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