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28 Nov 04

A Few Memories
28 November 2004

Hello Everybody! How did you do on that pop quiz? If you failed miserably, here is one last chance to brush up on your understanding of Namibia. This is REALLY the last e-mail from Ekulo. Here are a few stories that, although short, are reflective of my experiences here.

The Solution to the Problem At one of the first AIDS club meetings last year, we were discussing what could be done to dissuade young people from having sex. The boys blamed the girls, saying that the way they dressed made them want to have sex with them. One boy innocently contributed, “Ja, girls should dress like Mrs. Arcaro, then we wouldn’t want to have sex with them.” I was wearing baggy khakis, a large T-shirt and flip-flops.

Hablan espanol… The day that I returned to Ekulo after my surgery, a few of the grade 10 girls gathered outside my classroom door. When they got my attention, they chorused, “Hola, senora. Como estas?” And then stood there beaming at me and giggling, while I tried to figure out why they were greeting me in Spanish. I returned the greeting, but was still puzzled, until Selma said, “Miss, we didn’t forget!” Then I remembered that before I had left, I taught them a few Spanish phrases to add to their repertoire of languages. And they didn’t forget.

The ProverbMy storeroom, which also functions as a mini library, was, on good days, quite crowded with learners after school as they selected reading materials. Kalili Kosmas came in on one crowded afternoon and looked at me and said, “The room is small, but we all fit.” I just nodded in agreement, and went back to keeping an eye on the learners. He was not satisfied with my response. “Miss,” he explained proudly, “it’s an oshindonga proverb.”

Condoms Eino came to me after writing his final Oshindonga exam. “Miss, I wanted to tell you, you’re really a good teacher.” I asked why he thought that. “Because miss, on the Oshindonga exam, there was a question about condoms and I answered it very well because of you.” I asked what the question was, and he said they were supposed to write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with condom use. Eino and I have had many discussions about this, as he is always opposed to condoms (everyone should abstain until marriage) and I generally try to encourage them (since statistically, most people are already having sex anyway). I thought maybe I had finally convinced him about the importance of condoms. So I asked him what he wrote. “I was opposed to condoms. But I had a very good argument with lots of reasons and supporting examples from my arguments with you.”

Team Taxi
Taxi rides in Owamboland often end up being like one of those team-building exercises that you do at workshops promoting trust and cooperation among a group of people. It’s the type of activity where you have to fit many people into a very small space, which usually requires lots of negotiation and squishing. The taxi driver is inevitably the group leader and will give passengers instructions to help them fit better. One time, we were already a bit squished with three in the backseat and two already up front in the passenger seat, when the driver stopped to pick up an enormous woman. The three of us in the back looked at each other, knowing that numerically she would have to go in the back with us, but there was just no space. As the driver swung the car around to pick up the woman, he must have realized this as well and said, “Oh! It’s a big meme!” This realization did not, however, deter him from forcing her mass upon us, and through some art of body contortion on the part of the three incumbents, she did indeed fit in the backseat. I thought to myself, “The taxi is small, but we all fit.”

Out of Order
Learners and teachers often came to us when they needed something out of the ordinary. They had the impression that as rich white people, we had everything. And to an extent, this was true. They came to borrow markers, screw drivers, disks, CD’s, the tape player, the braii rack, etc. However, on three separate occasions, we had learners, sent by teachers, come to our house to make photocopies. I mean, we had everything else, so surely we must have a giant photocopier in our house somewhere too. Zac didn’t help counter this belief, because when a learner asked to make copies he would just say, with a straight face, “Sorry, our photocopier is broken.” I would laugh, and the learner would leave confused.

Light Bulb One afternoon as I was walking home from school, a grade 11 learner I didn’t know came up to me with a broken light bulb, held upside down, and filled with water. She showed me her reflection and said, “Miss, I have a question. Am I upside-down in the glass or in my eyes?” I had a brief flash back to high school physics and concave and convex lenses. I had a vague understanding of it, but nothing I was able to explain, so I just said, “You’re upside down in your eyes. Everything you see is in your eyes.” She nodded and seemed satisfied.

Welcome Mrs. Ndove was my favorite teacher at Ekulo. She came to Ekulo a month or two after Zac and I, and is also not coming back to Ekulo next year. One day we were sitting together marking exams in the staff room. I mentioned that although I have been here for two years, I really felt like I didn’t know any of the teachers at all. She said, “Me too. These are even my own people, but I’m learning that we are really not very open. It takes a long time.” She, of course, is the exception, as she has been very friendly towards me. She went on to say, “I even remember my first day at this school. My dear, I have never felt so cold. No one even looked at me or greeted me.” I said that it was the same for us when we came, and that we were actually happy to see that the teachers behaved the same way when she arrived. We had thought it was just us. “No, it is them,” she said. “I have taught at many schools, even among the other tribes that are not my own, and they are always more friendly and welcoming. I don’t know why it’s like this here.”

Raw Materials I went to visit Ms. Nuumbala on Friday night, since she was leaving that weekend. Although she is not always very friendly towards me, we ended up having a very good discussion. She said she heard we were going to China, and I confirmed, explaining that, “we want to travel while we can, before we have responsibilities.” She agreed, then said that she had hoped to get her Master’s degree, but there is no way she can stop working to study now, since so many people in her family are financially dependent on her. This led to a discussion on the increasing number of orphans in Namibia and the toll that it was taking on the extended family structure. We also talked about AIDS. She said she had not wanted to get married because she was afraid to get AIDS. While not directly accusing her own husband, she said that the problem was that most men (and a fair number of women) were not faithful. She predicted that the whole country would be dead by 2010. I asked, “Do you see any hope? Any solutions?” She said the only hope was if people changed their behavior, but she didn’t see any hope for that. She said the only real hope was if they found a cure for HIV. Later the conversation turned to politics and history. She said that she felt colonialism was not entirely bad, as it helped the country to develop and people began to have jobs (thus reducing the impact of droughts and other natural disasters because people had money to buy food in times of shortage). But, she also said that colonialism was bad because of the way the blacks were treated and the whites stole all of their raw materials. She said that she and several other teachers went to Etosha the other day. At the Namutoni rest camp, they saw some white people playing in the pool. She said one of the teachers commented that the whites were only rich and able to travel like that because they got rich off of Africa and made the blacks poor. (Was she implicating me as well?) This conversation made me think of my previous e-mail about being lucky. Perhaps this explains the mixed messages that I feel emanating from the teachers. On the one hand, they seem glad we are here to share our computer expertise and English skills, yet on the other hand they are perhaps a bit resentful. Our ability to travel and volunteer our services is always just another reminder of our vast wealth in comparison to theirs.

Jesus was a Volunteer
On Friday afternoon, I was invigilating the last exam of the year. All of the other learners had already left the school, leaving only a few of the grade 11s who were writing the Small Business and Entrepreneurs exam. About half of them were the HIGCSE English learners that I had taught for the past month. The exam was three hours long, so I alternated between reading a book, gazing at the learners, and watching the coming storm. They rushed to conclude their exam before the gray wall of rain descended on Ekulo. As they finished and turned in their papers, they dashed out of the class to collect their belongings and get a taxi. But Simon Namesho turned around and came back to the class, as if he had forgotten something. He rushed to my desk and whispered, “Thank you, Miss,” then ran back out into the rain.

See you on the other side, Love sera

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