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Random Glimpses of my Life Here in Namibia
21 February 2003

by Sera

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 Walking to school one morning after a heavy rainfall the previous night, I stop to look at a large frog swimming in the puddle outside the door to my classroom.  One of my female learners spies me watching it, and offers, “Miss, can I cook it for you?”

 “No thank you!” I reply, laughing.

 She persists, “But Miss, it’s very good! It tastes like chicken.”

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 I teach my 9th grade learners about using the words like and as to make comparisons, then give them an assignment to write a poem describing a part of their body by making comparisons.  I receive the following poem from a chubby-cheeked kid named Lasse:

 My CheeksLasse and his cheeks

fat like an elephant’s buttocks,
round like a rolling ball,
long like a giraffe neck,
eating like a hungry pig,
soft like me,
clean like an oshilumbu,
looking like my storage.

Note: oshilumbu means ‘white person’ in Oshindonga. I also corrected a lot of his spelling mistakes so you could understand. They confuse their L and R letters. He wrote roring (rolling), crean (clean), and stolage (storage).

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 I stay late after class one day to settle a viscous argument between several of my learners about whether or not the words returnee and repatriate have the same meaning.  I am finally able to convince them, after consulting several dictionaries, that a returnee is a person who has been repatriated (returnee is a noun, repatriate is a verb).

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 One night, our typical evening thunderstorm is particularly violent, and I am thankful once again that there aren’t tornados in Namibia, and that we live in a sturdy house.  The next morning, during our ride into town, I notice that numerous large trees are completely uprooted and have blown over.  Later, I discover a couple of trees on the school grounds have also blown over.  But nothing is wasted.  In the afternoon, I see cattle dragging large parts of the trees down the road that passes behind our house.  Someone will be adding several new huts to their homestead!

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 Riding home in a taxi on a Saturday afternoon, we stop under a tree alongside the road where a small boy is selling frogs. The frogs are strung together by a piece of sturdy grass going through all of their mouths.  The woman in the front seat buys the entire string of frogs, at a price of N$2 per frog.

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 On Monday morning, I ask the student who brings me the newspaper, “Did you have a nice weekend?”

 “No Miss,” he says with a slight grimace.

 “Why not?” 

“My house blew away.”

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We catch one of the freak spiders (I swear it has 10 legs!) that terrorize our house. We put it in an empty peanut butter jar and feed it a wounded fly (one of the many that terrorize our house).  We watch in awe as it chews the life out of the fly.  In the absence of television, we’ve created our own violence-filled nature program. 

(Note: I later found out these are not actually spiders but are Solifugids. Click here for more information.)

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 On Wednesday, six of the boys from 11B (the same ones that ‘cleaned’ our yard last week) come over to plant gardens in our yard.  They work efficiently, digging three plots, soaking sweet potatoes, and debating on the exact correct procedure for planting the tomatoes and cucumbers.  They ask for a ruler and actually measure out the distance between seeds, according to the package directions.  Zac and I stand around, feeling like the inept city people we are.  The boys keep saying, “We are agriculturalists, Miss. Haven’t you ever studied agriculture?” 

“No.”  A herd of goats goes by.

 “Did you have goats in America, Miss?”

 “No.” 

“Do you eat donkeys?” 

“No!”

 “What soccer team do you support?”

 “I don’t watch soccer—I don’t know…”papaya.jpg (146603 bytes)

 And so on.

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 We discover we have a papaya tree in our backyard.

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 We get invited to another teacher’s house for a ‘traditional’ supper at 6 on Thursday.  We spend the week in fear of the traditional food that awaits us.  We imagine the worst: a heaping plateful of goat and oshithema.

 A kid comes at 5 to tell us not to come until 7.  Zac says, “So we’ve gotten a stay of execution?”

 We go at 7, bearing some peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in our continuous attempt to promote desserts in Namibia.

 I first notice that the house doesn’t stink like goat…maybe the goat gods had mercy on us.  We eat oshithema and CHICKEN!!! and traditional spinach, by taking a little ball of oshithema in our hands, then dipping it in the spinach mixture.  I take only a small wing of chicken and manage to spend at least ten minutes picking it apart, so that it appears I am eating.  Evidently I don’t do a good job getting all the meat off in that ten minutes, because when I finish, one of the teachers says, “Ah! You are wasting! Let me finish that.” And she really picks all the meat off.

 So, we survive.  Oshithema isn’t as bad as we had remembered—with less sand and rocks in it this time.  But it’s still not as good as peanut butter chocolate chip cookies!

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 Doing a unit on biographies and famous people, I ask my learners if they want to be famous, expecting the usual resounding, “Yes Miss!”  Instead I only get a few timid hands in the air.

 “Why don’t you want to be famous someday?” I ask.

 “Because someone will witch you,” they say, matter-of-factly.

 “What?!”

 “If you’re famous, people will try to witch you,” they explain.

 “What does that mean--‘witch you?’”

 “You know, try to kill you, because they are jealous.”

 “How do they kill you?”

 They look around helplessly, no doubt thinking, “how do we explain this to this ignorant oshilumbu who doesn’t know about witching?”  Finally, a few explanations emerge.

 “They will put poison in your food…”

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At our 6:30am teacher-meeting, another teacher says to me, “I have your newspapers.  Don’t give them to learners anymore—they were reading them in my class.”

 Oops.  I had been lending newspapers to the kids to help them practice reading English.  So much for trying to promote literacy.  Maybe I can make a policy where I lend them out at the end of the day and they have to return them before classes the next morning.Dsc04210.jpg (155953 bytes)

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 Time goes by in lesson plans and malaria pills. We spend most of our “free” time figuring out what and how to teach, grading, comparing stories about the learners, cooking, and fighting the relentless battle against flies, spiders and dirt.

 Take care and stay warm!

 Love always,

Sera and Zac

 (Zac was unable to personally write because he is currently busy constructing a spice rack out of cardboard, rulers, kite string, duct tape, and 3 metal rods. He’s like a domestic MacGaiver.)

spicerack.jpg (40554 bytes)

Spicerack This one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art spice rack was designed by resident engineer Zac Arcaro.  It is carefully constructed out of two I-beam rulers, cardboard, duct tape, three steel rods “borrowed” from broken chemistry stands in the science lab, and of course, kite string.  It is able to support 12 spice jars that the Arcaros use in their gourmet cooking at the Arcaro Rest Camp (reservations available: call 011-264-81-272-7848).  A special thanks goes out to our various relatives who contributed spices for the exhibition.  (Note: we have now been able to find all the spices at our local Shoprite, thus making the project sustainable in-country and will be continued until Dec 2004 at which time its fate will depend on the new residents’ appreciation for high art in the culinary crafts).

 

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