Sunday, June 24, 2007

Aids awareness week, greeting and lasagna (email from Amy)

Hey everyone,
I think I know what I will miss most when I leave Anker. It's not the children or the animals (although I will miss the kids, the animals I can do without) it's not even the rewarding work (as any teacher can tell you, teaching is not always rewarding and sometimes just annoying.) What I will miss most is shaking hands and saying hello. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "we shake hands in America. We say hello." I am sorry to be rude, but no you don't. In Namibia you greet every person as you enter a room, shaking hands and often going through a long greeting. Yes, it's disruptive to go around shaking everyone's hand when you come in late for a meeting, but you still do it. Someone explained to me early in my time here that not greeting someone is like denying their essential humanity. It says to a person, "You are not worthy of my greeting." So, everyone I pass on the street (in Anker, not in Windhoek, it's not that ridiculous) I say good morning or good evening to, each class says good morning to me chorally, and every time I come into a room I shake people's hands. The longer I'm here, the more I agree with the custom and the more I think that it does deny something of people's essential humanity to not greet them. It, perhaps, is not a denial based on a person's assumption of superiority (here, because of the history of apartheid, people might assume if I don't greet them that I think I'm better than them because I'm white) but it is a denial based, if nothing else, in our assumption of the superiority of efficiency-- in America, it seems, it's more important that we get things done than that we validate people's existance. Anyway, it annoyed me at first and now I think I'll mis it.

Meverlly has been coming to my house for help with her maths homework and she's been giving me some good advice. For example, she told me how the elephants came to her farm and destroyed everything and killed a calf because they were so angry and her family had to run up the mountain because, apparently elephants only climb when they are happy, they stay off the mountains when they're angry (this has been confirmed by other people in the area.) She and Senty also warned me not to write with my finger in the sand at night because a ghost will come up from the ground into my finger and it will swell up, but that if I rub out whatever I write, then the ghost won't come into my hand. They also warned me about the witches who choke people as they are sleeping at night (many learners are astonished that I'm not scared to live alone precisely because of the witches.) So, overall they've been a good source of knowledge.

Oh, on Wednesday there was an announcement over the radio that a pack of 10 lions was loose in the area- so we had to be a little careful (although they weren't that close to Anker so we were all safe- don't worry)

On Tuesday we had a ralley in Kamanjab for Aids awareness week. The kids did a very nice drama and some of the other schools did nice songs or poems. The school inspector came and it was a very nice time. Afterwards I got some groceries.

I made lasagna this week. Someone had sent me noodles in a package last year and I had been hoarding them until I could collect the necessary ingredients at the same time (cottage cheese and the herbs were particularly difficult to get and a little expensive.) When it came out of the oven I literally jumped for joy. It's been so long since I've eaten something homemade and dripping with cheese like that. My life tends to be sort of ascetic (more out of laziness than out of poverty, but I do admit that it's much cheaper to subsist on cooked oatmeal and meatless spaghetti) and I generally don't cook anything that uses a quarter of a kilogram of meat AND a full block of cheese. I know that I've been a lot less obsessed with food this year. I know you all miss my long meditations on that subject. :) That is largely due to the fact that I've finally got some mastery over my transportation problems (not due to any change in circumstances, simply due to my own trial and error education) so I can get food when I need it, and partially due to the fact that I've managed to check some of my grocery store guilt at the door.

When I get groceries I generally buy for at least 2 weeks, sometimes I buy for a whole month in advance, so I buy quite a bit of food (although I have a rule that I cannot buy more than I can carry when combined with my other belongings- it's a good rule to have when you get around by hitchhiking because you often have to carry all your stuff, sometimes for a couple of kilometers.) Anyway, I used to feel guilty when I would spend, say, US$100 on groceries because it's half my monthly salary and because people in the village don't eat like I do- so I'd end up buying less than I actually needed and eating burnt lentil soup for a week (I have never managed to get the hang of cooking lentils and they always end up with a blackened crust and a smokey flavour.) I realised that A. It's OK to spend half your monthly salary if you are buying most of the food that you will eat in that month and B. people eat differently in the village partially because they were raised with different food and it's not good for me to make myself depressed for something that won't help anyone. Anyway, I'm eating better and so I'm not as obsessed.

I have been doing some games with my grade 7 science class. We played a game called "lions and baby elephants" designed to demonstrate how the immune system works and how HIV harms people by harming the immune system. We also reprised a game that we played last year called "The jackels and the little lambs." In this game I pass out "little lambs" (actually white washcloths) and "jackels" (actually clean pairs of gray socks.) The learners start by passing the little lamb around a circle, then I introduce the jackel. If the jackel gets to the little lamb, then the lamb gets eaten. There are three types of players in this game- most kids just pass the jackel and the little lamb at the same rate, some kids (mostly boys) try to pass the jackel faster, and some kids try to help the lamb. When the game is over we talk about the people in our community who need protection like the little lamb-smaller children, older people, orphans, sick people, disabled people, HIV-positive people, and teenage mothers are among the people they came up with. Then we talk about the choice that each of them has. They can be like the ones who pass the jackel faster- they can be a part of the problem, by making fun of people who are HIV-positive or who are orphaned, by taking things from people who cannot protect themselves, or by abusing others. They can be like the people who pass both the jackel and the lamb at the same rate- they can do nothing to harm or help people in difficult situations- at that point we talk about how the ones who weren't helping the lamb were really just allowing the jackels to harm the lamb. Or they can choose to be like the ones who actively try to help the little lamb. At this point we come up with a list of ways they can help vulnerable people in their communities- some ideas they came up with were to share their food or money, give them healthy foods, do chores for them, help them to walk, visit them, sing to them, and pray for them. For homework they were supposed to do something to help someone who needs help in their community.

Teaching quotes of the week "Ms. Amy you are having a brain!" by Amon, one of my favourites, said in a tone of awe as I typed a letter in front of my grade 7s. It's nice when all it takes to impress people is being able to type. That never happened in college.

OK, that's about it. Of course I've been reading- finished The Way of All Flesh and I'm about halfway through Moby Dick. Hope you all are doing well.

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