Sunday, February 17, 2013

Taming the Beast

Yesterday Kristy and I went into town and she bought a new weave at a store. When we had finished shopping, we went to her cousin's salon to get it put in. I was pretty excited to watch since I had never seen it done before. After wincing in pain on her behalf for a little while (glad I don't have to do that!), one of the stylists asked if she could wash and blow out my hair. I asked how much for a a trim too, and she said a trim was free with a $65 wash/blow-out (about USD$8), so I said sure. I was a bit nervous about the blowout, because I normally don't let a dryer within ten feet of my hair (as most of you know, I end up looking like I just stepped off the set of The Lion King). I needen't have worried, however, because it turned out awesome! I have NEVER been able to get my hair this straight without using a flat iron. I only wish it would last past the next wash! Oh, well.
Who knew Africa was the place to tame my wild, Irish hair?

The Day of Love

One of my grade 8s left me this present
on my chalkboard. In addition to the
message, it's everything I've taught
them in ICT!
Valentine's Day is a big deal here. Like huge. I began to notice something was up the day before, when the atmosphere at school was reminiscent of a sunny, warm, day-before-vacation type school day. You know, the type where everyone is happy and full of energy but no one can focus on school work? It was like that, and I had no idea why- it was a Wednesday for crying out loud! Anyway, I had also seen several students making Valentine's Day cards (usually during class) and just figured they were making them for friends, since you can exactly go to the store and get a box of 24 Valentines/lollipop combos featuring whatever movie star is in this year. I also knew that a group of students were planning some sort of show or something, because the faculty adviser had mentioned it at staff meeting and reminded everyone to wear red, but I had no idea what to expect. So Thursday I show up to school, wearing my the only red I own, and find out that in all liklihood, we be ending school at 12:30 in order to fit the entire show in before dinner time. Well, okay.

12:30 rolls around and I hadn't heard anything more so I just planned to keep teaching. Just as I got everything set up for my ICT class, the bell rang announcing the end of lessons. We all congregated outside the library where a makeshift stage/runway had been set up using teacher desks. Chairs were brought out of classrooms and set up under the two trees (the only relief from the burning sun) and the entire school crowded in the patches of shade. Basically the show was a beauty contest/talent show. Five girls (all learners of mine actually) were contestants hoping to be crowned Miss Valentine, in a contest that included swimwear, casual wear, cultural wear, formal wear, and a question round. In between each round, there were performances from other students, from dancing, to skits, to cultural performances, even an "eating an apple off a string" contest. The whole show was very entertaining and lots of fun to watch. I took literally hundreds of photos (mostly of the cultural dances) and just sat in awe of the whole thing.
Although many people at home know my feelings on the patriarchy of beauty pageants  I also couldn't help but smile as I saw my girls strutting their stuff around the runway. They were so cute and fierce and I was proud. (Don't worry Kell, I was still hiding a small look of disgust during the swimsuit round).

Some of the cards from
my learners
As they were tallying the points, a few older students got on stage and started handing out Valentine's Cards that people had submitted.  It was certainly not an efficient way of doing things, but hey, TIA. My name got called multiple times and I received quite a few adorable cards from some of my learners. They got all out on these too. Hand drawn/stenciled, colored, and with very nice, Hallmark like tidings inside. It's actually a little funny to read some of the phrases, because between the sentiment of the holiday, and their broken English, there are some priceless gems. Just to give you an example: "Vallentine's day is a day of love were we celebrate the day of love were we give each other flowers and other things and I choose you to be my Vallentine's Friends" and "Dear my teacher friend, I inform you that I am ready to receive any valentine gift such as card and anything that you wish to give me. Do it with happiness." Pretty hilarious haha.

About to crown the winners!
Soon the votes were counted, and in the end, one of my grade 8s, Olivia, won the title. Her smile when she was crowned was probably the most adorable thing I've ever seen. Unfortunately my camera battery died of exhaustion just as they were crowing her. Of course. I told the girls that if they wore their crowns and sashes to school the next day, I would take more pictures then. On Friday, true to my word, I brought my recharged camera to school and after the final bell rang, I stayed behind with the girls and some other learners who wanted to take pictures/see the ones I had taken the day before. After taking pictures of every possible combination of the contestants/other learners in the room, I turned the camera off and everyone huddled around my laptop to look at the pictures from the show. Let me tell you, having 15 learners all climbing on each other trying to see a computer screen made for a very sweaty half hour of going through the photos. When they had all been seen, I announced that I had to go and most learners left, but a few girls lingered behind and asked if they see the webcam work. Well since they had remembered the term from ICT class, I couldn't say no, so the three girls and I spent the next twenty minutes taking ridiculous selfies with my webcam and had fun playing with all the funny filters/effects. When four o'clock rolled around I insisted that I really did have to get going, and they probably did too! (Remember, some have a two hour walk ahead of them to get home).

So to sum it all up, Valentine's Day here is sort of the bomb.

If you want to see more pictures, here's the link to the facebook album.
and here's the link to the album with more pictures from Epupa.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is This Real Life?

That is the question that I continuously asked myself this weekend, because if it weren't for the bumps in the back of the bakkie or the hot sun beating down on me, I could have sworn I was dreaming. Yes, it was that incredible. Let me back up and start from the beginning.

A few weeks ago, the other Oshana girls and I decided to go visit the three volunteers in the Kunene region, in a town called Opuwo. I was really looking forward to a trip out of Oshana and to seeing the other volunteers, especially after a tough week at school. Friday came and I was anxiously counting down the hours until school ended so I could hitch a ride into town and meet up with the girls. We still didn't know how we were getting to Opuwo (about a two and a half hour drive) but just as school was ending, I got a text from one of the girls saying that if we could all get to Oshakati by 3:30, we had a free ride! It turns out a friend of Ashley's was driving back that way and offered to wait and take us in his bakkie. Cue the start of our incredible luck. We all made it to Oshakati on time, Louis pulled in, and we piled in his truck (along with the cement mixer he was transporting back- is this real life?).
Kristin in the back of the
bakkie with the cement mixer.
View driving into Opuwo.
Luckily for us, it was a fairly overcast day, so the sun wasn't burning us as we drove. We made it to Opuwo in great time, and our lovely driver even stopped at a China shop to buy us some pillow to make the ride more comfortable. When we pulled in to the parking lot of the OK Grocer in Opuwo, we were greeted by our friends, and by some Himba women selling jewelery. For those that don't know, the Himba are a traditional tribe in Northwestern Namibia famous for their traditional (bare chested) dress, and the ochre mixture that they cover themselves in to protect them from the sun. We then went to a restaurant next door owned by a South African couple that the girls had become friends with.
We had a lovely meal and chatted about all that had happened since we had departed to our sites. The girls told us that although they had hoped to take us to Epupa Falls the next day, our ride had to work, so it looked like we wouldn't be going. We were bummed, but knew it just meant we would have to come back. After eating, we walked through Opuwo to the Abba guest house where we would be spending the night. The guest house was really nice, and also owned by friends of Ashley, Taylor, and Mailin, and they gave us a great rate on our rooms. We dropped our stuff off and got changed, and then piled back into Louie's bakkie to go to the Opuwo Country Lodge for drinks. The lodge was incredible; situated on top of a hill that over looked the mountains, it had an infinity pool that offered a fantastic view. We had a great time hanging out, and got to know a few more friends that the girls had made in Opuwo, as well as a Peace Corp volunteer that knew another PCV that had come with us. We also found out that Louis had offered to take us all to Epupa the next day. Our good luck strikes again! We had a few drinks, looked at the most incredible night sky I have ever seen, including a full view of the Milky Way, and then went to bed.

The next morning, we got up early and went to the grocery store to get supplies for the weekend. We bought some food, and had breakfast back at the restaurant, including the first real cup of coffee I've had in over a month. (This shouldn't make it as high up on my highlights of the weekend list as it does, but I know at least some of you understand!)  We loaded all of our camping supplies into the truck and piled in once again for another bakkie ride.
About to embark on the ride out to
Our beautiful campsite. See those mountains?
That's Angola.
This time the sun was beaming and the road was considerably more bumpy, but we at least had pillows and bed rolls to cushion us a little. However, sun, wind, and dust, is not a great combination either for my hair (which basically turned to dreads), my stomach, or my skin. When we arrived at the campsite 3 hours later, we were all more than ready to get out of the truck. We found ourselves in a beautiful campsite right on the river, with Angola just on the other side! We unloaded the things, set up the tents and then took a much needed swim in the pool. Yup. A pool. A really nice one with a cabana bar. We were in absolute heaven. After swimming for awhile, we walked to the falls.

There really are not words to describe how absolutely incredibly beautiful they are. Not even the pictures can do it justice. Kids were washing clothes and playing in the pools that gathered off to the side, the blue sky, red sand, and green grass created a gorgeous backdrop to the sound of the water roaring over the rocks.

We climbed around, snapping pictures and just soaking it all in. I sat on a rock in the middle of the falls, with mist spraying my hot skin, just looking and listening to everything around me, and once again had to ask "is this real life?"  I could have stayed there forever.
 Eventually I removed myself from my perch and walked back toward where the kids were playing. Erica had met some and was busy taking pictures of them at their request. I walked over and said hi and started talking to some of the girls. Then they were pointing to my hair and asked me to take it out of the ponytail. I did, squatted down, and immediately was encircled by a flock of hands who all wanted to braid my hair. I sat there laughing as 6 pairs of tiny African hands pulled my hair into random braids. Soon, everyone started heading back to the campsite, so I managed to get my head away from their hands, thank them for their handiwork, and walk back, sporting quite the 'do.

The line of falls from the lookout point.
We went back in the pool for a while (the only relief from the burning sun) and I noticed that despite the copious amounts of sunscreen I had applied, I was still getting pretty burned. My stomach also wasn't feeling great so I decided to sit in the shade for a while with a few of the others. Ashley and Louis had gone to the Himba village to buy some fresh bread and when they go back, we got back in the truck to drive to a lookout point on top of a hill where you can see the sunset and a view of the whole fall line. We got out of the truck, with the sun setting behind us, and looked down the orange hill to see the Kunene River crashing over rocks with Angolan mountains in the background. Is. This. Real. Life?! When the sun had dipped behind the mountain and we had taken every possible picture we could, we headed back down to get started on our braii.
Louis had gotten some meat from a butcher (the restaurant owner's husband, who we found out had given us the meat for free!) and he and Ashley cooked us an amazing braai. We all helped by making braai sandwiches, veggies, chutney, and cheese on the fresh rolls that get cooked on the fire. Between those, sausages  and steaks, we were stuffed. We sat around the fire eating, drinking, talking, laughing, and looking again at the incredible stars (seriously puts NH to shame, and NH has good stars). It was such a perfect day. Although we all would have liked to stay up forever, we were exhausted and had to get up early to get back to Opuwo and catch a combi back to Oshakati. I climbed into my mesh tent under the stars and once again had to ask, is this real life?

We woke up early, stumbled out of bed and managed to get everything packed up and loaded back on the truck. We were a little worried about getting back on time, but our wonderful driver pulled out the best back road driving and managed to get us back to Opuwo in time to get a ride. (He obviously wins the MVP award for the entire weekend). We got a ride with a man who was driving back, and Nora (the PVC with us) used her haggling skills so we only had to pay $115 instead of the $140 a combi would have cost. We bought a bit more food at the grocery store, said goodbye to the couple that owned the restaurant, (promising to come back and try their pizza from the pizza oven they were installing that day!) and piled into the car for the ride back. It was long, but at least we were in a covered car, so no wind or sun to deal with. Aside from a pair of ostriches crossing the road, the ride was fairly uneventful. We had him drop us at the grocery store so we could do a little shopping. We thought that this store was open later than the usual 1:00 closing time, but it wasn't and it was 1:06. Our luck struck again though, and they people at the door let us in anyway. We scurried around grabbing what we needed, then said our goodbyes and headed to our respective hike points to get rides back. I jumped out of the bakkie, went into my house, and collapsed on my bed. The first thing I did was to take a shower. I had to shampoo my hair three times and condition twice just to get the texture to resemble hair again, and not straw...

Once I felt my plans for the next day were solid enough, I collapsed into bed, exhausted, but also energized for the week from the fantastic weekend. It's amazing what a good weekend can do for your spirit, and we decided that we would try to do something fun like that at least once a month if we could. It was so nice to seem some of the other volunteers again, and to see a new part of Namibia. This country is so beautiful and diverse and this weekend just made me more excited to see the rest of it! I wish that I could bring you all out here and show you, but I guess the pictures will have to do.

Hope everyone is enjoying the snow (you have no idea how jealous I am) and any days off it may have given you! Till next time,

Lots of love,


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Comparing and Contrasting

It seems like this whole week I've been comparing and contrasting Namibia and America in my head. One second, I'll be thinking how similar things are here, and the next, something will happen that is so different from what I'm used to, that it takes me a minute to realize this is real life. I think that's what  I like most about being in foreign countries, some things are so incredibly different, but at the end of the day, we're all human beings facing the same basic challenges and joys of life.

My second week of teaching went fairly smoothly. I'm starting to get the gist of how things work at the school, and now that I'm a little more comfortable with the syllabuses for ICT and Physical Science, I'm a bit more confident about my ability to teach them. The language barrier still causes major obstacles though. Case in point: I was so excited to do a Pascal's Triangle investigation with my grade 9s and spent a while coming up with what I thought was a very explicit directions page to guide them to finding some of the many patterns contained in Pascal's Triangle. However, I must not have been clear enough, because at the end of the class, no one had written anything down. Most were still trying to fill in the triangle even though I told them multiple times to stop at Row 10, up to which we had done together. I was frustrated with myself for not anticipating that it might have been over there heads, and decided to do it together the next day. So, I procured a projector, found a nice picture online that showed up when I projected it on the chalk board, and  created a very ghetto smartboard for myself. Once we started going though it, I realized that their biggest problem had just been reading the instructions. Even though we had gone over them together, some of the vocab was beyond them. I hadn't even thought of the fact that they might not know the word 'diagonal' yet, which, for anyone who knows anything about Pascal's Triangle, means 85% of the instructions made no sense. And of course no one asked me what it meant...However, once we started going though it together, they were very engaged and picked up on most of the patterns once I showed them where to look. They particularly enjoyed the Hockey Stick Pattern, (once I explained what hockey was!) which was fun for me because that's my favorite pattern too. :) Even though this particular struggle had a lot to do with language, a problem I don't face as much in the States, having a lesson crash and burn is a feeling I'm very familiar with, and once I thought about it, I could see my students back home not doing well with this particular activity individually either. Some things are so similar...

Then there were the handful of leaner-related situations that are still shocking to me, in the best way. First, I was given a present of 6 freshly picked guavas from one of my grade 8 learners. So adorable. Then there was the whole 'nobody moving when the bell rang' thing which still blows my mind. In the States, the kids starting packing up their things 10 minutes before the bell whether I was done or not. At first I thought they were being polite and waiting for me to finish my sentence, but then they asked me to keep teaching and I was blown away. On Thursday, I was walking back to my room after the final bell had rung and I saw two of my grade 9 girls standing near my door. I said hi to them and they shyly said hi back and continued standing there. Unsure if they wanted something or were just hanging out, I went into my room and started to wipe down the board. They came in, but still didn't say anything, so I asked them how they were doing. They said they were fine, and then eventually one of them asked me if they could clean my room. I was sure I hadn't heard them correctly, but I had. They were offering to clean my classroom for me. Back at home, having a student pick up trash was something that I would assign to a student who got detention, and even that got grumbles of unfair punishment. But here, these girls put all the chairs up, hunted down a broom, did a thorough sweep, washed my board, closed the windows and even offered to refill my water bottle. Then when they were leaving and I thanked them, they looked a little surprised and thanked me. I'm still in shock over the whole thing, but am definitely not complaining!

This weekend offered another a few more "things aren't so different here after all" moments. Friday after finishing the track and field tryouts (which was an experience in itself!) I headed home exhausted from all the sun and collapsed on my bed. A few hours later, TK said he was going into Ondangwa to meet a friend, and asked if I wanted to go so I could do some grocery shopping and not have to worry about getting a hike. We drove into town and did the grocery shopping and then we met up with two of his friends at a bar. We chatted for a bit over a drink, and I actually got to talk American politics with them, which was fun for me! I also figured out that one of the guys was moving, and that's why TK was in town- they needed his truck to move the large furniture. So we drove over to his place, and did a couple runs between his new and old apartments. I am not one to sit around while people are doing something, so I went right in and started picking up boxes. The guys told me I didn't have to, but I told them I didn't mind helping. I think they were a little surprised when I went for some of the larger items, but I knew they were grateful for the help as well. Here is something that's the same in Namibia as it is in the US: four guys moving. Between the actual contents of the apartment, and the way they were just throwing everything in the truck, I just had to laugh because it reminded me of helping some of my guy friends move at home. Boys will be boys. And, just as in America, the payment for helping someone move is beer, so we headed to another bar to hang out for awhile when we were done. The three guys were all also teachers, and they worked at a private, international school. It was interesting hearing more about the education system here, and once again, I found myself thinking that I could be having an identical conversation with colleagues back home. It was definitely a fun evening, a nice change from sitting in my room, and the guys were all really nice (they insisted on paying for my drinks) and fun to talk to.

Saturday morning, I woke up to TK cleaning the cabinets in the kitchen, which I was planning on trying to do this weekend anyway. They already looked so much better even though he had just started, and together we decided to try to put the doors back on. We would need hinges, but since I was planning to go into town anyway, I said I would just pick them up. I got ready for my first solo hike into town, and didn't have to wait long before someone went by who was going that way. It turned out to be another teacher at my school, and she let me sit in the cab of the truck instead of having to sit in the back, which was very nice. Once in Oshakati, I tried to get my errands done quickly, but this isn't always possible in Africa. Since everyone had just gotten paid, the crowds and lines were massive, and things took me longer than I had hoped. I was planning on meeting up with a couple other volunteers who were hanging out at Benny's again, but since I had some cold food and wouldn't have been able to stay long, I decided to skip it and just try to get a hike home. I reached the meeting point and at first just sort of stood there. I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to do to actually get a hike, and was hoping that by observing for a few minutes, I would pick up on some clues. There was a man there with a truck who seemed to be talking to people who were asking for rides, so I asked one woman where the truck was going, she replied it was going to Onamutai. Perfect! I asked the guy if I could get a ride as well; he seemed surprised that I was going to Onamutai, but said that I could go. No one seemed to be getting in the truck right away so I continued to just stand around and not understand a single thing that was going on around me. Someone said "hi Miss Long" and I saw it was one of my learners. I said hi back and asked how he was doing, but kicked myself for not remembering his name. After waiting around for a while, another man came and seemed to give something to the owner of the truck. Someone told me that the driver had been waiting to meet that man, so now we could go. We all piled in, but this took awhile as there were probably about 15 of us, and all of our things. The truck was very full and I was standing in the middle. I could just barely reach the side rail, and was thankful that spending years on boats has left me with a pretty good balancing ability. However, I made it home safely, proud of myself for surviving my first solo hike!

The rest of the weekend has been pretty standard. Procrastinating, cleaning, laundry, lesson planning, and a little skyping. Now it's time for dinner, a little more work, another episode of The Wire, and then early bed to rest up for another week.

I'm really starting to love it here, but I miss everyone at home terribly. If anyone wants to skype or chat, I'd love to hear from you. Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the slightly warmer weather! Till next time,