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A Trip to the Movies

A Trip to the Movies
14 March 2003

(from Zac)

Hello Everyone, Bedroomwindow—This is the view out of our bedroom window facing northeast. At the bottom you can see our sweet potatoes starting to grow. You can also see our neighboring termite mound, and behind it the guardhouse at the entrance to the school compound. To the left of the barbed-wire fence is the dirt road that runs right behind our house. It is used mainly for taking cattle and goats to the water hole. Our evening storms always come blowing up the road from this direction.Life here at Ekulo SSS was pretty hectic here for the last week. Monday morning I woke up before five to finish a lesson plan on magnets. Teaching both science and math (11th and 12th grade level) was really starting to wear me down. I was staying up late and getting up early just to get ready for each day. Of course, this is not exactly optimal but it was all I could do. The problem I had was that, as a first year teacher, not only did I have to make lesson plans from scratch but also I had to review every topic so as to at least seem to be the expert. I was able to pull through my classes every day but I knew my lessons would be better if I could spend more time on them. It was extremely stimulating but it was getting to be very difficult, especially as I entered topics in the syllabi that were pretty stale for me. I know, it’s awful, but somehow between eighth grade and now I forgot how to do geometrical constructions. I mean it takes only a few seconds to look it up and refresh everything but it is difficult for me to just whip up a lesson on something I haven’t even seen for years.

At any rate, though, the staff meeting later (6:30) on Monday morning proved to be fateful, and thus, the previous paragraph has been written mostly in the past tense. In typical Namibian fashion three teachers joined the ranks here pretty much unheralded. Including Ms. Shiyango, the new Physical science teacher. So after spending all of Monday and all of Tuesday afternoon on making the new timetable for the whole school, along with Sera and her English supervisor, my load has been critically lightened. I am now only teaching 11th and 12th grade math, along with physical education for the boys in those same classes. It was probably good for me to be so busy for a while, because now I can truly enjoy my extra time.   

The timetable, by the way, is the master schedule for the whole seven-day rotation of classes; with every day in this rotation having seven periods. The teachers have their subjects and the classes each have their required amount of each subject. The timetable is created by the unlucky members of the timetable committee (us three, apparently) who must spend long hours solving a problem that a computer could do in two seconds. The fundamental problem is that a teacher can only teach one class at a time and so there is a painstaking process to put the classes on the schedule one at a time until all seven days are finished, with all the classes busy every period and each class with a different teacher. So things are better for me now that the new science teacher is here; I now have time to do things other than stress over what I am going to do for classes the next day.

Since I have been so busy these last few weeks I haven’t been able to tell the story of how we got to see “The Twin Towers,” as The Namibian likes to advertise the latest Lord of the Rings movie. Ever since December I had been lamenting my unfortunate lack of access to the movie. I heard good reviews from friends when it came out in the States, I saw from the paper that it had to come to Windhoek at the and of January, and then, I was sitting in Ondangwa visiting with the other volunteers early on a Saturday afternoon when we got a call from another volunteer that the movie was at the local cinema. Seeing a movie here is a logistical nightmare, the biggest reason being that, since we rely on taxis for the hour-long drive home, and not many taxis are willing to take us so far, we risk getting stranded when we stay out too late (past 4pm). The only way we could see a movie would be if it was the 3:30 showing, so she called the cinema and asked when the “Twin Towers” was playing. She learned that indeed it was playing at 3:30 so we went to the grocery store (usually our last stop) and then met our taxi driver and he agreed that he could pick us up at 7 when the movie would be over. So everything was in order, we had our groceries, the movie was there, our friends were there, we had a ride home, it was great. The only problem was that calling for times for a movie happens to be another surefire disaster here in Namibia. You see, the communication style here is a little different. You call, and you ask: “is the ‘Twin Towers’ playing at 3:30?” The response from the person at the cinema is “yes.” Fine, the Two Towers is playing at 3:30. WRONG. The people here do not want to say “no” and will avoid it at all costs. When the attendant says “yes,” she means to say that ‘yes’ there is a movie at 3:30 and that ‘yes’ we are showing the Two Towers. Of course all nine of us get there and the Two Towers isn’t playing until 8:30, another movie is playing at 3:30. So, being the resourceful, strong willed (pushy) Americans that we are, we begged and pleaded until the management relented and agreed to show the movie that we wanted. There were also about nine Namibians at the theater as well and as they came in we tried to convince them that they also wanted to see the Two Towers. (Because only the current movies are advertised in the paper, and not their times, people just show up and find out what they will watch.) It worked and on February 22, only two months after it opened for the rest of the world I got to see it too. And to boot I bought two movie posters for 10 Namibian dollars (less than US$2).
Love, Zachary

(from Sera)

I think I was even happier about seeing The Two Towers than Zac was because I could finally stop hearing him whine about missing it. He put one of the movie posters above the ‘couch’ (2 mattresses on a bed frame) and after classes he just laid there looking at it, reliving the movie. We’re a bit starved for entertainment around here, with no movies, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, Southpark, The Onion, or NPR. I think that during these troubled times, I miss The Onion and The Daily Show the most because I can only imagine the heyday they’re having with Freedom Toast and Freedom Fries. I miss NPR as well, since we can only occasionally pick up the BBC here, and otherwise we have no news programs to listen to. But then again, I don’t miss hearing about the terrorist alerts (level orange these days, is it?), or all about the impending war, or all the propaganda. We can follow the major events in the paper, but other than that we can pretty much ignore it all—or at least distance ourselves from it. I also feel pretty safe, as I bet neither Saddam nor bin Laden could possible find me here. Although officially, Namibia is opposed to war with Iraq, most of the people here aren’t informed about world events enough to have a reason to hate Americans. The Peace Corps is taking every precaution nonetheless, as someone stopped by our house to take a GPS reading of our coordinates, and we are having a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the revised Emergency Action Plan (EAP).

 After doing the timetable here at Ekulo, I think that I should write to the GRE board and have them revise my scores on the analytical section. I am now a whiz at “distribution order” games. Completing the timetable took no less than three people working for 17 hours (record time, by the way). That was the problem with the GRE, they only gave me an hour! But, the one benefit of being on the timetable committee was that I gave myself a near-perfect schedule. That is, I have all my grade 9s together, then my grade 11s, with a fairly even distribution throughout the week. Originally, I would have double periods, then have a day with no 11C, and my classes would alternate between grade 9s and 11s throughout the day, making putting anything permanent on the chalk board nearly impossible.

 So my schedule is beautiful now, with an emphasis on full. While Zac’s load has been reduced from 44 periods to 32, I’m still teaching 45 periods out of 49. The teaching and lesson planning is not bad, it’s the marking that takes forever. I get so depressed every time I have to grade papers. I always realize too late all the things I should have told the kids about the assignment. I keep assuming they know things they don’t. I still have so much to learn about teaching—and sometimes I wish English were a bit more concrete so I would feel like I’m actually teaching them something. Teaching definitely has its ups and downs. Right now I’m just trying to stay one day ahead of the kids. The one accomplishment I’ve had so far is my invention of a contest called “Their mistake is your sweet reward.” Whenever a learner finds an English mistake (spelling, grammar, punctuation, typo etc.) in any published material like books, magazines, or newspapers, they can show me the mistake, explain it and then I give them a piece of candy. My goal was to not only encourage learners to read, but to also pay attention to the structure of what they’re reading, thus improving their English skills. Plus, as one can imagine in a country where few people have English as their first language, everything is riddled with mistakes. Everyday, at least a couple of learners come to me with mistakes they’ve found. So that is my one accomplishment. Not much else.

 I finally saw a thermometer here and it said 90F.   I couldn’t believe it was that hot, because it felt really cool right then, since it was about 10am, so it must normally be about 100F. It doesn’t feel too bad though, as long as you stay out of the sun, because the air is so dry. On March 21 autumn starts though, so it might start getting down to 80F by May or June. Are you still having cold snowy weather there?

 Take care, Love Sera

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