Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Week Two in Arusha: Starting School

Hello again!
It’s been a pretty busy week since my last post, so I’ll do my best to recap.
I have officially started my placement at the Ngateu Secondary School and have been helping out in some of the math classes. Ngateu has two math teachers and they each also teach another subject (one teaches Chemistry and the other teaches Physics).

A Form 4 (juniors) math class.
I have been working with both of them, sometimes co-teaching and sometimes teaching on my own. I even got to bring my now patented Adding and Subtracting Integers lesson (featuring “Same Change Change” from the original Mrs. Long!) to a Form 2 (grade 9) class. It’s been an interesting experience because in some ways it’s similar to teaching in Namibia but in others it’s very different. First of all, the student’s English skills are lower than those of my Namibian learners, which is a challenge. Additionally, I’m not there for very long (in fact, due to the delayed start and their schedule, I’ll only be there about 9 days) so I don’t have time to get them used to a radically new style of teaching/learning. I’m doing my best to more or less follow what they’re used to and just put a bit more emphasis on conceptual understanding instead of rote memorization. I’m lucky that one of the teachers I’m working with really does seem to be trying to get his students to think more than the traditional schooling system here requires. He has lots of energy and a good rapport with the students. I got to see one
Chem Lab!
of his Chemistry classes and the kids were working on an experiment to see how temperature affected the rate of chemical reactions. It was cool to see the kids working together and communicating (even though they were speaking Swahili so I couldn’t understand them) and using their critical thinking skills. Contrast this with another class I saw where the teacher spent the first 30 minutes of a 40 minute lesson silently writing notes on the board while the students silently copied them down. I’m sure almost none of them knew what they were actually copying. He then proceeded to read through the notes they had just written, adding only marginal explanations as he went. The lunch bell rang when he was only part way through and the kids sat obediently in their seats for another 20 minutes while he finished. While a very small part of me was jealous at how well behaved they were, most of me was screaming on the inside, knowing that this is exactly the opposite of what good learning looks like. In the whole hour or so I was there, the only words I heard out of students’ mouths were a few
The schoolyard
responding ‘yes’ when the teacher asked “are you with me?” (I get the feeling that responding ‘no’ isn’t really an option). Seeing this made me more determined than ever to dive headfirst into ChangeMakers next year and see what our kids can do when we give them the freedom and license to think outside the box and use their brains in ways they’ve never been asked to before.

Ok, enough about school. Now for some other updates. Most evenings are spent hanging out at the hostel with the other volunteers either watching movies or playing cards. On Friday though, a bunch of us went out dancing which was really fun. Saturday morning I woke up and went to a yoga class with Tizia (the woman who co-owns the hostel with her husband) and another volunteer. It felt really good to stretch a bit and reminded me that I should start doing yoga at home again too. Later in the afternoon we went to a lodge down the street that caters to a large mzungu (read “white”) population going on safaris. You can get a pass to use their pool for the day, so a few of us headed there to lounge in the sun and take a dip in the
pool. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the towels are particularly luxurious. Sunday we went to a brand new mall outside of Arusha to see the Incredibles 2 at the cinema and get a bite to eat. We explored the mall for a bit and then sat down at a table outside a pizza place. All of a sudden about 7 people descended on us giving us menus from all the different restaurants. It was super overwhelming but really funny. It was cool that we could all order from different places though!

Now I am relaxing with other Jamie and Liselot at a different lodge that we checked out today (the schedule at the school has no math classes on Wednesdays and Fridays, so they said it didn’t make sense for me to come). It’s unfortunatly cloudy and cool, so we aren’t using the pool today, but we are relaxing outside by the river and have heard that the food here is amazing…
Rivertrees Lodge

Tomorrow a few of us are departing on a four day safari to the Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro Crater! I wasn’t planning on doing a safari here since they’re a bit expensive and I did one in Namibia, but the Serengeti is supposed to be the epitome of an African safari and I figured I couldn’t be this close and not do one. Therefore it didn’t take too much for the group to convince me to join them.

I don’t know what the service will be like out there, so I’ll update the blog when I get back. Fingers crossed that I have some fun stories and amazing photos to share!

Here are some other photos from the last week.
A view from my work

Turns out school buses are yellow here too! 

We saw this in the mall— a portable toilet seat for your safari!

Also at Rivertrees: a river and some trees

Till next time!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Settling In and a Slight Delay

Hello again!
I have spent the last few days settling into a nice routine at the hostel and trying to get the details of my placement figured out. Secondary schools here do not normally take volunteers, as most of the volunteers have no teaching experience or background in the subjects. My placement was arranged specially for me by the former volunteer coordinater who has since left Tanzania. It also happpens that it was arranged when the owners of the program were back in Germany having their baby, so neither they nor the currrent volunteer coordinater really knew much about my placement. I was told Sunday night that the school I was supposed to be at was no longer accepting volunteers. Oh ok. So they said I could go to a different project with some other volunteers on Monday while they worked on finding an alternative placement for me, likely in a primary school. 

On Monday, I went with two other volunteers, Jamie and Liselot, to Pippi House - a shelter
The entrance to Pippi House
for women fleeing trafficking and domestic abuse. There we played with some of the children and taught them some card games. Jamie had raised money to send one of the women to college, so she left to help Glory pay the fees and register for classes. Liselot and I stayed with the kids. When we returned home, Tini and Tizia, the couple that runs Viva-Tanzania, told me that I could start Tuesday at St. Pius Primary school, which was a 5 minute walk from the hostel.

Tuesday morning Tini, Rosie (the volunteer corrdinater) and I departed for the short walk to St. Pius. The school was much smaller than I imagined, with the upper grades (6 and 7) only having about 5 students each. While the teachers were kind and welcoming, I wasn’t sure what my role would be there given the small class size and the fact that this was not the level or content I am used to teaching. Apparently on their walk home, Rosie was thinking the same thing and asked if there was at least a larger primary school I could go to and Tini confirmed that there was. He would spend the next day coordinating it, so Wednesday I stayed at the hostel. Jamie and Liselot were also there in the morning, as they were going to Pippi House later in the evening. We were going to check out a pool in town but the weather was cool and cloudy, so we decided against it. They worked on their presentation for the evening and I managed to get some school work done, which was nice. In the afternoon Tini and Tizia came to talk to me again and said that they had made the arrangements for me to go to the original secondary school that I was supposed to be at! 

This morning I left with Didi (another Tanzanian who works at the hostel) and we walked
Walking to the school
about a half hour to the school. I met with the headmistress and explained who I was and what I wanted to do at the school. She introduced me to some of the teachers and each of the classes. It’s a pretty small private school, so there was only one class of each grade. Not all of the students had returned from holidays yet, but it seems that there will be between 20-30 students in each class. They didn’t have a syllabus with them to give me so they told me to come back tomorrow and they would arrange a schedule for me and I could start working with some of the students. Though I am not entirely clear yet on what my role will be there, it seems that I might be working with students to help them prepare for their National Examinations. I guess I’ll find out more tomorrow. Even though things didn’t get entirely sorted today, I feel much more comfortable at this school and I am confident I will be able to carve out a niche for myself while I am here. When we entered one of the classrooms, I saw a big algebraic expression on the board for the students to simplify and I couldn’t help but smile—this I knew. (Yes, I know I’m a huge nerd). 

On the walk back (were were only there for less than an hour), Didi asked if we could stop to see his family. We took a short detour and he took me to his house where his wife and infant son were. He introduced me to them and showed me the bigger house that he was
Didi’s house in the process of being built
 in the process of building. Houses here get built very slowly, one step at a time as they can afford it. He had been working on his house for three years and the brick walls were all up inside and out. He walked me through the layout and I could tell he was proud of his work (and he should have been-the house looked great!) He said the next step would be the roof, and then the windows and doors, followed by the floor. After showing me where his mother and brother lived (in houses very close by to his) we continued back to the hostel.

I am excited to go back to the school tomorrow and figure out the details of what I will be doing there on a daily basis. The students and teachers seem very excited to have me there as well, so I hope that I will be able to do some good and help them in any way that I can. 

That’s all the updates I have for now. I’ll end with some pictures of the hostel in case any of you are curious as to my current living situation. Also, if you want to look it up on Google Maps, it’s Nyumbani Hostel in Mianzini, Arusha, Tanzania.
The dinning room/card table


My bunk

The shower even has (a little bit of) hot water!

Nala and Kimba (two of Rosie’s dogs who stay at the hostel)
Aren’t they the cutest? I’m also convinced Nala is an Australian Shepard like our old dog.
I had always wondered what Gretchen would look like as a puppy and I think I found out!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Jambo from Arusha!

Hi everyone!
So I made it safely to Arusha and have a busy weekend settling in and meeting some awesome new people. 

Can you spot Kilimanjaro though the clouds?

Nala joined us for a hand!

After arriving on Friday afternoon, I unpacked my things and met Rosie, the volunteer coordinater and some of the other volunteers (including another Jamie!). We had a nice dinner of burgers and chips (fries) and then settled in to playing some card games. 
My new favorite spot on the
balcony of the hostel
On Saturday I woke up to do my Town Tour, where I was able to get some snacks at the grocery store, get a SIM card for my phone (yay technology!) and get a general feel for the city.  Later on we went to visit Tazia (one of the owners of the hostel) and her baby at her house a few minutes from the hostel, and then we drove to their land a little farther out of the city. Saturday also happened tob be Rosie’s birthday, so we went out to a nice Greek restaurant to  celebrate! We ended the night by playing some more card games (noticing a theme?)

Sunday morning we slept in a bit and then went on a hike to a waterfall on Mount Meru, a mountain near us. We got dropped off at the base of a road that goes up into the mountain. As we walked, the scenery gradually transitioned from city to village (though the incline was anything but gradual!). I was surprised at the calming feeling I felt as we
View from the village
entered the rural area. I was reminded of my life in Namibia, though on the outside the 
lush mountain greenery couldn’t look more different than the flat sandy desert of Onamutai. Something about the atmosphere was instantly familiar. We continued to walk up the road and eventually reached the edge of the forest where we paid a fee, got a guide and continued on. We quickly began the descent down into the river valley. Now, as a NH native, I’m no stranger to steep, narrow, rocky passages but this was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The mud was slippery and the decent was very steep. Thank goodness for the handrails on either side! We made it to the bottom with no injuries and only minor amounts of mud on us. A little ways though the woods, we saw a waterfall that dropped into a rocky stream surrounded by lunch greenery and vines straight out of George of the  Jungle. Thought we thought this was the waterfall, we were told there was a bigger one further on. 

A ladder to help traverse the rocks
The breathtaking waterfall
  We continued to walk along the river, crossing back and forth quite frequently (my Teva’s came in very handy!) until we came to a cool misty cavern and saw a huge waterfall rushing into a pool below. It was an absolutely incredible sight. After taking about a billion photos in every pose we could imagine, we started walking back. The trek up was more tiring but significantly less terrifying. After finishing the steepest part, we collapsed for a breath and a picnic in the grass. We made our way down and back to the hostel. The night ended with some World Cup viewing, a pasta dinner and, of course, some more cards.

Till next time,
PS: I apologize for the delay. The service here is not great for uploading pictures (though messages are fine). I’m also having issues using Blogger on the iPad, so I’m still working on that. That being said, I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post updates, but I’ll do my best!

Here are some more pictures of the waterfall: 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Back in Village

The next morning Rachel and Abby drove me to the smaller airport in town for my short flight to the north. As we flew over the Etosha salt pan, signaling our impending decent into Ondangwa, I was feeling a mix of emotions. Mostly, of course, I was excited to see my freinds and former learners, but I was also a bit anxious and nervous to see what it would be like to be back in the village. I landed and waited a bit for some of the teachers to come and pick me up. Soon, Paulson, Jafet, and a new teacher, David pulled up and my face broke into a smile as I hugged my friends for the first time in almost three years. We stoped at a bar on the way back to school for a soda and I got to see one of my former learners who was working at a bar across the street. I was saddened to see that she wasn't still in school, but she looked happy and it was wonderful to see her again.

Baby giggles!
On our way up to the school, I was informed that there was a parent meeting that night, which meant the teachers would be busy for a few hours. We pulled into the school and I was bombarded with greetings and hugs when I got out. I was especially happy to see Iimene, one of my old housemates who, because of his lack of facebook, I had not spoken to since I left. When the teachers left to go the meeting, I walked over for my reunion with Kristy. Words really can't describe how amazing it was to see her again, and both of us were on the verge of happy tears. We spent the rest of the night catching up, and I got to meet her beautiful new baby girl.

The impromtu photoshoots begin with some former learners.
The next morning I got up and got ready for school. It was a little bizzare to be doing my typical morning routine, but not in my old room. As a walked across the sand I was bombarded by former students screaming my name. Once again, my heart beamed. I even got to see some of my former Grade 8s who were now attending a private school in town, but who happened to be in the village for an awards ceremony for doing so well on their grade 10 exams. I spent most of the day in the computer lab, attempting to fix some of the computer problems they had been having, but mostly I was just sort of hanging out. I made a mental note to be sure to talk to the principal to decide exactly what I could do for the next week so I wasn't just sitting around doing nothing.

Playing in the yard
When school got out, I learned that most of the teachers would be going back to their home villages for the weekend, so catching up with them would have to wait. It was then that I came to sort of a crushing realization: though coming back to Onamutai had certainly felt a bit like coming home, I was coming home to a place where I didn't exactly belong anymore. Of course I knew that things would not be the same as when I was there the first time, but the feeling of not really having a place in the village life anymore was a startling one. I had forgotten how exhausting it is to be putting on a bit of a show every day, and to constantly be stared at and talked about in a language I don't understand. Though the learners who knew me were excited beyond belief to see me, most of the learners at the school had no idea who I was, and it was like being in the village for the first time again. I had forgotten how much time I had spent alone in my room, recouperating after exhausting days, desperate for a space where I could just be myself and do my own thing. I don't have that this time around. I'm in Kristy's room with her and her daughter and in a house with four other women and another baby. I had begun to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Now, I don't want anyone to think for a second that I regret my descion to come back, because I absolutely do not, but I promised to be honest in my reflections of what it's like to come back, and this is what I'm feeling. Ultimately, I decided that perhaps two full weeks in the village was a bit much, and I ended up changing my flight back to Windhoek to a few days earlier. To some, that may seem like a silly decision, but it made me feel a lot more at ease. It would also break up my travel a bit, give me some time to do a few things in Windhoek that I wanted to do, and most importantly give me more time with Rachel, who will be moving to Ethiopia soon and will likely not be back in the States for quite some time.

Helena the Princess
Anwway, all uneasy feelings aside, it really has been great being back in the village. The sight of the sand roads and the incredible hospitatily of the Ovambo people have really made my heart happy and I have no doubt in my mind that everyone here is happy to have me back. The person who was the most excited, though, might have to be Kristy's older daughter, Helena. Helena was three when I was here last, so the fact that she remembered me at all is a bit amazing, but apparently not only did she remember me, she has been asking about me since I left. Helena is 6 now, and is attending a hostel school in town, which means she comes home most weekends. As soon as she walked in the door, she came running into the kitchen to find me, jumping into my arms for a bear hug. It was so nice to see the grin on her face when I gave her the dress up clothes that I had brought for her (thanks Auntie Ann, Cara, and Molly!). I got to spend most of the weekend with her, taking her into town with me, and I was so impressed with her English skills! She is going to be one smart cookie, and already has dreams of coming to America.

Another highlight from the past few days was getting to see our friends Jan and Johnny again. For those who don't remember, they were the guys who would take us on amazing hikes, braai us incredible food, and let us use their house (and hot shower!) as a landing pad whenever we were in town. I got to see them, along with Abby and her parents who were in the north for a few days, and we had a delicious 4th of July braai (and though I didn't think it could get any better, their cooking has improved in the time since we left). It was so nice to catch up with them and reminice about our adventures. We laughed about the circumstances that brought our group together (the guys offered to host a birthday party for Abby and Kristin) and they joked that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they offered their house to a group of 7 American girls. It was clear though that they missed us, as Johnny said that whenever he sees volunteers around town (they are always easy to spot) he has tried to offer them rides and befriend them, but so far it hasn't really worked out haha.

One last ancedote before I wrap up this incredibly long blog post. Let me begin by saying that the town of Ongwediva has abosolutely exploded in the past few years. Everywhere I go I see builidngs that didn't  used to be there, and more are in the process of being built. It is because of this urbanization that I found myself in the following situation. I had gotten a ride into town with teachers after school and was wating for Abby and her parents to finish with their event at her school before heading over to Jan and Johnny's. I was killing time at the mall and decided to check out the new movie theatre. Yup, you read that right, Ongwediva now has a movie theatre. Anyway I found myself sitting in an otherwise empty theatre, watching Finding Dory in 3D, by myself, for the equivalent of USD$5. I could only laugh at the bizarreness of the situation.

Anyway, I am now spending the school days in a combination of being supervision for the library (the librarian moved to Windhoek and they have yet to hire a replacement) and sitting in on some classes. TK asked me to take over for one of his grade 11 classes and it felt really good to be teaching some of the same learners again. On that note, I think I'm going to end this, I'm sure you're getting tired of reading it...

Spitzkoppe: Revisited

One of my favorite places that I visited during my year in Namibia was Spitzkoppe. This rocky outcrop, formed by passing glaciers, is built for climbing and my jetty-loving soul was happy here.

Not to mention it's just absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. Anyway, when I saw that Abby and I would have a day in Windhoek to play around with, I instatnly googled to see how far of a drive Spitzkoppe would be. 3 hours = totally doable. Originally were were going to camp there overnight, but with the facts that Rachel wasn't feeling well (and wouldn't be coming with us), it is winter so the temperature at night gets pretty cold, and that Taylor would be coming early the next morning, we decided a day trip would be best. Also, our friend Freddy from the backpackers and another woman we met there, Alex, wanted to join us, so it all worked out pretty perfectly! On Tuesday morning, we piled into our rental car and took off for the drive west. It was great to catch up with Freddy some more, and to get to know Alex. She is a teacher from Germany who was volunteering for a year at a school in South Africa, so it was great getting to chat with her. After a fairly uneventful drive (and a bumpy reintroduction to gravel roads!) we spotted our destination.

Abby had not been before, and instantly realized why it was one of my favorite places. We grabbed and map and Freddy and I conferred about where to take them first. We didn't have time (or the skills/equiptment) to hike Grosse Spitzkoppe, the highest of the peaks, but we had a blast scrambling up the smaller (but still plenty high) outcrops. We went to the rock bridge and I even found the exact spot I had taken my favorite picture 3 years earlier (the one that currently serves as both my desktop and phone wallpapers). Having Freddy along meant that we also got to see some things that I hadn't seen the first time, including some acient rock paintings and a sort of cave formed by some of the rocks.

It is really impossible for me to describe just how amazing this place is, so I'm just going to let you look at pictures, although even they don't do it justice.

Rock paintings

Freddy for scale

About to enter the cave

A tree sprouting from the underside of the rock

Another breathtaking sunset

Basically, eveyone should just go and see it for themselves. I promise you won't be disappointed!

We drove back under a blanket of stars and I marveled how even 20 miles out of Windhoek, the sky was still so black that you could clearly see the Milky Way.

The next morning Abby, Rachel, and I met up with Taylor for breakfast. She had just come in from the north after visiting her host brother who is starting University soon. It was so surreal to all be hanging out in Windhoek again. We did some craft shopping and found some good bargins. Later we went for sunset drinks at the rooftop bar at the Hilton, which offers some amazing views of the city. Then we had dinner at a restaurant that is trying for an American steakhouse vibe. We walked in to country music blaring and a bar with a variety of beer on tap (a rarity in Namibia). We met up with some pilots that Rachel knew and spent the night laughing with good food, good beer, and new friends.

Up next: my return to the village.