One year ago today--I missed hot showers. I never heard of Gotye or Babel. I was dateless for Valentines Day. I couldn't tell my kids apart. I still taught as if i were in an American classroom. I got annoyed when teachers interrupted my classes to "chat" or send a learner on some undisclosed errand. Talking to a villager made me feel "integrated." Greeting in the local language was my limit but only the beginning. Goats and pigs perusing the school grounds would result in a slight jaw drop. I cringed when a learner threw a rock at a dog. I wrote my sevens without a line crossing through. I wasn't a Harry Potter fan, per se. People would point and shout 'mukua' (white man) when I passed. I would spread myself thin. Talking with friends in the village seemed more like work than pleasure. I wasn't the poet type. I was afraid of heights. I could rarely wake up before 11am. I was an idealist. I thought that only keys could open doors. I spoke in 'political correct' terms when discussing cultural differences on dating. I forgave learners for coming late. I didn't believe in witchcraft. I rarely wore a hat. I focused on quality over quantity. I tried to understand "where a kid was coming from" to excuse their poor performance. International development seemed feasible. I didn't consider 'abnormal' an insult. I never saw an animal give birth. I was not very good at pool. This village--Ndiyona--while I loved it, was still this 'other' place.
And then time passed. And as each day did, things began to change. A lot. Quicker than anything has at any point of my life. Perhaps the reason I haven't been the most avid blogger is obvious. How do you blog about home? About your normal life? But then I realized that that doesn't make this any less blog worthy.
Being back in America for Christmas resulted in some realizations being crashed upon me. While my life in Namibia is my life and my home right now, in a matter of 10 months, that will no longer be the case. Which is crazy. I'm left with one choice: appreciate every moment.
One year (and a half) later. I have a group of friends (Joseph, Natalia, Mufenda, Anna) in the village. And they're actually my friends. We don't discuss cultural relativism. We discuss who's been hooking up with who over sausage and beer at Timanyambi. And we play beer pong. And landmines. I throw small rocks at goats to rid them from our school yard. I am still not very good at pool. (Though I did beat a Nam…once). I can still only greet in the local language. I've witnessed the birth of my baby's puppies. And the birth of some (friendly?) bats. And (sadly) the birth of Kiara's stillborn puppies. I am sometimes that teacher that interrupts. I wake up slightly before 6am every morning. I learned to prioritize. I open my front door with a sharp stick or, if available, a knife. People no longer think of me as the 'rich white man' but I have (successfully?) built the reputation as the 'poorest' teacher at our school. I prefer to write in prose. I jump off bridges. Mumford and Gotye are Grammy award winners. I'm all about quality. I cross my sevens. I'm a realist with ideals. I sleep each night next time my HP book…and His Dark Materials. I know that a nation develops through local handwork and not AID. I don't accept kids' excuses unless its accompanied by a note from the hospital. I still don't believe in witchcraft. My hat is my trademark. I know all of my kids' names, their personalities, and how to 'get to them.' Ndiyona is HOME. I walk around the village feeling like I'm surrounded by neighbors, friends, and kids and not 'others.' Oh and I have 'plans' for V-tines.
Step in the circle if…..
As my loyal followers already know (though this number may have dwindled down to merely my mother) we have a GLOW club to discuss pretty much any pertinent issues facing our community relating to gender and leadership. So this is what we did just a few hours ago. A game called 'step in the circle if…' and learners are instructed to step in the circle if the statement is true.
Heres how it went:
Step in the circle if: you are in grade 10. Simple enough. Not too much controversy.
Step in the circle if: the man should share responsibility for his baby with the mother. and it was split. boys opposed and girls supporting.
Step in the circle if: the only purpose of dating is to have sex. Boys in. Girls out.
Step in the circle if: that attitude of boys is the reason so many Namibian relationships fail. Girls in. Boys out.
Step in the circle if: Men are the most guilty of infidelity. Girls in. Boys out.
Step in the circle if: You would like to date an American. All the boys and girls go in.
Step in the circle if: You think an American would like to date you. All in again.
But this time I intervened. And as i alluded to, I love my kids too much to be 'politically correct' and we trust each other too much for that to be the case. So I said--heres the deal boys, if this is the attitude you have--that girls must bow down to the physical needs of their man, that dating has only a single purpose, an American girl would never date you. And thats the reality. And its not American women who would be opposed. Now its Namibian women as well. I pointed to the girls in the room who remained firm with their convictions--and told the boys how they (the girls) represent a changing cultural norm. And its time that their attitude shifted to fit this trend. The most important thing, to me, is for my girls to have a male mentor who validates their female self-respect and thats exactly what they have.
Then I gave the kids a chance to share statements. They did so. Then they said STEP IN THE CIRCLE if you're a virgin. Ill stop there.
One of my learners came up to me after and asked me about my relationship with Kasiku. (Before rumors go viral, thats Sydney's village name) He said how he wants to be able to greet his girlfriend with a kiss but thats just not normal in the village. Or go on dates. And neither is that. But I told him, just do it. For me and Syd, we've been able to not just preach what a relationship ought to look like...but show it.
My register class. Register class is synonymous with homeroom and one of the two grade nine classes is mine. I painted the class glacier blue and despite some of Kiara's period blood littering the floor, the classroom is kinda the place to be at Ndiyona Combined School. My register kids (all 41 of them) greet me in the mornings and are there each afternoon and evening for mandatory 'study time.' So school is life in Ndiyona. All the more reason to fuse the role of teacher, father, and friend. I soon discovered how parental background and homelife are so crucial so a successful education. Reinforcing the skills learned at school are the only way to truly gain them. Thus we have had to transform Ndiyona from just a school to a school thats also home--where the kids who live right here can have the support and guidance they need.
A year ago, I taught kids, yet I was unsure of how 'to reach them', unsure of whether or not they even understand my thick American accent. And, as were taught to in America, I almost pitied my kids. When they told me they 'were hungry' I sympathized. I wondered whether Disney short stories were too 'advanced.' I accepted that class participation would be a thing of my past.
But that was last year.
This year Im teaching Grade 10 English and Grade 9 Mathematics. Grade 10 in Namibia is a BIG DEAL. The learners write a national exam at the end of the year that determines whether or not they are 'fit' to continue with their secondary education. Make or break for many of them. Unfortunately, many schools in Nam seek the short term approach and focus solely on Grade 10--which means afternoon, weekend, and holiday classes just for that 'crucial' year. This has forced me to mesh my 'ideal American school environment' with the realities of the Nam system of gearing learners toward a test. Its with this that I've learned to still enact my philosophy, instill critical thinking and creative skills, while making them useful and applicable in the Nam context.
I know my kids' home situation, the village they come from, their friends, their 'go to excuse', their strengths, their weaknesses, how to make them laugh, how to make them get serious. Most of my kids live about 200 feet away from me. So my 'job' doesn't ever really end. But it makes me see my kids as just that--kids. Not as 'poor African children' but as just kids. When they tell me they're hungry, I just say "me too" and then we continue. When kids are late, they get a detention. Its that reinforced victimization that is the problem. Therefore the opposite serves to humanize them, establish mutual respect andaccountability and level the playing field.
In Nam schools, learners have so many responsibilities. The trust shown to learners is inspiring. Instead of being afraid to make kids run errands or take charge, I embrace it---for my register class we had an INTERVENTION (following a few days of bad behavior) and I appointed 5 captains (Moses, Hellena, Ms Mafuro, John, and Herman) to take the lead, take control when a teacher wasn't around, and report any problems to me. Its working. So far…
So here is how school is going: in English we started reading Harry Potter and I had to dispel the notion that a) Hogwarts exists b) they will get witched if they read the story at night and 3) this has something to do with the 'illuminati'. After squashing those rumors, we started reading and its become our afternoon activity. During the day, I saw jaws drop as I explained what in vitro fertilization and surrogate mothers are. Though I don't know whats more shocking: that they didn't know it, how interested they were in it, or…that I even taught those topics in the first place. Now those once shy kids seek me out after school to read a wiki page on Hitler or Tupac or to have me correct every grammar mistake on their essay. Its that one on one support and respect that they needed. And thats what they have.
And in Math, we've been playing 24. And all I will say is that my kids are getting better than me. The kids who I once got giddy over for finding the correct factors of 36 are now solving ratios, algebraic equations, and complex angles that even I had to reteach myself. The subject they once hated is the one they're chasing me down for to go over a problem, get extra help, or to mark their books. If you haven't caught on, Nam kids love when you mark their books.
Shout out to some of my faves. No qualms.
most of you will never know the kids who changed my life. at least now you can know their names.
Shashipapo Moses: simply brilliant. and I call him out for that on a daily basis. Now he's starting to break out of his shell.
Matjayi Albin, Oliver, and Nicodemus: the commuters who reek havoc on the village but they laugh at my jokes so I like them. And underground smart boys, but I'm the only teacher who knows that.
Mbamba Herman: were each other's confidantes. Had a major turn around.
Marembo Prisca: believes that Nam will have a female president during our lifetime. Her.
Mangundu Ndara: decided he wants to be my 'friend' this year. I obliged. Always calls me over during a lesson so we can 'chat'
Khashera John: my go to class debater.
Mafuro Hildegard: confident and brilliant little lady. Deserves the 'Miss' before her name.
Pedoka Johannes: lost both of his parents last year. Thriving.
Ben Michelson: left for Rundu, but will always be my son.
Ndumba Hellena: our class captain. And a teen mother.
Ntjamba Francisco: makes a stutter look good.
Mashika Basilius: almost fluent in Spanish now and always outspoken.
Muremi Micheal: a true teacher's pet. We all need them.
Shirungu Barthasal: GLOW president aka T-Pain.
sometimes I forget that I've been here for so long and take all those 'weird' moments for granted. But some things will never be normal to me. I present to you…
You know you've been in Nam for awhile when you:
- hitchhike to the nearest gas station for a romantic night out
- your learners have nicer calculators than you
- your nipple balloons after a precarious spider bite
- hear the name Ghandi and you think they meant to say Ngandu
- save canned meat for "special occasions"
- can accurately calculate the length of pregnancy for village dogs
- know which path to take home in order to avoid the common lightening strikes
- come home to women you've never seen before dancing in your living room and merely greet them
- consider the shack with a pool table to be a classy hang out spot
- bathe in the river…while doing a few other things…
- realize the only reason your sink is clogged is because of the inordinate number of beetles stuck in it
- fall asleep on an elder woman during one of many hikes home
- eat a few leaves to combat an upset stomach
- barely flinch when you discover that two of your learners are getting married
I spend each night chilling with my colleagues at my house or theres after a crazy day with the kids. Eating popcorn and listening to Nam jams. They're just my friends and this is my life, my world. We joke about about the 'older' teachers at school or about some crazy kid. They treat Kiara, not like a village dog, but like a true American dog. Then we peruse around the village, mingling with others, and schmoozing until we get free food and drinks. And then they remind me how weird next year will be…
10 months left. Time to get off this computer.