Monday, May 29, 2006

Breaking up fights, checkers, and yet another beauty contest (email from Amy)

Hey there strangers!

            Sorry I didn't send this sooner.  I wanted to send it Saturday, but there weren't any phone cards for sale in Anker (there are two stores that sometimes have phone cards and neither had them- one was closed.) and my phone card only had about Namibian 50 cents (about 8 US cents) and that's just enough to connect to a number and do nothing else.

            Well, the endless string of packages continued this week (I am in no way complaining, I love packages.  You all are too generous to me.  Seriously.)  I got a package from Bloomsbury UK with six brand new picture books and a bunch of stickers and postcards and bookmarks and stuff.  I am still shocked at how generous some of these publishing companies are.  I expected maybe a couple of books from one or two of the fifteen publishers, but it's really hardly even been long enough for them to get the letter, send books, and for me to receive them and already two have sent books and one requested more information.  How do they make a living?  I mean, their primary purpose is selling books and not only are they giving them away for free, but they're giving them away to people who they are pretty sure they can never reasonably expect to buy books from them.  Plus, both of the packages I've received so far were airmailed, which I imagine has to be quite expensive.  I had my library prefects write a bunch of "Thank You" letters and I'm putting a couple in with each thank you note I send.  If I get to Otjiwarongo soon I'll print off a couple of photos and send those to the companies too.  Anyway, I also got a wonderful M-Bag from my Grandma and Grandpa.  They went to a library sale and bought a bunch of old hardcover picture books.  The really great thing about that is that the books already are library quality and they have plastic covers and all of that, so they'll be a lot harder for the kids to destroy.  Plus, the books look like the kind the kids will adore- lots of pictures, many of them with African animals or with black kids- and there are a lot of books.  Also, I got a package, again from Grandma and Grandpa P, with stuff just for me.  It was really great with a package of rice-o-roni stuff (I ate most of that the first night), instant pudding, measuring cups and spoons, a wonderful shirt, and half a dozen DVDs (I already watched Holes and Emma.)  I am really amazingly blessed.  I am overwhelmed by how well I am being taken care of by everyone.  Thank you all so much.  You're too good to me.

So, I decided to attempt a literacy program with the sixth and seventh graders.  I've made a list of all of the sixth and seventh grade learners and drew little boxes next to their names.  I told them that I would put a sticker next to their name when they read a book.  I told them I'd look over the book and ask them questions so they couldn't just look at the pictures.  I didn't tell them, but I think I'll have a little store at the end of school where they can use those stickers to "buy" prizes that were sent in M-Bags or from publishing companies.  Stuff like stickers, post cards, bookmarks, pencils, pens, or crayons.  Really the sticker would probably be enough, but this will give me a way to fairly distribute the stuff that's sent to us and it will let the kids feel like they've earned it.  We'll see how that works.  So far several of the kids have really latched on to it, but several keep trying to find loopholes where they don't have to read as many books or as hard of books.

A few random teaching stories-- Yesterday a fifth grader asked me if people in other countries walk like dogs (on their hands and feet.)  I have absolutely no idea how he came up with that notion, but I thought it was kind of funny.  Some of my seventh graders wrote stories about a tsotsi (something between a street kid and a gangster- they're a big problem in places like Soweto where they are really violent, but what they call tsotsis here aren't really as bad, they're still dangerous, but not in the really terrifying ways they are in the big cities in South Africa.) and they got really excited about it.  They kept asking me how to say things in English and I kept misunderstanding them.

            OK, so on Monday I had a pretty intense experience.  Mr. !Naruseb, the fourth grade teacher, has been out of school for two weeks.  (He apparently had to go to a funeral- three of his relatives died over term break.  I'm guessing AIDs, since they all seemed to be young and he said they were sick, but I didn't ask.)  Anyway, there is no such thing as a substitute teacher in this country.  When the teacher is gone, the kids sit in the classroom unsupervised and do pretty much whatever they feel like doing.  This is bad enough in upper primary where they have to sit for one or two periods, but fourth grade is a one-teacher deal.  The kids sit in the classroom alone for the whole day and they had been doing this for a week.  Anyway, Mondays are kind of killer for me (I teach double English for two grade six classes and a grade seven class, plus grade seven science- 7 out of 8 period of teaching and I hadn't gotten my teacher voice back yet, so I was losing my voice.)  So I was looking forward to my last period, my only free period.  I was using some markers I got in a recent package to color some library signs and I was trying to ignore the pandemonium across the way in the grade four classroom.  Then I heard the sound of breaking glass and I looked over and saw that one of the windows in that class had just broken.  Since no other adult seemed to be coming, I went over to see what was going on. (Mr. !Naruseb's classroom is (was) the only classroom in the school that didn't have any broken windows.) Apparently, there had been a fight and one fourth grade girl broke the window with another fourth grade girl's head.  I took the injured girl back to the library and sent one of the learners to get the principal to punish the offender (It's very possible that she got beaten, but, although I probably should, I don't really care.  I couldn't handle punishing something that severe and besides, she BROKE a window with the girl's HEAD.)   I spent most of the period picking tiny pieces of broken glass out of the poor girl's hair (don't tell the Peace Corps they're really paranoid about AIDs and they don't want us doing anything that could even be construed as first aid but I had already sent her to the clinic with Rosaline and they came back because there was no nurse that day.  Even if I couldn't do much about the nasty cut, I wasn't about to let her sit the rest of the day with her head covered in broken glass.  I was careful to avoid getting any blood on me, don't worry.)  Anyway, after that I let her sit in the library and I had Rosaline read to her.  I'm still not exactly sure what to do with that.  Sometimes I worry a lot about these kids.  There are some pretty serious social problems here- AIDs, alcohol abuse (I had a sixth grader drop out, probably because he was an alcoholic), violence, racial and tribal discrimination, poverty—and all of them seem to affect the kids directly.  I worry that they aren't going to make it and I want them to make it so badly.

            Before I showed up here in Anker someone sent a dollar store checker board and the kids are fascinated with it.  It took about a month before they actually asked me how to play it.  I don't know what they did before that because they still spent hours playing it.  Anyway, kids will fight over the checkerboard.  Over the break I was talking to some other PCVs who were trying to start a chess club and I figured we could start small and start a checkers club.  I had the kids collect bottle caps and I washed them thoroughly and painted them with red and black oil paint (I figured it would be good to cover up the beer labels.)  I'm going to have the kids measure out squares with a ruler on old cardboard boxes and color them in with markers.  I actually intend to teach them chess too, but I figure it will be easier if they've already learned checkers, plus it's a lot easier to make checker pieces than chess pieces (I hear if you write to Standard Bank of Namibia they will send you chess pieces if you write to them.  The board isn't a problem at all.)

            Last Thursday was a government holiday here (Pentecost and Africa day which apparently always fall on the same day.)  So I slept in (although I find it quite impossible to sleep in past 8 or 9 anymore), made a hot breakfast (crepes with apricot sauce), and had a nice hot bath.  I did a few errands at the library.  I tried to fix the windows again.  My first attempt was a disastrous failure.  I had tried to patch them with masking tape and cardboard but, since it was the rainy season, the cardboard got soaked and warped if it didn't fall apart completely and the dust seeped in and covered the sticky part of the tape.  Plus, the Namibian masking tape dried and either lost all of its stickiness OR chemically bonded with the window making it nearly impossible to remove.  So I learned from my mistakes and made a better patch.  I started with cardboard the right size to cover the hole and wrapped it in the waxed paper that backs the sticky-backed plastic book covers that I buy to put on really badly damaged books.  Then I wrapped the whole thing in packing tape and stuck it to the window thoroughly with more packing tape (sealing it on both sides of the window this time, so hopefully the dust can't get in.)  Hope it works this time.  When I got back to the library after break I faced a wall with bird poop on it (they like to come in and fly around in circles, I don't know why) and some dung beetles got in and laid larvae on some of the shelfs and in the rings of the binders that hold some of the education resources.  Hopefully the patches will prevent that sort of annoyance.  I also got caught up on some lesson planning and I made a list of class rules (I already made a seating chart) that will hopefully make discipline less of a problem this term.  So that was my exciting vacation day.  I worked partly because, since the children had a holiday as well, they all seemed to have decided that it would be best to spend it at my house and, if I was working, I didn't feel awkward about not trying to entertain them.  I really don't know what to do when kids come to my house.  I think it's mainly because children are treated so differently in this culture.  I know that I'm not expected to supervise them or provide diversions, but I really don't know what I AM expected to do.  I don't know what they think they'll be doing when they come to visit me.  Mostly I just end up reading or doing other things and feel awkward the whole time.  Most of the time I think that I spend enough time with kids during the school hours and I don't really want to spend my time off entertaining them.

            On Saturday night they held the fourth grade beauty contest.  Oy!  It wasn't as eventful as the seventh grade beauty contest (when several windows got broken in a drunken brawl between several out of school youth) but it certainly was still annoying enough.  They asked me to judge again and, because I'm such an agreeable person (and because I hadn't really learned my lesson with the last contest) I said I would.  I have decided to never do that again.  First of all, the contest started at about 7:30 PM and went until 12:30 in the morning at which point, being used to getting up in time to make it to the 6:30 AM teacher meeting, I was almost falling asleep in my chair.  I was getting more and more grumpy with the kids who were able, not only to muster up enough enthusiasm to explode with shrieks loud enough and shrill enough to make my ears actually hurt every single time a girl came out from behind the blanket, but also still able to do dances that would qualify as intense aerobic exercise for hours at a time (making me, yet again, feel quite inadequate in the dancing category seeing as how the most I can accomplish is to make all of the kids laugh every time I attempt.)  Anyway, that wouldn't have bothered so much if it weren't for the beauty contest itself.  What I hate about the beauty contests, other than that they send the message to the girls that their most important quality is their body, is the way the kids gussie themselves to make themselves look "beautiful."  All of the girls either straightened their hair and curled it or wore a wig that made their hair look like it had been straightened and curled which always annoys me because I really honestly think they look prettiest when their hair is cut short and curls into little natural knots all over their head or when they braid it into complicated designs that look like heads of wheat twisting across their heads.  Also, their interpretation of the swimsuit competition really sickened me (even more than in the 7th grade pageant, where at least the girls were somewhere around puberty.)  Anyway, more frustration.  I'm going to try not to do it again.  (What also probably frustrated me was that they were so careful to do the beauty contest, but no one had even considered entering the cluster-wide science fair, but maybe it's just that in fourth or seventh grade I would have done abysmally in a beauty contest and would have held my own in a science fair.)

            So that has been my exciting week.  Hope you are all doing well.  I miss you guys (I really wanted there to be a phone card for sale because I wanted to get your emails.)  I'm doing well—still enjoying my time here, other than a few minor frustrations (probably most of them stemming from my intense introversion) it's a really great place.  Lots of love,


P.O. Box 90

Kamanjab, Namibia


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rafting on the Kunene river, Packages, and a few thoughts on international aid (email from Amy)

Hey everyone,

It's a long one this week.

Keetmans to Otji to Opuwo to Kunene

So, I'm back safe and sound in Anker. It was quite a
vacation. After Keetmans I hitchhiked up to Otjiwarongo and met
Sandra, Dylan, Wendy, Angie, and Robin (Dan showed up the next day.)
On the way I passed over the Tropic of Capricorn which I thought was
pretty interesting, even though it's really just a sign by the
highway. We went to the SuperSpaar that they just built there (which
I think caused us all to freak out a little.) It was so amazingly big
and nice, with just crazy things that you could buy. You could get
Nutella, and Tang, and Fish sauce there among many many other things.
We're not used to choices, well actually, technically we're just not
used to more than one choice. We're used to one choice of rice, one
choice of pasta, one choice of milk. We probably spent half an hour
in the first aisle trying to decide what type of tea to get. I don't
know what we're going to do when we get back to the States where we
will not only have those kinds of choices, but they'll be reasonably
close to where we live. I can imagine calling one of the other
volunteers to tell them that I found paprika at my Minnesota grocery
store or something. Anyway, we spent the night and then headed off in
a combi to Opuwo by way of Kamanjab. Opuwo is about 3 hours North
of where I live. It's mostly Herero and almost half Himba (the Himba
are Hereros who dress traditionally; skin loincloths and wraps with
the women going bare-chested and everyone covering their hair, skin,
and clothes in red ochre and butter fat.) We camped the night in
Coppelia's yard that night and went up to the Kunene River Lodge in
the morning after buying a few more groceries (we couldn't have gone
hungry even if we had tried with all of the food we had.) We went
another 3 hours north of Opuwo to the Kunene River (which is the
border between Namibia and Angola until, I think, at least Ruacana)

Camping, rafting and Angola

Anyway, we camped at the Kunene River Lodge for two nights
which was a lot of fun. We cooked over a campfire (despite what you
might think when you hear "Peace Corps" I do not cook over an open
fire on a regular basis. We joke that PC Namibia is "Posh Corps"
(although definitely more so in the towns in the south than out in the
bush where I am or up north) still, I have electricity and a stove and
refrigerator and running water. We talked over the vacation about how
people write to us and say they're impressed with us or whatever and
we feel a little like we're tricking them.) It was fun to pretend to
be tourists although some of the complaints from other tourists about
the bathrooms/ showers/ hot water seemed a little ridiculous since it
was probably my last hot shower for at least month. The Kunene is an
actual river (as opposed to the "ephemeral rivers" where I live that
only run when it rains and otherwise just collect broken glass.) and
was really moving quite quickly. We went whitewater rafting down the
river which was a lot of fun. We even stopped and took a little walk
across the river in Angola which would have been much nicer if we had
had shoes or if there were slightly fewer sharp pointy stones. As it
was, we mainly decided that Angola was prickly.

Groceries and packages in Kamanjab and back to Anker

We hiked back to Kamanjab on Thursday. I slept at
Clementine's house while the others went on to Otjiwarongo. On Friday
I bought loads of food (N$415 worth- about US$70) since I had
basically eaten everything in my house except for unopened canned good
and a few staples before reconnect. Then I waited for a hike out (no
need to hike with tourists- my principal was coming into town to buy
supplies for the shop his family runs so I got a ride back in a
ridiculously full bakkie (pick-up)- there were three people piled in
the back on top of what would have been a truck overloaded with
supplies anyway.) I had loads of packages (which I sort of expected,
but it was especially nice because I was kind of depressed when I
first came back, probably from a combination of leaving good friends,
going back to the school term, and just the random impulses to cry
that happen every now and then and make me worry that I'm going a
little nutty (or as we say here, that I might be making doughnuts,
from a story about this guy who apparently let the stress get to him
and went temporarily insane, locking himself in his house and making
doughnuts 18 hours a day.)) I got a letter from Tiffany and some
family movie DVDs from my aunt and uncle (thanks guys) and a package
from my grandparents with magazines, tape, and some other stuff (by
the way, thanks for the toothbrush, on my trip my conditioner leaked
all over the bag with my toiletries in it and, despite multiple
washings, I was unable to get the conditioner taste out of my
toothbrush.) and a really nifty package from Jewell (best package I've
gotten so far, by the way. Just a bunch of really useful random
stuff- a puzzle, some crayons, one set of silverware, a teeny-tiny
book, some ribbon, pipe cleaners, wheels, little stuffed monkey etc.)

40 lbs of books!

But the really surprising packages came from Houghton Mifflin USA. I
sent a letter asking for donations for the library about two months
ago to 15 publishing companies. Anyway, without my knowledge they
sent over 50 brand new books, most of them hardcover picture books,
for the library. They even sent some book tapes (now if we only had a
tape player) and a Dorling Kindersley packet with a digital camera.
I'm going to try to teach some of the teachers to use it so they can
take photos for the school. Maybe we could even use it to raise money
for the school here (pictures are a big deal.) I mean, it's meant as
a toy, so it's not really fancy or nice, but it's still a big deal
here. The books are really amazing too, lots of hardcover picture
books. I looked through them and most of them will be really popular
with the kids (lots of pictures.) I can't believe that they sent 3
boxes (40 pounds) of brand new books so quickly with just a letter
asking for them. Sometimes I'm really overwhelmed by the generosity
of people. Anyway, I'll make some of my library prefects write some
very nice "Thank You" letters (and I'll write one too.)

Reading books and memorizing poetry

Speaking of books, I haven't informed you of my reading
over the break (partially because I read a lot less with all those
people around to talk to.) Over break I read the whole Narnia series
(I plan to return it to Pat at All PCV Conference in June, so I just
might read it again), Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (which
had a pretty hilarious series of essays about trying to learn French,
which were especially funny when I compared them to my KhoeKhoe, he
says at one point that he had a breakthrough when he stopped talking
like an evil baby and started talking like a redneck with bad grammar.
I am still waiting for that transformation but thankfully people
think that a white person talking like an evil baby in KhoeKhoe is
still pretty impressive) This week, being back in the village, I did
a lot of reading. I finished Pride and Prejudice and much to my
enjoyment someone sent an M-Bag with Harry Potter books 1 and 2. The
library doesn't have any Harry Potter books and I personally was
really missing them (hint- I know it would cost a mint in postage so I
don't really expect that anyone will take me up on this, but if
someone really wanted to make me personally very happy they could send
me books 3-6.) I'm not sure how many of my learners could read Harry
Potter (I have suspicions that maybe a couple of them could read at
least the first two or three if they took the time) but I've enjoyed
them. I also finished a book I started before break called A Map of
the World. Anyway, for those keeping track, if you count the Narnia
series as seven distinct books, that puts me at 26 books in about 4
months or an average of over one and a half books a week. My Peace
Corps education continues. In other news, I'm working on memorizing
John Donne's Holy Sonnet 14. Poetry is my newest coping strategy. I
decided that, since I was having these irrepressible impulses to get
up in the middle of the night and read e e cummings' "since feeling is
first" or Gerard Manly Hopkins' "Carrion Comfort" that it would
probably be better if I just memorized some of my favourite poems.

Jobs in my Anker house

When I got back home I did some odd jobs I had been
putting off: changing light bulbs, cleaning sharpening and oiling my
Swiss Army knife (I hope that it's OK to oil it w/ cooking oil because
I did), cleaning and sterilizing my water filter and processing some
water (I got a Brita water filter to add to my Peace Corps one and
once Anker water has been double-filtered you can hardly taste the
borehole taste.) Unfortunately I forgot to get some Borax while I was
out. I have a homemade recipe for cockroach killer (Borax, icing
sugar, cornmeal, and milk) that I got from the Peace Corps cookbooks.
My house had developed a small insect problem that wasn't helped by an
almost month long absence or by the fact that my drain is basically a
tube that sticks out of the side of my house making it a convenient
tunnel for creepy crawly things (not that they couldn't get in through
the broken part of a few of my windows or the crack at the bottom of
the door. Houses here aren't built to be airtight like American
houses.) I used a recipe that the Peace Corps Cookbook said would
take care of an ant infestation- washing down all of the flat surfaces
in my house with vinegar and water, but I have my doubts that it will
work on the cockroaches. I'll just have to Doom them if they get too
cheeky (Doom is the bug killer that they sell here. I don't like to
use it too often because it advertises "deadly killing action" and I
think I'd prefer not to breathe that in.) I'm glad I bought some warm
things while I was away because it's been pretty cold here at night.
We're just starting winter and they say, because of all the rain, it's
supposed to be a cold one. I know, you hear "Africa" and you think
that I'll be boiling in some swealtering jungle, but this country is
mostly desert and savannah and since water helps to regulate
temperature and since we're pretty far south of the equator- it can
get cold. Now, mind you, I'm not talking about Minnesota-cold, more
like high 40s-mid 50s, but the roofs are made out of corrugated tin
and some of my windows are a bit leaky. Still, it gets back up to the
eighties or nineties in the day. I mainly just wear a lot of layers
to bed and I'm thinking I'll get some Seran-Wrap and packing tape and
Macguyver a little insulation job on my bedroom windows.

Food and drink

I've taken a page from some other PCVs and have been cooking a lot
this past week. On Sunday I made chicken soup (I actually do that a
lot since it stretches my limited supply of (good) meat out and it's a
fast meal.) Then during the week I learned to make refried beans and
tortillas which makes me really happy since I can get all the
ingredients I need in Anker, so it's been added to my
Foods-to-make-when-I-desperatly-need-to-get-to-the-grocery-store list
alongside pancakes and porridge. This Sunday I made crepes which,
much to my surprise, turned out really really good. I cut up some
canned apricots and made a filling with cinnamon and brown sugar. i
topped the whole thing with cream and icing sugar. I like this
cooking as a coping strategy trick, it means I get to eat good foods
and I do something with my day besides reading for four to six hours.
Also I've been making my own Chai lattes from some tea bags my parents
sent for Valentine's day. I had been missing Chai a lot, but with
full cream milk powder, honey, brown sugar, and something called
Cremendous which comes in a juice box sized carton and is the
consistancy of heavy whipping cream, I can make a drink that tastes
almost like Starbucks.

First week of class

This week has been busy (and somewhat annoying.) School
technically started on Tuesday, but I had, at most, about half my
students in all of my classes. On Wednesday and Thursday I had maybe
two-thirds. On Friday I was still missing five or six from my seventh
grade. The frustration comes from trying to teach without teaching
anything that will have to be caught up on by the rest of the class.
English was easier than Science, I had them write about their goals
for the term and only had to face the frustration of defining "Goals"
about twenty million times (I still had learners who wrote that they
wanted to score points in soccer.) In science I tried to talk about
making bar graphs. I want to do a project on the weather where they
measure it each day and graph it at the end of the week. I brought in
the thermometer that my grandparents had sent me and, sure enough, it
fell off the window and broke on the first day. Now I'm trying to
figure out what to do, since that was a major part of my plan for the
first part of the term. I'm going to look for a thermometer the next
time I get to Otjiwarongo (or when I head to Swakop for the All-PCV
conference next month) but in the mean time I'm going to make a paper
thermometer and change it according to the weather report the night
before, although, annoyingly, the closest town they ever report for is
Outjo; a good 2 ½ hour drive south.

Goals and plans

As per my resolution to become a better teacher and Peace
Corps Volunteer in general this term, I've been working on various
donation letters and on some lesson plans (and a discipline plan,
which will hopefully work or at least prevent a repeat of the incident
where they beat my learners for disobeying me.) I plan to start
trying to write a grant with one of the teachers. My ideas are
probably (read-definitely) running a little amuck right now, but in my
ideal Peace Corps world I would get grants to fix all of the broken
windows, to get a copier for the school, and to get a few computers
(preferably ones that actually work.) I also harbor hopes for making
our library one of the best in the region and for getting donations of
board games and other leisure activities for the hostel. Now, that
having been said, I'm trying to be a little more reasonable
considering how dang complicated grants can be and how hard it is to
make donations a sustainable project. Plus I really have to remember
that my main project is teaching. Still, I want to leave something
more permanent behind when I go home after two years and I'm still in
the honeymoon period of the term when I think I can do anything.

International Aid?

Honestly, I'm not sure what I think about aid anymore.
That's probably not what you expect to hear from me, but it's true. I
have seen really amazing programs that are funded through aid money--
most of the portable schools that serve the semi-nomadic Himba and San
(formerly known as Bushmen) populations were funded by Norway and I
can't imagine that the anti-retrovirals that some people are on were
financed without aid. Still, I see so many major problems with aid
programs. Many of the health PCVs complain about Government aid
programs, NGOs and FBOs (Non-Governmental Organizations and
Faith-Based Organizations) have a lot fewer problems, but so much
government money is badly spent even though Namibia has much lower
levels of corruption than other African nations (although one of our
neighbours is Mugabe's Zimbabwe, so that might not say a whole lot.)
Even if you ignore corruption, I am still frustrated with the way aid
is distributed. I have been trying to learn to write a grant and it
is dang complicated and hard and I'm a native English speaker. I am
not entirely convinced that anyone in my village could do it without
help (there's one teacher who might understand English well enough,
but I don't know how his reading and writing skills are.) The
frustrating part is that, compared to other volunteer's schools, my
school is relatively well run by people who care about giving their
kids a good education AND it has a lot less resources than other
schools. It seems like money ends up going to those places that are
middlingly poor. They're poor enough to get funding, but not poor or
disenfranchised enough to not be able to jump through all of the
hoops. On top of all of that, I think Americans put too much faith in
money to solve problems anyway. I have lost a lot of faith in money.
I mean, there are definitely physical resources that my school could
use, but I sometimes wonder if corruption isn't partially caused by
money. I mean, maybe the reason my school doesn't have the problems
other volunteers have is because it doesn't have as much money. I
certainly think that I personally would have more problems, not less,
if the Peace Corps gave me more money. Plus there is so much money
ear marked for HIV/AIDs relief, but honestly, despite the fact that I
know for a fact that AIDs is killing and orphaning my community, I
think that the money would probably do more to fight AIDs if it were
aimed at poverty reduction and treatment of those with AIDs or stigma
reduction as opposed to the prevention measures that everyone wants to
emphasize. I teach sixth graders who know in great detail how to
prevent AIDs. When they wrote pen pal letters to 6th graders in
America several of them urged their pen pals to use condoms. You
learn this stuff early here and the disease is still spreading. It's
not that people don't know that they could die; it's that a lot of
them don't see much to live for or they don't have many other options.
They're just trying to survive until tomorrow so why should they
worry about something that could kill them in ten years. I know that
Namibia couldn't get by without aid money, but sometimes I think that
aid damages people too. It teaches kids (and adults) that money will
fix their problems and that they should just be given that money
without effort. I don't know if the good things outweigh the
problems, I mean it makes you feel good to give, but are we just
postponing problems? Are we enablers? I don't know, but I don't
trust money, especially money that's not earned. I worry about what
it will do to my community. I think if you set out to save the world
you have to think about the consequences. It's a lot harder than it
seems. I guess that's the story of my life in Namibia; I can easily
tell you the problems, but fixing them is another story. If it were
easy I suppose I wouldn't be here, but still.

"Woman's Day"

Anyway, back from that little soliloquy, I wore my
traditional dress to church on Sunday and once again enthralled
everyone with my ability to parrot words from a hymnal. Ronnie
preached, which was amazing, although I didn't really understand most
of it. He is very intense. It was mother's day (which they call
"woman's day" here) and all the guys got up and thanked the women.
Anyway, hope you all are doing OK. I tried to send this letter on
mother's day, but it wouldn't go through. I think maybe the phone
line was a little funny (there are probably more problems with the
phones here than any other utility.)

Lots of love to everyone. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. By the way-- to my friends who have
recently graduated from Wheaton, if you don't send me your new email addresses I won't be able to keep in contact with you. The Wheaton addresses expire sometime during the summer.

(I have had a lot of requests for my address and, at the suggestion of
a friend, I decided to put it at the end of each email)

PO Box 90

Kamanjab, Namibia


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Nam 25 bloggers during term break and reconnect (4/14- 5/17)

Recent blog posts from PCV bloggers in Namibia:

Jason' s old blog page has not been working lately. He has a new site at:
Mind of Jason

Jason's page of Nam 25 blogger photos and links

Amy's Damara dress (5/7)
Letter from Keetmans (5/5)
Quick note from Windhoek (4/30)
Easter (4/14)

Three thoughts (5/7)

Jumping off a big rock into dark water again (5/10)
What's top secret about an Elephant ride? (4/15)

in 30 seconds or less (5/5)
30 seconds (4/23)
Oh yeah (4/23)

Holiday is here! (5/3)
Donation opportunity for girls conference (5/2)

New photos posted (5/11)
Six months (5/11)
New address (5/10)
Churchill (5/7)
Coffee (5/6)
Mail (5/5)
New playground (5/4)
Back in the village (5/2)
Reconnect (4/22)

Holiday? (4/28)

Five months in Namibia (4/19)

M Bag and Water (5/17)
House update among other thoughts (5/16)
It all sucks (5/10)
Windhoek fun! (5/1)
Cold reconnect! (4/23)
Rules (4/19)
The good and the bad... (4/15)

A teaser (5/15)
I'm Back! (5/13)
Going (5/3)
Goodbye Freedom (4/18)
Done (4/17)
Pictures (4/17)

Learners got it bad (4/30)
Reconnect (4/30)
Etosha sucks (4/22)
School's out (4/22)


Vacation update (5/12) (also new photos in his gallery)
BREAKTIME!!! (4/19)

Link to previous list of recent blogs (3/26-4/13)

Recent news from Namibia:
Namibia's four-star fungus (5/15) - LA Times
NASA images document water in Owambo and Etosha (5/5) -Namibian Economist
Link to NASA Photos from the above article
Memories of the Liberation struggle (5/5) - Namibian Economist
Keetmans hospital without water since Friday (5/2) - The Namibian
Namibia bets on a "Brangelina" tourism boom (4/28) - Reuters
More Donkeys to glow in the dark (4/28) -The Namibian
Malaria situation under control (4/26) - New Era
MSNBC interview: Angelina Jolie -"My life is very full" (4/26) - MSNBC
Winter's arrived (4/26) - The Namibian
Food Aid to start reaching 111,000 children before end of month (4/25) - The Namibian
Namibian climate changing? (4/24) - New Era
Floods ravage three local towns (4/24) - The Namibian
Education is key-says Alweendo (4/19) - New Era
It's out-Brangelina's Baby Plan (4/16) - Sunday Times (Johannesburg)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Photo: Amy's Damara Dress

Amy in a typical Damara dress she made in Keetmanshoop. Here is her e-mail about it:

At Jay’s youth center I found out that they already had a sewing
teacher, but she really wanted me to draw a pattern for the traditional dresses from scratch. Thank you, Arena Theatre and Michael Stauffer, because I couldn’t have done it if not for the hours I spent in the costume shop. I made a test dress to check for glitches in the pattern and there was nothing that a little adjusting or a few darts couldn’t fix. Jay took a picture. I’ll have him send it to my Dad.

(When I say “traditional dress” I think you all might be thinking something different than I mean, like grass skirts or something. Traditional dresses for the Nama/Damara either look like Victorian dresses or like puff-sleeved dresses in African patterns.)
I also made a head scarf, but I don't have it on in this photo. They told me I could keep the sample dress, so I'm going to wear it to church next Sunday in Anker. Everyone is going to go crazy for it.

Jason's photo of other Damara dresses

Friday, May 05, 2006

Photo: Some kids at Anker's athletic day (the red team)

Letter from Keetmans (e-mail from Amy)

Sorry it's been so long since I wrote a long email. It's hard to get reliable internet on the go.

Reconnect was a lot of fun. It was so amazing seeing everyone again. Windhoek was pretty great too (although it was dang cold.) When we first came we stayed in the boy's hostel in Jason's school before reconnect which was OK, except that the rooms smelled a little like /hanab (the KhoeKhoe word for the smell of dried urine. I really love a language where there is a simple, tw syllable word for that idea and where the word for television is about a mile long with three clicks and literally translates to "Radio with the pictures that you look at") Anyway, while we were in Windhoek we went to Chinatown and bought a bunch of bootlegged DVDs. I got Wallace and Gromit, X-Men one and two, Rush Hour one and two, The Lord of the Rings Return of the King, The Fantastic Four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Matrix one through three, and the War of the Worlds. Eight DVDs with a total of 12 movies on them cost me N$120 (US$20.) Some of the others got more serious movies (Brokeback Mountain, Memoirs of a Geisha, Million Dollar Baby etc.) but I figure that I'll be watching them about a million times back at Anker and I really don't need depressing things. Anyway, I'm thinking I'll probably go back at some point. I got Narnia, but I had to switch it because the DVD I got didn't work. I also bought some bracelets from the Opuwo people. I got two that they make with PVC pipe and black dye that look like wood and are really nice, but my favourite is made of brass with designs pounded into it. Anyway, lots of money has been spent, but it is my holiday and I really buy next to nothing in Anker.

I can't tell you everything I did over reconnect, since it would take about ten pages and you'd probably be bored long before it was over, so here's a list of a few of the things I did: watched the Daily Show (Jason took a whole weekend to download it), ate Chinese food, got some good teaching ideas, watched a lot of movies, sat by a fire and drank German hot spiced wine to warm up (the people who own the hotel are German and they were really nice to us. They said it had never been that cold in the 10 years they have been there), read Much Ado About Nothing out loud with Elizabeth in honor of Shakespeare's birthday, ate lots of good food, and went to a bunch of long sessions (some good some bad.)

We traded books and magazines. My books went all over Namibia (to places with names like Okamatapati, Okakarara, and Schlip.) The Gobabis people were incredibly thankful for a couple of copies of the New Yorker and since there are about 8 people near Gobabis they'll probably be well read. I did manage to get the Chronicles of Narnia from Pat (in exchange for The Inferno and The Christian Imagination.) I also found out that Julie's coping strategy is also reading ridiculous amounts, so we promised to leave books to trade in Otjiwarongo (she has The Color Purple and Song of Solomon.) Between books from the Peace Corps library and other volunteers at least half of my suitcase is full of reading material (though not all of it is fun, I got a book called "Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Large Multi-Level Classroooms")

So here's what happened since reconnect. Monday was a national holiday (Hero's Day, in honor of all of the Namibian women and children who were killed when South Africa bombed a refugee camp during the war) so we couldn't get train tickets out until Monday night. We stayed in Jason's hostel. He lives in the hostel of Windhoek high school even though he teaches in Katatura (the location in Windhoek.) The hostel, like most hostels, reminded me most of an orphanage, but it was only N$10 a night. I have to get a sleeping bag because I've been using wadded up clothes and my towel and I've had some cold nights. This is what they don't tell you about adventures in the books; you will probably be hungry at some point and you should get used to being cold when you sleep. We hung out for the day in Windhoek. It rained an insane amount (From what I hear Luderitz, in the middle of the Namib Desert with an average of like 3 cm a year, is completely flooded.) We bought train tickets and a bunch of food for the train ride.

Eight of us went on the train, Elizabeth, Khorixas Matt, Andrew, Silas, Elissa, Lindsay, Will, and me. The others were going to Keetmanshoop on their way to hike Fish River Canyon. At 7 o'clock we showed up for the train, were greeted by a very drunk train station employee and realized that, yet again, we were going to stand out since we were the only white people in the station and probably on the train. We had bought tickets for a coach sleeper car for N$84 (about US$12) apiece. The car fit eight people, but bizarrely had only 6 "beds" (i.e. triple-decker padded boards that folded out of the wall.) We had dinner of salami, cheese, bread, apples, chocolate, peanut butter, biscuits, cheap wine and Coke and we talked until late. Namibian trains, unlike Amtrak, let you do fun things like open the window and lean out to look at the southern stars, but you have to watch out for trees. At about 10 o'clock I climbed up to the third level (it was about a foot and a half from the roof of the train, but unlike the second level, it had a bar to keep me from falling off in the middle of the night) and spread a couple of coats over me and had a pretty good night's sleep (though it definitely would have been better with a sleeping bag.) In the morning we woke up to watch the sun rise over the desert. For a minute it looked like the edge of the desert was on fire and then, all of a sudden, the sun was up. We ate some of the remains of dinner and when we got off the train (unloading our luggage through the window) we walked through Keetmans. Luckily we managed to get a couple taxis, since Jay lives in Tseblaagte, the location in Keetmans, and it was maybe a mile and a half from the train station.

At Jay's youth center I found out that they already had a Sewing teacher, but she really wanted me to draw a pattern for the traditional dresses from scratch. Thank you, Arena Theatre and Michael Stauffer, because I couldn't have done it if not for the hours I spent in the costume shop. I made a test dress to check for glitches in the pattern and there was nothing that a little adjusting or a few darts couldn't fix. Jay took a picture. I'll have him send it to my dad. (When I say "traditional dress" I think you all might be thinking something different than I mean, like grass skirts or something. Traditional Dresses for the Nama/Damara either look like Victorian dresses or like puff-sleeved dresses in African patterns.) On Tuesday night I went out for pizza with Matt, Silas, and Will and on Tuesday night Shoni made Thai peanut sauce and brown rice for us. One of my favourite things about the Peace Corps is when we all get together. It's really communal, drinking out of the same cups and everything, and even if the food isn't fancy there's always a lot of it. Then we all sleep wherever we can find a place, usually on the floor with an odd assortment of sleeping pads and bags, couch cushions, foam mattresses, blankets, and pillows. On Wednesday morning, the Fish River Canyon people left and some people who went to the dunes near Soussesvlei stopped by later in the day.

Some of the people I've met in Namibia seem like they don't really belong in real life, like they stepped out of a postmodern novel and are all a little confused about how they ended up here. At Jay's place there's this one-eyed dog named, ironically, Ce-Ce who is about as big as a small pony and guards Jay fastidiously. Jay and Shoni saved his life when his eye got infected after a kid shoved a wire into it. Then there's a tiny dog named Cyrus who looks like Benji, only smaller, who likes to take on Ce-Ce and who dances. On Tuesday night there was a Namibian pop concert here and the artists stayed at Jay's youth center. Jay made friends with this Namibian Rastafarian named The Last Brain who sings in Khoe-Khoe. Some of the volunteers talk about living next door to diamond smugglers or witch doctors. People like this aren't supposed to exist in real life. It's like the world has taken crazy pills.

Next week I'm going to head up to Opuwo and I'll probably go whitewater rafting on the Kunene River before heading back to my site. I'll be with Sandra and Dylan. Suzi told us about a lodge that's owned by the family of a former VSO volunteer, so we should be able to get a pretty good deal on housing. Then it will be back to my site. Anyway, I'll write again soon. Hope everything is going well back there in the States.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Ten Sunniest Cities in the World

1 Yuma - Arizona, US

2 Phoenix - Arizona, US

3 Wadi Haifa - Sudan

4 Bordj Omar Driss - Algeria

5 Keetmanshoop - Namibia (where Amy is this week)

6 Aoulef - Algeria

7 Upington - South Africa

8 Atbara - Sudan

9 Mariental - Namibia

10 Bilma - Niger

According to