Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Back in Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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