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.