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.