Saturday, July 31, 2010

Final Thoughts and Thank You

I have officially left Africa and Im blogging from the air somewhere between New York City and San Francisco.

It's hard to believe that my time in Namibia has come to a close.  It is amazing how much I experienced in two short months.  I created a list of the top 15 things I'm going to miss about Namibia, and the top 15 things I'm looking forward to in the good ol' US of A.  Thought I'd share these via my blog with all of you.

Top 15 Things I will miss about Namibia 
(in no particular order)

1. Oshiwambo language and culture
2. Slower pace of life
3. African sky - the sunsets and the stars!
4. Being called "Miss"
5. The sounds of children singing
6. African babies 
7. Greeting and being greeted by all
8. Culture of sharing - "In Africa, we share"
9. Kapana and fat cakes
10. My Namibian colleagues and staff room banter
11. Being a celebrity
12. The warm African sun
13. My evening runs in Okahao
14. Shades of Sin - the awesomely bad soapie on every night at 7 PM
15. Laughing at the many frustrating and hilarious cultural differences

Things I look forward to back in the USA

1. Timely and reliable transport (my own car!)
2. Washing machines and dryers
3. Clean feet
4. Bathrooms with hand soap and toilet paper
5. My bed - with a comforter and no sleeping bag
6. Recycling
7. My family and friends
8. Fast and accessible Internet
9. General cleanliness
10. Not being stared at or called to everywhere I go
11. Rain
12. Going to my church
13. Couches
14. Restaurants
15. Fresh fruits and vegetables 

It is hard to put into words some sort of conclusion to this journey to share with all of you.  I know I will be processing this experience for awhile, and look forward to reflecting back on what I have been through with friends and family over the next few months.  

All I can say now is that I have learned a lot, and given a lot of myself away throughout this experience.  This has been among the highlights of my life so far, and I'm thankful to God and to all of you who helped make this possible through your prayers, thoughts and financial support.

I hope in some way through reading this blog you have been give of yourself to others, to share all that we have, and go on adventures of your own.    I truly believe there is no greater experience than giving your time, energy, and love to others with no strings attached.  In the end, the rewards are so much greater than can be imagined.

Thanks for following my journey!  I will be updating Facebook with lots of photos soon...  

And as they say in Oshiwambo, "kala po nawa!"  (Stay well!) 

Work Hard, Play Hard

While I definitely worked hard during the week, some of the weekends were left for fun and traveling.  Two trips were highlights of my African experience:

Victoria Falls:

Victoria Falls is one of the seven wonders of the world, and me and some other volunteers felt that we couldn't be this close and not experience it for ourselves.  Though it was a ridiculously long bus ride (approximately 15 hours one way), we decided it was worth it. 

We spent a whirlwind 20 hours in Livingstone, Zambia.  We arrived and rushed to the falls.  We ran around the park, checking out the incredible rushing falls from each different look-out point.  The sight of the massive waterfalls took my breath away.  I have never seen anything like it!  We ran across a bridge in the park and got totally soaked by the heavy mist from the gushing and full falls.  Other tourists covered from head to toe in ponchos looked at us like we were crazy!  From there we rushed back to our hostel and changed for a dinner at the Royal Livingstone Hotel.

The four of us had been living and working in les than glamorous environments, and certainly not near hotels with five star restaurants.  Our dinner out was a supremely special treat in which we delighted in every bite.  I enjoyed my first taste of impala game meat and it was delicious.  We rushed from there to a Zambian Cultural show and enjoyed some traditional dancing.  After this, we spent a night out on the town in Livingstone.

Early the next morning we took an amazing helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, circling above both Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The pictures almost do it justice, so you will just have to wait and see those.  Our trip quickly came to an end, but it was one of the most memorable weekends I have ever had.


On my way to Windhoek for my flight back home, I stopped in a popular touristy beach town on the coast of Namibia called Swakopmund.  Swakopmund has a distinctly German feel to it, as this is where many of the Germans settled when Namibia was first colonized.  It is very different from the rest of Namibia, in terms of wealth and the abundance of white people.   

The most striking aspect of Swakopmund is the beautiful fusion of the ocean and huge sand dunes.  It is incredible to see the dichotomy of the sea and the sands of the Namib Desert right next to one another.

I enjoyed Swakopmund alone, which was so relaxing and nice to have some time to decompress before a long trip home.  I spent one day sand boarding down the massive dunes at speeds of up to 75 km/hr - quite the adrenaline rush!  I also spent a day at Walvis Bay on a cruise where I saw dolphins, seals, pelicans, and more.  On the ride we enjoyed fresh oysters fresh from the bay.  On my last day I went quad biking through the dunes with a new friend, learned about the history of the dunes, saw foot/animal prints that were thousands of years old, and also plenty of creatures of the desert.  The rest of my time was spent eating food I had not enjoyed for the last two months and shopping around Swakop.  It was a wonderful trip and great to see another side of Namibia.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Africa, We Share

On Sunday I began my trek from the North of Namibia to a touristy beach town called Swakopmund.

I woke up early on Sunday morning to begin the trip. I had to grab some clothes that were drying overnight off the clothesline, and noticed something very different about the sky. In my two months in the North, I have never seen a cloudy sky. The day I left Okahao, though, the sky was covered in a blanket of clouds, not an inch of blue to be seen. It was fitting, it seemed, for my last few hours in my beloved village. My roommate noted, "Namibia is giving you a proper farewell!" Little did I know the sky would not be the only "proper" farewell from Namibia...

I had been lucky (ha) enough to arrange a ride with a colleague's brother and his father who were from Walvis Bay, just 30 km from Swakopmund. I was excited to be able to avoid the crowded and chronically late kombis and ride with a familiar face. Little did I know...

I left Okahao around 7 AM and arrived in Ondangwa after 2 taxi rides around 9 AM. We had agreed to meet at 9 AM in the Shop Rite parking lot. In true Namibian style, they did not arrive until 11 AM.

When Tuafeni and Mr. Ndaamakele arrived in a bakki (pick-up truck), I had no idea what the next day of my life would hold. I lugged my belongings (a large duffle bag and backpacking backpack - all of the possessions I brought to Namibia) toward the bakki. As I approached, I saw women piling out of the back of the truck. I then looked into the back and saw a stuffed truck bed - bags, food, blankets, whatever. They began to make space for my bags (though I don't know how they managed) and shoved it to the back. After some rearranging, it was time for us to get in and start our journey.

In the back of a stuffed bakki was me, and three memes who became my sisters by the end of the 10 hour long trip! I have one special photo to keep with me to show what it looked like at the start of our drive...we were practically laying on top of each other for the next several hours. Our legs were entangled, and our hot sweaty bodies sticking to one another. The heat of the hot African day made the temperature close to unbearable in the back, and fortunately there was a cooler full of cool drinks and beers.

This was a prime example of "In Africa we share", a motto I've lived by here and will bring home with me in my life in the USA. All of the food, drinks, anything they had - they shared with me, a perfect stranger. We sipped on cokes and beers to stay cool, they shared their lunches with me, without question. It was expected that if they offered me something, I would take it.

Mostly they spoke in Oshiwambo - a language a love listening to. We spoke some of the time, me attempting Oshiwambo and they getting very excited! I told them about my recently given Owambo name, "Dapandula", which means "Thank you", and they loved this. From that point on, that was the name by which I was called. I showed them photos on my iPad, and answered their questions about the USA. We passed the time talking, sleeping, and sweating. We stopped at every larger city, and they took the chance to stock up on food, further packing the bakki. It was as if there was no recognition that the back already had too much stuff in it!

At one point a friend called on the cell phone, and the meme talked in Oshiwambo, of course. Then she switched to English to tell me, "I was telling her that we are just driving with our sister from the North, Dapandala!" And handed me the phone, where I proceeded to chat with her friend!

For the duration of our 10 hour car ride, these women welcomed me with open arms and treated me like family. This is how life is in Namibia - and Namibia gave me this farewell so that I won't soon forget "In Africa, we share."

Farewell Okahao and Shaanika Nashilongo SSS

This past week was my last in Okahao and at Shaanika Nashinlongo SSS. It was really hard to leave, but my colleagues gave me the best farewell I've ever experienced!

The last week of teaching was exhausting but very rewarding. This week was focused mainly on a comprehensive review of the skills I focused on during my time here. My approach was to split each class in half for the two remaining class period. The first half practiced their typing with the typing skills program, and the other half was up front doing a review/game with me. Then, the next time we met, they switched. The review/game consisted of 15 or so learners crowded around my main computer up front. I would go around the line of learners and ask them a question, or to demonstrate a skill on the computer that was projected on the chalkboard. If they didn't know it, or answered incorrectly, we would move on to the next learner. For correct answers, the learner would get a treat! This was always an effective motivating factor. At times, however, it caused complete chaos - like at the end of class when everyone in the class begged for a sweet. "Miss, a sweet! Miss, Miss!"

All in all, I was thrilled with the results. Learners who knew little to nothing about computer basics mastered them at the end of my time there. Of course there were also many who still struggled, but this helped to get them up to speed in a more one-on-one (but still with half their classmates watching...ha) setting. If I noticed someone didn't know how to do something, I was able to instruct them at that moment, or they watched their classmate to learn how.

Lots of photos were taken this last week, which the learners love. The funniest part about this is when I would join them for the photos. For some, this was the closest they had gotten to me, and took the opportunity to feel my hair and skin. I look a bit stressed in some of the photos as fingers are running through my hair and touching every inch of revealed skin... Every learner wanted his or her own photo with me, and always wanted to see themselves on the digital camera. Lots of fun photos to be posted on Facebook very soon!

The farewell I received from my colleagues was incredible. They planned a party for me and took a collection of funds from everyone. They threw a braii (bbq) with delicious meet and salad. The party had a teacher designated as a Director of Ceremonies, the principal gave a speech, I was given amazing Namibian cultural gifts, certificate of appreciation, a book of thank you notes, and many colleagues stood up to give a speech of thanks. I had no idea the impact I made on the teachers until it was expressed here. It was heart-warming to know that they appreciate their new or improved computer literacy, and the doors it will open for their future. I also gave a short (teary-eyed) speech attempting to put into words my thankfulness for the experience and their friendship. It's hard to even explain the kindness of this group of people and the wonderful farewell they gave me, so I won't write much more as it won't do it justice. Hands down, this was the nicest celebration I've ever experienced in my honor.

The last days were filled with hugs, tears, and goodbyes. I have never been so sad to leave a place. This has been a truly incredible experience and I will never forget the people and time I spent in Okahao and Shaanika Nashilongo.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

First Email Accounts and Messages

The last couple of weeks I have worked to set up email addresses for the teachers that do not yet have them. I’m have signed up 10 total, and it has hands down been one of the highlights of my experience. It is pretty unreal to watch someone receive their very first email – the excitement, shock, and smiles can hardly be contained! They are astonished by the speed with which you can send and receive an email, and how much fun it can be.

So what is even more fun than watching them receive their first email? Being the first one to send that inaugural message, and to be the first person they send an email to. I have saved the emails they have sent me as they are priceless.

I have posted them below (no editing) in case you are interested in reading them! The message from Mr. Kamati, the principal, was extremely touching and brought tears to my eyes.

In addition, my mom requested a pen pal from Namibia! This is an amazing idea and I wish I had thought of this sooner. Now that they have email, they all need more people to write to! I set her up with Ms. Mufwinda and she was ecstatic. So excited to send and receive emails from someone in the USA. If you are interested and read this soon, let me know and I can try to set you up with a teacher here at Shaanika.

First emails ever sent by the teachers:

Ms. Mufwinda:

Hi Dana. i m so excited to use my email for the first time and especially with you.This is great. I love it. Thanks a lot Dana.

Ms. Uushona:

Thank u Ms Dana for assissting me on how to sent an E-mail.
I will enjoy it.Thank u once more.Ok.

Mr. Hamatumwa:

Am really excited to have ma lovely e-mail. we will keep in touch yaaaaaaah.

Mrs. Kamati:

It mazing to met u around and connect us to world wide tecnology. Almigth God bless u ever .Will miss u alot !!!

Mr. Kamati:

It will take our school community so millions of words and countless thoughts to express our sincere gratitude over the services rendered both to our learners and teachers while with us just over a period of almost two moths. Your servises contributions has indeed made a great and tangible impact to the targeted group. I am so happy that you have attained your goal in the light that all our teaching staff have acquired some basic computer skills. Your departure will be surelry another vacuum in our journery for ICT learning and we will miss you.

But however , though leaving , you have made an unerassable record in the persuit of ICT adventure and teaching and leaning in general, in our lovely institution.So, God bless and be ahead of your trip back to Portland-USA.

With sincere appreciatios

Mr. E.I.Kamati : Head master

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kapana, Fat Cakes, and a Cool Drink

As we approach the open market, the smell of kapana pungent, my mouth begins to water. The bodies of raw cattle are hanging about, flies buzzing and moving from stand to stand. Some of the meat is in the process of being prepared to be grilled – sliced into smaller pieces with a machete. We walk up to our favorite stand owner, who already has some of the kapana grilled and ready to eat. We look in his pot of meat, and pick out our favorite pieces. We negotiate a price and quantity, and he throws it back on the grill to warm up. When it is nice and hot, he brings it back out and slices it into bite-sized chunks of deliciousness.

He prepares our plate – a cheap metal saucer – and haphazardly throws the tasty seasoning on our plate of kapana. He adds the sauce – chopped tomatoes, onions, chili and spices. Then, it is time to grab some fat cakes. They are as fatty as their name foreshadows – a round, doughy, fried combination of sunflower oil, yeast, and flour. Fat cakes are quite the fitting name for the delectable treats that are found at every open market, and are the perfect compliment to the kapana.

We grab our kapana and fat cakes, and head over to the Meme who sells cool drinks. A two liter Coca-Cola to share will complete the trifecta – kapana, fat cakes, and Coca-Cola.

We sit down in the heat of the Namibian afternoon to enjoy our meal. As they say, “In Africa, we share”, and one plate is shared by many. The key to the best bite is to grab a piece of kapana to your liking, tear off a chunk of the fat cake, and soak up some sauce and tomatoes and onions. This savory bite can hardly be described in words – a flavorful blend of seasoning, tender meat, and fresh vegetables. The zesty taste makes my mouth burn with delight, and I’m pleasantly relieved by a large swig from the glass bottle of ice cold Coca-Cola.

In this moment, I can forget the stress of the tiring day of teaching, or the complicated and frustrating cultural differences. Moments like these, spent with good food and friends in Namibia, make this experience unforgettable. It is now that I can look around, absorb where I am, and the work that I’m doing at my school. These experiences serve as a reminder of how blessed I am to be in the beautiful and diverse country that is Namibia. I’ve learned here that often even the most simple of things in life can be the most satisfying – even just an afternoon walk, a stop at the open market, and enjoyment of kapana, fat cakes, and a cool drink.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Will all the OVCs in the classroom, please stand up?

OVC is a Namibian governmental term that stands for orphans or vulnerable children. To be an OVC you have no parents, or one of your parents has passed away.

I came to a harsh realization in one of my classes about the prevalence of this class of children in my school, and on a greater scale, Namibia. The teachers were asked to track the number of orphans in the school by home classroom to report to the government. The home classroom teacher for one class forgot to count in her own period, and came to my class to gather her count. She took me aside and asked, "Miss Dana, can I take the orphans from your class?"

I replied, confused, "Yes...but I don't know who they are."

She said that she would just ask them. She then made an announcement to my class that all of the orphans needed to leave the lab and come with her. At that point, half of my class stood up from their comptuers, and walked out of the classroom. Half of my learners had no parents, or one living parent.

In talking with colleagues and my principal about this situation, I learned that most of the parent deaths are casued by AIDS-HIV. I've known that I'm living in a country with 20-25% HIV infection rate, but it didn't really seem like it until this day. While it is so prevalent here, it's also so very hidden - you don't know who has it - it isn't talked about, and when someone dies, even if it's from HIV, it's more acceptable to just say they died of a "heart attack" or "sickness".

It pains me to know how many children grow up without parents, or without a Mother or Father. While it is such a tragedy by our standards, here, it is the norm. It is comforting to see the extension of family care though - many of these children have grandparents, aunt, uncles, brothers, sisters, or friends who care for them when they go "home". While there is usually someone or a group of people to care for OVCs, I learned that it is also common that these learners end up dropping out of school to become the head of household for their family, and care for their younger siblings. Without a high school education, the opportunities for young Namibians and limited, and it's much harder to go back to school later.

Situations like these make me thankful and appreciative of my life and family back in the USA. There is hope, though, that this will not be as severe a situation for Namibian youth in the future. I have seen work and education around issues of AIDS-HIV. Just this morning, a large group of learners received certificates for completing a course, "My Future is my Choice" around sexual health and AIDS-HIV. I pray that as Namibia grows into a developed country, the epidemic that is AIDS-HIV will diminish, and a generation of young Namibians will experience life with both of their parents.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Joys and Struggles of Teaching Computers in a Developing Country

The area where I feel like I have made the most strides at Shaanika is with the teachers at my school. With the much, much smaller class sizes, I’m able to give individual attention and each person is able to have their own computer. It makes a really big difference. Teachers also have more self-discipline than the learners – they can pay attention during the lessons without being distracted by typing on the keyboard or opening up any random program (though I know there is the occasional Facebooking going on…!).

My beginners have come a long way! The beginning teachers had never used a computer before. They are an older group, and most went to university many years ago. We started with the very basics, and it takes them just as long, usually longer, than the learners to get the hang of things. Technology in general isn’t very familiar to them. Already they know how to format a document, create a table, and cut, copy, and paste. One of the highlights of my week was showing two of my middle-aged women learners the Internet for the first time! How do you explain the depths and lengths of the World Wide Web? I basically told them, “What or who do you want to know about? Anything you want to know, you can find it on the Internet.” And the truth behind that statement is awesome, frightening, overwhelming, and empowering. They were truly amazed by what came up in a search engine, and with the interface of Facebook. How easily I forget the complexity of what seems so simple!

The advanced teacher class is also going very well. We spent a couple lessons on Microsoft Excel and learning how spreadsheets can be very useful for keeping track of grades and other important data. I also showed them the value of formulae, and how the mathematical calculations they are currently doing by hand can be done with a few clicks of the mouse. This week we worked on PowerPoint and they are having fun with animations, transitions, slide designs, and learning how they can more effectively teach their learners. Next, we will set up email and Facebook so that we can all stay in touch when I leave.

As for the learners, things are not quite as easy, but still equally rewarding. The learners literally run from their classrooms to the computer lab. I have to remind them to slow down on their way in so they don’t damage the computers or tear out the cords that run haywire throughout the lab. As I’ve mentioned, teaching 45 learners with 20 computers presents many challenges, especially when computers are down, and you have less than 20. Often times I find myself frustrated with their inability to pay attention to the 10 minute lesson. Computers are distracting machines, and they are bursting with excitement and curiosity about what they will discover next. Sometimes I get upset when I have to “discipline” them, which in my world, is telling them, “Stop touching the keyboard/mouse, close the typing skills program/Internet/Encarta, or I will switch you with a classmate that is standing”. Typically, that is enough, but sometimes I actually have to move them.

In venting to my roommate/colleague, Jen, she reminded me that this is a very different view of disciplining learners than my colleagues. Stay tuned for a blog update about corporal punishment in Namibia…coming soon….

She reminded me that while I might feel like I’m scolding them, the reality is that I show them more respect and love than they are used to getting from any adult or a teacher they know. I tried to take this to heart, and while I might occasionally scold the class, I give affection, praise, and love as much as I can to individual learners each time we meet. I have found that I can give a lesson for ten minutes or so, and spend the rest of the class period walking around while they practice an activity. I’m able to be hands-on with them (literally, my hand on top of theirs on the mouse), show them how to do the skills, and give them a squeeze or pat on the back and tell them “Good job!” or “Yes, perfect, you’re awesome” and that goes a loooong way.

Another key to success is finding the learners that already know what I’ve taught, or picked it up quickly. These learners are very, very few…maybe one or two per class. When I praise them for a job well done and ask them if they will please help me and show their classmates how to do it, they are ecstatic. They feel so privileged and excited to help out, and then I have someone to help me tackle the 40+ learners who can’t seem to get it down.

It’s amazing how much I take for granted and assume when teaching computers. Imagine if you had never typed on a keyboard before? Or had never highlighted something? These basic skills that are practically inherent in our culture do not exist in their knowledge base. I have spent entire class periods with learners trying to teach them how to highlight. There is more to it than you realize. Try to highlight something on your screen now…think about all of the different steps, and how you would explain it to someone. Now think of two, or three MORE ways to explain if they didn’t get it the first time…

I am constantly reminding learners to use Shift and then press a letter, and not to switch Caps Lock on and off to make capital letters. They frequently forget how to get to the next line (Enter), and will hold down the Space Bar until the cursor arrives at their desired location. Some are still at this level, while others are copying/cutting/pasting with no problem.

While it can feel like a constant struggle, and like I’m incessantly repeating myself, when they get it, it is a triumph like none other. The look on their face when they grasp that they don’t have to press the Space Bar to get something Center Aligned, or when they see something disappear (cut), and reappear (paste) in the correct place, is priceless. Helping someone learn to highlight, one of the most basic computer skills, recognizing them for their accomplishment, and seeing their joy in such simplicity, makes all of this worthwhile.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Traditional Namibian Wedding!

This weekend was truly a once in a lifetime experience! I attended my first traditional Namibian wedding. It was incredible in every way and I will do my best to describe the event in detail, but it is hard to put into words.

The wedding was of a former teacher from my school who is now an Inspector for the Ministry of Education. In Namibia, everyone is invited to your wedding. They send out invitations, but there is no RSVP, no headcount - if you want to join in the festivities, you are welcome. I love this is truly the more the merrier!

Jen, Rachel and I geared up for the celebration by wearing traditional Oshiwambo skirts. They are long, flowing skirts with lines of black, red, and hot pink. This is the traditional pattern of many of the traditional dresses women here wear. They are loud and colourful and helped us to fit in a little better (but not much!).

We arrived at the church in town for the ceremony with many others. The ceremony itself was not too out of the ordinary - bride in white dress, groom in suit, and a typical wedding party. The wedding ceremony was all in Oshiwambo, so we didn't catch much of it. What was different was that at one point everyone filed up to give congratulations and place a monetary gift in the basket at the front. I had met the groom once briefly, and he was welcoming and excited to see me there.

In the States we have a very limited wedding party, but here, there are tiers of women in the wedding. By the time photos came around, it seemed like everyone there was in the wedding! The photographer even asked us to come up to be photographed with the bride and groom. We thought it was funny that they would want to be photographed with almost complete strangers, but that is just the Namibian way - everyone is somehow a friend or family member.

My favorite part of the day as a whole was the presence of the kukus in the celebration. Kuku is a word for "grandmother", and is really just a term of respect. A kuku is a woman who is maybe in their 40's or 50's and older. These women wear traditional dresses in bright patterns, headdresses, and carry around horsetail whips. They wave around the horsetail whips in the air and make a high-pitched, loud, celebratory call throughout the ceremony and day. It was funny, endearing, alarming and more. I would grow to be used to this sound as it was heard throughout the day about every few minutes!

Everyone was ecstatic to see us in traditional attire. A little goes a long way here....if you show interest in or love for Namibian traditions, they will embrace you with open arms. Many, many people stopped to take photos of us, to tell us how beautiful we looked, and just loved it. I have felt like a celebrity since coming here, but especially so at the wedding! You would have thought by the reactions that I was walking the red carpet in a Vera Wang gown.

We left the ceremony and headed to the bride's homestead, the village of Omuthitu. This was not too far from our town, but much more rural. We hopped in the back of a bakki (pick-up truck) with about six others squished in the back. It was then that I had a real "Africa moment". I was riding in the back of a pick-up truck with kukus, nothing but dirt, donkeys, and the occasional cluster of straw huts in my view.

We arrived at Omuthitu and that was where the real party began! Kukus greeted us, excited to welcome us. We were rushed around and introduced to many people, and given a tour. It was hard not to notice the pathway lined with about seven cattle heads on each side. Just the heads....nothing else. We were then shown the room that held the missing parts....their bodies. There was an entire room full of about 20 cows that had been slaughtered. The smell and the sight of the blood and feasting flies were unsettling. We were told that this is a tradition when someone is married. The more cows that are slaughtered the bigger and more extravagant the wedding. We soon found this to be a valid reflection on the rest of the afternoon and evening!

We continued on our tour and were greeted by kukus who loved to have us take their whips and mimic their celebratory calls and cackles. They truly got a kick out of us participating in their traditions and it was so special. We were taken into a straw hut and made to continue with the calls, jump up and down dancing, and given some traditionally brewed beer, called omalovu. The beer was chunky, sour and all around pretty foul....but I pretended to really like it, which made them happy. The few moments in the hut were indescribable....the excitement and warmth from these women was all-encompassing and overwhelming! It was a moment in time I won't soon forget.

Soon we were ushered back to the entrance of the village to wait and greet the bride and groom as they arrived. We were looking in the direction of their arrival, and soon figured out that there was much more to see coming our way from the opposite direction. There was a massive parade of kukus, kulus (elder men), and all the rest of the wedding guests marching toward the couple. There was singing, chanting, celebratory calls, and dancing. It was so loud and exciting! It's hard to even explain and I'm glad I took some videos of the spectacle.

After a good while of this festivity, the bride and groom and wedding party were ushered toward a special seating area. There were some speeches, and then it was time for gifts. A long line of women carried gifts on their heads (no hands!) to the couple. First were the baskets with traditional gifts, and then came more modern, boxed and wrapped gifts.

When gift-giving was finished, it was time for the meal. Up until this point, I felt like I was truly in Africa. When we walked into the tent for the meal, I could have just as easily been at a wedding in America. The tables were beautifully decorated and set, and there were cool drinks, champagne, liquor, and beer at each table. It was surreal to see the modern set-up and experience the juxtaposition of the experience we just had with a very fancy party.

We enjoyed our meals of meat (beef, goat, pig head, whole chickens), pasta and potato salad, vegetables (beets, carrots, beans), and as is traditional at any wedding, free booze.

You would assume the wedding celebration would stop here, after 6 hours of already entertaining wedding guests. However, then it was time to head back to the groom's homestead for the next party. We hopped in the back of another bakki and got a ride to Ongonzi Lodge for the groom's party.

This party was very nice as well - not quite as large and elaborate as the first, but still very classy. There was another entire meal served, toasts, and music. Oddly enough, the music was not traditional music, but a strange play list of power ballads from the 90's, to include Rod Stewart and other random artists. Of course we were excited to hear some familiar tunes! The only disappointment was the lack of dancing at the party, but overall it was a great ending to an amazing day.

I feel blessed to have experienced this special part of Namibian culture. It really emphasized for me the true point of weddings - to celebrate, to love, to have fun, to give thanks to God and to those who care about you and want to share in your special day.

Greeting in Oshiwambo

The act of greeting others is a very important aspect of Namibian culture. Here, you must greet everyone, and with the traditional greeting. This is not a simple, "Hello, what's up?", but an exchange that goes back and forth multiple times. I have learned that I cannot walk around town with my head down, but must make eye contact with every person that passes and greet each individual, one at a time. This can make getting from A to B take a little longer than planned!

While it can be a lot of back and forth, it's also refreshing to make substantial contact with each person you encounter. Namibians are not too concerned with time, and there is an assumption that you are never too busy to greet someone.

Greeting goes as follows:

Me: Walalapo meme!
You: Ee-ee.
Me: Nawa.
You: Ee-ee.

You: Walalapo, meme.
You: Ee-ee.
Me: Nawa.
You: Ee-ee.

In essence, it means:

Me: Have you spent the night or morning well? OR How is the morning?
You: Yes.
Me: Really?
You: Yes.

And then you return the greeting! Takes a bit of getting used to, but I'm getting it down.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Principal's Return from "A Different World"

At the beginning of this week, Mr. Kamati, the principal of my school, returned after a month-long trip to China. Mr. Kamati was selected as one of two Namibian principals to go to a training with principals from all over Africa. It was quite an honor to be chosen for this experience.
I have been looking forward to meeting him since I got here, and to hear about his experience abroad. It was fascinating to hear about his time in China.

Mr. Kamati had never left Namibia, and had never been on an airplane. Can you imagine leaving your home for the first time (in your 30's) and traveling to (of all places) China?
He shared with the learners at morning devotion on Monday that he had "Been to a different world."

One of the most touching aspects of his retelling of the trip began with a welcome to the new face in the room (me). He shared with the other teachers how important it is to learn from me while I'm here. He discussed the shame he felt not knowing about computers in China. He talked about how far behind Namibia is with technology, and that the teachers must utilize me as best as they can in my remaining weeks here. It was encouraging to hear this message, but it also saddened me at the same time. I thought of the embarrassment he probably felt around colleagues who knew more about the basic functions of the computer, and it fueled my lessons for the day to work toward my learners not having to endure the same embarrassment and shame due to lack of computer knowledge.

Later that day, Mr. Kamati came to check in with me in the lab. We talked about my lessons so far, the learners, the teachers, and just general conversation about Okahao and Namibia. I offered to get him up to speed with some one-on-one lessons in my remaining weeks. He was excited about this idea, and began asking me some questions. Now that the Internet is working, we were able to access his email, for the very first time. Someone had helped him set up an account in China, and he was expecting a reference letter from a colleague at the university where the training took place. There aren't words to explain the excitement of helping someone check and receive an email for the first time! He was so happy to receive his letter and have the ability to send a message immediately to thank the colleague and wish them well. It is amazing that basic understanding I take for granted can be so useful to someone without knowledge of computers and the Internet.

As many of us receive more emails than we want in a day, it can be hard to relate to this excitement. However, it made me really appreciate the brilliance of such an overlooked technology in my daily life. It is incredible, when you really think about it, that you can send messages from anywhere, at any time, with very little effort. I am learning to be grateful for computers and the Internet and all the ways they help to keep us connected to those that we love.

Modern Conveniences I Take for Granted

There is so much I take for granted in the USA. Convenience and efficiency are the norm and expectation, and it’s not until I found myself without access to many of these that I realized the impact they have on my life. Just a brief list of things that come to mind:

Can opener: We were lucky enough to have one here at the house, but it recently broke. I went around to ask the other teachers if anyone had one I could borrow, and many just laughed at me, if they even knew what it was. The answer was a resounding “no”, and all said that they just use a knife. Well, I knew I bought that Leatherman multi-tool knife for a reason before I came here, so I’m slowly becoming an expert at opening cans with a knife. Yes, hardcore, I know.

Washing machines and dryers: I do not have either, and I haven’t seen or heard of anyone having anything remotely close. I have been hand washing clothes about once every week and a half or so. This might be the most exhausting task I have encountered. You have to really wash them by hand to get them clean, rinse out all of the soap, wring them out, and hang them to dry. While it’s difficult, there is something extremely gratifying about the end result. Since I have to work so hard just to get my clothes clean, I have started to think twice about what it really means to be dirty, and let clothes go much longer without being washed than I would at home.

Hot water: I am very lucky that I have hot water. Many homes in Namibia do not, and most of the other volunteers go without hot water. While I do have access to hot water, it does not come out of the shower hot right away. We have to turn the hot water heater on, and allow the water to warm up for about an hour or so. I’ve learned to plan ahead when it comes to showering, and if I need a shower within the hour, I deal with the cold water.

These are just a few examples of what many in Namibia go without in their daily lives. I'm extremely lucky to have water and electricity, and not all homes have even these basic utilities. It makes me realize how much I have access to at home, and also that a lot of it is not necessary. I feel that with so much excess of this and that that make our lives easier, move things faster, we are often going at such a fast pace, or so accustomed to things being easy, and we don't even stop to appreciate all that we do have.

Transport in Namibia

Namibia is a country twice the size of Texas but with 2 million people within its borders. Not many of the people have cars, but there are many ways to get around and definitely a lot of ground to cover.

In order to get around Namibia, you have to hike, take a taxi, or ride in a kombi (a large bus or mini-van), or a bakki (a pick-up truck). The taxis are just people who own cars and people pay them for rides. Petrol is expensive, so even if someone gives you a ride and it’s not their profession, you should contribute some money to help cover the costs.

The ride into the nearest town is a 40-minute drive, and fortunately there is a hike station just down the road. I do not have a hard time finding a taxi, but the challenge is finding a full enough taxi. If the car is not full – meaning at least four people in the back of the car and sometimes two people in the passenger seat. If they are not full, they will drive around, and drive around, and drive around – until they have a full car. Only then, can you leave!

The government provided transport for all of the volunteers to Tsumeb, the location for our mid-service retreat. We were taking a kombi there, and told to arrive in Oshakati to meet the driver by no later than 7:30 AM. The other volunteer in my town, Salif, and I met at 6:15 AM to make sure we had plenty of time. Of course our driver scoured Okahao for a good 25 minutes before leaving the town.

Unsurprisingly, our transport was late. We arrived in Oshakati at 7:30 AM, and did not get a ride until 10:00 AM. This is how transportation in Namibia works…they will get there when they get there. There is no rush, and they will always be there “now”. There are three ways to say “now” in Namibia…”now”, “now now”, and “now now now”. Each now represents more urgency, so you learn that if someone says “now”, it could mean sometime later that evening, or maybe even tomorrow morning.

Our driver came for us and we were met by a handful of the other volunteers that had already been picked up. We headed to Ondangwa to pick up the remaining four volunteers. Along the way, we stopped and ran whatever errands the drivers felt like – getting some more credit for their phones, or maybe a cool drink – and also picked up more and more passengers, until quickly, our kombi was just about at capacity.
We tried to tell the driver, “We have 12 total passengers! We need to leave room!” But it didn’t seem to sink in.

Finally, we arrived in Ondangwa and as we predicted, there was no room. The driver had to call a friend with a bakki (pick-up truck) to come to get all of the luggage from the various passengers, and then try to make room for the rest of the group. Of course, we eventually all fit and made it to Tsumeb.

On our way back, it was very similar. We were originally scheduled to live at 8 AM…this quickly became 11 AM and we were finally picked up at 1 PM.

The inconvenience and cramped quarters in the taxis, combis, or bakkis, make me appreciate the ease of our transportation at home. While it can be long, hot, and aggravating, it’s also fun. You learn to just go with the flow as you have no control over the driver or the situation. If you are late, you are late! If a four-hour trip takes six or seven, that is how long it takes. It is pretty liberating to just let go of control and let someone else be in the driver’s seat.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Independence Day at Shaanika!

My roommate, Jen, is Canadian, and today was Canada Day. With the proximity to the 4th of July, our Indepence Day, we decided to bring an Independence Day celebration to Shaanika Nashilongo! It was FANTASTIC.

Jen and I woke up and got decked out in our patriotic attire (red and white for her, red, white and blue for me). Conveniently, Jen bought some face paint. So...we painted our faces with stars and stripes to represent Canada and the USA. We looked ridiculous and awesome.

The learners were confused and excited when we came to school, and the teachers in the staff room were ready to get decorated! Jen celebrated Canada Day last year, and so they knew it was coming. We painted most of the teacher's faces, and Jen even had Canada tattoos! It was fun to see them all get so into it! This culture just does not hold back and embraces everything. No one seems to care what other people think of them, or if they look silly. Lots of photos were taken, and hope to be able to have fast enough Internet to post them soon!

We also bought a bunch of sweets and snacks to share during break time. It was great to share about our holidays and bring a bit of home to Namibia! For those of you celebrating in the USA and reading...enjoy the fireworks, BBQ, beer, and sun on my behalf. Missing all of you and the good ol' U S of A!

End of Week Three

The weeks are flying by. It's hard to believe I'm already at the mid-point of my experience in Namibia. This weekend I am scheduled to meet up with the rest of the summer WorldTeach volunteers for our Mid-Service weekend. We will spend time talking about our experiences so far, catch up, share best practices and struggles we have had teaching computers. We will travel to Tsumeb, a town about 4 hours away for the weekend.

In my third week here I've definitely settled into a routine. For those that are interested, I thought I'd share what a typical day/week looks like for me in Namibia...

5:30 AM - Alarm goes off...time to wake up. It is still dark outside at this point since it is winter here! The mornings are cold, but it's hot during the rest of the day.

5:30-6:30 AM - Get ready, make breakfast.

6:30 AM - Head to school. Mondays and Fridays we have morning devotion with the school, and usually every morning we have a briefing from the principal.

7:00 AM - Classes begin.

7-10:45 AM - 5 periods...I have a handful of free periods when I can plan lessons, so I will typically teach 2-3 classes in the morning.

10:45 AM - Tea break! There is a meme that has hot tea and bread you can buy, and all of the teachers meet in the staff room. Usually there is a lot of laughter, marking of papers, and relief in having a moment to have a break from the learners.

11:15 - 1:30 PM - 3 more periods. I usually have full afternoons of classes, so busy teaching during this time.

1:30 PM - Run home to have lunch!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach the teacher classes. These are from 3-5 PM, and usually run late. When I'm not teaching, I'm relaxing after school in the sun and planning lessons for the next day.

5:00 PM - Jen and I go for a run around Okahao. The sun is setting and the day is finally getting cool. It's a beautiful time of day and always an incredible sunset.

6:30 PM - Make dinner. Yes, I have to cook every meal for myself. For those of you that know me well, this is a feat in and of itself! I am learning to make some new things but definitely look forward to the day when I can go out to grab a bite to eat!

7:30 PM - This is when the World Cup games begin. We usually have a group of learners come over to ask to watch the game after their evening study ends at 8 PM. It's fun to watch the games and see the excitement and intensity with which they stare at the TV! Jen and I watch and usually play with my Scrabble Pass-N-Play option on my iPad. Keeps us entertained!

Another especially entertaining thing to watch on in the evenings are the 'soapies'. This is a show called 'Shades of Sin' and it is all the rage here in Namibia. Mind you, there is only one channel you get on TV here, so everyone watches it. It is a Brazilian soap opera dubbed in English. It's awesomely, really, really bad. Kind of like a car don't want to look but you can't help yourself!

8:30-9:30 PM - Shower, read, go to bed. Get ready to start it all over again!

It's a simple routine and it's nice to not have many options. You learn to find ways to stay entertained and are really so exhausted at the end of most days that it's a joy not to have much to do.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

First Oshiwambo Church Service

This Sunday I went to my first Namibian church service. Namibia is a Christian country, with 95% of the population identifying as Christian. We have a large Lutheran church in Okahao. I asked one of my colleagues if I could go with her, and she was excited to take me. It’s a big church, with a large congregation. The entire service is in their native language, Oshiwambo, so I didn’t understand much! I brought my Bible in English, so I was able to follow along with the scripture readings. The singing was definitely my favorite part! The men and the women have such beautiful voices. The men really sing here! No one holds back, and it makes for an entire church congregation choir. The only song I recognized was the Doxology, but it was sung in Oshiwambo.

To say that I stood out would be an understatement. I was the only white person in the whole building. This gave cause for a lot, a lot of staring. You have to go up to the front to offer your offering and again to take Communion, so there wasn’t a soul in the place who did NOT see me and wonder who I was.

Mrs. George, my colleague, did her best to interpret the highlights of the three and a half hours long service. It was very, very long, especially not in English. While there was a language barrier, worshipping God is a universal experience, and it was amazing to be with others praising the Lord in the middle of Namibia.

Teaching: Week Two

This week was my second week teaching at Shaanika Nashilongo SSS. Having a week under my belt made for a more confident, prepared Miss Dana.

My classes for the teachers began on Tuesday. I am teaching an advanced class and a beginning class. Both classes meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for one hour in the afternoon. Preparing for these classes are especially time consuming, but it was fun to interact with the teachers on a new level. My advanced teachers are pretty advanced, and we will begin with Microsoft Excel this week. My beginners are definitely beginners! I have some of the older teachers in the group, and it’s exciting to see them make an effort to learn about computers. The turn out for all of the classes has been great. Almost all of the teachers attended at least one of the classes. In typical Namibian style, many beginners missed the first day, so I scheduled a make up class on Wednesday.

Teaching my Grade 11 and 12 learners has been a combination of exhausting, rewarding, overwhelming, exciting, and frustrating. It is challenging, to say the least, to teach a class of 45 learners when there are only 20 computers and chairs. Many of my learners are standing in the aisles and do not even get to access the computer throughout the class. It’s hard for some of them to even see my demonstrations over the heads of their classmates.

Some classes are very encouraging, and others, not as much. Sometimes they are very engaged and ask questions, others give me blank stares. It’s so hard to gauge the comprehension of what I’m teaching them. I began all of the classes with a basic knowledge assessment and learned that a handful know a little bit about computers, but most of them know very little, if anything at all. Based on the results, I made the decision to start from the very beginning. My lessons so far have focused on the parts of the computer, the parts of the keyboard, and getting familiar with your computer (turning on the computer, logging in, learning the desktop/icons, how to minimize, maximize, close, etc.). It’s pretty incredible realizing that you have to start as basic as how to double-click on the mouse, how to click and drag to highlight, and use the cursor. These are all completely unfamiliar terms and skills to most of them. I do my best to walk around the computer lab to see if they can actually practice what I’m teaching. I find a lot of them struggle with the basics and really need more guidance and one-on-one instruction than I am capable of providing with such a large class.

In addition to the large class sizes, the classes are only 45 minutes long, at best. Many of the learners show up late, causing a delay at the beginning. They have a rotating seven-day class schedule, and so I only see each class twice every seven days. With the short amount of time that I’m here, I can’t help but feel like I will struggle to get beyond the basics and teach them all that they really need to know. They are so interested to learn more and I hate that I will leave before we can go into more depth.

Last but not least, often times the computers don’t work! Right now, there is a problem with the server and a window pops up that we don’t know how to get rid of. Hopefully the technicians from the Ministry can come out first thing on Monday, but I am learning that I have to be flexible and be able to teach computers without the computers…

All that aside, I’ve found a lot of success roping them into my teaching style by showing them how fast I can type! I project my screen onto the chalkboard and look straight at them while I type 70 WPM. It’s amazing to see their reaction. Learners run up to crowd around my computer, exclaiming in disbelief! This has been one of my favorite parts of teaching so far. Then, I begin by asking them if they want to learn to type that fast, and all hands are in the air. I tell them that if they listen to how I will teach them to type, practice using the typing skills program I put on the computer, then they will learn how to type, fast and the right way. This gets them very excited and all eyes are on me for the rest of the class period! I’ve been teaching them about the home keys, and walking around to each computer asking each learner to show me their fingers on the home keys. Even after the lesson, I have to correct many hands and fingers…it’s just such a new and foreign concept.

The last way I have found success is candy! Some things do not change, no matter where you are. Kids love sweets. I bought a few bags of candy and gave them out to learners who volunteers to give answers to some activities we worked on. This exponentially increased the number of volunteers for answers…shocking!

While there are many challenges, it is extremely rewarding to teach a subject that is so new to them and so useful. Namibia feels a century behind the US in so many ways, computers and technology one of the glaringly obvious areas for development. I’m excited to be part of Namibia’s Ministry of Education’s movement to improve this area in their schools, and really do feel like I’m making a valuable contribution to the learner’s computer literacy!

iPad Debut in Okahao

The iPad makes an appearance and Namibian learners and teachers are awestruck.

Literally…excitement over the iPad was rampant! Pretty exciting to see the faces of those who have not seen anything other than a PC and and iPod react to the iPad.

I brought my iPad to school to play music during class when the learners are working on an activity. At the end of each class, I show them the iPad, including the album of photos of my family. They have a hard time believing that I am the first-born, Ethan, when you are the tallest! People do not have pets here, so it’s hard to explain that Rosco is my dog and my pet. I also like to show them how green it is where I live compared to Namibia. They love seeing the photos, and also seeing the iBooks feature and all of the books that I can read on one machine. They get a real kick out of me showing how to turn the pages using my finger!

The teachers were pretty ecstatic too. One teacher, Mr. Ndaamekele is surprisingly techie, and he freaked out the first day I brought it to school. I’ve let him take some time to play with it, and the first song he chose to play on it was Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”. I found this pretty entertaining…he played it out loud in the middle of the staff room and talked about how much he loved this song and the music video!

My Namibian Colleagues

My Namibian colleagues are fabulous. I really lucked out with an amazing staff of teachers.

Jen, my roommate and fellow volunteer, was out of town this week so I was on my own to start building ties with my fellow teachers. One of the nights I invited a group over to my house to watch the Ghana-Germany World Cup game. I picked up some cool drinks (what they call sodas), a six-pack of Windhoek lager (the favorite for beer), chips, and hoped for the best. It was a great turn out, with Miss Josephina, Mr. Kanjala, Mr. Enjala, Mr. Hamatuma, and Mr. Shivute coming over for the game. It was fun to socialize with them outside of the staff room and watch a great soccer match!

One of my favorite teachers goes by the name of “Kuku”. Kuku means “grandmother” in Oshiwambo. The first time I met her, she introduced herself as Kuku, and said, “You are now my granddaughter!” From now on, when she sees me, she greets me as her granddaughter, saying, “Good morning, my granddaughter! How is the morning?!” I’ve never met someone who embraced her grandmother-ly-ness so much! My favorite thing about Kuku is the entrance she makes into the staff room. She struts in with a little walk all her own, and loudly announces, “Kuku in the staff room!” Just so that everyone knows that she has arrived!

I also made a very strategic move and brought sweets to share in the staff room. This made me lots of friends, quickly. I just bought a bag of these candies called chocolate eclairs (dangerously good) and shared them during our break. People were appreciative and it was fun to share something with everyone. That is one amazing thing about Namibia – everything is to share. They really live the mantra, “What’s mine is yours” and it’s such a great way to approach life.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Experience with Police Corruption and Etosha National Park Trip

This weekend was a mandated home weekend for the learners, so the school was going to clear out. Three fellow volunteers and I decided to head to rent a car and head to Etosha National Park and go on safari for the weekend.

On the way to meet our friend in Tsumeb, two volunteers and I had our first experience with Namibian Police corruption.

I was driving along in our Toyota Corolla (on the right side of the car, and the left side of the road) and mostly adhering to the specified speed limits. However, we had some distance to cover before dark, and we were literally out in the middle of nowhere. I’m not kidding – nothing for miles. I figured going a little faster than the 120 km/hour speed limit wouldn’t make a difference to anyone, and there surely weren’t any police officers anywhere around. Needless to say, I was sorely mistaken.

I’m trucking along, and from out of the bush pops a person. I had never seen a police officer before, so my friends and I assumed it was a hitchhiker trying to get a ride. We kept driving along. About 10 minutes later, a police car drives up in front of me with its lights on. I start freaking out inside, knowing full well that I was speeding, and not knowing what the consequences could be.

The officer asks for my license, and then says, “Follow me to the bush!” angrily. Then he gets in his car (with my license) and drives off. I gather that I’m supposed to follow him, but I have no idea where we are going, and he is speeding off ahead of me. I lose sight of him for awhile, and then eventually see him at the side of the road. Once we stop, I am able to see that he had been operating a radar gun or camera of some kind, and that it was him, not a hiker, that had jumped out from the bush just a bit earlier, trying to flag me down.

He asks me to get out and I meet him over at his police car. He tells me he is going to write me tickets for speeding and for wasting government petrol. He says that I will have to pay the ticket in Tsumeb (about a 4-5 hour hike from Okahao) during business hours. Long conversation short, we get to talking about why I’m here, who I’m here with, how long I’m here, etc. I’m batting my eyes, and apologizing and explaining I’m here teaching voluntarily from the USA, I live very far from Tsumeb, I didn’t know he was a police officer, and it was my first time driving in Namibia. The conversation takes a turn for the better, and I have a feeling I’ve won him over. He says that he is starting to take pity on me and recognizes that it would be nearly impossible for me to get to Tsumeb during the week to pay the ticket. Ultimately, we come to an agreement that I will give him N$100 (about $14 USD) and he won’t write me a ticket! “This is just between you and me,” he says, in broken English. “I could get in a lot of trouble, so do not tell anyone. Warn your friends, too.” I run to the car to get the cash, return and trade him for my license. I bid him farewell in Oshivambo, and we’re on our way…my wallet a little lighter, a good story in tow, and definitely not driving faster than 120 km.

Police corruption aside, the experience at Etosha was amazing! The park is huge, and just chock-full of animals of every kind. It was a very different kind of safari than the one I went on in South Africa. This was all on your own, no guides, and you’re able to camp out at the protected rest camps in the park. We were able to see a lot more animals and in the ultimate African habitat. At Etosha you just drive around, looking for wildlife, and hope for the best. We saw herds of giraffes, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, springbok, impala, kudu, ostrich, oryx, rhino, lots of bird, and more. Throughout the weekend I did all of the driving – about 18 hours worth – and I was exhausted by the end. It was a relief to make it back to Okahao after a long weekend, and time to get ready for week two of teaching.

Melt-My-Heart Moments

#1: One of the Grade 9 learners, Sam, comes over just about every night to watch the World Cup soccer games. One night, he asked me, “Miss, can you please teach me how to email?”
I say, “Of course I can. Sam, is there someone special that you want to email?!”

Sam replies, “Yes, Miss. I want to email you when you leave our school.”

#2: Last week, a colleague and I went to the Okahao Community Library (which consists of about four shelves of books to inquire about the use of a computer skills typing program. While we were there, my colleague needed to use the Internet (the only place in town where you can access the Internet, as far as I know) and so I waited for him to finish. While I was waiting, a group of about 13 Grade 2 learners came into the library. It seemed like they had just finished with school and were coming to look at picture books. They were about the cutest things I have ever seen – and were very curious about the white person in town.

I remembered that I had a book of stickers in my purse. I decided to give them out to each of the kids. They were SO excited by just getting a tiny little sticker on their shirt!

Once I had made sure everyone had received a sticker, I decided to sit down at the table where they were sitting and see what they were reading. It was obvious that their English skills were poor, if they knew any at all. They were looking through the books, and so I decided to pick one up and start reading it out loud. Within a matter of minutes, I had the most silent, intrigued, and mesmerized group of 7 year-olds. I read two books to them and they were practically sitting on top of one another to see the pages of the book. I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand much of what I was saying, but it was so precious. It made me wonder if anyone ever read to them before. I hope to go back to visit the library and have the chance to read to them again.

You Know You're in Namibia When...

#1: You know you’re in Namibia when the Acting Principal begins the morning briefing by letting all of the teaching staff know that class 12F’s classroom will not be able to be used for the morning. It is not in service because the door was left open overnight and goats came in and slept in the classroom and made a mess.

#2: You know you’re in Namibia when you go camping at a rest camp in the middle of Etosha National Park and that happens to be one of the few places to get a hot shower and a good meal in the whole country. I had oryx steak, and it might have been the most delicious meal of my life.

#3: You know you're in Namibia when nothing is easy, and things rarely work the first time. I am certainly learning to be more patient here. :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Okahao and First Days of School

I arrived in Okahao after a ten hour care ride with eight other people and no air-conditioning! Needless to say, it was a relief to finally arrive at my site.

My new roommate, Jennifer, is wonderful! She is a year-long WorldTeach volunteer in her second year from Canada. She welcomed me to my new home-away-from-home and took me around our school and town the first evening.

Our place is basic, but has everything we need. I have my own room and we have a bathroom, small kitchen, and living room space. We live on the school grounds, along with most of the other teachers.

Okahao is a good-sized town that has most of what I would need on a daily basis. It consists of the school, a church, a community library, a hospital, bars and some stores. It is bigger than I anticipated, but still nothing like a town at home. For example, there are donkeys and goats and cows everywhere – just roaming freely! It’s pretty crazy to hear donkeys braying outside your bedroom window.

Saturday we took a hike (40 minutes or so) into the nearest “large city”, Oshakati, to do our grocery shopping and look around. Oshakati is surprisingly well equipped for feeling like you’re really out in the middle of nowhere. They have a small shopping center and market, Internet cafĂ©, etc. There are stores where I can get anything I would probably get in the U.S. It’s pretty amazing. My favorite part of the experience would have to be stopping on the way there for a cow in the middle of the road, and doing the same on the way back for a donkey.
Sunday the highlight was my run through town. People looked at my like I was a.) crazy, and b.) a celebrity. Everyone was shouting Oshiwambo and English greetings at me, and one boy actually came up and started running with me! Jen and I took a run last night (we’ve set a plan to run 3-4 times a week together) as the day was cooling down and had twice the attention! A couple of the teachers saw us and they’ve expressed interest in us starting a teacher’s running group, so we’ll see!

I am teaching at Shaanika Oshilongo Senior Secondary School, a hostel school where 650 learners live at the school and the teachers as well. I left Reed, but haven’t escaped the idea of living where I work! :☺

My first day of school was great, once I got past the fact that I had to be up at 5:30 AM. Meme Ilyambula, the acting principal, introduced me to the entire school at morning devotion at 6:30 AM. Then, I was integrated into the staff room, and introduced to my new colleagues. Everyone is really great and I’m looking forward to getting to know them.

I did not expect having to run a classroom yesterday, but the current pseudo ICT teacher got excited to hand his work over, and gave me all of his grade 11 and 12 computer classes (which is 26 periods total, so about 3-5 per day). Then, he just left me in the classroom and told me to entertain them…so there wasn’t too much of a lesson on computers, more of Heads Up, 7 Up time! I had been warned that there would be some lazy teachers eager to pass the work onto me; I just didn’t know it would happen on day one!

Today was more structured for sure. For my classes I created an ICT Knowledge Assessment to help me gauge what they know, and what they still need to learn. From my first three sections, I’ve discovered that they know very little to nothing at all about computers in practice. Their computer classes so far have been focused on theory and memorization, not actually how to use a computer. One of my biggest challenges will be teaching them how to type correctly and efficiently. None of them know how to type using the home keys, and neither do the teachers. I’ve been asked to type assignments/exams for teachers because it takes them so long to do it themselves, if they even know how to turn on the computer at all. I’m working on getting a typing skills program for the computers to develop their abilities in this area.
I will begin classes for the teachers next week. We will have a beginners group and an intermediate group. Each will meet two times per week. I’m finding my schedule is getting pretty full, between class periods and lesson planning, so I don’t think I’ll have time after all to teach any additional courses as I had hoped.

The learners in general are well behaved and very excited to learn about computers. They seem excited to have a new teacher, “Miss Dana”, and asked me lots of questions, like if I knew 50 Cent, or Barack Obama! They were very interested to know if I was married, and if I had kids. They are also very curious about the USA.

World Cup fever is taking over around here, and since we have a TV in our house, we have access to watching the games. This means a constant stream of learners (mostly boys) coming by to ask if they may watch the games. Last night we had sixteen boys huddled around the TV watching the Paraguay-Italy game. It was adorable.

This is getting awfully long, but another especially notable experience is the African sky. The sunsets are gorgeous – the reddest skies I have ever seen. The starry nights are exceedingly more incredible. The stars look huge, and close, and the sky looks bigger than I have ever experienced.

I promise my blog updates won’t always be this long! Thank you for reading. I have also updated my contact information in Namibia on the side of the page. Be well!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Windhoek and Orientation

Walalapo! (Good morning in Oshiwambo)

I arrived in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, a week ago and have been going through WorldTeach volunteer teacher orientation and acclimating to Namibian culture. It’s been a busy and exciting week!

The group of 16 volunteers is great. I feel a bit old as two-thirds of the group is college students, but we’ve had a lot of fun hanging out and getting to know everyone. We are packed into a backpacker’s hostel and have had lots of sessions and cultural events throughout the week. We have spent a lot of time learning about Namibian culture, taking language lessons (Oshiwambo is the language spoken in my region), learning about teaching computers, classroom management, lesson planning, and more.

Highlights of the week would definitely include a performance by a Namibian cultural dance group in native attire. The singing was so beautiful and their dancing so unique. We also took a tour of Windhoek and drove through Katatura, the main township in the city. We went out to a traditional Namibian dinner one night where the main dish was cooked goat head. I tried some of the goat head as well as the tongue…and the eye… Something to check off the life goal list but certainly not something I will crave or need to try again! :)

Among the most difficult cultural lessons have been our conversations around the prevalence of HIV in Namibia. Around 20-25% of the population in Namibia is HIV positive. There is still a large stigma attached to getting tested and finding out your status, and thus the virus spreads. It’s pretty upsetting to learn and see the impact this has on the country.

Another especially eye-opening and difficult cultural difference to comprehend is the acceptability of teachers having sex with their learners (students). This is illegal, however, our Field Director tried to prepare us for the reality that teachers in the schools often have sex with underage girls. Sometimes the principal knows about it and still does nothing. Some girls even get pregnant. This was really upsetting to learn about, and I’m hopeful that I do not encounter a situation like this in my school. She said that it’s ok if we try to do something about it if we find out it’s happening, but to not have the expectation that we will be able to change a cultural norm. Hard to believe and not sure how I would react knowing this was happening to my learners.

Tomorrow I leave for my site and I’m so excited! I’m ready to finish with orientation and get to work. The Ministry of Education will provide transportation for all of us to our respective sites – I have an eight hour ride ahead of me so hoping to practice my language skills and do some brainstorming about lesson plans for next week.

I will be in Okahao in the Central North and working at the Shaanika Nashilongo Secondary School. I’m going to be living with another WorldTeach volunteer in her second year. I’m looking forward to meeting her and settling into my new community!

I will send updates after I arrive in Okahao and have my first day of school on Monday. Tangi unene (thank you very much) for reading my update and kala po nawa (stay well)!

Oh, I also now have a cell phone so if you happen to have some credit on Skype, ask me for my number and we can chat! Oddly enough, my phone can access the internet, so emails are always welcome. :) I will also post my address as soon as I know what it is in Okahao.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cape Town, South Africa

I arrived about a week ago in Cape Town after 34 hours of travel. This past week has been unforgettable and full of breathtaking experiences. I would have to write a novel to share everything about this amazing place, but for the sake of this blog I will try to be brief!

Day 1: Arrived in Cape Town! Met by my friend and gracious hostess, Jessica, a good friend from college who has spent the last month working at the University of Cape Town. We spent the evening at a local restaurant eating pizza and watching a soccer scrimmage between South Africa and Colombia...with South Africans and Colombians. It was a rowdy and exciting game and group to watch the game with!

Day 2: Went to a cheetah sanctuary and pet a real live cheetah! Such beautiful animals. Also went through an African bird sanctuary and saw lots of incredible birds. We then went to the Victoria and Alfred waterfront and spent the day walking around there. It is very close to the newly built World Cup stadium and the site for a lot of the tourist traffic they are anticipating.

Day 3: Theme of the day...baboons and penguins! We drove all along the coast and one of our first stops was Boulders Beach, known for the flock of African penguins that call it home. They were adorable! Could have watched them all day.

We continued our drive along the coast and headed to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Our eyes were peeled the entire time as we scanned for the baboons of which signs every few kilometers warned us about...and finally we saw a pack of them! Just walking along the highway as if we were guests driving on their road. Freaking out and photo snapping ensued.

We arrived at Table Mountain National Park and hiked up to Cape Point, which is the south-western most point of Africa. It was absolutely breathtaking and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The Cape of Good Hope was just as spectacular and known as the convergence point of the Atlantic and Indian seas.

On our way out, we had an ever more exciting and dramatic encounter with the baboons! We discovered a patch of traffic (mind you...we are out in the middle of nowhere) only to find that the baboons were the source of the hold up. About 15 baboons had taken over the road, and one Alpha baboons was claiming ownership over a vehicle by sitting on top of it! Two girls about our age apparently hadn't gotten the memo that baboons are dangerous wild animals and had been out of their car and so the troop began to wreak havoc on their car...we even saw one try to open the car door! (Fortunately they had locked it). Seeing as they didn't seem TOO dangerous, we snapped a bunch of photos and I ended up getting pretty close to a relatively tiny baboon preoccupied with some food. The park staff ended up coming to chase the baboons away with large sticks, the girls got in their car, and we took off with about 30 more photos on our cameras.

We ended the day with a seafood meal at sunset at the marina in Simons Town.

Day 4: Highlight of Day 4 was riding the tram up to the top of Table Mountain to see the view of the entire city. Table Mountain is a contender for the new Seven Wonders of the World and now I understand was incredible!

Day 5: African Safari! Elephants, rhinos, hippos, warthogs, wildebeests, zebras, lions, leopards, giraffes, springbok, buffalo! Spent the morning checking out animals by Jeep, the afternoon by horseback. It was amazing so see these wild creatures up close and personal. Check out Facebook for photos to see the variety!

Day 6: Vineyard tour. South African is known for their wines, so we went on a tour to visit four different wineries in Stellenbosch. Delicious wines, gorgeous scenery.

Day 7: Today we saw the "other side" of Cape Town. We went into the townships, the areas created to segregate blacks and whites during apartheid. Tragically, these areas have remained areas for poor black communities. Millions of South Africans live in these townships in homes made of scraps of tin and wood. Many do not work and the areas are dirty, notorious for crime and unsafe conditions. While a lot has changed politically for SA since the end of apartheid, there is still a long way to go. Throughout the week we have been driving past the townships but we really observed the sheer poverty actually driving through, visiting a school, an orphanage, memorials, and talking with a couple people from the area. It is really hard to believe people have to live in such conditions and was a really eye-opening experience.

After an amazing week of vacation, tomorrow I finally head to Namibia to begin my WorldTeach experience. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to travel, sightsee and vacation before the real work begins. Looking forward to getting to Namibia and meeting my fellow volunteers and starting orientation. My access to the Internet will likely lessen, so I will update the blog again when I can. Thanks for reading and miss you all!

Monday, May 17, 2010

My blog!

Hello Friends and Family!

I've set up this blog with the hope that I can keep all of you updated on my experience in Namibia this summer. Please stay tuned for news about my life in Africa for the next two months! Thank you for your interest and support in making all of this possible.

Keep me in your thoughts and prayers!

Love, Dana