Going Guatemalan

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

Monday, July 09, 2007

Happy belated 4th!

Hello my fellow Americans! Happy Fourth of July!
And to all those who are not from the States, Happy Fourth anyways!

I celebrated American Independence Day by giving a test in my Life Science class. Namibians understand the need to celebrate independence, as they won their independence on March 21st only 16 years ago. Many people in my area took part in the struggle for independence. Despite this, its difficult for them to understand American independence day. Many people don't believe that a country as prosperous as the United States could ever have fought for its independence from another ruling country.

Things have been really busy, but the new teacher finally arrived, so I'll have a little more time these days. She will take over my English class, which makes me a little sad because I'm kind of attached to them. They were really heartbroken when they found out I wouldn't be teaching them anymore, but the new teacher has just graduated from the teacher's college, and is better equipped to teach them English than I am. The new teacher will also be living with my host family. It will be a little bit awkward because Peace Corps declares that I must have my own bedroom and kitchen. She will be sharing a room with members of the family and cooking and eating with them, as African culture would expect.

Teaching has been going really well this term. Now that I'm not overloaded with classes, I can focus better on my learners. I am teaching grade 10 life science, which is a little bit of pressure because the grade 10 learners will write exit exams at the end of the year, and EVERYTHING is riding on these exams. I can only compare the exams to SATs, but these are even more important, as the learners take one in each subject. (For those who know the British system, they are equivalent to GCSEs.) If the learners want to continue schooling, and thus have any type of successful livelihood, they must do well on these exams. If they pass, they will continue to grades 11 and 12, were another set of exit exams are given (equivalent of the British A levels) before they are allowed to apply to University. If they fail the exams, they can enter NAMCOL, an independent study community college and continue retaking the exams until they pass, but this is difficult because all the material is self-taught. Thus there is A LOT of pressure on the learners, and quite a bit of pressure on the teachers.

I am also busy with the English club. The learners are practicing drama with one of my colleagues while I rotate them through the computer lab. The computer lab is quite the privilege for them, and they LOVE it, but as a computer teacher, it requires a lot of patience. The learners have never used a computer, so they are starting from square one learning how to move the mouse, click on something and typing. There are so many learners and only a limited time that I am able to take them into the lab, so they don't really learn much. I give each learner 2 two-hour lessons, and by the end of that, they have logged into the computer, opened a word document, typed a paragraph, saved it, reopened it and changed the font. Even the really good learners are still very slow.

We’re also in the process of organizing an educational tour of Namibia, so that the learners will be able to travel outside Owamboland and practice speaking English with the other language groups of Namibia. It’s going to cost a relatively lot of money, but I really want the learners to raise the money themselves. I know that many of you are eager to help my learners, but Peace Corps is about creating sustainable development, and so I want to use the resources that are here in the community in order to raise money.

I have been here over 8 months now, and my impression of Africa has changed. The image that I had of Africa before I arrived was dictated heavily by the media, and I have come to realize that, as with most things in the media, it is inaccurate. We often see Africa as this poor continent flooded with orphans and widows that need saving from the malicious HIV and AIDS. Many commercials asking you to sponsor a kid always show the child barefoot in tattered clothing. The truth is that people here know how to live with a lot less than we do. Take shoes for example. I brought four pairs of shoes with me to Africa, and even that seems like too many. Especially in Namibia which is a country full of sand, people don't wear shoes. Not even I wear shoes on the beach. If you gave a kid a pair of shoes, he would probably sell them. It’s difficult not to talk about these things without sounding too cynical, and especially to relate them to people who have never been to Africa, but perhaps, I can only think of all the shoes I have waiting for me in my closet in the States and be disgusted with myself. Many African countries have come to rely on outside aid for a large portion of their spending, and it has removed the need for them to work for it. Why would I try and earn money when I know people richer than I am will just give it to me if I ask? Simply giving money does not promote development, even when it seems a good cause, because people get the idea that when they need money it will just be given to them.

Perhaps the best description I can provide of this case is my host family. They are very accommodating and share the many things with me, but they tend to ask me for a lot of things, simply because I have them. Take my MP3 player. One of my host brothers said to me the other day, “You will give that to me when you go back to America.” Often times they will ask me to buy things for them from town, but they don't realize that as a volunteer, I don't have money to buy them the things they want. They know I have connections in America that could provide me money if I asked, and seem to think that there is a magic button on the ATM that only white people have access to. Peace Corps stresses living at the level of the local people, and integrating into your community as much as possible, but to some extent, it will never happen.

My host family has been extremely good to me. My meme (host mom) is a teacher at my school. She is super protective of me, sometimes a hindrance on my independence, but it means I am always provided for. She drives me everywhere and refuses to have me walking to and from school, even if she is not around. She will always arrange for some one to drive me, and often offers to pick me up from the near by road when I return from town. Next living with us is 22 year old Shitanga, or Leonard, who is a University drop out. I relate to him the best of my family, as he knows what it is like to live in a developed area. He recently left Windhoek because he failed his UNAM (University of Namibia) courses in December, and is now forced to reside in the village. There is not a lot of activity in the village, especially for a young person, and he is always miserable at having left the social scene of Windhoek. We have entered into lots of friendly debates, usually why I should or should not give something of mine to him. Tomas, 18 years, failed his grade 12 exams and is trying to complete NAMCOL courses so he can enter university next January. He is the handyman of the homestead, always fixing things around my house, tuning up the car, helping place bricks for the new wall the family is building. Freida is 20, also recently failed her grade 12 exams and does much of the household chores. Of my meme's 7 children, they are the only one's living with us. Helena (25ish) is working in Windhoek (she is the mother of the twins). Aili (23 years) is a student at UNAM, and Rouha (17) and Jacob (15) are both at boarding schools in grades 11 and 9 respectively.

Also living with us is Veracious, the new English teacher. She just arrived on Monday and is from the Caprivi area, so she speaks English to communicate with the family. It will be a little awkward having her around because she is also a host daughter to my meme, but she will not have her own kitchen like I do, so she will be eating with the family. It separates us a little bit, and I know I will share meals with her sometimes and hopefully she will turn into a good friend. Kito, a distant relative of my meme, came to live with us and help care for the twins. She and Frieda share the work load of cooking, cleaning and making sure that Tangi and Tangeni get bathed and fed. Vaino is a NAMCOL student who lives with us, but I can't figure out how he is exactly related to the family. He is the namesake of my tate (host father that lives in southern Namibia), which means he is welcomed into the family as one of my tate's children. China is my meme's 8 year old niece who is in grade 2 at my school. She doesn't speak much English, but is learning from me, as I never speak to her in Oshiwambo. Dapandula is 5, and attends the unofficial kindergarten at my school. Adding the twins, now 14 months old, there are 12 people living on the homestead, which is about average for a house in Namibia. It seems like a lot, but the homestead set up means it doesn't feel like that many people are there. Since there is so much outside space and multiple buildings, we fit quite nicely into the homestead. It does tend to get a little crazy during the school breaks when the other kids are home, but overall I am very happy with my host family.

Hope you enjoyed this edition. Thanks again to everyone who has been sending replies and letters. I do read them even if I don't get a chance to respond. Stay in touch!

With Love,