Going Guatemalan

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

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Oh, Mem!

Wow! I can’t believe how the time has flown. I was thinking about the last time I sent out an email in May and I realized how busy I have been and how much has passed since then.

June was a busy month, with a regional Peace Corps meeting in Ongwediva and then the Northern Girls Conference. The Peace Corps regional meeting was a chance for volunteers from group 25 and group 26 to get together and exchange information. Group 25 is getting ready to finish their service in December, and in order to continue country-wide projects that they have started, volunteers from my group will need to start taking over. We also have a new country director that all of us were able to meet and there were different sessions on grant writing, fundraising and preparing for group 27’s arrival in November! It’s so weird to think about the incoming group of volunteers already. I feel as though I just got here and am starting to figure things out. Crazy!

The following week was the Northern Girls Conference, a four day conference aimed to empowering school aged girls from Owamboland. The conference was organized by a handful of Peace Corps Volunteers and sponsored by UNICEF. Several Namibians were also involved in the execution of the conference, which has a greater impact than Americans delivering the material. Girls were nominated by their school principals for showing leadership among their peers. The girls sat through sessions on Peer Leadership, HIV/AIDS, Body Image, Decision Making and Relationships. The goal was for the girls to take the information they learned back to their schools to create sessions for their own HIV/AIDS or girls club. The workshop went off really successfully, and I’m excited to start working on next year’s conference.

The rest of the term was filled with trying to organize the tour for my English club. Quite a nightmare to organize and orchestrate, but extremely valuable to the learners and well worth the work. It makes me think back on the field trips and tours I went on as a student and wonder about the teachers that accompanied us. I felt so grown up, following my learners around, feeling proud at what they had to say and boasting about their achievements.

I was able to take the learners to Windhoek, most of them having never been there. We went into a history museum, a cultural museum, Hero’s Acre (a war memorial) Parliament and the Office of the Prime Minister. The learners loved all of this (even the museums, which to me weren’t really all that spectacular), but the most valuable part was a tour of the University of Namibia (UNAM). The UNAM campus is amazing, almost like an American university, and I know that it really inspired and motivated learners to finish school. I could see that they all really want to attend the university, and now that they have a picture in their minds of what the campus is like, they will work hard to get there. We also made a stop in Swakopmund where we visited a snake museum, the aquarium, and the beach! Most of the learners had never seen the ocean before, and it made me so happy to see them playing in the water, running away from the waves.

All of the learners were so incredibly behaved. I was shocked because they were so helpful doing anything I asked them to do. I'm not known a good disciplinarian at school (because I don't beat the learners) and so I thought I might have some attitude problems, but they were extremely respectful everywhere we went. My biggest problems during the tour came from working with my counterpart. Namibians have a very different work ethic than Americans, especially when it comes to caring for children. It was my inclination that the learners should be occupied and supervised at all times. My counterpart however never concerned himself with the care and supervision of the learners. I'm not sure if he thought the learners would do it themselves or if he just didn't want to help, but as I was scrambling to feed the learners and make sure they went to sleep at a reasonable hour, I would look to my counterpart for assistance and find him sleeping in his room. I was lucky to have another volunteer with me on the tour. At this point I have to give a HUGE thank you to Cecy, a volunteer from Chicago, who assisted me in everything. If she had not have come, I'm pretty sure I would have broken down from the overwhelming amount of work and would be back in the states by now.

This perhaps is the warning I have to incoming volunteers. There are frustrations everyday – my learners don't understand me, my meme asks me for new car, there’s no water in the village – but the biggest day-to-day challenge is working with my colleagues. I realize I was a bit naïve when I first came. I thought everyone would work hard to change and it would be easy to implement my ideas into the system, but this is a very old culture, where habits die hard. While some of my ideas are taken up with great interest, most are just ignored or laughed off as coming from “the crazy American”. The American standard of hard work, good attendance, timeliness, and discipline is very different than Namibia's, and this causes the bulk of my frustrations, especially because there isn't really anything I can do about it. Sometimes it’s difficult not to say that their way of life is wrong – I just have to remind myself that it’s different, and there are things about my culture that they disagree with also.

After the tour I took a couple days vacation to visit Opouwo in the far north west. It was a really nice get away, relaxing after all the work of the tour. Opouwo is relatively close to Owamboland, so I don't have to travel too far, but it’s a completely different world. The Opouwo area is famous for the Himba people that perhaps you have see pictures of on postcards or in the tour books. The Himba have been extremely successful in protecting their culture from modernization, keeping traditional dress, food and lifestyle. Its fascinating and I never cease to be awed by their lifestyle. Some villages in the area are so remote they have never even heard of Opouwo. Himba are migratory people, moving seasonally with their livestock, so there are few formal schools. A village is generally just one large homestead, made up of a single extended family. I can't say too much about the Himba because it is so unknown to me, and here I make some generalizations just based on what I have heard and seen, but I am no expert in this area and I could easily be incorrect. I can say confidently though that the area is beautiful. There are mountains, and the famous Epupa Falls to visit, lots of wildlife and a really beautiful sunset. My friends and I spent most days hiking around the area and walking about the town. There isn't very much commercial action there, but we cooked LOTS of good food (it’s nice to be in town where you can just walk to the store anytime you're in need of somethings) and watched movies on a friend’s computer.

This term is going to slow down quite a bit. Now that the tour is completed, there will be less work to do with English club. In addition, Grade 10 learners will start taking their exams in October, so I will have a lot less periods to teach each week. My newest project will be to begin rebuilding the primary school classrooms at our school which are in extremely poor condition. I will send more information on this project soon because I know there are people who are interested in helping.

Thanks again for all your thoughts and prayers. Please continue to send all those letters, emails and photos!