Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts of the afternoon...

1. Today the bell rang to signal the end of the day and my learners didn't move a muscle. Surprised, I told them we were done for the day and would finish next class, they could leave. Nobody moved. They asked me to keep teaching. I think I almost fainted out of shock. (Granted it was ICT, but I was only making a list of input and output devices, not like it was anything that exciting!)

2. I just devoured that mango- like actually just peeled the skin off and stuck my face in it. I think if I could only eat mangoes for the rest of my life, I would be okay with that. I just wish my teeth weren't so tight so I could have a prayer of getting the fibers out...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Africa Does Sports

So today was the first day of sports training at Onamutai. The sport: Athletics, or as we call it Stateside, Track and Field. Here's what it entailed: the entire student body and faculty of Onamutai SS leaving school at 2:00 and walking to the soccer field about a kilometer away. Then we broke up into three groups and spread out across the field. There, each group of students was broken down further by gender and age range. Each group was called for a warm up run of 100 meters, and then they did it again, and this time the first four in each group that finished had their name recorded.From what I gather, we will repeat this process on Thursday, and then have an in-house competition on Friday to determine the final cut. I'm not really sure what the list was for though. It was quite a sight to see 400 learners running in groups across a barren field in their uniforms and socks (easier to run in than their school shoes, I guess).

I'll tell you one interesting thing though about sports here, the learners do not seem interested at all. The teachers were saying that most students just goof off during the training and they have to force many of them to participate, even once the final team is set. Quite a contrast to America, where sports is about the only school related thing you don't have to force students to do...

Oshakati: Round Two

The school bell rang on Friday and I had officially survived my first entire week of school. I went home, exhausted, and discovered an empty house- it was looking like another quiet weekend alone. After checking email and facebook, I discovered that Alli was on Skype and decided to have a chat with her. About one minute into our conversation, we lost power. Womp, womp. This time, it was the whole area and we had no idea how long it would last. Luckily though it was back up in about a half hour and I was able to finish my chat with Alli then. A few minutes later Kristi, one of the women about my age who lives next door, came by. Turns out she had decided to stay in the village this weekend and her house was empty too, so she was looking for some company. We hung out for a while and chatted while we made dinner. It was nice to be making a new friend! At some point in the evening, the guys came back, but then left again for a party at a colleagues house, and Kristi and I ended up watching The Princess Bride. I mentioned that I was planning on going into town the next day to get some food and a few more things for my room and she said she had to go to! We decided to go together, which I was psyched about for several reasons, one being it meant I would have someone to help me get a hike. 

We got up early the next morning (the stores close at 1 on Saturday's so you have to get there early) and got a hike into town.  We hit up a few stores and I got most of the things on my list, including some much needed school supplies. I had my ridiculously large hiking backpack with, which looked a little strange, but was helpful to fit most of my purchases in!While we were shopping, I got some texts from some other volunteers who were all going to Benny's Entertainment Park and asked me to join. I mentioned this to Kristi, and she said it sounded like fun, so we postponed the food shopping until later (those stores are open till 6) and headed over to Ongwadiva. We stopped at her relatives salon across the street to drop off our bags and I got to meet/hold an adorable 4 month old girl who made me miss my little cousins back at home! Then we headed over to Benny's, which is basically like a beach resort in the states, minus the beach. There were palm trees, cabana bars, peacocks roaming around, a large pool (unfortunately, I didn't have my bathing suit), sprinklers and yummy food. All for an entrance fee of N$20, or about USD$2.50. I am so going back again with my suit! We soon met up with Erica, a guy named Richard who was a WT volunteer over the summer and was visiting over his winter break from school, and a woman from their village that Richard was friends with. We found a table by the pool in the shade and after a little while, Emily, Kristin, and Abby met us there too. We had a fantastic time catching up, drinking cool drinks, eating chips and Russians (large hot dogs) and exchanging 'first week of school' stories. I was glad to hear others were as lost and overwhelmed as I was feeling! We also ran in to TK, one of my roommates, who was there watching the soccer game with some friends. It worked our really well because he said he could give us a ride home after we did our food shopping. After hanging out for a few hours, Kristi and I had to go to make it to the store on time. As we walked into Spar, the grocery store across the street, I saw that the produce and meat selection was less than ideal, and made a mental note to go to Pick 'n Pay next time. I managed to find a few things to get me through the week though. We then met up with TK, made a quick pit stop so Kristi could buy some mangoes from a guy she works with, and then we were on our way back home. 

The rest of the weekend was pretty relaxing and uneventful. I did some laundry (I'm becoming ace at handwashing!), planned my lessons, graded a few things, and Skyped with a few more people from home. I didn't get a chance to take another crack at cleaning the kitchen, but I figure I will have plenty more opportunities this year to do so. 

Hope everyone's surviving the cold back home! I wish you could send a little my way- we're going through a major heat wave and are anxiously awaiting the rain to cool it down a bit. 

Love from Africa,

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Cultural dance at the luncheon. I have a video but it was too big to upload now.

School pictures!
My classroom looking at the back...
...and at the front. (Note my awesome drawing of a computer on the board.)

Some of my 8C learners. Such hams!

 These next bunch are of my room/house.
Bed and fridge.

Wardrobe and food storage.

My already messy desk. Anyone surprised? Also, I hung up some inspiring notes from friend and former students, which I love looking at each day. Can't wait for the pictures mom is sending to get here so I can hang them up too!
View from my window. Why yes, that is a cow grazing on the other side of the fence. Usually it's a herd of them, or of goats. Or donkeys. Also, this faces west, so I get treated to a spectacular sunset every night!

Shower room.



Living room.
Hopefully I'll be able to take some more of my school and of around the village soon! But until then, enjoy!

First Week of School

I have been in Onamutai for over a week now, and have successfully completed my first week of school! So much has happened over the past week, I may make it two blog posts...

On Monday, I reported for my second day of school and was anxious to hopefully meet my learners. When I arrived, we had the morning meeting, and I was asked if I would go with my principal, another teacher and 12 learners to the region's Welcome Back Luncheon in Oshakati. This meant that I wouldn't be at the school all day, but since my timetable wasn't ready yet, that didn't really matter. To get to the lunch, the 12 learners crammed in the back of the principles bakkie and the three adults squeezed in the front. I had a mild panic attack when the kids just climbed in the truck- no attendance, no counting, nothing. I couldn't help but think of camp and how that would SO not fly. Well, T.I.A. The lunch turned out to be lots of speeches about the performance of various schools during the previous year. It was pretty long and hot since we were outside, but we were under a tent at least. There were some really cool cultural performances that I enjoyed watching, and I got to see two of the other volunteers who were also attending with their principals. It was also really interesting to listen to the conversations amongst teachers after the speeches. They were virtually identical to conversations amongst teachers in the States: unrealistic expectations from the government,  unfair performance measures, factors out of the teacher's control, etc. I suppose some things are universal.

On Tuesday I finally received my schedule: two sections of 9th grade math, two sections of 8th grade physical science, two sections of 9th grade ICT (Information and Computer Technology) and 4 sections of 8th grade ICT. Woah, definitely not mostly math. Oh well, here we go! I had the first period off, which was nice because I was able to get to my room and have some time to prepare for my first classes. The day was mostly going to be introductions and setting up of expectations. My first class, 9C math, came in and I realized immediately that the first thing I'm going to have to get used to is them all standing until someone tell's them to sit. Then I discovered there weren't enough chairs (school-wide shortage) so several learners had to go and get some from another room. This is something else that will consistently eat into the already short 45 minute periods. Once everyone was seated at a desk, I introduced myself and then went around to record names on a seating chart. This took much longer than expected. First, they speak so quietly that I had to make my way around the crowded room and lean in to each learner just to hear them. Secondly, I couldn't pronounce half their names. I thought Taunton had some interesting names, but those were nothing: here, I have several learners named Ndnilimekwe. It was also hard because they sometimes say their last names first, and many of them have nicknames. Some of the nicknames are American sounding names, but others are clearly made up, like "Gatuzo" (I promise, that's nothing like his actual name, and all the kids laughed when he said it.) I don't have a class list to compare them too either, so it could be a confusing year! After finally getting names, I went over some expectations of class and by that point, class was over. My next class was my other grade 9 math class, and the process went almost the same. Next I had my first section of grade 8 science, and as the learners entered the room, my heart warmed a little and I started beaming. I don't know what it is, but something about middle schoolers just makes me smile, and it was a really nice reassurance that this was true even on the other side of the world. I have definitely chosen the right age group for my career. The rest of the day went pretty much like the first two periods. Lots of introductions and new names. On my off periods, I was running around trying to get some information about how to set up my files, where I will be teaching ICT (since another teacher uses the lab), and where I could get some textbooks. It's all a little overwhelming, and definitely took some patience, but I made it to the end of my first real day and went home to collapse on my bed, exhausted.

At this point, I had a mild panic attack about how on earth I was going to be able to teach science with virtually no materials, a vague syllabus, and not a clue about how to teach science. Luckily, my awesome support system at home came to the rescue and assured me that I could totally handle this, and just needed to breath and take it one day at a time. That helped me to calm down a little and sat down to plan my first lessons.

Wednesday was a mix of another set of introduction classes (with a rotating schedule, every day is different, so I had some new classes) and my first time teaching material. For my two math classes, I started with patterns, the first chapter in their book. This lesson went well, they seemed to be understanding and engaged.  I'm also psyched because I'm planning an Pascal's Triangle investigation for them that I've always wanted to do but haven't gotten a chance in my classes in the States yet. I just hope it goes well. For science, I started with the Scientific Method, which their book seemed to call the Scientific Process. I thought the lesson went well until a learner approached me at the end of class and said I confused everyone (of course no one said anything in class) because it wasn't the same as their notes from last year on the Scientific Process. It turns out, that the process is more like the various types of activities involved in science (measuring, observing, investigating, classifying etc) and not the Method that we learn. Whoops. I made a mental note to change this with my other section, and to fix it first thing when I had this section next. I then went to observe an ICT class, since I didn't really know what one should look like. The other teacher was teaching a 9th grade section during one of my free periods, so I headed over to watch. Basically the class was just a review of the parts of a computer since many of the learners hadn't touched/seen one since their ICT class last year. I instantly realized how basic the beginning lessons will be, because some of my learners, particularly the 8th graders, may literally have never seen a computer before. This is something I'm totally not used to.

For my first ICT lesson, I basically copied the other teacher and just introduced my learners to the parts of a computer. Since I didn't have the lab (we have to figure out how to share it) I just drew a picture of a computer on the board and did various listing/labeling/identifying activities with each class. This went really well, and the learners loved shouting out names of parts that I pointed to. I was super impressed with my 8A class; although most claimed they had never used a computer before, by the end of class each and every one of them was naming the parts like a pro! Maybe this will go faster than I originally thought...

Overall, the lessons go by really fast and half the time is spent trying to gauge understanding from their blank faces. They are really hesitant to answer questions, or speak to me at all really, and I can't tell if they don't understand my English, don't understand the concepts, or just don't want to answer. This will be really hard to get used to and will probably be one of my biggest challenges. However, I'm really excited for this year because the learners do seem eager to learn. I can already tell I have some brilliant kids in my classes and if I can just figure out the system (grading, assignments, lessons etc), I think I will have a pretty successful year!

Well I think that's enough for now. I'm going to put up an entire post of pictures from the past week, and I'll try to get another post up today about my weekend in town, but until then,


Saturday, January 19, 2013

48 Hours in Onamutai

After another long, hot drive north and some awkward calls/texts to our principals, we reached Ondangwa, where the first volunteer would be dropped off to meet a teacher who would take her to her village. As we pulled into the gas station, we all had a major “omg this is real” moment. Nervousness was at an all time high as we unloaded her things and said goodbye. My stop was next. We pulled over at the intersection of the B1 and the dirt road that led to my village and awaited the arrival of my principal. Soon enough, he pulled up in his bakki, we loaded up my stuff, and it was my turn to say goodbye to the group. With promises to get together soon, I headed off down the dirt road. My principal, Mr. Tangeni, was very nice as he told me a bit about Onamutai (pronounced on-um-TIE) and the school. He also informed me that the family I was supposed to be staying with had at the last minute requested payment from the school that they couldn't afford, so I was going to be placed in teacher housing with two male colleagues and an older female cleaner. Pretty soon we pulled into the very small village, passed the school (which looked recently remodeled) and then pulled up to my home for the next year. The outside of the house looked exactly like Ted and Jessie's and I was anxious to see what I would find inside. The two guys, TK and Iimene came out to help me carry my things inside, and then they helped Mr. Tagneni put the lock on my door. So far, so good. The house is not in the greatest shape, but it has what I need. My room is pretty good sized with a nice window overlooking the fields and a little seasonal pond. I have a nice bed with a new mattress and a small fridge in my room, as well as a little table that will double as a desk. There is a shower in one room and toilet and sink in another. The kitchen has a couple of counter-top electric cook tops, a convection oven, a mini stove/oven that doesn't seemed to be being used and some doorless cabinets (well two are doorless, the others have doors that are falling off. While the bathrooms/kitchen aren't exactly up to typical American standards, they have what I need, and I hope to be able to clean/brighten them up a little. The common living room area is a little crowded at the moment because the new teacher house next door, where three female employees of the circuit office are living, doesn’t have electricity yet so their fridges are in our living room for the time being.

I began unpacking my things, but soon realized that I needed to get a few organizational items in town before I could really set up. Around dinnertime, the guys said they were going out, and since I hadn't seen the third housemate yet, I was by myself. Despite not having eaten much that day, I wasn't really hungry and certainly didn't feel like making myself dinner with what few groceries I had gotten when we stopped on the way up. I sat around in my room for a bit but then saw that the three women living next door were sitting and finishing up their dinners on their porch, so I decided to pluck up my courage and go and say hello. I had met them earlier in the day when I was first moving in, so I just asked if I could sit with them. We chatted for a little while and they told me a little about the village, which is VERY small. They asked about America and what I was doing here. They seem very friendly, and it will be nice to have some women around my age near by. Around 8 I said goodbye and headed home to get ready for school the next day.

The next morning, I woke up, got ready for my first day of school and met the guys to walk over. Since the house is practically on the campus of the school, my commute is a very convenient one minute walk (jealous, Kell?). Leaners were milling about oustide as we walked into the administration building where the front office, principal's office, and teacher's room is. The school is like some southern hight schools I've seen in movies, where there are bunch of small buildings and the 'hallways' are outside. It seemed in pretty good shape and I was anxious to see the insides. We were having a teacher's meeting in the teacher's room, so I was introduced to the majority of the 22 teachers at the school. It was a little overwhelming because it all happened at once and I had a hard time understanding some of the names, but since there are only 22, I should be able to learn them pretty quickly! Mr. Tangeni introduced me to the staff and after a few announcements, we headed outside to have the morning assembly with the learners. They were all lined up by grade and sang a song (the national anthem?) before Mr. Tangeni welcomed them, made some announcements and then introduced me. The day was going to be a little unusual because the teachers were still finalizing schedules, so it was a little crazy, but I had been warned about this, so I was ready. Since I didn't really have classes yet, I was introduced to my Head of Department who is in charge of all the math/science/computer science teachers. We went over what classes I would likely be teaching (two 9th grade math, two 8th grade physical science, and three 8th grade computers, for now at least) and then he gave me a tour of the school. I also had the great surprise of discovering that I would have my own classroom which is unusual because here, the teachers usually rotate. My school had just switched to having the learners rotate though, so my math and science classes would all be in the same room, and my ICT (computer) classes would obviously be in the lab. My classroom is pretty nice. Its really bright and the floor is smoother than the one in Omungwelume so I hope that means it will be slightly quieter. I'm excited to start decorating it when I can get my hands on some poster board! I set up my desks in groups, which may or may not work when the chairs are in the room too, we'll see. I was given textbooks, so I spent most of the day trying to plan my first few lessons.

After school, I got a ride into town with one of my housemates to get my Tax ID number and some other things I needed for my room. He was going home for the weekend, but he stayed with me until I got my ID number and had met up with a fellow volunteer who was also in town. My principal was going to come and pick me up whenever I was done, so Erica and I went to a few stores to get some things before the stores closed at 5. I got a fan which made a huge difference in the temperature of my room last night! When I got back, I put a few more things away and made a new list of things I still needed. Luckily my other housemate was going into town again this morning, so I had the chance to get the things I didn't get yesterday. We hitchhiked into town and he showed me around the stores a bit. We met up with another volunteer who is in town by herself. We were both extremely grateful to have Iimene to help us navigate the extremely busy stores. Stores close at 5 on weekdays and 1 on weekends, so Saturday morning is when everyone does their shopping. The lines are massive, and we tagged teamed by having one of us stand in line while the other shopped, then switched. We managed to get the majority of the things on our lists, although I've already thought of more. It's hard because you can only buy what you can manage to carry.
We said goodbye to Mariella, and then Iimene and I made our way to the hike point back to Onamutai. He was staying in the city, but was making sure I got a hike back before leaving. At the hike point, we ran into a woman who was in the car we had gotten a ride in on! Such a small world. She was very nice and agreed to help me get a hike back with her (she was going in the same direction) so that Iimene could leave with his friend. We waited for a long time before a bakki pulled up that was going that way. Once we were in the truck, we waited almost another hour for it to fill up before finally leaving.

Once back at the house, I unpacked more of my things and did some more organizing. I then decided to tackle cleaning my windows and the two bathrooms. With a bucket of soapy water, I managed to get all the dead bugs/dust/dirt off the windows, walls, showers, and toilet. I'm in the process of letting the shower soak in cleaner to get the grime off. Maybe tomorrow I'll work on the kitchen a bit. For now, I'm going to go make dinner and read a for a bit. Thanks for bearing with me through two long posts! They won't be this long once I get into a routine and am not having so many new experiences.

To all my friends/family at home: I miss everyone so much, and hope you are enjoying the winter, particularly those in the snowy northeast! Also, if anyone wants to send mail, my address at the school is
Jamie Long
c/o Onamutai Secondary School
Private Bag 5561
Oshakati, Namibia

Be warned though, things can take 5-8 weeks to get here, that being said, I would love to get mail whenever it makes it!

Till next time,

Our Last Week in Windhoek

So this post is going back in time a little since I didn't have time to write it while it was still happening.

After returning to Windhoek from our week in Omungwelume, we suddenly realized just how little time we had left together before departing for our sites. We were all very excited after having our limited exposure to the learners up north, but it was sad to think that we wouldn't be all together anymore.

Bret kept us busy right up to the end with more sessions, these ones less teaching focused and more culture/logistics focused, which was nice for me. He was also great about being flexible with the schedule so we could fit in some free time to go to the mall and get the things we would need before going up north. We also had several field trips, which were a nice break from being at the hostel all the time. Our first trip was to the Single Quarter Market, a large, open air market on the outskirts of Windhoek. Very traditional. We were split into groups, given N$20, and a few items to locate at the market and get information on from the people selling them. Because we went on a Sunday morning when many people are at church, it wasn't extremely busy, which was good planning on Bret's part; it would have been very overwhelming otherwise. My group was assigned to look for an Ovambo dress (the traditional outfits worn by the women in my region), a Herero dress, worn by women in the west part of the country, and Ombike, a traditional drink of fermented fruit mash. We had luck pretty quickly finding the dresses. They are really pretty and of course all custom made by hand. The Herero one's in particular are extremely intricate. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so I cant' show you pictures, but I'm sure I'll have some eventually, especially the Ovambo ones since that's were I am! We couldn't find the Ombike because it was Sunday morning, we we spent the rest of the time exploring the market. I bought some fresh nectarines (no mango this time) and Jessie, Ted, and I tried this nut/fruit think that I can't remember the name of. It tasted like a fig. We then went over to the meat area-the highlight of the market and what it's famous for. Here the market was filled with the sounds of hatches chopping at the meat and the sizzling of the grilles. It smelled really good. We sampled some Kapana- small, bite sized pieces of beef specially seasoned. Walking back to meet the group, we saw a decapitated cow's head and legs. Definitely not in America any more.

After departing the market, we went to Katurtura (Otjiherero for 'the place we don't want to live'). This is a township north of the city where the government sent the black residents of Old Location to live in the 60s when they wanted the city center for whites only. Driving through this part of the city was more reminiscent of the north, except more crowded. Cement houses were packed together and every other building was a bar or barbershop, both bustling at noon on a Sunday. We took a few turns and then saw something that took our collective breaths away: we had officially entered the slums of Windhoek. All we could see, stretching out over the hills, were tin shacks and makeshift lean-tos. I wish there were a better way to describe the expansiveness, every time we reached the top of a hill, it spread out before us again. We finally reached the edge, and our driver told us if we come back in a few months, it will have extended over the next few hills. It was quite a humbling sight to see, and what almost made it worse was that each person we passed had a huge grin on their face and were waving to us like we were celebrities. Here we were, relatively well off white people in two government vans driving through utter poverty, but they just seemed so happy to see us. I wish we could have gotten out and talked to them, but we couldn't. Our driver told us that many of them work in the city as taxi drivers, cleaners, gardeners, etc. and have to commute about an hour and a half each day into the city. The whole experience was emotionally overwhelming for all of us, and we all gained such an appreciation for just how much we really have.

Our other field trips were to USAID, where we got a security briefing from a State Dept. member, and got some information on USAID projects in the country. It was funny being in a US-owned building with portraits of Obama and Hillary Clinton on the wall and to hear American accents from people outside our group. The next day we went to the American Cultural Center and got some information on how some of our learners can apply to study at American universities. The guy we spoke to there was the Political Consultant at the Embassy and had tons of experience working and volunteering overseas, and had lots of great stories for us. Our last trip was to the National Library where we got some information on how to start/improve the library at our schools by working with the National Library system. That night- our last night in Windhoek- we went for a celebratory dinner at a Fusion restaurant. The food and wine was delicious. I tried kudu, which is a game animal similar to a springbok. It was cooked in a coconut sauce and served on a tortilla. It was really good, and I got to try my first truly exotic food! After dinner, some of the girls went to an Afrikaner bar in town, but I decided to stay back with the rest and we sat at the bar in the hostel and finished our Windhoek and Tafel's (Namibian beers) and enjoyed a quiet last night in city with good friends and good conversation. We awoke early the next morning for goodbyes and loaded into our vans for one more long drive north. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Shipping Out

This is going to be a short one. Just said goodbye to Ted, Jessie, and Catherine as they left for their villages. Now it's time to finish packing for my own departure in about an hour. This saying goodbye thing is hard, but luckily I'm relatively close to several people, so semi-frequent meet ups shouldn't be too difficult to coordinate.

I'm extremely excited to go to my village, but am experiencing a pretty healthy dose of nervousness and anxiety too. However all of you have assured me that I will do great, and in fact was meant for this, so I guess I trust you.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again, hopefully not too long, but will do my best to at least send word of my safe arrival sometime tomorrow. Thank you all again for your continued support, I can't wait to share my adventure with you because really, this is just the beginning!

All my love,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

T.I.A. (This Is Africa)

Pretty sure I've seen this truck
in my neighbor's yard in NH...
While teaching a Namibian class for the first time was certainly an exciting aspect of our week up north, for me the memorable highlights happened outside of school while exploring Omungwelume (ohm-gway-loom-ay) and getting a taste for Namibian culture.

Because it had been getting dark when we arrived, Monday morning offered my first real look at the village of Omungwelume. Jessie and I sat on the back steps planning our lesson, and I snapped the following picture of the farm across the street. Not entirely unlike NH, actually.

That afternoon, after our sessions, a group of us took a walk around the village and enjoy the peacefulness of that beautiful afternoon. We found a massive fig tree that was fun to take pictures under (the shade circle was probably about 100 feet in diameter), got to see the traditional homesteads a bit closer, and encountered the biggest bug we had yet seen in Namibia: a millipede that was about 10 inches long and about 3 inches around.

How's that for a bug?

 After wandering around a bit, we started to make our way back to the school, but right outside the gate, we were stopped by a couple in a bakki (a pickup truck) named Ruben and Monica. They asked about us, where we were from and what we were doing in Omungwelume. They invited us to one of the local bars in town to meet some people, and then offered to drive us there. With a few glances at each other, we figured 'why not?' and hopped into the back for our first bakki ride- a major milestone. We picked up a couple more people on the way, and a few minutes later, we arrived at the village center and got out. We had been taken to a restaurant that Ruben and Monica's friend had just opened, and they invited us in for dinner, but we had to turn them down because some of our group mates were cooking for us back at the house. We decided to explore 'down town' a little before heading back though, and let me tell you- I have never felt like such an outsider. Because it was just before dinner time, it seemed like the entire village was sitting outside all the various bars, shops, and houses along the main road, and here we were, a group of ten white people walking down the street like some sort of parade. People stared and whispered  but it wasn't malicious. Most seemed excited and curious, and nearly everyone said hello. I started getting really excited about meeting the people in my own village. 
One of the side streets in Omungwelume.
The hospitality continued throughout the week; on another afternoon stroll later in the week, we saw many of our learners eagerly waving at us as we passed them cultivating in their fields. Several ran up to us and invited us back to their house to try cultivating for ourselves. We followed and got a mini lesson before trying for ourselves. Essentially cultivating entails going at the land with a hoe, pulling up all the weeds and getting the dirt ready for planting. While it wasn't extremely strenuous, it is definitely not something I would want to be doing for hours in the sun before going to school, which is what many of our learners must do. We stayed and chatted with our learner, her sisters, and her mother for a bit and they introduced to a local treat: frozen custard. These were not only delicious (vanilla custard frozen in plastic baggie), but were also the first frozen thing we had seen our whole time here- we were very thankful for them!

Another amazing treat that is readily available in Namibia are mangoes. They have juicy, fresh mangoes in every store, and we were even able to buy some that our learners were selling one afternoon, fresh from being picked that day! Not only are mangoes cheap and available, but every kind of mango juice one could ever want as well! I am going to be in mango heaven all year. =)

Angelina's homestead. You can see one of the
huts, and one of the concrete rooms in the
 background. Also, a murala tree.
Thursday was our last night in Omgumwelume, and we went to Bret's, girlfriend's parent's house for a traditional Oshiwambo meal. We drove to their homestead and had to wade through some ankle deep water that had accumulated due to the rain in order to reach their gate. Homesteads are pretty cool. Basically there's a big square fenced area, this is considered the "house". Inside the fence are a bunch of smaller building, some concrete, some traditional wooden/clay huts. Each of these is considered a room in the house. While traditionally all of the rooms were huts, most people have cement buildings for the various living quarters, and the huts are used for food storage, beverage storage, cooking, pounding grain, etc. Also inside the fence are various gardens for growing herbs and spices. Outside the fence are the fields where they grow maize, sorghum, and mahangu (pearl millet), and/or raise cattle or pigs.

Mahangu porridge and chicken.
After getting a tour of the homestead, we sat down outside to try the oshikudu, which is a weak fermented beverage made from millet flour and sorghum. It tasted like liquid bread, carbonated with a hint of lemon- definitely an acquired taste. Pretty soon, dinner was ready. Out came clay pots with chicken cooked in a stew with murala oil, and plates with mahangu porridge. This porridge is like bread dough, but made with mahangu. In this meal, there no plates or silverware, everyone eats from the communal pots with their hands- pretty cool if you ask me! The food was delicious. The porridge had a texture like bread dough but with a little sand in it (I later found out this is exactly the case, hey, T.I.A. right?) so that took some time to get used to, but it tasted good. After we ate, we talked with Angelina's family for a bit and then headed back to the school (Bret wanted to get us back before dark because the roads are dangerous at night with all the animals on the roads). We settled back into the hostel for our last night, preparing for the long trek back to Windhoek the next day.

The ride home was interesting. Because I knew what to expect, I was able to see past the initial looks of the towns. Driving through Oshakati a second time, I saw some larger stores and modern strip malls that I had missed on the way up. I could see dirt roads extending deeper into villages, I could look at a homestead and have an idea of what it was like on the inside. A few hours outside of Windhoek, we stopped to get fuel, food and to stretch our legs. We had stopped in the same town on the way up and I remember thinking it was small and not nearly as nice as Windhoek. Driving into town on the way back however, everything seemed so big, and really nice. The supermarket we stopped at seemed massive, and the selection incredible. It's amazing what a little perspective can do.

Well I think that's as much as I can write for now. I'll try to post again when I get up to my village on Friday (let's home my Netman works!)

Till then,

My Week as Miss Jamie

Hello there!
When I last left you, I had just finished a mentally and physically exhausting trek north. We awoke early the next morning to begin our very first day in a Namibian classroom, with no one having any idea what to expect. After a nice breakfast and lesson planning session with my teaching partner for the week, Jessie, we were ready to teach our first lesson! We decided to do a lesson on comparing Namibian and American culture, and were hoping it would be a hit.We walked over to the school to wait for the learners, and got our first glimpse of Namibian classrooms. For all my fellow teachers out there, let me just say, we are spoiled in the States. These classrooms were a disaster. The first think I noticed was the trash. It seemed as if the bell rang on the last day and everyone just walked out and closed the door behind them (I later found out that this is exactly the case). Paper, wrappers  notebooks, backpacks, ripped books, and trash were piled on the floor, on the desks, and on the shelves. Once I looked past that, there was really nothing left- a rectangle room with cement walls and cement floors, old, broken, graffiti-ed desks and chairs, a ripped and drawn-on bulletin  board on the back wall flanked by two wooden shelves, and an old chalkboard at the front. (I'm pumped for the chalkboards though, I've missed those.) Teachers here typically are the ones that rotate, so there were no decorations on the wall. They were so barren compared to even the most bare-bones classroom in the US. One thing that we discovered immediately was that the sound of metal desk/chair legs on the cement floor is the most loud and obnoxious sound we had ever heard. Any time someone moves their chair or desk even the slightest bit, the sound drowns out any other sound in the room. Hurdle number one. 
A typical Namibian classroom.
After getting our materials ready for our lessons, we went outside to greet the first learners. We had no idea of how many to expect- this was there summer vacation after all- but Bret had assured us that plenty of kids would show up. We were supposed to start at 9:30, and at 9:20 we only had about 4 kids. We waited around for a bit and once we had accumulated about 15, we started. All throughout the lessons, kids kept trickling in. This is apparently extremely common here, punctuality is not as important as it is in the States, and students have a difficultly with the concept of time, so tardiness is rampant. Hurdle number two. 

Our first lesson went really well, and we were pleasantly surprised at how bright these kids were. Although there is obviously a language barrier, their spoken English was impressive for the most part, and we could tell  that they were all smart thinkers, even if they couldn't always articulate precisely what they wanted to say. They were also so much more respectful and eager to learn than most students in the States. I didn't once have to stop and ask students to stop talking! This may be due in large part to our role as "guest teachers" but I got the feeling that this is what they are like the majority of the time, so that will be nice. They seemed to really like our lesson on culture, and we received some very insightful thoughts from them about American culture. During one exercise, we asked them to think of foods that Americans like that Namibians don't. They three answers they came up with were sushi, crabs, and soy sauce (which explains why we couldn't find it in the store!). After the lessons were through and we said goodbye to the kids (we had about 50 by the end!) and then had our first debriefing session where we got to talk about our initial reactions to our own lessons and those of our colleagues. Our lesson received a good deal of praise from our fellow volunteers, and one of the other career teachers in the group complimented me on my cold calling technique, which was very nice to hear.

Because of the success of our lesson and Jessie and I decided to continue with that theme for the remainder of the week. We had students talk about their dream jobs and make their own business cards, plan how to save for a vacation, and create skits in which they have to interact with people from other cultures. The learners continued to get into our lessons and Jessie and I were pleased to be getting such good feedback. It was also fun to watch everyone discover their own teacher personalities and to gain comfort in front of the classroom. I am part of such a great group, and I know we will all have a great deal of success in our classrooms.  

Thursday came all too soon and we had to say goodbye to our learners, who we had quickly become attached to. All of the volunteers had their cameras out and the learners were having a great time hamming up for us. We finished the sessions by taking group photos and jamming out to the Cupid Shuffle and Waka Waka. While we will all miss these kids, we left feeling very excited to meet our own students and start in our own classrooms. 
Jessie and me with two of our learners, Monica and Maggie.

This post is starting to get long, so I think I'll write a separate one about my out-of-school experiences of the week. Hopefully I'll get it up soon!

Till then,


Saturday, January 12, 2013

First Impressions

Last Saturday we packed up our teaching clothes, put our extra bags in storage and piled into two vans for the near 10 hour trek north. It was hot and cramped, but the scenery was gorgeous and the sky was brilliant blue. After a few pit stops, we crossed the Red Line. Officially, this is a veterinary disease control mechanism and protects southern commercial cattle farmers by prohibiting northern farmers from selling their meat south of the line. Unofficially, this servers as a separation from more affluent  Afrikaans  southern Namibia from poor, native, black northern Namibia. Crossing the line, the striking difference is apparent immediately. Driving through the north was a continuous check of my privilege, as each squalid village we passed through left me thinking "what have I gotten myself into". Going into this experience, I of course was expecting to see extreme poverty, but nothing can quite prepare you for seeing it first hand, especially when you know it is your home for the next year. The cement and aluminum buildings seemed hardly big enough for people to fit in, never mind to be homes, bars, or markets (essentially the only three types of buildings I have seen in the villages). I started to get really nervous about my coming year, and wondered if I was cut out for this after all. I was afraid that I was the only one thinking this, and hated myself for being so judgmental.

About an hour away from our destination, we stopped in the largest city in the north to pick up supplies for the week. This is the city that I will be going to to buy groceries, clothes, school supplies, and anything else I need to buy while I am here. Once again, I was shocked at how underdeveloped it was, considering it's the second largest city in the country. Everything seemed so run down. Another privilege check. We got out at the local grocery store to do our shopping. We had been broken into groups of four to do the cooking for the week. Each group was in charge of one dinner and my group decided to do a stir-fry. After adjusting to the smaller size, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection at Spar. Although I did not have 10 brands of orange juice to choose from, the shelves were well stocked with familiar food items, and I breathed a sigh of relief to know that I would still be able to make some of my favorite foods. (No dill though, this may be an issue...) We managed to locate almost everything we wanted for the stir-fry, with the exception of soy sauce, so we settled for curry and were on our way. 

We drove on for another hour on a dirt road to the village of Omungwelume, where we would be doing our teaching practicum. We would be staying in the dorms of the Eengadjo Secondary School and cooking in the on campus house where two of the volunteers who are placed in this village would be living. As we drove away from the city, the scenery changed a bit from the more barren desert landscape to one that was much more reminiscent of NH/VT farm lands. Trees lined the road and behind them, traditional homesteads sat like islands among the vast fields of wheat, sorgum, and murala. The vans slowed periodically to allow herds of cattle and goats to cross the roads and before long, we pulled into Omgwemlume. The town was a larger version of the villages we had seen on the drive up, but as we drover further off the main road, the houses seemed a little bit bigger and more sturdy. When we got to the school, we first went to Jessie and Ted's house to drop off the groceries. After a sentimental moment of our Field Director (Bret) handing his old keys over the Ted and Jessie, we opened the door and stepped inside. The house was an absolute MESS, to the horror of the new occupants, but after an hour or so of 15 person teamwork, we managed to throw out all the trash and dirty underwear (yup, yup) and had scrubbed the kitchen so it at least resembled a place where food could safely be cooked. I started attacking the oven, which was covered in about five layers of grime, and that became my project for the week. It actually became a bit of a joke amongst the volunteers- whenever we had some free time, I could always be found scouring away. It looked pretty good by the end if I do say so myself. 

When dinner had been cooked, my group cleaned up by candlelight and then we made our way back to the dorms to get ready for bed. We would be arising early the next day to begin our teaching, so I took a quick (cold) shower and climbed into my homemade sleeping bag (thanks mom) and fell asleep. 

Coming soon: our week teaching in Omungwelume, a traditional Oshiwambo meal, and the trip back. Stay tuned!



Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Namibian New Years

Wu uhala po! (That's 'good afternoon' in Oshiwambo!)

Well I made it to Namibia safely! After a short flight from Boston to NYC, I spent Saturday night getting to know other volunteers and enjoying the last of luxuries such as TV, fast  internet and hot showers. We then got up early on Sunday, made our way to the airport, and with no major incidents, made it onto our flight to Joburg. Fifteen (very long and uncomfortable) hours later, we landed, then had to sprint to the other side of the airport to make our connecting flight to Windhoek. As it turns out though, we needn't have sprinted- we waited on the bus to take us out on the tarmac for another 15 minutes. First lesson in African time I suppose. Our flight to Windhoek was a comparatively short two hours. We landed at the much-smaller-than-expected airport, made it through customs, and then were delighted to find that all of our luggage had arrived! We met with Bret, our Field Director and stepped into the hot Namibian sun for the first time. We took a van into the city though the gorgeous countryside. Namibia is much more hilly than I would have expected. In a way it reminds me of southern NH, but all the trees are only like 5 feet tall so you can see over them and way off into the distance.

Once arriving at the hostel, we met with the rest of the volunteers who had come the day before and settled into our rooms for the next few weeks. We had the first of our orientation sessions on introductions/the basics and then took a run to a store to buy beer for the night! I was thrilled to find that they have a really good brand of cider from South Africa called Hunters- still not Woodchuck, but really good. I also managed to get some peanut butter (phew!). We came back and hung out for awhile, then had our first Namibian braai (BBQ) which Bret and his friends cooked for us. It was absolutely delicious, and I now have no fear of not eating while I'm here! By this point it was about 10PM and I was determined on making it until midnight, even though I hadn't really slept in about 36 hours and was exhausted. A group of us played some games to keep us up, and then turned on the TV to see how Windhoek does New Years. Let me tell you, it is no Times Square. There was a musical group on stage who we later found out was Namibia's most famous group, but you would not have known that by looking at the audience. They were still and silent- no dancing, no singing, no cheering, nothing. The act consisted of some rap, and the singers basically just taking their clothes off. Then some girls in bike shorts and sports bras came out and danced with them. It was all quite interesting. A few minutes before midnight, the guy that owns the hostel invited us outside to countdown and for a champagne toast. I rung in the New Year by dancing and drinking with new friends in a new city.

More to come (hopefully with pictures) at a later date. I miss and love you all so much! Thank you once again for all the support you have all given me, I would not be here without it. Happy New Year everyone!
Love from Africa,