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.