Monday, September 25, 2006

Field Trip to Etosha (email from Amy)

This weekend I went on a field trip with the grade 7s to Etosha (click this to learn a little about Etosha). Now, as you can imagine, field trips in Africa are a little different than American field trips. It started on Thursday afternoon. They told me we'd be leaving at 11 o'clock which made me think possibly 2, but I was pleasantly surprised when the bus showed up at 11:30 and we left at12:15. This is probably not what you're thinking; yellow school bus with a trailer for our luggage. Our bus was built to tightly fit 24 people in to tiny little seats. We, on the other hand, put 37 grade 7s, 10 adults, 2 little kids, and the driver (50 people), plus 25 litres of diesel, an enormous spare tire, all of the food we planned to eat for the next 4 days, everyone's luggage, blankets, pillows, and about 6 mattresses. Needless to day, it was a tight fit.

As we left on this really packed bus, passing goats, donkey carts, and mud houses, the kids started singing loudly. It was a really great moment.The drive up reminded me of a church youth group trip, if the trip were run by an insane person under ridiculous conditions. Although we live quite close to Etosha there is no gate on our side and no way to get to the road from here, so we made a 300 k detour in a triangle, going first to Outjo (130 k south of Kamanjab) and then up 150 or so k to Okakuejo (pronounced Oh-Kah-Kway-Oh) inside Etosha. In Outjo we stopped for an unspecified period of time and basically just set the kids loose. Then when we finally did decide to leave, we just got a bunch of people on the bus and then set off with no head count or checks or anything. I'm still not entirely sure that we haven't left someone Outjo.

I had decided the night before that I had to be the responsible one and bring all of the little things that are important on a trip as no one else was likely to do it. Therefore I packed a bunch of medicine and Band-Aids, a candle and matches, my Swiss army knife, a cup, fork, knife, spoon and plate, string, duct tape, extra water, a thermos, and a couple of checkers sets, card games, and about 20 books for the kids to enjoy in their down time. I was really glad that I brought just about everything. The candle came in handy when the light in the girl's bathroom didn't work, no one thought to bring water for the long bus ride, plus I used the duct tape and the knife a lot.

I picked up my mail in Kamanjab as we went through. My friend Mike had sent me a Chemistry book (along with Dylan and Sandra) and because I'm a geek I spent much of my time doing problems (without a calculator, so it was more of a brain workout.) He also sent me a bunch of Daily Show episodes which I'm mostly saving for my actual birthday.

One of the ridiculous things about apartheid (among many) was the stipulation that only white people could eat white bread. I don't know if they figured that the colour white was their domain alone or if they just liked it, but it leads to some absurd conversations. At breakfast we ate what they eat at the hostel (3 slices of brown bread with butter and jam, and ridiculously sweet tea (I think they just heat up the tea to be able to dissolve more sugar into it.)) The kids were really apologetic and told me to wait while they tried to track down white bread. They were a little incredulous when I told them that I actually like brown bread a lot (I didn't tell them that I liked it better than the tea.)

I caused even more of a ruckus when I tried to wash up the first night. Modesty is a whole different concept here and bathing often consists of plugging up a sink in the bathroom and all the girls standing around with washcloths. At first they were astonished that I actually intended to bathe (to which I responded "I get dirty too.") and then the sight of so much white skin just about sent them into apoplexies.

There were some very frustrating things about the trip too. Some of the teachers spent way too much time drinking unreasonable amounts of alcohol and not really supervising the kids. Part of that is cultural, kids are just not treated in the same way here. Still, the blatant alcohol abuse (although, to be fair, they did start out trying to be discrete, but by the end there were kids using empty alcohol bottles to hold their water and teachers drinking at 9 in the morning) and the lack of supervision for the kids really really frustrated me. We, for some reason, brought the hostel matron who lives next door to me and is constantly drunk. I don't think that it's actually physically possible, but literally every time I see her she appears drunk There were a few moments when I was really low, but I called Elizabeth and she cheered me up. Also, the kids actually made me feel better. Some of them taught me some songs in KhoeKhoe.

We saw lots of animals and I learned a bunch of KhoeKhoe words for animals. I saw a zebra and a black rhino for the first time. We didn't get to see a lion because they come to the waterhole at nighttime. We were staying at the Okakuejo Primary School Hostel which is at the gate to Etosha, 20 k from the waterhole. People aren't allowed to drive at night in the park because it's dangerous to the people and the animals. Anyway, we got a small exception, but we still had to be out by 8:30, long before the lions showed up. But almost more interesting was the tourist watching. When we first drove up, what struck me first was how many white people there were there. I'm just not used to white people everywhere (even in Otjiwarongo or Windhoek, where there actually are white people the bulk of people are black. Here almost everyone was

Later that day we were watching some of the people swimming (actually the kids were all standing in a circle staring at the people swimming. —I tried to tell them that I thought that might make some of the tourists uncomfortable but that is a completely culturally foreign idea to them) we were in the park on a free education pass so we weren't allowed to swim (and the kids don't have swimming suits anyway) and one of my learners turned me and said, "Miss, places like this make me wish that I was a Boer." I didn't know what to say about that because, quite honestly, it is a very honest reaction to the very real economic disparities in this country.

After that we went to the location, where the black people live, just outside of the camp to drop something off. There the people lived in some small cement houses and squatter houses built out of corrugated tin, wood scraps, and scrap plastic sheets. By the end of the trip I was really sick of being stared at. The tourists stared at the kids (especially when we were all packed on the bus) but they really stared at me. I could almost read their thoughts as we drove by and they did a double take, staring at the white girl in the bus full of black kids. Anyway, we were sitting down eating lunch at one of the camps inside of Etosha (think nice touristy rest stop, cabin hotel, and a campground.) We were buttering some bread when some Italian tourists came over and handed Mr. #Guibeb a handful of pens to take the kid's pictures. It was a little strange and I don't know why, but I felt kind of offended. The kids were happy (they love having their pictures taken) and Mr. #Guibebb was happy about the pens (although they wouldn't have had to give us anything- we're not Himbas or anything.) I think I was the only one who understood both sides. The kids were a little mystified (one of my learners asked me if maybe they would just throw the pictures away since they didn't know the people in it.) The tourists were equally naive about the kids. One of the tourists gave a penlight instead of a pen and one of the girls, just being a kid, was shining it into another learner's ear. I'm pretty sure I saw the tourists chuckling to themselves. I think they thought the kids had never seen a flashlight before.


PO Box 90
Kamanjab, Namibia

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