Going Guatemalan

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

Monday, April 30, 2007

My First African Safari

Here are some recent pictures of my trip to Etosha National Park. Enjoy!
A lion creeps down toward the water hole after all other animals scattered into the bush.

Dave, myself and Jonathan at Halali rest camp.

A curious giraffe.

Zebra drinking from a water hole on the south side of Etosha.

Ostrich are extremely awkward animals. Those who believe in evolution may find a difficult time explaining where this bird came from.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ondi hole oshifima! (I like porridge!)

Hello All! Greetings from Namibia!

I hope everything is going well at home. I have been doing really well myself. I'm quite happy and healthy.

Things have really started picking up here. I've settled in quite nicely and even the strangest things about Africa are starting to become normalized. The first term of school has just ended and right now I'm on my way to a reunion with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. I haven’t seen some of them since my training ended in January, so I'm excited to hear about how they are doing and to exchange stories with them.

First term has definitely been eventful, but I'm looking forward to the coming school term and the rest of my Peace Corps service. In addition to my teaching load, I have started computer classes with my fellow teachers. They are really eager to learn, but none of them have any computer skills so we're starting from square one - how to turn on the computer, hold the mouse, click, open programs, etc. They have been waiting a long time for this - like a teenager that has just received their driver's license. I hope the teachers will soon get the hang of it so I can start teaching learners and community members. Many people in the community have only an education through grade 10. They are unemployable and live as subsistence farmers. Computer classes will give them job skills that will hopefully allow them to have a higher standard of living.

English club also started last month. About 20 learners attend with hopes of improving their English. So far, we have been holding debates during the meetings to help the learners prepare for a regional debate competition next term. There are also plans for a drama and a school newspaper and perhaps a surprise trip to Windhoek to see the Namibian parliament. The idea is to reward the learners for using English and show them how good English skills will benefit them in life. One of the biggest academic challenges the kids have is the language barrier. Outside school, there is little reason for the learners to speak English. Because they live in an Ovambo village their entire lives (Ovambo is the name of the ethnic group, or tribe) there is little to encourage the use of English. They speak Oshiwambo in the home; even at school, where English is always supposed to be used, many teachers teach or address them in mother-tongue instead of promoting English. However, all classes grades 5-10 are supposed to be taught in English. All reading material and tests are given in English making it difficult for them to understand and pass their classes if they are not proficient enough with English. The hardest part is, a score of 30% is considered a passing grade, and most kids cannot achieve even this.

The good news is I can see them improving. They don’t always understand but they try, and the more they are forced to practice English in my classes, they better they become. Teachers have also started following my example. There is very little positive reinforcement in the classroom, but a few teachers have starting using my stickers to reward their learners. This is a completely new concept to learners – to get something in return for a job well done. Many teachers will mock their students or beat them for making a mistake, but some teachers are starting to see that rewarding the learners motivates them even better.

It is always difficult to see a learner get beaten, and I don’t think I will ever get used to it. But as I learn more about the culture I am starting to understand why some people believe it is acceptable. In such a low income society, an adult that has a job is working hard for their income. The money has to be stretched as far as possible, so why spend it on rewarding a child? If there is ever any extra cash from a paycheck for sweets and other indulgences, children are always the last in line. The adult who worked hard for that money school should be rewarded. In addition, children receive most of the household chores. A working adult that has a job is earning the money to support the household and the kids need to pull their own weight. Even those that are unemployed have worked hard all their lives to create something for themselves and thus give all cooking and cleaning duties as well as errands in the village to the kids. The HIV/AIDS problem, as well as the high rate of unemployment force many children to live with extended family members instead of their own parents. In fact, many of their parents are not married or do not live together themselves (if one has a job, he or she will move to where the job is leaving the family in the village where living expenses are low). This creates further academic problems for learners as they have no time at home to study and complete homework. There is a lack of priority on education in most of the children’s homes. Many of my colleagues tell me that the endless chores, errands and beatings are for discipline, but coming from a country where the attitude toward kids is so different, I have a hard time accepting that explanation.

Now that I have settled into village life, I have started exploring the area a bit more. There are several cuca shops near my school (a cuca shop is a bar with a general store that might sell pasta, oil, matchers, etc.). Many of the kukus (Oshiwambo for elderly people) spend their days at the cuca shops drinking. Because the village is so small, I know many of the owners already. I started to get to know some community members and have taken part in a few community events. I’ve been to church a couple times, although services are in Oshiwambo and last 2-6 hours, so I don’t go very often. I found out the hard way that you’re not allowed to get up during the service, even to pee. Other things that I once found revolting are now becoming tasty. I have started eating oshifima (the sandy porridge) with my host family and eating cattle, pig and goat meat with it. Kinda feels like something out of green eggs and ham. I also assist with the household chores, pounding the mahangu into a powder that is used to make the porridge, and joining the nightly chicken chase to shoo them out of the homestead.

I also attended a wedding – quite a spectacular event and way cooler than any traditional American wedding. The wedding is a week long, starting with an announcement at church the Sunday before the ceremony. You don’t need an invitation to go – only to be acquainted with a relative or someone who is invited. On the day of the wedding, there is a ceremony at church in the morning, followed by a reception at the groom’s parent’s house and a day later a second reception at the bride’s parent’s house, usually in another village. Most people only go to the reception in their village. At the reception hundreds of people wait for the wedding party to arrive. When the bride and groom arrive, everyone bursts into joyous singing and dancing. Women in the crowd give out a shrill, high pitched “lalalalalalalalala” cry that cannot be reproduced in an email. It sounds like an Indian war cry you might hear on Last of the Mohicans, only it means the women are happy. They progress down the road in this manner swinging palm branches in the air, perhaps what Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem looked like. It’s a true celebration! When they reach the house and all the singing dancing and lalala crying has died down, there is a presentation of gifts. I am mow debating is I want a registry for my own wedding or if I want to be surprised by the hocus pocus people bring like they do here. Although gifts seam random to the foreign eye, they are actually quite practical for a couple creating a new home in Namibia: an axe to cut down trees, a cauldron to cook over an open fire, a rake, broom, chairs…any home furnishings are completely acceptable gifts. Following the presentation of gifts, everyone moves into big circus-like tents that have been rented for the occasion, where good food and drinks are served to no end. This continues for several hours until everyone in drunk and merry at which point they make tier way home. I am happily invited to another wedding in just two weeks. I even received my own invitation, “Miss Perry and partner”, meaning get first dibs on the food. Anyone that can get to Namibia in two weeks is welcome to be my plus one.

I’ve also been able to start traveling around the country some. Last month we have a five day weekend to celebrate Namibian independence. Some friends and I took a trip to Etosha National Park; Etosha is one of the main attractions in Namibia, and a huge wild life preserve. We were able to see elephants, springbok, wildebeest, and even an elusive lion. Pictures on my blog (eliseperry.blogspot.com) soon to come. I also took a weekend trip to Opuwo where the Himba people (another tribe, or ethnic group) live. These are people that have a very rich culture. They do not wear clothes or bathe their entire lives. Instead, they apply an oily clay to their skin and decorate themselves with beads and bracelets. For the school break I’m planning a trip through the Nauklauf Mountains. It should be pretty incredible and I’ll be sure to send details.

I’m making slow but steady progress on a basket project. I have sent some samples to my parents and hope to have a production line going to sell in the states soon. Details to come. Once again thanks for everyone’s thoughts and support. I have received lots of packages, letters and emails and I’m really grateful and overwhelmed by your responses. Please continue to stay in touch!

With love,