Monday, June 17, 2013

forward ever. backward never.

“Every second he breathed, the smell of the grass, the cool air on his face, was so precious: To think that people had years and years, time to waste, so much time it dragged, and he was clinging to each second.” 

Now let me tie this scene to life here in Ndiyona. Feeling a bit confundo about how I might do that.?Now, I'm not about to have some unforgivable curse spelled on me to cause my death. But I couldn't have found a more fitting quote for the feelings that are certainly swirling around my head right now. Now would be the time for a pensieve, I'd say. 

As the days tick down to our eventual departure from Namibia, I'm making a concerted effort to embrace these moments. To not get emo. And to not take it all for granted.

Without further ado, here are the things I will cling to in my last few months in Ndiyona

The "bad boys" of my homeroom-9B
Albin, Herman, and Nicodemus. Unlike most of our learners, they don't live at school and they come from our village. When the bell rings, they run out of detention (thats where I like them) and they run to their homesteads where they are all without mothers and fathers, they are the caretakers, the elders of the family. They cook and care for their younger siblings and no one would have any idea that they lived the life of a caretaker if you didn't know them. From afar (ok and from pretty close up) they're the trouble makers, the typical class clown. At first I took a bit of a liking to them cause let's be honest (LBH) they made me laugh. I still have those moments as teacher when I cant really control myself. And then they became a bit of a disturbance. But then I got to know them. I didn't do what their other teachers do--I didn't ridicule them, I didn't dismiss them as the "lowly village boys"…nah, I saw some serious potential. They have a bit of spunk, their confidence, it all was unique for kids in Kavango. And slowly throughout my time here, I watched them grow up, from boys into young men. They still tell silly jokes and get in trouble all the time but now when they have a problem they come to me--their surrogate father. They tell me their problems at school with other kids, confide in me their problems with people at home, and now the kids who the teachers told me were "a lost cause" when I first arrived, are besting every exam they take. I give them advice on life, dealing with adults, and insight into Christian Science.  And they haven't lost their swag one bit. 

Village Life: star gazing. birthday party crashing and still receiving all the free meat and beer that we'd need. Instant coffee. Raisng 15 (+) dogs. Hitchhiking everywhere. Everyone knows you. Everyone respects you and calls you sir or madam. The twice a week shower. Free food at one's command.

Ntjamba. As a general rule, I like kids with a stutter. And kids from Angola. Ntjamba satisfies both of these requirements and thus theres little else I need to say. But I'm wordy, so here I go. No doubt, I will be relishing every time Ntjamba walks into my class and straight to my desk just to greet me and ask questions about my life, I'll relish sitting in the library with him after hours and reading Holes with him for the 13th time, or when he raises his hand for every question I have. 

Mashika and Prisca. The brightest and most inquisitive kids I have ever encountered. No doubt. The biggest challenge as a teach er in Namibia is lack of teaching aids. Not lack of text books or computers or books--though the deficit for all is quite severe. But I'm talking about real life teaching aids. In America, we completely take for granted how much learning takes place outside of the classroom. How most of what we know about human rights, government, the world, space, fantasy, critical thinking, comes from living and soaking in all that we are exposed to on a daily basis. The reality in the village is that one is not exposed to the intricacies of the justice system or the characteristics of a good leader. Thus as a teacher, there is an immense burden to fill this insurmountable gap of access to knowledge and information. But not with Prisca and Mashika. These are the two who get me out of bed each morning (I promise thats not literal) inspire me each week and made these two years so insanely rewarding. They ask the right questions. They think, they analyze, and they infer. They soak up every word that is spoken to them or read by them. They're humble but with unprecedented confidence. They have no qualms getting up and co-teaching a lesson, singing a song on command, or proclaiming that they embody why the future of Namibia is bright. Recently a team from the Minisry of Education came to observe some of my classes. They had to interrupt one of my lessons because they couldn't hold in their thoughts anymore. They had visited countless classes throughout the region. no one expresses themselves or gives them hope like these two did. It was a nice moment of validation to say the least.

The class conversations and anecdotes: the cold war, abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, justice system, invitro fertilization, surrogate mothers, illuminati, love and dating, poverty. We hit all the loaded issues and for many of my kids these are the topics which are rarely discussed or even considered. So what do we do? We analyze, debate, and share all of our raw opinions and make them our own. Its indescribable to watch kids from grade 8 become men and women in grade 10 and seeing their opinions form and shape and mature.

My 9B class. Our class motto: "forward ever. backward never." Our class may be known as a bit cocky. And obviously its me, so my class is the most competitive and espouses the greatest class "pride". We say that B stands for BEST. And I have no qualms perpetuating that sentiment. Our kids in Kavango are consistently told that the futures are already determined--as hopeless. They're reminded that failure is common and expected. So its been a mission of mine--to spread that "mind over matter" message--believe in yourself--as thats the only way one can succeed. And succeed we do. Our class out performs all the others academically. And (more importantly) we won 120 Namibian dollars as the champions of the soccer tournament!

The profile of a Kavango kid: humble, soft-spoken, responsible, mature, respectful, opinionated. I will, no doubt, relish such a profile cause that can be a bit hard to come by in the States. And how, not only can you get a kid to do anything for you, but he or she will do so with a smile and think that its the highest honor. I will certainly relish these last few months with minions and assistants. 

Mangundu and Kashera. They will pull me into the back corner (or at least attempt to) during my lessons and just want to discuss life together. Now we do that, but just on our own time. While we discuss, they share cookies that they somehow procured cause they don't think I'm eating enough. And they ask if Sydney has a sister that they could potentially date. And then they inform me that I ought to "taste" a Namibian woman before I leave (preferably an older townie) and when I give them the schpeal on being faithful when in love, they look at me like they did when I first arrived--"who is this crazy white man?" Then when Mangundu sees a girl he wants to potentially woo, Kashera and I talk about becoming lawyers--which we inspired each other to pursue by the way. 

Kupi and his little idiosyncrasies. Like when he climbs a tree in search of the latest medicinal herb but realizes that a 40 year old obese man is not fit for such an act. And then he falls out. Or how he applies bug spray to his wounds so that insects wont "disturb" them. Or how he was the only one who refused to switch his watch back by one hour meaning he goes by a different time…compared to the rest of the nation.

Kavaghu, Mufenda, and Joseph: We've become cliquy among the teachers. Surprised? The young teachers banding together, calling everyone outside of the group "kuke le kele", them finally realizing that I'm more poor than they are.

The things that make me merely chuckle inside...alone: How my colleagues think that by speaking in an American accent, one inherently becomes a better teacher. Or how the biggest issue of the day is how much butter teachers are spreading on their bread during tea break, despite that one learner attempted to murder another while inside the school hostel. How teachers are instructed to spend more time constructing administrative files than actually teaching. Taking my contacts out in front of Namibians and the reaction I get. (Fake) laughing at the most corny jokes I've heard. When a teacher asks me to "organize" a white for them so that they too can join me in my quest to return to America.

Sydney: how I got to fall in love with a girl in the middle of nowhere,e around the world from home. And know her better than anyone I've ever known because of that. Relying on her as my family, friend, girlfriend, and partner: and how she fits each role…perfectly.

Every day that passes, it all becomes a bit more real. The longer I spend here, the more comfortable and settled I get, the closer it is to my departure date. So instead of wallowing in those emo moments, I'm left with one choice and thats to channel my main man Harry. Savor these moments. Appreciate how what I will always remember and miss about my life, is everyday,typical life for the people in my village. Yet, all I can do is cling to each second.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

a day in the life...

a pedestrian might only see an ordinary village
not even worth the time it'd take to pillage
but gaze closer and you'll see the opposite of strife
let me take you on a tour of my daily life

slipping out of my meth induced dream
almost time for school, it would seem
tintinnabulation, the siren did just ring
learners congregate in queues, mid-sing

trekking to school through deep sand and all
luckily, that learner did not just see me fall
fraternizing with my colleagues, my friends
while a learner approaches me with a problem to mend

all the while, village dogs peruse the school in search of food
except for kiara, the one who knows better than to be rude
she's made herself part of our school community
well, other than the time dedicated to drinking tea

then i reach my homeroom class, which is smothered in glacier blue
signs plastered: 'oh the places you'll go' and 'the things you'll do'
you can always count on one thing each morning
albin and oliver will reach school just after that bell does ring

a quick announcement and a birthday song
words of encouragement to inspire them for the whole day long
then off to their classes, my 9B learners pour out
individual greetings of 'morning sir' overcoming loud learner shouts

three classes of english, each and every day
catching up on my grammar so i know what to say
correcting 'me I' and writing formal letters
delving into Holes and the life of the Potters

memorable moments teaching these older kids of mine
(well, once they greet me and tell me they're fine…)
some are almost adults with kids of their own
and yet their jaws still drop when I tell them I've flown

so many times grammar lessons become debates
on female rights, the cold war--learners become irate
but its getting them excited and passionate about the world
and anticipating the results that are sure to be unfurled

you can always count on mashika to make a controversial statement
while khashera shies in the back insanely self-confident
then prisca provides the exact answer im looking for, no doubt
mangundu wanting one on one attention, if not, he'll pout

titus reads in his American accent, perhaps to mock
while shambi looks to his hand as if it were a clock
you can barely hear masoya's voice but his swag that matters
and if its in english, I can tolerate the endless chatter

but lest we not forget my mathematics classes, there are two
forty learners in each, rarely described as too few
the mission is to make math the cool thing to do
but coming from an american, its an easy thing to cue

the 9B's return to their home of glacier blue
welcome back i proclaim, 'I missed you too'
knowing these kids and how to make them chuckle
a corny joke is all it takes--like pretending to undo my buckle

checking homework and kids pleading for marks
you'd think i were a fish swimming among sharks
on that occasion that that homework is incomplete
a fat red zero and a commotion of shrieks, they'll meet

motivating learners to tackle algebra and angles galore
bruising competitions for sweets makes math part of their core
who would have thought id love teaching math?
fellow rat packers, ill be awaiting your wrath

posing a question, and hands reach high
moses is never wrong, i wouldn't be surprised if this boy can fly
my namesake and john, the youngest in the class
reminding them of their smarts always leads to their sass
max and limbu forgetting im not their friend
while muremi chills at his desk not realizing the lesson did end

in case you didnt hear the ring of the bell
school day is over, your body's in a swell
navigating past children, is that a parade?
nah, merely just a lunch rush that some would call a raid

stepping around goat droppings to reach my abode 
sometimes i go days without even seeing a road
this school sometimes seems like its own small world
couldn't imagine it any better even if it were self-swirled 

finally a chance to shower (splash my body with cold water)
peaking out my window, a goat was slaughtered
joseph and I indulge in our traditional cuisine
macaroni and mayo--and yet I've managed to stay lean

attempts at a nap often become moot
knocks at a door, perhaps Kupi bringing medicinal root
then a learner asking for a key to a room
one time, they even tripped over my broom!

but 'just like that', its time for afternoon study
all the kids return to school, somehow muddy
perhaps it was the rain storm that drenched us all
avoiding lightening a must, otherwise you'd die (and fall)

during this time, working with my kids one on one
therefore it becomes a bit more fun
no longer dressed in a tie, but my chelsea shirt
girls asking for extra help (or perhaps just to flirt)

then I procure T-Pain, the president of GLOW club
meet with the members, yes some kids got the snub
dramas, dances, and the infamous food competition
sporting their shirts to show their pride for our mission
becoming leaders while respecting them and you
candid talks with these kids is what we do
challenging norms when it comes to dates
a standing ovation for my speech on respecting your mate

after, my laptop comes out and chaos ensues
kids encircling my body, most are not wearing shoes
shouts of impressed kids with each letter I type
sadly, my typing skills are not worth the hype

then my head looks away and up towards the sky
puffy clouds that gushing red, thus a pleasureful sigh
before i know it, anna and mufenda procure me
head out the door that cant lock, no need for a key

we trapeze past learners with heads in books
past the tent for our bushmen (theres not even a nook)
we reach the ends of the school and the start of the gravel road
we peruse the streets, the four of us talking in code

trucks whiz by originating in zambia or the DRC
while were on our way to Timanyambi
the jukebox spits out the latest nam tune
sausage and beers under our only light, the moon
sharing stories from their homes and mine
ignoring the sight of racing baby swine
divulging a plan to move to america in a year
and yet I'm merely left with a sneer

my American girl, she does come by
I chase after her and Sabina's mid-cry
crocs in the river, pool at the sheebeen
even in forbidden forest, were always seeen
and its all cemented: ndiyona is home
which place wouldn't be when, with Kasiku, I get to roam?

but then, as most do, the day does end
in bed avoiding insects (I've learned to mend)
and finally a chance to think
soon this will end, in an eye's blink
cannot even imagine how much of this I'll miss
the life of absolute pure bliss.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ama kip kip

One year ago today--I missed hot showers. I never heard of Gotye or Babel. I was dateless for Valentines Day. I couldn't tell my kids apart. I still taught as if i were in an American classroom. I got annoyed when teachers interrupted my classes to "chat" or send a learner on some undisclosed errand. Talking to a villager made me feel "integrated." Greeting in the local language was my limit but only the beginning. Goats and pigs perusing the school grounds would result in a slight jaw drop. I cringed when a learner threw a rock at a dog. I wrote my sevens without a line crossing through. I wasn't a Harry Potter fan, per se. People would point and shout 'mukua' (white man) when I passed. I would spread myself thin. Talking with friends in the village seemed more like work than pleasure. I wasn't the poet type. I was afraid of heights. I could rarely wake up before 11am. I was an idealist. I thought that only keys could open doors. I spoke in 'political correct' terms when discussing cultural differences on dating. I forgave learners for coming late. I didn't believe in witchcraft. I rarely wore a hat. I focused on quality over quantity. I tried to understand "where a kid was coming from" to excuse their poor performance. International development seemed feasible. I didn't consider 'abnormal' an insult. I never saw an animal give birth. I was not very good at pool. This village--Ndiyona--while I loved it, was still this 'other' place.

And then time passed. And as each day did, things began to change. A lot. Quicker than anything has at any point of my life. Perhaps the reason I haven't been the most avid blogger is obvious. How do you blog about home? About your normal life? But then I realized that that doesn't make this any less blog worthy. 

Being back in America for Christmas resulted in some realizations being crashed upon me. While my life in Namibia is my life and my home right now, in a matter of 10 months, that will no longer be the case. Which is crazy. I'm left with one choice: appreciate every moment.

One year (and a half) later. I have a group of friends (Joseph, Natalia, Mufenda, Anna) in the village. And they're actually my friends. We don't discuss cultural relativism. We discuss who's been hooking up with who over sausage and beer at Timanyambi. And we play beer pong. And landmines. I throw small rocks at goats to rid them from our school yard. I am still not very good at pool. (Though I did beat a Nam…once). I can still only greet in the local language. I've witnessed the birth of my baby's puppies. And the birth of some (friendly?) bats. And (sadly) the birth of Kiara's stillborn puppies. I am sometimes that teacher that interrupts. I wake up slightly before 6am every morning. I learned to prioritize. I open my front door with a sharp stick or, if available, a knife. People no longer think of me as the 'rich white man' but I have (successfully?) built the reputation as the 'poorest' teacher at our school. I prefer to write in prose. I jump off bridges. Mumford and Gotye are Grammy award winners. I'm all about quality. I cross my sevens. I'm a realist with ideals. I sleep each night next time my HP book…and His Dark Materials. I know that a nation develops through local handwork and not AID. I don't accept kids' excuses unless its accompanied by a note from the hospital.  I still don't believe in witchcraft. My hat is my trademark. I know all of my kids' names, their personalities, and how to 'get to them.' Ndiyona is HOME. I walk around the village feeling like I'm surrounded by neighbors, friends, and kids and not 'others.'  Oh and I have 'plans' for V-tines.

Step in the circle if…..
As my loyal followers already know (though this number may have dwindled down to merely my mother) we have a GLOW club to discuss pretty much any pertinent issues facing our community relating to gender and leadership. So this is what we did just a few hours ago. A game called 'step in the circle if…' and learners are instructed to step in the circle if the statement is true.

Heres how it went:
Step in the circle if: you are in grade 10. Simple enough. Not too much controversy.

Step in the circle if: the man should share responsibility for his baby with the mother. and it was split. boys opposed and girls supporting.

Step in the circle if: the only purpose of dating is to have sex. Boys in. Girls out.
Step in the circle if: that attitude of boys is the reason so many Namibian relationships fail. Girls in. Boys out. 

Step in the circle if: Men are the most guilty of infidelity. Girls in. Boys out.

Step in the circle if: You would like to date an American. All the boys and girls go in.

Step in the circle if: You think an American would like to date you. All in again.

But this time I intervened. And as i alluded to, I love my kids too much to be 'politically correct' and we trust each other too much for that to be the case. So I said--heres the deal boys, if this is the attitude you have--that girls must bow down to the physical needs of their man, that dating has only a single purpose, an American girl would never date you. And thats the reality. And its not American women who would be opposed. Now its Namibian women as well. I pointed to the girls in the room who remained firm with their convictions--and told the boys how they (the girls) represent a changing cultural norm. And its time that their attitude shifted to fit this trend. The  most important thing, to me, is for my girls to have a male mentor who validates their female self-respect and thats exactly what they have.

Then I gave the kids a chance to share statements. They did so. Then they said STEP IN THE CIRCLE if you're a virgin. Ill stop there. 

One of my learners came up to me after and asked me about my relationship with Kasiku. (Before rumors go viral, thats Sydney's village name) He said how he wants to be able to greet his girlfriend with a kiss but thats just not normal in the village. Or go on dates. And neither is that. But I told him, just do it. For me and Syd, we've been able to not just preach what a relationship ought to look like...but show it. 

My register class. Register class is synonymous with homeroom and one of the two grade nine classes is mine. I painted the class glacier blue and despite some of Kiara's period blood littering the floor, the classroom is kinda the place to be at Ndiyona Combined School. My register kids (all 41 of them) greet me in the mornings and are there each afternoon and evening for mandatory 'study time.' So school is life in Ndiyona. All the more reason to fuse the role of teacher, father, and friend. I soon discovered how parental background and homelife are so crucial so a successful education. Reinforcing the skills learned at school are the only way to truly gain them. Thus we have had to transform Ndiyona from just a school to a school thats also home--where the kids who live right here can have the support and guidance they need.

A year ago, I taught kids, yet I was unsure of how 'to reach them', unsure of whether or not they even understand my thick American accent. And, as were taught to in America, I almost pitied my kids. When they told me they 'were hungry' I sympathized. I wondered whether Disney short stories were too 'advanced.' I accepted that class participation would be a thing of my past.

But that was last year.

This year Im teaching Grade 10 English and Grade 9 Mathematics. Grade 10 in Namibia is a BIG DEAL. The learners write a national exam at the end of the year that determines whether or not they are 'fit' to continue with their secondary education. Make or break for many of them. Unfortunately, many schools in Nam seek the short term approach and focus solely on Grade 10--which means afternoon, weekend, and holiday classes just for that 'crucial' year. This has forced me to mesh my 'ideal American school environment' with the realities of the Nam system of gearing learners toward a test. Its with this that I've learned to still enact my philosophy, instill critical thinking and creative skills, while making them useful and applicable in the Nam context. 

I know my kids' home situation, the village they come from, their friends, their 'go to excuse', their strengths, their weaknesses, how to make them laugh, how to make them get serious. Most of my kids live about 200 feet away from me. So my 'job' doesn't ever really end. But it makes me see my kids as just that--kids. Not as 'poor African children' but as just kids. When they tell me they're hungry, I just say "me too" and then we continue. When kids are late, they get a detention. Its that reinforced victimization that is the problem. Therefore the opposite serves to humanize them, establish mutual respect andaccountability and level the playing field.

In Nam schools, learners have so many responsibilities. The trust shown to learners is inspiring. Instead of being afraid to make kids run errands or take charge, I embrace it---for my register class we had an INTERVENTION (following a few days of bad behavior) and I appointed 5 captains (Moses, Hellena, Ms Mafuro, John, and Herman) to take the lead, take control when a teacher wasn't around, and report any problems to me. Its working. So far…

So here is how school is going: in English we started reading Harry Potter and I had to dispel the notion that a) Hogwarts exists b) they will get witched if they read the story at night and 3) this has something to do with the 'illuminati'. After squashing those rumors, we started reading and its become our afternoon activity. During the day, I saw jaws drop as I explained what in vitro fertilization and surrogate mothers are. Though I don't know whats more shocking: that they didn't know it, how interested they were in it, or…that I even taught those topics in the first place. Now those once shy kids seek me out after school to read a wiki page on Hitler or Tupac or to have me correct every grammar mistake on their essay. Its that one on one support and respect that they needed. And thats what they have. 

And in Math, we've been playing 24. And all I will say is that my kids are getting better than me. The kids who I once got giddy over for finding the correct factors of 36 are now solving ratios, algebraic equations, and complex angles that even I had to reteach myself. The subject they once hated is the one they're chasing me down for to go over a problem, get extra help, or to mark their books. If you haven't caught on, Nam kids love when you mark their books. 

Shout out to some of my faves. No qualms.

most of you will never know the kids who changed my life. at least now you can know their names.

Shashipapo Moses: simply brilliant. and I call him out for that on a daily basis. Now he's starting to break out of his shell.

Matjayi Albin, Oliver, and Nicodemus: the commuters who reek havoc on the village but they laugh at my jokes so I like them. And underground smart boys, but I'm the only teacher who knows that. 

Mbamba Herman: were each other's confidantes. Had a major turn around. 

Marembo Prisca: believes that Nam will have a female president during our lifetime. Her. 

Mangundu Ndara: decided he wants to be my 'friend' this year. I obliged. Always calls me over during a lesson so we can 'chat'

Khashera John: my go to class debater. 

Mafuro Hildegard: confident and brilliant little lady. Deserves the 'Miss' before her name. 

Pedoka Johannes: lost both of his parents last year. Thriving. 

Ben Michelson: left for Rundu, but will always be my son.

Ndumba Hellena: our class captain. And a teen mother. 

Ntjamba Francisco: makes a stutter look good. 

Mashika Basilius: almost fluent in Spanish now and always outspoken.

Muremi Micheal: a true teacher's pet. We all need them.

Shirungu Barthasal: GLOW president aka T-Pain.

sometimes I forget that I've been here for so long and take all those 'weird' moments for granted. But some things will never be normal to me. I present to you…
You know you've been in Nam for awhile when you:
  • hitchhike to the nearest gas station for a romantic night out
  • your learners have nicer calculators than you
  • your nipple balloons after a precarious spider bite
  • hear the name Ghandi and you think they meant to say Ngandu
  • save canned meat for "special occasions"
  • can accurately calculate the length of pregnancy for village dogs
  • know which path to take home in order to avoid the common lightening strikes
  • come home to women you've never seen before dancing in your living room and merely greet them
  • consider the shack with a pool table to be a classy hang out spot
  • bathe in the river…while doing a few other things…
  • realize the only reason your sink is clogged is because of the inordinate number of beetles stuck in it
  • fall asleep on an elder woman during one of many hikes home
  • eat a few leaves to combat an upset stomach
  • barely flinch when you discover that two of your learners are getting married
I spend each night chilling with my colleagues at my house or theres after a crazy day with the kids. Eating popcorn and listening to Nam jams. They're just my friends and this is my life, my world. We joke about about the 'older' teachers at school or about some crazy kid. They treat Kiara, not like a village dog, but like a true American dog. Then we peruse around the village, mingling with others, and schmoozing until we get free food and drinks. And then they remind me how weird next year will be…

10 months left. Time to get off this computer. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

dirty kandeshi

"i think it would be the silliest thing you've ever done in a lifetime of silly things…"

lyra always seems to say things in such a concise and confident manner. so i decided to just pull her words from the pages of golden compass and put them onto my post. i think its important to embrace the silly moments and make that part of life, especially as a PCV in namibia. silly to me is normal. silly to me just means shying from a "plan", spontaneously exploring literally and figuratively, and embracing life and all of its adventures--and that's really what life is all about as taught by lyra. ok fine, by lyra i mean sydney. so here it goes: some silly moments (except for endless foose ball competitions) from the past month.  enjoy.

viva america
for almost every villager in ndiyona, i'm the first american they've ever met. so that means showing off US coins like they're were graced by the hands of jesus (he's popular here), dispelling the notion that every american is rich and white, but thats just surface level stuff. so we had an american visitor at my school and i made my kids sing our school anthem for her. simple demand, and it was met--made me happy to be an authority figure. did i mention im referred to as "sir"--yeah its kinda hot. so we're working on this little thing called "reduce the shame" and "boost the self-esteem". and that is all good until one of my learners stood up and asked with a smirk, "sir, can you sing the american anthem for us?" excuses quickly swirled in my head for why i couldn't--like 'don't we have a staff meeting in a few' or 'woah children, we have some important activities to work on' or "this whole shame thing is kinda one-sided' and then i realized i didn't have a choice. and then i caved. and i sang. in an american school, id have to submit my resignation the following morning. in namibia, i was asked to go on tour. mission accomplished. 

as part of our public speaking unit in english, we watched quite a few barack obama speeches. i know what you're thinking, but no, im not trying to indoctrinate my impressionable learners. its election season and i figured since ive been doing my best staying in the loop on politico, i ought to share my passion with my learners. and it was at that point that i realized barack obama's message that he's trying to relay to americans is just as appropriate for my kids in our namibian village. "you don't have to be rich to be successful" "race is no barrier" these are the messages that we try so hard to cement in the hearts and minds of our learners. 

and then things got silly. my learners were asking one afternoon all about america. sometimes the discussion goes off an a tangent. this time we discussed diversity in america and how many americans speak spanish. so i spat out a few words. something like "como estas" and suddenly my learners assumed i was fluent. and then one boy raised his hand and looked deeply disappointed. i assumed that someone recently died and so i was sure to be sympathetic. but all he said was, "sir, why haven't you been teaching us spanish?" i could have said because i am your english teacher in a southern african country where no one has ever spoken spanish. but instead i told them that spanish lessons begin today after school. silly, i know. i wont go into too much detail on the lessons but i will say that my learners now greet me like this "buenos dais senor" and text me "que estas hacienda?" when they're curious about my day. while i never had a plan to teach spanish in my namibian village and nor do i see much of a "purpose" i realized that sometimes in life you cant always have a tangible explanation for everything you do. the sincere desire to learn and ability to expand their global understanding is reason enough despite those silly implications. 

na hara mema NGESI
mema=water in rumanyo and i could pretty much just leave it at that. but for the purpose of my blog, i wont. lucky you. as a preface, just wanted to let you know that that stereotypical wet hot african summer is happening. right now. and so while i hardly ever showered during the winter months (no qualms about making admissions like that) i started to shower. often. well, until the water stopped working. so it went like this--syd came over on a thursday night and we thought we should have a semi-celebration for our semi-occasion. but as we learned in nam, our lives are an adventure with no preconceived plan to work with--and thats what makes them perfect. so as i alluded to, the water stopped working. and so did the electricity. what we thought was a mere village malfunction, we soon discovered was affecting the entire region.  we scavenged for any liquid we could get, tried to collect rain drops in a bucket, considered pouring cooking oil in the back of a toilet so it could flush, bought as much juice that we could carry from the shebeens, and then tried to fall asleep. but as we soon learned the most liquid we could possibly procure was from our sweat that poured onto our bed that was surrounded by 3,546 mosquitoes. no lie. 

the next morning we walked to the river. talked about life like we do. and then sat on the "beach"--emphasis on the quotes. going to the river in the village involves some of the following steps: ensure that there are not too many naked women bathing as to appear culturally insensitive and procure a tree stump that can serve as a seat. we did just that. namibians flocked to the river--it was the place to be and obviously syd and i kinda like being part of the cool crowd of kavango. so we jumped in the river cause the fear of crocodiles and hippos couldn't stop us from the insane heat and thirst that was emanating from our bodies. and we swam--all the way across until we approached a man who was growing undisclosed drugs. since he was an elder, we greeted him and then swam back. but then as we started swimming back to our side, syd started to do some kind of crab walk in the river. it was hot but i think you had to be there cause to some innocent bystanders it appeared like perhaps she couldn't swim (which many namibians are perplexed by the fact that we CAN swim) well at least according to one woman she couldn't. although it wasn't exactly a woman, it was more like a mermaid. this topless woman appeared literally out of nowhere and swept sydney onto her back perched on her bare breasts and carried her safely to shore. i merely stood there and LOL-ed. then, in typical mermaid fashion, the woman dove under the water and we never saw (sal) her again. 

then we got the following sms: KAVANGO PCVS TO CONSOLIDATE IN RUNDU DUE TO THE REGIONAL POWER OUTAGE. the outage meant no water, no cell phone service, and no electricity. it was a result of some naughty kids vandalizing the poles in attempt to collect some copper infused bolts and thus with the recent onset of the rainy season, they fell. and it all led to this. namibians carried on with their lives, work resumed, generators were powered, and few complaints were voiced. but as americans, we were fetched from village to village and all brought to this camp site just outside rundu. also, i got to help with the fetching. the peace corps security officer and i went village to village in kavango and raided homes until we had a posse of americans and we'd surprise them with the news that we were being evacuated to rundu until the whole "situation" was settled. and we decided to make it into a reality show called "village invasion" and it was quite stressful being consolidated--it was 28 americans chilling on the river, reading on the pier, playing king's cup around a table and making friends with obese dogs, and rolling around in the grass one night (for the first time.) 

the power is back for now, in case you were wondering. 

also as a quick side note, since i mentioned that summer is in full swing--we were chilling in mavanze, and noticed a bunch of syd's younger learners swimming in a makeshift pool presumably filled half with water and half with pee. but again, its hot so no qualms, no regrets. and we swam with the kids, taught them marco polo and then a few of them gave us a namstyle pedicure. don't judge please cause i threw some sweets their way so it was more than an even exchange. 

the tale of 2 puppies
i got a puppy named kiara almost one year ago today. then in that time i (directly or indirectly) procured 8 other dogs. and now i only have a dog named kiara. as some might say, life comes full circle. heres the deal with the puppy situation
  1. kiara had 4 puppies the night i brought home scoresby. i sat on the couch with kiara while she was giving birth and that was the moment i supported midwifery.
  2. i went to camp GLOW and when i returned 3 of the puppies were missing. great. so, along with kupi, we trekked around the village and through the bush searching for the lost puppies. we found one and in appreciation for kupi's efforts i gave him the pup. 
  3. then no more luck searching for puppies. 
  4. my bro--mashika--led a village investigation and, keep in mind, he's the son of the headman. so after some interrogations, we discovered that a grade 4 boy stole the pups. we got them back and now one is with sydney. little bina.
  5. when i went on runs in my village (yes, ive gone on my fair share of runs--yes ive changed) i've been flanked by both kiara and scoresby. oh and 7 grade 3 learners. makes me feel popular. 
  6. so one morning i was complaining about scoresby to kupi. i jokingly told him to take him to town. thats exactly what kepi did and i haven't seen him since. so nam. so silly. 
  7. as you could have guessed from the aforementioned spoiler, i now just have kiara. and she's amazing. the most village integrated and self-sufficient dog one could ask for. 

sustain that S$#%
the ultimate purpose of development is that its finite. thus the purpose of peace corps is that, ideally, in the near future it will depart from namibia. thus our aim as volunteers is to build capacity and sustain the progress that we make through the able hands of locals. easier said than done. but ohh so necessary. so finding those able people to sustain our work is the challenge. while some of the teachers at my school are my closest friends in the village the reality is this: many are often absent, out drinking too late, sleeping with learners, while others are hoping to be transferred to a more "attractive" town school and the rest conceivably have lives of their own. lives that they cannot solely dedicate to their learners. whatever the excuse, the issue of sustainability has often frustrated me--until i came to the ultimate realization: that sustainability and capacity building starts and ends with the learners themselves. 

so as a math teacher, i take pride in my learners' new found ability and interest in the subject. and some learners are undoubtedly bright beyond any standard i could use to measure. so to 1) tap their abilities and boost their confidence as future leaders and informal teachers and 2) to continue spreading the knowledge and passion for learning, we established a TUTORING program (the math study stars) and, with syd's advice, i identified the  top 5 learners and awarded them with SKITTLES and a certificate. and now they are slowly breaking out of their shells and becoming the teachers that they are completely capable of being. 

the mission of our GLOW club leadership and thus, my aim is for learners to completely take it over. and thats what i believe my aim is to do here: tap the endless potential of my learners and ensure that they carry that flame onward. 

alright its about time i go…and get a bit silly. 

see you all in america in a bitttt. GOBAMA

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"i was here [at CAMP GLOW]"

ill be honest. as i prepared for camp GLOW, i had a few reservations, some doubts. with the overarching one year NAMiversary becoming ever apparent, it became clear that the peace corps' 2 year commitment was essential. in order to truly build capacity, to form connections, integrate in the community, and achieve goals--well, 2 years seems to be the bare minimum. and yet, at the same time, we prepared for a one week camp for the brightest boys and girls from all over Namibia, those showing enormous leadership potential, those who will surely constitute the future leaders of the country. but one week? really? hasn't peace corps taught me that change cant be implemented in a few months, let alone a WEEK? so i was a bit disillusioned. but then camp started and those disillusions dissolved. 

i arrived at eros primary school, the site of camp glow 2012, but unfortunately i could not take in the playground (which i hadn't seen one since my time in the states) nor the scenery because 1) it was 3am and 2) i was literally falling asleep as i strolled my things into an empty hostel room where i plopped myself on top of a bed frame (sans mattress) and passed out till the morning when i heard 40 screaming boys and decided it was time to get up. 

i woke up, still a bit delirious, but as a tested teacher knew how to dust off those bits of delirium and replenish myself with some enthusiasm cause that first day was run by me and lindsay (the best co-leader everrr). 

i looked around the hall of 88 learners plucked from each region of the country knowing barely more than one other face and, despite the evident anxiety pouring through their nervous selves, the excitement at such an opportunity was apparent. and we started with a discussion of stereotypes, get it all out there candidly. one purpose of the camp was to break through those invisible walls and boundaries that keep and tear people apart. and thats exactly what we did. we constructed a wall based on stereotypes and throughout the week as the learners made friends of different tribes, ages, economic backgrounds, and genders the walls slowly crumbled until the final culmination when we allowed the kids to literally tear the wall down. (reagan anyone?) in namibia, a nation ridden with socioeconomic disparity, gender inequality, and dangerous tribalism, such an activity is fundamental to any leadership camp. 

mo and I were designated as the camp CARE BEARS. in sharp contrast to the king and queen of smackdown (though mad props to jeannine), our aim was to keep those kids smiling. easy, i thought. but then one afternoon, mo and i were patrolling the school grounds during break time and saw a crying girl approaching us (well, she can certainly spot a care bear). or so we thought. we soon realized she was attempting to make a break for it. again, easy she was a young girl, how hard could it be to contain her. HARD. after an hour of chasing her around the field and pulling her through barbed wire and fence holes, we convinced her (despite her crippling screams) to 1) relax a bit and 2) that were here for her. once we discovered the problem, we had the boys who were teasing her apologize. and all was cool from there. well, kinda. 

one day we trapezed across windhoek, the first time for many of these learners. first stop: PARLIAMENT. when we say future leaders, we weren't kidding. and the kids did not disappoint. as we toured the parliament, we sat in the seats of their  elected representatives and the learners asked critical and provacative questions that even made this GW alum smile. their critical views of their government were on sharp display, a fundamental ingredient for a blooming democracy. 

of course it was camp, so despite all the "learning and leadership development" that took place, we also had FUN. following one discussion on relationships and love and gender "roles" in Namibia, i noticed that some of the girls felt a bit unsettled. while many of the learners displayed progressive views on gender, some still stuck to traditional views that often objectify/subjugate women to an unequal status (such as getting married to a woman is like owning a car, thus you can "drive it whenever you want) [plug for sex documentary…more info to come] but what makes these female learners leaders is their passion and conviction to argue back and once the moment boiled, i took some of the girls outside for a game of frisbee, and then we discussed dating and gender and they had the ability to chill and unload some frustrations. while its important for girls to have female role models who personify gender equality and show them examples of success, its equally important to me that these girls have a male role model who challenges male dominated stereotypes. as i alluded to when we tore down stereotypes, it was also to tear those gender boundaries. yes, sex puts biological limits on ourselves but gender is socially constructed and thus can change, and more importantly, improve.

as for some more fun, we had a dance party after a grueling afternoon of crocodile crossing and ultimate frisbee (which i obviously showed no mercy to our younger learners) and taught the kids the CUPID SHUFFLE (some necessary cultural exchange) then on the last day of camp we had a talent show and one of the most brilliant older girls at the camp approached me and laine and requested to sing with us. adele. someone like you. uhhh its as if she had known us for the past year. and so we did an interpretive dance and sing-a-long to our favorite balled. 

and then we heard these gentle words "i was here" sung by one boy, sylvester. one thing that needs emphasis is this: namibian learners are not afraid to sing and dance in public, in front of their peers. (take for example a month ago when one of my learners approached me and said "sir, its my birthday!" so i was like, "ok go ahead and sing your favorite song to the class" i said it with a smirk with my american mindset paramount cause clearly a kid would never agree to that. but she did. without an ounce of shame) 

ok back to camp GLOW. this boy, age 13, stood in front of us all and belted the beyonce song with a smile. and its message dramatically resonated with each of us, the peace corps volunteers, the namibian facilitators, and especially the learners. julie hyman rocked this camp to an insane level and i will forever appreciate her. but the camp was what it was because of the kids.  and the lasting impressions of what they learned about their futures, the inspiration they garnered and instilled, the love they developed and demonstrated, the moments they realized they are special…all these moments confirmed that they were there or as beyond would say "I WAS HERE" one line especially evoked chilling emotion "the hearts i have touched will be the proof that i leave that i made a difference and this world will see that i was here."

syd, if you're reading i may or may not have been referring to this song all week. albeit indirectly. 

peace and love america. and barack, just in case you're also reading, own it tonight just like your wife did.

Monday, September 3, 2012

one year later

packed bags, out the door on that fateful day
last meal with mama, some delicious filet
a blank slate and unsure of what to expect
its one year later and time to reflect

one year ago, thoughts just swirled: living in a hut without even a friend
how would i ever mend?
and me teach my own class?
ive been a student my whole life, would my kids even pass?

and could i even keep up with happenings in the states?
would my friends all have new mates?
and would i really become a full fledged member of the community?
chilling by a fire with my new family while sipping tea?

and despite the anxiety and fear
the overarching purpose was clear
an introspective search for goals did commence
time to break from that american bubble and white picket fence
become independent, confident, and a bit more mature
but with everything else, i was much less sure

okahandja: our training location
but lets be real, we were at club o on more than one occasion
then my fate, it did seal
living in the kavango region, this all became a bit more real

arriving in my village created quite the stir
posh nam life behind me, as if it were a  blur
and yet within a few months, ndiyona became my home
part of the community, it was my own

then i took on that role, a teacher
and no, im not trying to be some kind of preacher
but once those shy kids were shown some love and support
their academic and social performance, not even i could thwart

suddenly my confidence and authority began to grow
ideas and knowledge among my kids, they did sow
all that ive learned even has me excited to be a parent
assuming when i go home, of course, and can afford to pay rent

that american-nam identity fusion began to occur
thoughts i rarely considered, now became engrained and sure
being open about race, sex, and life for that matter
no more of that politically correct chatter

living in nam has enshrined so much: what it means to free spirited and accountable
that you can live life without cable (and still be stable)
that life sets you on a path thats sometimes unrecognizable 
and that being sarcastic, here, im barely able

no more longer seeing namibia as this other place
often forgetting im not the same race
6 dogs, hiking around, sandy roads, goats and all
i hardly remember that, to many, this isn't normal

and yet while, of course, nam has transformed me
i owe so much of this to a girl named sydney
yeah we escaped hippos, and danced with orphans, all while reaching new stages
but what truly impacted me was what i learned about love, something you never read on book pages
that when you know, you know cause its perfect when its real
theres no better way to end this poem, then with the way i feel

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

boy with a coin

i was sitting in the back of a pick up truck with sydney, laying on a mattress from a china shop on our way to a cheetah farm. right now that sentence makes complete sense to me. and thats kinda the point of this introduction. when we hike, we often end up in the back of a truck and if were lucky enough, we will have a thin material to lay on that some might consider a mattress. also if you're lucky, you wont have to switch cars. we weren't that lucky. our original car was smoking out of its hood causing us to pool to the side of the road and allowing syd and i to walk to the nearest tree and search for "fun" materials--that was our entertainment for the moment. 

but what caused for such an anecdote before i even get to the crux of this post? well, its for this reason: while we were laying on said mattress hoping to (at some point) reach our final destination, I expressed a strong sentiment I have been feeling for awhile to syd (no, not that one) and told her this: i no longer have those IM IN AFRICA moments. and whats more fascinating than that is that even when i try to have one of those moments I CANT and its purely because I have become so enrapt in my life here that i cannot have a moment in which i feel like im in such a foreign,- exotic place when that place is none of the sort. its my HOME. and you cannot separate yourself from your home. 

so with that as a preface, let me recount some of the highlights over the past month. just keep in mind that when a goat walks into the staffroom, like one just did, i consider that a normal nuisance so what you and I find interesting may not be quite the same. but you can humor me, right?

what not to do in an american school
this is something i often think about as a teacher in namibia. i love teaching so much, but perhaps a large part of that is because Im in a namibian school and not an american school. thus consider the things im able to do as a teacher here that would perhaps land me on maury in the states:
  • bring your puppy midway through a lesson so they can examine her swollen nipples. then proceed to determine whether or not she's pregnant. (DID I MENTION SHE MIGHT BE PREGNANT?)
  • excuse the learners from the afternoon study so they can slaughter a goat for the school's enjoyment. or to kill a rabid dog thats disturbing the village.
  • convince my learners that justin beiber is my little brother. and actually have them believe me. 
  • painting my classroom resulted in a standing ovation from my kids. and also resulted in the following question: did you paint your class yellow to match your skin color? well, obviously. 
"sir, honestly, we'll just end up sleeping for a real long time"
my top priority as a teacher is to sharpen and enhance my kids' critical thinking skills. to me, its the most powerful skill one can possess. however, reaching that end is so much easier said than done. what i realized, is that often the best education occurs outside of the classroom and luckily living at a hostel school has offered me countless interactions with my kids outside the class. and what is essential is that the learners trust their teacher so such a learning experience can take place.

take this for example: we were having a GLOW club meeting and towards its conclusion, I asked 2 of my top learners, mashika and t-pain, to stay after to discuss some english class matters. and then somehow a quick recount of the book HOLES (yes, were reading it right now) led to a discussion of what happens to us after we die. what makes this conversation especially intriguing is the context. namibia is a devoutly christian country with little room to shy away from expressing those beliefs. and yet, my learners, without my input engaged in a provocative discussion that completely exposed their critical minds. they asked questions such as "of course there is not a hell, why would a great GOD make such a terrible place?" or "we'll just end up sleeping for a real long time, don't you think? i mean i've never seen any proof that God exists." while these comments wouldn't appear on the CNN ticker as breaking news, you need to consider that religious skepticism is essentially silenced and thus to be able to think such contradictory thoughts and take it a step further and EXPRESS them is admirable. perhaps they stole my copy of golden compass. 

and another: i was sitting in our "library" (yes, purposely put in quotes) with some other BRILLIANT  learners, prisca and justiana and they asked me a question: "sir, do you believe in the illuminate?" DID I MENTION HOW MATURE I FEEL WHEN IM CALLED SIR?! alright but lets continue….so for those of you who are a bit confused by the subject matter, I,too, had little knowledge of what the illuminati was until arriving in namibia where i heard about it on a copious amount of occasions. from cab drivers to villagers to teachers to small kids they often raise some unearthed concerns: that many american celebrities are in cahoots with the devil to establish some sort of new world order. so instead of answering the question, i asked the girls where they read about the illuminati. they told me on the internet. and i asked "do you believe everything you read on the internet?" and they responded with the most concise and precise (did i mention i like to rhyme now?)  answer id expect "of course not, anyone can write something on the internet." and thats when i knew we reached them. and i told them, if i teach you one thing its this: don't accept anything at face value, discover the truth for yourself. 

"and ndiyona combined school comes in 5th place……out of 5." 
alright so as you can see by this catchy subtitle, i have very little incentive to go into detail on the cultural competition we held in our village recently other than that we hosted all of the neighboring schools for a dance and drama event. and while we didn't WIN, i learned that you can still have fun when you don't win (NO REGRETS). so the event was held on a friday (during the school day) and of course, our school was confused on how to handle having an event during a school day. should we cancel classes? should we have the full day? should we release the kids early? no, how about we have school then let the kids go to the event part way through the school day and then get really angry that the kids don't come back for more school…have them return and roam around school grounds and complain and then re-release them so they can enjoy the biggest event of their month! and thats what happened. so obviously i spent most of the time at this event hanging out with all my colleagues and pretty much my best friends in the village. 

but then i noticed that a school event quickly turned into a community event. which is exactly when i ditched the teachers for the almost no english speaking ability elder village women. and thats when the event started for me. i was handed babies to care for, including my favorite kid in my village whose name is PILOT (no, that was not a typo) and also little KUPI (mr. mukupi's song who calls me mr. frankino). and best of all, the village women know how to take care of you. first you dance with them, then as a reward, they procure for you a COKE (the drink of global coexistence) 

"the river got frozen"
ok so while its cold here and there is a river nearby, no its not frozen but that is a line from one of my favorite fleet foxes songs thats playing right now and it encapsulates just how cold it has been. you know how as a pcv were supposed to dispel common myths about africa? well, heres one: IT GETS SO COLD. perhaps its because central heating doesn't exist in a school which barely has operable windows but nonetheless its been freezing. i even interrupted class one morning to run home and fetch (i use this verb often now) a sweater. additionally, it gets dark so early and darkness has a huge effect on daily lives here in the village. such as having to cook earlier for those who cook traditionally outside, it means showering in the afternoon to reduce the likelihood of hypothermia,  and pure reliance on the moon as your sole source of light when roaming the streets at night. however, its those night walks that are the most serene (right dip?) the only thing you need to be careful of are these: congata--these little thorns that stick to your clothes and pretty much anything imaginable. this is something i will surely be brining back to states with me. sorry. 

"even pregnant girls have a right to an education"
i was sitting in class when one of my learners delivered a letter to my desk. it requested of our school the following: send our debate team to RUNDU for the regional debate competition. "well this sounds nice," i simply thought understanding that we do not have a debate team. but the thought of the upcoming competitions distracted me throughout the day. so that afternoon at our GLOW meeting, I floated the idea  to learners about perhaps forming a debate team. i thought it'd be met with the typical shrug and we'd quickly move onto the next topic. what i didn't realize was that not only were all the kids unbelievably enthusiastic about the idea but we'd eventually meet each night and train our team. 

i quickly moved to assemble a team made up of a variety of grade 9 and 10 learners. i immediately got so consumed by our debate team and it is perhaps the most rewarding and exciting thing that i have ever taken on: the kids enthusiasm and the obvious display of such crucial deep critical thinking skills has been such an incredible experience. so we train quite often and its so amusing to challenge them. one topic thats hotly contested in namibia is this: "should pregnant school girls be allowed to return to school after giving birth" our team was split on the subject. some say that mothers need to stay at home and care for the children. and then we ask: what about their fathers? and what about their constitutionally enshrined right to an education? its a provocative topic. and quite important. 

the issue of teenage pregnancy is one that is of grave concern to our region and especially our school. coercive sex and unsafe practices often lead to unwanted pregnancies. and the lack of legal and moral obligations of the father to care for his child exacerbates these issues. and thus a pregnant school girl is often left alone, unless she has the gracious support of her family.  thats not always the case. one afternoon last week, a woman was walking past our local church when she discovered the body of a baby. following a traumatic response, she reported the finding to the police who determined that it was not a baby but a 6 month old fetus. meaning a woman had an illegal abortion and discarded of the unborn baby in the bush. that woman turned out to be a grade 9 learner at our school. this story is tragic and still too fresh. but it captures the pressing need that exists in our community: the support for young pregnant women is extraordinarily low. 

rescuing dogs on the side
so following that walk with the cheetahs, syd and i decided, why not get another dog? procuring dogs has been a defining aspect of our service and theres no reason why that should stop. so we once again found ourselves at the SPCA of windhoek. we befriended a few pups that could potentially be named jackal. but what makes our trip to the SPCA a uniquely nam experience was this: we were roaming around schmoozing with dogs when hillary (were on a first name basis with the staff there, of course) approached us with the following proposition--we need to rescue dogs that are roaming around the city. however, it was presented with solely one option: YOU'RE COMING. and so we did. and within a few minutes i was sharing the backseat with a great dane and golden retriever. and yet, i still claim that my allergic reaction was a result of closeness to cheetahs. we can hope, cant we?

arriving back from windhoek to our gas station on the edge of rundu, we were met with screams of kasiku and mr. kasiku (clearly we have reversed gender norms)  just one of many times when that feeling of "home" is confirmed. but lets be real....home is whenever im with you 

love and peace.