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