The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach nor the Namibia Ministry of Education, but rather my personal views.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Our Southern Africa Amazing Race

I guess I should feel bad, well worse (because I already feel physically spent), for putting my 62-year young dad through Southern Africa Adventuring 101, but it was all good. He asked for some of it, though unknowingly. I think I can say that I undertook my three most physically challenging feats of the year all within the past two months. They were all exhilarating and fun; however, I am cool saying, “Been there, Done that” for each activity and am content to never do any of them again.

Task 1: Quad Bike Safari – Advanced Trail
When the chubby quad bike guide, flanked by his 10-year old grandson who would be joining us, “warned” that we may want to take an “easier” trail, my dad and I were both quick to opt for the “advanced” trail, statedly confident that if They could do it, We could do it. We soon learned that we were indeed in for a challenge. From the heights we scaled and the drops off the slithers of mountain they carved for the experience, to the 40+ degree inclines and declines we had to maneuver, the heat was on. I was a bit anxious for it all to end about half-way through the trip. As the guide pointed to game and wildlife to the left and right, I completely ignored him to stay focused on my path and technique. Dad did pretty good, though based on my limited understanding of the laws of physics, I was scared at least a few times that he might flip backwards when trying to manage the inclines.

Task 2: Dune Climbing
Although I hear that there are many more wicked ways to conquer the beautiful and famously-high sand dunes of Namibia (i.e. sand surfing), the basic walks up and down were enough for me. At one point, I simply chose to “de-shoe” because the pressure of the filling sands on my toes was too painful. Luckily, we had an early morning start so my feet didn’t burn along the way. I think it was pretty intimidating. Aside from the fact that walking in the sand is taxing, we were easily more than 300 feet off the ground….with an even more dune height to conquer!! You could look left and look right and see just how high you were. Plus, the shifting sands made you feel even less comforted. Topping it off, our plan was to “run” down the side of the dune to get back to the valley floor. Even though individuals looking to be much older than my father walked around me at a few points on the dunes’ vertices, I bailed down the side of “Big Daddy Dune” (real slowly, doing the near opposite of anything that might be called a “run”) before others, including my father, in the group.

Task 3: Table Mountain’s Platteklip Gorge
Ah, Table Mountain. The muscles in my thighs and calves are still tight and sore from this mountainous task (super-pun intended). Table Mountain is a sight to behold and the views all around its plateau were breath-taking. We took a cable car up to the top and decided to walk down, after finishing a guided tour of the flora, fauna, and historical features of this part of a World Heritage Site. The interaction with the other hundreds of Table Mountain visitors was comforting. We met people from all over the world up there. Admittedly, we were often initiating conversation as stall tactics in order to catch our breath and reflect on what we thought we were doing by not buying a return ticket on the cable car. The people we met along our hike down were so confident, though, that they actually inspired us to keep it up. Children were running up and down, as my dad and I struggled from rock to rock. One man was carrying his son on his shoulders, while another one-legged man was beginning the journey UP when we finally made it to the bottom (a feat that took us almost FOUR HOURS!). About three teams of everyday people posing as hikers passed us on their way up and came back down and passed us again during our slow journey. I was NOT in any hurry, but if I could blame our pace on something, I’d blame it on my (too) close-fitting shoes. It was hard to get the right traction and confidently climb from rock to rock because my toes would painfully press into the tip of my shoe each time I took a strong downward step. Whatever. Like I said, been there, done that, check-off that box.

I need to say in closing this post that I am not a wimp (and probably not alone). The tasks I completed with my dad were challenging and I’d probably do it all again if loved ones were interested. For now, though, I need to chill because it will take my body a few days to recover from my most recent adventure, the Table Mountain thrill. When I return to work, I am inspired to exercise more, create and adopt a more healthy diet, and pay attention to my vitamin intake. We’ll see what happens.

Look out for a full itinerary and reflection from my dad’s visit/trip after he leaves in a few weeks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Viewer Discretion Advised

I guess I spoke to soon in my Rhinosinusitis post, both about the recovery process and about Namibia’s “free” health care. On Wednesday morning, I woke up pain-free but looking like a character on Planet of the Apes, or maybe like a child looking into a funny mirror at the carnival. Whatever the agreement is on my resemblance, I was certain that I needed more doctor’s advice about my condition. My doctor recommended I head to the city of Windhoek to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. He suggested I get a facial scan.

I immediately started sending texts and before long, I had a ride in a government vehicle to the city. Rides, though, don’t come trouble-free. I wasted a good 3-4 hours going here and there with my driver before actually arriving at Windhoek Medi-Clinic, the hospital my friend told me to visit. The private hospital I visited was a clear departure from the meager public facility in my little town of Khorixas. Luxury vehicles laced the parking lot and the environment was pristine; customer service was also quite nice. My visit cost me N$491 (about US$60) a far cry from the N$4 (about US$0.75) I spent in Khorixas.

On Thursday morning, I visited an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Roman Catholic Hospital, another private facility. The specialist inspected me and ruled out a few more serious conditions that surfaced as possibilities in the minds of the first two general practitioners I visited. He suggested I remain on my current treatment and gave me his card for follow-up if I experienced any further problems. Bringing a challenged smile to my face, he treated me pro-bono.

It honestly did not take very long for the swelling to go down. Each day, I resembled something that looked more and more like the “normal” me. The first picture in this post was taken on Wednesday morning. The second picture was taken on Friday.

The trip may have been a little blessing in disguise. In my absence from the Khorixas Centre, my colleague finally stepped up to the administration plate and independently managed an assignment we planned to do together. Also, I was able to push forward a few stagnated action items on the desks of individuals in my supervising Ministry of Education office in Windhoek. Finally, I chilled! My friend from Khorixas had a conference near Windhoek over the weekend. Her event was held at the 20,000 hectare (whatever that means) Heja Game Lodge, which is in between the airport and the city, and which has plenty to keep the mind mellow. I watched springbok, wildebeasts, warthog, egrets, ostrich, and many more indigenous species of animal roam free as I relaxed all day on a hammock by the pool. I actually may have chilled too hard. The result of my excess, unprotected sun-bathing is now a peeling nose. Next time, sun-block and a hat.

Came Sunday, I had a ride home and an easy feeling. I needed that. (Let’s hope my medical insurance reimburses me for my hospital visit. It wasn’t a lot of my money, but I need that too).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


The title of this post kinda sounds like a prehistoric animal, but alas, it is my health diagnosis. Over the weekend, I noticed a little puffiness in my left nostril. Last night(Monday), it flared and the pain was excruciating, even into my teeth! I decided to take the long, hot stroll to the hospital, which was an experience.

The Khorixas Hospital is broken into two main parts for patients. One part is a clinic where your vitals are taken by nurses and where it is determined if you should be seen a doctor. The other part is the main wing where you wait and see a doctor and where you fill any prescriptions you may be given.

The clinic was packed and I felt like I was at times getting worse because of the presumed loose bacteria and airborne illnesses probably all around me. Other times, I felt like I was getting better because of how mild I seemed to look in comparison to others. The pain was no joke, though, so I stayed around and hoped I didn’t leave with more problems than I had prior to the visit. I also hoped that someone would accurately diagnose me and help me quickly get out of my misery.

Luckily, I am good friends with two of the doctors and one head nurse, so I knew I would see familiar faces. The two doctors are from Nigeria and spent a lot of time hanging out at our house, prior to their wives relocating here from their home country. The head nurse is from Zimbabwe, as is my closest friend in Khorixas, and often visits her at her house; we were together at a little house party last month. Still, I did not want to see them in their element, where I was a patient and in desperate need of their care. I was a bit nervous actually, which I am not sure is cool to admit.

I can also honestly say that even after being here for nearly a year, I still haven’t tried to convert the various measurements into the units I actually understand. So, I am just assuming that my temperature of 36 degrees was fine. I also don’t know what my weight of 58.8 kilograms means in pounds. I think I’ll do the lesson on conversions when I get back to work.

I spent at least two hours at the hospital and the examination was not as bad/painful as I imagined it would be. The doctor diagnosed me with Rhinosinusitis, and prescribed me with the antibiotic, Amoxicillin; the pain killer, Ibuprofen; and a nasal spray to reduce the swelling. The whole visit, including the consultation and drugs, cost me U.S. $0.75 (yes, that’s seventy-five cents, or four Namibian dollars). Imagine that. I guess that is what free and accessible health care truly means.

I obviously feel much better; I actually wrote and posted this entry. Last night was another story; I was miserable. The pain killer is working, thank goodness; although, the area around my left nostril in still swollen. Let’s hope the recovery remains steady and that I won’t be making any more trips to the hospital, except to say, “Hello” to friends.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back to Ghana

Although this post is entitled “Back to Ghana,” it really talks about my first trip to the nation. It has been over two months since the experience, however, and I am only now getting “back” to publishing a few details about it.

In July, a good friend decided that he would celebrate his 40th birthday in Ghana and invited me to join him on the trip. He didn’t have to ask twice. The big day was August 16 (although I didn’t arrive until August 17). Lucky for him, this was not his first trip; he suffered from acute poisoning after a steak dinner on day two, which seriously impacted his ability to get out and about.

I must say that the plane ride was the BOMB. I traveled using frequent flyer miles and fortunately, I had no option about whether to travel economy or business class, because only business class was available. It is very easy to get spoiled by the right type of business class. The seats were wide and comfy, fully reclined into horizontal position, and were just heavenly…….. Ahhhhhhh…….But enough about the plane.

This post is about my sojourn to a West African nation filled with history and lore. Ghana is the birthplace of Kente cloth, one symbol of African identity, pride, and honour embraced by masses of African-Americans; it is the home of ancient Kingdoms and Empires; it is a nation where millions of blacks were sold into slavery and transported to the United States and other former slave-holding countries; and among other historical markers, it is the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from European colonial powers.

It seems impossible to visit Ghana without exploring places that played critical roles in the transatlantic slave trade. According to one tour guide, over half of the European-owned coastal forts and castles discovered along West Africa are located in Ghana. I visited a few former trading posts and the experiences were very moving. The “Door of No Return” was eerie at both Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle. It was through these doors that millions of chained men and women left Africa, boarded ships, and never saw their freedom, family, homelands, and some of their various cultural traditions again. Another feature of each castle that left visitors caught in thought were the churches and chapels where captors and traders worshipped, seemingly without regard for the inhumanity of their subjugation practices. I also found it interesting that one former trading castle in Accra now serves as the Presidential Palace.

I will not soon forget the TRAFFIC in Accra. It was seriously no joke. Luckily, there were things to do while waiting for the congestion to clear. If you were in the mood to shop, you could buy just about anything you needed right from your car window. Street hawkers took vending to the next level. Candy, drinks, fruit, vegetables, clothes, toiletries, jewelry, houseware, toys, pets/puppies, you name it, a street vendor had it. I was amazed that (1) I did not see anyone get hit by a car during their weaves in and out of traffic to make a sale, and (2) I did not see many product-casualties – vendors carried most products on their heads!

Another etched memory is the endless homage to President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. The Obama’s visited Ghana about one month prior to our trip. There were billboards everywhere welcoming the president and couple, and declaring a “new day,” promising future of change, and partnership between Obama and the Ghanaian President.

It was a definitely unique and memorable trip. There is so much to share about the sights, sounds, and discoveries in Ghana, I'll have to do it in pieces and in person.

Here was my itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive at Kotoka International Airport
Day 2: Accra Mall; Internet Café; Dinner at a rooftop restaurant in Accra
Day 3: Nima Market; Ghana School of Law; Supreme Court; Kwame Nkrumah Museum and Memorial Park; Greater Accra Centre for National Culture; Evening trip to Lister Hospital (not for fun)
Day 4: General touring and shopping around town; Jonathan’s speaking engagement at University of Ghana – Legon
Day 5: Shopping around Town; Dinner and Movie at Accra Mall
Day 6: Taxi to Akosombo Dam and Dodi Princess Cruise on Lake Volta (largest man-made lake) –Dancing!!; Evening concert at Alliance Francaise Accra– More Dancing!!
Day 7: Jonathan’s return flight to the U.S.
Day 8: Connect with One Africa Guest House owner at the W.E.B DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture; Drive to Elmina
Day 9: Canopy Walk in Kakum National Park; Tours of Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle
Day 10: Early Morning bus from Elmina to Accra; Evening flight from Accra to Johannesburg
Photos included in this post: Me in front of the tomb of Kwame Nkrumah's (Ghana's first President); a plaquard celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence from England; a vendor selling jewelry at Nima Market; and a highway billboard reading "Akwaaba (Welcome) President Obama"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Third Trimester

No, I am not with child. I am, though, into my third trimester of interaction with hundreds of schoolchildren in Northwest Namibia.

Schools throughout the country operate in three terms per year. The third and final trimester of 2009 began in early September and will end, for most, at the beginning of December. It will end sooner for grade 10 and grade 12 learners.

There is an increasing expectation and push for teachers in public schools around the country to complete their syllabi in the first two terms, so that the third term can be spent helping learners review and prepare for final exams. Learners in grades 7, 10, and 12 must take national standardized exams in the third term. Grade 10 exams are over at the end of October, after which time they are free for the remainder of the year. Grade 12 exams continue into November.

The standardized exams for grades 10 and 12 are critical. In the case of grade 10, learners who do not receive enough passing marks will not be allowed to move to grade 11. In the case of grade 12, learners who do not receive the required scores will not graduate. In both exam situations, learners failing to earn the required passing marks are not allowed to return to school the following year. They must:
  • prepare to retake the exams either through independent study or an approved program designed to assist learners who have failed (They may return to school once they have passed the required tests);

  • enter a vocational school or program;

  • enter the workforce; or

  • choose some other life path available to individuals without secondary school certificates.

Unfortunately, a few of these learners (without secondary school certificates) end up teaching in Namibia’s underresourced public schools, earning full credentials along the way. You can imagine the challege this can present in the classroom.

Over the past year, I have learned that because of the past inequities in the educational system and a still developing teacher-training system, many teachers are not fully knowledgeable about the academic subjects they have been hired to teach, especially in the math and science disciplines. Some teach straight from textbooks and tend to stick to a single method of introducing new topics to learners. I have now begun encouraging teachers to utilize the Centre to improve their subject understanding and possibly adopt different instructional techniques. Language barriers, confusion about the role and offerings of the Centre, and trepidation about using computers are still three of the biggest obstacles to greater teacher engagement in the Centre.

Throughout this trimester, I have been focused on drafting an operations manual for the Centre, including a comprehensive Centre Manager job description and planning calendar; gathering input on registration and learner selection policies; continuing to train and motivate teachers and administrators to take ownership over the Centre; collecting and analyzing school, class, learner, and Centre performance data to begin evaluating potential impact; and familiarizing myself with the scope and tools of the educational learning software. I’ve been super-busy and super-pumped, and yes, my colleague (supposed counterpart) at the Centre still finds time to read books and magazines during the workday. Pity.

Although my original contract ends in December, I have decided to commit another six months to this project. There is just so much potential and so much work to be done.

At the end of this trimester, I will relocate to the capital city of Windhoek and work as an advisor for related computer-based learning centres throughout the country. I will also spend time working in the southern town of Keetmanshoop to review and hopefully revitalize the math and science centre there.

Things Fall Apart

The past week was emotionally difficult. On Monday, October 12, a fellow volunteer in a nearby town died unexpectedly in his sleep.

The volunteer was a member of Nigeria’s Technical Aid Corps(TAC), the international volunteer program for Nigerian professionals. My housemate is also a TAC member and was very close to Folorunso, the deceased. Folorunso was a frequent houseguest and the news of his passing was a serious shock.

It truly highlights the fragility of life. It also draws attention to the sacrifices we make and risks we take as volunteers in a foreign country. We especially risk not being around family and friends during times of triumph, or in this case, tribulation. I have missed four births of family and friends back home, for example, since I journeyed to Namibia.

The sacrifices and risks seem worthwhile when observing the direct benefits of our service. When you see a few of the fruits of your labor, you truly want to live life to the fullest and make impacts where you know you can. When tragedy strikes, however, the shock can cause the mind and soul to wonder, “Why?" and "Why am I here?”

I must admit that I was hyper-sensitive to everyone’s direct and indirect interaction with me throughout the week. There were fleeting, though unfounded, feelings of being under-appreciated at times. I became annoyed when I didn’t receive returned phone calls, or e-mail and text messages from colleagues. I was constantly annoyed while walking to and from work, frustrated at the government’s lack of foresight and determination in arranging readily accessible car transport for my project. And I remained annoyed with the perceived lack of passion and dedication in my colleague who may be assuming leadership over the Centre once I am gone. Without a solid succession plan with qualified personnel, would my investment be a waste? The week was draining.

The week was also extremely productive. I hosted four life science and physical science classes at the Centre, each group showing excitement about seeing topics come to life in front of their eyes and about half using computers for the first time. I had a successful Teacher Development Wednesday, bringing the number of educators participating in my training this term to around 50. On Thursday and Friday, my co-administrator sent a substitute in her place; he was very focused and I enjoyed working with him. And over 100 registered users attended sessions throughout the week, many seeking additional instructional support from me to finally comprehend challenging math concepts. Oh, and I led my second session as a official tutor for University of Namibia students on Tuesday.

I know exactly why I am here. I am comfortable with the decisions I have made. And I know just how quickly life can end. Still, it doesn’t make the loss of a friend less significant.

Folorunso leaves behind in Lagos, Nigeria a wife and five children, ranging in age from about 7yrs to 15yrs. May he rest in peace. And may the family find support and solace in this difficult time and in the future.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Centre Inauguration

On 18 September 2009, I had the honor of welcoming a few dignitaries to the computer-based learning centre I currently manage. The day marked our official Centre inauguration. I also used the opportunity to recognize selected learners and teachers.

The event was very well-attended and planning kept me busy (and sometimes frustrated) over the past two months. We welcomed the Honourable Nangolo Mbumba, Minister of Education; the Honourable Dudu Mururoa, Governor of the Kunene Region; Mr. Charles Kabajani, Under Secretary of Formal Education; His Worship Councillor Matthias Tsaeb, Mayor of Khorixas; Mr. S.I. !Gobs, Khorixas Constituency Councillor; three local tribal chiefs; and numerous regional and school officials. We also had a big delegation from the Ministry of Education’s Directorate of Research, Science, & Technology, the division that sponsors these Centres throughout the country. Our Regional Education Director for Kunene, Mr. Kabajani Kamwi, served as the Master of Ceremonies; and the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) was there covering the event. The story aired on the evening news of Sunday, 27 September. Also, local school choirs and a cultural group performed.

It was good to work with a few people who understand the value of hard work and respect the value of giving. It took unofficial overtime and donations to ensure we were ready for the day.

I work with some people who don’t do anything that they are not paid to do, and barely fully invest in the work they are paid to do. They leave the office at 5pm, when the official work day ends, regardless of what needs to be done and irrespective of urgent projects. And, I must admit my beyond-frustration when during the pressure of planning week, a colleague found time to sit-in on an AMWAY PRESENTATION (Yes, Amway!)! Such lackluster feelings about one’s job are something to which I am definitely accustomed in the U.S.A; however, I am a bit more sensitive here because I am a volunteer. Everything I do, I do for free. When my colleagues trip, then, I sometimes get annoyed. A volunteer did step up to paint a logo for the Centre, which took a few evenings. I, along with a dedicated colleague shared the cost of any additional supplies needed for the logo-painting project.

All in all, the event was a success. I am, however, disappointed by the fact that I missed the actual unveiling of the inaugural plaque. I was preparing learners for Centre tours/demonstrations to immediately follow the unveiling. As the primary event planner and Centre head, though, I expected to be running around for most of the day.

(I am pictured with Apas //Khoab Cultural Group and with the Minister of Education.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Africa Is A Continent

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fairly uneasy with the generalization, “Africa,” especially in cultural contexts. Africa is now made up of over 50 countries; it’s the second largest continent; and there are hundreds of languages spoken throughout. There are thousands of unique ethnic groups that practice distinct traditions and have varied customs. Some areas have rich rainforest, while others are primarily arid. There are definitely people in Africa who are actually very unfamiliar with countries outside of their own, and may not even have full familiarity (as is the case in the U.S.A.) of the various reaches of the very country in which they currently live. So, then, what makes Africa, “Africa”?

What makes this vast, geographically-diverse, politically-varied land-mass so easily be referred to by so many and in so many different contexts, simply as “Africa?” In the year 2009, what does the label actually suggest?

Many times, it seems, the label “Africa” does not include North Africa, nor does the label “African” include the thousands of Caucasians that have lived here for generations. The labels clearly seem far too often reserved for the exotic, poor, war-torn, less-developed, wilds occupied by the darkest skinned people on earth. I’ve heard people refer to Namibia and South Africa as “less African” than places like Zimbabwe and Ghana. I’ve heard it on the plane and on the ground, from volunteers and from permanent residents in the countries. What’s being communicated in such statements? Are people really ready or wanting to see “Africa” grow, change, and develop in different ways? How do we and When did we get into the practice of validating Africa and Africans. It’s pretty frustrating, intriguing, real, and actually kinda sad.

Now prior to the “Scramble for Africa” by European countries such as England, France, Germany, and Portugal in the late 1880s, there were indeed fewer and definitely less rigid boundaries within the continent. The past flexibility in territorial divides caused many groups and cultures bearing resemblance to one another to be found in various parts of the lands. The migratory patterns; however, were distinct and diversity has always been present.
What do you think makes Africa, “Africa”?

Here's a Quick Story
Recently, I was awakened around 3am by the sounds of loud explosions and unfamiliar noises. The next day, I learned from many people, including the local judge, that it was the sound of police weapons fired to warn and then wound (ultimately killing) criminals who attempted to break-in to a local butchery. I posted the incident of being awakened on my Facebook homepage, causing numerous loved ones to respond with warnings about the dangers I was facing. General warnings about safety were fine, but how could they know about the specific dangers in Khorixas, Namibia? Only a few of the individuals in my life prior to November 2008 had ever been to Namibia (I did work at Peace Corps) and most had never even heard of the place. And this town’s activities definitely don’t make global news. I don’t think it mattered, though; it IS “Africa” and we all know what goes on there……

Truth is, gunshots have not been heard in Khorixas, Namibia perhaps in decades, according to local residents. I have heard more gunshots in my hometown of South Central Los Angeles (wherever that truly is….the boundaries just grow every time someone is shot) than anywhere else I’ve lived in the world. In reality, in Khorixas, Namibia, the most noise I hear is the nightly chorus of barking dogs, music and live athletics broadcasts from the shebeens (bars) and occasional blaring bakkies (pick-up trucks), and religious music on Sundays and funerals. It’s a pretty safe and quiet place. I will, however, be as cautious and alert as I am on the streets of New York City.

I realize that my time in Namibia is about helping others understand the diversity of our world, of Africa, of Southern Africa, and of Namibia, just as much as it is helping me understand the same. It is also time to identify and share the similarities that we all too often overlook or sometimes purposely ignore, as is the case of racial oppression, inter-group (gang) warfare, and institutionalized inequalities.

I do believe that because of the shared cultures, customs, and challenges in the continent, there is a need for many African countries to work and be represented as a collaborative whole. The African Union(AU) has a purpose, as do the regional associations of African countries. There will, however, always be a need for distinctions of some sort. So…..you still won’t hear me generalizing about “Africa” (or much else) very often.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Earthquake Shakes Khorixas, by John Ekongo

I was at the Ministry of Education's Kunene Regional Office when the quake struck. I definitely felt it; but, perhaps it is my Southern California heritage that kept me unphased. People reacted differently; learners were the most dramatic, of course. No one really knew exactly what really happened. I finally got hold of the New Era Newspaper today (seven days later) and read the cover story on the incident.

WINDHOEK – A mild earthquake of the magnitude 5.6 struck Khorixas at around 09h00 last Friday sending residents in panic.

The Geological Survey of Namibia (GSN) has confirmed that Khorixas experienced an earthquake of the magnitude 5.6 on the Richter scale, a few minutes after 09h00 last Friday morning.

This is the largest earthquake ever to be recorded in Namibia, according to statistics from the GSN.

The quake struck at 09h14 local time at a depth of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) with a distance of 285 kilometres (175 miles) north-west of Windhoek, 195 kilometres (120 miles) north-east of Swakopmund and 340 kilometres (210 miles) south-east of Ohopoho.

According to available data, 26 responses to the earthquake were received in seven areas, namely Windhoek, Otjiwarongo, Okakarara, Henties Bay, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Oshakati.

At the same time, other earthquakes were recorded in Cape Town (South Africa), Casablanca (Morocco), Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Algiers (Algeria), Lagos (Nigeria), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), Lusaka (Zambia), Cairo (Egypt), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), as well as Nairobi (Kenya), according to the United States Geological Survey on its website – which also confirmed the Namibian incident.

The earthquake was also felt all the way from Khorixas throughout outlying areas such as Uis, Soris Soris, and Swakopmund up to Windhoek, said Dr Gabi Schneider - Director of the GSN in the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

No reports of damage to property or loss of lives were recorded.

On Saturday, community members were calling the Namibian Broadcasting Damara/Nama Service wanting to find out more about the natural event, which had the ground under their feet trembling.

The earthquake happened west of the town and was generated by the activity of faults west of the town, Schneider told New Era on Saturday.

Kunene Region where Khorixas is situated lies in areas where there are earthquake activities. Although rare, its location is in the earthquake faults despite many of them not being fully active.

When New Era called, residents were in shock and panic because of the earthquake. No power interruptions, injuries or losses of life were reported, residents said, but they were frightened.

A teacher at a local high school said, “You could feel the earth moving a bit and the kids started running away.”

Jason Palmer from the Mowani Mountain Camp – an accommodation establishment deep in Damaraland – a pristine tourism area said, “We had an earthquake and it lasted for about 7 – to 10 seconds but luckily enough, no rocks or any thing major fell.”

Earthquakes have been experienced before but the country has not recorded a major earthquake. Areas with geological faults that are active (areas that have recorded a seismic event) apart from Khorixas are Opuwo, Windhoek, Waterberg, Khorixas and Bethanie.

Eros in Windhoek felt an earthquake in 2006, prior to Friday’ earthquake and which had a size of 4.7. One year, a farm on the outskirts of Windhoek also experienced an earthquake of magnitude 5.0, which resulted in some cracks in the ground.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Goodwill Ambassadors

In order to have true impact, the work of the Khorixas Computer-Based Learning Centre cannot be the work of the computer software alone. Maths and Sciences were neglected for far too long in certain communities to have the gap closed with a few hours in front of a computer. Besides, 90% of our learners in Khorixas had never touched a computer prior to their time in the Centre. Special attention needs to be given to increasing their basic familiarities with computer technology, which will slow down the rate at which the academic lessons will be understood.

One-on-one time with learners, additional off-line activities for home and self-study, classroom aids (posters, maps), parent involvement, assistance with the English language, heightened and specialized teacher training, are all among the necessary tools for improving the potential of youth in Khorixas to truly excel.

During their trip to Namibia, my mother and Denise spent time in the Centre. Denise only had a day to visit, but her day was busy. She noticed needs right away and Ms. Social Worker went to work, helping with specific math challenges, assisting learners with the proper use of the computer hardware, and acknowledging success when it occured (which is extremely important).

My mother will be in the Centre with me for about two and a half weeks. During her time, she has already helped with massive amounts of data entry that will be absolutely essential to analyzing learner progress and facilitating dialogue with teachers, learners, and parents. She has also worked with learners one-on-one, both at the computer and in a more personal setting, to help them navigate through lessons and to help facilitate their basic understanding of addition, subtraction, and multiplication. My mother's work has been even more effective because of the massive donations she brought with her to Namibia. Pushing the limits of airline luggage allowances and frequent flyer privileges, Mrs. Webb packed away tons of learning goodies for the Centre, Khorixas schools, and learners. In her suitcase were dozens of classroom posters, pens/pencils/crayons, math flashcards, reading books, index cards, audio headsets and splitters (for group work), and much, much more.

Every bit helps. If you are interested in donating to the Mathematics and Sciences learning project in Namibia, please let me know.

Big Rig Hike

As the saying goes, “When in (Namibia), do as the (Namibians.)” So Do we Did. In order to get from Windhoek back home to Khorixas last Sunday, my mother and I were snuggly packed away in the 18-wheeler big-rig pictured in the photo to the right. OK, let me ‘splain.

I’ve shared before that there is not a government-sponsored public transportation system throughout the country. In Windhoek and a few large(relatively-speaking) towns, there are marked taxis and even small kombis (mini-buses) that help people move about. Elsewhere in the country, getting around is pretty dependent on private auto and (hitch)hiking.

“Hikes” are somewhat standardized and to an extent, unofficially regulated.
  • There is a fairly standard hike fee from one town to another.

  • Drivers typically wait until their vehicle is full of passengers before starting to a particular destination.

  • “Hike Points” are known to locals and at some places (Otjiwarango, for one), there are designated areas within the Hike Point with town-signs for people to wait for hikes going their way.

  • Early morning and early afternoon hikes are most available.

There is no standard look or feel to the vehicle or driver offering the ride, though. Each hike can be an adventure.

In my hiking-past, I’ve been in the back of a pick-up truck on a mattress with four other people. I’ve been in the back of a small four-door sedan with broken doors, four backseat passengers (in a space designed to comfortably seat only three) and two front-seat passengers (one pressed uncomfortably close to the gear/stick-shift), plus the driver. I’ve now also been in an 18-wheeler.

We were a little pressed for a hike because we began the journey later in the morning than expected. Many of the cars had already collected passengers and left the hike point by the time we arrived. We were left to get in an available vehicle or consider remaining in Windhoek another night and trying again earlier the next morning. We chose to get in the available vehicle, which happened to be a big-rig.

There were four passengers in the small double cab in the front. It wasn’t very comfortable, nor was the ride very short because we stayed (luckily) within the speed limits set for our vehicle category (80-90km/hr).

We were happy to end the journey, but we definitely now have stories for the interested masses. I’ll let mom tell enquirers about the gun…..

Itinerary: Southern Africa Vacation (June 2009)

Day 1: Mom and Denise fly-in to Windhoek; I (hitch)hike to Windhoek; Airport shuttles to hotel; Visit Ministry of Education (Stipend issues); Dinner at steakhouse; Overnight in Windhoek (hot shower for me !!!!!!)

Day 2: Tour of Windhoek; Shopping in City Centre; Bus to Livingstone, Zambia (21-hours!)

Day 3: Arrive in Livingstone, Zambia (watch baboons jack an elderly woman for her fresh bread)

Day 4: Visit Livingstone Museum; Shopping (Denise crowned haggle-queen!); Sunset Dinner Cruise along the Zambezi River; Guest star on Zambezi Radio (107.5)

Day 5: Visit Victoria Falls (put foot on Zimbabwe side; mom and Denise pose by the bungee-jumping sign on No-Man’s Land bridge); Shopping; Elephant-Back Safari in Mosi-Oa Tunya National Park (Zambia)
Day 6: Ferry to Botswana; Boat and Land Safaris in Chobe National Park (battle unforeseen rains and chills) (my last hot shower!!!!!)
Day 7: Buy blanket (bus was COLD!) and food (trip was long with questionable food at reststops); Last-minute haggling with street vendors in Livingstone, Zambia; Bus to Windhoek (21-hrs)
Day 8: Morning arrival in Windhoek; Shower at Hostel; Rent Car (a 4x4 this time!); Depart for Khorixas (6 hours, with stopover in Okahandja – Denise, the Haggle-Queen, was losing her royal touch with vendors); Arrive in Khorixas; Dinner at Restcamp
Day 9: Visit schools and Regional Ministry of Education office in Khorixas; Mini-tour of Khorixas (basically, stand in the centre of town and point); Work with learners in Computer Centre; Dinner at Lodge
Day 10: Depart Khorixas; Visit Petrified Forest (see Welwitschia plants); Arrive in Windhoek (consider movie and club/concert, but opt for pajamas and bed)
Day 11: Return rental car; Take Denise to Hosea Kutako International Airport; Mom and I (hitch)hike back to Khorixas (in an 18-wheeler big rig! See BigRig Hike post)
Highlights: Driving on the gravel roads (Mom-she was silently having a little panic attack); Speaking with the street vendors, hearing their stories (Denise); Hot showers (Me); Sunset on the Zambezi (unanimous). There were so many.
Questionables: Petrified Forest
Most Annoying: Endless Foot and Mouth Disease Control Spots
Most Common Animal Sightings on Safari: Hippos (literally saw “tons” of ‘em), Impalas
Most Memorable Animal Sightings on Safari: Lionesses and Lion Cubs; Partially-eaten Buffalo near Lionesses
Most Common Animal Sightings on the Road: Warthog and Guinea Fowl (although we did hit a cow on the bus, according to mum)
Most Fun: Victoria Falls (it was like taking a big swim; we got super-drenched)

The planning of this adventure/vacation was a bit stressful, but it was well worth it all. I enjoyed the company, the beautiful spirits always within and amongst us, learning new facts about the world, and seeing new places. Next stop…….

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Mid-Term (Self) Examination

Wow. I am almost half-way through my one-year contract with the Namibian government. While I have settled in fairly well, there are still a few things to which I have not quite adjusted. Here are some examples.

ARMOURED GROUND CRICKETS: I’m sorry, but these things always startle me. When “footing” to work, I encounter them on the street and I always stop (very briefly). Their hindlegs are super-long and they are huge! They look like something from the Jurassic Park era. I never scream or run; I don’t think they’ll attack or bite. But I definitely have a moment of pause; they are creepy. I’ll try to get a better picture, but you have to see them to understand.

THE 13h00 LUNCH BREAK: Everything basically shuts down at 13h00 (1pm) for a one-hour lunch break. Stores and post offices close, and most people go home and cook/prepare a meal; so do I. Seems cool and definitely forces me to take needed time to rest and eat. Problem is, it becomes hard to get the energy to return back to work! It’s typically hot outside after lunch and I usually have to walk back to the office. On numerous occasions, I have had to drag myself out of the house after eating a nice meal and chillin’ at home.

(NO) PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Lack of access to public transportation is definitely an issue for me here. There are really no official (government-sponsored or endorsed) forms of transport to or from my town of Khorixas. Those wishing to leave without private autos must wait at a “hike point” for a vehicle that is going towards their destination and is willing to take passengers. It is a business for some folks, and the locals know the basic rates to common destinations, but there are no real standards for the ride. This morning, I traveled from Windhoek to Khorixas with three other Volunteers and about 15 bags (and a computer) on a mattress in the back of a covered pick-up truck (also called a bakkie). The ride is about 4.5 hours and we ended up picking up another teacher, her daughter, and her three bags along the way. Got motion-sick a few times, but managed.

WALKING ON GRAVEL ROADS: I am a fairly patient and ready walker. While living in the Eastern U.S. (DC and New York), I rarely drove, even though I had a car. I adjusted to the style and pace of the environment (and I didn’t want to lose or fight for a parking spot). The adjustment here has been a bit more trying. Over the first three months, I spent a lot of time “in the field” visiting the local schools and conducting outreach for the computer centre. This meant walking from place to place on untarred, rocky, sandy paths and roads. I have “Easy Spirits” that I thought would serve me well. Remember the whole “looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker” campaign for Easy Spirit shoes? NOT! I can say that my “Easy Spirits” have definitely been very “hard on my soul (and sole).” I have battled many blisters to prove the challenges and have needed to soak my tenderized feet on numerous occasions after a long day in the field and at work. Luckily the town is small. When walking, I sometimes get offered a ride by a colleague heading my way. It’s not often enough, though.

And I guess my story about blowing a car tire on gravel roads (see post, “C28: The Road Less Traveled”) may suggest that I am not quite used to DRIVING on gravel roads either.

SMALL TOWN LIFE: I’ll just call it that. The bank is the biggest doozie. We have one bank, Standard Bank, that is a satellite office to the main branch in the town of Outjo. Our office is open for just three hours per day (9h30 – 12h30) and only during the week (Monday – Friday). There are basically only three employees and only two working with customers at any given time. Everyone must wait in the same two lines, either the enquiry line or the other line. Small business owners, seniors wanting to cash their pension cheque, security guards needing to deposit large amounts of coins, and me must all see the same person. When I went to deposit my stipend check, I was in line for over an hour. Luckily (and unfortunately), I haven’t gotten many checks. (See “Just Got Paid” post).

MORE SMALL TOWN LIFE: Another issue with being in my small town is the lack of social and entertainment outlets. Most of the stores close by 18h00 (6:00pm); the only things left open are the bars. There are no real nightclubs, restaurants (outside of the two lodges), or places to go after dark (or during the daytime, for that matter). It can feel a bit isolating at times; but, I manage by reading, writing, resting, focusing on my project, and watching mind-numbing television. I also have a few friends in town and “visiting” is a common activity.

The few examples above are just a few and while they are all real concerns, they are mild. Overall, I am enjoying the professional opportunities and challenges that have come with my work here. This job actually feels like the best fit I have had in my career. It complements my academic training in anthropology, education, and public administration; it benefits from my background as a successful product of under-resourced schools and communities; and it challenges my professional abilities and skills as an educational planner and community organizer. As such, I am fairly certain that I will accept the offer from the Namibia Ministry of Education to extend my stay beyond the initial one-year contract period and help develop their math and science computer projects in other parts of the country.


Many of my friends and family have already noted my British spelling, rather than American English spelling, of common words; and my use of the 24-hour clock for time/reference. Here are a few fun/interesting notes on Namibian “English” terms.

Cool Drink: Soda/Pop
Shebeen/Cuca Shop: Bar
Tekkies: Tennis Shoes/Sneakers
Robot: Traffic Light
Hot Stuff; Hooligan Juice: Liquor
Bakkie: Pick-up Truck/SUV (Car with a cab)
Kombi: mini-bus/mini-van
Rubber: pencil eraser
Elastic: rubber band
Footing: walking
Soapie: soap opera
Learner: student in grades K-12 (the term student is for university)
Tuckshop: store on school premises where things are sold (pens, pencils, sweets)
Sweets: candy

Not as fun, still interesting:
Location/Township: area where Blacks were forced to live during apartheid, usually high density

Requesting office supplies from the Ministry of Education procurement officer is always an ordeal because we use different terms for many of the items.

Just got Paid…Friday Night

Well, it was actually last Friday and it wasn’t very much of a paycheck. It was, though, still more than $1 billion Zim dollars (read “I’m a Billionaire” post).

I am a full-time volunteer. As such, my pay should not be likened to a real salary, but a sustainable living stipend. I make less than $400 US per month and I’d been here for over four months before receiving my first allowance.

Despite my dramatic “pay cut,” my super-delayed pay-day, and my continued delay in pay, life has been manageable because I receive other types of assistance from the government (AND I came with my own money). As I may have mentioned before, I do not really have any steady bills here and I did not come to Namibia with any type or amount of outstanding debt (credit card, loans, etc). I also lead a fairly simple life.

As a WorldTeach Volunteer, my house is provided by the Ministry of Education, which also pays for the utilities. In addition, I receive phone allowances from the Ministry of Education, which help me manage my work responsibilities. I have a monthly allowance for my office phone and monthly credit is provided for my mobile phone. Such allowances are not available to all Volunteers; but, the government recognizes them as critical to my project.

I have recently added a few additional expenses. Last month, my housemate bought a satellite dish and had it installed. We agreed to share the monthly cable bill, which amounts to about $15 US each. It’s not a bad deal; but, I do find myself watching wwaaaayyyyyy too much television. (and now I’m confused about why Adam did not win on American Idol).

I had to wait four months before receiving my first check, but during my recent time in Windhoek, I was able to speak with the right people. They took care of the problem and I should be all caught-up with my due stipends soon.


The young man pictured with the accordion recently won a youth talent competition here in Namibia. While the instrument seems to be a more contemporary element, the style of music he performed, along with the dancers and guitarist who are also pictured, are all parts of his traditional Riemvasmaaker culture. The photo was taken at a regional health education event last month where numerous local cultural groups performed.

About a week before the event, I was briefly introduced to the Riemvasmaaker culture by two colleagues that are members of the community. I also met the local chief. I am told that Riemvasmaakers have origin in various tribes, including Nama, Damara, Herero, and Xhosa; although, those of Xhosa origin are generally not found in Namibia.

They explained to me that they come from the Northern Cape province of South Africa, in a town named Riemvasmaak. The area in which they lived is known for its natural hot springs and beautiful red stony mountains. When the South African government adopted apartheid, the Riemvasmaakers were uprooted and forced to relocate to a remote part of Northwest Namibia (at that time, Namibia was formally called SouthWest Africa). Riemvasmaaker homes were burned and they were given no choice in their removal. Their land was then transformed into a military training base for the South African Defense Force.

Both of my colleagues remember the long, arduous, and sorrowful 1974 journey well. There were a few thousand members led by chiefs on trains, buses, and foot. They were sent and ended up in a remote village far from home with little access to conveniences and little resemblance to the land they left. The village is not very far from the town of Khorixas, in the Kunene Region, where I currently live.

After the fall of apartheid in 1993/1994, the new South African government initiated land restitution projects, closed the military base, and invited the Riemvasmaakers, the original residents, back to their land. Many returned, while others remained in their new environments because they’d established families and successful careers there. Meanwhile, there have reportedly been a number of cases of Riemvasmaaker injuries on active land mines that were set-up by the former military and not removed as promised prior to their re-occupation of the area.

Of course it is now up to me to learn more about this interesting, yet unfortunate history and resilient people.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For the Love of Math

Today, I got mobbed by about 50 learners who were jockeying to be first-in-line to use the computer lab (we only have 25 computers). Yesterday, I had about 22 learners that came first thing in the morning and actually stayed for six hours!

There are a few notes/facts that make the scene heart-warming and inspiring.

1) The computers in the lab contain just one software application, educational learning software called PLATO. There are no word processing programs, no games, no internet. Clients at the lab are required to work on mathematics and sciences.

2) Visits to the lab are completely voluntary. The learners are not required to be there.

3) The sessions are scheduled for just one hour.

4) The last day of the first school term was last Wednesday. The learners are officially on holiday. The second school term does not begin until on May 26.

My biggest dilemma today was trying to figure out how to manage the crowd. I had learners in grades three up to grade 12. A teacher and a few out-of-school learners also stopped by to enjoy the resources.

I’m thinking about suggesting and helping to create a math camp format for the next holiday. With the students’ enthusiasm for learning (and nothing else for them to do in town), we may be able to make more out of this opportunity.

I do believe the children are our future. And I will do my part to teach them well.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I'm A Billionaire!

Look, I’m a billionaire!!!

Forget about the Benjamins (US$100 bills); it’s all about the Billions, Baby.
Trading artifacts is definitely an activity common to foreigners and locals in countries everywhere. Items from the United States that are very “normal” and indistinct to me can make a unique and invaluable treat to someone in a country or environment where international travel is not frequent. Similarly, items that I think are rare and exotic may be overly abundant and ordinary in communities that produce them locally. This is where trade becomes fun and mutually rewarding.
Today, my trade was in money. I should note that In addition to the Namibians with which I work and live, I have friends and colleagues in Khorixas from a variety of countries, including Nigeria, Canada, England, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe.
I gave a few US bills to a local friend from Zimbabwe, in exchange for a few Zimbabwean bills that bear numbers that most of my peers/countrymen would never see on green paper in their US wallets.
I am pictured with Zimbabwean notes valued at $1 million, $100 million, $200 million, and $1 billion. Talk about bling! BUT…..the figures can be deceiving.
According to a January 2009 BBC report (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7859033.stm), Zimbabwe “ is in the grip of world-record hyperinflation which has left the Zimbabwean dollar virtually worthless...

“Teachers, doctors and civil servants have gone on strike complaining that their salaries - which equal trillions of Zimbabwean dollars - are not even enough to catch the bus to work each day.”
Time.com reported last year that bank note denominations ran to 75 billion Zimbabwean dollars. A pint of milk, if it can be found at all, now cost 3 billion dollars, or about 30 U.S. cents.
The Zimbabwean government recently suspended the use of the local currency and now uses the US dollar.
So maybe I’m not a real billionaire, since my bill isn’t valued at more than about 10 US cents; but, it’s still a pretty cool piece of (rather unfortunate) history.
And as I now have friends from the country of Zimbabwe, I’ll be keeping a closer watch on how the country’s economy is recovering.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Winter Time

I don’t think there’s been a year in my recent past that I’ve known or remembered about daylight savings time before the actual date of the change. And, for the first 24 hours, I’m still unsure about the actual time. The same thing just happened in Namibia. I think we were supposed to turn our clocks back an hour this morning. I have the most recent newspaper (Friday), but it says nothing about the time changes.

According to my time zone internet sources, the 1st Sunday in April until the 1st Sunday in September marks “Winter Time” in Namibia. To further confuse things, Namibia, unlike its neighbors of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, observes Daylight Savings Time (DST), whatever Daylight Savings Time really means. DST here ended at midnight last night.

During “Winter Time,” Namibia is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC, I know the acronym does not follow the rules) +1. It is one hour behind its eastern neighbors during these months. During “Summer Time” (October to March), Namibia is on Central African Time (CAT), which is GMT+2.

Here’s a description from the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College (Minnesota); they host a study abroad program here:

Namibia is generally seven (7) hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST), eight (8) hours ahead of Central Standard Time (CST), nine (9) hours ahead of Mountain Standard Time (MST), and ten (10) hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (PST). Namibia and South Africa are in the same time zone.

However, Namibia changes to daylight savings time and South Africa does not. Also, since Namibia is in the southern hemisphere, when the time does change, it goes in the opposite direction from the northern hemisphere, and the dates of the time change are different from the U.S. As an example, depending on whether Namibia and the U.S. are currently on standard or daylight savings time, Namibia can be 6, 7 or 8 hours later than the U.S. Central Time Zone.


I’m sure it’s clear; I’m just a little slow on the time zone-uptake. It could also be because I've lived in each of the four time zones in the U.S. and have just given up on trying to tell the time.

I just put a clock on the left column that should let you know the current time in Namibia and in Washington, DC. You are on your own to figure out the time differences from other places. Note that I put Namibia time on a 24-hour clock, because that is how time is told here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Weekend at Walvis (Bay and Swakopmund)

After being rescued from the Namib-Naukluft Park in the Namib Desert, Jonathan and I continued on to our original destination of the Coast, specifically, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are two towns located on the West Coast of Namibia, two of the handful of places along the country’s Atlantic Ocean border that are actually navigable. A designated area north of Swakopmund is actually called the "Skeleton Coast"; don't worry, wasn't planning on traveling there, even on paved roads.

Swakopmund has become a major beach resort town, while Walvis Bay is a bit more industrial, yet relaxing, nonetheless. We decided to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in Swakopmund (the Intermezzo), and adventure in Walvis Bay. I really enjoyed the accomodations because it had a fabulous bathtub and calming view. It had been about 4 months since I soaked in a tub, and after C28 (be sure to read that post), I REALLY needed to relax.

Although the famous Walvis Bay pink flamingos were already gone (for the season), we were able to enjoy sailing with dolphins, seals, pelicans, and other aquatic life and birds during our morning cruise. We were also planning to go on a moonlight horseback ride, but no moon. (We did, however, get to see a whole lot of constellations during our night in the desert). Folks venture to Walvis Bay to kayak, sandboard (like boogie-board, but on sand dunes, rather than water waves), and enjoy the natural harbour. Our time was limited, even more so by our unexpected delays, so we took it easy, savoured the good food, and casually explored both towns.

Because of the location of Walvis Bay, there is some interesting political history there. For instance, while Namibia gained it's freedom in 1990, it wasn't until 1994 that the territory of Walvis Bay was officially transferred to the new nation of Namibia and became free.

As you can imagine, I have tons of pictures to share from this trip and from the time I arrived in Namibia; but, it literally takes about 20 minutes to upload one photo using the internet in Khorixas (and I pay by the volume, not the time). I'll try to get them up somehow.

NOTE: The formatting of this post seems to be a problem; I'll try to figure it out.

Mr. Goodyear and Mr. Goodwill

My Namibian-Road warrior, hero, mini-vacation buddy, goes by the mortal name of Jonathan Blakley. Besides leaping to Speedy Gonzalez action with tire-changes, Mr. Goodyear (aka Jonathan) also delivered a positive super-boost to the Khorixas Computer-Based Learning Centre during his visit, giving him the honorary title, Mr. Goodwill.

As I mentioned, the Centre’s computers are loaded with PLATO educational learning software, which provides individualized instruction and tutoring to users. One of the highlights of the PLATO learning software, especially in a country seeking to improve English language skills and comprehension, is the audio component. The audio helps users: 1) improve their familiarity with written and spoken English, and 2) better identify and learn complex terms and concepts. The audio also helps set the pace of the lesson.

Due to some oversight in planning, however, headsets were not ordered for the Centre/workstations. I was able to borrow a few sets of external speakers for a few weeks; but, you can imagine the challenges with that solution: 1) the speakers are borrowed – the owners will want them back, 2) the external speakers create excess noise in the Centre possibly distracting clients, and 3) there is a limit to how many speakers are even available to be borrowed.

The Kunene Region Ministry of Education and the Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology noticed and acknowledgement the oversight; however, the procurement process would take some time. I told Jonathan about my challenge and Mr. Goodwill went into action, finding suitable headsets in the States, shipping 30 of them to his home, and then personally delivering them to the Centre during his recent trip. The Deputy Director of the Regional Ministry of Education Office officially received the headsets.

The learners did great working in pairs and teams of as many as four, sharing speakers during our period without headsets. No one complained about sharing, and as a result of the “success,” we may even embrace future opportunities for teamwork from time-to-time. The individual learning, however, is what makes the Centre and PLATO unique. Thanks, Jonathan. As you were able to see during your visit, the learners love the new resource and will make the most of it.

DONATIONS: If you are interested in directly helping the Centre or special computer-based learning projects in Namibia, please let me know. Based on my capacity-building work in Khorixas, I have been approached by the national office (Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology) and asked to directly support the development of various Centres in other parts of the country as well. Your assistance will definitely be useful over the next few months.

NOTE: An extended list of direct contributors to my WorldTeach project in Namibia is included in the column to the left. Many, many others have also provided invaluable support to me and for all of you, I am grateful.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Working with PLATO

I wanted to write a little about the work I am actually doing here in Namibia, and specifically, Khorixas. I work for the Ministry of Education, and am currently on assignment through the Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology to the Kunene Region.

My job is to manage the strategic planning and implementation of a sustainable and optimally-utilized computer-based learning centre for learners and teachers in mathematics and science. I truly enjoy my work because it is based on partnerships and capacity-building, two areas I believe are at the root of sustainable development.

All of the computers in the centre are equipped with PLATO software. PLATO is an acronym that stands for, People Learning And Training On-Line. The software company is headquartered in Minnesota, but has offices in other countries as well, including South Africa.

When I arrived, the centre in Khorixas had the computers and software, but no project or centre manager and no detailed plan for how to introduce the resources to the key stakeholders. And so I began identifying those who would be affected in any way by a new computer-based learning centre. I began organizing meetings, searching for any useful documents, and drafting timelines and workplans to guide the project (and keep me sufficiently busy). In order to understand who I’ve been engaging, I should give a little background into the learning communities here.

Namibia’s school system for learners (pre-college students) is broken into three levels: primary (K-7), junior secondary (8-10), and senior secondary (11-12). There are some variations in this organizational scheme, but schools are typically grouped in this way. At the end of grade 10, learners must pass the Namibia Junior Secondary Certificate Exam to continue to grade 11. Those who do not pass must leave school. Some go straight to work or a vocational training program, while others enroll in another type of learning program to prepare to pass the exam. They cannot move on to the next grade until they pass the national exam. Learners must also pass an exam, the Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate Exam, to graduate high school and enter college. I have organized the centre to work with learners in grades 5 – 12 and also those who did not pass grade 10 or grade 12 exams.

The centre is also designed to assist teachers. Teachers can use the software to improve and manage their subject knowledge. Teachers can also use the software to prepare or supplement lessons on particular topics. They can assign activities for their students to complete before, during, or after they have introduced a concept.

Of course, in order to work with any of these groups effectively, I must have a solid relationship with principals and other educational administrators. As Khorixas is small, I have quickly come to know all of the principals in town and I work closely with the Director and Deputy Director of Education in the region. I have also created a planning and advisory committee, comprised of teachers and administrators, which has helped promote ownership of the project and has demonstrated investment made by local leaders in the project.

I am still learning the PLATO software and finding the best way to engage teachers; although, over one-third of the teachers in the area attended my basic computer literacy classes and over half attended my introduction to PLATO classes. As a large percentage of teachers had never touched a computer before entering the centre, the basic computer literacy classes were designed to ensure that they could understand and appropriately utilize the learning software.

In addition to working with teachers, there are also a number of infrastructure issues still being worked out. As such, I have only allowed a small number of learners (50 in-school and 25 out-of-school learners) use of the Centre. Each school nominated 10 learners to be a part of a pilot group throughout March. These learners have been especially useful in helping us observe how student populations may respond to the software and what systems we should have in place to track their progress, protect the centre's resources, and support student enjoyment of computer-based learning.

Whose Independence is it Anyway?

While I stole the title of this post from a past opinion/editorial in the Namibian (a local newspaper), I completely get it and have the same question. Saturday, March 21 marked 19 years since Namibia gained it’s independence from South Africa (although Namibia’s coastal town of Walvis Bay had to wait an additional four years – 1994 – to be freed from foreign control). Before becoming a protectorate of South Africa, Namibia was under German rule. As noted in many texts and speeches, Namibia has a long road to freedom. Nonetheless, there was not a single sign of independence or celebration, or even a notable Namibian flag in the tourist/holiday resort of Swakopmund, where I was relaxing on that day. At least, not where I could see. What’s that all about?

I am sure that there must be a few folks over here that who are not too pleased about the “independence” of Namibia; it may have messed up a few things in some people’s lives, people who were otherwise content pre-independence. There are also others who may just accept the new reality, but not feel as much to celebrate the fact. The town of Walvis Bay, where we traveled and sailed on a marine cruise, actually was the last part of Namibia to become “free.” But still, where were the fireworks? Banners? Light-post signs? radio shout-outs? It just felt weird.

The main celebration, with the president and parades and the like, took place in Keetmanshoop, a town in the Southern part of the country. Other celebrations around the nation were, according to select news reports, and according to my eye-witness account in one, actually two (Swakopmund and Walvis Bay), locales, somewhat lackluster and even non-existent.

I know that many national/patriotic celebrations in the U.S.A., especially as it relates to our national history and heritage are extremely superficial; most do not know even know what days like Veteran's Day or the Fourth of July actually commemorate. I thought it would be different here, though, because of how recent the "main events" have been.

The Namibian has a section where readers can send a text message that may be printed in the paper. There were a number of comments about independence day celebrations and participation. It’s hard to know how representative the views truly are. I asked school-children in Khorixas how they celebrated independence on that Saturday and most just stayed home and did nothing special. A few watched the Keetmanshoop celebration on television.

I know that as I become closer to the people, I’m sure I’ll learn more about related sentiments.

Thieves in the Day

A few weeks ago, my housemate’s clothes were stolen from our outside clothesline. It was broad daylight and he was inside the house when it happened! It wasn’t until I came home around 18h30 (6:30pm) that he noticed the missing items. Our friend is a magistrate and took him to the police station to report the crime.

I used that opportunity to introduce or reintroduce myself to all of my neighbors in this block and the next. My ‘hood in LA had issues of crime and theft, but as long as u had a few extra eyes and ears on the street, and u had some respect, u and your personal belongings were pretty safe.
Some of the intros I did in Khorixas were long overdue, but better late than never, we’ll see.

I notice that both Alex (my housemate) and I are now a bit more guarded with the property. We close the broken gate to at least present the appearance that our yard is not an easy walk-in and grab atmosphere. We also have to be careful with our gestures of kindness. On separate occasions, after helping struggling residents with food or funds, we were followed home by others asking for help and/or simple handouts. The same day Alex’ clothes were stolen, he’d given money to a beggar looking for food who came to the house.

Hate to seem cold, but I’ve had to tell a few folks to not come by the house again. We’ve had more than a few things stolen from the yard in the past month (a broom, a rug, clothes-line pins, and clothes. I say that I don’t mind peddlers and beggars in common areas; I give and will continue to give when able and appropriate, but once they bring the solicitation into my property, then I feel I’ve lost control. I don’t want to be the victim. Am I wrong? How’d you handle it?

C28 - The Road Less Traveled

What is a road trip without a few hazards, right?!?!! Well…..I think I could have done without a few of these fateful occurrences. During the weekend, I decided to rent a car and drive to the coast with a friend visiting from the States. It was a long weekend, as Friday was a school holiday (Independence Day, though many places did not seem to show any special regard for the occasion), and I hadn’t yet seen that part of the country’s diverse landscape. Besides, I needed a serious break; my work has been incredibly rewarding, but incredibly demanding as well. So, “vacation” it was.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Namibia’s roads are a combination of tarred and gravel. As I learned over the weekend, gravel roads are not all the same. There are some well-laid gravel roads and there are some areas with thousands of scattered rocks seemingly assembled to form a horizontal-like formation that tires can test if interested in a thrill. Unfortunately, it is not completely intuitive to tell which type of gravel road you are about to traverse simply from a map. There are definitely different types of paths – Main Routes, Minor Routes, Main Roads, Minor Roads – and also roads that are available ONLY to 4X4s. I thought I was good and informed, but I wouldn’t be taking the time to write this post if it were that simple.

We rented a 2WD Toyota Yaris (sedan) and decided to take C28, a number/code/designation that will stick in my mind for ages. Mind you, NO ONE suggested a route for me to take from Windhoek to Swakopmund (the coastal town communicated as my destination). I did, however, ask how long the trip should take. Four hours was the consistent response. I saw two possible routes, both were marked as open to “all traffic;” so, I decided to take the one that looked most direct. I’ll post a picture of the map and see what you think.

C28 was labeled a “minor route” and began as a tarred road but turned to gravel after about 50 km. The initial gravel was manageable, but then it turned tricky another 50 km down the way. There were big dips, turns, sand pools, and sometimes smooth points. Our speed had to be reduced considerably and it was clear that we would not be making it to Swakopmund in four hours. Little did I know at the time that we would not even make it that night!

I can easily say that I am glad and blessed that I had the companion of an excellent driver and a calm and collected responder to vehicular emergencies. Otherwise, I’d have been a bit …….. (you can fill in the blank any way you see appropriate once you finish the post). Ninety-nine percent of the cars in Namibia (included our rented Toyota Yaris) are manual, and I still need to re-learn how to drive stick, so he was on his own this trip. Anyway…...

Bottom-line(S): Stuck in sand in the Namib Desert and forced to sleep in the car overnight was not the memories I had in mind for this trip. Oh, and not to mention the decimated tire that luckily chose to reveal itself in the form of marijuana-smelling burnt rubber AFTER the pass (Bosua Pass to be exact) from hell.

OK - I’ll backup a bit.

What happened was, we were driving along, slowly, over plenty of tricky road. Once we realized that the route and road was shotty, it was too late to turn around and there were no easy opportunities to change to a smoother route.

The front passenger (left-side) tire was the first to go. The tire was crazy-destroyed by the time we smelled the burned rubber and stopped to investigate the culprit. THEN….we carried on and once we entered the Namib-Naukluft Park (IN THE NAMIB DESERT!), the car got super-stuck in the sand and we could not move on. At this time, the sun had set, our cell-phone service was virtually non-existent, and we hadn’t seen any cars or people for hours. My road-trip hero put on his fix-it gear and began trying to literally dig us out, but no luck. Every so often, I’d get one bar on my phone so I constantly had a text message waiting to be sent to the rental company’s 24-hour line. Ah, the rental company and the tour company that set me up with the rental company…..

OK, so it turns out that although we paid for a full damage waiver with the insurance we “chose,” the customer is ALWAYS responsible for tire and rim damage; SO, we had to pay for the burst tire and warped rim that met it’s fate against the gravel. (That was in the tiny print that I didn’t think to read that closely in the pre-rental phase).

Also, the rental company’s great 24-hour emergency line and support came with a yet undisclosed price. (Oh, we were “rescued” by a few people, including a driver from the rental company, at about 9:30am on Saturday. Mind you, we left for our 4-hour drive at about 3:00pm on Friday. We were stuck in the sand in the car, in the desert, alone, for about 12 hours, which is where we had to (try to) sleep.). Turns out that we were charged N$1238.00 for the road-side assistance. Yep, I was in for a civil fight. Couldn’t really fight about the tire and rim; should’ve put on granny’s glasses and read the policies written in 4-point font on the back of the contract; it’s there – section 8.0. BUT the road-side assistance charges and the way the tour company classified our problem got me unnerved.

The tour company director claimed that we were “negligent” for driving on C28; we should have known that driving on that road would damage the vehicle’s tires….. I can’t even go on with that knucklehead. Needless to say, tonight, at about 8:30pm, after meeting in-person with one of the managers of the rental car company, we settled on fees and liability issues that have taught me a few lessons, but that are manageable in light of the circumstances. I’ll follow-up later with the Namibia Roads Authority and with the Tourist Association to communicate my experiences, concerns, and suggestions.

Yes, I won’t forget this mini-adventure anytime soon (even with my trifling memory issues). I will say, though, that once we arrived in Swakopmund, cleaned-up, and rested on a real bed, we had a very nice time and I’ll write a post on a few of those activities next.

Could’ve been worse, so, I’m thankful……..

Oh yeah, we did get stuck in the sand one more time during the week, but luckily, there was a whole village of people waiting on the side of the road to push us out and then demand per person payment afterword. Joy! (Kinda makes you think they put the sand trap there intentionally……)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Landlines, Internet, and Mobiles

I can’t believe I just spent close to five straight hours on the internet.

I’m at a “best kept secret” hotel in Windhoek catching up on blogging, chatting, Facebook, and the feeling of being virtually connected. I call it a best-kept secret because the location is great (I’m across the street from the “new” mall that has virtually everything, including a movie theater (maybe the only one in town); the neighborhood is safe and diverse; the rooms have TVs and en suite showers with running hot water; the rooms are air-conditioned; I CAN ACCESS THE INTERNET USING MY WIRELESS NETWORK CARD; and I’m only paying N$300 for the night. I’m set. I return to Khorixas tomorrow; so, I’ve been taking full advantage of these resources (which I may not see again for a while), especially the internet.

Most people in the country connect via phone (mobile phone, home phone, or public phone) or internet. The majority, however, are not under contract; there are a number of “pay as you go” plans. These systems allow people to buy calling credits or airtime and just recharge as needed. You can buy a recharge card just about anywhere – at the post office, grocery store, bottle store (liquor store), clothing stores, china shops, street corners, gas stations, and the list goes on. There are about three main phone service providers that sell cards and have packages.

The other option is to go to an internet café, which can range anywhere in cost from N$8.00/30min to N$20/30min. Thing is, internet cafes have certain working hours; I’ve already gotten a virus on my flash drive; and not all of the services are reliable.

When I was in the town of Tsumeb last month, I bought three 20-minute “Wi-Space” internet access cards, at N$10 each. I am only now finding myself in a “Wi-Space” zone again so I can use them. I flew through the 60-minutes of credit Skyping with mom and dad and needed to plunge deeper. I ended up buying a 250-minute Wi-Space card for N$100. I just finished that credit and went downstairs to buy another 250-minute card.

Each card has a login code so I can easily logoff and just use the card when needed.

So today, I spent N$230 on the internet, which is roughly US$26.00. I fully believe it was worth the feeling I got connecting with loved ones and sharing the latest happenings around the world.

I do admit, however, that I'm tired now. It may be from too much internet, or it may be because it's 10:30pm and I'm not feeling well.

(Mom, forgive me for posting the pic of us Skyping, but it was a good illustration to support this topic)