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.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My New (Temporary) Home

I went to the (only) bank (in town) yesterday to exchange currency and to inquire about opening a bank account. When I was asked for my home (local) address, I didn't have a real answer; I simply replied, "next to the purple house." My street doesn't have a name and I'm not sure if my house has an actual number. Throughout Namibia, P.O. Boxes are used, rather than direct mail to homes; however, there are streets with names, just not mine, and probably many others in small towns and villages such as Khorixas.

The house picture (of the non-purple house) is of my home, it has three-bedrooms and has been used to house Volunteers for quite a while, it seems. Over the years, numerous break-ins/break-in attempts have forced host and sponsoring organizations to install bars and padlocks all around the dwelling. The town is so small that I have not heard of anyone fearing personal safety, because within a very short period, the assailant would be quickly identified and brought to some form of justice or subject to some form of retribution. On the other hand, the "volunteer house" is sometimes unoccupied and has apparently served as an easy target (in the past) for thieves, even those small enough (kids) to fit through window panes (to steal food and the like). Since the bars, however, I don't think there has been any trouble.

I live with two other Volunteers, one with the Volunteer Service Organization (VSO), an international service organization through the government of the United Kingdom; the other with the Technical Aid Corps (TAC), an international service organization through the government of Nigeria. I was thrilled to learn about TAC. It has been operating since 1987 and sends professionals to developing countries/territories in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. I hadn't heard of a Peace Corps-like organization in an African country before, though I've imagined how valuable and powerful a statement one would be. The TAC Volunteer in my house is a veteran mathematics and science teacher (and an ordained pastor), while another TAC Volunteer in Khorixas is a doctor at the local hospital. The VSO volunteer with whom I live is an IT specialist for education throughout the region (Kunene).

The home is not in the best of shape; but, is surprisingly comfortable and I'm glad I am placed here. There is no running hot water (solution: take a shower in the early evening when the water pipes are still warm from the HOT! sun). The bathroom sink does not work (solution: brush your teeth using water from the bathtub). The shower does not have a catch system for water causing mini-flooding after bathing (solution: use a mop). The home has not been exterminated possibly ever (solution: regularly spray the room with insectiside, sweep insect carcasses away, keep them off the bed, and get over it). I have also begun to form relationships with various local ministry (government) officials; they may have solutions that are a bit more permanent.

I enjoy my housing situation because I have privacy without being pushed to the feeling of isolation. My door has a lock and key (that works with a little wiggle-jiggle action) and the house has a few common areas. It also seems that as Volunteers come and go, appliances and home furnishings come and stay. We have a (fuzzy display) TV; a (fritzy) iron (plus ironing board) and hot pot; dishes, pots, and pans; cookbooks (which I HAVE to use lest I starve) and spices; books and country guides; and plenty of things that I would currently be without if I were placed on my own. I have two offices right now (one at the Ministry of Education and one at the Khorixas Teacher Resource Center(TRC); although, neither is actually MY office, more on the later) and I can walk to work with either roommate, since one works at the Ministry and the other works across the street from the TRC. I also live three houses down from the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education, who has driven me to or from work a few times in the past week.

The pictured "purple house", which can be seen from the moment you enter Khorixas, belongs to the town clerk.

There are many gravel roads and not many tarred roads throughout town, which makes walking in my sandal-pumps challenging. It also makes riding in "bakkies" (pick-up trucks), which are everywhere, a bit bumpy.

I'll write more about my job, my diet/eating habits, and people of Khorixas later.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Race Matters 1 - Afrikaans

Last week, WorldTeach Volunteers were broken into about five groups for language instruction based on the region in which we’d be living and serving. Although I was a good student and participated in the four 90-minute required language sessions, I admit that I had and still have some ideological issues with learning Afrikaans. I just remember reading and learning about the apartheid-era non-violent student protests in Soweto (South Africa) objecting to Afrikaans as the main language of instruction in the schools and the mass killings of schoolchildren that followed. Not cool.

I understand that Afrikaans is widely spoken in Namibia and its former “protectorate” of South Africa; knowing the language will definitely help me navigate through the country. Afrikaans would have even helped me in cabs and stores in Windhoek. Still, I’d rather have been taught Damara, the native language of the people who were placed here (in Khorixas and much of the Kunene Region) during the resettlements by race/tribe of Blacks by Germans in the late 19th/early 20th century. Honestly, I doubt I’d have gotten very far with Damara in my short week; the language has four distinctive clicks that do not (yet) sound at all distinctive to me.

Afrikaans is a language that has Dutch, German, English, and a few African language influences. It has a lot of guttural sounds (like the ch in loch-ness, which is the “g”) causing me to fear unintentionally spitting on my conversation partner during practice. I also feel like I’m giving up some of my soul by learning and speaking Afrikaans but I’ll get over it. A bit dramatic, I know. I ended up purchasing two Afrikaans language books, including one with a pronunciation key to help me out. I also borrowed two Afrikaans instructional CDs owned by a classmate.

I’ve had at least one conversation with a local (native) Black professional who clearly prefers speaking English or Damara over Afrikaans. This was one of the individuals who felt comfortable admitting that she was surprised to see a Black American volunteer (that would be me). It will probably take a little while for me to earn the trust needed to gauge what others feel about language and other more personal or political matters. For me, the struggle continues. Race is a complicated issue, made even more so by unimaginable histories around the world. I don’t for a minute think to simplify it.

“Race Matters” will undoubtedly be a theme that will arise in my posts at various times in the year.

On a side note, yesterday President Barack Obama took his oath of office as the 44th chief executive of the United States of America. The historic event was acknowledged at a staff meeting I attended earlier in the day. NBC, the Nambia Broadcasting Company, interrupted their regular programming/lineup to air the event live. I watched the inauguration on CNN at a neighbor's house.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Etosha National Park

After our week of practice teaching in Omungwelume, we headed back South towards Windhoek. En route, we drove through Etosha National Park. Our big bus did not appear to bother the big game and other curious (to us) species. We spotted an Elephant, Giraffe, Oryx, Gnus, Zebra, (lots of) Springbok, Warthog, Cranes, Flamingo, Ostrich (they're huge!), Jackals, and even a Lion! Safaris can be exhausting, though. There are often long periods of time where all you see is open-space and trees, which is great for the animals but draining on human eyes. Etosha is huge and it would definitely take a few days to roam through it all. Bird-watching is a great activity that is pretty consuming in and of itself. I saw plenty of beautiful birds in the park; but, I had no clue what kind they were. It would have been nice to have a little bird book or a reference for the kinds of bird that live in Etosha. There are many watering holes that allow for good viewing of many of the parks natural inhabitants, which is nice.


I spent the past week up north in a (relatively) small Ovambo village named Omungwelume. We all stayed at Eengedjo Senior Secondary, a hostel school, and taught school-aged youth in the surrounding community as part of our practice teaching. School hostels are public institutions and students live there in dormitory style housing throughout the school year. Although Namibia’s school-year did not begin until the following week, about 100 children in the village attended two 40-minute classes led by WorldTeach Volunteers each day. Many of the attendees brought their younger (non-school-aged) siblings with them to class.

On my first day of practice teaching, I worked with grade 6 “learners” (Namibia reserves the term, “student” for those in college/university). I taught grade 8 learners on days 2 and 3. During break and after classes, I also led group activities, which were predominantly dance and music-themed. The children quickly fell in love with the soca anthem, “Follow the Leader” and came to my class to request it each day. I proudly obliged. I also taught them the hand/clap game, Concentration (remember, “concentration, concentration is the game, keep the rhythm or you’ll be out the game…”), which was also an instant winner. Finally, I shared a slideshow that included selected pictures of my family, friends, hobbies, and travels. The children who saw the presentation were very attentive and interested.

I was glad to see the diversity of the children, in terms of personal goals and academic knowledge. The learners helped combat some of the spoken and oft-implied stereotypes of youth in a developing country. I often get concerned that the program is not doing a good enough job sharing the successes and diversity of Namibian teachers and students. Our volunteer project is a great resource and support; but, it must be clear that Namibia’s citizens have done well before us and will do well after our short/temporary stay here. (More on that in a later post, remember “Give a man a fish….”) . A Namibian teacher in our first week of training eloquently and humbly noted that Namibia has qualified teachers; the shortfall is in getting qualified teachers to work in rural, more desolate areas (sound familiar?). He also noted that there is a shortage of qualified teachers in selected hard-to-fill subject areas, like mathematics and science (sound familiar again?).

Anyway, the hostel accommodations at Eengedjo. Wow. Okay. I had five roommates (one down from my housing situation in Windhoek, “Woohooo!”), two with whom I worked with as partner teachers. The bathroom was rather malodorous, with one (out of four) working toilet and one (out of five) working shower and we lost water on our final night, which wasn’t all that fun because it was HOT, and each of us were in clear need of a soap and water-based cleanse. Luckily, I had baby wipes. We shared the school grounds with dozens of cattle, donkeys, jynormous(I know that’s not a word) dung beetles, and a few stray dogs and cats(mean cats), oh, and plenty of hungry mosquitoes. I slept under TWO mosquito nets and still got nicely sampled.

The classrooms were in pretty bad shape, not just littered from break; but, with many broken desks, windows, and chairs. The concrete floors were also a challenge because students respectfully raise their hand and stand to speak causing loud scraping sounds that took some getting used to. I didn’t see any resource areas in the classroom, just a chalkboard; however, a few learners (not enrolled in Eengedjo) reported having computers in their schools.

Leaving was actually a bit touching. As our super-bus rolled out along the gravel roads, children and adults stood outside their homes, came to the side of the vehicles, stopped their plowing and smiled and waved us along their way. I appreciated the experience and look forward to working with more youth and school administrators in the days and months to come.

BTW - I've been having trouble uploading photos to include with this post. I'll keep trying. Stay Tuned.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Flight to Windhoek

I made it safely to Windhoek. The flight from Dulles to Johannesburg was about 14 hours long. We were fed two meals, though, and had plenty of in-seat entertainment. I also had a free seat next to me so I was able to stretch (a little). I watched three movies: Beat of the Drum, Hancock, and Baby Mama. I actually enjoyed all three. In Johannesburg, we stayed at the Southern Sun, a branch of the Holiday Inn, and a very comfortable four-star hotel.

I flew into Windhoek the next day on a two-hour flight, which also served a meal, and free spirits! I slept a bit and then headed to our hostel (BackPacker Unite). Much less comfortable here. I have six roommates in a space that may be comfortable for one. All of the hostel residents share three bathrooms, which make our mornings interesting. I am in basic WorldTeach Volunteer Training for the next few weeks. I head out of Windhoek and up North tomorrow and will return to Windhoek on January 12.

Weatherwise, things are comfortable. It gets to about 85 degrees during the day and drops to about 50 degrees in the late evening.

I'm at an internet cafe now with about 7 more minutes on my credit. Will update again in about a week, when I return from the North.