Greetings from nice, warm Namibia! I saw a news clip from D.C. on the TV the other day, and I was shocked to see snow and a giant Christmas tree. How far away Zac and I seem to be! I can’t believe it is 3 days until Christmas. On Christmas Day, The Peace Corps is having a dinner for us at the Rural Development Center, our training HQ here in the north. We are also having a “secret Santa” gift exchange in a group effort to feel like it is Christmas. We will spend New Years in Windhoek–it will be 2003 here a good 7 hours before most of you. This is perhaps the only aspect of Namibia that is “advanced.”
We are nearing the end of our training here in Omege. We will only be here for one more week. In a way, I am sad to leave because I feel I am finally getting to know and possibly even understand the place. On the other hand, we are both looking forward to finally living on our own (after being married for 6 months!). After we leave Omege, we will spend about a week at RDC, wrapping up our training and attempting to memorize our swearing-in oath in Oshindonga. On January 6th we swear-in, and then move to our permanent site, Ekulo. Ekulo is near a post office, so hopefully the letters we send will become more reliable and frequent. However, we will be a good 2 hour taxi ride from the nearest Internet. Zac and I are very motivated to get our school the internet, so that is an option in the near to distant future. Did you know there is no word for “fast” in Oshindonga? The closest thing is “with full effort.” Like “the goat is running across the road with full effort.”
For the past two weeks, we have been teaching at Model School. The Peace Corps recruited learners from the village to come to school on their holiday from 7:45 until 12:05 everyday for two weeks so that we iilumbu (white people) could experiment our teaching techniques on them. On the first day I asked the learners why they came to model school and the seemingly rehearsed, consistent answer was “to learn information” or “to improve my English.” I secretly believe they came in order to stare at us from inside the classroom instead of through the door and windows like they have been doing for the past 7 weeks. Plus they each got a small package of biscuits (cookies) every day at breaktime.
Model School has been the most useful, yet challenging part of our training. I taught English to grades 8 and 9, and Zac taught math to grades 9 and 10. Namibian learners, we were warned, are historically terrible at math. Part of this is because when they were colonized (up until 1990) the majority of black learners were not even taught math, so you can imagine the difficulty in finding good math teachers. Plus, many learners and teachers still rely on rote memorization rather than actual understanding of material, so math proves particularly challenging when every problem is different ( the learners also have great difficulty finding patterns). Ironically, most of them don’t know their multiplication tables, which is the one thing you can definitely memorize in math. So Zac had a very challenging week trying to teach the 9th graders squares, square roots, cubes, cube roots, and exponents; and the 10th graders similarly struggled with learning linear equations.
My biggest challenge in teaching the learners English was that they are very shy, speak softly, and are terrified of answering questions in front of the class. Furthermore, they have some trouble understanding my accent and relatively large vocabulary, and I have trouble understanding when they speak. But other than these minor obstacles, it was a great two weeks. One of my main goals was to encourage learners to speak loudly in front of the class. On the first day when I had them do an activity that required them to stand in front of the class and speak, most learners hid behind their notebooks or faced the chalkboard. So for the rest of the weeks, everyday they had to speak in front of the class and I would model how to do it correctly, and how not to do it (they found my impression of them quite entertaining). I also worked on a few other things like sequence words, future tense, saying someone’s age without saying “She is having 14 years old”, and talking about family members (where they live, what they do, how old they are).
This last thing was my secret trick to try and learn about families here. Let me tell you, it is just crazy. These kids all have about 10 siblings, which seem to be scattered all over the country, and their parents often live in different locations as well. This is because although people always have their original traditional homestead in a village somewhere, they must travel to wherever they can find work. Their children are then scattered amongst various relatives (as extended family is very important here and people do what they can to help out). I told them about my family, and even showed them photos, which they loved. Although they must all think I am a horrible daughter because I am the last born and I left home. In this tradition, the last born is spoiled rotten (as much as one can be spoiled in Namibia), but must always remain at the homestead to take care of the elders after everyone else has gone. I am shirking my responsibilities by jetting off to Namibia for two years. After all, who will fetch water, gather firewood, wash the clothes, pound mahangu, cook oshithema and clean every day?
So that was model school. And, just like during my student teaching in the states, I caught a terrible cold. Luckily it didn’t hit in its full power until today, so I just went through model school with a sore throat. Model School was so helpful because there were so many little things to learn, like the learners go by their surname first then their given name. And sometimes they are named “David David” or “Konjendji Konjendji” which befuddles me. Another thing that threw me off at first was that sometimes a kid would raise his hand, then whisper “miss, may I go outside?” I would say no, of course not, you must do your work. Finally, some kid must have really had to go outside, so he patiently explained that “go outside” means to go to the latrines outside. After that, I let the poor suffering kids go outside. Another thing I don’t understand is that the kids steal the chalk. What they do with it, I have no idea. Maybe they grind it up and mix it with the mahangu to supplement their diet with calcium? It took me a while to figure out they were stealing it, but now I always take my chalk with me, or hand it to the next teacher as he/she comes in. At our school in Omege, the learners stayed in one classroom and the teachers switch classrooms. I don’t like this because you can’t make your classroom how you want it, since you share with all the other teachers. Luckily, at Ekulo, the classrooms are “teacher owned” meaning the learners travel to us. As it should be.
Merry Christmas Everyone!