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


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