Sunday, June 18, 2006

Swakop and a few other things (email from Amy)

Hey Everyone,

My weekend in Swakopmund
So, I spent most of last weekend in Swakopmund. It was pretty great to see everyone and to do some fun stuff. I definitely am feeling refreshed. I didn't end up buying a comforter, but I did get a small space heater that looks a little like it's going to burn my house down (I give it the widest berth from anything flammable- my mosquito net mostly- that the cord will allow. I think it will be fine as long as I continue to be fastidious about it.) I watched two movies at the Swakop movie theatre (one of two theatres in the country)—Mission Impossible 3 (Mission Impossibler) and Tsotsi. Mission Impossible was really even more ridiculous than I expected (several of us decided that it's not called Mission Plausible for a reason—we think that they're going to have to break the laws of gravity next just to up the ante) but Tsotsi was amazing.

It's weird how familiar it felt. I mean, it's not like it is my life (the townships around Jo-burg are ridiculously violent in ways that all of Namibia is too rural to ever be) but it was definitely a different experience than it would have been 7 months ago. For one thing, the township didn't shock me—I am used to seeing townships. I know the houses made from metal scraps and cardboard and the rows of identical brick blocks with a door and two windows. I actually feel a lot more comfortable there than I do in the white suburbs where there are ridiculously enormous mansions well guarded by razor wire and electrified fences and by several massive dogs that would really like to rip your face off. The movie is in Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans (possibly other languages but I know I heard those three) but I swear I heard words I recognized from KhoeKhoe. I guess the biggest thing was that I recognized the culture. I don't really know how to explain it because it's not clothing or dancing or anything, I just felt like I knew the characters deeper; like I had a better sense than I would have before about why they were doing things or how they were feeling. I saw little things in the way they said something, or in the sound of the music, or something. It just felt familiar. It was an amazing movie, if you're willing to watch something very difficult and personally challenging and are willing to deal with the subtitles and some harsh language, I highly recommend it.

Thoughts on charity and culture
I talked some to a few of the other volunteers about how weird it is to be used to our communities. He said that his village wouldn't look out of place in a Feed the Children commercial and really, if I'm honest my village wouldn't either. It confuses me and makes me angry, because I feel like it's not the whole truth. I mean, the word I hate is "hut." My village is ¾ traditional housing, but saying that it's mud huts sounds so denigrating, plus you go into some of those "huts" and they have electricity and a couch. Even if they don't have electricity they probably have a TV that they hook up to a car battery. I don't know, it's different than they make you think. Kids in my village are poor, but they'll make it. I've seen minor malnutrition (swollen bellies) and I know the kids are hungry, but no one is starving to death and quite honestly I think a lot of the malnutrition is partially because culturally kids get fed last and the smallest portions and so they don't get much meat because it is supposed to go to the adults. There's not a lot of money in my village, but you also need a lot less money to live in this country. Housing is really cheap (everyone in my village either gets inexpensive government housing or they have built houses with sticks and a dung/mud mixture, both of which are cheap, on communal land.) Subsistence farming can really go a long way if your diet is largely goat meat and mealie pap. I always wondered how it was even possible to live on $1 a day but now I see it. I could conceivably live on that amount if I had some goats, although it wouldn't be much fun. Sometimes I feel like some of these charities parade (black) Africans around like they're a visual aid and not a real person. The thing is that I know the temptation—it's easier to get money if you make it look like a Feed the Children commercial and it's easy to believe that the ends justify those means. I worry that I give in to it too much when I write letters requesting donations.

Back to Anker and watching a traditional house being built
The conference in Swakop was pretty good. I talked to Philomena and she's going to do a more advanced HIV/AIDs workshop in my community; one that talks about more than just the facts of AIDs, one that deals with how women can talk to their husbands and children about AIDs and how to negotiate and all sorts of just life skills. I managed to get back to my village in record time, on Sunday afternoon, because Stanely, the Peace Corps driver, gave me a ride all the way to my village. Marial, the Teacher Resource Center volunteer from Gobabis, came too. She was going to do some workshops or things at the school, but she forgot that she had to make a really important phone call, which is tough to do in Anker. I think, coming from a large city, she was a little shocked and frightened by the isolation of Anker. So I found a hike for her to Khorixas, just a few hours after she arrived. Oh, also I got to see some people making a new traditional house. The stick frame was up and they were mixing the sand/dung/mud mixture and rubbing it onto the walls with their hands. It was fun to see. Plus I impressed some old oumas with my KhoeKhoe abilities (I think I said something along the lines of "Friend to me is been coming originally to Gobabis" but it impressed them all the same. They were also quite taken with my Damara name, /Namdago, even more so when they learned that my English name means the same thing.)

From a previous e-mail in February: 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.

School and Rosaline
Anyway, not much has happened this week. We had several meetings for the cluster and for the upper primary teachers. I have been trying to get my personal files in order and I'm not exactly sure I have everything I'm supposed to have, but I'm pretty proud of what I do have. I've been reading a lot, I'm almost done with A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and I think I'll start a book of short stories by Dave Eggers next. I was walking through the hostel grounds one day this week when Rosaline's mother stopped me and thanked me for everything I've done for Rosaline. It really almost made me cry because sometimes I feel like I'm failing these kids. I have at minimum 3 kids in one of my sixth grade classes who are functionally illiterate and probably at least another 3 in the other class and 5 or 6 in my 7th grade class. If it were just one or two of them I might be able to help them, but as it is I simply cannot give them the one on one attention they need. Anyway, Rosaline is really probably one of the cleverest learners at the school. She's in fourth grade and she speaks English (which only becomes the medium of instruction in fourth grade) better than most of my 7^th graders. It's not hard to try to help Rosaline, I just wish she could be in a better place because she could really do amazing things if she got a good education and I worry that she won't.

Day of the African Child
On Friday we celebrated the Day of the African Child which is a national holiday in Namibia (I was talking on the phone with my parents, telling them about it and one of the !Geiseb's daughters overheard me. She was really shocked when I told her that there is no Day of the African Child in America, which I really assumed should be self-evident from the term "African" in the holiday's name, but I guess not.) The kids put on a program out by the feeding program shelter under a camelthorn tree. Each grade presented something, usually a drama and a song. The dramas were mostly about the importance of education (including a song by the second graders to the tune of London Bridges with the lyrics "Education is the key, no education no future") although bizarrely the grade seven learners did a drama about menstruation. There was a lot of singing and dancing and the drum group did some African drumming and dances. A group of out of school youth did a few songs and dramas about HIV/AIDs (including a song that admonished, "Amanda listen to your father listen to your mother, don't wear mini skirts in that company, girls will be raped" I had to listen carefully because I wasn't sure I heard it correctly, but I'm almost positive those were the lyrics.) It went on for a long time. We started at 9:30 and I didn't get back to my house until around 1:30.

School inspection
Anyway, I'm doing pretty well. There was a lot of stress this week since I was a bit behind on my lesson planning, but I got caught up this weekend so I'm feeling pretty good about myself. I just found out that the school inspector will visit our school unannounced and check that everything is in order, that all of the paperwork is in place, that things are running the way they are supposed to, that sort of thing. So I organized my files better and made them look nicer. I get a little paranoid about the inspector since the meeting where the director of education said he wanted me to report on how the teachers weren't teaching correctly, but I feel better now that my files are in order, at least I personally should be beyond reproach, then I just have to cunningly sidestep inopportune questions like "Tell me why the teachers are terrible."

So that's my life. Not much going on right now, just normal teaching stuff. There is a get together in Otjiwarongo in a couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to it. Hope everyone back at home is doing well.

Love you all lots.


PO Box 90
Kamanjab, Namibia

No comments: