking me what I was doing.  I also distinctly remember my response was “I don’t like boring speeches.”  As a preteen, self conscious, 6th grader, I really put it all out there in that speech.  That is the first time I remember doing something completely different and crazy and beyond what other people were doing.  I lost.  And I never ran for student government again.  In fact, to this day I don’t even like politics.  But strangely enough, I still find myself going outside the box.  Even though I was shot down that day, I’ve kept on trying.  And my failures seem to have gotten fewer and farther between.  And for a clearly as I remember that particular failure, all my other failures seem to have faded away.  And, I don’t even see that speech as a failure anymore, just a lesson learned and a starting point for all my other crazy ideas, like lets have the grade 7s sing and dance and read a story and show pictures at an assembly, and by the way, let’s do it all as quickly as possible.

Well, the assembly didn’t go as quickly as possible.  I stalled until all but one of my readers was present, and thankfully I was prepared enough to have an alternate person ready to read.  We also were not able to wait for all the singer, but thankfully one girl for each part showed up just in time and they were absolutely wonderful. (Click here for a video of my girls singing)  The story went well, but I know it was difficult for all the learners to hear.  Thankfully most of the teachers stand at the front of the assembly and they were able to hear the whole thing.  When it was all over, the head of the lower primary congratulated me and said the whole story was really nice.  The grade 6 English teacher asked if he could have a copy of the story.  A grade 1 teacher asked if I could save the posters and have the kids read the story again next Friday for Day of the African Child and the principal congratulated us all on a job well done and asked if I would hang the pictures in the staffroom as decorations.  I don’t know what I was so nervous about.  All 164 of my children are amazing and I cherish every little moment I get to spend with them.

TTFN, Marsha

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