Farewell, electrical hair!
19 September 2004
After class, Eino and Onesmus loiter around to talk to me. "Miss,
don't you have any big bowls, like for salads?"
"Um, not really. Maybe one. Why?"
"I want to make salads."
"To eat." Eino can be a bit shady, and so the conversation
goes on like this for an unbearably long time, until he eventually wears
me out and I agree to lend him a bowl for his salad, still not knowing the
When he comes to the house later that afternoon to collect his bowl for
his salad that he is going to eat, I ask him again, "Eino, why are
you making a salad?" Evidently feeling more comfortable now, he
relents and says that he's having a small party himself, "with nice
foods," instead of going to the Matric Farewell (read: prom).
"But why are you having your own party? Why don't you just go to the
"Because they used to drink too much alcohols there. Me, I know
myself. If I see everybody drinking, I will just drink." This reason
meets my satisfaction, so I let him borrow all that bowls he wants. While
assessing our meager bowl supply, Eino tells this story:
"You see miss, when I was younger, in Tsumeb, I used to go to
bars. I would start out with my cool drink, but when it gets finished, I
end up drinking alcohol."
I interrupt, "Wait, Eino. What do you mean drinking in bars when
you were younger? Isn't there a legal drinking age in Namibia?"
"Maybe, but nobody enforces it. Even in Omuthiya, you will find
small boys drinking in bars. Those cuca shops, they just want to make
money so they don't care. Anyway, one time I was at the bar, and I drink
too much. My mom had to come pick me up at the bar, I was so drunk. After
that, she sent me up here. So I know I have to stay away from
"But Eino, why didn't you just tell me this in the first
"Because we're not supposed to have parties at school anymore.
Those past years, there were some big boys who used to have parties in the
classes after they won a soccer match. Now we're not allowed to have
parties anymore. Maybe you would get me in trouble."
"Eino, you're insulting me now. First of all, I don't even know
the rules. Secondly, you have a good reason, so I'm not going to get you
in trouble for it."
Later that night, Zac and I put on all our finery, and went to the
Matric Farewell, more out of curiosity than anything else. It was held at
Okashana, a little place about 2km away from the school, towards Etosha.
We got a ride with Mr. Iipito, but first he swung by the other side of
the school to see if Mr. Mbumbi still needed a ride. As he turned, his
headlights illuminated a few girls that looked ready for an Oscar
ceremony. Mbumbi had already left, so we headed down the dirt to
Some of the learners were already there, and were putting on quite a
show of formality, giving each other light embraces as greetings, as if
they hadn't seen each other two minutes before. They had been warning me
at school that day that they would go through a transformation and I
wouldn't recognize them at the dance. What this meant was that they all
bought fancy fake hair, put glitter make-up all over their bodies, and
wore stunning evening gowns. Ndapewa was the most striking, wearing an
orange dress with an array of feathers in her hair. She said her 13-year
old sister drew a picture of the dress and she took it to a seamstress to
design. Some of the boys had managed to get a hold of suits that were too
big for them, but others just came in their normal gangster-rapper-wanna-be
After everyone arrived, we all sat down at the banquet tables. I'm now
in favor of suits and evening gowns instead of school uniforms because
with their fancy outfits on, the learners were all amazingly quiet and
well-behaved. First, before we could eat, there were numerous speeches.
Ms. Amwaalwa gave a welcome speech. The Principal gave a big speech about
how they had to behave tonight and the rest of their lives. Mr. Mbumbi gave a nervous speech about the challenges they would face out in the
world when they left Ekulo. Mr. Lazarus gave a sermon on how there is a time
for everything, but there is always time for God. Then Ndapewa, on behalf
of the learners, gave an impromptu speech thanking all the teachers for
their hard work and promised not to disappoint us.
it was time to eat. There was a small buffet with the typical Ovambo party
foods: macaroni salad, potato salad, carrot salad, beef, chicken, gravy
and spaghetti noodles. The learners heaped their plates with food and all
wanted photos of them taking a giant bite. We had juice to drink, and
after that, champagne for a toast. The main purpose of the whole party
seemed to be to take photos. The kids barely got through half of their
mounds of food when they began getting up to pose for photos. Soon
thereafter, the alcohol emerged. The teachers brought out bottles of beer
and distributed them to the learners.
The party went on from there, with everybody dancing and having a good
time. After my conversation with Eino, I was expecting a night of
debauchery, but the learners were well behaved, at least as long as we
teachers were there. Around midnight, we headed back to the school,
leaving the learners behind.
The next morning, I asked the kids what time they came back. They said
the taxi came to collect them at 3am, but they refused to go. Then the
principal called Okashana, and told them that they had better come back to
the school or he would call the police. "And you believed him?"
I asked. "You know the police never have vehicles." They went on
to say how they had to walk all the way back, in their painful shoes. But,
they insist, that was fun as well.
For a few days after the party, they tried to preserve the glamour of
it. The fake hair hung around for a while, along with the jewelry and make
up. But before long, everything came off and the night became part of the
A week later, Kornelia comes to my house early Saturday morning to pick up her paper
before her oral exam. I say, "Kornelia, you were making a lot of
noise last night."
Her face breaks into a big grin,"Yes, we were just jumping, having
"You are happy when there is no electricity?" A fierce storm
last night had knocked out the power around 6pm.
"Ja, it's fun. When it's dark, the supervisors can't see who is
making the noise, so we like to shout."
"I could hear you all night."
"Ja. The supervisors just locked us in the block at 8 o'clock. We
played that game where you touch someone, then they chase you. You know,
it is overcrowded in there. Everyone was falling down, and I was just
"You think it's funny when people fall down?"
"Ja. They fall down and we laugh at them." There is no evil
in her jubilant smile. A few days ago, so told me how she thinks angry
people are funny. "Whenever the principal is shouting at us for not
doing homework, I'm just laughing." Kornelia is a nice person with a
kind heart. She just so happens to like laughing at people who are angry
or falling down.
At the end of class, Eino asks if he can ask me a personal question.
Uh, sure, I reply. "Miss, if you cut off all your hairs, how long
would it take for them to grow back to their length now?" Um, two,
maybe three years? I don't really know as I've never done it. They seem
duly impressed with the answer. I tell them how I'm going to cut it once
they leave the school. Katrina tells me I should give it to her, so she
can braid it in with her own hair and have oshilumbu hair. I tell her I
think that's weird.