Friday, October 19, 2012

dirty kandeshi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

see you all in america in a bitttt. GOBAMA

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"i was here [at CAMP GLOW]"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 3, 2012

one year later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

boy with a coin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

love and peace. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

OH-SIX-6 and the 4 ONE ONE

066 and 411. the 2 most important numbers in my life. the former refers to the town code for rundu. the second refers to the best day of my life. but instead of giving details on that, i will highlight everything that happened before 4/11 and after since my last post :)

so heres the deal: don't really feel like trying to tie my life together in some concise [vocabulary word] fashion. and i already used the insert transitions idea. so…im just gonna have a bunch of random subtopics. enjoy.

"uhhh what time is it?"

i suppose that one bit of information that i ought to divulge before i get to the crux of this post is that i don't know what time it is. its not cause my watch was ripped off my arm or that my cell phone suddenly stopped working. so day light savings occurred last week. and in typical fashion (since winter is approaching) we fell back an hour. seems simple enough. but despite that it was widely known that this was happening, i was still a bit apprehensive. so it was sunday night and i went to bed not sure if i ought to fall back or not. in the morning i texted some of the teachers to get an idea of what time they had. then i found out the following bit of information: our school will set the time back at the start of next term. meaning the end of may. meaning our school has defied the international time standards. pretty baller. and pretty confusing at the same time. but ill just leave it at that. 

[re]uniting. now that i mention it, in more ways than one.

reuniting with SUPRIYA. many people envisioned (or at least tried to) just what that might look like. some adjectives could surely be attached to the moment: beautiful, emotional, life-changing, heart-pulsing. it was better. so "my friend at the time", sydney, and i trekked along to botswana a tad unsure of how to navigate the terrain, where the town we were meeting up was located (or how to pronounce it for that matter) but no worries because kupi drew a map for us on a spare piece of paper that essentially would determine our fate.
-------kupi is also one of my fave people in the village who cannot be described in a mere post…but heres a quick visual: one night about a week ago when we were just finalizing the final exams and entering in the marks, he came knocking at my window (as he normally does) and beckoned me to the staffroom to work together. later i approached the staffroom, flanked by kiara, and there i saw him, Kupi: sitting in a revealing navy robe with NOTHING underneath (and yes it became quite obvious that that was the case) and he sat with an empty bottle of wine to his left and a loaded gun to his right. clearly the necessary tools to mark exams. also i ought to mention that kiara spent the night in the staffroom)

many apologies for the tangent cause i was just about to explain reuniting with SUPRIYA.  so syd and i managed to hike our way across the border and through botswana. we also noticed that despite the fact that namibia and botswana are neighboring countries, the differences were apparent. consider: the roads were more narrow. the huts were more circular. the trees were taller. and the cows were fatter. this is all truth. and once you've spent as much time in nam, you'd notice these nuances as well.then we reached maun, and more importantly our hostel. syd and i walked towards the front gate. i was shaking. i was nervous and ohhh so excited. and then we made eye contact. i doubt i could truly articulate what was going through my head, but just know that the reunion was better than i ever could have imagined. and then we did a shot. 

so we hung out at the hostel. sup and i got some necessary bonding time. as did sup and syd. and one other thing i ought to mention is that we saw the most brilliant spider ever created. ill just leave it at that. everything else that happened is better as memory than a blog post ;)

so predictably, we had to leave bots. before we did i found a gigantic leaf and gave it to sydney. i told her that if we can procure a use for this leaf than she has to give me N$100. well, she left it behind eventually…it just became too big to carry. sadly, we later did procure a use for it--a souvenir! cause we never got one in bots. although, ultimately, we did end up getting something much better than a leaf.
***also i have to give a disclaimer to explain that "procure" is my new favorite word.

important fact: the nam-bots border closes at exactly 6pm. after some strategic bargaining and negotiating, we reached the border literally at 5:59pm. phew we made it. but then we were asked the following question. 
"do you guys have a car?" 
"uhhhhhh no"
"well hopefully you have blankets cause looks like you'll be sleeping in the bush tonight"
"uhh huh..."

but then, as things tend to do here, luck bent in our favor. just as the gate was about to close its unforgiving self, a truck approached it. and it just so happened it was the same people who had driven us in the first place. we rode all the back to my village. listening to our music. watching the sunset. (rumor of a lion siting occurred) and then…well, ill just say once we reached my village, we were hoping that the ride would never end.

[re]uniting with kate. so almost immediately after we came back from bots…syd and i…….. kate came to NAM! kate is one of sydney's best friends and she got to stay in kavango for 3 weeks and immerse herself in our region. so obviously, i learned how to rear a goat with kate around but i wont get into the details. on kate's first night in rundu, vegas also came up and we made some friends. im not embarrassed to say that these friends were 50 year old women. cause they were. they invited us to a braii and we went the next day. the following weekend, we all went to popa falls a "waterfall" east of my village. the only thing was was that you cant access the waterfall during this season cause the river was too high. oops. instead we procured some friends and while we sat on the bridge i also did what i do best--faciliated love via text. 

here are some texts i received from some nam friends:

"kativa (thats me) can you organise nangura (thats kate) for me. i have a black lady for you"
"matthew i need a husband to marry. do you think you could find me a soul mate to marry later today?"

[re]untiting with sydney….woops. sorry lost my train of thought. let me just continue. 

people of ndiyona, GLOW yourselves.

so you know the deal. GLOW--its our afterschool club mostly made up of the grade 9 and 10 learners at school. the ones who are a bit more outspoken, confident, and lets be real…cool. we planned a social event for the whole school run by our club. the event had  a few purposes: educate the school community about things we have learned, let the kids in the club take a leadership role and plan it, and also give the 220+ kids who live at school and cannot leave on weekends SOMETHING TO DO.  

one thing all of us wanted to do was to perform a drama that touched on teenage pregnancy and the danger of sugar daddies. so one meeting, a few weeks before the event i wanted to get a feel for how the kids act. i told them to prepare something to perform. expectation: kids would be socially awkward, shy, not into it, stutter, just like any kid would in that situation. reality: i was immediately enrapt in the play. not even realizing it was in one classroom with my grade 9 learners. it was realistic. there was side movement going on. props. and passionate, real acting. i was so impressed. although part of me was somewhat disheartened by the fluidness of the performance--it essentially showcased that these issues (teenage pregnancy, underage drinking, and sugar daddies) are all too common in our village. 

as for the social event itself, it looked like this: 
  • sydney helped the kids with decorations. they were especially impressed with her "people of ndiyona, GLOW yourselves" poster (i hope you get the how to lose a guy in 10 days reference)
  • T-Pain (a grade 9 learner) was the emcee. and he rocked the place.
  • there were a few eating competitions. try 562. 
  • it was probably 124 degrees inside the hall cause we had to cover the windows with sheets to prevent kids from climbing through them
  • we had chugging contests (juice, don't worry) and my chugging skills came into play when i BEAT one of my learners who challenged me
  • we danced a bit. and when i danced, place got insane.
  • also the one baby in my village who is afraid of me because she thinks im a ghost, FINALLY LET ME HOLD HER. #winning
  • we had bobbing for apples. but only used one apple to bob with. i later realized that the kids had been hoarding them in the back. 

"does anyone know what cat feces smells like?"
staff meetings. they're either the best (or worst) way to start a morning. we start each morning with one and they often dip a bit into period 1. i would normally love skipping time away from school…but as a teacher, its the worst. it would be ok if the discussions were substantive. well, ill just let you decide. 

so one morning 2 weeks ago (better known in nam as "last of last week") there was poop found on my learner's bed in the hostel. reaction that you'd expect: a cleaning crew cleans and sanitizes the area. a new blanket provided. not too much publicity made out of the incident. but this is nam. so that morning. the poop began to harden while our discussion commenced. was it human or cat feces? valid question, i presume. then, the hostel manager asked the teachers, "does anyone know what cat feces smells like?" but heres the thing. even if i (or anyone else for that matter) could distinguish between various animal feces…it probably wouldn't become common knowledge. and so there we sat. silent. waiting for the mess to be cleaned. but more importantly, for the culprit to be caught.

now the latest drama encapsulating our staff at school. so witchcraft. its quite common in our village. while some of you might merely roll your eyes and read ahead. consider that perhaps its equally valid as any religious explanation that has also yet to be "proved." but relax and delete that drafted email cause im not saying i believe in witchcraft ;) anyway, heres the deal some male teachers have been complaining that they've been having sex dreams about one of the female teachers at our school. they soon discovered that it was the same female teacher. and that she was quite "aggressive" in all of them. so what could explain dreams about a hot girl? well, witchcraft of course. so the female teacher is yet to be called out but she was warned. and our staff meetings have been contentious eversince. example: our head of department walked out of school. in search of a witch doctor. this is the real deal. 

"so we'll be fluent in a few weeks, true??"
as a teacher, its easy to get consumed by the learners and your school. but as a volunteer its important to engage with the entire community. thus thanks to heightened interest, i decided to start an english class for the adults in our village. a simple after school activity  soon became my biggest challenge in namibia. at our first meeting, 20 adults sat eagerly awaiting the start of FREE english classes. soon after our introductory meeting commenced i realized that the gap within the class was WIDE. some adults were parents who had not completed grade 4. others had completed grade 12. others were workers in the hostel. but what was clear was that i had some decisions to make. and one thing ive learned as a teacher is that you must be decisive. and more important than that, you need to look decisive. 

i divided the class into 2 and then decided to have 2 sessions. one would be for adults who have little no to experience with english and thus need to start essentially fresh. the second would focus on the following: resume writing, preparing for interviews, writing business proposals, and perfecting their english. for the first class, my host brother, mashie, works as my interpreter which, in turn, helps him enhance his english skills. one thing that needed to be clear to all of the adults though, was that despite that their teacher was american, they would not become fluent in english or rich from an incredible business plan in a matter of weeks. expectations are sometimes insanely high when an american walks in. which is why its important for reality to be imposed on the class before you get started. 

once the classes did finally commence, it became so rewarding. engaging with the community, those eager to find work, some who had to leave school due to an early pregnancy, or those who are inspired by their high achieving child inspire me daily. and not only that, but i made a friend named thimoteus who is in a BAND. 

my second home
sydney and i have adopted eachothers  villages as our unofficial second homes. most people who join peace corps get the chance to intimately understand and connect with one village. which is incredible. as for us, we get 2. 
mavanze (sydney's village) weekend looked like this:
  • i helped put the water tower some structure after a casual walk around the village
  • one of syds host brothers gave me 5 dollar coin (granted it was plastic…no qualms)
  • we went to the homestead where kiara was born. i met her mom and bro. ill just say im glad i didn't leave her there. 
  • played a soccer game with the boys and then it started raining…syd advised me to shower quickly so i wouldn't get struck by lightening. so i showered in the rain right after she did. and it was magical. and no lightening strikes. 
  • we had to locate kankala (again) who had ran off with my ipod due to his obsession with bedrock
  • we pounded muhangu (video to follow)

"lets call her lily"
 i had my first experience in a southern village! school is over and i finally did what i shoulda done awhile ago--visit LAINE. perhaps its cause we live here and know our villages intimately, but laines village couldn't be any different from mine. the biggest difference: the concentration of homes which are made of corrugated iron and crowd a small farm settlement is truly unique. mountains encircle the small settlement and make for a spectacular view. but what was better than observing the village, was bonding with laine! for several reasons. she taught me spite and malace (my new favorite game…we have to finish our tournament btw), we got to watch gory movies, but most IMPORTANTLY we (temporarily) rescued a baby puppy (that was perhaps redundant) and we decided to name her lily inspired by black swan. despite the fact that she peed almost as much as laine, she became one of my best friends in nam. we cuddled with her. and fed her milk. then she disappeared. oops. 

then laine and i headed to windhoek. we split a bottle of champagne. need i say more? bonding session. check.
theres not a problem with having favorites…right?
as most of you know, the first term has come to an end. and as i alluded to in my previous post, teaching has been more enjoyable than i could have imagined. but what i love most about teaching here would never exist in an american school. like the kids and teachers essentially living together. the relationship between learner and teacher that is uniquely nam. and the lack of a mentor, or adult who believes in the kids, and so providing that, well, rewards everyone exponentially.

my grade 8 math classes surpassed their goal for the term. the goal for the class average was a C. the average this term was a B. and as a side, last year, the average grade in math was an E.

grade 9 english reached their goal, as the average grade was a C. additionally, the average for english last year was an E.

but now its time to showcase my faves. but what makes a favorite is not just "liking them" but their sheer motivation, work ethic, and performance, and leadership in the class. being a teacher makes me appreciate the kids who are inquisitive more than anything. the ones who, when pushed, reach further than ever imagined. 

Shashipapo Moses

he's in my grade 8 register (homeroom) class. he's the most modest and soft-spoken boy there. most learners in my register class are loud, outspoken, and enjoy the moment they can show off. moses, on the other hand, sits in the back and cruises through school at an unprecedented pace. he calmly and confidently exceeds all expectations and, most importantly, treats all of his peers (regardless of ability) with the respect that they all inherently deserve. no judgment, just quiet guidance. he received a 99% in math. often when im walking around the village with a moment to just think (perhaps while gazing at the stars a bit) i ponder, "where will my kids be in 5 years, 10 years, in the future?" i ponder because im truly curious and excited but also anxious that they harness their obvious potential. moses is always the first i think about when pondering that thought. purely because his future is unbelievably bright. 

Mbambo Kaveto

kaveto is also in my grade 8 register class. like moses, he excels and received a 97% in math this term. thats where the comparisons stop, however. kaveto is an outspoken leader in the classroom. he was elected to the learner representative council (LRC) and has made his foot print on our class quite obvious. he is the first to ensure that all learners understand their assignment and urge them to seek help from either him or a teacher if thats not the case. 

Ndumba Hellena

hellena transferred to our school just this year and she, also, is in my register class. she came in having no friends. she is bigger than all of the other girls and her lack of self-esteem was evident. so, as the teacher, it was my role to ensure true immersion in the school community. she was one of the first learners who reached a comfort level with me to inquire about education, ask questions about america, and seek help in her social and academic realms of life. now? she was elected to the hostel representative council and to chair the math club that i also run. she was one of the top 5 learners in grade 8 and she even has a vibrant social life. basically, she's smart and popular. perfect combo.

Mashika Basilius

mashika is a grade 9 learner. and the second best english learner in all of grade 9. he is the most inquisitive learner that i have ever encountered. from day 1, he took advantage of the purpose of having an american teacher--he engaged in cross-cultural dialogue asking about airplanes, schooling in america, my family, and careers. he's ambitious but his confidences hovers at a level that one would never expect based on his academic successes. he lost his mother at the start of the school year and instead of conceding and falling through the cracks, he's pushing himself and challenging himself despite that he sometimes loses faith. thus as his teacher and mentor, im working with him to restore that. 

Marembo Prisca

prisca is 15 years old. a grade 9 learner and undoubtedly the brightest learner in all of grade 9 and perhaps in the entire school. she's a leader, she actively engages in class discussions, and she is confident. she refuses to subscribe to the gender norms that she easily could have inherited. she aims to be a doctor and i have no doubts that she cant reach that goal. she's the one that i can always rely on to engage in provocative discussions in english dealing with peer pressure, self-confidence, teenage pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS. she doesn't merely speak, she engages, provokes, challenges, and her convictions are more than apparent. she is also a leader in our GLOW club and is the learner that all teachers rely on to excel, motivate others, participate, and make the school more than a school but a community.   


Monday, March 12, 2012

"kwato serious"

the following scene happens quite often so i think its appropriate that it share with you: syd and i walk along the gravel roads that make up rundu (likely outside our lodge) and then a cab driver shouts something out his car door--typically one of our names. not too eventful, i know. but then one such afternoon, our name was not spit out the window but this was: "kwato serious!" and that leads me to the all important topic of "namlish." 

"this one he is not serious" you will hear that from young to old, women and men, learners and teachers talking about themselves, americans, or even my puppy. what does it mean exactly? well, its kinda like an all encompassing phrase. its the phrase you dish out in leiu of a shrug of the shoulders, its a phrase to show sincere disappointment, its a phrase to merely mock a friend, or to imply that perhaps you should get you dog off that old woman's skirt. which leads me to my little twist (cass knows all about those) on the matter. my rumanyo skills have progressed enough that i can throw an english and rumanyo word together to make my own little variation. and thus "this one he is not serious" has turned into "kwato serious." and kinda like wiiwl, it has spread. even to cab drivers that i may or may not know.  speaking of rumanyo, i now greet my classes in rumanyo as opposed to english (part of my way to get them to view me as an equal and not some all knowing american) to which i am greeted with a standing ovation (my second ovation since the last time when i distributed blow pops to my register class on valentines day)

speaking of knowing or not knowing people (yet another common occurrence in nam that i ought to share with you) so picture this: im walking around my village, or perhaps along the river, or maybe even in town (and likely flanked by my little dip) and then some nam man comes approaching me asking the following "matthew..why don't you ever call me?? how are you??" well my instinctive answer never leaves my mouth because its this "uh perhaps cause i never met you before." but instead we shake hands, hug, and talk about enough things without actually compromising the truth (that im a little lost right now). the reason i emphasize this isn't cause its happened a few times, but literally every day and thus in order to get an accurate glimpse into my life its important that you understand this. people can meet you one time, perhaps even just in passing, and will forever rememeber you and your story. im working on my memory issues to integrate in this aspect.

but now lets talk about the unknown texts for a second. syd and i were enjoying another salami pizza as usual along the river when i received this text "matthew, im sitting right behind you." it was from an unknown number. typically such a text from an unidentified number would warrant a spontaneous bathroom break to plot your escape. but being nam, i wasn't phased and turned around and invited this man to our table and we indulged in the oil laced pizza together. i soon realized it was my friends boyfriend. soon after, my friend, tracy, also joined us and im going into gross detail for a particular reason so stay patient. the lodge is situated along the kavango river and faces angola and so angolans often come to the lodge. so we were sitting there kicking back (nothing bad just fun) when tracy pointed out quite an astute observation: a bunch of people were standing along the balcony and have been like that for awhile. 
"do you know why theyre all standing up like that?" she asked. 
"uh no" 
"well, they're angolan" 
"angolans are used to war, so they're used to standing." 
makes sense. 

quest for petrol. finding petrol (commonly known as gas) always results in quite the adventure. so one day after school when two fellow teachers came knocking at my door and asked me to join them on their quest i enthusiastically complied. (although lets be real, it was more like this "francolino get your shoes on, were searching for petrol") so we sat in the back of the truck cuddled on the mattress and drove around the village and up to the river. walked around for a bit. mingled with locals. then we abandoned the car and approached some out of place gates that stood along the river. i quickly realized that this was not a petrol station (and when i say station, picture a small shop with a guy and a funnel to pour gas into your car from his milk jug) but embraced the moment regardless. the 3 of us soon discovered that this gated area was a lodge just kilometers from our village. we explored the area, took videos of ourselves, then walked along the river although my friends wouldn't let me get too close to it cause they worried that if something happened to me that the US ambassador would intervene (sometimes i think that they are serious. therefore my reply is simple: kwato serious!)

lets talk about stereotypes. part of my mission is to break them down and replace them with objective fact. i planned an english lesson on stereotypes. what i didn't realize was that that one lesson would turn into a unit. while my learners couldn't define the term they were more than able to provide ample examples. (wow, that rhymed) let me share a few:

"americans are so rich that they burn their new cars after one year"
"there are no schools in america because white people already know everything"

but this is one of my favorite parts of my job--provide my learners with the ability to search for the truth on their own and not rely on reported opinions in magazines. thus our lesson turned into one based on bias, point of view, and critical thinking. and being able to decipher the truth is an all-powerful tool, though always easier said than done. and instead of merely just denying the stereotypes, its about acting. such as the one about men that was mentioned "men cannot cook, only women can." and this transcends the village. the teachers often come in to my house and check the pot on the stove. no, not to take a bite of our food. but rather to experience the inexplainable--that YES a man can cook….macaroni, that is! 

breaking down stereotypes is all about seeking to understand the person that you have a stereotype about. and thus i hope that throughout my experience i can help you break down the stereotypes that often plague africa but at the same time i hope that the intimate exposure to an american will do the same for namibians. for every namibian who drops their jaw to my cooking ability, there is a man who reveals that he is the cook for their family. and that brings me to GLOW (guys and girls leading our world).

this year i established the GLOW club at our school: Our mission is two-fold: empower and strengthen the leadership skills of the future leaders of Namibia while, at the same time, navigating within the context of gender equality. when i first arrived at school the shame issue seemed paramount. but having gotten to know these kids as well as i already have, i realize that they merely just crave an adult role model and true respect despite living in a culture which prides itself on seniority above anything else. thus when we first established the club, i was weary as to whether or not the kids would express themselves on the issues that plague them and their community and, more importantly, how to overcome them. and they've already exceeded my expectations. we have 20 dedicated members and they are some of the brightest teenagers i have ever met. and thats the most important thing to remember: they're teenagers. and teens all over the world can truly relate. the issues, the societal and peer pressures, can resonate with them all. i assigned essays about injustice and community problems to get a sense of the kids im teaching. and definitely, some things that they have seen or experienced surpass anything i can imagine. like watching a friend get beat to death, or losing both parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, or lacking the family support. but what shines more than these issues is the kids' resilience and strength--something i can also barley fathom.  

we were originally only supposed to meet once per week but the kids pleaded that they needed this outlet and just comfortable environment at least twice a week: i obliged. we have had discussions about shedding gender boxes and why societal expectations of gender can be damaging. we are now planning to host a social event at school and perform a drama to showcase what we have learned. and i urge you to acknowledge that the fight for gender equality is not just namibian, nor just african, but global. not only do we have gender discussions but our aim is also to tap the leadership potential of the GLOW meetings so we are in the process of planning a trip to the University of namibia. its quite telling that when i suggested we plan a trip the one that the learners were loudly enthusiastic about was the one to a college.

so as you may already know, our school does not have any computers for learner usage. but the desire to learn is more than evident. so with my GLOW club i set up times for the kids to use my macbook air. and david and i set up a blog so our kids can correspond. and my learners are often checking their hair each time we take a photo to impress those american boys and girls. so then when the other learners got wind of this news, well, it got a little crazy. so i also opened it up to my register class grade 8A. and now my 8A class has become the 8[global]A[mbassadors]. so we are setting up another blog for them to post messages and photos to educate americans about namibia…to which this idea also warranted a standing ovation. [stay tuned for these upcoming blogs by the way :)] 

living on school grounds at a hostel school where the majority of learners also reside affords me quite the unique opportunity as a teacher. ive never been a teacher in the states but id venture to say that the investment in learners' lives is difficult to compare when you essentially live together in a small rural village. its impossible to measure how invested i am in these kids lives, and the source is purely the potential and love that espouses from each of them (ok, most of them!) i admit im not the strictest teacher at our school, but thats strategic. behavior standards are kept an enormously high level. and so i decided instead to replace the word behavior in that sentence with academic. i might not have strict behavior expectations but one thing that has been clear is that my academic standards are higher than they've ever experienced. and the learners are responding accordingly. they just needed someone to believe in them. i think belief in ourselves and from others is something we always take for granted.  

 so last friday, it was ndiyona weekend for me and syd and so we watched "she's the man with about 40 kids in the library crowded around my small laptop screen" but they still loved it. speaking of, if you haven't already seen it, please do. [nice.--i think only you, syd will get this] what else happened this weekend? well, syd and i stumbled upon a bush part of my village where we laid under a tree to avoid the burning sun. we intended on staying for a few minutes. a few minutes turned into a few hours. and thankfully it did cause otherwise we wouldn't have met the old drunk lady or played mankala with beans (or whatever they were) and sand. and how could i forget? syd also got to ride a horse. named sydney. sunday morning we woke up to the sound of learners (one con of living on school grounds) but (and here comes the pro) they were clearing my grass…gotta love those hostel kids. and then later that afternoon, one of my learners delivered me fresh maize (pro) and then also later that day, an oven. yeah, im not sure either. 

well i suppose its time for me to sign off from this blog. one of the teachers (who only calls me frankie) is literally knocking at my window. (why knock at our door, when you can knock at my window?)

also before i go, one last thing: my dad and chris booked their flights to come visit ('bout nam time!) but so excited to share this experience with them and so thats one more push for you ALL to book that flight. 

peace and lovee