Thursday, December 1, 2011

na shana kudana

disclaimer: you may wonder if i wrote this blog over the course of a few weeks due to the lack of seamless transitions. in reality, i wrote it in one sitting so please just forgive me for the lack of transitions cause i have a lot to tell you.

"until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter" i was sitting in my hut with my brother when he recited this african proverb. and so i thought about it. this proverb, perhaps, explains how stereotypes and prejudices are established and cemented in society--the "superior" defines the "inferior."  prior to its independence, namibia suffered through apartheid rule and its legacy remains.  the legacy that was engrained in their society preached that whites are superior to blacks.  people in my village often appear to accept that they are inferior based purely on the color of their skin. however, i see shimmers of hope, shimmers of their true beliefs that they are truly equal but have never (until now) lived in a society where they could express that--the people who refuse to conform to their society's historical and systematic inequality. learners and adults desire to challenge the past's inferiority complex.  yet i still often hear my friends in the village say "us blacks" or "us africans" when shrugging and accepting their problems.  their jaws drop when i reveal that there is poverty in america, and that many of those poor people are WHITE, that yes, white people gossip, and yes, white people can even get lice. i guess thats what peace corps means when it says its a 24/7 job--im constantly breaking the stereotypes of the "glorified americans and whites" and explaining that yes, we are equal. so we decided at home and at school that there are so such thing as black or white people--were all brown, just different shades. 

so i often allude to the fact that our village is split among traditionalists and progressives. my life is similarly split. my life with my family at the homestead and at school with the teachers, despite just the 5 minute walk in between, couldn't be any different. 

so let me tell you a bit about life with my family. my brother, mashika, is one of my best friends in the village--hes also on the school board and is just a great person.  but instead of going into random details how about a story! so last week i got pretty sick. my stomach was churning but i decided to go to school anyway. so i was sitting in the staffroom talking with a few of the teachers when suddenly i felt dizzy, the room was spinning and the next thing i knew i looked down and was staring at my puke on the staffroom floor. yes, i puked on the staffroom floor. not my favorite memory at site but luckily in namib, people barely flinched as they helped me wipe up the mess with toilet paper. so natalia (my best friend and a teacher at our school) walked me home and i just wanted to rest in bed--alone. but wait….you're in a village---and thus not to be alone! so as i learned from experience, when you're sick in a village and you're in bed in your hut, people from your family to villagers you may never have seen before will be there to check on you.  well, i did not know this and so i laid in bed waiting for myself to recover when i heard a knock at the door. and then another. and then another. so to solve the problem of repeatedly having to get up to open my door, i just kept it wide open. and from then on villagers were walking in offering me bread, sour milk (yes  several times and not my drink of choice immediately after puking, but hey thats me) porridge, SPRITE.  i would drift in and out of sleep and each time i woke up there was a new person seated beside me…just to make sure that i was tended to. and this time my skin color nor my ethnic label played a role (ok maybe a little) but in namibia, "we are our brothers and sisters keeper" those words that barack obama tries so hard for americans to identify with ring so loud and true here. 

so for my family, i am the only mukua (white man) that they have ever interacted with (which is probably why they remind me every day that God meant for us to meet) well, that was until last weekend. so i arrived back at my homestead with some of my friends one night, when they notified me of the rumor that was circulating around the village. THERE IS ANOTHER MUKUA AT MY HOMESTEAD.  they expected me to be rejoicing that there was a white man that was at my homestead but i admitted to them that not having a mirror and being surrounded by black people has kind of led me to forget about my own skin color! so as it turns out this white man, was biking (all across africa for that matter) and needed a place to rest for the night when he approached our village.  well, of course, the people in our village pointed him to the home of the chief and the american. so heres his story in brief: he's from holland and has been on a 2 year journey biking from morocco through west africa and his final destination is south africa (so close!) so that night we talked about stuff white people like, ya know life sushi, (don't worry im kidddddingg!) no instead, he just joined our family with how we spend our typical nights---fending off kiara as she tries to bite your shoes, men gathered around a bowl of food as we eat it with our hands, card games, and, course, a movie.  movie nights at my homestead have become quite the craze at our village. it always begins with me and just my bros gathered around my laptop under the starry sky and then suddenly (unless i am enraptured by the film) when i look back i notice that somehow upwards of 20 to 30 people have gathered around from neighboring villages not making a peep and just taking in the movie. crowd favorites you ask: pirates of the caribbean and rush hour 2.

[imagine transition]

so mashika and i were strolling around the river and chatting with villagers when a (dare i say) sharply dressed couple approached us. also, before i go into greater detail, you must know that at this point i was beyond starving. so typically when you're hungry, the best solution is to go to a local shop and purchase some food. but being in the village…its more practical to pursue other means, like attend a wedding. so anyway the couple approached us and i know them from the village and they were like you must come to our wedding. and i was like well of course (apologies for the lack of quotes, but im sure you'll be ale to determine who is talking) thinking that perhaps it was in a few months or perhaps even a year. ok so i must stop thinking like an american, because the wedding was in less than an hour. as we continued down the river, we noticed a hippo in the water and so, along with a flock of children, we watched as one man played "how close can i get to the hippo without being attacked!"…seemed innocent enough. once we were ensured of his safety, we proceeded to the wedding.  

much of the village gathered at their homestead and before i could take in the wedding decor, i was grabbed by the bridal party and put into a truck and together we drove to the home of the bride where we retrieved a flag (singing and dancing accompanied this ritual, of course) and brought it to the location of the ceremony.  we danced. and danced. and then it was time for the bridal party to be recognized and sit at the well prepared table at the front of the hall. but one seat was empty. i was chatting with friends from the village when my brother pulled my arm and informed me that that missing seat was for me. "but im not in the bridal party" "but you're the american!" so there i sat, along with the bride and groom with their parents. and sitting at the bridal party table allowed us access to the "elite" food. now i suppose that a few months ago, macaroni and rice smothered in onions, ketchup, and mayo would not get my chops choppin but i suppose integration has set in and i was indescribably happy as i scarfed down the undisclosed meat along with the macaroni.  we drank a few windhoek lagers and i got to dance with the elder women, and was introduced to a woman that may (or may not) have been pre-selected as my future wife…unfortunately things get lost in translation, so im still a bit unsure.  

and now life at school (well aside from my duties as a teacher!) so i have made some amazing friends at school. the teachers at our school have been so genuinely welcoming and in that namibian attitude have taken me in as one of their own. i had concerns coming into a school as an american volunteer about how i and others would be received…but this is just better than expected. so last weekend, a few of us took a drive to popa falls--the waterfalls on the kavango river and had a picnic at the lodge.  one of our friends drove while me, natalia, annalitha, and anna sat in the back of the truck (on a mattress for added comfort) and just talked all about love, and relationships, and i had to remind myself that im in southern africa right now because sometimes i get so comfortable in my new environment sometimes i forget to look around and appreciate this. so im not sure if this was directly related to our love conversation but the teachers also kept referencing how they need to have sleepovers at my place….

so last week, i ran into the principal's wife (who is also a teacher at our school) but she was so pregnant that she stopped going to school. so i walked into her homestead, ya know just to see how she was doing (i mean she's pregnant after all) when i asked how are you, she responded "im good, im in labor right now" uhhhh what??? YOURE IN LABOR?! shouldn't we be doing something? like getting you to a hospital? telling someone? panicking? and shouldn't you at least take a seat or something? but no, she was just patiently waiting for her husband, my principal, to leisurely arrive home and once he did they would make their way over to the hospital. and then there was the principal driving in his gray volkswagon with his arm stretched outside his door to ensure that it wouldn't fall off. and thats what i love about namibia. people don't panic, people are not constantly stressing, life is enjoyed in the moment, even when you're in labor. so the next morning, our principal was back at school, seemingly unfazed, and i asked "whats the baby boy's name" and he just laughed. immediately i wondered if i had missed out on some obvious cultural tradition (maybe they're having a naming ceremony next week--how could i not know???" then he said he'd tell me at lunch. and when he uttered the name "francolino" at lunch later that afternoon, i thought he was calling my name--little did i know he was referring to his new born baby. so i admit meeting a boy named francolino was something i never thought id do (though i was deeply honored), especially while in namibia. i think, though im not sure, that he's the only african child with an italian surname as his first name…but who really knows?


for the past few weeks (before i officially begin teaching in january) i have been meeting with community members, teachers, and leaders to assess our village so that, together, we can work to improve conditions. and theres one issue that has routinely been raised, especially at our school--gender inequality: girls viewing themselves as inferior and boys seeing themselves as superior. as i alluded to before, our village is unique with traditionalists pitted against progressives. but the gender issue is crucial. teenage pregnancy happens too often at our school leaving the girls with the choice to drop out and become a mother too early, remain in school forcing their family to raise the child, and meanwhile the father has no legal obligations towards the child and thus boys fail to understand the issues associated with teenage pregnancy. HIV/AIDS is epidemic and men are often the perpetrators because women often allow their boyfriends to have multiple partners because its "socially acceptable." acceptable is in quotes because the women i talk to do not accept it but rather they see no way to reverse these practices or exercise their rights. and then last week something occurred at our school that warranted a rapid response and action. an 8th grade learner was raped by two 9th grade boys--in a classroom during the evening study hours. it was that moment when a sense of urgency struck in. girls need to be empowered, need to understand their inherent rights and how to exercise them. but equally important is the role of boys in female empowerment. girls cannot be empowered in a society filled with boys who fail to recognize womens rights and their inherent equality in society. thus natalia (who admirably pushes the limits on gender roles and defies stereotypes) and I worked together to establish a boys and girls gender equality program: GLOW--guys and girls leading our world. and heres our vision: provide a comfortable environment and forum to discuss issuers relating to gender, health, and self esteem; to examine stereotypes and challenge societal views of how each sex "should" act, and allow a forum for boys and girls to interact and understand the realities of gender.  our aim: overcome gender injustice and build individual and group capacity and empower our future leaders. 

[imagine transition]

so let me tell you a quick love story. its about kovu and kiara. [if you've seen lion king 2 and you realize that this story is unoriginal you are welcome to skip ahead!] in romeo and juliet-esque fashion, the two lion cubs managed to fall in love despite being offsprings of rival clans (were talking about scar and samba after all) so….if you're not aware, sydney and i got PUPPIES! they're brother and sister and we (obviously) named them kovu and kiara, so perhaps love is not in their cards (but whats a little incest once in awhile?) i was visiting sydney at her site, right outside of rundu, and her brother, kankala, (yeah he kinda likes me more, sorry syd) just handed me a puppy--no questions asked. and now my puppy is not just mine but my whole family's. but lets talk about our time in rundu. so whenever syd and i need a cab to her village from town, its always a struggle. like for instance, one night it was particularly late and we were a bit lost and needed to get back home but cab drivers often refuse to go to the villages.  thats why we told him that she is pregnant and were naming the child after him, if he takes us…so obviously he complied. and somehow everytime i return to my village from rundu, i always gets texts and phone calls from random peeps like these: "mr are you…i want you to be my band's manager, are you interested??" or "mr francolino i am selling diamonds on the black market..would you like to assist?" 

so heres the deal: my homestead period has expired [i suppose now i can tell you that this past months a few people were struck by lightening THROUGH their huts but i didn't want to say before so i didn't have to scare anyone!] and thus i will be moving permanently to the school living in a teachers house (electricity and running water…whatttt now???) with another teacher (TBD) its obviously sad to leave my family but i will surely be over all of the time, having dinners and of course movie nights.  i have my own hut and last night i told mashika that he should move into it because its so large compared to the others. then he replied "no matthew that hut is always going to be yours" and i just smiled and, perhaps in the spirit of thanksgiving, i am thankful for a family in namibia making me feel like im part of it. 

so as i write this, im in the staffroom with the other teachers who are marking final exams (i just finished marking mine!) the learners are set to leave school and go home for the holidays until the new school year starts in january. so i suppose i ought to say goodbye to the learners but before i do, i just wanted to inform you that group 34 pcvs are REUNITING FOR THE MONTH!!!! were headed to reconnect (peace corps workshop) in windhoek and then vacay in swakopmund (land of branjelina) and christmas in luderitz…so yeah we'll be on the chilling on the coast and going sand boarding. and tomorrow im hosting a christmas dinner and polyanna (a bit of cross cultural exchange to promote teacher unity!) filled with music and competitions, of course! 

in the spirit of thanksgiving ill end this post like this: i am forever thankful for my amazing friends and family (in namibia and in the states) who i love sooo much! but mostly i am thankful that the NBA will be returning albeit a bit late. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"i just wanna live my life!"

alright so before i begin trying to articulate the inarticulatable (hows that for an english teacher making up a word!) i must first just tell you that i literally walked in my hut door covered in little black hairs. yeah, i know that may sound sketch but heres the sich: i told my little brother that i would shave his head for him at school (because i was doing the same for myself, of course) and then soon after (i suppose i should have predicted this) a flock of learners headed over and lined up, waiting for me to shave their heads. since our school is a hostel school, half of all of the learners live on the school premises and all learners are required to keep their heads shaved (even girls) and thats where i came in. secondary project? barber! well, in the spirit of sustainability, i decided to hand over the reigns (ie, hair clippers) to one of the learners so that i could "supervise" and by that i mean hang out with one of my fellow teachers--and someone who just might be the female Namibian version of ME!

so despite the hairs and dirt and whatever else encapsulates my bod right now, i decided that its about time i posted an update! so we officially completed our pre-service training 2 weeks ago--and how eventful it was. we truly formed a family in okahandja--with fellow pcvs and namibians. thats why moving to site was nothing but bitter sweet. this is kinda for my fellow pcvs but heres a glimpse into our lives as trainees: chris and i ate chicken on the sidewalk, vegas and i got giddy, we danced at gios as grandmas shouted "all the way from america," held committee meetings at none other than club o, syd and i emceed the family appreciation day,  bagshotted each other…a lot, had dance parties with 10 year old neighbors to britney, facilitated romance (more than once), swam at the lodge, played buffalo, top 3 bottom 3, chanted swear us in, indulged in jam jars…and oh i could continue but instead…

so fast forward and here i am, in my village of about 5000 people. the token american. the lone white--pretty much ever. describing my life in ndiyona and the whole community is just not possible--a blog would not do this village justice [here is my plug to encourage you to visit, so that way you wont have to rely on a few words to understand my new home!] but aside from that i suppose ill give it a try! my village is purely fascinating.  its on the verge of becoming a town (and yes, that requires official government classification and development) so its quite evident that the development is welcomed by some but leaving others unsettled. so now its time to tell you about my favorite thing: village dichotomy. its evident everywhere everyday. and im slowly losing site of how fascinating these things are, but i suppose thats what integration is all about. well lets talk about my host mother for a bit: she speaks barely any english and we live in a homestead without electricity.  each day i see her walking towards the river carrying an empty bucket that she'll soon fill to bring home for her daily bath.  ok now its time for the village dichotomy: while she's walking down the dirt road in search of water, she's updating her FACEBOOK status on her phone (obviously). and as we walk around the village which is drizzled with mud hats covered in thatched roves, those same thacthed roof sometimes have a satellite dish attached to it (cmon even peeps here watch roseanne) so the struggle between modernity and development with traditions and conservatism is certainly alive.  

its like any society: where there are people trying to maintain traditions struggling with progressives who hope to implement change to improve their lives. but here its different: ndiyona literally means "waiting for tomorrow" and while the translation doesn't originate from the ideals of development, the translation is relevant and often referenced.  many adults in our village lack an effective education for 2 reasons--the education system under the apartheid regime purposely kept the standards for blacks low and if a final tenth grade exam isn't passed (even now) that learner is no longer able to continue with their schooling.  so while many adults lack the education credentials, they often talk to me about its value and significance--something they understand more that anyone. and they have so much hope for their children but are cautious at the same time.   one of the biggest challenges that children face is complacency.  the older generations before them have always been told that they are inferior and thus eventually their ambitions dissolved. and parents tell me that their children sometimes lack effort and enthusiasm because that intangible trait of craving education is sometimes lost when their parents grew up in a society where they were "inferior" despite their greatest efforts. and thus enhancing ambitions and cramping complacency is something that together we will need to overcome.  although one problem exists: there are those parents who reveal to me that they fear that if their child is too successful he or she will leave the village and escape to the large towns which is where opportunity breeds. but in a namibian family, who will be there to take care of the elders? and thats why no matter what i do for the next 2 years here, i want to involve the community-at-large and do so in an inclusive and sustainable fashion.

well one thing i do know ill be doing is teaching, of course.  and while i don't start officially start teaching until january (the start of the new school year)  i have been co-teaching math classes at the junior secondary level. so in the next few weeks, im trying to adapt to the school environment and procedures here so that i can get rid of those kinks before i have a class of my own. like this for example: each class begins like this: 

--good morning class, how are you?
--[children stand]we are fine sir and how are you?
--i am fine, you may have a seat
--[children are seated and class begins]

ok so when i taught my first class i got the first part down, but unfortunately not the last. so as i taught the first 5 minutes i realized that the learners were all still standing and failed to even mention a word about it.  oops. ok so as i was writing this i thought id let you know that one of the teachers at school literally just walked in the staff room and picked up my laptop and told me that i "must" get him one [uhhh no!].  those kinds of things are said all the time. so i make fun of namibians and always do it back to them…like for example i told my friend i like his watch and that he "must give it to me" its kind of my favorite thing to joke about….although when namibians do it, well, they're not joking. and speaking of the teachers at my school, well i went with a few to rundu last week (the large town about an hour away from our village) we got a ride with some man coming from caprivi on his way to the north and so as we got in we realized that there were already about 12 kids in the back, but we made room of course, i mean were going to the big town of course.

so i obviously wanted to tell you all about my weekend in rundu because i got to meet up with my pcv friends, but my first few hours were just so namibian that i must focus on that. so when i arrived in rundu, i grabbed some food with one of my friends from my village and then we parted ways cause i was supposed to meet up with my friend sydney right outside rundu. well i never got there, and thats pretty typical of namibia. so as i explored the town a bit before getting into a cab i was walking down the street when a man shouted my name of his car.  then my phone vibrated and it was a teacher (the same man from a  second ago in case that wasn't clear) from my school--he told me to walk down the street and that i "must" meet him. so i walked down that same street and chatted with him for a bit and clearly expressed that i had plans and had to go. as he acknowledged my plans he summoned me into his car and i was gracious because i wouldn't have to get a cab to my friends place. but wait this is namibia! so as we drove it became a bit more obvious that we would taking a detour. we ended up at  a car repair shop (?) [also each question mark represents every moment that i was super confused but merely chuckled to myself…ok i loled] where we switched cars and i was driving with this random man from caprivi (?)  before i could even ask any questions. then we ended up at someones house (?), then a gas station, and then a college (?). there lacked an explanation for any of this (but hey, free tour right?) thats one thing you truly have to appreciate about namibia--people here are not stuck on time or agendas (and while that may get frustrating in the professional setting) its such a change of pace to JUST BE and not constantly be thinking. "americans think too much" i was told--and perhaps they're right, perhaps we could learn from just living and experiencing. so anyway, i did finally get in that cab and well even the cab took me on a little tour of his own--we picked up his wife and 3 kids at the grocery store (?) and minutes later he pulled over to buy some mattresses on the street (?). whats funny about all of this is that its not funny to anyone but people who aren't namibian.  like why are their 4 screaming kids and a bunch of mattresses in my cab!! but thats what you're for!

oh and once i was finally able to meet up with my friends in rundu--we had such an amazing weekend. we ate REAL pizza at the lodge along the river facing angola, went out dancing to some trippy namib techno, [almost] had a movie night, danced with 40 year old brits, reunited with my suga mama (finally), made some namib friends (sorry my lady pcv friends, i also offered some of you to them…but we'll get to that later), late night wimpies. but id go into detail on our weekend but i think i could sum it up like this--ruigo, sydney and i were walking back to the lodge to meet some friends but then we passed a shebeen blasting "i just wanna live my life" out the doors--so what else could we do then literally sprint inside and get our dance on. also did i mention it was 2pm in the afternoon? so ruigo merely watched with a bit of confusion as syd and i got our dance on inside as namibians literally crowded around us--so curious and so amused. they clapped and shouted [in local language of course] "oh man these americans our dancing to OUR tracks!" and thats when one man walked up to syd and handed her 10 namibian dollars. yeah we were that good. ok, i suppose i cant take credit for the profit.

so let me give you a glimpse of what its like to live at my homestead: well there are several families living on the homestead all somehow related to the chief (were not always sure how, but who's checking?) and each family lives within its own thatched in area to create the facade of privacy.  facade you ask? well, even i have my own thatched in property but its purely for show.  the lack of personal space must be repeated because its so apparent. but somehow its refreshing. tonight we had a family game of frisbee--well it was actually just supposed to me and my little bros playing and slowly it seemed as if the entire village got word that a frisbee had entered the premises and soon after people poured onto our homestead until we played some made up version of frisbee. so it was going well--ya know, typical frisbee--but this is where the difference between playing frisbee in namibia and the states becomes evident. so typically, in the states a game could be interrupted because, lets say, dinner is ready. well, this is what happened tonight: my brother got a text that there was a newly born calf in the woods behind our homestead. [and just to give you an understanding of the importance of cattle ill say this--people come to the chief almost daily to document the births and deaths of cattle because it all must be recorded] so without much hesitation or questions asked, the frisbee stood idle on the sand and about 10 of us headed to the woods in search of this lost calf. well, there it stood and we literally had to chase it out of the woods and towards a tree near our house and we tied it up with a rope. clearly the chief has dibs on the baby cows. 

ok so living at such a large homestead invites sometimes uninvited guests and by guests i mean permanent residents. well, take the bushman for instance. i might live in a rural village in the kavango but even our villagers have their stereotypes of the people who live deep inside the "bush." well, that leads me to the fact that a "bushman" showed up one day recently and has been here ever since. and as peculiar that might be, just remember that theres also a random white man living here! anyway, the bushman (he's introduced himself as something different each time so ill call him this until further notice) is obsessed with hanging out with me. but he doesn't speak english at all. so heres what were doing: im giving him english lessons in exchange for rumanyo lessons. and he always tells me that never did he ever [fingers up, lets play never have i ever] dream that he'd be friends with an american. and that smoothly segues to how my brother always mentions that he never thought that the day would come that he'd share a bowl of food with an american--yes, and then he proceeded to film me eating with him with his cell phone. but a little documentation never hurt anyone!

so each day after school, my brother and i take bike rides around the village together. biking on dirt roads (covered in sand) is so much harder than he makes it look but im getting used to it. and so we ride by the school, the church (which i now attend mass because its such a reputation booster in a devout catholic community!), and the shop on our way to the kavango river. a 15 minute bike ride typically takes upwards of 2 hours though. and thats ok. i wouldn't be doing my community justice if i didn't mention the significance of greetings. so as were riding bike, we repeatedly get off and greet the elders and shake hands with kids, and hug friends. but regardless the greeting is always the same:
--metaha none
and i wrote it all out just so you could envision me shouting this as im panting while riding my bike over piles of sand.  and when i greet them in rumanyo, which of course i do, its met with a sense of confusion (huh isn't this guy white?), curiosity (if he greets then he must speak fluently) but mostly appreciation. and thats the most important thing. i constantly appreciate that my community has so graciously welcomed me as one of their own and are so eager to learn from me and i am from them.  actually that last point shouldn't be lost in the sentences covering this screen. my community (except for the boy who still wont get within 5 feet of me bevause he thinks i just might bite him) has reached out and taken me in as one of their own.

i hope that you're all well despite kim kardashian's impending divorce. missing you all


Friday, October 7, 2011

mukeu kutjanga romanyo

so im reading you shall know your own velocity! by dave eggers and came across the following line: "travel was a distraction for the unimaginative." it was a timely moment to read the line--i had just experienced my first day of site visit and i sat on the edge of my bed (without sheets i might add, but who's asking?) and reflected upon what was the most unimaginable place i could, well, imagine--Ndiyona, Namibia! So slowly, I was able to reinforce something that drew me to peace corps in the first place--living, not just traveling,  in a place that despite the richness of any mind i could fail to even conjure up in the depths of my mind.  

so lets set the scene: 7 of us trainees along with our supervisors headed out for kavango at 6am jamming to party rock (what else?!) and one by one we reached our village, me?? I was the last! Since our arrival in Namibia, we have been situated in a bubble--one complete with Americans and the necessary luxuries of life.  But as 7 of my faves (suga mama, syd, and science among them) approached the north and the kavango region in particular, being peace corps volunteers became that much more real.  Houses were replaced with huts, supermarkets replaced with small shops, and roads with dirt.

soon after my arrival for my one week site visit, one fact became evident: i am the sole American to have ever graced this village in a long time, and thus I have become a novelty. I am the first peace corps volunteer in ndiyona since 1997 and so my presence alone has resulted in massive attention, appreciation when i (attempt to) use the local language and a sense of curiosity.  As PCVs, were put in a precarious situation: integrate in the community despite our foreignness, offer innovative solutions that do not infringe upon local abilities or knowledge, and retain our identity while constructing a new one altogether. Which is why integration is essential: our purpose is to build capacity in a sustainable fashion to ensure that when we leave our presence is still felt--with the community, the teachers, and learners. 

Speaking of learners--well, thats the reason im here after all.  I observed classes for the week, co-taught a few, and met with many teachers and determined the following overarching issue: shame.  Learners have trouble grasping basic english concepts--from reading comprehension to sentence structure and expressing themselves through writing.  English is the crux of the education crisis in Ndiyona especially with English being the medium of instruction for all subjects.  And thus with the fundamental english struggles, learners are too ashamed to express themselves, participate, or engage in the material in fear of being laughed at (which often occurs) and this lack of confidence exacerbates the existing community issues: HIV/AIDS, poverty, etc. Tenth grade (as i mentioned in a previous post) is the crucial year: leaners must pass 6/9 classes (and english must be among them) in order to continue in the education system.  So heres the deal: Ill be teaching 9th grade english and will continue with the same classes when they're in 10th grade the following year.  Additionally Ill teach 8th and 9th grade math and….physical education! My overarching goal is this: make connections with the learners to uncover their potential, lift their confidence in themselves, and allow them to think about life in a new way altogether. I want to help reinvigorate the inherent desire, love, and ability to learn.

I asked one of the teachers to check out the school library (if it even existed) and was thrilled to hear that Ndiyona has a "very large library" as the teacher put it.  So we walked over and unlocked the door and i was eager to see a glimmer of prospects for the school and as i pushed open the door, i saw an enormous room (yup, the library was quite large) the only thing was there were probably only 50 or so books.  Thus I would love to stock the empty shelves of the library with donated books (thats where you'll soon come in :) and then, more importantly, encourage learners to value education and reading outside  of the classroom.

one afternoon after school, I walked through the sand and back to my home when a man tapped me on the shoulder from behind.  Despite that i thought that i was sufficiently introduced to the community, the man appeared to be a stranger.  And without an introduction he summoned me to his house before i could ask the essential questions (ya know like who are you? where are you taking me?).  The next thing i knew i was seated across from him at his kitchen table and he was eagerly preparing some food for lunch (caponte, he called it)…and mind you im still somewhat unsure who he is.  As he lifted the dish to reveal the food he had prepared, he finally disclosed that he was a fellow teacher but had been in zambia for the past week (reason unknown!) but was ready to welcome me. Before i could express my appreciation, I was distracted by the food (if you can call it that) on the plate.  Many of you are probably familiar with the fact that im not  quite fond of fish.  therefore when i saw a plate covered with guppies or minnows or whatev with eyes and all i…gagged a bit. and then laughed. in typical peace corps fashion i just grabbed a handful of porridge and scooped up some minnows and chewed (and chewed) and irregardless of the stench of a dirty fish tank, i swallowed too! so anyway, that story just needed to be told, but mostly (other than showcasing my willingness to assimilate..haha) i just wanted to articulate the sense of community that continues to amaze me in Namibia.  As a complete foreigner in my village of 5000, I was soon accepted and welcomed by colleagues and just random neighbors: and the motive wasn't so much to express appreciation for my arrival but merely to welcome me as one of them.  Its fascinating how quickly a random white American can feel like a member of a family in a Namibian village.  It takes a village (alright i just wanted some kind of hillary reference!) additionally, i wanted to showcase the inability for namibians to understand american views of privacy and personal space.  in namibia, if you spend time alone then its assumed that you are either sick, upset, or antisocial…and while this certainly challenges the american cherishment (made up word, i admit) of personal space, it certainly becomes a benefit when people repeatedly knock on your door in a village completely foreign to you.

after that yum lunch, some fellow teachers and i took a walk along the dirt road. we passed the lone shop in town, the police station, and a mob of learners on our way to the banks of the kavango river.  so once we reached the the kavango river, life just became surreal. we stood on the edge of namibia literally feet from angola. so what was my first though? well update my Facebook status, of course! cause while i might live in a village lacking access to electricity, we do have internet phones.  

on our way back, we walked to my homestead (where Ill be living for at least the first 6 weeks at site) to visit my host family (and thats not just any family, my friends, its the chief's fam) As we approached the homestead for the first time, I noticed over 10 kids hard at work on my incomplete huts.  I soon learned that those kids are my learners and they were busy building my huts! and upon my arrival they put their tools down and broke into song (umm my kinda kids!) the lyrics were something like this "welcome welcome, we are happy, you are welcome" (then some local verses)    Well i immediately thought of the ultimate discipline strategy, in lieu of detentions, Ill have my learners build an addition to my hut! 

Since my learners were busy preparing my huts for my permanent arrival at the end of october, I stayed at the modern housing at the school for the week.  However each night I headed over to the chiefs homestead for dinners and…well, just quality time with the community members. The homestead is quite large and I spend most of my time with the chief's son and his family.  Although, we do greet the chief each night and its very scripted: we walk though a certain entrance so not to disturb him, then bow and as I shake his hand I hold my arm with my left hand, and we keep shaking as we go through the local greetings (which can take upwards of 3 miniutes!) My host bro, Mashika, (were pretty much best friends) but we spent each night that week huddled around the fire, sharing undisclosed meat products, and discussing angolan politics, and (trying to) speak romanyo.  oh about that. well, remember i told y'all (cass i brought this to namib) i was learning rukwangali? well, my village speaks romanyo (a distant sister of rukwangali) so while i still have to learn rukwan for pc, my host bro was already starting to give me lessons in romanyo.  one night i was writing romanyo words down in my notebook and heard my host siblings chanting something in the background. it sounded catchy so i just kept on writing unfazed. then my host bro came over to me and revealed what mukeu kutjanga romanya means--"white man's writing romanyo"…well, i guess you cant argue with that analysis. 

we sat there around the fire, when, on the last night of my site visit, i saw my colleagues approaching the homestead.  and they summoned me to come with them.  yes, im often summoned in this culture (as i said, people constantly socialize, cant argue with that)! since it was my last night til my permanent arrival, they thought that they should take me out--so we went to a club (yes theres one in our village) and danced to rihanna…like i do everyday anyway!  It was there that one of the female teachers told me that she dreamt about me (flattered?) and in it she was revealed my age (creepy?). she was correct by the way.  

when we returned back to our training site the following week, we greeted our fellow pcvs as if we hadn't seen each other for months. I literally hugged each person (yup all 38 of them)…thats just how i roll.  Our bags and dirty selves found ourselves at opuiri of course and the following morning at a cultural festival!  And, in typical nam 34 fashion, we perfumed our "tate gwetu" song and dance to the whole town at the festival--laine led the vocals, and i, of course, led the dance surrounded by my fellow pcvs! and before we resumed training, we spent the next day at the pool at the local lodge…ill just leave it at that for now.

alright friends, in honor of steve jobs ill end it like this "stay foolish, stay hungry"--i think that pretty much sums up the way life ought to be lived.


Friday, September 23, 2011

you can call me mr. franc

so let me give you a visual: imagine seeing the outline of the map of namibia (in yarn with large rocks to hold it down) displayed outside, in the sand i might add, right outside our training center. then imagine that the next 2 years of your life are purely determined by the arbitrary decision of where to place us on that very map.  well thats exactly what happened today. at the end of a long day of training, the anticipation that has dominated our every thought of the day (and the last month for that matter) dissipated into reality. one by one we stood on the imaginary map, on a site that right now is no more than a name, but will soon become part of our core.  ok, well how was that for a lead up? you probably just skipped ahead because, like many of us, you just couldn't resist the temptation of knowing where ill be spending the next 2 years of my life! 

As i mentioned before (im checking to make sure that you're actually following this blog religiously!) I will be serving in the Kavango region--a region plagued with issues that much of Namibia fails to grasp.  The highest number of orphans due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic live here, the largest population of "severely poor" [my disdain for such a label is well documented] Namibians live here, the largest percentage of school age children with no shoes and inadequate outfits live here, and soon so will I along with 7 others! Soon to be the kavango family and Im so excited to have this experience with them all and mostly go rafting at Victoria Falls!  To be exact, I will be teaching 9th grade math and english at Ndiyona Combined School in (ya guessed it!) Ndiyona which is situated 100km east of Rundu (the capital of the region) and along the Trans Caprivi Highway and the Kavango River and less than an hour from Botswana and Angola. After meeting with the interim principal, he outlined objectives of our education project in Ndiyona and among them include the following: raising math standards in a school with bottom math scores, establish programs for the OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) population which constitutes of half of the school, increase English speaking ability, boost student confidence and critical thinking skills, and promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programs. 

But heres what makes me feel kinda cool and popular [2 extremely important attributes to acquire] I will be living in a homestead [meaning I will live on the same property as a family but in my own separate house] with the village chief…like cmon, talk about village connections!  So you're probably picturing this magnificent house, well actually im in the PC so you're probs not…anyway--heres the description that I have of my living arrangements "thatched hut with cement floor, with reefs as a wall."  Ill be visiting the site at the end of the week so ill give you a more accurate visual, promise! [and sorry diana, but no, i don't have the privilege of having in a pool in my back yard :) ]

Well if you ask me, and you don't really have a choice now do ya?, I feel ready for village life. Lets talk about this past Saturday as an example. So we had a cookout with our homestead families--and they all made local dishes from all over namib.  Since we were pretty hungry, Vegas and I fed each other some grilled worms and I managed to swallow them (ok yeah I gagged a bit, but whats a man to do?!) So while playing ninja with the local kids certainly occupied much of my time that day (thanks dreebs btw!) I thought "hey, why not just kill a chicken?" So Renee and I, eager as children ready to kill a chicken (sorry couldn't think of any other example!) and we did just that. several saws of the pocket knife and viola!--just like that a chicken that we were minutes before chasing around the compound became raw meat!  and for our main course you ask?? goat's brain, cow stomach, tongue, and probably some other things that ought to be censored on the internet. then i cooked some lamb on a fire that i started!! i feel like im officially a man now 

Sometimes its hard to describe to non-pcvs about the inherent familial ties we all have based purely on the fact that were pcvs…but heres a go at it! So I was sitting on the couch holding my baby host sister, watching another epsiode of "1000 ways to die" with the fam and my phone rang.  it was julie hyman--a fellow pcv in the north who graduated from gw a year ago--well we've never met but were obviously best friends, cause thats how things work around here. anyway she was stopped at the local gas station along with another pcv on their way to windhoek, and she told me to run so we could meet. and i did just that.  Other than that, our group-- NAM 34--always finds a way to exceed expectations.  from chris' podcasts, to speculating about vegas' love life, to singing the namib national anthem in the combi, playin' shoulder games, discussing FOMO issues with syd, or leading a tate gwetu song and dance yet again--yeah, its these moments that make training what it is and leaving for site (though not for a month) that much more bitter sweet.

So in preparation for being a teacher (that is why Im here after all!) we spent this whole week observing namibian schools.  (i go by mr. franc now by the way!)   one  problem that we noticed and are sure to be faced with as teachers is that teachers often don't show up for school unannounced so as a trainee and with little to work with one afternoon I did what always seems to captivate a class here: let the class ask me about America! So the first question was, "so how is america?" uhhh fine…a lot of debt? not quite sure how to answer that question, I asked them what they thought of america and told them that id dispel some stereotypes.  So what exactly did I have to dispel you ask? here it goes:  no were not all rich, yes there is more than one airport in the US, no I don't know Rihanna and im not related to kim kardashian (though now that they mention it, i do kinda see the resemblance!), no north korea is not a beacon of liberty, and yes I've seen black people before coming to Namibia.  

ok well id love to divulge some more insight into my life but my lil bro is litrally tugging at my arms trying to get me to blow some bubbles for him. and id take my time but he just grabbed our puppy by its tail (again) and threw it out the door, so well long story short, i ought to head out. im headed off to my site visit tomorrow morning with my kavango crew.  looking forward to providing you with a detailed description of what my life may look like for the next 2 years.

so until then, peace and love

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

ngapi nawa?

well, well, well, [hold on a sec while i remove some clumps of dirt from my hands--i promise I'm showering regularly!] So keeping a blog has become much more difficult than I could have imagined.  No, its certainly not for lack of internet because unlike most of my counterparts around the world, I have a portable modem, NBD. And no, its not because I don't have a lot to say--cause I certainly do.  Rather, its challenging enough to process every experience I encounter and people I meet and now I have to articulate it all.  Well, here it goes!

It seems like it was months ago (I think the consensus around here is 6) that I led a group of eager pcvs to Jims Steaks for one last American indulgence and yet its only been 2 weeks.  

So if you were wondering, I am currently sitting in my host family's house  and watching a rereun of the VMA's with my host bro! I moved in several days ago and soon after, my [host] mother was admitted to the hospital for an emergency c-section! IT'S A GIRL and her name is Gabriella--looks liked my nieces name afterall! they are both healthy yet still in the hospital and that leads me to my first "That's so Namibia!" moment--I was sitting on the couch the other night (alone) with the door open hoping that the dogs would finally stop harassing me (I ran out of apples to throw their way) and soon after the sun set, I  glanced at the open door--the dogs were nowhere to be found--and there stood an unrecognizable man.  So what do you do when a stranger is quietly standing by your door when you're home alone in a foreign country? Well, what anyone would do, of course--let him in! Well, it turns out that it was my suga mama's [host] father (explanation will come shortly!) and so we chatted and within a few minutes he demanded my company at dinner at his house and so I went! The sense of community is so strong here--no one ought to be alone and no one ought to be without an adequate meal--again, so Namibian, we Americans could learn a few things!  

Ok so I casually mentioned that I have a suga mama and while it appeared to be a nonchalant mention, it truly is a big deal.  ( I mean c'mon I'm a volunteer!) Let me use her name, its Alice, and she is our lone retiree thats serving with Group 34 (mad props to her btw) and it began one night--like most things do--as a joke but like many jokes, it quickly escalated.  [the peace corps rumor mill is one of the fastest traveling things I have yet to encounter and just imagine what its like when im done with it!] So anyway, ever since Alice made that offer…well, let's just say things have been coming together…We're neighbors in our homestead communities, were learning the same language and will be placed in the same region (along with 5 others!)

Oh speaking of, I suppose I should let you in on a little known secret--I am learning Rukwangali (a Bantu language) and I will be placed in the Kavango region, in northeast Namibia. (quite close to Botswana where some girl named Supriya or something is also serving!) Kavango is one of the more densely populated areas of the country and certainly a far cry from its desert and dry neighbor in the south.  Kavango is ridden with forests, wildlife, and its namesake river!  The Peace Corps medical team has been briefing us on relevant health issues that we may face--here's what us 7 in particular have to watch out for: wild hippos raiding poorly built homes, schisto (a parasite that invades your skin and grows a family of millions inside your body!), rabid animals roaming freely, and rampant floods in during the rainy season.  So clearly I'll be stocking up on EmergenC.  

Wanna see an example Rukwangali greeting? (you don't really have a choice so just say yes..)  
A: ngapi nawa?
B: ii
A: ee
B: awo?
A: ii
B: nawa
A: nawa

tell me you don't love this!

oh and i think i ought to mention, I made a new Peace Corps family! NAM 34!!  I think that one apprehension I had when I committed to peace corps was a fear that I wouldn't have the strong support and deep bonds with people that is so necessary to have a truly meaningful experience.  Well, I found just that. Its crazy how people can connect so much in so little time (though my fellow alt breakers will certainly identify with this sentiment!) Something, perhaps  close to fate, brought the corps four together (catchy huh?!) Knowing that I will share this experience with Renee, Vegas (the nickname stuck!), and Laine makes me that much more eager for this to all unfold. Oh and I cant forget Science, yes that nickname has stuck too! But despite how cliquey we may (or may not be) I think that our group is uniquely connected and I am so proud to be a member of Nam 34.

Well, you must be asking what are some things you guys do as a group?! As a preface, we begin each day of training dancing to and singing along to classic Namibian songs (tule pela!) and that got us thinking….FLASH MOB obviously.  So Shaun, Anupa, Laine, Nora, and I choreographed a dance to "I just cant wait to be king" and (after teaching our peers) we performed it (spontaneously--or so they thought!) in front of our Namibian trainers.  As our hips gyrated and hands flew in the air, we were stared at and most likely judged.  But despite any judgment they made, they decided they liked it! So what began as a joke and turned into a full on show,  is now known as a traditional American song and dance. We have had a difficult time explaining that our one night choreography to "I just cant wait to be king" is not an American tradition but regardless were just gonna go with it and just perform it with no questions asked. sidetone: Namibians LOVE dancing and thus I have fit in quite well thus far (aside from the stares and laughs that ensue when Namibs see Americans tear up the dance floor!)

Ok so some of you may be wondering what the education situation is like in Namibia.  Well, let me give you a little glimpse (many more to come in the next 2 years).  My host brother in law (I'm a little lost with the terminology and the extended family complicates things, so forgive me!) is currently in tenth grade and this grade is absolutely crucial.  Learners must take a national exam upon completion of the tenth grade and those who do not pass (which statistics show that nearly 38% don't) are forced out of the education system with little chance of completing their secondary school degree.  Thus creates the at-out-school-youth problem which plagues Namibia, combined with 53% unemployment, and excessive drinking.  This cyclical problem has roots that are quite deep that even go back to the education system under apartheid in which it systematically kept black students at an "inferior" level to ensure white supremacy.  Additionally, the disparity in wealth is tremendous--as we drove through Windhoek (the capital) you could see homes that could pass for Southern California soon after you passed homes built with corrugated iron slabs with no access to sanitation, clean water, or disposal of waste. Namibia is the most unequal society in the world--the disparity between rich and poor is astonishing.  Things are slowly changing.  And as things slowly change, I hope that my host bro (Diwan--prnounced Divan--Afrikaans btw) can pass and I will do all I can to see that that happens.  

for those of you who have the $$ to afford it (or if you just miss me) give me a call on my new Namib phone: 264 081 758 1726

Anyway, as I embark on this adventure I think about you all the whole time (especially one little egyptian princess)! 

peace and love

Friday, August 19, 2011

2 days!

"every man who knows a things knows he knows not a damn damn thing at all"--well, as much as I would just love to attribute  this life truth to myself I do have to give k'naan a majority of the credit for this.  this statement captures the essence of the peace corps experience, however,--I'm about to leave for Namibia (on Monday night btw) and thats all I know because the adventure that awaits me is, well, unfathomable.  Some people have asked me why did I join the Peace Corps? I follow up with the only obvious question that comes to mind: Why wouldn't I?

Now that I finally finished packing and rolling each and every last pair of boxers and piece of memorabilia that just might provide that necessary comfort on those seemingly lonely nights, I'm sitting here hoping that several hours of packing and months of preparation have been sufficient for a 2+ year journey to south west Africa--Namibia to be precise.  And as if that task wasn't daunting enough, I am now faced with one that is much more insurmountable--articulating the thoughts, emotions, fears, and excitement that is swishing around in my body (hows that for an action verb, eh?!)  

"Let's get it started!"-- those words so carefully and masterfully articulated by the black eyed peas --says it best--IT'S TIME! So here it is-- the start of the Peace Corps journey to Namibia and now that I think about it, this journey began a long time ago! It began in 913 (still waiting' for that tattoo boys), it began (with that oh so famous catalyst!) with 7 of us spontaneously signed up for the alt breaks trip to NOLA, it began when sup and I stayed up all night to discuss the prospects of peace (and then got matching tattoos to seal the deal),  it continued as I explored the world of CZECHS and the asiago race with my beautiful love, it continued with some Gambian crazy 8's,  it continued in the Hamptons with fellow rat packers (alright I do realize that I'm stretching it) and now here I am watching Roseanne listening to GAGA and about to shed that tear that represents the uncertainty that awaits me.  But its that uncertainty that has driven me here in the first place.

While I have been on the road to the Peace Corps--one that is sure to bring unprecedented challenges, adventures, and lifelong friends…its important that I ground myself in the values that inspired the beginning of this journey in the first place: that of universal human bonds, service as a mutual exchange, service as a means to increase capacity building, and that finding human to human connections encompasses what it means to live while in Namibia and beyond.  

In a world that is becoming increasingly flat (as one times reporter poetically termed it)…it has has become paradoxically and sadly at times divided--sometimes our ignorance, whether purposefully or not, hardens these divisions which is why the mission of the Peace Corps is quite timely--bring people together on the basis of humanity and work together to slowly but so significantly allow for a world that's more peaceful and understanding than the one we left behind. 

So this is where YOU come in! You, in this case, has a very broad meaning (cause, yes, I am trying to rake in the followers)  anyway, please FOLLOW ME on my adventure because this journey was not merely meant for me to experience…rather, its a journey that I seek to share with friends in Namibia and all of you! Am I corny? Just checkin'!

For those of you who gave me a blank stare when I told you I was headed to Namibia here's a brief overview of the country:

  • its history is rich and yet tragic at the same time, the people of Namibia have experienced the difficult realities of colonization and exploitation at the hands of the Germans and amidst this period faced the first genocide of modern history in 1904--the Hereo tribe, in their refusal to allow Germans to infiltrate their lands and demonize their people rose up and yet suffered grave deaths in the Holocaust precursor
  • the end of the German empire only saw the beginning of South African rule and apartheid
  • the apartheid system and inherent inequalities between race and nation ushered in a movement (and violent conflict) centered on freedom and independence ultimately resulting in the establishment of a free Namibian state in 1990
  • today Namibia celebrates a press that is freer than any other on the continent and a nation bent on becoming the beacon of democracy and development on the continent
  • Despite the rapid growth of democracy, problems within the education system (in which I will soon become a member of) have been apparent--from unqualified teachers, to high drop out rates, to lack of necessary supplies, but the list will certainly grow as I throw myself into the system
  • oh and need I mention that Branjelina gave birth to Shiloh here and Chelsea Clinton honeymooned here….NBD...TMI
Sam Rioux asked me a question recently: is the continent ready for you Matt Francolino? I suppose I'll find out in a matter of days!