Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hiya from the Big City (e-mail from Amy)

(sent at 11:00AM Saturday morning)

I'm in Otjiwarongo (a main town, I feel very much like a country bumpkin coming from Anker, staring at the shops and all the people) for the weekend.
I needed to get out a little and see another volunteer and have a little R & R. It has been wonderful. I've been staying with Megan Kenny and enjoying the wonderful delights of a big town. I had a nice hot shower and we ate at a restaurant last night (I had Chicken Gordon Blue… Don't ask me why the chicken was named Gordon, I wasn't acquainted with it.) I'm going to get some things I can't buy in Kamanjab today and then I'll try to get a hike back today or tomorrow and get the rest of the groceries in Kamanjab. I'm a little nervous that I won't be back for school on Monday (I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get to Kamanjab, it's that last 50 K to Anker that worries me.) but I've decided to try to relax and let the African mentality tone my more type-A tendencies down. Truth be told, I've been what can only be described as giddy this weekend. I really needed this time off and time with someone who is from the same culture. The people at Anker are great, but sometimes I just need to see an American. Megan has been amazingly encouraging; probably she doesn't even know how much she has encouraged me. First, she works as a health volunteer for the Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture and she hooked up my computer and gave me a password and user name, so I think that I can use any phone line now to access the internet. That means that Anker is now possibly an Internet connected town and I will (hopefully) be much easier to reach. I still haven't confirmed that it will work (I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much in case something goes wrong with it) but if it does I will be ecstatically happy. Second, Megan shared some of the problems that she has faced living in a big town. It really put things into perspective for me. She has had to deal with the problems of apartheid far more than I have in my village where I'm the only white person and pretty much everyone is from the same tribe. She also has had a hard time making friends and people don't really care about her- she once accidentally got locked on the ministry grounds where she lives for the weekend. Plus, her supervisor was really corrupt and bad, so bad that the Peace Corps told them to find a new supervisor. I wouldn't trade my problems with isolation and lack of shopping facilities for hers in a million years. Even if I can only buy Coke and mealie meal and get email once every 2 weeks, at least I know that I am taken care of and loved.

It was fun to be in town last week. When I get to town, I go into overdrive and start doing everything I can't do in Anker. I call and text people. I hurry off to the store (where I pour over my wide selection of canned fruit and dried soup mix.) I go to the guest house to email (where, even with the discount that they give me because they know I'm a volunteer, internet still costs an outrageous US$10 a half hour, It's $5 an hour here in O-Warongo) The Lonely Planet travel guide claims that Kamajab is an "unremarkable" town and complains of the lack of amenities, and it's absolutely right, but it still feels like I'm back in civilization when I can make a cell call without climbing a smallish mountain.

The day I sent my last email I got a new name. Mr. Ndjitezeua's (pronounced Tchew-i-te-zoo although all the school kids call him Mr. Aser) wife gave it to me on the car ride home. In Damara I am /Namdagos (the "/" represents a click at the front of your mouth, behind the teeth, it sounds a little like the "tch" you might use when you're scolding someone or calling a horse.) It means "person who I love" and I love it. Some of the hostel matrons have even taken to calling me by it. On that Saturday night Ms. Juliane who works at the hostel came over to use my oven. Her daughter was home from school for the weekend and she wanted to make her some of the vanilla flavoured biscuits. They are very easy to make and she was a little scornful that we weren't really baking since we could buy all of the ingredients here in Anker and didn't have to go to someplace like Kamanjab to get them. She was very pleased with my new name. "I'm going to call you /Namdagos and you watch how the other people look," she said. Anyway, she left me with a small bowl of biscuits and they are wonderful in the morning with coffee.

On that Sunday I went to church, which was very good. I think I have been conscripted into a church choir again. Anjelica Christiaan told me that I now belong to their choir. I haven't quite figured out how church choirs work here, since I don't seem to be expected to sing or even to show up to meetings or anything. I think that they are more of social organizations. The more committed members of the church get together in church choirs and meet and socialize. That's the best I can figure. Also, I lost electricity for most of the day. I ate crackers with summer sausage or peanut butter and I drank mango flavoured Oros. It was actually quite fun.

I've been reading The Covenant by James Michner.
I found it in the school library and it reminded me of my dad. Also, I figured that I'm probably the only one who is going to read it for quite a while (550 page books of densely packed prose is just not a big draw here, surprisingly.) At least it makes sense why someone would send that book, the library does have some other, stranger offerings. My favourite find so far was two books by Thomas Hardy because I don't know any 1 st-7th grader, Namibian, American or otherwise who can handle Thomas Hardy. Heck, I can hardly handle Thomas Hardy. Anyway, The Covenant is a really good book about the history of South Africa and it's especially interesting now that I'm here. There are so many things that I can recognize. There is a whole chapter with some of the history of the Hottentots, which is the name the Dutch gave to the Khoe-Khoe speaking people of the Cape (the Nama tribe in Namibia is descended from these people, but the Damara tribe, which is what 95% of the people in Anker are, speaks the same language) because that's what they thought the clicking language sounded like. It was especially interesting to read since I now live in the heart of what used to be called "Damaraland," one of the "homelands" established during apartheid. It was a particularly heinous system that not only aimed at placating oppressed people with a limited, controlled power over the worst possible land (most of the people in my area survive by subsistence farming on overgrazed, nutrient-poor communal land), but also aimed at splitting people up the Black and Coloured majority into a dozen tribes and ethnic groups each biased against the others thus keeping them from organizing against the government. Unfortunately, it was somewhat successful and there are still a lot of prejudices between tribes. I have seen that more when I've been here in Otjiwarongo than in Anker.

I have been watching movies this week.
On Friday when I went in to Kamanjab I stopped at Clementine's house and her son, feeling bad for me because I live in Anker (which the Namibians often refer to derisively as a "farm," their main objection being how small and isolated it is, which is true) he lent me half a dozen DVDs. I'm going to have to do something nice for him because they have been wonderful. I watch a lot of movies now, even if they are the same 6 movies over and over again. On Saturday nights I even make popcorn (the old fashioned way, with sunflower oil and a big pan and a lot of stirring and shaking to keep the popped kernels from burning.) and have a little movie night (under my mosquito net to avoid gia-normous moths dive-bombing the screen.)

I think in my last email when I bragged that I have electricity most of the time I must have angered the rain gods because in the next week I lost electricity at least once every day. Sometimes it was just a little flickering on and off, but I also lost it for most of two days. I have been slowly using up my stock of 15 cent candles which I stick into the tops of ½ liter coke bottles for candle holders. Two candles will light my living room enough to walk around and four make it really easy and comfortable to read in bed without risking that my mosquito net will go up in smoke. I ate a lot of canned fruit and peanut butter sandwiches (I have an electric stove. I could have gone over to my neighbor's house because she doesn't have a stove and cooks over a cookfire every day, but really it was only a meal or two and I kind of like cooking for myself because I get enough goat meat and porridge in my life as it is.) I was a little worried about the bag-o-meat in my freezer but it didn't spoil. The only thing that happened to it was that it melted some blood into my melted ice cubes (don't worry- I washed the tray out thoroughly, no salmonella for me, no sir.) The rains got to be intense. The Namibians are even surprised at how much it has rained ("Miss," the learners tell me gleefully, "There is very much grass. Now our cows will get very fat.") Last Thursday it absolutely poured. It was like the hurricanes that you see on TV. The river started running and the ground couldn't absorb the water so the town became an archipelago of soggy sand bars in an ocean of rainwater. Some of the library books got water damaged. It's a little hard to keep the weather out when half the windows are broken or don't exist. I put the books out in the sun to dry out and, other than the fact that they're a little wrinkly, they seem fine… no mold thankfully because I don't know what we would do if our books started molding. I'm already a little worried about bookworms because several old donated hardcovers showed the evidence of them. I'm hoping it happened before they were donated and they bookworms never made it here, because I was reading how to get rid of them and they are a pain.

Valentine's Day was a good day. I had a brilliant teaching moment. Inspired by the love letter that I confiscated a while ago, I assigned my sixth graders to write love letters. They spent much more time on it than they spent on any of the other things that I assign them, even if much of that time was spent in drawing little roses and hearts on them. Also, I got those little candy hearts in a package from my grandparents (BTW- if you sent those unopened then customs must have opened the little boxes and taken one or two candies out because both boxes were opened and carefully taped shut, like maybe they were hoping I wouldn't notice. Still, I got most of them and they were very good.

These are the Library Rules that some Grade 5 learners came up with for me. I thought they were great… When necessary I have provided my best guess at translations

  1. Dont take two book
  2. dont make the nois
  3. you must tell the learners (no clue what this is supposed to mean, maybe if others are doing things wrong you should tell them not to.)
  4. If you come in you mus kep quit (Quiet… You must keep quiet)
  5. You mus not throug away the book (You must not throw away the book… I happen to think that this is a pretty good rule, albeit a bit specific)
  6. Place dont take any things (Please don't take any things… I like that this rule uses Please, since all of the rest take a rather demanding tone)
  7. If you are stil the book Dont come in (I think this means, If you are stealing the books, don't come in, but it might mean, If you are stealing the books, they won't come in (ie.. there won't be any more books left in the library))
  8. You mus listen and learn
  9. You mus not learn aks (I don't know why there is a rule that contradicts the rule directly above it nor do I know what it is supposed to mean. It might mean that if you don't know what a word is or what it means, you should ask, but that's my best guess)
  10. Read True (I particularly like this rule, simple and spelled perfectly and yet I don't have any clue what it means. Still, it seems like a pretty good rule for a library. Read true. Now!)

One of the donated library books had one of those battery operated music making boxes on the side and it has been a big pain for me.
"Miss," the learners say with a hungry look in their eyes, "Miss, where is the book that sings?" If I give it to them, they lay with it against their ears for hours pushing the buttons over and over again. I have also had to take away the "book that cries" (a board book with a squeaking toy in it) because they would push it again and again and again, driving me almost over the edge of sanity.

At tea break one day, one of the teachers asked me what you call a large lizard (like smaller than an alligator, but not by much.)
Well, that sort of stumped me. The best I could come up with was Gilla Monster, which I think sounded a little like I was making things up, but someone produced a picture that looked remarkably like a Gilla Monster. Apparently it's called a Leguan (not so sure on the spelling of that) and it was what we were eating that day. It wasn't too bad. If they hadn't told me, I would have assumed that it was goat.

How you can help the Library in Anker

I realized the other day that I really like Anker. I think that Anker is going to do OK. There were a couple of things that I realized. First, I've finished taking stock at the library (which was way more work than I think I realized going in to it) and I realized that even before Courtney came in 2004 the library had almost 700 books, which means they were trying to buy books and improve the library even before that. 700 books is a very reasonable number here, they suggest that if possible you try to have a ratio of 3 books for each learner in a library and there are almost 300 kids at the school. They are really good people and they are really trying to give these kids a good education. The classrooms are full of neatly coloured, hand-printed posters and kid's art work. Plus, I found books in the library with teachers' names in them that were donated in 96 or 98, which means that these teachers are committed to this school which is a little unusual in the more rural areas (Interestingly enough I also found three or four books stamped in Afrikaans as belonging to the "Ministry of Bantu Education" which was the old apartheid system that educated students better or worse based on their color.) Most of the severe problems that the Peace Corps warned us that we might face, I haven't seen at all. The extent of the corporal punishment I've seen has been a tap on the head or a kid being roughly taken to the principal's office. They warned us that sometimes orphans or poor children who can't pay school fees or can't afford uniforms aren't allowed to go to school, even though this is technically against the law, but my headmaster said one day, "They still haven't brought their kids to school. They are trying to come up with the school fees. I tell them, we can work something out with the school fees, but the children must be in school, you can't keep them back." And students who don't have uniforms wear whatever they have that's closest to a uniform. (By the way, school fees are $12 a year and hostel fees are $30 a year and you can get a school uniform from pep for $10 including shoes) When it's cold, like it's been this week, all of the kids wear whatever clothes they have anyway: Sweaters and sweatshirts of every colour, T-shirts so big that they hang around their knees like a dress, towels wrapped around bare arms like shawls. I don't know how a system that really works on an honour basis functions, but it does and if the school development fund is a bit empty (and it is usually), at least the kids are in school learning. I really think that with some quality materials and some professional training, Anker could become a very good school, the people certainly want it to be a good school and are trying hard to make it one. I am all the more thankful for these people after visiting Otjiwarongo and realizing what it could be like.

OK, That's it for now.
One of my friends wrote and said that she wanted to tell me to stop apologizing at the end of every letter. So, I'm just going to leave this letter the way that it is. I think about you all a lot and it helps just to write something down and to know that someone is listening. I love you all lots and I hope I will be easier to contact now.

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