The Drakensburg Mountains and Lesotho….

24 May 2013, Friday

“Well you go through life so sure of where you’re heading.  And you wind up lost.  It’s the best thing that could have happened.” – Brad Paisley Find Yourself

We only stayed in Durban for one day and two nights.  Since I was the only driver left, we decided to break up the drive to Johannesburg by staying in the Drakensburg Mountains.  After the Great Gatsby, we drove to Amphitheatre Backpackers in the Drakensburg Mountains.  We got there just before sunset.  We were only planning on staying there for the night, having a relaxing morning, and then driving to Johannesburg, but as we were checking in to the backpackers, the two women at the front desk told us we were going to miss out on all the great adventures they offered.  The wanted us to stay for several days.  We told them we were just passing through and needed to get to the airport the next day, but they told us the next day they were taking a day trip to Lesotho.  While we were driving, Claire had been talking about how she would really like to see Lesotho, so when the two women mentioned this trip, Claire was very interested.  Then one of the ladies brought up pictures of Lesotho on the computer and started telling us about the day.  She said that the trip would be over by 4 pm which would give us plenty of time to get to Johannesburg. I was a little leery because it was still another 3 hour drive and it gets dark around 6 pm and I didn’t really want to be driving into Johannesburg in the dark because I didn’t know exactly how to get to the airport and Johannesburg isn’t the safest city if you end up in the wrong part of it.  It was clear that Claire and Mo really wanted to see Lesotho though so we asked how much it was and it turned out it was 500 Rand (approximately $55).  That’s a quarter of what we get paid in a month so we told the women we would really like to go but that’s too expensive.  I asked if there was a volunteer discount and after a really strange conversation in which one of the women insulted volunteers and Peace Corps and joked that we should pay more because she hates volunteers, she told us we could go for 380 Rand.  We talked it over and decided to go on the trip and even though we got into Joburg in the dark and the rain, our day in Lesotho was worth it.

I don’t remember the name of our guide for the day, which is really terrible because he was really good.  It was something like Andre.  Anyway, we started by following Andre in his combi (a large 15 passenger van) to a village called Qwa Qwa.  From there we left our rental car and got in the combi to drive up the hill to the border with Lesotho.  If you don’t know your African geography (which let’s face it most people don’t and I had to look up where Namibia was when I got my Peace Corps invitation), Lesotho is a completely land locked country surrounded by South Africa on all sides.  It is considered the highest country in the world because it has the highest low elevation point.  It is a country of nomads and subsistence farmers and is the 3rd poorest country in the world after Senegal and Ethiopia, I believe.

So Andre drove us up the mountain to the South African border with Lesotho.  It was a good thing he was driving because it was a terrible, terrible dirt/gravel road.  Again, one of the worst I had been on to that point.  When we got to the border crossing, we were up in the clouds and the mist and we couldn’t see how high we actually were.  We all piled out to get our passports stamped.  One of the girls from Holland was with us again but her friend couldn’t come because her visa had expired and she was worried about leaving the country even for the day.

Then we all piled back in the combi and headed into no mans land.  The road was concrete and actually a really nice (steep but nice) road down the other side of the mountain.  When we got to the bottom there was a very nice bridge over a little stream.  Our guide informed us that that is where the border crossing into Lesotho used to be until it got washed away.  We would not be getting out passport stamped for entering Lesotho because the border post no longer exists.  The South African government paid to have the road paved to that point and from then onwards were the worst roads I have ever been on in my life.  They were kind of like driving down a dried up river bed but it wasn’t even all completely dry.  The ruts running across the road were so big that I’m not sure how we managed to drive over them.  Then every once in a while there would be huge stones to drive over.  There was no way anything without four wheel drive was going to survive in that country, but despite the roads, the country itself was absolutely breathtaking.  We were in the mountains and it was so beautiful.  I took more pictures of Lesotho than of anywhere else.

Our first stop in Lesotho was at a school.  The backpackers we stayed at actually helps to support the school and built one of the buildings at the school.  We brought with us in the combi a couple of 5 gallon buckets of paint, some wood, and a sign for the school that day.  There was a celebration going on at the school, so there were kids there from 7 or 9 different school around the country.  We spent some time interacting with the kids before we hiked part way up the side of the mountain.

As we hiked, our guide told as a little about the Basotho people (people living in Lesotho).  The traditional wear of the Basotho people is blankets which I thought was really interesting and really cool.  I’m including a link to a story about how that came to be their traditional wear, but the short of it is one of their leaders was given a blanket as a gift and he like it so much that he started wearing it around.  Now a days the blankets are status symbols.  The heavier and more brightly colored the blanket, the wealthier the person is.  We saw a lot of the teachers in big colorful blankets, and we’re talking heavy wool blankets.  The women fold the top of the blanket down and then wrap it around their shoulders and use a huge safety pin to fasten it together under their chin.  The men wear it a little differently and somehow fasten it over their shoulder. I really wish it was acceptable for me to wear a huge blanket around it the winter.  They also have a traditional round straw hat that is only made on one specific mountain, if my memory serves me correctly.  We got a lot of information that day.

About the blankets: http://maliba-lodge.com/blanketwrap/2010/lesotho-stories/the-history-of-the-basotho-traditional-blanket/

On our hike, we saw some old rock paintings that were left to tell other hunters where to find the Eland (a really huge antelope).  That was pretty cool.  They were kind of difficult to see now and our guide said that some people have started chipping away the paintings.  We also walked past huge caves in the mountain that used to be used as grain silos.  Then on our hike back to the school we stopped by a shebeen to try some traditional beer.  We knew it was a shebeen because it was flying a white flag outside of the little round hut.  Yes, I tried it and it taste like beer; still disgusting even if it is traditional and made with weeds and a straw sifters.

From the shebeen we went back to the school.  We were hoping to see some traditional dancing but the program was progressing very slowly.  Some of the kids were putting on a short play but we could hear them or understand what they were saying.  After about 20 minutes we moved on to meet Gabriel, a sangoma or traditional healer.  I’m including a link which describes sangomas because it was really interesting to hear his story.  Gabriel told us about how he became a sangoma and what his job entails.  He told us in Sesotho and our guide translated as best he could and Gabriel spoke some English too.  Basically he said that he was in college in Qwa Qwa when he started to get visions of things like people dying and then those people would actually die.  His parents took him to a priest to figure out what was wrong and the priest told him he was a sangoma.  The way it was explained to us was that sangomas believe some illnesses are caused by ancestors who are trying to communicate with living people.  Then the sangomas can enter into a spiritual world and talk with the ancestors to learn what herbs can be used to cure the person.  Gabriel said that to become a sangoma he was told to get two goats.  He didn’t have money for the goats so he traveled to Johannesburg to try and find work.  He had a hard time and had to live on the streets and eat out of dustbins but eventually he had the money for a goat.  Then the story got kind of confusing.  There was something about another church and somehow he got another goat.  That goat he had to take to a special ceremony where he had to kill the goat and drink its blood and eat pieces of its flesh raw.  But anyway, it was an interesting story and then he let us ask questions.  Someone asked him if when he gets sick if he’s able to cure himself or if he goes to another sangoma.  He said sometimes he will go to another sangoma but mostly he just goes for western medicine.  I thought that was really interesting.  He said mostly what he cures is headaches and stomach aches and sometimes infertility and “men whose stallions won’t gallop”.  Yes, that’s how he put it.  He had a bit of a sense of humor.  But he said he understands the value of western medicine and knows he can’t fix everything.

About the sangomas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_healers_of_South_Africa

After visiting Gabriel we stopped at another house to try some traditional food.  The woman brought out a plate of porridge and traditional spinach which is also some of the traditional food for Namibia.  I let everyone else have their fill of it since I’ve had it before and I really don’t care for porridge or spinach.  After that we drove out of Lesotho and back to Qwa Qwa to get our car.

The drive to the airport wasn’t too bad except it rained for part of the drive.  Once we got into the city it had stopped but we were tired and hungry and crabby and we couldn’t find a gas station to top off the car before we returned it, but in the end we found one at the airport.  When we returned the car that was stressful too because there was some miscommunication and we ended up paying for an extra day.  There was also something covering the keyhole on the driver’s door and a small dent, neither of which was recorded on the paper work.  We were in too much of a hurry when we traded the car that we didn’t check that everything was written down for our new car, so I had to fill out a claim for those damages.  Hopefully they won’t charge me for them.  While we were taking care of all that, Gio was trying to get a shuttle to his hostel because he was going to take the bus home in a few days instead of flying.  It was a really stressful car return.

When we got into the airport, we were too late to check in, so we couldn’t go wait in the terminal.  Our flight was in the morning and we decided to just sleep in the airport instead of pay for a hostel for a few hours.  We were really bummed when we couldn’t get into the terminal though.  Instead we went to the KFC which had some couches in a corner.  We hung around there until they kicked us out when they closed.  We felt really homeless because we were just sitting there as they cleaned everything, reading and praying that they wouldn’t kick us out.  They were supposed to close at 10pm, but they didn’t kick us out until about 10:45.  Then we wandered around the airport looking for any open benches that were away from doors so we wouldn’t be too cold.  Eventually we found some metal benches that were four seaters with an armrest in the middle.  They weren’t terribly uncomfortable.  Then shortly after we had settled down and curled up under our shitenges, a man came up to us and told us we should move to the other benches a little ways down.  He said the metal would be too cold and the other ones had fabric over the seats.  He even chased some people who were sitting on the benches away so we could have them to ourselves.  He was right, they were warmer and I slept just fine for about 5 hours.  I woke up freezing at 4 am but that was fine because we went to check in at 4:30.  Our flight was delayed an hour so we went and got some breakfast.  A two hour plane ride later and we were back in Namibia.  The next time I’m on an airplane, I’ll be headed home. 🙂

TTFN, Marsha

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Durban…

23 May 2013, Thursday

“If you focus on what you’ve left behind, you will never be able to see what lies ahead.” – Ratatouille

The drive to Durban took most of the day.  We didn’t hurry right out of Coffee Bay but we also didn’t stop along the way.  We filled up with gas shortly after we left and decided we would wait for the next town to get something to eat.  Well every town we drove through after that was really crowded with people and didn’t seem like any place we wanted to stop and leave the car while we ate.  We kept saying we would stop at the next place we would stop at the next place but eventually the next place was Durban.  We were starving but after we found the hostel, we practically ran to get dinner.  We were all talking about the things we wanted to eat that night.  Some people wanted Mexican, some people wanted sushi, some people wanted chicken.  I really wanted pizza or Indian food.  Amazingly enough, we found a restaurant that served sushi, pizza, and Mexican food, so everyone was happy.

The next day we did some walking around Durban.  I realized that Durban is really a lot like Chicago in that it’s a big city on the water with some attractions for tourists but mostly it’s just a working city.  The day we were there was pretty blustery and cool so we decided to go see a movie.  We found a theater next to a big casino and we saw Iron Man 3 in 3D for about half the price of a 3D movie in the states. It was excellent.  And then we went out for Indian food.  Durban has the highest Indian population outside of India.  It was really good Indian food.

The next morning I drove Chris to the airport because he was flying back to Namibia.  He didn’t want to drive with us to Johannesburg because he did that drive last year.  Finding the airport was no trouble.  Finding may way back from the airport to the hostel proved to be more difficult.  Gio had gone with me but he was not very helpful with directions to get back.  I should mention we went the whole trip without a map.  Getting back to the hostel took about an hour longer than it should have and I was hungry and crabby by the time we finally found it.  I was also stressed because we wanted to go see the movie The Great Gatsby since opened that morning and I wanted to get breakfast because I was starving.  We made it though and I really needed that time in the theater to cool off before we continued driving since I was the only driver remaining.

The Great Gatsby gave me something to think about for the rest of the drive.  I read the Great Gatsby in high school but all I really remembered about it was that it was like a soap opera and there was a lot of symbolism in the green light.  This time around, what I really picked up on was the fact that Gatsby is chasing after a moment from his past.  He wants to recreate the memory he has of his time with Daisy.  In the end, it’s pretty clear that he can’t relive that time of his life, which made me think of a question I read in some sort of teen activity book many many years ago.  I don’t remember where the book came from but for some reason, two question out of that book stick in my head even to this day.  One question was something like, “would you rather have an additional sibling, a twin, or be an only child?”  I don’t know why I remember that question, but I always thought it would be fun to have a twin.  But I digress.  The other question was something like, “If you could go back and relive any age, what age would you like to be?”  Now I specifically remember that I was 12 at the time because I remember saying that I still wanted to be 12.  I felt like my life was pretty great at 12.  I remember thinking I was lucky that I liked being 12 so much because I figured the book had asked the question because most teenagers struggle with life during their teenage years and would probably answer that they wanted to go back to a simpler time.  Yes, I know 12 is not really a teenager yet, but the question itself stuck with me.  That idea of  “am I happy with my life right now or would I rather go back to another time in my life?” still creeps into my head from time to time.

So far in my life, I’ve always been able to say that I love the age that I am.  If asked right now “which age would I like to be?” my answer would be 25.  I’m really liking 25.  In this 25th year of life, I’ve been to 5 different countries (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and Lesotho) which I consider to be a pretty great year and I still have another 5 months until I turn 26.  I really can’t complain.  That being said, memories of my past fill my head on nearly a daily basis and part of me does wish I could go back there and live those moments again.

I will always remember Thanksgiving when I was in 8th grade.  Everyone from my dad’s side of the family got together at the Knights of Columbus hall for Thanksgiving that year.  It was a big deal because some of those cousins I hadn’t seen for many years.  I remember that it was nearly a week long celebration.  It was a big deal that we were all going to be together so my parents took us out of school for that week.  That week is one of my favorite memories.  There are a lot of moments from that week that I recall when I want to “find a happy place.”

I will always remember the summer that I was suddenly afraid to go in Grandpa’s boat.  I remember Aunt Tammie sitting with me on the beach while everyone else went out in the boat.  And I remember when my parents finally did get me in the boat that my Grandpa drove so slow that we were barely moving so that I wouldn’t be scared.  And when he hugs me good bye, he always whispers in my ear, “Love ya babe.” And I remember Grandma teaching me how to make a perfect pie crust and she taught me how to roll the dough just right so that it was a circle and I didn’t flatten the edges.  To this day I always think of her when I roll out a pie crust.

I will always remember driving to pep games with Scott and how we always aimed to be “fashionably late.”  And the time we turned up the radio and sang at the top of our lungs because we were the only two in the car.  And the time that we ran through the high school parking lot jumping in all the puddle because it had just rained and because we could.

I will always remember Mom telling me when I went off to college that Mark actually missed me.  And then coming home from college and realizing that he had turned into a really amazing person and more like me in some ways than I ever would have thought.  I remember the nights we stayed up just talking because we finally had a lot in common, especially in our beliefs in God.

I will always remember my dad as my soccer coach.  I don’t remember the practices so much as the 15 minute or half hour after everyone else went home and it was just me and my dad left on the field.  I will forever have this picture in my head of me shooting balls at him while he was the goal keeper as the sun went down.

I will always remember the time my mom and I drove to Michigan together.  I don’t remember why it was only the two of us going but I will always remember the drive.  We talked a lot.  I don’t even remember what we talked about, but I like to listen to my mom talk.  I like that she tells me everything, especially her stories about her work.  I like that she confides in me.  And for some reason I remember the song “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry played on the radio about 100 times while we were driving that trip and now every time I hear that song, I think of that drive with my mom.

I will always remember playing soccer in high school.  I learned a lot from that team and those people, especially Kate.  I remember the weirdest moments from those days.  I remember playing in the cold and the sleet one day and getting hit in the face with the ball and hardly feeling it because I was so cold.  I remember being really sick with a cold one day and apologizing as Kate and I switched goal for all the snot I left on the grass in front of the goal.  And I remember running hills and the coach telling Kate and I to be careful not to run into the trees.  And I remember the day we went diving in the puddles.  But most of all I remember our warm ups as Kate and I played catch and talked about the crazy things that had happened that day or the strange dream Kate had had the night before.

And I will always remember college.  I remember the nights we stayed up talking or playing guitars and writing the strangest songs.  I will remember the Christmas parties and the Princess parties and all the pranks. I remember getting lost on the bus. I remember all the dinners and the nights on the kitchen floor and stories about ducks. Trying to fit canoes up stair wells and snow shoeing for the first time to the top of the bluffs to see a lunar eclipse.  And I will never forget that it takes 4800 post-it notes to cover a car.

And I remember so much more.

There’s a lot of time for thinking when you’re driving for hours at a time. And there are a lot of really great moments that come to mind.

I think the reason that I keep asking myself “which age would I like to be?” is because I’m afraid of trying to live in the past.  I’ve had a really great life so far and it’s hard to believe that so many of those great moments have passed and I can’t get back to them.  And even if I did, they would never be the same.  But I have to believe there are many more great moments ahead and for the rest of my life I want to live in those moments, at the age I am at those times.  My goal is to chase the future, not the past.

TTFN, Marsha

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Coffee Bay…

22 May 2013, Wednesday

“The sun and the sand and a drink in my hand….” – Kenny Chesney

To get to Coffee Bay, we drove along the coast for a while and then the road cut back towards a town called Mthatha.  Just before Mthatha is the road back towards the coast to Coffee Bay.  That 80 km is what the Canadians had warned us was so terrible the night before so we were ready for the worst.  However, we were pleasantly surprised that it really wasn’t that bad.  Yes, you had to be alert while driving it because there were quite a lot of pothole and yes, some of them probably could have swallowed the car and yes, there were people walking along the edges of the road which was really only wide enough for two cars to pass each other.  And of course there we cows and sheep and goats in the road all along the way.  At one point we saw a mama pig and her little babies cross the road.  As we drove by them we saw a dead baby pig on the side of the road.  There was a collective “Awwww” from the car but it turned out that both Mo and I were thinking, “there’s some bacon and pork chops…” Don’t judge me too harshly, pigs are hard to come by here.  Most of the meat I consume is chicken and sometime ground beef.  And if I’m really lucky the ground beef will be only beef and not supplemented with goat.  Anyway, enough about the pig.  The drive wasn’t too bad and we made it to Coffee Bay about an hour before dark.

The backpackers we stayed at in Coffee Bay was called the Coffee Shack.  When our original reservations were placed for Coffee Bay there were 7 of us planning to go on the trip.  However, we didn’t decrease that reservation until the day before we got to Coffee Bay so instead of being placed in huts or the dorm beds near the office, the five of us were placed in the King’s Place.  There was a hill with about 8 little huts on it and at the top of the little hill was a little house called the King’s Place.  It had two bedrooms on the bottom floor and three beds upstairs.  We also had our own kitchen and bathroom which was really nice.  Then, across the river, was the rest of the backpackers where we ate dinner and played pool each night.

We spent two days and three nights in Coffee Bay but I think we all decided we could have just stayed there for the whole vacation.  It was just a very chill place with a lot of nice people and some really great food.  We got there on a Sunday and every Sunday night they have a free potjie dinner.  They make potjie in Namibia too and essentially it’s a stew, a whole bunch of vegetables, chicken, and potatoes all cooked in one pot.  Then they served it over rice.  It was delicious.  Then after dinner we were sitting around a camp fire and Fez, the bartender asked us if we wanted to be part of the nightly pool tournament.  I didn’t care to participate but the rest of my crew signed up.  It turned out to not really be a pool tournament but instead everyone is given three lives.  Then each person on the list gets a chance to hit any ball in a pocket.  If you miss, you lose a life.  Last person left won either a free pass for whatever trip was available the next day or a free cocktail.  Then everyone who played got a free shot.  The bar also employed the rules of Buffalo, which for those of you who don’t know, means if you are caught drinking with your right hand inside the bar and someone yells “Buffalo”  then you have to chug whatever is left of your drink.  It made the pool game a little more interesting as the spectators had to be careful which hand they were using for their drinks.  The whole atmosphere of the hostel was a lot of fun.  We also met two girls from Holland that night who by coincidence were going exactly the same places we were going only they were traveling by bus, but each night for the rest of the trip we would run into them at which ever hostel we were staying at.

The next day Chris showed us where the beach was because he had been to Coffee Bay last year.  It was about a 5 minute walk from our little house and it was absolutely beautiful.  The strangest part about it though was the cows.  There were cows just chillin on the beach.  I really couldn’t blame them though; it was a beautiful day.  Mo, Claire, and I spent the whole day on the beach reading, listening to music, swimming in the warm Indian Ocean and drinking Pina Coladas and Savanahs.  Chris went off to climb a hill and Gio went to read in the shade since he had just got a new tattoo a couple nights earlier while we were in Cape Town and couldn’t go swimming with it.  The boys ended up back at the house before lunch but the girls stayed all day on the beach.  It was exactly what I wanted out of a vacation.

That night the hostel served an amazing chicken burger for dinner and we played another round of pool.  I participated this time and lost but I won’t go into how a day of sun and pina coladas may have affected that outcome.  The next day the hostel was offering a guided hike to a place called Hole in the Wall.  All of us except for Claire signed up.  The two girls from Holland were also on the hike.  It was really quite a hike up and down the hills along the coast.  It took us about 3 and a half hours to get to Hole in the Wall but it was a beautiful hike and we saw so many dolphins swimming in the water.  They were everywhere.  When we finally got to the Hole in the Wall, there were two guys from the Coffee Shack there cooking us toasties over the fire, so we had lunch on the beach.  The advertisement for the hike said there was going to be cliff jumping which I was excited about, but the guide said there weren’t enough waves to do cliff jumping that day.  He said that usually there were big waves washing through the hole in the rocks.  Then he would take people to swim through the hole and climb up the rocks on the other side.  When a big wave would come towards the whole then the person jumping would jump into that wave and be washed through the whole.  It sounded like a lot of fun but the water was almost dead calm and the guide said it wasn’t deep enough to jump without the waves.  Instead we just sat on the rock by the edge of the water for a while.  It was really a little too cold for a swim.  One of the guys who hiked with us swam out to the hole in the wall to check it out.  Turned out that he could nearly stand in the water by the hole so it clearly wasn’t deep enough to jump into.  After lunch, we got driven back to the hostel.  It was probably about 4pm.  The drive back took a very long time because the road wasn’t paved and it was in terrible shape.  I would say it’s the worst road I’ve ever been on, and up to that day I would have been right, but that’s a story for later this week.

That night for dinner we were suppose to have crayfish and mussels.  Chris and Gio had talked to a guy the day before about catching us crayfish and then cooking them for us on the beach.  (And when I say “us” I mean everyone except me because I still have no desire to eat something that came out of the water)  Unfortunately for everyone else, the guy never showed up with the crayfish.  Fez, the bartender, found Mo and Gio waiting for the crayfish and told them not to wait too long because he didn’t really know the guy for being reliable.  Instead we all went to dinner in the backpackers which again turned out to be delicious.  It was advertised as minestrone soup and chicken which we weren’t too sad to miss, but the soup tasted like spaghettios and the chicken was served with mashed potatoes and gravy.  It was probably my favorite meal we had there.  That night was also a masquerade party, so before we went to dinner I turned one of the fruit loop boxes into a mask for Mo and one for Claire.  Then I made a mask for myself out of another box for something.  I also made a mask for Gio but he and Chris weren’t really feeling up to hanging out with a lot of people that night, so it was just us girls.  During the nightly pool game, anyone who was wearing a mask got free punch, and Mo ended up winning the pool game.  Well, she won because she was the last one alive who was not a local.  Apparently the locals can’t win any prizes.  Since we were leaving the next morning she got a free cocktail.  It turned into a really fun night.

The next morning we checked out an headed on our way to Durban.  Since Chris had driven the road going to Coffee Bay he asked me to drive it as we left.  It wasn’t very much fun but I managed without killing the car or any animals or any people on the side of the road…

TTFN, Marsha

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Cape Town and Jeffrey’s Bay…

21 May 2013, Tuesday

After a 20+ hour bus ride through the night, we arrived in Cape Town, South Africa on a Thursday evening.  We stayed at Cat and Moose backpackers in downtown Cape Town.  It was nice enough for the two days we stayed there.  We managed to get a room to ourselves for just the five of us which was really nice.  Then we didn’t have to worry about leaving out stuff out and all over the room because we were the only ones going in and out.  Another perk to the Cat and Moose backpackers is that it is just across the street from a McDonalds.  This was SUPER exciting to the rest of my fellow travelers and we ate at least 4 meals there in the day and a half we were in Cape Town.  I was less excited than the rest, but it still felt weirdly homey to be eating in a McDonalds even though I rarely went there in the US.  What I was most excited for was the promise of different cereals.  I had heard there were Fruit Loops in Cape Town and my plan was to fill the trunk of our rental car with Fruit Loops.  I really miss having many different sugary cereal options.  The cereal aisle in Namibian grocery stores is filled with several different brands of corn flakes.  Unfortunately, there were only two boxes of Fruit Loops left at the grocery store in Cape Town and when I tried them they were only vaguely like Fruit Loops.  They were very crunchy and not very fruity.  Anyway, after our dinner at McDonald’s, we went for a drink and then to bed.  The long bus ride just drained us.

The next morning, everyone decided I should be the one to pick the day’s activities because we were only in Cape Town for one day and three of the others had been to Cape Town before and the other is going back to Cape Town at the end of his service.  When I asked what I should see from the people who had been there before, they all said Table Mountain.  Table Mountain is a huge flat mountain on the edge of Cape Town.  It’s about a 2 hour hike to the top or there is the option to take a cable car.  I decided for the cable car because I wanted to be quick to I could see as much as I could see in one day.  The others decided they didn’t want to pay for it because they had seen it before, so I made plans to meet up with the girls and Gio when I was done and we would go to the District 6 museum.  Chris decided he wasn’t interested in the District 6 museum but that he did want to hike up Table Mountain again.  So Chris and I took a taxi to the base of Table Mountain and he hiked up while I took the cable car.

I am so glad that they suggested Table Mountain.  The view from the top was just incredible.  I spent probably half an hour hiking around the top and taking pictures from all different sides.  If anyone reading this ends up in Cape Town one day, I definitely recommend the view from the top of Table Mountain.  I also met a nice guy from Slovakia who had climbed up the mountain early in the morning, so we helped each other get pictures of ourselves with the beautiful view.  He reminded me how out of touch I am with technology though.  He had a really fancy camera and when he was showing up really dark in the picture I was suppose to touch my finger over his face on the screen while I pushed the button to take the picture and it was really confusing and complicated and I just hope he actually got a good picture.

After Table Mountain I met up with the girls and we went to lunch at the Food Lover’s Market. (a big theme of this vacation was to eat as much good food as we could)  The Food Lover’s Market was set up in kind of a cafeteria style with sooooo many options.  There was a salad bar and a pasta bar and a grill and a sandwich bar and a bakery and a fruit bar and so many different foods.  It was really overwhelming but I got a really good sandwich and a drink.  We took our food to a part of the market where there was a sushi bar and we sat there to eat and watch a bunch of plates of sushi traveling on a little conveyer belt all around the restaurant.

After lunch we went to the District 6 museum.  Below I’m including a link to the Wikipedia article about District 6 because the museum itself did a very poor job describing exactly what happened in District 6.  From what I gather, District 6 was a part of Cape Town where many different ethnicities of people lived.  Then during apartheid, District 6 was declared a “whites only” zone, the people were forced out of their homes, and many of the building were torn down.  The museum included a lot of memorabilia from people who lived there and a lot of their stories about living in District 6. I think the coolest part was a long roll of fabric where people who lived in District 6 have been signing their names messages.  It was started a while ago and apparently when the ink from the fabric markers started to fade, people started stitching over the words in colored thread to preserve what was written. It was an interesting little museum, but I think it means more to the people who live in or remember District 6 than to me as an outsider.

District 6 link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_Six

For dinner we all met up and (after a predinner at McDonalds for some) we went to an Eastern Food Bazaar.  I had been craving Indian food for a couple weeks before this trip, so that was finally my chance to get some good Indian food.  The Eastern Food Bazaar was in the middle of an alley way and just one big long counter of different eastern foods.  There were so many different choices and it was all relatively cheep.  They gave us a huge amount of food though.  I was given a whole bowl of curry and a whole bowl of rice and a bowl of some sort of soup and I also ordered some naan because I love to eat my curry with naan.  Needless to say I couldn’t finish most of it, so I took the rest and gave it to one of the people begging on the street.  Now as I sit here writing this, it’s making me hungry for Indian food again and I wish I had those leftovers.

The next morning, Chris, Gio, and I went to pick up our rental car.  We were given a little Volkswagen Polo.  Now, I hadn’t driven in about 21 months, but neither of the boys were real confident in driving a stick shift.  Plus, I was really excited to get to drive again.  We had a few issues getting it out of the garage though, namely I had never seen a car where 1st gear and reverse were in the same place, so I tried to start it in 3rd and we stalled on the ramp to get out of the garage and it was not good, but it got easier from there.  So the three of us went to pick up the girls and our stuff from the backpackers so we could hit the road.  We wanted to get about half way to Coffee Bay that day and we didn’t know exactly where we were going to stay for the night so we just wanted to get on the road.  As we were leaving Cape Town, the traffic was terrible and moving so slow.  It was then that we realized that the radio didn’t work.  We couldn’t figure out how to turn on the radio.  Eventually we ended up calling the rental company and asking them how to turn on the radio.  They said we would need to enter the code on the visor.  We looked all over the visors and didn’t see any code.  The lady at the rental agency said we could bring the car back and exchange it but we didn’t want to turn around at that point.  Then she said we could exchange it at the airport but we did really want to find the airport and exchange a car for just a radio.  A few minutes of bad traffic and silence later we saw signs for the airport and decided we wanted that radio, so we took a quick side trip to the airport and exchanged our little Polo for a Nissan Tiida.  And I’m so happy we did.  The Tiida was a little bit bigger and easier to drive as the gears were all in the places I’m used to.  And, since I haven’t driven in such a long time, I didn’t have any trouble driving on the left side of the road.  The only problem I ran into was that my left hand was not strong enough to take off the emergency break so every time I wanted to go anywhere I needed the help of the passenger to put down the emergency break. 😉

our hostel is the yellow building and that is table mtn in the background

our hostel is the yellow building and that is table mtn in the background

Driving through South Africa was just incredible.  It’s green rolling hills and then mountains and every so often we would come over a peak and see the ocean down below.  It was an absolutely beautiful drive.  As we were driving that first day, we decided to spend the night in Jeffrey’s Bay which is close to Port Elizabeth and about half way from Cape Town to Coffee Bay.  We got in just as the sun was setting so we didn’t really have a chance to explore Jeffrey’s Bay.  We just went to the hostel.  I don’t even remember the name of the hostel, but Claire and I ordered a small pizza for dinner from the bar.  The other three had picked up Tai food for dinner at a Tai restaurant we saw on the way in to Jeffrey’s Bay but Claire and I were too full from the pasta we had for lunch only a few hours earlier.

view from the road...

view from the road…

At the hostel, we also had a room to ourselves again but I think it was the last room they had available with dorm beds.  It was a tiny little shack off the end of the backpackers, and as Claire and I were getting ready for bed I noticed that one of the windows didn’t have any glass in it. I managed to stuff a pillow from the sixth bed in our room into the window and cover another hole by moving a curtain from one window to another window, but it wasn’t the greatest accommodations.  It’s winter in Africa so it gets really cold at night.  Thankfully I brought my underarmor to sleep in and thick wool socks so I wasn’t too cold.

The next day we got up with the sun to drive the rest of the way to Coffee Bay.  As we were checking in the night before we ran into a family of Canadians checking in at the same time and they were just coming from Coffee Bay.  They said the road to Coffee Bay was in terrible shape and that Coffee Bay was flooded and there was no power.  Chris and I (the drivers) decided we didn’t want to try and drive a terrible road to Coffee Bay in the dark, so we left with plenty of time to spare…

TTFN, Marsha

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All Volunteer Conference…

20 May 2013, Monday

“You just have to figure at some point it all comes together.” – Friends

Just got back from South Africa last night and term 2 starts tomorrow.  I had a really great vacation with some really great people, but I’ll post more about that later.  I want to try and get all the stories from my trip up this week, so expect lots of blog posts and pictures.

However, before I left on vacation, I was at an All Volunteer Conference (AVC) for two day.  The way Peace Corps works in Namibia is that they bring in a new group of volunteers every six months.  I am part of the 34th group of volunteers to come to Namibia.  About 6 months after we got here, group 35 arrived.  All the even numbered groups are made up of education and business volunteers while the odd numbered groups have health volunteers.  There are just over 100 volunteers in Namibia at any given time and it’s rare that most volunteers have a chance to meet people from other groups.  Most conferences are done with the group of people who came over together.  However, peace corps Namibia had an all volunteer conference for all the volunteers in Namibia shortly before my group arrived in country.  They were celebrating 50 years of Peace Corps.  The event went over so well that it was decided there should be another AVC and it’s a tradition that will probably continue every couple of years so there is one AVC during each volunteer’s service.  Currently, group 34 is the oldest group in the country and while we were at AVC, the new group 37 was sworn in as volunteers.  The conference was focused on malaria because that’s where our funding was coming from but malaria is almost completely out of Namibia.  The presenters were really great though and I wished malaria was a problem in Otjiwarongo so I could try out some of their programs for making people aware and teaching about malaria prevention.  A few weeks before the conference my boss also called me and somehow talked me into presenting at the conference.  I was supposes to lead a session on best practices for education volunteers.  Basically it was what I talked about with group 36 during their PST.  My boss said I would have an hour and then he would talk about the new PST for 30 minutes.

So the all volunteer conference was a lot of fun.  The only people there that I didn’t know were the group 37s and a couple people from group 35.  I had met all of group 36 during their training last year when I helped them with Model School.  Seeing all the groups interacting together and getting to know each other was really cool.  On Monday, Waldo, my boss, told me that he didn’t really have much to say for the session that he was suppose to give on Tuesday, so he told me that instead of an hour long session, I could have the whole 90 minutes so long as I saved him just 2 minutes at the end.  I spent about an hour on Monday night planning my session.  It was only for the education people.  I knew that group 36 heard everything about my classroom management at their PST and my group heard everything at midservice last year, so I really didn’t want it to be me just getting up there to talk about what I do.  Instead I broke everyone into groups and had them fill a flip chart paper with their ideas on a specific aspect of teaching that I gave them.  Then I had them present what they wrote and ask the whole group to add more.  On Monday I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to fill the whole time, but I should have known better.  As soon as I got everyone talking there were just ideas flying everywhere and we ran way short on time.  I think only half the groups got to present.  I kept all their posters though.  The topics I gave were the same ones as are in a book I’m writing for new education volunteers about teaching in Namibia.  Now I have all their ideas to go in the book.  I also started my session by showing them what I’ve done with the book so far.  Afterwards, lots of people were coming to me saying that they really liked the idea and wanted me to forward them the book when I finish.

The conference ended with the swearing in ceremony for group 37.  That was really cool because the Prime Minister of Namibia was there.  He’s really a big deal because he is next in line to be president of Namibia in 2014 or 2015 I think… My school also just invited him to come to this ridiculous gala dinner/fundraising event thing we are planning for the middle of June, so after the ceremony, I was one of the few people who got a chance to meet him and get my picture taken with him.  I told him I was based in Otjiwarongo and he told me those were all his people (whatever that means).  I also mentioned to him that my school sent an invitation to his office to invite him to our fundraising event so I hoped to see him again in the future.  He didn’t really respond to that and I only had a few seconds with him because everyone was trying to shake his hand and get a picture.  My principal would have been really disappointed though if I told him I met the Prime Minister and didn’t mention our gala dinner.

me talking with the prime minister

me talking with the prime minister

me and the prime minister

me and the prime minister

Mama Alta, Caleb, and her three in country volunteers

Mama Alta, Caleb, and her three in country volunteers

all the members of group 34 to attend AVC

all the members of group 34 to attend AVC

Anyway, so another quick story.  On Sunday when we got to the amazing hotel that we stayed at for the conference, I realized that I forgot to pack my driver’s license.  I had been in a hurry to leave my house because Mama Alta had called and asked me to stay at her house Saturday night because she was having a little party with her current trainee and Sachi, the volunteer she had after me.  So I rushed to get out of my house a day earlier than I had planned and I knew I wasn’t coming back between the conference and getting my bus for South Africa, so I had to have everything with me.  The problem with not having my driver’s license was that  I was planning on doing the majority of the driving in South Africa because only one other guy in our group had an idea of how to drive a stick shift car.  I considered trying to do without it, but I figured I wouldn’t really be able to enjoy the vacation if I was worried about getting caught driving without a license.  My first thought was that I would hitchhike back to site Wednesday morning, get the license, and hike back to Windhoek in time to get the 4pm bus.  I was worried because I would have had to get to the hike point really early and there was the matter of would it be faster to free hike or to wait for a taxi to fill up and pay for a ride.  Plus, I’ve never free hiked alone but I didn’t think I could convince anyone to just run up to Otjiwarongo with me.  Then I thought maybe I could cash in the favor that Waldo owes me and have a peace corps driver run me up and back, but I figured that would be stretching it a lot and I might need to cash in that favor to get my leave approved for Vic Falls while my mom is here or to get transport for me and all my stuff in December.  So then my friend Mo suggested that maybe Chris, who was traveling with his sister, was somewhere in the vicinity of Windhoek and would be able to drive me up an back.  It turned out that he was a Swakop on the coast and was staying there until Wednesday.  Then I figured that I could hike up after the swearing in ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, spend the night, and hike back down Wednesday morning.  The problem with that was that I would have been racing the daylight, assuming that the 2pm ceremony started on time and ended around 3pm.  And I would have been guessing if a taxi or hiking was faster again.  Then I thought maybe some of group 37 would be leaving early in the morning on Wednesday to go to their sites and could drop me off on the way.  Then I remembered how unreliable those transports are and how crazy full they usually are.  Anywho, to make a long story short, I started talking to some of the other volunteers about how I was going to have to hike up and back before 4pm on Wednesday and it turned out that Ethan, from group 36 had a car because his parents are visiting and they were headed to Etosha on Wednesday morning.  I told him that I needed to leave by 8am at the latest to make it back in time and he said that would be no problem.  So we left about 7:30 that morning and he and his parents drove me to Otjiwarongo.  It was a really nice ride and I got to sit in the back and talk to him mom the whole time.  And when we got to Otjiwarongo (about 10am), they took me to my house and they used my bathroom while I grabbed my driver’s license.  Then they drove me past the taxi ring where all the taxis were empty so they took me to the hike point.  30 seconds after they drove away I had a ride with a man who works for South African airlines and delivers any lost luggage to people all around Namibia.  He had already dropped off luggage to a tourist in Etosha earlier and was on his way back to Windhoek, so I was back in Windhoek by 12:30.  And he took me right to the Peace Corps office.  So I didn’t have to wait any where or walk anywhere or pay anything.  It was really great.  It’s a crazy life here, but things always work out.  At 4pm we were on our bus which finally left at 5:30 for the 20 hour bus ride to Cape Town, South Africa.

Below is a map of our trip on South Africa.  There were 5 of us traveling together.  We took a bus from Windhoek to Cape Town and then rented a car to drive the rest of the way.  It was a total distance of 3885 km or about 2414 miles from Windhoek to Johannesburg. From Johannesburg we few back to Windhoek.  More on those stories later…

trip map

The Places We Stopped along the way:

A – Windhoek, Namibia

B – Cape Town

C – Jeffrey’s Bay

D – Coffee Bay

E – Durban

F – Drakensburg Mountains

G – Qwa Qwa (our entry point to Lesotho)

H – Johannesburg

TTFN, Marsha

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A Quick Update…

3 May 2013, Friday

“There is no certainty, only opportunity.” – V for Vendetta

I just wanted to give everyone a quick update since I will probably be unable to post anything for a couple weeks.  It is now about a week into our break between term 1 and term 2.  Last weekend I managed to make it out to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which is about 40 km out of town.  I had been wanting to go for a while, but it’s difficult to find transport out there and it costs money to visit.  Fortunately, a friend of mine from Canada, who has been working in Otjiwarongo for maybe about a year now, decided that he’s done and ready to move back to Canada.  The company he worked for is part of CCF, so he invited me to his going away party at CCF.  We also have a Peace Corps volunteer working out there and on a previous weekend I met a vet tech (from England/South Africa) and cheetah keeper (from Michigan) from CCF.  When we got there, the cheetah keeper I know was about to feed some of the cheetahs, so he invited me to help out.  It was pretty cool to get that close to the cheetahs.  They are a lot bigger than I had previously imagined.  In the afternoon, I got to go on a Rhino drive.  One of the rangers at CCF was going to take a drive around the part to check on some of the cameras, waterholes, and fences.  Three of us went along and the ranger gave us the whole history of the Rhinos while we drove around for a couple hours.  Unfortunately we didn’t see any rhinos, but the information we got was fascinating, if not terribly sad.  There are not a lot of rhinos left and most countries are having a difficult time defending their rhinos from poachers.  The good news is that Namibia has managed to protect most of their rhinos because they have involved the locals.  Namibia also has a very small population of people compared with the land area, so it’s easier to spread the rhinos out and keep them safe.

One of the cheetahs eating

One of the cheetahs eating

cheetahs prowling along the fence waiting to be fed...

cheetahs prowling along the fence waiting to be fed…

baby cheetahs!

baby cheetahs!

After the rhino drive, we had a braii (bbq) where we roasted a warthog on a spit over the fire.  If you’re wondering what warthog tastes like, it’s a lot like pork but a little tangier. Visiting CCF was interesting because of the diverse mix of people.  There are very few Namibians working at CCF.  Mostly they employ interns from all over the world.  It was interesting to hear their views on Namibia because it was so different from the Namibia I’m used to.  One intern was telling me that there a some children who come to her house and she lets them color or play games.  She said they are the most polite children she has ever met.  They always put away what they are playing with and are so careful with all of her stuff.  She made a comment that it must be nice to teach in Namibia where the children are so polite and how she couldn’t understand how children here were so polite.  I told her it was because she was white and she looked appalled.  It was a very interesting conversation.  After my visit to CCF, I’ve pretty much just been bumming around at shopping for baskets and presents to bring home at the end of the year.  I don’t want to save it to the last minute because the rest of my year looks pretty busy.

On Sunday I travel down to Windhoek for an All Volunteer Conference.  Most of the trainings I go to are just for the group of volunteers that I came to Namibia with.  This conference is for all of the volunteers in Namibia, so I’m excited to meet some of the volunteers I’ve never run into before.  However, the conference isn’t mandatory, so there will be quite a few people missing.  The conference is only 2 days and then on Wednesday, I leave for my real vacation.  I’m traveling with several other volunteers by bus to Cape Town, South Africa.  From there we are renting a car and we’re going to drive around South Africa and make stops in Coffee Bay and Durban and fly back to Namibia from Johannesburg.  It’s going to be a lot of driving for about10 days, but we’ll get back to Namibia on May 19th and the teacher go back to school on May 20th.  Then the learners come on May 21st, so we’re using as much of the holiday as possible.  It should be a lot of fun, but I’ll tell you more about it when I get back.

In other news, my mom just recently decided she’s going to come back to Namibia!!  I’m really excited because this time she will be here while my learners are here, at the end of July.  She’s going to have the opportunity to see what it is that I actually do in Namibia and meet my learners and colleagues.  Maybe I’ll even be able to convince her to write a blog post about her experience here. 😉

TTFN, Marsha

For those who are interested, there is a problem with Rangers being killed while they are trying to protect animals such as Rhinos.  The ranger we were with suggested checking out this website.  If you order the DVD, the proceeds go to the family of the rangers killed.

http://www.thingreenline.org.au/

You can learn more about CCF at the following website.

http://www.cheetah.org/

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Proud…

25 April 2013, Thursday

“Proud.  I’m just so proud.  I don’t know how to say it any better.” – Steven Curtis Chapman

Since I took forever to finish the story about my family visiting Namibia, there are a few other stories that happened this term that I haven’t had the opportunity to tell.  Now that the term is over, let me take a few minutes to tell you about some of my kids.

So there’s this girl in one of my classes, let’s call her Lina.  Last year I didn’t see much of Lina.  It was very rare that she would come to school.  The first time I ever really had any interaction with her was during exams at the end of term 1.  Her class was in my classroom and they were supposed to be studying for the exam they were going to take later that day.  Everyone had  a book open on their desk and was studying, except for Lina.  Her book was closed and she was coloring on the cover.  I told her to put the crayons away and open her book.  A few minutes later her book was closed again and she was coloring on the cover.  Again I told her to put the crayons away and open the book.  A few minutes later she was coloring again.  This time I told her that if I saw her book closed again I was going to take the crayons and they were going to be mine.  A few minutes later, sure enough, her book was closed and she was coloring again.  I took her crayons away and she pouted for the rest of the class.

 

Lina

Lina

I didn’t really have much of an opportunity to talk with Lina for the rest of the year until a few days before the end of Term 3.  You see, during exams there is a LOT of wasted time.  There is one hour long exam each day so for the four hour before the exam starts, the learners are supposed to be studying.  My learners now know that if they want to come into my classroom on an exam day they need to show me the book they are going to study from when they enter my classroom.  No book means they can’t come inside.  Instead I make them pick up papers off the ground outside for a few minutes before they came in.  That particular day at the end of term 3, Lina didn’t have her book.  I told her she needed to get three big handfuls of trash and throw  them away before she could come inside.  She took her sweet time with the first handful.  I tried to hurry her along with the next two so that I could be in the classroom with the rest of the kids.  Instead she went even slower.  Then for the third handful she tried to just pick up one piece of paper.  When I told her that wasn’t good enough she refused to do anything more.  Then she told me she wouldn’t because I took her crayons away.  I asked her to tell me why I took her crayons away and she wouldn’t answer.  I explained to her again why I had taken her crayons.  From there our conversation escalated into an argument.  I don’t remember all the detail of it but I remember trying to convince her that she needed to come to school.  She told me she lived too far away and didn’t want to walk that far every day.  I tried to convince her that she is not the only one who lives that far away and she is not alone in walking very far to get to school.  She told me that she didn’t need to come to school every day.  I tried to convince her that her math grade said otherwise.  She told me that she just couldn’t do math.  She said she was just fine with the other classes if she only came once in a while and that it didn’t matter for math because she just couldn’t do math.  I got so frustrated by that statement.  I told her that math builds on itself and she needs to be there to learn the stuff in the beginning so she can understand the later parts.  I tried to convince her that she absolutely could do math if she was there every day, even though I had no proof of that.  I really barely knew this girl.  She was having none of it.  I could not persuade her to come to school and to try.  And she kept going back to how I had taken her crayons away from her.  She kept threatening to bring her mother to school to get the crayons.  I begged her to please bring her mother.  I told her I would love to talk to her mother.  Eventually I just gave up and told her that neither of us was going anywhere until she picked up another handful of trash.  We burnt through the whole 40 minute class period arguing and into the next class period.  I got so bored of waiting that I pulled out my crossword puzzle book and stood there doing a crossword as I waited for her to pick up the trash.  At the end of that class period, other curious learners came over to find out what was going on.  I explained that Lina had one more handful of trash to pick up.  The other girls tried to tell Lina to just pick up the trash, it was only one handful.  Lina didn’t budge.  Eventually the other girls picked up some trash and put it in Lina’s hand.  I decided to count that and we both went our separate ways.

 

Now all you trained teachers out there, please don’t judge my methods too harshly.  I’m not a trained teacher and Africa is different than the States.  But this story has a happy ending.  Over the December holiday, apparently Lina changed her mind about school.  I don’t believe she has missed even one day this year.  And, she decided she was going to try her best with math.  For the first few weeks she hung around in my classroom during tea break and after school.  She just watched the other kids ask me questions.  Eventually she started to ask her own questions.  By the middle of February, she was asking me questions every chance she got.  And guess what?  It turns out that she is actually pretty good at math.  At the end of last year, she just made the cut off for a D.  She was literally one percent away from failing (which is a 30%).  At the end of term 1 this year, she has a 64% which is one percent below a B.  I’m so proud. Oh yeah, and I gave her crayons back a couple of weeks into the school year when I saw how hard she was working.

 

And then there’s the story of Manfred.  Manfred is one of my favorite learners.  He is all kinds of trouble and the other learners keep telling me that he brings a knife to school, but Manfred is really a good kid at heart, I’m sure.  And you should see this kid dance; he is extremely talented.  Last year during the Day of the African Child celebration, Manfred and a group of about 10 boys put together a hip hop dance.  These were 10 of the boys who have the worst behavior and can cause the most trouble, so it was really cool to see them all dancing together.  All the other kids like Manfred because he’s one of the cool kids.  He’s got the cool, swagger walk down.  But Manfred started skipping a lot of school during term 3 last year, and that trend continued into this term as well.  I knew that he was having trouble with a couple of the other teachers, so I figured that was why he was staying away from school. One day I saw another teacher hand Manfred back up against a wall outside so I went to see what was going on.  The other teacher had been screaming at Manfred and he wasn’t saying anything.  He was completely shut down.  The teacher wanted Manfred to bring his parents to school.  I talked with Manfred and eventually got him to agree to bring his parents to school.  I even made him write it on his hand and reminded him several more times throughout the day.  The next day he told me that his parents wouldn’t come to school because they had been to school too many times already.  I was really disappointed in Manfred.

 

Manfred

Manfred

A few weeks later I ran into a similar situation.  The same teacher had Manfred backed against the wall of the staffroom.  When he saw me walk by he called me over and told me to talk with Manfred in that way that I do.  I talked with Manfred for nearly an hour that morning.  He told me that his father wasn’t around and it was only his mother and a baby in the house.  He admitted that his mother didn’t know that he was skipping school and I could tell that she wouldn’t be ok with knowing that Manfred was skipping school.  He told me that when he’s not at school he is with a group of boys in the location and they go and smoke very deep in the bush.  I asked if they would hurt him if he chose to go to school instead of hang out with them and he said they wouldn’t.  He told me about the problems that he was having with Mr. Zero.  Which is ridiculous because he doesn’t even have any classes with Mr. Zero.  At one point Mr. Zero came by to see what we were talking about and yelled at Manfred for his hair.  I couldn’t see anything wrong with his hair.  It looked fine to me.  The first teacher who was yelling at him still wanted Manfred’s parents to come to school.  While we were talking I saw Manfred’s class teacher hanging around outside the staffroom.  I called him over and explained the situation to him.  His class teacher and I both agreed that Manfred is a good kid but he’s mixed up with the wrong people.  We both agreed we just wanted him to come back to school.  Eventually Manfred agreed to take a letter home to his mother and bring her to school.  I was really proud of the way his class teacher handled the situation.  He didn’t yell at Manfred or bother him about his hair or the state of his clothes.  He was very clear that he wanted Manfred to come back to school and he made it clear to Manfred that he was a good learner and has a good future ahead of him.

 

The next day Manfred brought his uncle to school. Manfred’s class teacher stopped by my classroom to inform me that Manfred had brought his parents and that they were going to have a meeting.  I was teaching a class, so I didn’t have time to sit in on the meeting.  A few minutes later Manfred showed up at the window of my classroom and asked me if I could please also come to the meeting.  I passed my lesson plan book off to one of the learners and told him to write the lesson on the board and I went to the meeting.  Manfred was there with this uncle and also the class teacher.  Then there was another member of the management who I was worried might be pretty harsh on Manfred but I was so pleasantly surprised when he started talking to Manfred that he wasn’t judgmental at all only wanted to know what was keeping Manfred from school and what we could do to fix it so he could come to school.  We were also suppose to have a member of the discipline committee at the meeting.  Mr. Zero is the head of the discipline committee but thankfully the class teacher also knew of Manfred’s trouble with Mr. Zero and insisted that he should not be a part of this meeting.  A new teacher who was just added to the discipline committee was asked to sit in on the meeting instead.  He was better than Mr. Zero but he did make a couple inappropriate comments about Manfred’s clothes and hair that I didn’t feel were relevant.  But all in all I was so extremely happy with the way my colleagues conducted the meeting.  I made sure that we ended it by making it very clear to Manfred that we were all there because we care about him and want to see him at school instead of hanging out with the other boys around the location.  I also wanted to be sure his uncle would speak with Manfred’s mother so that she would understand the situation.  He promised to do so and ever since Manfred has been at school.  Well, he’s been to all of my classes anyway.  Sometime I do find him hanging around outside my window when I know he should be in another class. But at the end of the day, at least he’s at school and not hanging around with older boys and smoking in the bush.  I’m going to take that as a win.

Operi, another of my favorites and sort of success story

Operi, another of my favorites and sort of success story

Operi wanted a picture of him and the homework he finished

Operi wanted a picture of him and the homework he finished

TTFN, Marsha

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All My Children…

20 April 2013, Saturday

“Love wins. Love always wins.”  – Tuesdays with Morrie

Yesterday was the last day of the term for the learners; us teachers will be done on Wednesday.  Despite the fact that a group of 6th graders turned my classroom upside down yesterday and stole all my pencils and notebooks, I’m still going to miss all my children (because they are in grade 7 and know better than to steal from me).

The end of the term is a pretty crazy time for the teachers while the learners get to spend most of the last two weeks sitting in classrooms and “studying”.  Last Friday, the 8 learners who had earned the most stickers this term joined me at my house for a pizza and movie party.  I realized that this time most of the kids who were eating pizza had been to my house before, so I’ve decided that those 8 will not be eligible to come to the pizza party next term.  Hopefully that will encourage a new group of learners to collect as many stickers as they can.  As it stands, I still had to give away a record number of prizes at the end of this term.  My kids have been working so hard and I can really see an improvement from last year.  For math, the kids have to write two final exams, paper 1 and paper 2.  I am half way through marking paper 2 but they did exceptionally well on paper 1 this year.  I’m so proud of all my children.

On Wednesday there was a break from the exams so I took the opportunity to give out sticker prizes to each of the classes.  I know this practice of rewarding the kids with pens and pencils and dollar store prizes isn’t very sustainable after I leave, but it’s worth it to see how excited the kids get about even the smallest of rewards.  And this term there were fewer learners than ever who didn’t earn even one prize.  As I greeted each class at the door on Friday there excitement was palpable.  One girl told me she had been shaking with excitement all morning just waiting to get to math class.

This term the prizes included earrings made by my mom, which were so cute I had to keep a pair for myself.  Toy cars donated by the students in my mom’s math classes.  Necklaces set from Hawaii by my godmother.  “Ouma”  jump ropes made from elastic that my parents dyed and sent.  As well as activity books, glow in the dark bracelets and rings, pens, pencils, hair ties, headbands, stuffed animals, and puppets sent by a variety of amazing people.  I wish I had some way to bottle the excitement of my learners when I pull out these toys and send it to all the wonderful people who contributed something.  My favorite story from this particular prize giving was that my favorite learner actually managed to earn 10 stickers this term.  He is such a little troublemaker and is constantly skipping school and smoking in the bushes, but somehow I have managed to convince him to come to my class and attempt the homework (now if I could get him to take notes so he would know how to do the homework I’d really be a miracle worker). This day he chose a seat right next to my desk and he had his eye on a red necklace from Hawaii.  He told me that was all that he wanted.  Thankfully his name was one of the first name drawn and he snatched up that necklace before anyone else could get to it.  Unfortunately the clasp on the necklace was stuck and he couldn’t open it.  I tried to convince him to let me take it home and use my vice grips to try and open it but he wasn’t going to let that necklace out of his site.  I don’t know if he ever got it open, but that’s the kind of excitement my learners have over the prizes they choose.  I love all my children.  Thank you to all of you who have sent gifts for them; everything is greatly appreciated.

TTFN, Marsha

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Sand at the End…

13 April 2013, Saturday

“Measure, measure your life in love.” ~ Rent

So I realized that I never concluded the story of my family coming to visit me.  I apologize for the detours along the way, but here is the exciting conclusion of their time in Namibia.

We left Swakop early in the morning.  It was still cloudy and overcast.  We drove for about half an hour along the coast from Swakop to Walvis Bay but shortly after Walvis Bay, the road changed from asphalt to gravel.  I think we all were pretty apprehensive about the gravel road.  A fellow volunteer had tried to take her family down the very same road only weeks before and they had turned back.  This particular gravel road was not well cared for at all.  It was very washboardy because of all the rain recently and there were potholes everywhere. As we drove the car was being rocked in every direction.  Our guide during the sandboarding had tried to give us tips about driving down that road.  He suggested we let some air out of the tires before we started.  I really don’t think anything would have helped much, and I was not feeling well that morning at all.  I don’t ever remember being car sick before but as we started down that gravel road, knowing we had about 5 or 6 hours to go, I thought for sure I was going to vomit.

IMG_2870

About an hour down the gravel road we came to a rest stop at a large rock formation.  I was so relieved but for some reason I felt even more sick when we stopped the car.  However, I joined my family in walking around this rock formation and taking pictures and I felt a little better.  All too soon we were back in the car again and back over the bumps.  A few hours later we came to the second rest stop.  Mark and I couldn’t even get out of the car.  We were both feeling nauseous but for some reason when we stopped it got even worse.  Thankfully an hour or two later we reached a gas station and restaurant at a place called Solitare.  There it was nice to get out of the car and sit at a table for a while and drink a powerade.  I felt quite a bit better after that and it was nice to know we didn’t have too much farther to go.  The last bit of our drive was pretty cool.  We were going through mountains and at one point there was actually a little bridge, which is a rare sighting in Namibia.  Thankfully Mom was not feeling car sick and was snapping pictures during our drive.

By late afternoon we reached the Desert Homestead, our accommodations for the next couple days.  It literally was several bungalows out in the middle of no where.  There was just desert as far as you could see.  At this point though we were away from the coast and in the desert so it was ridiculously hot again.  The pool was a welcome relief.  Mom, Dad, and I shared one bungalow while Scott and Mark shared the other.  The only place available to eat was whatever the Desert Homestead was serving for dinner.  Thankfully the meals were pretty good.  We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool or playing cribbage by the pool.

The following morning we got up before the sunrise to drive to Sossusvlei, about 15 km away.  For people who are not familiar with Namibian geography, Sossusvlei is the really big sand dunes of Namibia.  The entrance to the part opens at sunrise and it’s important to get there early so you can hike around before the sand and the air become too warm.  We were the third car in line to enter the park and as we drove in, we watched the sunrise over the dunes.  Inside the park the road through the dunes was paved, much to my relief.  The road was about 60 km long through the dunes and at the end of the drive was a place called Dead Vlei.  Along the drive, people were getting off the road to climb Dune 45 which is one of the bigger dunes and famous for some reason I don’t know.  We debated stopping there to climb and watch the sunrise, but thankfully we kept driving all the way to Dead Vlei.  At the end of the road, there was just deep sand for the last 5 km to Dead Vlei, so we had to leave the car and pay one of the drivers of the big four wheel drive safari cars to take us the rest of the way.

Dead Vlei was soooo cool.  There were huge sand dunes and is a few of the valleys between the dunes was what looked like some sort of strange lake or petrified forest.  The ground was white (as close to snow as you get in Namibia) and solid with crack running all through it.  In this hard white ground were dead trees.  You’ll have to do some googling to understand what made this Dead Vlei but seeing it in person was just so amazing.  We also took that opportunity to climb the dunes.  The easiest way was to walk up and along the peak of the dune.  One or two people were there ahead of us and had started leaving a path to follow.  I wouldn’t say it was easy going, but it was just an amazing experience.  If you can’t tell, Sossusvlei was my favorite part of the trip.  Seeing the dunes and Dead Vlei was just incredible.  Climbing the dunes I felt like I was in some sort of movie.  We were actually on a path to climb the tallest dune but we didn’t feel like we had enough water with us to make it all the way to the top, and one of us didn’t have any sunscreen on so he really needed to get back and out of the sun.  But we still had a lot of fun climbing probably 2/3 of the way to the top and then running down the huge side of the dune to where we could walk on the Dead Vlei.  At the bottom of the dunes we stopped to fill a couple empty water bottles with the sand to take back as a souvenir.  Unfortunately this sand had some plant matter in it and was confiscated at the airport a few days later.

After spending the morning at Sossusvlei, we spent the afternoon at the pool again.  That night my mom got her first look at a scorpion when I found a little one on the wall of the shower.  Don’t worry, I killed it with my shoe before we went to sleep.  The following day we spent another many hours traveling down the gravel road back towards the capital city.  We arrived in Windhoek in the early afternoon so we had enough time to hit the mall and do a little more souvenir shopping before calling it a day.  We stayed the night in a guest house and the next day my family dropped me off at the Peace Corps office before heading to the airport.

It was so great to have them hear and to be able to do all the touristy things will them.  I really enjoyed every moment I got to spend with them, even the ones down the bumpy road to Sossusvlei.  Now I’m just hoping my mom will make it out here during her summer vacation so she can have the opportunity to meet my learners and see what it really is that I do here.

TTFN, Marsha

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What if she’s an Angel…

20 March 2013, Wednesday

“What if she’s an angel sent here from heaven and she’s making certain that you’re doing your best to take the time to help one another.  Brother are you going to pass that test?” – Brad Paisley

Have you ever had one of those weeks where by the middle of the week you just needed it to be over before things could get any worse?  Well it’s Wednesday and that seems to be my week so far…

On Monday, Betty told me that she finally received the letter giving her 30 days to move out of the hostel.  They have been telling her for about 5 months now that she has to go but now it’s official.  She says she is going to fight it but honestly I think she’s just throwing her money away because I don’t see that she has a leg to stand on.  And since my roommate moved out last week, I will be alone with 200 children.  Today my boss informed us that he has resigned.  I once told him that if he ever left Peace Corps that I would be done and on the first plane home.  This man has been my safety net here.  He has been with Peace Corps nearly as long as I have been alive and knows every single person in Namibia.  He understands the life of a volunteer and he can solve nearly any problem with just a phone call.  Over a year ago when I was having such a hard time with my host family, he was so wonderful.  Every time he had to call me he never accused me or blamed me for anything my host family complained about.  He only told me what they had said and offered suggestions for remedying the situation.  When I handed in my semi-annual reports, he always had really positive and encouraging feedback.  I know it will take Peace Corps several months to replace him and whoever they get won’t ever be a good.  However, the worst part of my week so far came in between these two occurrences.

I thought I had seen the worst of corporal punishment.  I can’t say I’ve gotten used to seeing teachers carrying their pieces of tires around the school, but it doesn’t get me quite as riled up as it used too.  Probably because I feel like I’ve seen less of them this year.  And this year our athletics day managed to go very smoothly without the use of weapons to control the kids.  However, I know it still happens at the school.  Several kids have showed me the bruises on their wrists.  It’s different to see bruises on dark skin.  I don’t notice them until the kids point them out, but then I can see where their skin is raised and slightly darker than the rest of the skin.  I know what that mark would look like on my white skin.  To be hit hard enough to make a lump that big on my wrist, my whole forearm would be various shades of black and blue and purple.  I asked the kids what they had done to earn those marks; one of them claimed he didn’t know and the other one said he was out of the classroom to use the toilet.  I thought I had even seen corporal punishment before.  I have definitely seen teachers chase after learners with sticks to get them into classrooms.  I even saw a teacher hit a couple of kids with a stick last year as he chased them across the athletics field and into the stands.  Every time I saw this, the kids were at least able to run away.  Yesterday was different.

Yesterday I was outside of my classroom during second period to greet my kids and welcome them into the classroom.  As I was nearing the end of the line some of the learners said “Miss, save those kids in there, Mr. Zero* is beating them.” (*name changed for the obvious reason)  I looked up and sure enough, in the classroom next to mine the teacher had a line of kids and one by one he was raising a stick above his head and hitting them across the hands a couple of times.  For a split second I thought about ignoring it and going into my classroom to teach my lesson.  That’s what the rest of the teachers at the school do.  But my kids were looking to me to do something.  But what?  Mr. Zero’s classroom is next to mine but the side of the classroom that faces mine is all windows and the door is on the other side.  I saw one of the windows was open and he was standing right next to it, so I walked over to the window not quite sure what I was going to do or say.  I was hoping that just me standing there might make him stop because he knows my opinion about corporal punishment and he knows it’s against the law.  Unfortunately he saw me walk up and continued.  I stuck my head and hand in the window and said “Will you please give me the stick?”  Was it the right thing to say, I don’t know.  I couldn’t think of anything else.  He looked me right in the face and said “No” as he raised the stick over his head again and beat the child right in front of me.

I turned on my heal and went to look for the principal.  As I walked towards his office, I started to feel really light headed.  Then I thought I was going to vomit.  I thought the first thing I was going to have to do was sit in his office and put my head between my knees before I could talk.  Unfortunately the principal wasn’t in his office and I realized he must be somewhere in the school fixing the broken desks.  There are 4 rows of classrooms at the school each with about 10 classrooms and he was somewhere in one of those rows.  As I was walking up and down, back and forth, Mr. Zero found me.  He told me that when I wanted to speak to him, I needed to come into his classroom.  He said that I should never talk to a teacher through their window.  He said his classroom had a door and that if I ever wanted to speak to him that I needed to use the door.  I tried to ask him what those kids had done to deserve that beating and all he could talk about was his stupid door.  I didn’t want to waste my time with him so I said, “I apologize.  I’m sorry that MY actions were the inappropriate ones.”  He seemed satisfied with that and I don’t think he realized my sarcasm.  As I walked away, I ran into one of my learners who I was suppose to be teaching just then.  He was holding my lesson plan book and asked me if he could start writing the lesson on the board.  I said sure and asked him if he had seen the principal.  He pointed to the next block over and thankfully there was the principal.  However, at this point tears were starting to come to my eyes.

Sometimes I hate being a girl.  In my head I just wanted to explain what happened and talk through a solution but unfortunately my body didn’t agree with my mind and tears started to fall.  In my head I was screaming at me to pull myself together and handle the situation but I couldn’t keep my eyes dry.  Amazingly enough I was able to explain the whole situation to the principal.  He called another female teacher into his office to also listen to what had happened.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard stories about that teacher doing the same thing.  My voice was calm and strong and under control but I couldn’t stop the damn tears from flowing.  The principal tried to call Mr. Zero to his office and told me to go wash my face.  After a few minutes I thought I had the tears under control.  I went back to his office.  The principal asked if I could return to my class now and come back to his office later.  I thought I could do that.  I may have been wrong.

As I walked back to my class, a couple tears started to fall again.  I tried to wipe them away.  When I got to my classroom, two boys were at the board trying to copy my lesson onto the board.  The rest of the class was quiet and trying to figure out what the boys were writing.  And this was one of the classes I struggle the most to control.  So of course I had to wipe away a couple more tears before I could go in.  Not that it helped, they could tell that I had been crying.  I thanked the boys for helping and tried to just pick up with the lesson.  Again, I sounded fine but water kept leaking out of my eyes.  Some of the kids asked why I was crying.  I tried to ignore them and continue with the lesson.  Some of the kids told me I must stop crying.  I tried to ignore them and continue with the lesson.  Some of the boys were whispering to each other that they were going to beat up Mr. Zero for making their teacher cry.  I ignored them cause I know they are too afraid of him to actually do that, but all their sweet sentiments just made it that much harder to stop the tears.  Thankfully we made it through the lesson.  A few weeks ago I said that the day I cry in front of my learners would be the day I go home.  I thought that day would be at the end of the school year when I had to say good bye to them.  I didn’t know it would come so soon.  I’m not quite sure how to continue from here.

I had to spend the rest of the day teaching with my door closed for fear that I would look out it and see the same scene again.  Out the other side of my classroom I watch another teacher chase learners into their classrooms with a stick after the tea break was finished.  I thought about going home but I managed to teach for the rest of the day.  The last period of the day was my free period but I didn’t think I could talk about what happened without the tears starting again so I just stayed in my classroom and got my work done.  After school I had a lot of kids stay to ask questions about their homework and a lot of them asked if they could borrow story books for their English assignment the next day.  So an hour and a half after school ended I took about 20 kids back to my house and watched as they pulled apart my bookshelves to find the book they wanted to borrow.  At least it was a nice end to the day but I still felt pretty shaken up.  I really didn’t think I could go back to school today and sit in the same staffroom as Mr. Zero and see teachers carrying their whips around the school.  I know it’s stupid but I felt kinda traumatized, so I wrote an email to the principal apologizing for my reaction.  I tried to explain to him why I reacted the way that I did and why it affected me so much.  In reality, I never expected such a physical reaction to actually seeing corporal punishment.  I told the principal I really needed a mental health day to collect myself.  So I stayed home today.  Tomorrow is Independence Day in Namibia so there is no school and I can ease back into things on Friday.  I which I knew there would be some kind of consequence for Mr. Zero’s actions, but unfortunately, I think that would be a lot to hope for.

For most of the day yesterday, I was questioning in my head whether or not I had done the right thing.  Now I have cried in front of my learners and possibly lost some of the respect that I have been working so hard for these past two years.  Was it worth it?  I wasn’t even able to stop him from hitting his line of children and my learners saw that.  Meaning I probably lost even more of their respect.  From their position, they saw their teacher try to stop corporal punishment, fail, and then cry about it.  Not really the kind of impression I wanted to make on them.  However, as I was feeling pretty down about myself and watching my learners work so quietly on their multiplication quiz, the lyrics to Brad Paisley’s song “What if she’s an Angel” popped into my head.

“What if she’s an angel sent here from heaven

And she’s making certain that you’re doing your best

To take the time to help one another

Brother are you going to pass that test

You can go on with your day to day

Trying to forget what you saw in her face

Knowing deep down you could have been her saving grace

What if she’s an angel.”

When I thought of that, I decided that I had done the right thing.  I had taken the time to try to help those little angels.  Unfortunately, as that class left the room, two of the girls said, “Miss, you must come and save us.  Miss Kane* has a whip and she’s going to hit us on the hands.”  (*name also changed) And I just let them go to English.  I didn’t know what I could do…

At the end of the day, I’m feeling pretty lonely.  Betty is going to leave me.  My boss is going to leave me.  And I’m pretty sure that I’m going to end up isolated from the rest of the staff for standing up to corporal punishment.  But all hope is not lost.  I was texting with one of my volunteer friends and she reminded me that I would only be crying sad tears until one of my learners did something so sweet or funny that I would be crying happy tears.

And just because I feel like I need to end on a happy note, I want to say some good things about the Namibian government since I was a little harsh on them in previous posts.  The money that they promised for the school actually came through and it was really quite generous.  In fact, there was enough money that we were able to buy a second copy machine.  Our school is so big that the wear and tear on the old one meant that it was usually out of order.  Thankfully both of them have been working great since we got a second one.  And, the government has provided us with enough copy papers that I have not had to buy any yet this year and I have made more copies than ever.  We also got a few notebooks and more are ordered and apparently on the way.  At least all of my kids have a book to write in now.   The government really came through.

Also, last week the principal called me into his office and told me that he would like me to create a list of ways I thought we could improve the school.  It was really one of those moments I had been hoping and praying for but never thought would actually happen.  I had resigned myself to the idea that my legacy in Namibia would be through the kids I taught.  I have about a million ideas of ways I thought the school could be improved, but I really didn’t think anyone would care to hear them.  Especially since I was told at a staff meeting last year that the way I run my classroom only works because I’m white so the kids automatically respect me.  I was told flat out that Africans can’t do the things that I do.  Ever since that day I’ve been leery about presenting my ideas.  I told the principal that I had a few thoughts but that I really couldn’t be the one to present them to the staff.  I said I would love to work together with him to come up with some ideas.  When I set about making my list, I decided to focus on giving him four main ideas.  I typed them up and he presented them to the management at the school who apparently thought they were all good ideas.  That was on Tuesday morning, so I have not had the opportunity to discuss the ideas any further with him.  I’m sure the news of me trying to stop Mr. Zero from beating kids has traveled through the school like wild fire and I’m not sure what that is going to do with my standing as a member of the staff.  I’m definitely not looking forward to going back to school on Friday.  But in the famous words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

TTFN, Marsha

 

What if She’s an Angel

Brad Paisley

There’s a man standing on the corner

With a sign sayin “will work for food”

You know the man

You see him every morning

The one you never give your money to

You can sit there with your window rolled up

Wondering when the lights going to turn green

Never knowing what a couple more bucks

In his pocket might mean

What if he’s an angel sent here from Heaven

And he’s making certain that you’re doing your best

To take the time to help one another

Brother are you going to pass that test

You can go on with your day to day

Trying to forget what you saw in his face

Knowing deep down it could have been his saving grace

What if he’s an angel

There’s a man

And there’s a woman

Living right above you in apartment G

There’s a lot of noise coming through the ceiling

And it don’t sound like harmony

You can sit there with your TV turned up

While the word and his anger fly

Come tomorrow when you see her with her shades on

Can you look her in the eye

What if she’s an angel sent here from Heaven

And she’s making certain that you’re doing your best

To take the time to help one another

Brother are you going to pass that test

You can go on with your day to day

Trying to forget what you saw in her face

Knowing deep down it could have been her saving grace

What if she’s an angel

A little girl on Daddy’s lap

Hiding her disease with a baseball cap

You can turn the channel

Most people do

But what if you were sitting in her Daddy’s shoes

Maybe she’s an angel sent here from Heaven

And she’s making certain you’re doing your best

To take the time to help one another

Brother are you going to pass that test

You can go on with your day to day

Trying to forget what you saw in her face

Knowing deep down it could have been her saving grace

What if she’s an angel

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