Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hello, Oshili Nawa

With only a few days left in Namibia, I decided it was time to say ohsili nawa (goodbye) to all the things I will miss (as well as some things that I will not) and hello to the things that I am looking forward to seeing/having/experiencing again (and those that I am not). So here goes.

Oshili nawa Onamutai, my learners, my colleagues. Oshili nawa sand, open spaces, bakkie rides, sun, heat, cold showers, laundry by hand, Oshikandela, braais, boerwors, Salitcrax, shebeens, open markets, Hunters, Urbock, mango juice, cheap mangos, cheap clothes,  Zebros, Oshiwambo, kapana, the smell of cooking meat permeating the air, taxis, gravel roads, memes in their pink dresses, tates with their walking sticks, "eehh", mahangu porridge, Southern hemisphere stars, BPU, pilots,  being the only white person in sight, catcalls, combis, dunes, giraffes, elephants, zebras, springbok (both the animal and the shot...),TK, Paulson, Kristy, Iimene, Vincent, Dina, Jan, Johnny, the girls, cows, donkeys, goats, pigs everywhere, my house, a 30 second commute, classrooms with windows, outdoor hallways, being a foreigner, and traveling. Oshili nawa to my home for the past year, I will be back-- nothing can keep me away forever.

Hello hot showers, washing machines, snow, cold air, driving, Chipotle, Chinese food, beef stew, real salads, fast internet, my bed, Boston, the ocean, the lake, iced coffee, coffee shops, Dunkins, take out pizza, American education, hearing English, too many choices, fresh milk, Cabin Fever, Woodchuck, Bacardi, apple cider, maple syrup, Target, the smell of winter, foliage, skiing, TV, recycling, calling kids 'students', fast paced life, sarcasm, and of course Mom, Dad, Ben, Kelly, Pam, Alli, friends and family all over.

Check back soon for one last post of assorted pictures (when I have decent internet again). Until then, Happy Holidays everyone, and I hope to see you when I'm stateside. =)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weddings and Final Farewells

My last few days in the village were a whirlwind of packing, goodbyes, and mixed emotions. Saying goodbye to the people and the places in Onamutai was one of the hardest things I've ever done. On Friday the learners came to pick up their reports. Seeing the joy in the faces of those select few lucky (and hard-working) enough to earn the requisite points to be promoted to the next grade made every stressful day this year worth it. Yet looking into their faces as we said goodbye, knowing full well that it would likely be the last time I would do so, simply broke my heart.

After school, Kristy and I took one last walk through the village, visiting our favorite market and shebeen and taking pictures. Most of the learners were gathered at the church for some event, and as they came up to hug me goodbye one by one, I wanted nothing more than to spend a few hours hanging out at the church with them. Instead, we went out to Omupanda with the guys for one more night out, one more bakkie ride, some hugs goodbye and promises for an August reunion in Boston. 

Saturday morning I woke up early and went to a wedding with Kristy and TK. We arrived at the homestead where people were milling about, busy with wedding preparations. As TK headed out to attend the ceremony, the women in the family stayed behind to do all the cooking. Never in my life had I seen so much food in one place. Imagine the largest amount of meat you can picture in one place and then quadruple it, and that's just the meat. There were also 3 huge washing basins full of pasta, the largest plastic storage container filled with potatoes, bowls and bowls and bowls of vegetables, 40 kilograms of mayonnaise, and enough Tafel Lager to satisfy and army. Amid the chaos, I managed to find some jobs to keep me busy and helped out by chopping veggies, assembling beef kabobs, and making green salad (because only an American could be in charge of making a non-mayonnaise based salad...). By the time the wedding party returned, the food was ready and the music was bumpin. I spent the night dancing, eating, and talking with new friends. I was even distracted enough to forget for a few hours that I was leaving the next day. But, the end the night came and we returned to the house, driving into the thunderstorm rolling in across the desert. 

In the morning, we woke up, finished packing up my things and piled into TK's truck to drive into town. I said a tearful goodbye to Kristy, TK, and the north, and was one my way to Windhoek.

I think I am still in a bit of denial about the fact that I am leaving tomorrow. As excited as I am to see everyone back home, I can't say that I am ready to go. Namibia has truly become my home over the last year and I will definitely be leaving a large piece of my heart behind. I hope that someday I will be fortunate enough to return for a visit, but until then, I will have to be satisfied with facebook contact, a million happy memories, and pictures of my learners' smiling faces looking down at me from my classroom wall. 

Looking forward to seeing you all soon. Until then, enjoy a few photos from my last days in Namibia.

Last braai at my farewell party.
Two of my favorite grade 9s that came to visit.

View from my stoop.

The market.

Fresh Ideas Bar-- a favorite shebeen.

I'm going to miss these African sunsets.
Last visit to Omupanda.

Just a fraction of the meat at the wedding.

Gift line for the happy couple.
TK and I at the wedding. Doesn't he look sharp
in that yellow jacket?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Netball, Exams, and Sunburns-- Oh My!

Here are some highlights from my life these past few weeks:

Netball Court: The first half of the cement has been poured and it's looking really good! Now the guys are just waiting for the next round of cement to arrive so they can keep going. Here are some pictures of the progress:
Measuring the boundaries and leveling the sand.

The first load of cement/concrete arrives!

A little over half the court covered in we need
to do the rest!
Also, I made a video to introduce you to some of the players that will be benefiting from the court. Watch the video below to meet them!

We still need your help! Once again, a HUGE thank you to those that have donated, we are so close! If you haven't donated yet, please considering giving even US$10, that will get us one bag of cement closer to our goal! If you don't think you can donate, please share the video with others to spread the word! This is a great cause that will be enjoyed for years to come =) (And just try to say 'no' to those can't!)

School: Last week we had our last day of classes, and exams are now in full swing. For the last day, I surprised each of my math and science learners with a pen, a pencil, a rubber, a note, a good luck marble (from our points system) to use on their exams. I have never seen kids so excited over office supplies...I took a group photo with each class and many insisted on holding their goodies bags in the picture.
Say 'hello' to 9C! I'm gonna miss those smiles.

Now exams have started which means the school has descended in to a sort of organized chaos (sometimes less organized than others). My math kids wrote their exams yesterday and the results are somehow. I'm trying to keep my head up and count every correct answer as a victory instead of each incorrect answer as a failure. If I stay positive, I think I can emerge from exams relatively unscathed.

Life: With time winding down so fast (less than three weeks, omg!) I'm trying to make the most of every second here. A few weeks ago, I went to a learner's house for the afternoon. She cooked porridge for lunch and then attempted to teach me to do some traditional dances. However, the steps were a little fast for this oshilumbu to pick up, so don't be expecting any dance awards from me anytime soon. I also helped her fetch water and watched in awe as this girl carried a 20 litre jug of water on her head with no hands over uneven terrain. Amazing. I carried 10L on my head with my hands and still managed to spill a bit. Also, my neck really hurt after...

This past weekend we went up to the river with our friends Jan, Johnny, and Otto for one more hike/camping weekend. We had a blast, hiked about 20k, swam in the croc infested river (don't worry, Mom, we were in the fast moving water and totally safe), slept in the sand under the stars, had an AMAZING braai, and got some epic sunburns. (Mine breaks into my top 3, and those that know me know that's saying something...)
View from the top.

This weekend I'm hosting our Namibian Thanksgiving party which should prove to be a great time. Although I'll be seriously missing celebrating Turkey Day with my family (and Auntie Ann's sweet potatoes!), we're doing our best to bring a little taste of home to Namibia.

Oh, and I applied for some jobs, a couple of long-term sub positions around MA, so everyone keep your fingers crossed!

With so little time and so much to do, my mind is constantly in a million places, but I think keeping busy is good-- it keeps me distracted from the plethora of intense and conflicting emotions that are currently swimming around my head. While I'm obviously excited to come home and see everyone (and having a washing machine again will sure be nice), I'm also incredibly sad to leave my colleagues, learners, and friends. I've had such an amazing experience this year, and I'm going to make the most of my last three weeks! See you all soon!
In the meantime, enjoy the adorable piglets that have
taken to hanging out outside my house!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

$10 = One Bag of Cement (and other exciting updates)

The project is underway!! We have chosen a contractor who is already hard at work digging the boarders of the court. We enlisted some of the learners today to haul sand to the field to mix in with the cement (no pre-mix bags here!) and after school I went in to town with Paulson and TK to buy the first round of cement! It will be delivered tomorrow morning. =)

The contractor is charging N$2000 (about USD$200) which is a very reasonable rate. However, our original estimates for the amount of cement we would need were too low. We will need over 100 bags of cement for this project, and each bag costs about USD$10, so I've raised my goal amount by $300 to make sure everything is covered. If there is extra money leftover, it will be used to purchase additional equipment for the team.

I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to all of you that have donated already! You have been amazing in the past 10 days. Please continue to help by spreading the page around on facebook, email, twitter, anything! Remember to tell potential donors that even $10 buys one bag of cement-- we can reach this goal one bag at a time!

Check back next week for a video from the team, and in the meantime, check out these pictures of the work in progress!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"I ♥ U Miss Long"

Today I recieved the following card from one of my favorite grade 8 learners.
"I  U Miss Long. I gonna miss you when you go back. I will never 4get you!! You are a good teacher and I don't want you to live I want you to teach us Physical Science in grade 9 but I know you can not you will go back. I love you."
Darn those pesky 'ea's! Got a good laugh out of that but man, I'm going to miss these kids so much.

On another note, I have been told that the link to my fundraising page in my last blog post was broken. I have updated it on my blog page, but for anyone who reads my blog in their email, here is the correct link. Thank you again for your contributions, and remember-- every little bit helps!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nothing but Net(ball)

My time at Onamutai Secondary School is winding to an end, and I'm realizing I haven't really done much that will leave a lasting impact at the school. Sure I've imparted wisdom and knowledge into my kids that they will remember forever (or more likely until the day after their exam...) but I haven't really left anything tangible for the school to enjoy for years to come. Other volunteers have done some great fundraising projects, from building a kitchen to purchasing school shoes for learners that can't afford them. I wanted to do something in my last month here, so I asked my principal what he thought we needed. His instant reply was a netball court.

You see, our school is an MCA school, meaning it has been resourced by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. We are fairly well equipped when it comes to academic supplies: books, lab equipment, computers, etc., but the sports equipment is severely lacking. Like most American high school students, athletics are the most enjoyable part of school for many of my learners, the only reason they attend in some cases. However, the conditions that these kids play in would be unimaginable for many American students. I have observed (and participated in!) several netball practices and what I see breaks my heart. The courts are just lines in the sand, the hoops are missing nets, the girls play in their uniforms, barefoot, on hot sand that is riddled with broken glass, rocks, and three inch long thorns. The balls are deflating and the hoops are being held up with rocks. They often fall over in the middle of practice and it is only due to sheer luck that no one has been injured yet.

The school is trying to give the girls a real court to play on. We have selected a spot near the soccer field, and holes have been dug for the poles. All that is needed now is funds to purchase cement. I am hoping that you, my loyal readers, can help me with this. My goal is to raise about $1000 to cover the cost of cement, labor, and hopefully nets and a few new balls. Even a small donation will go a long way to reaching this goal. If you don't think you are able to donate, perhaps you can spread the word to others who might be able to. I am confident that together we can give these girls the court of their dreams.

A proper netball court will go a long way in improving the safety and happiness of these players, and future players in years to come. The girls, myself, their coaches, and the entire Onamutai community would be forever grateful for your assistance.

To donate to this great cause, please visit the YouCaring site here. YouCaring is a free fundraising platform that allows 100%  of the donations to go to the cause.

Thank you in advance!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chain of Fools

My middle school math teacher was Mrs. Long (no relation) and it is from her that my passion for teaching math springs. There are countless things that I learned in her classes that I still recall today, but perhaps none more vividly than "Same, Change, Change". Like many concepts in Mrs. Long's math class, this clever mnemonic, used to assist in the addition and subtraction of negative numbers, is to be sung to the tune of some (previously) well known song. We had Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" for dividing with decimals, MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" for prime factorization, and for Same, Change, Change, "Chain of Fools" by the one and only Aretha Franklin. Now this song has become so synonymous with negative numbers in my head that I still sing it to this day when it comes to adding and subtracting negatives, even though four years of being a math major has left me with more than enough conceptual understanding to not actually need it. Anyway, the point is that Chain of Fools has become part of my mathiness.

Enter Onamutai. Here I am, trying for the umpteenth time to get my kids to understand basic integer operations, and on a whim I decide, "what the hell, might as well teach it to them. " I had been though Same Change Change with them before but without the song, and it hadn't stuck. So I told them the story of the first Ms. Long and sang the three notes for them while they all laughed. I told them I knew they didn't know the song (as most grade 9s in America probably don't know it at this point) but if anyone wanted to come up with a new song to sing it to that they all know, they could earn a bonus point or two. This did not garner as much reaction as I had hoped, and I began to doubt that this would stick either. However, I kept it up throughout class and lo and behold, a few scattered people were singing the Chain of Fools version, even if they weren't actually using it at the time. By the end of class, almost everyone was belting out "Same Change Change", albeit slightly off tune (yes, these are the same kids that can do perfect 4 part harmonies every morning. I'm going to say that I was the one who was off key and they were just matching pitch). 

They loved it so much that they continue to sing it at random points throughout class, and throughout the day. I also played them the actual song so they could here more of what it was that they were singing to. They ate it up. So much, in fact, that a few of the boys have requested I give the song to them on a USB. 18 year old Namibian boy wants to jam to some Aretha Franklin in his spare time? I would be happy to enable him.

Village Life

On Friday I was showing my ICT kids some software that allows me to monitor their computer screens from mine, and also let's them send me messages and "raise their hand" when they need help. I was letting them message me anything they wanted just to try it out and was getting a lot of "I luv u mis long"s and "heelo"s when I saw someone said "I want you to come visit me in my village". I had been wanting to see a learner's house for a while now, so I quickly looked at who it was, hoping it was someone whose name I knew, and sure enough, it was Sarafina (whose name I only remember because a friend from college lives at Sarafina Way...) As they were leaving class, I told her I would love to visit her house one day though I couldn't that day, but she should let me know a day the following week and I would be glad to go.

Today she showed up at my door when the bell rang and asked me if we could go. I asked her about how long it was, since I had some things to do, and she said "not far, only 15 minutes". I should have known better. After dropping my bag at my house and filling up my water bottle, I offered to carry the backpack that her and her sister share, and after triple checking that I was serious, they gladly handed it off to me. I slung the backpack on my shoulders and the three of us headed off. The sun was beating down on us as we walked the sandy path toward the gravel road. Thirty minutes into the walk and I was sweating and tired. Though the girls offered to take the bag back, I insisted on carrying it the whole way. My learners do this walk twice a day without complaining a bit and I was determined to get the full experience, sore shoulders and all. An hour later, we came to their house where I met their siblings, one of whom was another one of my learners. They showed me around the homestead-- their rooms, the kitchen, where they pound mahangu, where the store it, where the chickens sleep, and curiously, the area where they sit outside and listen to the music that comes from "that room". I tried to get more information about this magical, musical room, but none was given. After the tour, it was time to head home. I told them they only needed to take me as far as the gravel road and I could make it back from there, but they wanted to come the whole way.

The third learner, Naemi, accompanied us as well, and along the way we ran into two others who were out collecting firewood. The girls also showed me what they called a "lake, or maybe a pond." To me it was very reminiscent of a query, but instead of rock, it was sand. Although the water level was extremely low due to the drought, and it was very murky, to me it looked like a great place for swimming- complete with a little beach and everything- but they told me that only the boys sometimes go in it, as most of them can't swim. (Makes sense when you've spent your entire life in the desert). The walk back was much more pleasant due the sun setting and lack of backpack. It was nice to chat more candidly with the girls, though they were still pretty quiet. They asked me to teach them a gospel song, but the only gospel song I know is "This Little Light of Mine", and I only know the chorus. I sang a few others for them too, but they couldn't really pick them up since the English was fast and my tone was off due to my slightly laborious breathing. I give these kids so much credit for doing this walk (and longer ones) twice a day all year and thinking nothing of it. If kids at home had to do this to go to school, classrooms would be empty.

We finally reached home and I said goodbye to the girls. I went inside to get more water only to discover that it was off. It had been off the night before, but on a little bit this morning. However now the taps were bone dry again. Luckily the ladies next door have water, so we're just filling up jugs over there till we can figure out what's going on. I also discovered that the water in their shower is actually pretty's probably a good thing I only discovered this now, otherwise I would have been over there quite a bit this year!

Not having water for this brief time has also given me another tiny bit of insight into how many of my learners live. The majority of them do not have running water in their house, and for those that do, it comes from a single tap in the middle of the homstead, not from sinks, showers, toilets, etc. We live near the public tap, and every day I get to see ton of people (mostly kids) rolling huge water containers or carrying them on their head to and from the tap. "Fetching water" is the most common chore for my kids, and they have to do it often as water goes quickly (as I've recently discovered), even when you're doing everything you can to conserve it.  I give my kids so much credit for how hard they work just to do basic things that we all take for granted, like washing dishes. It makes me sad though to think that a lot of them can't imagine life any other way. I hope that I am able to remember these short periods of inconvenience when I return to America and begin to appreciate things like constant electricity and running water (plus HOT water!), but if I forget, and I start to take advantage, I hope I will remember my learners and the process they must go through just get a bit of water to drink.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Trials and (Tiny) Triumphs

Today is October 3rd. Can we talk about this for a minute? When did this happen? Since when I have been in Namibia for 10 months? Nobutreally...

This week I came to the realization that although I have been officially teaching for more than a year, I have not completed a full year of teaching. This means that this is my first experience with the serious condition known as end-of-the-year-itis, and this wretched disease is wearing me down. Let me paint a picture for you. It's hot. Over 100 degrees hot, every day. Sun beating down so hard I can feel my skin burning just walking between classes. Even the breeze is hot. The kids are a bizarre mix of drowsy and full of energy. No one can pay any attention to a thing I am saying, but they have an extreme fascination with the group of students standing outside across the schoolyard. The are tired of learning and I'm tired of trying to get them to learn. The following conversation I had with a learner upon entering my last period math class pretty much sums up this time of year:

Me: "Afternoon everyone! How are you?"
Learner: "Miss can we watch a movie today?"
Me: "No. Ok take out your notebooks!"
Learner: "Why not?"
Me: "Do you want to pass your exam?"
Learner: "Yeah."
Me: "Then we need to learn math."

I'm not sure what gave him the idea that I would ever possibly say yes, especially since I've been reminding them daily that they have to keep working hard for these last few weeks so they can be prepared for the exams, but there it is. 

The end of the year also means an increased level of chaos around the school. The grade 10 and 12s have already started exams, which means that learners are now stationed in their rooms while teachers rotate, many classes have had to move rooms to accommodate for testing rooms and camping rooms (the 10 and 12s live at the school during exams) and the timetable has been interrupted. All this combined with a collective need on the part of teachers to fit in every spare minute with learners means that no one ever knows where they should be at any given time. Lovely. 

However, the end of the year has not come without its share of successes. When I can manage to get my learners to pay attention, it seems that they are really learning some things. My grade 9s (many of whom started the year at around a grade 6 level, at best) are starting to improve a little. I have begun doing Mad Minutes (remember those from elementary school?) with them and they are slowly but surely losing their dependence on calculators for basic calculations. Not only that, but they actually enjoy doing it because they can see the improvement too! And ending the year with a geometry unit means that all my extremely visual/concrete learners can experience an increased level of understanding and success right before exam times when a confidence boost is crucial. 

In science we have been working on physics and my personal love for the subject is shining through. I've added lots of activities and topics to the syllabus simply because I just think they're so cool! (Who doesn't love a good Free Falling Bodies experiment?) The kids are getting so much better at doing hands on activities and and learning to predict and use their critical thinking skills. It's pretty cool. Also, I've officially got them hooked on the Magic School Bus to the point where they attempt to sing the theme song any time they see me. (Wait, does this mean I've become Miss Frizzle?! Dream. Realized.)

In the computer lab, we've finally started getting some of the equipment sorted out and functioning properly, including the Classroom Management software for the laptops. This means I can monitor them all from my computer at the front, control their computer if they need help, and disable all the computers momentarily with a click of a button when I need their attention. Of course, I could have used this ten months ago, but better late then never right?

And the last thing that's been boosting my spirits a little is the success of Girls Club, which has been officially renamed Women's Health and Education Project. (WHEP might not be quite as catchy as WHEN, but they picked it themselves!) Each week, about 20 girls gather in my room for a discussion on whatever topic I've decided to talk about that week (they are free to suggest things, but so far no one has...) We've had some interesting discussions on teenage pregnancy, women' rights, and what it means to be a woman. Although they're still extremely shy so the discussion usually turns in to me talking, it's been so interesting to hear about these issues from their point of view. It's been an interesting challenge to try to open their minds to new thoughts and ideas without disrespecting their traditions and culture. Their worldviews are so limited that a lot of what I have been talking about is brand new to them. They are still so afraid to speak their mind which can be frustrating, but also helps to remind me of why I started the club in the first place. I'm excited to see what progress I can make in the next couple of months. My only regret is that I wasn't able to start this Term 1.

Well hopefully this has been a satisfying update for you all. It's hard to believe that my experience is drawing to a close and I'll be home in just over two short months, but there it is. I'm hoping that I'll be posting a bit more often this term with end-of-the-year happenings and just general thoughts, feelings, and emotions so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I'd LOVE if people in the education community can keep your ears open for any potential long-term sub openings for when I return. It'd be great to have a steady income again...
Love and miss you all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Driving Namibia: Three women, two weeks, one country

Once again, I'm a few weeks late with the updates. Sorry. That being said, I have no idea what format this is going to come out in. Certainly it won't be a detailed, descriptive narrative. More likely a stream of consciousness, story-telling style. Let's see where this goes. Ready? Ok, deep breath:

Wake up super early on a Saturday, hike into Ondangwa. Find a taxi to Tsumeb, wait three hours for it to leave. Get to Tsumeb, Rachel is running late. Wait for her in a cafe, drink iced coffee (iced coffee here=coffee+ice cream+chocolate sauce). Meet Rachel, get car, drive, pick up hikers, drive, meet Jenn in Omaruru, drive. Night at Jenn's place in Omajete. Dinner and playlist making, sleep. Up early, drive. Brandberg-Namibia's highest mountain. Hike to the famous "White Lady" rock painting. Lunch at the base (apples/carrots/peanut butter/crackers/cheese: our staples for this trip, also known as "delectables"). Drive. Spitzkoppe for the night. Hot shower. Climbing on rocks, watching the sunset with a bottle of wine. Bed. Wind so strong it literally blows our tent away when we get out of it. Breakfast, more climbing. Pictures. Drive. Swakopmund. Water. In the air. (My hair was not happy). Mexican, Margaritas, and dark beer. (My tummy was very happy). Drive. Drive. Drive. Terrible, long, washboard-y gravel road. Cross the Tropic of Capricorn. Stop in Solitare for some pie at a bakery. Almost passed the campground (luckily the American flag alerted us!) Swim in the pool (cold). Simultaneous sunset/moon rise from the deck. Breathtaking. Dinner, shower, bed. Up early. Drive to Soussevlei. Climb some dunes. Take a million photos. Explore the vleis. Ice cream treat on the way back, more dark beer. Wake up, happy birthday to me. Drive. Breakfast pie at the bakery again (called Moose McGregors, very fitting). Drive. Drive. Drive. Lunch in Walvis Bay. Jelly fish the size of a hubcap. Flamingos. More coffee/desserts (we dubbed my birthday the "day of desserts", but it's ok, because we had real salads with lettuces for lunch, so clearly it balances out, right?). Walk back to the car. Dead battery. Lucky for us a Botswanan middle school cricket team was in the parking lot and gave us a push. Drive to Swakop. Rare sunset on the surreal road with ocean on side and dunes on the other. Food shop, get some treats (pesto, gnocchi, and chocolate covered almonds!) Also Amarula. And ice cream. Crash on our GIANT bed. Decide we're too tired to cook and fully embrace the day of desserts by eating ice cream with Amarula while snuggling in bed and watching Stardust. Birthday=success. Lazy next morning. Drive to Henties Bay for the fish festival, which in true Namibian fashion had more meat than fish. More iced coffee. Browsed the vendors. Bought hummus! And more pesto. Back to Swakop. Pizza and more dark beer. Early(ish) bed. Wake up at 3:30, drive. Drive. Drive. Oh, did I say drive? 12 hours to Luderitz. (Bravo, Rachel, bravo). Arrive at the same time as Mariella, Taylor, Kristin and Emily. Check into the hostel. Search for dinner. We heard Luderitz is dead after the sun goes down but we're determined to find a dance party. Dinner at a quiet cafe, then we search for the Yacht Club which we heard was a popular hangout for the "young folks". Can't find it. Wait, guys, might it be that building that's shaped like a boat and has a Heineken sign out front? Yup. Drinks, meet some really cool locals who invite us to a braai the next night. More drinks, random pizza, dancing (yes, we managed to find dancing. Only us). Bed. Kolmanskope Ghost Town, lots of sand. In the houses. Like filling the houses. So cool. Back to the hostel. Braai is starting now, so we still have a few hours to nap first. Braai with new friends, more drinks, more dancing. Good times. Learned the "Cups" thing. Out till wee hours. Sleep. Till 1. Yeah..."Breakfast" at a cafe, more iced coffee (So. Much. Iced Coffee. I'll seriously miss this.) Drive to Diaz Point, aka "Imperialist Point". Ocean, catch on the beach with a crazy dog and my tennis ball (and they laughed at me for bringing it...), exploring the awesome campsite, where you can actually sleep in an old boat (really, Lonely Planet, you're not going to include this?!). Snacks at the cafe. Amazing sunset (and the dubbing of me as the photomonger in addition to being the keymonger, and the gatemonger). Early bed. More driving. Drive to Windhoek. Meet up with Bret for Indian food. Crash on his floor. Jenn and I run errands in Windhoek while Rachel picks up her friend from the airport. Drama. Where's Hannah? We don't know. Cancelled flight. Will we miss Etosha? Finally get Hannah, decided to try to make it to the gate before sunset. Perfect timing, 30 mins to spare. Lady at Etosha remembers me. Gnocci and pesto for dinner.  Meet up with Abby and co. Wine and watering hole. Lions! And rhinos! Bed. Drive through Etosha. So many animals. WE SAW A LEOPARD! And an adorable elephant family. And got THIS close to a rhino One more night. Early bed. One more watering hole. Narrating the lives of some animals. Drive to 'Kati. Zebros for lunch (duh!) Urbock (rare winter-only beer). Up to Onamutai. Home at last, but this vaca isn't over yet! Homemade hummus and some Dr. Who. Crash for the night. Off the the trade fair with Kristy! Busy, but fun. Lots of things to buy, but I manage to exercise some serious self control (until December at least...). Back home, then out for the night to Paulson's. So. Many. Men. Paulson let us stay behind the bar. (Thanks, dude!) Home, bed. The trio leave early the next morning and I attempt to prepare for school the following day.

Phew. It was a crazy, adventure-filled two weeks that I will never forget. Thanks for a fabulous time L^3 feat. Hannah Montana =) 
Here, enjoy some pics! To see the the full facebook album (even if you don't have facebook), click here.

"White Lady" whose actually a man...

I swear I actually took this
Hanging out under the rock bridge.

An dessert oasis in the desert

Sunset on the deck.


Kolmanskope-- inside an abandoned house
Sunset over Diaz Point

We were THAT close! And this boy was huge!

So may squees.

Peace out

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Reason Everyone Hates Math

It finally happened, WorldTeach put up a math focused module for me to do this month! Yeah, I know that's not actually exciting for anyone except me, but let me have my moment, ok? Modules are things that I have to do once a month for WT. Basically they're like the education assignments I used to do in college. They consist of a case study, an accompanying article, and reflection questions. Since all of the other volunteers teach English, most of the modules are very English focused. While they're not completely irrelevant to my classes (a lot of the broad themes and issues apply to all subjects), they're also not particularly helpful to my teaching experience (especially since my ed background means I've learned about/discussed a lot of the topics before). But, this month, WT finally released a math focused module, and I was excited to see what it would be about. The topic was "Balancing Factual, Procedural, and Conceptual Knowledge in Math" and the accompanying article basically put into words everything that's been rolling around in my brain about math education for the past four years. What it boils down to is that America (and many other countries) are not doing a good job at the balance of the three knowledge types. (Quick break down: factual knowledge--the quick recall of basic facts, i.e. multiplication tables, squares have four sides, 5 is bigger than 2 etc, the 'what'; procedural-- the steps you follow to solve a problem, the 'how'; conceptual-- the reasoning behind the procedure and the facts, the 'why'"). Reading the article helped me to either explain, or justify many of the frustrations I've encountered while teaching math both here in Namibia and back home.

The statement "I hate math, I'm not good at it" is one that has permeated our society. I hear it all the time, from people of all ages, all background, and all over the world. It is a statement that is said with a weird sort of pride, asserting that the speaker was a member of the every growing club of people who couldn't wait to graduate high school and leave math behind. It has gone so far that the New York Times published an op-ed where the author claimed that we should no longer require students to learn algebra, or really much math at all, since most people don't use those skills post-graduation. I hear this argument a lot, and it's one that actually causes my blood to boil, until I calm down and try to look at math education from an outsider's perspective. When I do, I start to see their point, and will conceded that math education the way it stands today is really not benefiting kids as much as it is hurting them. The fact is, we are completely failing at actually teaching kids how to do math. Instead, we teach them how to blindly follow steps. Not exactly the critical thinking skills we like to see in our citizens.

Math education has gone through a lot of phases throughout history. The ancient Greeks (think Euclid, Pythagoras, etc) focused mostly on concepts. Euclid's Elements- the standard for all geometry- hardly uses any numbers at all, it's all about the concepts and the proofs. The majority of math education in early America was factual, (the 'arithmetic' in the 'three R's'). Children learned how to count and how to do the basic operations. Slowly, we have moved to a system where the emphasis is on procedure-- how to follow steps to get a desired answer. The factual knowledge has still stuck around for the most part, but the focus has moved. Concepts, while still present occasionally, are often not really delved into.

The driving force for this push to procedure is, in my opinion, standardized tests. When a year's worth of learning comes down to the results of one test, the incentive is to teach procedure. Make sure the kids know the steps to follow to get the right answer, we don't care if they know why they're doing it. Because the standards for each year are so full of content, there is no time for exploration of concepts-- everything is watered down to "here are the steps: go." Students are so singularly focused on what the right answer is, that they stop caring about the why and the how, which are the most important parts of math.

Now, I'm not saying that we should go back to a Greek way of thinking and teach only concepts, that would be extremely impractical and ineffective for the world we live in today. However, we need to make conceptual knowledge a bigger part of math again. True understanding of math cannot exist without factual, procedural, and conceptual knowledge.

In the past few decades, factual knowledge has been on the decline. It's something I've noticed even since my days in elementary school. Raise your hand if you remember doing Mad Minutes in 4th grade to memorize your multiplication tables. My guess is that most people have their hand up. Would it surprise you then to learn that the majority of grade 8 and 9 students that I've taught needed a calculator to do 6*7? The memorization of facts has become demonized in a lot of education circles recently- earning the title "drill and kill". While I agree that memorizing facts is not the best way to learn, people always forget the old nutrition motto "everything in moderation". This is true of education as well. Sure, giving kids a history text book to memorize is not going to help them learn about the Revolutionary War, but there are some things that have to be memorized. Parts of speech, math facts, the date we signed the Declaration, the chemical make-up of water (H2O for anyone panicking). Here, memorization leads to instant recall which becomes very important when dealing with bigger problems. For example when our brains don't have to spend precious time and energy solving the basic problem, like 6*7, it can devote more time and energy to solving the equation. This not only makes math easier, but also less frustrating and therefore more enjoyable. So even though we live in a world where we have the ability to look up or calculate basic facts at our fingertips, a base of factual knowledge is still beneficial, and actual crucial, to deeper understand of more complex topics.

Procedure is important too, as much as it may seem that I'm hating on it. Having intimate conceptual knowledge won't do you any good if you don't know how to use it. Procedure is how math can be made accessible. It's human nature to want to have steps to follow to reach an answer. The problem comes with complete dependence on procedure- when procedure is taught with no explanation as to why the steps are followed the way they are. Teaching students to blindly follow steps is detrimental. What happens when they encounter a problem that requires a slight deviation from the steps? If students understand what the steps are trying to achieve, they can use their knowledge of the procedure to figure out what to do next. If they have just memorized the steps, they will get stuck and likely give up.

I saw on the internet a while back a picture with a statement "I forgot the Law of Cosines on a test, so I used right triangles to solve the problem another way". The picture was of her notebook, showing her work. It turned out that she didn't solve it 'another way', she actually derived the Law of Cosines for the particular problem she was doing. Replace all her numbers with variables and there's the proof. This girl used her intuition to get her out of a jam. Instead of giving up when she forgot a formula, she said, 'let's see what I can do with what I know'.  I was sad to realize how happy seeing this made me because, unfortunately, most students don't think like that-- if they forget a formula, they skip the problem. Most people have this idea of math being all about following a precise set of rules to arrive at a correct answer. Math is seen as rigid, calculated, and lacking all creativity, when in fact, creativity and imagination is crucial to math. There are a multitude of ways to arrive at every answer. Exploring these different ways, how they're different, why they all lead to the same solution, that's what math is. This is lost in today's education system. This is what happens when you teach the how and not the why.

This lack of conceptual learning also takes the excitement out of math. Math is a beautiful study of the patterns in nature. In math, things are even when it seems there is not real reason for them to be. When we're just told that they are- when concepts are just handed down as Mathematical Truths with no exploration- we take them for granted and we loose the beauty in their being. Let me give you an example from my own education. In Calculus, there's something called the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Sounds like a big deal, right? It is. What it says is that the integration of a function can be reversed by finding the derivative. Without getting too technical, they're sort of like opposites. This is a HUGE deal. Two things that seemingly shouldn't be related are actually very closely related. Now before learning about the FTC, we all anticipated it to be a big deal, but were very disappointed when we actually did learn it. Here's why: we were taught how to integrate first, and the way you do that is by finding the antiderivative (the opposite of the derivative). So in our heads, an antiderivative and an integral were the same thing by definition. So when we got the FTC that told us that the integral is actually equal to the antiderivative, we were all like "well yeah, duh". It wasn't until I was a TA for Calculus in college that I realized how important, amazing, beautiful, and well, cool, it is that the area under a curve (the integral) is the 'opposite' as the slope (the derivative) of the curve. Had we learned about the concepts and been told about the FTC first, and then discovered how to find an integral using the anti-derivative, I would have been fascinated, and it would have made a lot more sense.

Another thing that happens when concepts aren't fully understood is that things get misused. The most common place I see this is with the equals sign. The concept of equality- things being equivalent in value- has gotten lost with most students today. The equals sign has come to mean "put answer here". (In Namibia, this is exceptionally true. Learners use equals signs before writing the answer in any subject. If the directions say "Write 'I am eating breakfast' in the past tense." they will write " = 'I ate breakfast.'") This means that kids are constantly misusing equals signs, claiming things are equal when they are not. It also means that solving equations, when there is already something on the other side of the equals sign, gets them very confused. The typical way to teach the concept of equations is with the analogy of a balancing scale. I had another math teacher here tell me not to bother with the analogy because they just don't get it. When I asked what to use instead, he told me just to give them the steps.  "THIS IS WHY THEY DON'T GET IT!" I wanted to scream, "BECAUSE NO ONE TEACHES CONCEPTS!" Instead I bit my tongue, but I sort of wish I hadn't. Now I am subjected to paper after paper where equals signs are grossly misused and I'm not sure how to fix it because, once again, exams are in full swing and I am simply out of time. "Maybe next term" I think, and it gets added to the mile high pile of topics to address in the two months we have before the end of year exams.

I am scared for the mathematical futures of this generation. Already college students are fleeing the math and science fields in droves. (A recent headline I found grimly amusing: "Math, Science Popular Until Student's Realize They're Hard" (and no, that's not an Onion article...)) If we keep teaching math by drilling procedure and eschewing concepts, we will be doing a dangerous disservice to the future of our nation. We need to bring conceptual knowledge back into the classroom, but to do that, we need actual math teachers driving math education policy. We need to tell those writing the standards that we've had enough of mile-wide-but-inch-deep curricula and should instead be teaching fewer topics more in depth. This is the only way we will get back to teaching actual math.

For anyone interested in this topic check out the article "Is It True That Some People Just Can't Do Math?"

Friday, August 2, 2013

Educational Ramblings

A few days ago I had to say goodbye to one of my best friends whom I won't see for another 4.5 months. As hard as it was, I am so incredibly grateful that Kelly dropped the dough and came halfway across the world to visit me for a few weeks. Having her here was incredibly helpful in so many ways (mostly it was the cooking though, I'm just being honest  :p ).

For those of you who don't know, Kelly is a teacher too, so it goes without saying that there was quite a bit of teacher-talk going on. It was great to have her see and experience my school environment first hand so that I could process everything that I've been doing these past six months. I've said on multiple occasions how I am often surprised at the similarities between the Namibian and American education, and Kelly saw it too. At one point, we were discussing job interviews back home and I mentioned I was nervous because I knew people would be expecting me to have some sort of profound statement about my time teaching in Namibia, and I didn't feel like I had one. She looked at me and said "You don't think 'I went half way around the world and encountered all the same problems that we have here.' is a profound statement?" This is why I love her-- she can read my mind and make my thoughts sound much more intelligent than I think they are.

It's true though. The number of times each day that I think "just like America" is almost funny. Between syllabi that are too long for the time frame, a lack of critical thinking skills, lack of motivation, learners that are way behind their grade level, kids who are chronically absent, classes who'd rather chatter with each other than learn about equations, and exams breathing down everyone's necks, almost every conversation I have at school could be taken verbatim from conversations with colleagues back home. It's not only the bad that's shared though, all the things that I love about teaching are still here too. The light-bulb moments, coming up with a really good example that clicks and makes them laugh, sharing ideas with other teachers, those moments in class where you can't help but laugh, the friendly "good morning, miss" greetings (these are much more frequent and polite here!), marking exams and seeing that a learner who was struggling got a good grade, and waking up every morning knowing that it doesn't matter if yesterday's lesson bombed, it's a new day and maybe, just maybe, today will be the day you finally reach them.

The more I think about it, the more I see Kelly is absolutely right. That I am having nearly identical experiences here as my fellow first-year teachers back home is something that would surprise many people, myself included. I don't really know what my expectations for here were, but I can tell you that I certainly didn't expect that my life here would routinely feel so normal. (I am defining normal here as 'akin to my life at home', not as 'the opposite of strange'). It's not just school things either. Most of the time I spend here is spent doing things I would do at home. Sometimes I feel like I'm somehow cheating because my daily access to internet, electricity, and running water makes this not 'real Africa' but then I stop and think about how ridiculous that sounds. My housemates have the same access to utilities that I do, are they not 'real Africans'? What the hell is 'real Africa' anyway?

Americans tend to have this idea of what 'Africa' is, how it's so different from America, and somehow needs to be 'fixed'. In reality, Africa is a huge, diverse continent filled with people that are living the same basic human experience as the rest of us. Sure, there are some major differences, but there are fewer of them than people might think. I can't tell you what life in Africa is like, because I've only seen about 1% of it. I can tell you a little bit about what life in Namibia is like though. The majority of people go to work, care for their families, fix their houses, have friends, own cell phones, go shopping, drink, eat, enjoy movies and music, and go to school. Some (and the number is ever increasing) have internet, drive cars, and live in nice houses. Others are subsistence farmers who live without electricity or running water on traditional homesteads. In short, the lifestyles of Namibians are as diverse as the lifestyles of Americans.  Every stereotype I had about 'Africa' (and I like to think I had fewer than most) has been challenged. I have come to see Namibia for what it is: a young, proud, beautiful, capable country trying to put behind it's troubled, racist history, move forward, and improve. That doesn't sound to me like something that needs to be fixed- in fact, it sounds eerily familiar...

So next time I see you, please don't ask me how Africa was, because I won't be able to answer that. Instead, ask me about my learners, my school, my friends, my village, my new country. I'd be more than happy to share my stories.

I guess I have a profound statement after all. (But it might be a bit long for an interview...)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Take a Hike

Hike: A ride back to the village from town with whomever you can find that's willing to take you.

I'm going to take you on an adventure. This is a fairly typical Saturday hike back to the village after morning errands. Ready?

You get in the taxi and tell the driver to take you to Okamini, which someone told you is the nickname of the hike point that everyone knows. Of course the driver has no idea what you're saying. You struggle to explain where you mean until one of the other passengers takes pity on you and chuckles while telling the driver, "she means oka-meenie". Oh, ok. You pull up to the mini-market and haul all of your bags on your shoulder while fumbling for change for the taxi fare. The driver takes off and you amble awkwardly up to the tree outside the market that is the official hike point for your village.
"Wa uhala po" you say to no one in particular, butchering the local greeting.
"Eehh" someone says back, the typical response.
"Anyone going to Onamutai?" you ask the group gathered around the tree.
At this point, usually one of the small boys (any unmarried male) that runs one of the fruit carts will sympathetically tell you that no one is going.

You drop your bags because you know it'll probably be a long wait. You stand there awkwardly, hoping that one of the two bakkies you recognize will pull up soon. They don't. You keep your ears peeled, hoping to hear the word 'Onamutai' amongst all the unfamiliar Oshiwambo chatter, but you don't. People are staring. Some whisper (or shout) "oshilumbu!", the not-exactly-PC word for 'white person', at you. You ignore them.

After about 45 minutes, one of the fruit vendor guys tells you that "that tate is going to Onamutai" while pointing in the general direction of about 3 bakkies. You finally figure out which one and walk over to it.
"Wa uhala po, tate" you greet him "You are going to Onamutai?" "Eehh" "Can I come?" "Eehh" "Thank you."
No one seems to be getting in, so you continue standing there with all your stuff until someone tells you otherwise. Finally people begin piling in and you hop in the back. This is where the fun begins. At first, there are only a few people in the back and their assorted belongings, but this quickly changes. Foodstuffs are being added by the second: a rack of frozen fish, 3 10kg bags of mahangu flour, a giant plastic bag of snack bags, 10 cases of Tafel, grocery bags, and more people. 'We must be going soon, we can't possibly fit anymore in the back of this truck' you think to yourself each time something else is added. And each time, someone shuffles things around to add more while directing you in Oshiwambo. You give them your best apologetic look and try your best not to look like an idiot while everyone else performs this well choreographed dance of rearranging.

Finally, 45 minutes after you first climbed in the back of the truck, with the sun beating down on your pale Irish arms and the bag of cold food tucked somewhere under your legs, the driver gets in the truck and precariously makes his way onto the road. You assume he's taking the new gravel road, since that's the fastest way back, but to your chagrin, he turns down a side street and you know you'll be taking the alternate, longer, sand road home. At the end of the road, you pull into the bar where the driver stops for what he promises will be a "small beer". For a reason unbeknownst to you, he makes you get out of the truck to wait while the others stay in the back and then proceeds to order a 750mL Tafel which he shares with a friend. When he finishes, he motions for you to get back in. You do as you're told.

You take off down the sand road, stopping every 15 or so minutes to let other passengers off. You and the others dig around for a while to find everyone's belongings before setting off again. Eventually you are the last person left, and you realize that the driver probably lived in the last village, and only is taking you all the way to Onamutai because you're white. That also means he'll charge N$15 instead of N$10. He tells you to come sit in the front now that you're the only one left, and you gear up for what is likely to be an awkward last 10 minutes. Sure enough, you're only in the truck for about a minute before the driver, who is old enough to be your father, starts hitting on you. It starts out innocently enough: he asks where you're from, then responds that he's always wanted to go to America, but it soon turns into him asking to come back to America with you, and if you don't have a boyfriend, can he be your boyfriend? You reject his proposal several times and avoid answering his questions of "why not?" You know he's harmless, but it's still slightly uncomfortable. He drives you to your door (even though you never told him where you live-- everyone just knows where the white girl lives) and you thank him for the ride, pay him the fare, haul all of your belongings out of the bakkie once more, and go inside where you promptly collapse from exhaustion. All you did was grocery shop and go to the bank, but it's already 3:30 (despite leaving at 8AM) and you're exhausted. You decide it's time for a nap.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Dear reader,

My travel companions!
How are you? It's been awhile, huh? Whoops, sorry 'bout that. I fully intended on giving you the blow-by-blow of my month long trek around south western Africa, but it was a long time ago, the details are getting fuzzy, and the thought of sitting down to write six more posts has kept me from doing just that. So instead I'm going write one more highlights-only posts of my trip. I'm sure you'll hear more of the details later. So here goes nothing.

Poling on the Delta

Day 3: Maun- mokoro trip. Peaceful, beautiful, nice to be on water again. Went on a game walk and saw a heard of zebras. After lunch, I tried my hand at poling and actually wasn't terrible (Ben-- I think I could take you on at paddle boarding!). Oh, and we almost hit a hippo on the way back. Note to self: hippos are really big. Like *really* big.

Sunset cruise on the Zambezi River

Day 4: To Livingstone- super lucky travel day. Hardly had to wait for anything, and we also managed to negotiate the exact right price for a taxi, despite not knowing the exchange rate. Score one for the Americans.

Day 5: Vic Falls- Zambian side. Words can't describe how gorgeous it is, you'll just have to wait for pictures (and even those don't do it justice. You should probably just book your trip and see for yourself...) We got drenched, but it was totally worth it.

Day 6: Vic Falls- Zimbabwe side. is it possible for the falls to be even more spectacular? Yes, yes it is. Also, got to handle American money again, it was weird. Got photographed for a Zimbabwe tourism website at lunch, and I ate crocodile skewers (all for you, Sean).

(I now take a break from the highlights-only post to go into detail about the craziest thing I did all trip: jump into the Batoka Gorge.)The restaurant was in a lodge, and the lodge (like most in the area) had a booking center where you can book all sorts of adventures and outings. I had wanted to try a zipline sort of thing, so we went over to check it out. I must have been feeling pretty brave, because I ended up signing up for the gorge swing...hey, once in a lifetime, right? Basically, they drove us out to the gorge right below the falls, strapped me into a harness (actually two), brought me out to the edge of the platform and told me to jump. Ok, it was a little more organized than that, but that was the gist. The guy who was on the platform with me told me that after I jumped, I would free fall 70m in 3 seconds, then drop into a pendulum swing. He had heard me say earlier that I was a math teacher and right before nudging me off, he said "quick, what speed will you fall at?" Uh, what?! Sorry sir, I'm slightly preoccupied by the 200m jump I'm about to take, can you repeat that? He told me to think about on the way down and report back. Yeah, ok. Then he gave me a nudge. I had a split second of "oh shit. what did I just do?" before the rush took over and all I could do was grin the rest of the way down. There I was, swinging in a harness with the roaring waters of the Zambezi river swirling 3 meters below me, and what did I do? Start thinking about that math problem of course! Well it was much easier to think about at the bottom of the gorge than it was at the top, and I quickly calculated an average speed of 23.333... m/s (this, of course, is based off of 70m in 3 seconds, which isn't entirely accurate if you actually calculate the acceleration due to gravity, which I did as I was being pulled up...yes, I'm a nerd, I know). When I was safely back on the ground, I was greeted by the impressed looking faces of Matt and Jenn, who handed me a Hunter's. They know me well.

So this happened. (Major photo props to Matt!)

On the crossing back into Zambia, we encountered the worst negotiator in all of Africa. When hyperinflation had reached it's peak in 2009, you could find Zimbabwean bank notes in hilariously high amounts, such as 500 million dollars. Now, they've scraped the Zimbabwean dollar, and are using American currency, but you people still sell the old (now worthless) bank notes as souvenirs. After I refused to pay $10 for 5 worthless pieces of paper, this man tried to haggle with me, but I kept refusing. Finally he said he would just give me one if I wished him luck. Uh, ok! Then another guy on the bridge offered to trade me a one billion dollar note for my shirt. Um, no thanks.

Breakfast view of "the Smoke that Thunders"
from the deck at the lodge.
Day 7: to Ngepi Camp. Took the Intercape Bus back into Namibia. Lots of religious/super melodramatic, awful acted movies blaring right above my head. Awesome. Got to the camp pretty late, but the staff re-opened the bar for us, then we all sat around a campfire while a hippie in dreads played the guitar. Reminded me of my theatre days...

Day 8: Ngepi- basically we relaxed all day and just hung around the camp. It was exactly what we needed.

Day 9: More travel. We were hoping to make it to Grootfontein, but we got a slow start and had to wait awhile for a hike out of Divundu. We finally found one in the back of an open bakki, and the guy was booking it. My ears hurt a little... When we got to Rundu, we discovered it was too late in the day to get anything out, so we decided to stay the night. Makeshift dinner of cold focaccia bread from Spar and milkshakes from the bar for desert while we finally figured out what we all owed each other for money. Early bed.

Day 10: Back to Windhoek. I awoke early in the morning on our last day to the sound of birds chirping. I realized that I wasn't cold for the first night of the whole trip, and closed my eyes to sleep for another hour before we had to get up. As I started to fall back asleep, I hear a rustling noise in my tent. Uhhhh. I look down, and see a swarm of fire ants right under my sleeping bag. Yup. I had slept on an acacia thorn that had poked holes in the bottom of my tent, which provided the perfect doorway for a couple hundred fire ants to make their way in. Needless to say, I leaped out of my tent, trying (and failing) to make as little noise as possible. Pulled all my belongings out, spent a half hour brushing everything off, threw out the tent, and took a shower.

Combi to Windhoek. Back to Chameleon. Dinner at Joe's Beer Garden (too kitschy for my taste, super unimpressed with the beer selection), then early bed. Up at 4am for my 7am flight to Cape Town.

So that pretty much sums up the first half of my trip. Sorry for the super abridged version, but I promise to share the full version with everyone when I see you again. I'll post again soon about Cape Town and Etosha with mom.

Till then,

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

10 Days, 4 Countries, 3000 Kilometers: Part 1

A little less than a month ago, I left Onamutai for my first long break of the year. My first stop was Windhoek for our Mid-Service training. It was so great to see everyone again and being back at BPU felt oddly like home. At this point, I don't remember anything particular about mid service that you would all be interested in, so I'll just skip to the beginning of my trek around Southern Africa with a fellow volunteer, Jenn, and her boyfriend who was visiting from home, Matt. As this was a long trip, it's going to take several posts, so be patient. And because it was so long ago, this may be a little rough, but if you're still with me, here goes nothing.

Day One: Leaving Namibia
Because we were all on a budget, our goal was to free hike as much as possible to save money (also, it's fun and half the adventure). So on our first day, we got up early and took a taxi to the hike point out of Windhoek heading for Gobabis, a town on the way to the Botswanian border. We tried for a few hours and a few different spots along the road, but all we got were offers to the airport. We ended up calling a driver that our friends had taken to the border the previous day, and we was willing to give us the same discounted price. The ride to the border was fairly uneventful and we arrived with no problems. We grabbed our bags and went into the customs office to fill out the first of many exit/entry forms. Once those were stamped and processed, we headed to the crossing. Having never crossed a border on foot, I was surprised at how long it was. Seriously, the no-man's land between Namibia and Botswana was about one kilometer. I came to find that this was fairly typical...

Anyway on the other side we filled out an identical form for entry and then went to find a ride. However, the border town, Mamuno, is not so much a town as simply the border post, so there really wasn't anywhere to go but the side of the road. Luckily it didn't take too long for us to flag someone down, despite the fact that there was almost no one around. We managed to get a semi-truck to stop for us and after convincing him that the three of us could squeeze in his behind-the-seat sleeping area, we were off! For those of you that haven't ridden in a semi-truck before, those things are MASSIVE. I felt like we were going to crush everything just because we were so high up! The cab itself was pretty big too- our driver even had a minifridge in the center console! Our driver was nice and was playing some sweet jams, so we had a really enjoyable first hike. He was headed to South Africa, so he dropped us off at an intersection where we would be heading opposite directions. It was a busy road though, so we only had to wait about 15 minutes before getting another hike.

We had been hoping to make it all the way to Maun, but it was already close to sun down, we decided not to risk it and just spend the night in Ghanzi, a very small town that reminded me a bit of a Boarder Planet on Firefly. We found a lodge that had camping, pitched our tents, and got a bite to eat at the restaurant (Jenn and I even splurged on chocolate milkshakes with Amarula-- we agree that this was one of the best decisions of the whole trip).

Day 2: Into the Delta
We got up fairly early hoping to catch a bus to Maun, but we had been given misinformation and the bus had already left. We once again headed to the side of the main road out of town to wait for a hike. After about a half hour of waiting, we started getting hungry, so we broke into our food supplies. Here we are, sitting on the side of a dusty road in the middle of nowhere, and Jenn is eating brie and fig jam on wheat crackers. I ate peanut butter with my fingers.

We finally got a hike (along with the other 3 people that had joined us in the 2+ hours we waited) in a covered bakkie. It was a bit long to go in a bakkie, but since it was covered and the road was paved, we decided to just go for it. We arrived in Maun no worse for the wear, but a little sore (Matt was introduced to his first "bakkie bruise") and hungry again. We hunted for a restaurant we had read about in Lonely Planet and found the gem of a cafe tucked away down a side street by the airport. Hilary's was excellent and if anyone is ever in Maun, Botswana, I highly recommend it. It was a cute little cafe with excellent homemade bread, sandwiches, soups, and- the best part- iced coffee! (well it was hot coffee that they put on ice for me...but still, my first one in Africa!)

After our delicious lunch, we stopped by the backpackers to drop off our gear and pitch our tents, then headed back into town to grocery shop for the next few days. We were planning to cook most of our meals while at the backpackers, so we quickly decided on a few easy dishes we could prepare and bought the goods. When we arrived back at the backpackers, we ran into Erika, Rachel, Abby, and Malin who had just gotten back from their overnight mokoro trip! Hearing their stories about it got us really excited for ours the next day.

We ended our first day in Maun lounging on seats next to the river, enjoying a beer from the bar while listing to Old Americana music and marveling at the fact that we had actually made it.

Photo credit: Matt Berg