Farewell, electrical hair!
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 real reason.
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 Farewell?”
“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 alcohol.”
“But Eino, why didn’t you just tell me this in the first place?”
“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 Okashana.
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 outfits.
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.
Finally, 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 past.
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 fun.”
“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 laughing.”
“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.