It has been about 6 weeks since I have arrived at my new site, and since I have arrived I have hit the ground running, or just hitting the ground in general. Either way, I have been busy going to funerals, getting the library in order, helping set up the school computer lab, going to funerals, teaching, settling in, going to the hospital, getting aquatinted with the ambulance network, getting to know the nurses at the local clinic, and of course, going to more funerals.
Oshikoto region in Northern Namibia where my new home is.
Tsintsabis, my new site, is a small village 60 kilometers north of Tsumeb, at the very northeastern corner of the Oshikoto region of Namibia. It is a village of just under two thousand inhabitants, mostly of the nomadic San tribe. In many ways it is a complete change from what I had grown accustomed to in Rundu.
My new house in Tsintsabis.
In Rundu, while I liked the teachers I worked with, at the end of the day I had very little interaction with them on a personal level. We all would go to our homes throughout the town when the day was over. Here in Tsintsabis all of the teachers live on the school grounds, most within 100 feet of me. In the evenings and on the weekends I am out with them socializing, or even just speaking with them briefly as we pass. I have also become somewhat of a surrogate uncle for their many small children. If I do not come out by 10am on the weekend, they come looking for me. I will be inside my house when suddenly there is a chorus of “Hello!”s outside, along with knocking on the door. Last weekend they showed up with deflated balloons. I took one, filled it up with water and then spent the next hour in the throws of a large water balloon fight, much to the kids’ delight.
A couple of my guards who’s job it is to make sure that I cannot sleep in on weekend mornings
Another major change is in that there are only two places in town, both of which are shabeens, that sell any sort of food. Mostly what they sell is sugar, pasta, rice, yeast, etc.; all of which at highly inflated prices. This means that the nearest grocery store is about a 30 minute drive away. Though that isn’t too far, the brand-new paved road is not very well traveled yet, and it means that I have to really plan ahead in regards to my pantry’s requirements. So far this has meant buying lots of frozen vegetables, or vegetables to cut up and then freeze for safe keeping.
Ms. Betty, hard at work keeping the school chugging along
Perhaps the most major change has been in my living situation. In Rundu I lived in a large, house that lay very much on the “beaten trail” of volunteers. I lived with an American roommate, and it was in a large town. In Tsintsabis I live on the school grounds in the aforementioned small village. I share the house with Betty (affectionately known to all volunteers as Ms. Betty). I have my own bathroom, toilet room (they are separate rooms), a bedroom, and a spare bedroom which is also used as my own, small kitchen area. I also have far fewer visitors and guests staying with me in Tsintsabis. By “far fewer” I mean none. While I very much loved all my guests and getting to see, hang out, and catch up with everyone who stayed with me in Rundu, it did get a bit wearing, and was surprisingly expensive to maintain.
The classes I am teaching now are eighth and ninth grade english, and eighth, ninth, and tenth grade library periods. I actually have a very light teaching schedule, especially compared to Rundu. Perhaps it has something to do with my school’s size. Tsintsabis Combined School goes from preschool all the way to the tenth grade, but the total number of students is around 500, more than 700 less than Rundu Secondary, which had a total of 1200 kids between the eighth and twelfth grades. Regardless of the reason, I am very thankful, especially to have Fridays off (which was due to the fact that I was asked to make the schedule for the whole school and that i usually have to miss fridays if Peace Corps has any functions that I must attend).
Our school has a fishpond. It used to be the old military base’s officer’s pool. Oh, our school was a South African military base before independence.
In addition to my normal classes I am also helping out where I can with our music classes. That’s right, folks, we have MUSIC classes, complete with trumpets, trombones, baritones, clarinets, saxophones,violins, recorders, and guitars. Currently I am listening to the kids in the room next to the library play “Allouette” on recorder and violin. I am both helping to teach trombone, and also being taught how to play guitar better. It really is something nice that I look forward to every day.
A girl clearly enjoying herself at the Teachers’s Concert.
So far the most striking thing that I have noticed about my return to Namibia is how smooth it has been. Unlike in PST when everything was new, and a little bit scary at first. Even though I have come back to a new village, a new region, a new living situation, and even new working assignment, it has felt like I have come home. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings back in the states, but I haven’t had any bouts of homesickness or any longing to be back in the States. It is nice to be back at a job that I feel like I have a purpose in doing and that offers me a sense of accomplishment, even if I am not making the big bucks doing it.
So now that I have given you a general run-down of my site, I am going to give brief points of the exciting things that have happened to me since my arrival:
The students of my school lit the road that the car would pass carrying the casket of the student who has passed away. It was very moving.
Like an angel of death who is constantly arriving late for the show, my arrival was marked by a funeral. This goes with the funeral that I went to the first night of my homestay during training, and my first few nights in Rundu. Sadly this was the funeral for a student of my school who was killed in a car accident over the holiday weekend. This funeral was attended by most everyone in the community and served as another reminder that, unlike as in Rundu, I am sincerely the only white person in my village; a feeling that I have heretofore not experienced. It was the first time I have ever attended the funeral for a child, and the first time that I not only witnessed the actual burial, but was asked to actively help to bury the coffin. It was both unnerving (for the reasons you would expect) and unexpectedly cathartic in that it seemed to offer a solid sense of closure.
The daily pickup soccer match that happens after school.
I went to a week-long workshop put on by the Ministry of Education so that I can teach the teachers of my school the horribly thought out “School Link” program. School Link is a new system to report to the Ministry everything that happens in every school in the country. Imagine if every absence, every detention, literally everything that happened in a school in America had to be entered into a system and reported to the Department of Education. Yeah, that is their plan. I am not sure what this is supposed to accomplish, but I can already tell you that it is not going to work for a variety of reasons. Besides the fact that they want too much information on the day-to-day minutia that happens in school, the program also wants information on every student, which is all well and good. But to input this information we have to register the student, which involves registering the parents. This involves entering all information such as name, birthday, ethnicity, national ID number, address, phone number, occupation, employer, etc. for the parents. Can you imagine if anyone even attempted to do this in America? I can hear the echoing cries of “socialism” and “nazism” now. The main reason I can promise you this program will flop is that it is completely based on the internet. This means that the schools must have a steady, reliable source of internet in order to use the program to the extent that the Ministry would like. Why they didn’t build out an actual program that would submit the information to the Ministry when there was internet is so far beyond me that it is barely a speck on the horizon. Oh Namibia…
Saying goodbye to Kevin and Stephanie Metz, who left Namibia at the end of June. My dog-sitting offer still stands for Patches!
However, the bright spot of this conference was that the Ministry put us up in a swanky hotel/lodge in Tsumeb. They were like little houses on a hill with a beautiful bathroom, awesome showers, beds large enough to fit me (my Namibian colleague actually complained that they were “too big” to which I replied, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”) The hotel featured an olympic sized swimming pool, and while it was freezing I was trying to get everyone to pay me $20 if I ran and jumped in. The interest in my scheme was… limited. We also had dinners provided at the fancy restaurant that was in the hotel. The first night I had a delightful peri-peri burger and fries, but the second night I got the special: steak with escargot. Is it weird to say that I had escargot for the first time in the Peace Corps? It feels a bit weird.
Julie Hyman showing us the beautifully designed programs for the grand opening.
A few days after training I was invited to my friend, Julie Hyman’s library grand opening in Omuthya. It was really nice to go and see what is really an amazingly beautiful library. It is what we in Namibia call “America-nice.” They have tons of books, a computer lab, and even couches to read on. They even had this cool pen that controlled the computer when the image is being projected onto the wall by
witchcraft TOUCHING THE PEN TO THE IMAGES ON THE WALL. Lisa and I have named it the “witch stick.” At the grand opening I got to see Dan and Lisa, two other friends of mine from my group. I had been looking forward to seeing those guys for a long time, so it was really nice to hang out for an afternoon with them.
A couple of small boys enjoying the Teachers’ Concert.
There was, of course, my bicycle accident, which I wont go into much detail here as you can read all about that in a previous blog post. I am still on the road to recovery, but had my stitches removed today so I am nearly there.
Every morning we have a school assembly. All the kids line up in their classes, and we say a daily prayer, the choir sings songs, we sing the Namibian national anthem, and finish with any announcements we might have. The week of the Fourth of July I spent a few days teaching our school how to sing The Star Spangled Banner. On the morning of the Fourth we had our usual singing, prayer, and the Namibian national anthem as they raised the Namibian flag. Then I told the school that today was the 233 birthday of America, and just like Namibia’s independence day is in March, mine is in July. We had put my American flag on the school’s second flagpole, and while the school choir sand The Star Spangled Banner a student raised the American flag. It was my small way to celebrate Independence Day (and to accomplish the Second Goal!)
Mr. Uiseb, basically the vice principal of my school. I call him Dr. Uiseb because his handwriting is terrible.
Last Thursday we had the Teachers’ Concert. This is when all the teachers preformed a show for the students and their families, and really anyone in the community who was interested in coming. I had planned to join them, but because of my aforementioned accident I had not felt like rehearsing too much. My main job was to take pictures of the event, and that I did in spades ending up with some 200 pictures. I will post some of the best ones below. There was, however, one song that I knew, so when it came time (and by surprisingly popular demand by the audience) I joined the rest of my colleagues on stage. In this song the teachers would dance out in pairs, and then have a short “dance-off.” As most of you know, and the rest of you should know I am not what people would call a “smooth” dancer. In fact, I have been told that I “look like a baby giraffe that is just learning how to walk” when I attempt to. Soon enough it was my turn, and though I still think that description aptly describes my performance abilities I was met with rousing applause and shrieks of approval from my students. Afterwards I received more compliments on my dancing skills than I have ever gotten in my life. This is now one of the reasons why I like Africa so much: they think I am not only a good dancer, but an awesome dancer.
The dead trees outside the office. The one on the right is no longer there.
The other day I noticed that we had two very large and very dead trees that were close to both the school office and a row of classrooms. I pointed this out to Ms. Betty and asked if we should not find someone who could take them down before the rainy season blew them over onto the buildings. Yesterday she gathered a heard of students to begin the task. At first there were four boys on the roof beating the smaller limbs off with rakes. When that was finished, ropes were brought out and tied to the tree. I thought they were just going to take off the larger branches and returned to my lesson planning in the office. Suddenly there was a colossal roar. I ran outside and saw that they twisted the tree and brought the whole thing down. We had crews of students chopping up the tree, dragging away large sections of it like a murderer would drag away a body, and swarms of girls with rakes and shovels sweeping up the debris into a train of waiting wheelbarrows. It was quite the operation. During the course of the work to bring down the tree it seems that a large rodent that looked like a mouse but was the size of a gerbil was displaced from his home in the tree. This sent all of the students off chasing it. I was thinking the mouse would easily escape, but it seems the kids surrounded the mouse and scared it stiff. They were screaming to kill it, and I think there were several students who where just about to stomp on the poor little guy when I came in and told everyone to stop. I picked the mouse up by the scruff of the neck and moved him, alive, into a nearby field, thus solidifying my reputation as the “crazy American.”
The second grade classroom
As my final story I visited the second grade classes the other week. It is always a great way to get a pick-me-up if you have had a particularly rough day because you are assured to get dozens of hugs, which is always nice. On this particular day they were drawing. I admired many nice pictures of cows, and what looked like either aliens or family members. Then I came to one girl who was very seriously working on her picture. I studied it for a moment and asked her what the picture was of, and she told me it was a picture of God. I asked her how she could draw a picture of God when nobody knows what he looks like, to which she responded in a very matter-of-fact way, “But Sir, I have not finished it yet.”
A second view of my amazing library