First, I must preface this by saying that all my opinions are completely biased and may not reflect reality. However, any resemblance to fictional characters is completely coincidental, as these are all real, living, breathing human beings.
Mr. Nghisheka-The Principal and economics teacher is a short, stout, older man, with a wife and children in Windhoek. He participated in the fight for independence and was even in prison for some time as a result. As a young man, he was a teacher, then he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and traveled extensively prior to becoming a principal. He loves doling out punishment and if I were a learner at this school I would run and hide whenever I saw him coming. Whenever he walks around the campus, he finds something that the learners are doing wrong and punishes them. His favorite punishments all involve some sort of landscaping–digging holes, moving rocks, weeding the sand, etc. The learners don’t really respect him, but they do fear him.
He also treats the teachers (with the exception of Zac and me) in a condescending manner. It took us a while to figure it out, but all the teachers really don’t like him. Lately, we’re understanding why. He loves filing reports on teachers if they do anything wrong. He is a stickler for rules and regulations, which is both good and bad. He pretends to listen to suggestions from his “colleagues” but then just does whatever he wants in the end. One specific example of this is when, after a language department meeting, we lodged the complaint that the library and computers were not being utilized by learners. We suggested that we replace PE (gym class) with a computer/library class as a non-promotional subject-thus ensuring that all learners had the opportunity to learn computers and use the library. Furthermore, none of the teachers ever taught PE, so it was a wasted period. The principal listened quietly, then said, “OK, colleagues, what do we think of this?” Everyone agreed that it was a good idea. Then he went on a tirade about how it was impossible to change anything and that teachers should be forced to teach PE. He totally missed the point. Then the teachers suggested we could write a letter to whoever is in charge of the curriculum and get it changed. “No! It is impossible! I will not sign that letter!” Then, the next day at a teacher-parent meeting, he brought up a plan to have a company come and teach computers at the school, as well as change the typing class into computer class. Wait, I thought you couldn’t change anything? We asked a British volunteer what she thought of our principal. Her exact words were, “I think he’s raving mad.” She had only worked with him on a few occasions.
He is, however, quite dedicated to the performance of the learners and the improvement of the school facilities. It is largely because of this that Ekulo is one of the best schools in the north.
Ms. Shibana-The Secretary
The most I know about her is that she lives in Tsumeb. She is, however, an excellent secretary if you discount friendliness as a requirement. In the beginning, she resisted all of my attempts at conversation and I thought she hated me. So, I lived in fear of needing photocopies or chalk. But then one day it all changed. Zac and I were giving computer lessons to the teachers with the donated lap-tops. One slow afternoon, she wandered in, and I took the opportunity to show her microsoft publisher, a program she didn’t have on her ancient computer (it didn’t even have a CD ROM drive). From that day on, I wasn’t afraid of her anymore and I continued to make futile attempts at conversation. Then one day two desk-top computers arrived as a donation from the Chinese Embassy. One went in the staff room to replace the one that was burnt in the fire at the regional office. “What about the other one?” I asked the principal. “Oh, that will go on my desk. I cannot be a principal without a computer,” he replied. “But what about the secretary? She uses a computer all day. Shouldn’t she have the new one?” He mumbled something. But in the end, the secretary got the new computer-and she started having conversations with me.
Ms. Nuumbala-HOD (Head of Dept.) for Humanities; teaches history and oshiwambo When we first met her, she was wearing a traditional meme dress and seemed grumpy. I remember her at one of the first staff meetings of the year arguing with the principal in a weak voice saying, “but the ministry said…” and “we’ve always done it this way…” So Zac and I dubbed her “Miss Traditional.” She is tall and imposing, and I lived in fear of her for the first half of the year. Then she went on maternity leave. She returned wearing trendy clothes, seeming ten years younger and not the least bit grumpy. As I got to know her better, I realized that the way she acted was because of the way the principal treated her. He did not show her any respect at all. This became clear during one of the many fights about computers. When the lap-tops were donated, the principal wanted to lock them up and he was convinced that no one would use them. Ms. Nuumbala again and again tried to stand up to him and say that the teachers would use them. And, again and again, he quite rudely told her she was wrong and was making things up. (There was a lot more to the argument, things from the past.) She told me later that after the meeting, he had called her into his office and degraded her like she was a child for disagreeing with him. It turns out that she is quite progressive. She regularly attended our computer classes and was in full support of changing PE to computer classes, which led to another big fight between the teachers and principal. I admire her strength to stand up to him again and again despite how he tries to humiliate her.
Mr. Iipito-HOD Languages; teaches English
He moved into the house next to ours during the August break. I knew he was my new HOD, so we spied on the moving process through our side window. He was thin and young–so I was glad because I feared an old Namibian man would be like the principal. That afternoon, he came over and greeted us and I was impressed from the beginning by his friendliness. He had come to borrow a broom. Over the next few days, we watched him while he cleaned his yard, washed his car, cleaned his house, and washed his clothes, all by himself. Now, in Namibia, there is a steady supply of child labor, so I was impressed that he was doing all this himself when he clearly didn’t have to. Once school started again, he was my supervisor, the one who has to sign my lesson plans every morning, and the one I can get advice from. He is easy to talk to and very intelligent. He even talked about plagiarism and considered it to be a bad thing. Zac was impressed because he saw him using the computer and he made his own folder for his documents rather than haphazardly saving them wherever it defaulted to. This is his first job in a supervisory position, and he is doing very well.
Mr Imene-former HOD Languages; taught English
For the first term, Mr. Imene was my HOD. However, he was applying for a transfer and so he didn’t take his job very seriously. He was very friendly and helpful to me as I was learning about the different school system here. He was older, and he applied for the transfer so he could live near his mother and take care of her. They don’t exactly have nursing homes here. I have no idea if he was married or had any children. He didn’t seem to know what plagiarism was and didn’t really care. He was in charge of attendance for the whole school, but didn’t seem to notice that neither Zac nor I were submitting attendance books until the end of the term when the numbers didn’t add up right. We vaguely knew about attendance, and that it was probably important, but no one gave us attendance books and so we just forgot about it. Mr. Imene got his transfer and left after the first term.
Ms. Noonga-teaches geography
This woman is the bane of my existence at Ekulo. She doesn’t talk to people, she yells at them. For the first term, I was able to just avoid her and never interact with her. But then for the second term, she filled in for Mr. Imene until a replacement HOD could be found. Apparently this was the power trip she was waiting for. She was then my supervisor, meaning that every day she had to sign my lesson plans. But nobody told me this for the first few weeks, so I wasn’t submitting my lessons to anyone. Then one day she cornered me and demanded my lesson plans. I brought them to her, and she seemed annoyed that I had in fact been doing lesson plans even although I hadn’t submitted them to anyone. We’re supposed to get them signed every morning, but some mornings I couldn’t find her, so I would go to her class later in the day and have her sign them. Then sometimes, perhaps hoping to catch me off guard, she would come in the middle of a period, while I was teaching, and demand them. I would always triumphantly produce them. I wrote quite elaborate lesson plans during this period, using highly technical B.S. terms so she wouldn’t know what I was writing about. Ah, the games we played! Then one time, I had a really busy day and couldn’t find her at all, so I waited until the next day to have her sign. But, she refused, and was yelling at me, saying that I had to have them signed every day, blah blah blah. The real problem is that she is impossible to work with. She can’t just talk to you like a normal person, she always yells at you. This wouldn’t be a problem except that she is in charge of the library (which she never opens), which I had hoped to improve in some way. But I really can’t work with her. She beats learners. She usually looks angry and frazzled. She posts learners marks on the window so everyone in the school can see. She highlights and labels the “lowest lowest score.” Which, by the way, belonged to a girl who is one of my top learners. When the principal was gone and Ms. Noonga and Ms. Nuumbala were in charge of the school, Ms. Noonga went on a witch hunt and started punishing massive amounts of learners for every little thing, sending them home to get their parents. It was a fiasco. Thankfully the reign of terror only lasted one term, and then Mr. Iipito came, putting her back down into her place.
Mr. Nuuyoma-Teaches Agriculture and Biology, Hostel Supervisor
Mr. Nuuyoma is large, kind, gentle, and soft spoken. I don’t know him very well, but he is always friendly and non-confrontational. He is the opposite of Ms. Noonga. He was highly interested in learning computers and came every day for lessons. He kept joking about how he would need lessons for a year, but he learned quickly and can now often be seen working on one of the laptops at his desk. He used to live over in one of the flats adjacent to the hostel, but he recently moved into one of the houses by us because he said it was too noisy at the hostel. He drives his car to school.
Ms. Ndove-teaches Business Studies and Oshiwambo
Ms. Ndove came to us half-way through the first term. She is tall, dresses elegantly, and speaks beautiful English. A few days after she came, she went to a workshop on counseling and was required by the principal to report back to us. We’ve had to sit through other such presentations where the teachers just made an overhead of the program, and then went through everything including what they ate at tea and lunch and how long each event lasted. It was like they couldn’t differentiate between important and non-important information. But Ms. Ndove made a wonderful presentation about how learners should be guided in their decisions, not just told what to do. During her presentation, she demonstrated a real understanding of human psychology. Mr. Imene was arguing with her on some point and she said, “It’s really just a matter of semantics.” I was impressed. From that moment I knew we would be friends. One day, soon after she arrived, I asked her how she liked it here. She said it was nice, but that she misses her husband and children. I was shocked at her openness. People here don’t talk about their personal lives to me at all. As time went on, she confided in my about how she got into business and was very good at recruiting (I’m guessing it was a pyramid scheme). But then a tax was introduced on the products and no one could sell, so she lost a lot of money, and had to take a job here in the north to pay back her debts. She said she was really depressed about what had happened and how she had to be separated from her family, who live in Windhoek. She told me about how her son has dyslexia and is doing poorly in school, how her youngest son only speaks English and can’t understand Oshiwambo, how her children like the city but also like visiting their grandmother deep in the bush. After some time, I asked her if she would like to start an AIDS club with me. She readily agreed. Unfortunately, she is really busy so I run all the meetings. In Namibia, 80% of the people sit around drinking traditional beer all day and the other 20% do everything. Ms. Ndove is the latter. Recently, she asked me if I was happy here, being so far away from my family. I was surprised. None of the other teachers even seem to think about the fact that Zac and I have left our homes to come here. I assured her that I was quite happy here. “Good, because the learners really like you. I had them write about their day in Oshiwambo and they all said how boring their day was until they came to your class.” I was flattered. I guess I’m entertaining.
Mr. Teofelus-teaches English
His eyes look in different directions, so I am always confused about if he is speaking to me or not. Plus he mumbles. In the beginning, I didn’t like him at all. We just got off to a bad start because I was offended by the way he didn’t include me in the English Club, but then expected me to conjure up funding for the club from my American contacts (like a previous volunteer did). But when Mr. Imene left and before Mr. Iipito came, I relied on him for help and it turns out he is very nice after all. He always makes strange comments to the learners though, and I can’t tell if he’s trying to be funny or if he’s just weird.
Ms. Nangolo-teaches typing and Oshiwambo
She is soft spoken, large, and insane. It took me a while to figure it out, and maybe she is just not very comfortable with English, but I really think she’s missing a few crucial synapses. Whenever she needs to talk to me about something, she’ll pull me over into a corner like she is about to reveal top secret information, and then inform me of some mundane thing or ask me for help with something. Since she is the typing teacher, ideally we want to teach her computers, but I’m afraid because I think she just won’t get it. Whenever she talks to the principal, she rocks back and forth and looks at the floor like people in insane asylums do. When she talks to people of her own status, she vigorously rubs her face or neck while talking. I invigilated for her grade 10 typing exam. All of the learners, who have been typing every day for 3 years, were looking at their fingers while they typed.
Ms. Uukongo-teaches history and development studies
I don’t know her at all. She’s just kind of there, except when she was on maternity leave, and then was just kind of not there.
Ms. Angula-teaches history and oshiwambo
Previously known as the grim reaper, she occasionally asks me for help, but otherwise I don’t have much interaction with her. She is the only teacher who lives off school premises and commutes to work every day. I think she is hesitant to talk with me because her English is not very good.
Ms. Alweendo-teaches history and geography
She was a first time teacher at the beginning of the school year, like us. She had gone to Ekulo as a student. She has a large cyst or tumor hanging off the side of her neck. She always asks me weird questions. One day she expressed her shock that I didn’t know how to sing the Lord’s Prayer in Oshiwambo. Then, a few days later I was telling her how some of the learners were trying to teach me Oshiwambo, and she said, “Why? You don’t need it. Everyone speaks English.” Everyone except God, apparently. She says she hates learners because they ask too many questions. One day, I was working on the invigilation time table with Mr. Teofelus and he said, “Don’t put Ms. Alweendo, she is gone.” Where? “Maternity leave.” Really??? My shock was not because she wasn’t married, but I hadn’t noticed she was pregnant, or gone for that matter. Zac and I discussed this and concluded that I had misunderstood. She was back a week later, whereas all the other teachers on maternity leave were gone for at least 3 months. Then a few months later, I was taking photos of the cultural group for the school brochure, and she asked me if I could take a picture of her baby. Sure enough, she had a little 2-month old baby boy. Way to set an example for the learners.
Ms. Kasita-former accounting teacher
Now Ms. Kasita was the bane of the principal’s existence, and a champion of the teachers and learners. She was feisty and audacious, refusing to be quelled by the principal’s tyranny. She was always laughing and making jokes, and arguing with the principal. She helped the students arrange social evenings at the hostel. Under her tutelage, the accounting students earned top marks. At the beginning of the second term, she got a transfer to Walvis Bay.
Mr. Mbumbi-teaches accounting
He is tall and gangly, fresh from the University of Namibia, and came the Monday after Ms. Kasita left. I quickly diagnosed him as having ADHD. He can’t sit still, talks rapidly, gets frustrated easily, and can often be seen with both hands on his head, elbows poking out, bending at the waist and on the brink of a nervous breakdown. But he’s calmed down a little bit since he first came and can now often be seen playing computer games in the staff room.
Mr. Shikomba-teaches business
He missed half of the first term because he was in the hospital with malaria. When he returned one morning, and stepped outside for the morning devotion, the learners were so happy to see him they gave a spontaneous round of applause-interrupting the principal’s lecture. He and Mr. Teofelus share the house across from ours. He drives his shiny red car to the school every day and Mr. Teofelus walks. The learners like him and he’s a good teacher. He is also one of the PE teachers who never teaches PE. Instead, he can often be found playing solitaire on the staff room computer. At the end of last term, he misplaced a stack of exams and found them the day before reports were due. Other teachers helped him mark them. Then, while the class teachers scrambled to finish recording the marks on the very day reports were due, he was playing solitaire.
Mr. Kiimba-teaches math
He is small and effeminate. He enjoys discussing different cultures and predicting the downfall of the Namibian empire. He feels trapped by his culture’s expectations of him and wants to do what he wants to do without worrying about gossip. He seems to like teaching and the learners appreciate his gentle nature. His class is always clean and nicely arranged.
Ms. Iyambo-teaches math and physical science, treasurer
She is a dignified widow with one son. Recently her brother, who was a previous student at Ekulo, died in a car accident. Her neice, Frieda, lives with her and is one of my dumbest, yet best students. Ms. Iyambo is also gentle and quiet, except once I saw her beating students with a flip-flop. I was horrified at the time (it was the beginning of the year), but now I know the feeling all too well. After the fundraising event, I gave her the money we had collected from selling t-shirts and brochures. She said, “Ok, I will keep it for you.” But you’re the treasurer right? “Yes, I will keep it for you, then you can give it to me on Friday.” Despite the occasional miscommunication, she is a very nice woman and the learners really like her.
Ms. Amwaalwa-teaches needlework
She is a young teacher and used to be Ms. Nehoya’s sidekick. She enjoys telling jokes and harassing Mr. Teofelus. I really don’t know her very well, except for the time I helped her learn how to do timetables for her distance education course.
Ms. Nakaziko-teaches home science & English
She is nice and always smiling, but I don’t know her very well either. She’s not very talkative to me.
Ms. Shiyango-former biology and physical science teacher
She was young and just out of college. From her I learned about the frustrations of many young people in this country. She was intelligent, and had gotten a degree in biology since the President is always calling from more Namibian scientists. But when she graduated, she discovered there weren’t actually any jobs for biologists, so she had gotten a certificate in education. She hated teaching-all the paper work and nonsense. She was always so serene and composed, except when she was laughing at me for things I would say to the principal. We liked her a lot because she seemed so modern and practical, not caught up in all the nonsense that a lot of other people here are. I was sad to see her go, but happy for her, when she got a job working in a lab on the coast at the end of second term.