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.

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.