Monday, September 29, 2008

Friday’s are always good, but this Friday was even better, thanks to ending the day with a great lesson to the grade 8s. We are about to start a study of area and volume, so I was introducing a few definitions. I wrote the definitions and drew examples for a square and a rectangle before unleashing the chaos.

As part of an assignment during my teaching internship I had interviewed students (in America). I was shocked to find out that none of those I interviewed fully grasped power of the definitions of a square and rectangle, realizing that a square was in fact, also a rectangle. My first class on Friday was the other grade 8 classroom, so I already knew that learners in Namibia weren’t different from those Americans in this respect.

I asked the learners if they understood the definitions. (They always say yes regardless of if they do, think they do but really don’t, or don’t.) I pointed to the picture of a square and asked them if it was a square. YES! I asked them if the rectangle was a square. NO! I asked them if the rectangle was a rectangle. YES! So far, so good. Then I asked them if a square was a rectangle. NO!

(No doubt some of you as well don’t recognize the error. It’s okay, but I must clarify before proceeding. A rectangle is a four sided figure with four right angles. A square is a four sided figure with four right angles AND all four sides are the same length. Squares are a subset of rectangles. Namibian learners don’t understand the word “subset.”)

I shook my head with a smile on my face. I pointed to the definition of rectangle and pointed to the drawing of the square asking Does this have four sides? YES! Does this have four right angles? YES! Then, is it a rectangle? NO! Again I smiled and shook my head and repeated the whole process three or four more times.

After pretending to bang my head on the board in frustration – they just love when I do that – I stopped and pretended to start on something new. I asked those learners who are from the Kavango region to stand up. Okay, sit down, and those learners who are from Namibia stand up. Every learner stood up. I told Enock to sit down; he could not stand up for Namibia because I saw him stand up for Kavango. He reluctantly sat down, so I continued. I told Immanuel to sit down but he explained to me that it was true that he was from both Kavango and Namibia. Right as he said that several of the other learners had that “ah ha” moment and someone shouted out “like a square and rectangle!”

Then I drew an outline of Namibia on the chalkboard and shaded in the Kavango region. As I traced the outline of Namibia and then Kavango, I said “this is…rectangles” and “this is…squares.” Then I drew Windhoek and Nkurenkuru, saying Windhoek is a rectangle that is not a square, like the example over there, and this (Nkurenkuru) is a rectangle that is also a square. Most of the remaining learners then had their “ah ha” moment and the classroom got brighter as the figurative light bulbs lit up.

The next definition was for a parallelogram. I wrote the definition, drew and had them draw several examples of parallelograms and non-parallelograms, then drew the outline of Africa around the Namibian rectangle, and the room brightened once again.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Kim and Hana, here are the pictures. I just saw your comments today

Here’s what you have missed since my last blog entry.

• Part 2 of our trip to Tanzania – it was great and worth writing about, but extremely time consuming and seemingly a waste of time given the great writer who accompanied me on the trip. You can read Lindsey’s account on her blog:
• The second term of school – pretty uneventful. Lindsey’s AIDS club hosted a talent show at her school. It was winter, meaning it was cold at night and in the mornings. I think it almost froze in the south. Here, are lows were in the single digits (Celsius). We each took 8 learners to EWA, a gender and leadership conference in Rundu put on by the area PC volunteers. In the classroom, the grade 8’s continued to test my nerves – “refusing” to “learn” fractions and general apathy. The grade 9’s continued to impress me with their work ethic.
• August vacation – we spent a week in Swakopmund at a house ON(!) the beach, shopping, eating great food, watching the Olympics and forgetting that we were in Africa. Then we went on a 4 day hike at Waterburg Plateau. We were expecting to see a lot of animals, especially rhinos, but only saw a few (and no rhinos). However, the scenery and company were great, so no complaints. The Dark Knight.
• PC Conference in Windhoek – our completion of service conference. PC put us up in a plush lodge and we got all the details on going home. This was also the last time that we’ll probably see a lot of the volunteers that are not in the Kavango Region.
• PC releases us Dec 3 after a week long check out in Windhoek. We chose to cash in our plane tickets and spend some time traveling before returning to our beloved country. We’re going to go on a tour through Mozambiue, next see Kruger Game Park in South Africa, then rent a car and leisurely drive down the coast to Cape Town. We’ll arrive home January 19. Part of us really wanted to come straight home as soon as we finished, but we thought me might later regret not taking advantage of the great travel opportunities.

Now we are about to start the fourth week of the third and final term. Aside from lesson plans and grading, my thoughts have been focus on two things: leaving and the election.
The PC conference destroyed any remaining delusions volunteers may have had about not facing the reality of our impending departure. It’s really hard to believe that it’s (almost) time to go. It still feels like we just arrived. At the beginning, two years seemed like such a long time that it didn’t feel that much different than ten years, or permanently. It crept up slowly, but now its here. I am sad to leave the people I’ve become close to: volunteers, locals and learners. There are also many cultural aspects that I will miss, and surely others that I can’t even comprehend now. I think about when I was home last Christmas and was missing Namibia. This time when I go home there will be no return. I have made a list of things I want to do before going home and have done a pretty good job of doing them. The only remaining big one is hosting another goat braii, which will be in two weeks. But don’t get me wrong, I am itching to be back in America. Lindsey asked me the other day about the thing I was looking forward to the most. It was a difficult question, but I answered that it was just feeling a part of it all. Of my family, friends, culture, country. I have dreams almost every night about being in America – similar to the dreams I had when I first arrived here – and I wake up not knowing where in the world I am (literally, lol).
Now that we are accessing the internet almost daily, I am following the election as best I can. I was also able to see a replay of Palin’s speech at the Republican convention while in Windhoek, and stayed up for McCain’s speech only to fall asleep half way through at about 4am. After being fairly confident in the American people to elect Obama, I have become worried after this “Palin bump.” In a certain aspect, its interesting to see what the GOP will come up with next, they are no doubt very cunning and clever (good “politicking” I guess). Who would have thought that they would have tried to steal the ideal of change, much less to have been successful doing so. It’s like regardless of a statements accuracy or truth, if you keep saying it over and over again people will believe it (i.e. Palin’s against pork barreling; McCain and Palin will reform Washington; off-shore drilling would lower gas prices, much less solve the American oil addiction; or that global warming was not caused by humans).
But on the other hand, the Republican’s spin (dare I say “propaganda”?) is scary; this is a serious matter, the country’s well being is at stake. To be clear, I’m not angry at the faithful Republican supporters, I know they have their reasons (thought of obviously I don’t agree), I just can’t get over and how people can be swayed so easily by repetitive talking or an inexperienced, good-looking, simple- and smooth-talking woman. Can anyone (anyone?) really believe that now, all of the sudden, Republicans support women? That’s why the choice of Palin is so sleazy. Why does it seem like no one sees that?
After receiving two mail-in ballots for local elections after the election date I, was getting nervous my vote wouldn’t be counted. However, PC has arranged for us to get write in ballots which will then be shipped back in plenty of time. We should be getting them any day now… I am so anxious for the election. I am predicting absolute exuberance or extreme anger and disappointment. Sarah, Lindsey and I are planning to stay up (or maybe wake up early) and watch the returns live, which should start coming in when the polls close at 3am Nam time.
I am going to try and write more often from here on out. We’ll see.

Monday, June 02, 2008


We have been back from Tanzania for three weeks now, but it has taken me a long time to type up this blog entry – and I’m still not finished. Part 1 is our journey to Mr. Urassa’s home on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Part 2 will come later; I hope I won’t need another three weeks to type it or I’ll forget everything I did. The second term is now back in full swing. It’s gong rather well now that we’re finally coming to terms with the fact that we can’t stay in Tanzania forever. We had parent-teacher meetings, but other than that it is rather uneventful. I’m supervising study this week, which means I’m at school WAY too much. My ninth grade class is practicing solving equations. I’ve really enjoyed teaching them algebra – it’s my favorite part of math. Physical science is also going well: atoms. Eighth grade math is dragging; we’re converting between fractions and decimals, but its mind numbing “reteaching” the things they are “supposed” to know. I have to go to school for evening study RIGHT NOW, so, without further ado:

Part 1: Kilimanjaro

Traveling to Tanzania
Nkurenkuru to Rundu (2 hours) to Katima (5 hours) to Linvingstone, Zambia (4 hours) to Lusaka (6 hours) to Tanzanian Border (14 hours) to Chalinze (10 hours) to Moshi (5 hours) to Machame/Nkuu (1 hour). That’s 47 total hours, but it took us 5 days waiting for buses, waiting at police checkpoints, waiting for food, waiting to replace a tire, waiting at the weigh stations, waiting for the sun to come up, waiting for the brakes to be fixed. We were in such good spirits, though, with the excitement of our travel, seeing the new land, and enjoying the company of my colleague, Mr. Urassa, who was taking us to his home in the village of Nkuu, literally on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Nkuu might not be on Google Earth, but Machame should be if you want to see).
Before I can continue, I must say more about Mr. Urassa. Mr. Urassa is an extreme extrovert, courteous, boisterous, confusing, hilarious, contradictory, completely unique and absolutely unforgettable. During basketball, volleyball, staff meetings or just regular conversation he is always saying “thank you very much” or “you are welcome” whether it is relevant or not. As Jarrod pointed out when he visited, he uses “you are welcome” in the correct (literal) sense, not simply as a nonchalant reply to “thank you,” and he never uses the contraction “you’re.” The welcoming nature of Mr. Urassa first became apparent a year ago when he invited Lindsey and me to his home. We quickly agreed, and since that day the stories and promises of welcoming customs persisted with increasing frequency. He said he lived on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro. He said bananas, coffee, and avocados grew in such abundance that they would rot on the jungle floor or be fed to animals. He said there were random waterfalls. He said we wouldn’t have to pay for anything while we were under his care. Lindsey and I chuckled, rolled our eyes, and wondered what it would really be like…
Before we left Namibia he had already started “welcoming us.” When we were waiting for our ride in Rundu, he ran in to the petrol station and bought us some Cokes. We thanked him and said he didn’t need to do that. He smiled, said “this is only the beginning” and opened his small, hard-cased Japanese suitcase. Inside were only two things: a black plastic bag and a towel. He pulled out the bag and inside were several Russians (a.k.a. Russian sausages). So we dined.
Along the way there were four instances I can remember when people said “Oh yeah, I remember you” with a grin on their face. I can only imagine how many other people also delighted in seeing him again but didn’t say anything. This made him a very nice travel companion, especially in Lusaka and at the border town between Tanzania and Zambia, where a lot of people had trouble seeing past our white skin.
True to his word, along the way he refused to let us pay for anything, and bought us anything we looked at, even when we weren’t interested. We feasted on bananas (roasted and fresh), oranges, grilled goat, French fries, roasted corn, samosas (like egg rolls, but triangular), and pineapples. The pineapples put Namibia and even Hawaii to shame – my mouth is watering now thinking about them again.
In Namibia we travel around in vans (combis) or pickups (baakies), but Zambia and Tanzania have way more people, so there are several large busses that travel from town to town. They vary in comfort, but all (except one) seem to be in less-than-perfect condition. It was common to stop every few hours to change a tire or have a guy crawl under the bus to do something. However, one time we had a more serious problem. In the middle of the night in Zambia our bus came to a stop. At first I just thought it was the typical flat tire and we’d be back on the road again shortly. But after a while people started looking worried (we couldn’t understand what they were saying) and some were taking their bags off the bus. Lindsey went to check what had happened and came back quite flustered. The entire wheel was bent (this probably happened a few hours earlier when our driver took the bus off road to pass about 15 other buses and trucks in line at the weigh station). We both had Oh No! running though our heads, and by this time everyone had piled out of the bus; we decided to wake up Mr. Urassa. In a few minutes taxis started arriving. This was inexplicable, because it seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere, we hadn’t passed anything in hours and, after all, it was the middle of the night. By our good fortune we were only a few k from a very small town called Mpika. As more time went by, some of the buses we passed at the weigh station came by. Some stopped and some didn’t. If I was on one those buses I really would have been laughing. Those that stopped had room for two or three new passengers, while about 20 rushed and pushed at the opening. With our big bags, tired bodies and Western manners, we were never able to penetrate through. Eventually we got a taxi into Mpika. I quickly spotted the bench I planned to make my bed for the night. However, after about 15 minutes of sitting and staring at an empty road and a black sky, a mini bus appeared (from nowhere) and turned off the road (to nowhere) and shockingly was empty. Urassa went straight for it. Within a few minutes it turned around to come and pick us up. By the time we had our bags and were walking to it, several of our fellow passengers from the previous bus materialized (from nowhere!) and started rushing and pushing. We calmly kept our cool and luckily made it inside. It wasn’t a comfortable ride, but they did play some Johnny Cash and got us to the border in the nick of time.

Urassa’s home
We would have arrived at Mr. Urassa’s home before night fall had he so wished, but we took our sweet time. He introduced us to his “sister” and “brother” in Moshi and went to several establishments for grilled goat, fried bananas and cold beer (Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Tusker, Safari). At one place he told me that Serengeti beer had a leopard on the label because Serengeti park is the only place in the world you can see leopards (which isn’t true…yet). Eventually we set off to Nkuu. For the last half of the hour drive, we started ascending the mountain, and the road gradually deteriorates from paved to washed away mud and rocks. We stopped several times before reaching his house to greet and be welcomed by friends and brothers – it seemed to take hours to travel what should have taken 10 minutes through the village.
When we finally arrived at the house, the wife and daughter met us and then quickly prepared a dinner of stewed bananas and beef, with avocados and beer. We ate every meal by ourselves on stools in the living room, sometimes watching TV but mostly not. (It seemed weird that we were eating alone, but it must have been part of their culture.) His living room is decorated with several calendars, a Fanta beach ball, and a tennis racket. The TV remote was covered in plastic. The entire perimeter is outlined with couches except for the entertainment center and Xerox machine. After dinner we got the tour of the place. Modest by your standards, but very nice for Africa; would have been a palace in Namibia. In a lot of African countries, people invest their money by developing homes in the large towns or cities, but in Tanzania they build up their home in the village. Our car could barely travel up and down side of the mountain, through the mud, and over the large rocks – I can’t imagine transporting the materials for a house. There are even several houses built along walking trails (not roads), and it’s not like these are small cabins in the woods, they are real, full houses. Urassa’s house had a large living room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms and a store. Adjacent was a guest house with 3 more rooms, a chicken coop, and a barn with cows and pigs. And a bathroom – if you can call it that. In Tanzania the common toilet is the hole in the ground, which I never quite got used to. Across the country they ranged in comfort; from an uncovered concrete slab to a porcelain bowl that actually flushed (but still no where to sit). At Urassa’s it was a concrete slab with a piece of wood covering the whole, a bucket of water, and toilet paper. I never saw toilet paper anywhere else in the country, so I guess that is what the water was for but I can’t exactly figure it out. I think that’s why it is so important that they only eat and shake with their right hand. I think it is funny that they had a boy’s and girl’s toilet that were exactly the same. I used both.
The wife’s name was Mamanema and Urassa sometimes called her Manema, because the oldest child’s name is Nema. You see, in Tanzania, after giving birth to her first child the mama changes her name to “MamaChild.” I wonder what Mamascott thinks about that? For some reason it made me think of the American South. The next morning Mamanema made us chai, fat cakes and fried bananas and then Mr. Urassa showed us around the village. Before getting too drunk we made a stop at the two village schools. Like most schools in Africa, they are short on resources. Mamanema is the principal at the junior school. The staff at the senior school made a big deal out of meeting us. I couldn’t figure out why they were all in the staff room around ten o’clock. They said it was break time but we were there for almost an hour. Meanwhile all the kids from both schools were running amuck, playing soccer, gardening and staring at the mzungu. The principal brought us into his office, sat us down, and told us a sob story about the financial situation of the school. It was an awkward situation. We are going to send some books back with Mr. Urassa during the next school break.
The roads were more like trails through the jungle. Coffee, avocado and banana trees grew at will from the pitch black soil. Usually it was partly cloudy, but you got the feeling that you were partly in the clouds as well. We stopped at each one of his friend’s houses along the road, so we unwillingly had drank several warm beers before noon. Not only warm beer, but we also had banana beer. Banana beer? Yes. It’s not exactly beer, but there is alcohol in it. It doesn’t taste as bad as I thought that it would, so it wasn’t too bad pretending to like it (and in some instances pretending to drink it). It was served in very big yellow cups that we passed around in a circle. It was so cheap that every one of his friends (or “brothers”) was able to buy another cup to pass around.
Other than that short stop at the school, that entire day was a cycle of going from house to house, warm beer to warm beer. Primitive bar hopping if you will. They way they treat guests is very flattering, though sometimes strange. For example, one old man insisted we come into his house. We sat down, he turned on and blared the radio, then left the room. Urassa never even entered. In a few minutes the host brought us some boiled eggs and salt. When we had finished the eggs, Mr. Urassa informed us that “in our honor and out of the highest respect he had prepared us [more] food.” This time it was bananas and beans. It was really good and probably my favorite banana dish I had in Tanzania (cooked bananas taste like potatoes).
The next day was more of the same. We started off with promises of going to Mr. Urassa’s farm, but we stopped at every other house for a visit and beer or cup of banana brew. It was mid-afternoon before we had made it more than a few kilometers, so we relegated to just going around the village again (I wonder if Mr. Urassa ever really intended on taking us to the farm?). We finished that days journey at a bar overlooking a long field of green grass (we are not used to seeing grass). There were cows and goats, several small kids, and some people playing soccer. We ate some grilled goat meat and sipped our cold(!) beers as Mr. Urassa told us that this is the best place to view Kilimanjaro. Huh? What? Where!?! For the third day in a row, the mountain was covered by clouds.
On our last day with Urassa we went to Moshi. We didn’t have a ride this day, so we had to walk to the hike point (Americans read: bus stop or taxi line). Urassa would never give us any information in advance, and this was no exception. So when we started walking I wasn’t sure if we were just escorting his wife to work (he didn’t tell us that she was also coming to Moshi), going somewhere to drink, going to our ride, or walking all the way to Moshi – and I didn’t care either. The walk was beautiful; giant trees, foggy mist, beautiful flowers. We took several pictures and insisted of getting one of Mr. and Mrs. Urassa in front of a waterfall. Africans taking pictures are funny enough because they don’t know how to smile, but Mr. Urassa cracked me up. He posed indifferently and didn’t even look at the camera. Then we asked him to take a picture of us. He snapped it before we were ready with about a 30 degree angle. (Kim, this reminds me of your family picture with the guy’s foot also in frame.) As the walk went on, it started to rain and it seemed the incline of the hills got steeper. Because I didn’t know we were doing a mountain walk that morning, I was wearing my Old Navy flip flips. Big mistake. I could barely walk up or down, and it didn’t help matters the path was 8 inches wide in some parts, muddy in others, occasionally both, and always on unleveled ground. Locals would pass us carrying things on their heads wearing raggedy clothes and big ass rain boots. Mr. Urassa wondered out of sight ahead of us, thankfully the Mrs. had enough sense to stay with us. When we finally reached where we were going (which was the place to wait for a dalla dalla) we were in for a fantastic surprise.
Samosas! They are from India, containing a hodgepodge of vegetables and usually potatoes. One advantage over egg rolls is that they always contain meat. We first found them in Lusaka; as we got closer to the Indian Ocean they became more common. Typically a whole batch of them will be made at once, so they are rarely hot (a food pet peeve of mine, along with noodles that stick together). But when we arrived at the hike point it was still early, so the samosas we found were fresh and steaming hot. You never know what you’re going to bite into; these were filled with goat, chilies and onion in perfect ratio (a lot of meat!). Lindsey and I quickly devoured the five that Mr. Urassa bought for us – the cost, about 50 cents. Ashamed and trying to be polite we then refused when he and Mamanema insisted on buying more for us. Eventually we gave in (actually we didn’t have a choice, he just bought them for us). After that I never had the urge for samosas again. Not because I had been turned off but because I was completely and utterly satisfied and I knew there was no way of having a better samosa then the seven I scarfed down on that fine day; like why Michael Jordan shouldn’t have come back to play for the Wizards.
“Dalla dalla” must mean mass transit in Swahili. They can be trucks or vans. The vans have special accommodations for extra people, like tall ceilings for standing room only and handle bars on the outside to help those people that are standing on the bumper. Unlike Namibia, they use a conductor (separate from the driver) that deals with the passengers (the driver just drives). At each stop he slides open the door or throws suitcases on top, collects money, ushers in new customers, then slaps the roof to let the driver know they are ready to go – that would always remind me of ambulances from the days when I watched E.R. A lot of time the conductor will give the signal to the driver before he is inside or on the bumper. I remember one time the driver took off a little faster than the conductor expected and he had to sprint to catch up, hop in, and then close the door. You get used to the transportation situation in Africa, but it seems I always underestimate when the vehicle is “full.” Every time, these dalla dallas squeezed in about 10 more people past what I thought would have been capacity. Maybe “dalla dalla” means clown car.
After about an hour of stopping every few minutes to exchange passengers, we arrived in Moshi. Moshi is Mr. Urassa’s town (as opposed to his village). Our stated purpose for this day was to check the bus station and times of departure, but he wanted to start off by showing us around his favorite places and forcing us to eat and drink. We went with a brisk walk through town, though not the most direct route, and this was very curious to me given that this was his town. At one point we stopped, looked around, then backtracked. Confused, but not wanting to show it, he took us into the nearest restaurant with the pretext that we would dine together. Neither of us were hungry, but we obliged. We ordered and he paid while we sat down, then he disappeared. We ate what we could of the rice, beans, and goat and then sat and waited for Mr. Urassa to return. He came in frantically, asked if we were finished, and hurried us outside. He then took us directly to his “favorite” restaurant and was shocked that we refused to eat. I think he was so consumed by finding this second restaurant that he didn’t realize we had already eaten breakfast and then goat samosas before he had just dropped us off at the first restaurant.
After he finished his meal, we wandered around the hectic bus station, never really finding out any information about a bus, other than that they left early in the morning – which we already knew. After a while, we parted with Urassa and enjoyed the afternoon by wandering around and buying a few souvenirs, including a really cool oil painting of an elephant. When we met up with Urassa he brought us beers before we went with his “brother” Emmanuel back to Nkuu. Emmanuel drove an old Peugeot with red velvet seats. I thought the car was sweet. He didn’t, and mentioned that it was really the best he could do because he was so poor. On the way back to Nkuu something in the engine busted. I thought the car was dead, but after a while it was “fixed”, only now the engine was terribly loud. I felt bad for Emmanuel that he had this problem with his car while he was assisting us, but I was more nervous because he had agreed to take us back to Moshi the following morning. (That ride the next morning turned out fine, except for the fact that Emmanuel gave us a letter asking us for $20,000 to buy a Japanese car.)
More memorable than the near breakdown was our first viewing of Kilimanjaro on that ride back to the village. Up until then, it had been entirely covered by clouds. It would have been a shame to have been so close without actually seeing it. The clouds broke up only around the peak, but it was impressive nonetheless. The color and shadows of the snow were really cool, but the height of it was mind boggling. Previously, when it was covered in clouds, I had tried to imagine its height, size, and location, but I was way off. I would look at the horizon then tilt my head back so I was looking to where I guessed it would be. But when I actually saw it I had to tilt my head back two or three times as far. I didn’t think it was possible for anything to be that big or reach that high into the sky. The angle my neck had to make was unforgettable. Urassa told the truth, he really does live on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Independence Weekend

Namibia turned 18 on March 21. We were out of school extra long with the Easter combo weekend. As I told you we were planning on traveling the (im)possible road west, which we did. We traveled in a diesel Land Cruiser which really made the road seem like cake. We splashed through mud, sand, holes, trenches, goats, donkeys, cattle, broken glass, flooded oshanas, and police check points.

It was random circumstances and an overly generous local that allowed us to travel so nicely. To say that most vehicles in Namibia are not served regularly is quite an understatement. It is rare to find one that simply runs “nice,” but to be able to drive on that road alone is something special. We passed the other traffic going about twice their speed, and with our skin color, we were easily recognized by various learners, colleagues, and friends as our diesel overtook them.

Ovamboland was flooded as we drove though. They typically have large “puddles” of water called oshanas following the rainy season. But a season of higher than normal rains as well as Angola releasing their flood gates has caused the oshanas to overflow into one another and even to come up to the road (it’s supposed to get worse). There were many locals capitalizing on the new fishing opportunities. The lucky ones had poles; others used nets, spears or their hands. Some even used their mosquito nets.

But aren’t the nets treated with insecticide? Yes they are, so they are polluting an already cholera-infested water system. Why would they use their net that protects them from malaria? Because it was free and they don’t use it anyway (Sorry Rick Riley but you’ll never be able to protect EVERYONE from malaria). This is not the only incidence of mismanaged aid in Namibia, or even Ovamboland. There have been reports of residents of other areas showing up to receive the disaster rations. To digress even further, I feel the need to give another ridiculous example of mismanaged foreign aid. Something like several hundred million Namibian dollars was given to the Namibian National Teachers Union (NaNTU) by a U.S. AIDS group (probably PEPFAR – The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). Apparently, the money was given to NaNTU without any restrictions, because they decided to distribute the money to all the HIV positive teachers in the form of N$75 food vouchers (roughly US$10). Despite the mindset of many politicians and philanthropists, money alone won’t fix most problems – especially in an environment as rife with corruption and poverty as Africa. Don’t read too far into my cynicism.

Back to the weekend. We reached Ruacana Falls on Friday. The falls are really special because of how close you can get to them. Sudden and certain death awaits the smallest slip or mistake, which in the end made it more impressive than Vic Falls, despite the smaller scale.

Our campsite was a conservatory, meaning that it was run by locals. Some of our friends had been before, and were smart enough to reserve campsite 1, which was campsite #1. It was settled in the middle of the valley between some bluffs and the Kunene River. The fire pit was a surrounded by a large concrete circle and a 3 foot wall/bench. Recent rains and floods, though, had caused part of the campsite to collapse into the river, including a third of the fire circle. What remained was a still a big fire area, but now the side next to the river was open, and an 8 foot drop to the river below, which turned a safe, good view into a slightly dangerous, great view of an island in the middle of the river that was infested with giant crocodiles. Only now that the river was flooded, the crocs were homeless. So of course the fearless Americans threw their KFC remains below trying to tempt the croc, to no avail.

From the top of the bluffs we could overlook the entire camp grounds, croc island, Angolan mountains and Namibian green, rolling hills. I’ve come to appreciate the interaction of ecosystems more than scenery. So while others were admiring the views, I was thinking about the millions of dragon flies swarming peacefully above us. There sheer number was impressive. Not only were they soaring in and out of the mist at the falls but they were also at our campsite, everywhere in between and presumably downstream as well. Their food was my main enemy: mosquitoes.

The dominant organism in the ecosystem looked like a caterpillar, but in fact was a worm – I think. (There were also a lot of moths around, so I assumed they could have been caterpillars. But these worms were much larger than the moths so it seems unlikely they were the same species.) They were massive inch worms, ranging in color from light blue, to neon green, yellow or red. Spots and small black “horns” speckled and protruded along their back. They appeared very menacing, but the small black horns were actually just hairs. There was a rumor going around that if they touched your skin it would burn you, but my friend Cedar held one with ease. Like the dragon flies, their numbers were impressive. You could find them at any given time during the whole weekend by just observing the plants around you. When you instantly found a branch – or in some cases an entire tree – that had been stripped of all its leaves, you would also see hundreds of these worms eating away.

We spent one morning hiking around the camp grounds. We crossed a tributary, viewed some rapids, and climbed around on rocks. That afternoon we went to the falls. The path to the bottom looks innocent to start. After a short time, it starts to descend down old concrete stairs (reinforced by a wobbly hand rail on one side) and through over grown vegetation. After walking for a few minutes a man came up the steps that looked to have been completely submerged underwater. A few more minutes and a few more drenched people and I began to realize I would soon be as wet as them. First the mist felt like a small sprinkle, but it gained strength with every step. Soon the mist from above us came trickling by in a nicely built concrete ditch to the side of the stairs. But the trickle also gained strength step by step, and unable to be contained in the ditch, the stream of water rushed over the steps, spilling onto the following step – and this pattern continued for the bottom half of the 500 steps. When we had almost completed our descent, the path emerged from the vegetation and we were unprotected from the torrential mist. At this point my right hand and arm had to block the pain of the mist on my face, so I wasn’t able to hold on to the hand rail – which was okay, because the handrail was now covered in a thick slick layer of algae. The algae were also growing on the steps under the rushing water. In the sun at the top of the falls we thought the bottom would be a great way to cool off (and it was), but after being there a few minutes the mist and wind became too miserable to tolerate any longer. By the time we reached the top again we were tired, wet and cold, so we just sat in the sun on the rocks overlooking the falls drying, relaxing, talking, and observing.

By the time we returned to the campsite we were exhausted, but climbed the bluffs again to watch the sunset. This second night was less cloudy then the first night, and turned out to be quite a colorful display.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

In my last entry I wrote about building a school in the bush. Things aren’t looking good. The PCPP doesn’t sponsor such large projects or projects that are the responsibility of the government. We received reply from only one of the several Namibian companies we solicited. They turned us down because they said if other schools found out about it, then they would be solicited by more and more schools. And they argued that it was the responsibility of the government. Can’t say I disagree. So it doesn’t look like that project is going anywhere.
After developing a relationship with the bank manger on this issue, I asked him if he would be able to give a loan to a worker at my school. You remember the woman who benefited from the donation of a sewing machine? She has formed a small group that makes and sells some things. A few weeks ago she was asking some teachers at my school for a small loan (N$500) to purchase materials. The teachers all refused so I told her I might be able to help her out with my contact at the bank. I asked the bank manager after one of our meetings if he knew about micro-financing. His eyes lit up like he did in fact know what I was talking about, but it turned out he thought it was the same as a small business loan. He started talking about loans of several thousand dollars. I chuckled and re-explained the situation. A small, personal loan seemed more suitable, if she qualified. But I am perplexed how a bank manager in rural Africa doesn’t know about micro financing. I am wondering if anyone reading this knows a little more? Possibly a worldwide database or a country by country guide?
During the loan negotiations I became irritated with the ridiculous banking fees and it slowly became apparent the meme was not going to get approved simply because she did not make enough money. The fee that really set me off was a $500 administration fee on a $5000 loan. That’s 10%!!! The interest rate was only 3%. My immediate repulsion got him to show me the document explaining the fees. There was no explanation, just a paper showing the minimum and maximum amounts for administration fees based on the principle. All the maximums were highlighted! When I asked why, he said that the information came from a circular (meaning it was declared by the corporate office in a memo). Ridiculous, but not unexpected. Whenever I take money out of the BOB (ATM) there are monthly fees, transaction fee, transaction duty, S/fee, admin fees, and a laughably miniscule interest payment. I no longer will laugh when I see commercials offering free banking and checking.
So it seems the meme is up a creek, for now. I am hoping to be able to find a micro-lending source.
Also since my last entry I have had my hours reduced from 37 to 30. It’s been less than a week, but it has made all the difference. I can now finish some of my lesson planning and school work during my off periods – not to mention having less lesson planning and grading to do. I’m really thankful that I’ll have fewer exams to grade in a month when the first term ends. I was hoping to be relieved of one of my grade 8 classes, but it was one of my two grade 9 classes. It’s ok, though. My remaining grade 9 class is my favorite class and they are much brighter. I’ll be able to work at a slightly faster and more challenging pace with them now that I don’t have the others holding them/me back.
This upcoming week is only 3 days. The Independence Day holiday is coming up, and with Easter Monday, that gives us a 5 day weekend and then another short week. Namibia will be now be legal – 18 years. We are traveling to Ruacana Falls, a waterfall in the northwest part of the country. I am excited for several reasons. First, the five day weekend. Second, we’re going to meet up with several volunteers we haven’t seen in several months, in particular our co-Missourian, Adam. Third, camping at a waterfall. Fourth, we are going to attempt to travel THE impossible road. That is, going west from our village. The road is “impossible” simply because it’s infrequently traveled and desolate. Most people to Ovamboland travel through Tsumeb on the paved road from Rundu. However, going directly west, will save us many hours and give us quite the sense of accomplishment. Adam and another friend, Paul, tried making the journey about a year ago and were left stranded at about the half way point. Suckers. It will really be great to rub our success in their faces.
Our next vacation, which will be to Tanzania, is approaching fast. We are going to spend a week at the village of one of my favorite colleagues, Mr. Urassa. The village is on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the midst of lush jungle vegetation of bananas and coffee. Then we are going to the beach. We will stay for a few days in the costal city of Dar es Salaam and also the island of Zanzibar. To break up some of the traveling, we are also going to stop at Vic Falls (again) on our way back through Zambia.
I had been looking forward to March 4 (Ohio and Texas) as the day the election gut wrenching would be over. I was predicting more Obama victories and Hillary’s surrender. Sadly, it drags on. It’s amusing and confusing trying to explain state primaries and delegates to the people here. Superdelegates, endorsements, and re-votes are head spinning. The electoral college is foolishly antiquated.
I mentioned in my previous post that we were not able to return from the states with the 300+ books that had been donated to us. Now it looks like we might finally be getting somewhere on the shipping. A group of returned peace corps volunteers (or RPCVs for acronym lovers, or AL) from Columbia (CoMo) look to sponsor small projects from Mid-Mo PCVs, and may donate the part of all of the shipping cost. Also, a friend in Farmington has been collecting some money. Between these two sources we should be able to get it taken care of. We received the dictionaries purchased by the Farmington Lions Club relatively quickly, so we hope we’ll see these books added to our libraries soon, too.
Alas, we have reliable internet now, so I hope these blog posts can be more frequent.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Since my last entry, my number of periods still hasn't been reduced.
We are supposed to hire a new teacher this weekend, but they will be
given the agriculture and biology classes from the teacher who never
returned to school. I won't be relieved of my hours anytime soon…
This week I was supervising silent study in the afternoons and
evenings and made the mistake of testing in all of my classes as well.
So I was incredibly busy marking, supervising, planning and teaching.
Friday never felt so good.
A few weeks ago I got a call from the manager of the bank in town.
He had received a letter from the principal of an elementary school in
the bush. The principal was requesting assistance in building a
school building and fence. Currently they are meeting under a tree.
When it rains they go into huts. I helped him edit the letters and
background information that he was planning to send to potential
donors. I also thought that I might be able to use the Peace Corps
Partnership Project (PCPP) to help with funding. However the
anticipated cost of a building a school building (over $US40k) is
much, much larger than the size of projects PCPP typically funds
($3-5k). That was quite a bummer, but we are continuing to work. He
is now in the process of making a detailed budget, and we are hoping
that in the end the costs won't be so high. We are also thinking that
maybe then we could get different groups to contribute different parts
of the construction. However, I don't think the PCPP will fund parts
of projects. The guy at the bank is very motivated, though, so I
don't mind assisting him. And, its refreshing that he sees me as
someone he can get advice from, not dollars.
Not only is he interested in constructing this school, but he also
wants to get a community centre/group together. I introduced him to
the new PC volunteer that just started here in Nkurenkuru, Sarah. She
works at the hospital and is interested in doing some community
activities. She was happy and eager to work with this man, and I was
happy to pass that on. More later on what they come up with…
I'm still struggling with the grade 8s. In math, I was teaching them
the divisibility rules of 2, 3, and 5. First I showed them 2 and 5
(where you can see any number is divisible just by considering the
last digit of the number), they were thrilled with how easy it was. I
then gave them many, many examples both of numbers that were and
numbers that were not divisible by three, hoping that someone would be
able to see the pattern. No one could, not even those repeating grade
8. That wasn't too disappointing, it was kind of difficult. So the
next day I told them the rule: that you add up all the digits of the
number, and if the sum is 3,6, or 9, the number is divisible by 3. We
did several examples and they were able to do it perfectly. The
homework I gave them was to answer yes or no about the divisibility of
2, 3 and 5 for several large numbers. Wouldn't you know that that
once they learned the rule for 3, they were also trying to add the
digits to find the divisibility of 2 and 5. This was infuriating to
me. Now after several days of reviewing them, they can't seem to keep
it straight. It reminds me of last year when the grade 8s couldn't
keep addition and multiplication of fractions straight. Can't wait to
teach that again this year.
I'm also teaching physical science to grade 8. I spent a day on
multiplying and dividing numbers by ten, in anticipation of converting
meters and centimeters. Then I spent a day reviewing subtracting
decimals to prepare for calculating the difference between an
estimation and a measurement. I gave a short quiz that in my mind was
considerably easy. The highest score was 7 out of 20, but most of
them were lucky to get any points. Of course anytime there are no
high scores, the teacher has to take some of that blame, which I did
the next day in class (which I spent entirely on reviewing those
concepts). However, I also made it clear they had a large burden of
blame, too. I told them they need to be asking questions and getting
help when they don't understand. They are just not used to teachers
that insist on them taking an active role in their education. Some of
them took the message well, others looked like they were about to fall
asleep, which made we want to scream at them. So I erased the
chalkboard and gave them a pop quiz (the last question from the quiz
we spent the whole period reviewing). I haven't had the heart to look
at them yet, but I am planning on grading them tomorrow. I know there
will be some who did well and some who didn't, I'm just not sure how
large each group will be. I'm trying to keep in mind Chapter 2 from
Teaching as a Subversive Activity, my new motto as of last year, The
Medium is the Message, that how I teach them is much more important
that what I teach them.
When it doesn't seem like I can make any difference, I try to
remember what a joy it is to teach the grade 9s this year compared to
last year. They all did very well on the math test I gave them this
week. I'll end with a story from my favorite class, 9A. First you
need a little background information on an inside joke. There are 2
musical artists here that are much more popular than any others, and,
naturally, they are bitter rivals: The Dogg (Mshasho Music
Productions) and Gazza (Gazza Music Productions, or simply GMP).
Everyone is divided, a supporter of one or the other, but never both
(I'm GMP). The learners will write "Mshasho – you can't ignore" or
"Gmp til I die" in incorrect grammar and spelling all over their
books, papers, chalkboards, and themselves. "467" is also a code for
GMP, because it's the numbers you enter on a phone key pad. Most of
my 9A are Gazza supporters. Whenever I ask them to generate a number
in class for an example (which I do frequently), 467 or 0.467 or
467000 is usually suggested. One day, I'd had enough and started
mocking them. I started saying and writing 782 a lot (for STC). One
day when I had a few minutes left in class I even drew a picture of
myself on the chalkboard flashing some ridiculous sign with my hands,
wearing bling, and shouting "782 till you die". Now whenever they say
467 I reply with 782. It's been going on for a while and it's kind of
our inside joke now, and I even say it to one girl when we pass
instead of exchanging hellos. You may remember that I give weekly
multiplication tests in all my math classes. I started at 10 minutes
for 50 questions and decreased by one minute every week until reaching
5 minuets. Then this week I posted this notice in each class: 2008
Multiplication Challenge. Correctly answer 50 multiplication
questions in less than one minute. Grade 8, 9 and 10 learners only!
Prize: Mr. Scott will cook a nice meal for you. The fastest of the
fastest can maybe finish in two minutes, so this would be quite an
accomplishment for any of them, and well worth my time. Several of
them have been practicing now. In 9A, I have a homeroom class the
last period on Friday. Many of them wanted to try the challenge. So
they came to the front of the class, and had a minute to show their
stuff. None came close and several "surrendered" within 20 seconds.
Then they begged me to try. I cracked my knuckles and began writing
the products as fast as my hands would allow. They were all awed. On
the last question I paused, acted like I was stuck and slowly wrote
the last digit of 63. Then put my pen down in 45 seconds. They then
started chanting "782."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 30

American Recap
Coming home for Christmas was fantastic. Seeing my family and
friends made this my best Christmas ever, by far. To everyone I saw:
Thank you. It was pretty stressful leaving a year ago, I didn't know
what to expect or how my relationships with people back home would
change. Eventually the stress of leaving wore off, but it wasn't ever
released. But reintegrating (for the most part effortlessly) with my
family and friends was that release. Now a second year seems like
My taste buds are still recovering from the over-excitement. Every
meal I ate was fantastic. In no particular order, the best were
Hunt's double western cheeseburgers (yes, plural), pumpkin pie, sushi,
peanut butter balls, and, seriously, everything my mom made. Mountain
Dew and Boulevard Wheat were even better than I remembered them. Of
all the amazing American amenities available (4-word alliteration!),
food's really the only thing worth mentioning (and the Mizzou bowl
victory). Nothing else even comes close to comparing to reuniting
with the people.

Sams Anecdote
I went to Sam's one day, which was shocking in itself. At the
checkout register, I could overhear another man talking to the clerk,
"I dropped $20 somewhere in the store. It just fell out of my pocket.
Ha, oh well [cue shoulder shrug]." I am still speechless; it's so
absurd that I guess a shoulder shrug is really the best explanation.
It was sad to see how wasteful people can be. The "throw away"
culture is something that irritates my grandma and me, but not enough
other people. The capitalist solution would be a trash tax. I'm sure
that would go over about as well as a gas tax, which I'd also support.

Lindsey and I have been wanting to add to our schools libraries for
awhile. They had been reading story books like The Three Little Pigs,
which is a great read, but not exactly challenging to our older
students. My parents mentioned this to a few teacher friends with the
hopes of collecting a few books for us take back with us. To our
surprise and delight, the response was immense, we counted over 300
books. We had planned to take only our backpacks back with us, thus
freeing up room for another checked bag each. However our bags were
really heavy (45 and 60 pounds). Lindsey couldn't even put hers on
without my help (hers was 60). So we left the books in Farmington,
but are going to have them shipped soon enough.

We also gave a brief talk to the Lion's Club in Farmington. They
agreed to donate 40 dictionaries and pay the shipping. Imagine
American students receiving the gifts of dictionaries (I can remember
getting one as a child), and no doubt you will hear a sarcastic
"thanks a lot" accompanied by an eye roll. Not so, in Namibia:
learners love them. Now Lindsey will have enough for a classroom set.
This will be a great addition to the library at Nkurenkuru Combined

Returning to Nkurenkuru was just as easy as returning to Missouri,
but much more laidback. Not much had changed, except that the rains
had turned our sand yard into a jungle of weeds. Greeting is big in
African culture, and the first greeting after a long break or absence
is very important, so everyone was overly enthusiastic to see us
again, which made us feel very welcome. I think it is hilarious how
they continue to wish a Happy New Year the first time they see you,
even if it is the third week of January.
The rains are in full force, which means the river is rising. I'm
hoping it will go way up this year. I think it will be exciting, but
Lindsey thinks it will bring the crocs closer to our house. The rains
have really helped with the heat, though the humidity is out of
control – my socks are still damp on Friday from Monday's washing.

Start of School
Starting school has been a mixed blessing. It's good to be doing
something productive again, but I've been so busy. We are
experiencing an extreme teacher shortage, and I've had to pick up 11
more hours than I had last year. I'm hoping it will be resolved soon,
though I don't know how. I am no longer able to finish my grading and
lesson planning during my off periods, so I do them at home in the
afternoons. Combine that with an hour lunch and an hour exercise, and
its 8 o'clock before I know it. Days are flying by.
It was nice to see my learners from last year again. And most of the
troublemakers were not allowed to return. My register class, or
homeroom, is one of the grade 9s, so I taught them last year. They
are a really bright and well-behaved class. They are certainly the
highlight of my day (I also teach them math), as the other classes
leave many things to be desired. In eighth grade we are doing
multiples and factors, which are very easy, even by Namibian grade 8
standards, but they are really struggling because they can't multiply.

I'm again doing the weekly multiplication tests, which I hope will
help them. One girl missed 49 of 50. At least she can only improve
(unless she forgets 2x2). There are a few new students in grade 9, so
I've been able to see the positive effect of the multiplication tests
last year, which is very encouraging because I didn't notice much of a
change last year.

Working with Jarrod and Becca on our non-profit got off to a really
good start when I first arrived home. We have assembled an advisory
board, which is a group I'm very happy with, and got a decent idea of
our goals. But after that we kind of stumbled. Mostly, due to
Christmas, but that's not a sufficient excuse. I'm a little worried
that I wasn't able to find the motivation do more when I was home,
because it is surely going to be more difficult now that I'm having
limited communication and a jam-packed schedule. The next few months
will be telling, I think, as to whether we will get off the ground or
crash and burn.

I am finding the primaries gut wrenching (Democratic) and terribly
exciting (Republican). I was the first Christian County voter;
(very) early returns had Obama with a 100%. As I am not able to work
with his campaign effort, I will use this blog to urge you to give
serious consideration to supporting Obama on February 5th. I think
these primaries will prove more important then the general election,
so don't sit on your butt; get out and vote!

Well, that's all I can write right now. I'll try to devote more time
to blogging in the future. It was wonderfully surprising to hear how
many people are actually reading this thing. Until then, cheers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

These are some pictures from the road from Rundu to Nkurenkuru. Would you believe the interent in Africa is faster than Nixa? At least it's free here... But I can't stand to sit here any longer. More pictures later

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This is a view of the Zambezi River from our favorite place on earth, the Boiling Point at Vic Falls.

This is one of the many colorful lizards at the Boiling Point.

Sable. One of the stupidest African animals.

One of the 100,000 elephants in Chobe.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ahh...America. Luxury and Coldness. I've been here a few days and have really enjoyed seeing friends, family and sports. We have been working on getting our non-profit organization together. We're struggling write now trying to come up with a nameMore to say about that later, but for now here a a few pictures from Vic Falls I'm now able to add:

The guy was greeting us on the way down to the Boiling Point shortly downstream from the Falls. When we approached him he he showed us his teeth and we all jumped back. Apparently they just don't want you to walk in front of him. We walked caustionsly right behind him and didn't look in his eyes.

This was us at the bottom of the decent right after the baboon above. This area was really cool, it was practiacally a tropical rain forest. No rain, but it was maintained just by the midst from the falls. A trpical mist forest. Lindsey is sure lucky to have such a good looking husband.

This was the climax of Lindsey's panic attack. I didn't think she would be able to go through with it but she made it with clean pants. Mr. Sikwali, my friend and colleague, told me a story about how the cheif (or hompa) of the Vic Falls area one day trieds the bunji and wasn't lucky enough to return to the top with clean pants.

Here's me and my emerging bald spot in absolute terror, yet clean pants.

This was on the Zambezi river cruise. Just lucky timing.

Swimming trunks in Chobe Park in Botswana.

Two young kuku kissing.

more later...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Nov. 24
We are now halfway through exams. Only one more week remaining. All of my subjects are finished; all I have left is marking (grading). So far it has been pretty depressing. It looks like several learners will not be promoted. There are certainly a good portion of them who should not be promoted because of their apathy, but there are a few hard working students who may not make the cut. It’s especially sad when the needed percentage to pass is 20%. I can’t really stand to write more about this now.
I gave some questionnaires on my teaching the last week of classes. They have never been asked to evaluate their teacher before, so it was difficult getting quality information out of them. For example, when I asked how I could improve many replied that I am already a good teacher. Several learners told me that I needed to beat learners, whether the question was how to get learners to come to class on time, be quiet, or care about Physical Science.
The most recent highlight was the party I threw for my life skills class on the lst day of classes. They didn’t really understand the concept of a party. They asked if it was my birthday. They asked what we are going to celebrate. They asked if they will enjoy nicely. They had no idea what to expect until the day before when I asked them what kind of cool drink they like (“coke and pineapple”; Pineapple Fanta that is). I brought coke, chips, sweets, and made brownies for them. The best surprise was Lindsey, though. She was unsure if she would be finished at her school in time, but made it just in time. The girls really love her, especially Hambeleleni. When I first introduced Lindsey to them after several weeks of begging, Hambeleleni was clapping so enthusiastically when she saw Lindsey approaching that she was shaking her whole body. I don’t think she quit smiling for a week. After snacks we took a class photo and they demanded a picture with Lindsey.
They also gave me quite a nice surprise by decorating the chalk board. I realize as I type this that it probably does not sound impressive to you at all, but it meant quite a bit to me. If I had been a girl I’d probably have cried.
Thursday we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving. Lindsey and Mrs. Sikwali cooked for 4 or 5 hours, making chicken pies, chicken, fried tilapia, beef casserole, and potato salad. It was enough to feed 20, so it fed 6.5 very well, even by American Thanksgiving standards. Mr. Sikwali, son Muna, Mr. Phiri, and new Peace Corps Volunteer Sarah were the other guests. It was nice to not have to do any of the food preparations. I played with Muna and watched a little TV at Mr. Sikwali’s. Muna just learned how to walk and is no longer afraid of his two white neighbors. The most thankful part of Thanksgiving was finding out from my parents that the Tigers are ranked #3. I couldn’t stop smiling all night.
I have been anticipating the MU/KU match up for months, and it’s an even bigger with KU #2 (how did they get away without playing Texas or Oklahoma anyway?). I have been anticipating it nonstop since Thursday. And if that wasn’t enough, we just found out from Lindsey’s mom that #1 LSU lost to Arkansas last night meaning the winner of tonight’s Border War will be the number one team in the country. It’s so unreal. It was a crushing blow to find out the game will start at 7, not noon, and I’ll have to wait even longer for news of what happened.

Nov. 9
It’s Friday. We have one more week of classes, then 2 weeks of exams. I’ll do revision (review) next week so I am finished with giving real lessons for the year. Naturally this is has been a good time to reflect on the year and anticipate changes for next year. What progress was made this year? I think the relationships I formed with the learners was my biggest contribution. Many of them have never been exposed to a teacher who smiled at them, showed open disgust for the text book, drank so much water, had an awkward accent, did not settle for them just saying they understand and pushed them to communicate. Notice I did not mention adding fractions, negative numbers, conceptual understanding of the equal sign, or any type of critical thinking. And the great thing about that is that I don’t care. Except for general critical thinking (which is not on the syllabus), I do not think math skills are necessary life skills for most people. (That’s not to say that none of my learners can do those things, several of them can. But they are bright and they could do it before I arrived.)
Especially the second half of the year I have been more concerned with the learning process. Teaching them techniques for understanding, checking their understanding, note taking, studying, communicating ideas, and, most importantly, asking questions. Progress has been hard to quantify and harder to identify. A lot of time when I’ll ask a student “why?” they will just point to the board or their paper, or worse, just turn their head and ignore me until I leave. Nothing’s worse then asking a learner a question with the intention of helping them only to have them freeze you out. A big cause of that is the culture. I have no problem with respecting elders, but taken to the extreme it seems to prevent any relationship between adults and non-adults.
I am going to push communication even more next year. Thankfully, the grade 9s I’ll have next year will already be used to me from grade 8 this year. But I’ll have a new group of grade 8s to break in. I remember the first day of school this year. The grade 8s didn’t open their mouth despite my begging and asking questions.
I also want learners to understand the value of note taking. It’s frustrating that they seem to be taking notes only to satisfy my desires – like I care! I envision giving assignments where they have to refer back to their notes or old homework assignments, but I’m not sure how this would work practically.
Other goals for next year include starting a tutoring program for the grade 8s by the grade 11s. I think that if it is during study time it will give learners an incentive to participate. I think I would supervise an hour a week in the library. The primary purpose would be reinforcing and re-teaching basic math competencies that they should know, with the secondary purpose of studying current topics. Also, I would like to do some sort of fund raising via the Peace Corps Partnership. My principal has hinted at redoing the athletic facilities and getting new computers. I think I’d prefer computers, although smoothing out the basketball court and painting the 3-point line would really improve my Wednesdays. Those new XO computers at $188 are very interesting. It’s worth looking into I think. We’ll see, I need to think more about this.
Lindsey is going to renovate a “condemned” building at her school with PCP, and if I do the computer thing (or something else?) we figure it will be valuable experience. The non-profit we are trying to start will hopefully come together during 2008 also. We have several ideas and can’t wait to get working on them.
2008 should also be an exciting year back home. Regardless of who is the next president, they will surely be better. I’m still hoping for Obama. I don’t understand how Hillary is currently ahead. To me, Obama stands out from every politician I can remember from my short life. And that is a very good thing. Do the American people see that? I guess maybe we have different priorities. I guess my prediction that Al Gore would announce his candidacy during is Nobel acceptance speech was incorrect. I still think the Gore/Obama ticket would be the best option for the world. It’s too bad only Americans are allowed to vote.

Oct 3 (approximately)
Lindsey’s school just held a beauty pageant. At first I was hesitant to go – the beauty pageants I’ve witnessed and heard about in the past have been too risqué. The fact that beer was going to be sold and that the general public would be invited was another turnoff – the general public likes beer too much (In Namibia, “too much” means exactly the same thing as “very much” or “a lot.” For example, “Festus likes math too much.” But I think the American English use of “too much” is appropriate here). I was just too curious.
It was supposed to start at 7. So we thought we should go around 8:30. We arrived around 9. It started around 10. The first night finished at 3 am Friday and the second night at 3 am Saturday. When we arrived on Friday night, there was only one judge, so they recruited me. The seventeen contestants first came out wearing beach wear. Most were wearing bikini tops or bras and spandex short shorts. It was rather uncomfortable with the drunken cat calls and the fact that some learners were not quite 15. I immediately started trying to assign values to their walking style, smile, self confidence, neatness and body shape (yes, body shape!), but was eventually told this was not round one, but only the introductions. Anyone who flashed a genuine smile got 10s from me, but that was incredibly rare. Namibians can’t grasp the concept of a fake smile. Lindsey worked with them after school all week teaching them to “smile” and “walk.” Some were horrendous. One girls walk looked like a robot. It was probably her first time walking in high heels, and certainly her first time walking in high heels across uneven desks in the dark in front of 300 pairs of eyes.
The fourth and final round of night one brought both the most heartwarming and most funny moments. Round 4 was formal wear. I feel fairly confident in saying that these girls hadn’t ever worn any formal dresses before, unless it was another pageant. The dresses were super fancy. I couldn’t believe it. Not only in Namibia, but in the Kavango! They didn’t all fit perfectly, but the girls really seemed to enjoy being so dolled up, there were more real smiles this round. That is, until the questions started.
Yes, round 4 was also the question round. I think I was dreading it more than the girls. I took care into forming my questions. I didn’t want to embarrass them by asking something too hard, but I’ll be dammed if I was going to let them off too easy. I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to read a question first, then I could compare with the other judges questions. Of course contestant number 1 picked my number and I had to read the first question. The audience loved this. My learners have trouble understanding my English, so I took extra care in enunciating my words. The audience hushed instantly when I grabbed the mike. “Who is the president of America,” I asked in embarrassment, I couldn’t believe I asked such an easy question. Contestant number 1 couldn’t understand me, or so she claimed, and I had to restate the question (turns out this was a stall tactic all the girls would use). Then the MC had to restate my question, although his was ridiculously unintelligible. After a moment of thoughtful silence, the girl replied, “Elizabeth.” Oh. I guess it wasn’t too easy. Everyone laughed, even I couldn’t hold back a smile. But wait, she wanted to change her answer. The new answer of “Zambia” sent the audience, judges, and teachers into an uproar of laughter and open ridicule. However, no other learners faired much better. Here are some exchanges between judges and contestants that I can remember:

Judge: Who is the Deputy Prime Minster of Namibia?
Contestant: Mr. Hausiku (Mr. Hausiku was the girls teacher and also sitting right in front of her as the DJ).

Judge: Ok, good evening. Please state your name and age for the audience.
Contestant: Please repeat the question.
Judge. Your name and age.
Contestant: [delay, followed by something inaudible]
Judge: This is a very simple question. Very simple. Ok, what does HIV stand for?
Contestant: [long delay] Condoms.

Judge: If you had to choose between somebody and everybody, which would you choose and why.
[General confusion and wtf looks on audience]
Contestant: [long delay] The second one.
MC: Please repeat your answer.
Contestant: Number 19.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

last post Aug 18. wow, sorry.

The last 2 times I was in Rundu I forgot to bring the USB with my blog posts. Today is no exception. Guess that means you'll have to wait until Dec to read about my trip to Zambia and what what because I'm not retyping all that.

This weekend I'm going to a braii with my friend Sikwali and his family to celebrate the Zambian Independence Day (which was Tuesday). Then I'm joining up with some other volunteers for a halloween party. I'm going as a meme.

Not much has been happening lately. Time is flying teaching. I've had some rather bad days where the learners seemed to not care at all but also some great days. My vice principal told me that the Grade 8s are really responding to me. I'm not sure how reliable his information is but it felt good all the same.

We have three weeks left of classes, then two for exams, then six off. We're traveling to America during the break. We've both been there before, but we are looking forward to it all the same. We've heard so much about the locals, it will be interesting to distinguish between rumors and the truth. Did you know that everyone in America is rich? And white, except for 50 cent. But we will probably see Fiddy, Snoop, Tupac, Beyonce and Jean Claude Van Dam on our visit.

Tiger football seems to be doing good, if not great. Can't wait to catch the bowl game when I'm home. I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends the most. But a snickers and a fountain mountain dew are also making frequent apperances in my anticipatory day dreams. And I want to get my hands on the new Radiohead, Of Montreal, Deerhoof, Broken Social Scene and Band of Horses.

When I came to the computer lab today it was cool and cloudy. Now the sun is shining, which means it is hot. Last night was the first rain of the season. It was really strange, for several hours it was an intense storm, everything except the rain. Then when it finally did rain it was only a shower, not a downpour. Very strange. October is alsmot over, which is surprising because they say that it is the hottest month and it just doesn't feel that hot. I guess its just that I'm used to it now (or as they would say here, "I'm use't"). The heat was exhausting when we arrived a year ago, but that was also coming fresh from a Missouri November. We are going to freeze when we get off the plane in December.

Jarrod and I are still attempting to get this non-profit started. We are going to do a lot of work over Xmas and hopefully I'll have more information for you then.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Aug 18

We have arrived in Rundu after a tedious day at the office yesterday. 8 am - 8 pm. Just saying hello as I post this earlier post. Now I'm going to go enjoy a hot shower and a nice restaraunt. Leaving Wednesday for Zambia, but SHOULD have "good" internet access until then if you were thinking of writing. Enjoy the heat wave. FYI: we are enjoying perfect weather right now.

Aug 14

I've said several times that Nkurenkuru is becoming a town. Part of that transition is street lights. They've been placing poles and running wires for about a month now (no lights yet). Today as I was approaching a corner I saw three men pushing on a pole while the other one was about 50 feet back waving to his right with his hand. As I got closer I could see that he was holding a weight on a fishing line. Now that I type this I see it's not funny or even amusing really.

I haven't written in a while, so I've got a lot to say. I'll start with the least interesting. Last weekend we had our goat braai, I think I mentioned this before. It was a lot colder once the sun went down, we all circled around the grill for warmth. It was quite stressful because at 3 o'clock the learners showed up to kill the goat, but we still had not been able to find a goat. Apparently people don't like to sell their goats in the winter time unless they really need money because food is so hard to come by. It seemed preposterous that goats were yelling, pooping, and eating the plants in our yard on a daily basis, but we couldn't find anyone to sell one. We ended up paying reasonably more than we did last time for only an averaged sized goat, but still is only about $35 – and that made about three rounds on the grill. So we slaughtered it no problem. I got some great pictures but they are not appropriate or appetizing. After we had cleaned and seasoned the goat, and people had started arriving, but we still did not have a grill. The combination of frantically waiting on the goat and grill and the other volunteers refusal to socialize (something about being too tired) made the evening quite stressful.

What does goat taste like? The meat around the bone (presumably legs and ribs) is the most plentiful. It tastes more like beef than anything else, maybe sheep (but I haven't had enough to really know). It's seasoned with garlic and BBQ spice (go figure, the spice for rice is called "Spice for Rice"), at the bar they serve it with very spicy chili sauce. I fried some leftover meat and put it on an egg sandwich and the end result was a lot like steak fajita meat – nawa unene. The innards were the most popular part at our braai. This consists of the inner organs minus the heart, liver (grilled with "real" meat), and intestines (I'm not sure what that leaves). This was served with a tomato and onion relish that complimented the indescribable flavor. The stomach is spongy on one side and smooth on the other. It also has quite a rank smell to it. Typically the stomach is cut into small pieces and wrapped around several times by the intestines. The intestines weren't "good" so we didn't have the combo, just the plain stomach. Christine thought the learners were lying about the intestines. I don't know why they would need to; they took the hooves, head, and heart. I've heard that you just boil the head and then pick parts off of it. I've also heard that it's the best part. I'm still waiting to confirm both accounts.

You may have read Lindsey's account of the culture competition that took place at her school. We have video we'll be sharing with you when we return, but until then you'll have to wait. I can't convey it in words. That's not why I'm mentioning it. The festival, along with an email from Jarrod (and of course living in a new country), has caused Lindsey and I to do a lot of thinking about culture. Lindsey has been asked several times, "What is your culture?" A better question, though less relevant, is "What is culture?" I thought about this for several hours. At first I consulted Lindsey's dictionary – nothing, and it's Webster's. I consulted the dictionary Lindsey uses in class – kwato! The Microsoft Word thesaurus lists these synonyms: civilization, society, mores, background, tradition, ethnicity, customs, way of life. That's a start, but none of those words could be substituted for culture in the question "What is your culture?" and keep the original meaning.

You see, "culture" to Lindsey's learners doesn't mean society, tradition, or way of life. Culture to them (as best I understand it) is the outfits, songs, dancing and drumming, but also has an aspect of heritage. Thus, "Culture Competition" is completely descriptive of the event that took place at her school. There are those people who dress up on historic farms. And the guy who impersonates Abe Lincoln. That's not an answer to the learners' question though. So (defining culture the way they do), do we not have culture? No, Americans don't have outfits, songs, dancing or drumming that is also tied to our heritage.

To me, culture is more about day to day living and the interaction with society. So (defining culture in the way I do), do we have culture? Of course. What is our culture? That is still difficult, but I would say that personal freedom and privacy are paramount individually and generally respected by others (given no harm is done to society). These virtues, or cultural values, shape how we view possession, religion, sharing, family, money, etc etc etc. It is my opinion that personal freedom and privacy are less important in the Namibian culture (and as far as I can see, African culture). Culture, that is, defined how I define it. This is not really the direction I'd like to go with my blog, but I'd be happy to continue this discussion via email (if you're patient).

Our second trimester is now winding down. Ame yapu! I finished grading my last exams this morning and all that is left is entering my grades into the computer and the final staff meeting to "discuss the exam results." Sounds thrilling. Then we have two weeks off. Our doctor and dentist appointments were cancelled, so we are no longer going to see the city. But we are happy we will get to rendezvous with our friend Adam (from St. Louis) Saturday in Rundu. The Dogg (no, not Snoop) is performing at the open market Friday evening. You are probably not aware, but he is kind of a big deal here. I still prefer Gazza, but it will be an interesting cultural experience.

I will close with summarizing the changes of our town that occurred during the second term. The bank has arrived (technically this happened between the first and second term). It is still not open because there is no accommodation for workers. My mom would be saying, "prior planning prevents poor performance." It would really be helpful to us if it opened; the only way we get money now is the mini-BOB (a.k.a. POSATM), which seldom works. A teacher at my school opened a butchery. The "Mini-Mart" moved to a bigger building, became "Check In", and the former was leveled. The salon in the town center painted a picture on the outside wall. The morgue is functioning. The post office now has a barrier so I can't jump the counter and rob the place. A second, better, delicious restaurant opened (fish and chips for $2 US). The river went down so we have a "beach" and can clearly see crocodile island. Most importantly, I found the hippos!!!!! (Please excuse the excessive exclamation points, it's not my style, but it's so damn exciting!!) The rumors are true! They are about a 45 minute walk upstream. I've been to see them twice now. They don't really do anything but come up for air and occasionally let out a large groan. Some people say throwing rocks will make them come closer, but I haven't seen it yet.

Changes I'd like to see in term 3: better cell phone coverage, bank opened, fixed bread slicer at the grocery store, and a pizza parlor.

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