Friday, June 30, 2006

Polio (again), a dead bird, and books (email from Amy)

Hey everyone—

In Otjiwarongo

I'm currently in Otjiwarongo (map) for a birthday party. This is a four day weekend for the schools and I think most of the volunteers are going somewhere to hang out. It's been nice here. I sent out 45 donation letters to book charities, magazine companies, book publishers, and toy companies asking for books, magazines, soccer balls, toys, and games, prompting many of the other volunteers to believe me to be a bit more amazing than I actually am.


I wanted to send this email last Saturday, but there were no phone cards to be had in Anker for any price (I went to both shops that sometimes have them—no luck.) I tried to avoid the guy who always heckles me. My newest strategy is to pretend I don't see or hear him. He yelled at me asking me if I was crazy which I thought was pretty ironic considering I'm the volunteer with the steady job who has a reason for going to the store he's the guy without legs who's always drunk and who sits down on a burned out car all day and propositions me. Anyway, all of the Namibians are on my side and think he's weird.

Polio immunizations

Last week I almost got vaccinated against polio again. If you haven't heard, there has been a pretty major outbreak of polio in Namibia. As if a 20% AIDs rate wasn't enough to deal with, we now have more than half of the polio cases in the world. Most of them are in Katatura, the township of Windhoek, but I heard that there was a kid in Kamanjab, just about 55K away from me. Anyway, the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, and the WHO have started this massive inoculation campaign. The Peace Corps allayed our fears at the All-PCV conference by reminding us that we were immunized against just about every vaccinate-able disease under the sun and told us not to get immunized. Unfortunately, no one told the Ministry of Health. On Wednesday the nurse from the clinic showed up with a battered looking Styrofoam cooler full of polio vaccine drops to immunize everyone at the school and she was under orders to immunize everyone, including foreigners, in Namibia. I was equally under orders by the Peace Corps not to get immunized. Anyway, we played phone tag for a while. I wouldn't have minded getting vaccinated (it wasn't even a shot, just the drops) but I didn't want to get in trouble from the Peace Corps. Anyway, the long and short of it, is that I didn't end up getting immunized but all of
my kids should be safe now.

Animals and Plants

On Wednesday I had my first KhoeKhoe lesson with Nadia. It was enjoyable; although I'm not sure it was useful. I learned how to say such practical phrases as: Anis di !upudi ora ge (They are the bird's raw eggs) and Sedeb ge !osa /asa a u. (Sedeb is taking the new axe.) I'm still hoping that it will improve her KhoeKhoe, but I'm not sure. In the mean time I can look forward to equally insightful lessons following the adventures of Sedeb, Abeb and Emas and their Mamas and Dadab. When I work my way through the grades 1 and 2 books I get to read stories about the jackal and the wild dog. Later on Wednesday a bunch of boys came to visit me (they were asking about homework, but I think that was a front. They really just wanted to talk.) They told me a bunch of different plants and how to use them for medicine, insisting that I should boil the !nab plant and drink it as a tea for upset stomach (!nab actually means stomach) or that I should eat the leaves of #autse!khannis if I am sick. It reminded me that these kids aren't dumb, they aren't even uneducated; they just have a deep knowledge of things that are not well valued by society. They know the names and uses of loads of plants (in KhoeKhoe of course.) They know the habits and mythology surrounding wild insects and animals (there is a species of massive ground cricket- think a cross between a cricket and a grasshopper at least six centimeters long- and they told me how it eats people if they die in the bush.) They know how to best grow mealies, how to slaughter and clean a goat, and how to re-plaster a house with mud and dung wattle. They take apart watches, clocks, and pens and adeptly put them back together. One of the few things they don't know is how read in English with comprehension. Unfortunately intimate knowledge of wild plants and animals is not highly valued with financial rewards and knowledge of English is. It's not fair, but it's true. On Wednesday someone brought ostrich meat in to tea time. Like most of the other strange meats I've eaten here—donkey, leguan, kudu—It
tasted like beef. The bones were pretty remarkably massive, though. Then during science class some kids brought in an almost dead bird. They wanted to know its name in English. We looked it up in one of the reference books (red-eyed bulbul) and I said that maybe it ran into something and broke it's wing. Those hopes were dashed, however, when they mimed shooting a bird with a slingshot (as my dad says, it ran into a rock.) I wrote a poem about it. It's not very
good, but what can you do?

Red-eyed Bulbul

Sunday events

Well, there was no church last Sunday. I don't know why. Someone said that there was another church being opened at a farm just down the way. I don't think the Catholic church held services either. I didn't hear any church bells. I got up on Sunday, made a rather disastrous batch of pancakes (for future reference, cornmeal is NOT a good substitute if you don't have quite enough white flour.), disposed of the results of that little experiment, ate oatmeal instead, had a hot bath, and got myself dressed up nicely for church. I was halfway there when some kids told me there was no church. So I went home, got into some jeans, made coffee and read half of my book. For lunch I had quesadillas with guacamole (I managed to find a nice avocado among the unappetizingly moldy produce in Kamanjab one week. It was hard as a rock. I've been saving it in my fridge and ripening it to the perfect consistency and on Saturday night, while I was stewing up a batch of chicken soup I made some guacamole.)

Teaching stories

Funny teaching stories—I was asking a kid some questions about The Three Little Pigs for the literacy project (that's how I check if they've actually read them or just looked at the pictures.) Anyway, she couldn't think of the word "breathe" so she said that the wolf "give carbon dioxide." The kids learn all of their school subjects (maths, science, social studies etc.) in English so they tend to have a better technical vocabulary in those subjects and they tend to be more deficient in ordinary everyday English words. This isn't really funny, but I had to take a rusty thumbtack away from a learner because she was picking at some scabs on her arm with it. The scabs spelled out "I Love You." Apparently some of the girls at the hostel had one beyond drawing on themselves with pens and decorating their faces with white-out dots (which I actually think looks really neat and exotic, although I'm sure it's pumping their systems full of white-out chemicals.) and had tried to decorate through self mutilation. They told me that the principal was very angry with them and told them not to do it again. Sometimes I really don't get these kids. If I were in America I would be seriously concerned about depression or mental health issues but the kids were really far too laize faire about it. I think they just are used to more violence in their lives. I don't know. But I do know that using rusty thumbtacks to pick off scabs is a very bad thing (can you say Tetanus?)


I've done a lot of reading these past weeks. I know I say that every week, but these 2 weeks I've done even more than usual. I finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, How We are Hungry by Dave Eggers, My Antonia, How to be Good by Nick Hornby, G.K. Chesterton's What's Wrong with the World, and The Eyre Affair and I'm part of the way through My Son's Story. One of Matt's roommates from Khorixas came to do some things at the school. She works on Special Ed. and there's a deaf girl who they're trying to get into the school here. Anyway, she brought a bunch of really great books for me—some that I really wanted to read like The Eyre Affair, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and The Brothers Karamazov—they were sent by a couple of other volunteers who know my tendency to escape into the unfamiliar environment of a book to avoid the more immediate unfamiliar environment of my life.


On Monday one of the teachers brought in two soccer balls, a pump, and about a dozen small foam balls. Apparently a tourist at the fancy lodge near here brought them to donate to the nearest school. It was pretty neat. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I'm a little fascinated by tourists. Unlike those in big towns I am rarely labeled tourist and I don't have to deal with them much so I have a lot less animosity than other volunteers. As such, whenever I'm in Otjiwarongo or hiking out of Anker I have a tendency to stare maybe a little too much. I don't know why I like them so much. I think maybe it's because they share a culture with me, but we have such different experiences of Namibia. I wonder what they think of this country. Or maybe I just like to show off. Either way, I like 'em.

That's the news here. Hope you all are doing well. Love you lots.

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