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Miss Valentine

Miss Valentine
14 February 2003

  From Sera:

Happy Valentine’s Day! I was greeted this morning by several learners handing me purple wildflowers they had plucked from the schoolyard. We’ve survived yet another crazy week here at “Ekulo Triple S” as the kids call it. I am starting to know my learners better, although I am still nowhere near knowing all of their names. As far as teaching goes, there are good days and bad days—sometimes I feel like I’m teaching them nothing (or they’re learning nothing) and other days I feel like I’m improving their entire lives. But every day inevitably brings some enjoyment, whether it is a stunning sunset, making the kids laugh by my futile attempts at speaking Oshindonga, or introducing people to the wonderful world of no-bake cookies. Actually, I’ve decided that that is going to be my main secondary project: enlightening Namibians to the vast potential of desserts. It’s the only area where I feel like I will make any real progress.

 Last Friday night, Zac made no-bake cookies and I made 2 cakes for the school bake sale fundraiser on Saturday. As luck would have it, we ran out of gas for our stove/oven right in the middle of cooking, and had to go to the home-ec lab to finish cooking. Some boys saw us walking to the lab laden with our cooking gear, and helped us carry everything. Some girls were already at the lab making okakukis (fat cakes) so it turned into a nice little gathering. Everyone was greatly impressed with Zac’s cooking prowess, since men don’t cook in this culture, let alone produce something as delicious as no-bake cookies.

 Last weekend was the first weekend where we stayed at Ekulo and did not make the journey into town to buy groceries and visit other Peace Corps Volunteers. Instead, we spent our Saturday on stage in the dining hall at a 5½ hour long, hot, boring parent/teacher meeting, conducted in Oshindonga. Let me repeat: we were in a meeting for five and a half hours. It should be against the laws of nature for a meeting to last that long. It went from 10am to 3:30pm (no break for lunch). Zac said he watched movies in his head for the first two hours, while I was planning what we were going to eat for the next week, without being able to go to town to buy food. Luckily, one of the other English teachers here sat between us and translated to meeting into English for us, otherwise we really would have fallen asleep.

 Later that Saturday evening, some learners came to our house “crying for books,” as they put it. While we were talking, one of them mentioned that there was going to be a “Miss Valentine” beauty pageant in the dining hall that evening at 7pm. Of course, we had heard nothing about this until he mentioned it, but we decided to drop in to see what on earth a Namibian beauty pageant was like. We walked over to the dining hall around 7:15, but they were just beginning to set up. We went home, came back a while later—they were still setting up. We went down to watch the sunset, came back, they were still setting up. During one of these intervals, the teachers who were organizing the pageant asked Zac and I to be judges, saying that the kids wanted us because we were new, and consequently more impartial. So that was how we found ourselves in the middle of a dining hall, surrounded by 400 students, in Namibia, judging a beauty contest that we didn’t know anything about only a few hours before. When I joined The Peace Corps, this was about the last thing I could have imagined doing.

 The contestants were nine 8th and 9th grade girls—most of them were my students because I have all of the ninth graders—but I hardly recognized them, outside their school uniforms. It was perhaps a typical pageant, where the girls traipsed around the stage in various outfits, and gave vague answers to bland questions asked by us and the other two judges. While the girls changed outfits, we were entertained by various talent acts, mostly thrown-together singing/dancing acts. The other amusing part of the event was the Casanovian antics of the boys who escorted the girls down the floor to the judges’ table for questioning.Sera's classroom

 So, time goes on (a lot quicker now that we are so busy with lessons). The walls of my classroom are filling up with learners’ drawings (I’m Ekulo’s biggest [only] patron of the arts); my bulletin boards are full of colorful drawings, poems, and descriptions of the trees of Namibia, and I’ve had a healthy response to the “contests” I’ve devised to encourage learners’ creativity. My greatest battle is with plagiarism, as the learners have no qualms about copying entire passages out of books and trying to pass it off as their own. Luckily, it’s very easy to detect by how well-written it is.

 The newspaper here has a pretty good international section, which is dominated by U.S. news, so we’re following the reports about the pending war with Iraq with a lag time of about two days. One of my grade 11 learners is a day-schooler who comes from Omuthiya so I pay him to bring us a newspaper everyday. But it’s always yesterday’s paper, because today’s paper isn’t there at 5:30am when he starts walking to school. But it works out good because he buys it in the afternoon and then gets to read it before giving it to me the next day. All my learners are hungry for newspapers and magazines, so after we finish reading our papers and Newsweek (provided by The Peace Corps) I hand them over to the students who quite literally devour them. But I am encouraged by their interest in reading.

love Sera

  Hello from Zac!

Well it sure does sound cold over there; I am not envious at all. It might be dark when I get up at 5:30am, but let me tell you, it is nowhere near even close to being cold enough to remind me of anything like freezing weather. There might be a lot of things I miss about the US but winter is not one of them. Actually, we do apparently have winter here sometime in June and I hear that I might need my light jacket once or twice. It is nice to have a two-year hiatus from scraping ice from the windshield and to finally not be stuck in my icebox of a room on Eighth Avenue. I guess I really shouldn’t be harping on this quite so much considering just how close I was to spending two years a hop and a skip from Siberia.    

So, this is now officially the longest amount of time I have ever been out of the United States. Before leaving I didn’t know what I would miss and what I would forget about. But now after a few months abroad I have a much better idea. Of course, first of all I miss my family and friends. We have gotten a steady supply of mail and email and it really is nice to hear what is going on in everybody’s lives. I miss the Internet at my fingertips and being able to follow the news. It was two or three days after Columbia burned up that our principal just happened to mention something about a “tragedy” in the US. Oh, well, I guess there is a price to pay for not having to hear and see Dubya 24/7. I don’t miss TV or video games too much, I mean its not like I’ve gone insane or anything, I just don’t find myself thinking about them too much. I do miss movies a lot though. I keep hoping the Two Towers will come to the theater in Ondangwa but I’m not too hopeful. The Newsweek we got a few weeks ago had a huge article about the Matrix sequels and I really want to see them as well. Also, why exactly did OSU have to win the National Championship now? I just don’t think the locals here got too much out of my couch bonfire (and I don’t think that those were rubber bullets the police shot at me after I threw beer bottles at them). Aside from these things though, I am pretty content over here. We are able to make just about all of the same food that we could before; we are getting to be pretty good cooks. We read when we can and as soon as we get time we are planning to plant a garden.

Well, our learners are warming up to us, and we are getting to know them better little by little. They come over to our house to ask questions about their homework, as well as to borrow a book or newspaper; sometimes apparently just to hang out and look at our pictures. Last weekend we had a group of 11th graders over and they spent the whole afternoon “cleaning” ouryard. “Cleaning” the yard consists of taking a lush carpet of thorny weeds infested with giant insects and turning it into a sandy wasteland using shovels, hoes and rakes. At first we thought it was funny that the people would destroy any growing plants considering the complete lack of green things here. But that was back in December and now that the rainy growing season is here I can completely understand. Since there are no lawnmowers here you can either A) kill everything (and plant a garden or just walk where you want) or B) let your yard grow wild and just hope that some cobra or black mamba doesn’t decide to take up residence in it. Anyway, they got it done and we gave them cold water and some no-bake cookies that never set. So now we have our own little patch of sand and I am bound and determined to smite any awful weeds that poke up.  

Good-bye for now, have a good week!

Love, Zachary

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