Going Guatemalan

Very little planning,but sure to me lots of fun!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kandi hole okulya ohifima (I don't like to eat porridge)

Hello Friends and Family!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I can't believe that the holidays are already over. Things have been so busy here that it didn't feel like Christmas time at all. I'll try and recap the last few weeks as best I can, but so much has happened that I'm bound to leave something out.
Since the last time that I wrote to you all, I was able to visit my permanent site and do some student teaching. My permanent site is located in the far north of Namibia, about 50km from Angola. I am in a small village called Okakwiyu about 30km East of Ondongwa. The four regions north of Etosha park are referred to as "the north" also called Ovamboland, and although they only make up about 20% of the surface area of Namibia, 60% of the population live there. Despite this, it is still sparsely populated compared to other parts of Africa.
I'm very pleased with my permanent site assignment, and I'm excited to go back, even though I know it will have its challenges. I will live with a family on a traditional homestead owned by a fellow teacher at my school. My family is very welcoming my meme (host mother) considers me one of her own daughters She has seven children, and I fall right in the middle age wise. Her kids are all either at boarding schools, university or working and so none of them will be living with me. She has adopted two nieces, aged 5 and 8, and her newborn twin grandchildren may be coming to live with us as well.
The homestead consists of a large enclosed yard with several cement buildings and sheltered areas for storage and cooking. I will have my own building that has two rooms. The bedroom is about 12' by 12' and although more furnishings were promised, there was only a bed when I went to visit. I will send pictures as I get settled in. The second room will serve as the kitchen. There is no electricity or running water, but I will have a gas powered stove and refrigerator. There is a tap on the homestead with clean drinking water so I will not have to fetch water. The building my family lives in has solar powered electricity and a land line which they have invited me to use as well.The homestead is surrounded my a farm which most families in the north use for subsistence farming. They grow a grain called mahangu which is pounded into a powder and mixed with boiling water to make a porridge called oshifima. People here LOVE it, although I haven't quite caught on because has usually aquired sand into the mixture as it is being prepared. It is always served with some kind of meat dish, usually goat or chicken which are raised on the farm. They roam freely throughout the homestead, and I am particularly fond of the rooster that sleeps on my roof and crows at 4am every morning.
My school is in good condition, but it is clear why they need help from a Peace Corps volunteer. It is called Iicocola Combined School and has grades 1- 10. They have a computer lab which nobody knows how to use and 13 or 64 of the grade 10 learners passed their final exams. I will be teaching math and physical science to grades 8 and 9, as well as some computer courses and maybe a life skills class. Once I settle into my site, I will start some secondary projects, perhaps with HIV/AIDS, environmental awareness or computers. I'll try and send a more detailed update on my work as it develops.
After visiting my permanent site, I went to a nearby village for model school where I got to do three weeks of student teaching. We had classes every morning, followed by evaluations and language classes. The days were pretty busy, but it was good to get practise in the classroom. Its hard to train yourself to speak slowly and adjust to the dynamics of a Namibian classroom. Although corporal punishment has been outlawed, it is still widely used and learners are hesitant to participate in class. Math skills are atrocious here - learners as well as adults do not know their times tables and negative numbers are a very difficult concept. The failure rate of students in math is very discouraging and it is clear that there is a lot of work to be done in this country to improve the math and science skills of the population here.
I was able to live with a host family during model school to enable me to practise speaking Oshiwambo. I will admit that I didn't make as much progress as I would have liked, but I think it will be a valuable experience none the less. It was especially helpful to experience the culture and the family dynamics of Namibia, as things are so different here than in the states.
Last week I returned to Okahandja to finish my training, and Friday I will be sworn in and graduate from Peace Corps Trainee to Peace Corps Volunteer. Then Saturday I will be off to my site to begin working as a teacher in Namibia!
Thank you so much for all of the encouraging emails and letters that you have been sending me. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers so much. Please continue to hold me in your thoughts as I move into my site. I think one of the biggest struggles will be the isolation and loneliness that comes with being the only white person in the village. Many people have asked what I need that they can send to me. I have included some packing tips below. I have also taken to letter writing because internet access is so difficult here, so send me your mailing addresses and I'll try and give you a more personalized update.
My address has changed so that I will receive mail directly at my permanent site:
Elise Perry
PO Box 304
Namibia, AFRICA
Peace and Blessings,
Packing tips:
Include Africa on the address label as Namibia is not a well known country.
DO NOT send money or valuables. Mail is often searched for these and I receive more letters than not that are already opened.
Write religious phrases on the package like Jesus is Watching or to Sister Elise Perry.
Include religious brochures on the top.
Write in red in.