Monday, November 28, 2005

A long e-mail from Amy

Dear everyone,

Life is good. I got back from my permanent site visit in one piece
last night. It was an amazing experience. The principal of my school has 6 daughters and I felt like I was another, highly honored part of the family. My permanent site is a tiny town called Anker. Anker is about 6 hours north and west of Omaruru, so I had been traveling for most of the day. I was in the middle seat of a pickup, in between the headmaster of my school and the first grade teacher who will be my counterpart.

For the last 45 minutes of the trip to Anker you must go down a thin gravel road through the bush, stopping occasionally to let herds of goats, or donkey carts pass. The houses are spread across the land, most of them are traditional rectangular huts made out of sticks and covered with mud.

As I was examining the town, the principal started leaning on the car horn. It surprised me, but then we rounded the corner and there, in the school yard, all 285 primary school students were standing, waiting for us, dressed in their purple collared shirts and brown skirts and shorts. When they saw the truck they started cheering and jumping up and down. We drove slowly through the school yard and they ran alongside the car, singing and

Later I saw that, in the dust on the side of the pickup,
tiny fingers had written my name. We drove right up to the school
gate and got out of the car. The children lined up in a metal sun
shelter. Some of them were holding a sign carefully lettered "Welcome to Anker, Amy." Then the children sang me 5 or 6 traditional songs in Khoe-Khoegowab into which they inserted my name and a small group of second or third graders did a traditional dance, dressed in costumes they had made out of mealie-meal sacks with bells on the fringe.

One of the teachers gave a speech about how long they had waited and how hard they had worked to get a volunteer and how thankful they were when Courtney, the volunteer who was there before me, came and how thankful they were that I was there.Then they asked if I wanted to say a few words. I managed to stammer a few words about learning from each other and making Anker a better place, but I was so overwhelmed that I don't think it was a very good speech. The entire town made me feel immensely welcome.

I stayed at the headmaster's house and they fed me enormous amounts of food. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that a typical dinner was 3-4 cups of macaroni salad, another cup or two of vegetables or coleslaw, and two large pieces of meat, plus a liter of Coke, or a heavily sweetened orange drink. I really tried to eat all of the food they gave me, but sometimes they would feed me meals like that twice a day, so it was almost impossible for me to eat it all. I gave up on Thanksgiving after nearly making myself sick trying to finish the enormous serving of rice.

Several of the daughters and 4-8 grandchildren were generally around for dinner. They have DSTV at their house, so we generally watched soap operas or action movies while eating dinner. On thanksgiving I had springbok sausage, bread with butter, and really good heavily sweetened black tea while watching "When You Are Mine," a Spanish soap opera really badly dubbed into English.

I saw all of the important sites in the town; the school, the hostels (dorms for 1st through 7th graders), the clinic, the shop, and the traditional leaders' office. I actually met with the traditional leaders. They told me that they take their responsibility for my safety very seriously and if I ever have any problems I can tell them and they will take care of them for me.

I am quite isolated at my site. I am pretty convinced that no one has Internet in the town (since my laptop will be the third computer in town, including the one at the school that they use to teach the teachers how to do basic computing - turning a computer on, typing, and mouse skills).

There is no cell phone coverage (cell phones in most of the developing world are the source of communication because it's cheaper to put up cell towers than landlines), the headmaster of my school has a telephone in his house, but I don't. However, I think I feel less isolated in a lot of ways than some of the volunteers in larger towns because my town takes such good care of me.

Courtney told me that she just had to tell the headmaster that she wanted to go to town and he would find and arrange rides for her so she didn't have to hitchhike. Some of the other volunteers were pretty much abandoned in their towns by their supervisors. My house is beautiful.

Courtney left me all her dishes and she left the apartment decorated, with wall hangings and tablecloths and everything. No one in town has hot water, but I do have a tap with clean, running water. It's drinkable but it tastes really salty, so I think I'll buy bottled water to drink, that's what I drank at the headmaster's house. I have an oven and a fridge and electricity and more room than I really know what to do with (2 bedrooms, a living room/dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom and shower/sink room, and a large backyard with flowers).

I am immensely impressed by the work that Courtney did. I have an amazing amount of respect for her and, when I was feeling embarrassed by the attention and care that were heaped upon me, I reminded myself that it was a reflection of the honour and respect the people of Anker had for Courtney and therefore, for me.

She did so much for that town. As far as I can tell, she started a library (with almost a thousand books now), she got a playground built, she got new textbooks for the school, she helped with the HIV/AIDS club, she gave community English and baking classes, and she taught the teachers computer skills.

Still, there is a lot to do in Anker. I toured the hostels (dorms where half of the students live) and they are in pretty bad shape. They were built in 1971 during apartheid and as far as I can tell they haven't been touched (with repairs or renovations) since. Many, if not most, of the windows are broken, the depressing gray-blue paint is chipping and, in the dining room which is supposed to serve about 150 students I saw maybe half a dozen chairs and most of them were broken. I'm not sure where the students eat, maybe they stand at the tables. I was trying to explain the hostels to some of the other volunteers
and I realized that they look a lot like the orphanage in the movie
Annie, except with less stuff.

I saw the room where the students keep their belongings and, for 30 boys, there was less in that room than I brought in my suitcases. So I'm going to try to get a grant to fix up the hostels. I'd like to see the windows fixed, new or fixed furniture, and colourful murals on the walls. Plus the kitchen is in bad shape, so maybe we could get it fixed up.

Anyway, I also want to keep working on the library. If anyone has used books, or wants to start a book drive, we could really use good, quality picture books (especially easy-readers), books with African characters or themes, easy to read books on HIV/AIDS, and reference books for young children, especially on math, science, and African history. Also that website I sent out allows me to buy books for the library that don't get donated. Email me if any of you want to work with me on that.

I think I might also try to get some computers for the children to use. Anyway, those are some of the things echoing in my head right now. I really can't get started too much until I get to my permanent site and live there for a couple of months, but I'm kind of chomping at the bit.

What else? Oh, my site is really close to Etosha, which is the nature park where most of the westerners who go on safari come to, so there's a lot of wildlife near my site. The headmaster took me to the family farm which is out in the bush. I saw a herd of Kudus, a herd of Oryx, a herd of springboks, warthogs, baboons, and (most amazing of all) a herd of giraffes. It rained when we were out there and I have a picture of a giraffe and a rainbow that looks like it's from National Geographic. I'll put it on the blog if I get a chance (the Internet is really slow here). Someone who didn't have as good of a site visit said, "Where were you? Giraffe-Rainbow land?!?"

They also showed me where the elephants have pushed down some of the trees, which sort of scared me since elephants can be dangerous, but it was pretty far from the town, so as long as I don't go wandering off I should be OK.

Well, since I wrote everyone a book here, I think I'll let this be the end of this email. Tomorrow I'm heading to my host
family's house in a town called Karabib. I'm not sure what the
Internet access will be like, but I'll try to send out at least one
email while I'm there since I'll be gone for about a month. We return to Omaruru just before Christmas.

I look foreword to hearing from you all (by the way, thank you for your letter Rob). Thank you for putting up with my long rant-y email. I hope everything is going well for all of you and you had a happy Thanksgiving. Have a Merry Christmas if I don't talk to you all. Goodbye.


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