Friday, August 18, 2006

a rat, marking, witchcraft, and my holiday plans (email from Amy)

Hey everyone,

A Rat?

So I realized the other day that I have some sort of rat or mouse or squirrel that lives in my bedroom ceiling. I had heard noises but I never really associated them with footsteps, thinking that maybe they were the corrugated tin roof (which does make noises when the temperature changes.) Then I was sitting late one night and listening and I realized that the noise was pacing from one side of the roof to the other and it sounded a lot like tiny feet. I'm OK with it as long as it stays in the ceiling just like I'm OK with some spiders as long as they stay in their appointed corners and don't cut my hair at night because I find that very deeply disturbing (there are spiders here that apparently will cut your hair while you sleep to make nests and it freaks me out.) I just don't want any mice or rats anywhere where I can see them. See no evil and all of that.

Marking papers

I had a couple of long nights trying to finish up my marking (two papers for 81 6th and 7th grade English students, and one paper for my 37 7th grade science students---200 tests to mark, plus I had to brush up a few loose ends and finish the "reading out loud" competency (I didn't want to have them do it in front of the class where there's lots of pressure so it took a long time outside of class.) Here are a few funny answers from tests These are some examples from the Grade 7 English exams. I choose these from the better essays (the worse essays are often completely unreadable.) You can see why I would be tired after marking 81 papers with two essays each.

In a story about meeting the President---"I talk about the offies Why did I not working at offise but other Herero people working and Prisidend say don't talking about Herero."

In an essay about protecting the environment----"We must protect animal for the tourist sometime there in America there is no brown elephant and the tourist need to come to Namibia to look and give as money."

In a story about two girls in a drumming and dancing group----"They goes to America and sing and look the America of people…They like sing, dencing, drink alcohol, smoking daga" (dagga is marijuana and we talked about it in Natural Science and Health class this term)

In a letter to the principal of a secondary school----"Its there hospital and hostels at your school? Its there many bed for use to sleep and matecine at the hospitals?"

Question: A baby cat is called…? A baby dog is called…? Answers:catsy doggit, cattons dogest, ceuties small dogie.

I finished my marking on Thursday morning. This term was a lot less stressful than last semester. It was still tough to fail kids, but it was a lot easier this term than last term. My 6A's did very well this term. None of them failed. My 6B's on the other hand did terribly. Seven (out of 23) failed, although one of them did get an "A" as well (which is really uncommon here… I think I gave maybe four or five out of 118 possible marks.) The worst part of the week was when I gave a grade report to the grandmother of one of my learners who had done very badly (failing all except one class) and she started crying. She doesn't understand English so I couldn't even comfort her.

This term I had the kinds of marks I needed and the grading criteria in mind for the whole semester and aimed my assignments and class projects with that in mind. Also, I took some of the marks in as I did the marking (which made it a lot easier) although I really should have taken more marks as I did them. Finally, I knew what was going on, so it didn't all take me by surprise like it did last year. Still I am REALLY glad to be done. I badly needed this holiday (I think I was starting to go a little nutty being isolated in Anker that whole time and the kids were worse this term than last term (yes the honeymoon is truly over) and I really don't
want to end up making doughnuts.)

Holiday plans

I am really excited to be going somewhere else and I'm actually really excited about my medicals in Windhoek (although I'm a little nervous about the dentist) because I want to do some things that I can't do in Otjiwarongo (like get my camera fixed.) I am bringing about 25 burned CDs to one of the volunteers in the south. His ipod went on the fritz and erased all of his music. Before that happened he had been kind enough to share some of his music with me, so I figure it's the least I can do to give it back to him.


OK, I've decided that I really have to dedicate part of an email to a subject that is probably one of the more complicated cultural elements for Americans to understand (and, saying that, I am not claiming to understand it completely) Yes, the topic you've all been waiting for…Witchcraft. Also known as Magic or Juju (from which I think we get the English word Voodoo.) I have been avoiding this subject partially because I don't really know that much about it (there are taboos against talking about it and Namibians know that white people tend to be skeptical, so they talk about it even less around us.)

But that isn't the only reason I've been avoiding it. I know this whole subject sounds really odd to American ears and I don't want to give the impression that these people are stupid or even superstitious in the sense that an American who believed in witchcraft in that way might be. Even those people who aren't afraid of witches in my village still believe in them. One woman told me she wasn't afraid of witches because God would protect her from them, not because they aren't around.

Anyway, there are a lot of stories about witches. They say they can turn into animals or part animals (I've heard of them turning into cows and into people with the head and upper body of a dog), they walk around naked at night and assume the poo-pori position (on their hands and knees with their back end pointed toward windows), they walk on people's roofs at night, they send cats to bewitch people, and they turn invisible and choke or sit on people as they sleep. There are a couple of ways that you can make people suspect you of being a witch, although they still might suspect it even if you don't do these things. First of all, if you keep a cat, that's very suspicious. People have dogs to guard their houses and to help herd their goats, but they don't really keep cats as pets. Also, if you are friendly with anything creepy crawly or reptilian (i.e., you don't believe that all snakes, insects, and reptiles deserve death for simply existing) that's another strike against you (I heard of a guy up north who had a picture of himself holding a chameleon and is now believed to be a witch in his village.) They also seem to suspect Himbas and San more than other tribes, but that's just my personal observation.

Also, almost separate from witches, someone can become "witched" or "bewitched." This can mean anything from having a mental illness or epilepsy to having an unexplained pain or disease, to having some psychosomatic symptoms. You can be witched by someone who is angry with you or who is jealous of you, you can be witched by a cat, or it might just happen. They don't let me walk alone at night because they are afraid that someone will witch me. Also, the learners are astonished that I live alone and that I'm not scared of being witched. I've talked to other volunteers (those whose sites are here in Kunene or in the north central area or the Cavongo, since most of the volunteers in the south and the bigger cities say that their learners don't believe in witchcraft) and we're not exactly sure what the other person is supposed
to do to protect you, but you know.

If you get witched you have to go to the witch doctor to get cured. Here's the thing. One day the teachers were talking about witchcraft and I laughed at something they said. One of the teachers said, "Yeah, we know that you people don't believe in witchcraft, but you haven't been here. You don't know about it." And that is really, honestly true. Sure, some of the people who I've seen who are witched are clearly mentally ill, and sure some of the witch doctors are really bad and claim to be able to cure Aids, but that doesn't mean that it's all like that. Plus, the people really believe that there are some "traditional diseases" that white people can't fix, so they have to go the witch doctor (or traditional healer) for them. And, some of it could actually work. I mean, a lot of it is traditional herbs and teas, and who knows if those things are actually medicinal plants. Also, with mental illness and psychosomatic illness I'm sure that believing that these things work actually helps them to work.

As I have said before, the country is still deeply Christian, but they also believe in Magic. I don't know. I don't want to be insensitive, and I'm trying to reserve judgment. Maybe some of these things really are different here than in the States. Maybe I really can't understand this part of the culture because of the deeply set prejudices against it in my own culture. It's a complicated issue and I'm not even sure I understand what the people believe entirely. Even if they want to tell me plainly about it (which they usually don't, preferring to hint darkly about cats or the weather or about certain people) the language issues make it really hard to explain a concept as complicated as this. I don't really find it funny anymore, I'm mostly just confused by it.


Oh, on Wednesday I got a call from someone who wanted to give me materials for those book boxes. I had emailed The Namibian (one of the national newspapers) and asked for info, thinking that they might send me some of the comic books that they sometimes put into the paper. Instead, they apparently printed my letter. Luckily I hadn't written anything that I wouldn't want the public to know (although I don't think I would have given quite so much information), but still I was a little taken aback and nervous. (When the Peace Corps first started a girl in West Africa wrote a postcard to her boyfriend referring to how "squalid" it was and the postcard ended up in the hands of a radical nationalist group and almost set off a dangerous international incident. Since then the Peace Corps has been really really careful about volunteers' relationships with the media and other printed reports, so I'm a little worried that I might get in trouble for not OKing it with the CD.)


Other than that it's good. We've been having some electricity blackouts this week, but nothing serious, the food in my fridge is still good (at least the stuff that was good before.) I still have very tentative plans for break but I think I'll head out to Otjiwarongo soon and at some point I'm going to meet Dylan and Sandra and we're going to spend some time in Swakopmund and make a turn through Karabib to visit our host families. After that I go to Windhoek and then, all too soon, my break is over. OK, I'll cut this letter off now (seeing as I've gone on for a long time.)

Hope you all are doing OK. Take care.


PO Box 90
Kamanjab, Namibia

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