The Traveling Teacher: News from Namibia

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1 The Traveling Teacher: News from Namibia Page 1 VOLUME 1, ISSUE 9 August A Month of Cultural and Historical Revelation Term Two Time to Improve Upon the Old, and Get Going with the New! It s All About the Little Things: Well, this term brought along many projects, frustrations and victories. Since it was winter here with extreme weather in the upper 80-s in the day and low 40 s at night, I was certainly the sickest I ve been with recurring colds. Just making my immune system stronger so when I get back I ll be able to handle good ole New England again! However, the strength I ve gained, extends from just my health. My entire mind and body has strengthened. More on that in months to come. But my teaching has also strengthened, and hopefully partially due to that, my learners English scores have also strengthened slowly but surely. Marking still causes frustration and often makes me want to punch a wall. But I get through.(part of the mental strength aspect). So, we progress together. My learners are steadily improving their English, and it s so exciting to witness. They like to mimic what I say, and we have routines that they all love and take part in. Because I travel to the classes, I created a transition to get them out of their chairs and in the mindset for English - s short stretching routine. This was my biggest small accomplishment for the term. Sounds simple, and a bit silly. But exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and my mentor Dr. Nicolucci at BU taught us that learners should move around in a class at least once every minutes. These kids sit for hours at a time if their teachers all attend class. So my class, is different. And my sneaky trick? I go through the routine in English, and we do it every day, every class. Now they all take turns leading the stretch, or do it as a class chorus-style. It gets their ears adjusted to hearing English right away and taking direction, and provides structure to the first part of the lesson. Right after we take a few big breaths of air, they all sit together and take out notebooks to do an opening activity. Inside this issue: Ohangwena Region Science Fair 2-3 This may sound like nothing to a lot of you, but for me, a MAJOR battle has been won, and I m sure any teachers will relate completely. So in my pursuit of helping learners improve, I ve improved my teaching ability. The best part of the classroom has been to see the learners open up. Of course, this happens for some more than others. But I now have learners make jokes in English, or playfully teasing me and each other. But they are applying their English to new contexts, and if a classmate is talking you ll often hear another turn around and say This is your warning. If you choose to continue disrupting class you will need to move your seat in their best Miss Catherine voice. A Truly Wambo Wedding Spitzkoppe: Where Natural Beauty and History Meet Last Holiday of the Year! 7

2 THE TRAVELING TEACHER: NEWS FROM NAMIBIA Page 4 Ohangwena Regional Science Fair 2013 On a whim one week, my colleague told me he was taking a few learners to the Ohangwena Science fair, and invited me to join. He was a bit surprised when I said yes, since I do not teach any science courses. Little did he know that I was an avid Science-Fair-er in my day, and did some nerdy science programs for gifted kids. Or that my original plans for my life centered around being a marine biologist before I discovered my complete love of teaching. So, I went. I was told we d be accommodated and I could take pictures, so I was super excited to see what the Namibian science fair would have to offer on both a scientific and cultural level. We drove off, with only 3 learners from our school. Remember, our school is far in the bush and resources for science are lacking. More on that later. We arrived and the learners set up their projects. I was drafted to type up signs and notices for the event and I went around talking to learners as they set up. Two observations created an eye-opening theme for the rest of the weekend: 1) Most learners present had significantly better English than the learners at my school. 2) Learners from other schools had significantly better resourced projects than ours. More on this in a bit, but first, food. After set-up, we were all fed, nice food. Fried chicken, potato salads, sodas, (here known as cool drinks) meats etc. In fact, were fed balanced and delicious catered meals the entire weekend. And there was always enough to feed everyone who attended the event. A serious well done EVERYTHING else may have gotten off schedule, and gone over program by about FOUR hours, but the food was always on-time. Proper priorities. After I retired to the girls hostel. All the girls were busy making friends and were chatting. I made many friends with the learners there, who were extremely curious about the strange foreign teacher that had been lurking around with a camera. My morning started at 4am the next morning. NOT because I intended it but because the learners were already awake! On a SATURDAY. Oh my. After breakfast, we commenced to the judges meeting. It was supposed to take an hour. True to African time and the tendency of Namibians I meet being extremely long-winded, we ran over 2 hours. Just like that. Finally, we started judging the projects. There were about 30 teachers and 62 projects, so most judged two projects. I was paired with another young teacher Freddie. We judged together and it was so much fun! You see, there is a shortage of teachers in Namibia, and even more of a shortage of qualified ones, and even more of ones who genuinely love teaching and didn t join the program for the incentives from the government. Freddie, however, was a teacher to the core. It was wonderful to work with someone who really seemed to love the subject he teaches and believe in the power of education. After judging, I went around to almost every single project to take to each learner and take their photo with their project. You should have seen the ultimate joy! I told them I wasn t judging, just curious. And they d try in their best English to give their best presentations and were so eager to answer my questions. Kids are universal, they just want to be heard and valued. And wow some of these projects really blew me away! Fully functioning remote cars made from all recycled materials, home-made glue that is from local berries (totally non-toxic, and edible, and rather tasty,), classic projects like the salt-water battery, culturally significant projects like medicines for animals and new animal feed, jackpot machines, solar ovens, solar panels, an awesome glue for repairing shoes from old Styrofoam, and my personal favorite the boy who made chocolate from a local melon seed. I mean, let s get real. It was NOT chocolate. I would know. That said, it was delicious, and very creative for him to think to treat the seeds as such. I was just blown away at the level of thinking. Where I am stationed the change away from traditional education is taking some time. One learner who I became friends with asked me quietly, Why are your learners so un-prepared? Their boards aren t even typed! His board was nice official science fair tri-fold, with photos, eye-catching designed and neatly typed text accompanied by visual aids. Our learners had old cardboard boxes cut with flip-chart paper taped on them. The text hand-written, with many English errors. The special treat was that I let them use my personal colored Sharpie collection for this special occasion. I explained to the boy that we don t have many resources out in the bush. He replied that they could have AT LEAST typed up their work. When I told him we didn t have a computer, he was SHOCKED. Genuinely shocked. He responded, I didn t know there were still Namibian children living like that. I could tell he felt horrible for his judgments, but I was glad to have reality opened his mind to the reality of the experience of MOST Namibian children. And these are children all from the same region, a rather small region maybe 6 hrs driving in diameter. The disparity of resource distribution is considerable, and this conversation shows exactly the struggle of this country through development. The resources pool to certain areas and are creating new and distinct classes as the more remote areas take longer to change from traditional economies to modern, subsistence farming to commercial consumerism, traditional wealth to material wealth. In the end, there were cultural dances and speeches and such to close the ceremony. Overall, what I thought was an extremely successful event. I learned so much, and was thrilled to be present.

3 Page 3 VOLUME 1, ISSUE 9 Ohangwena Region Science Fair 2013 Above left, in clockwise direction: A boy with his model house lit by a solar panel he constructed, culture group performing dances, an originally constructed remote control car made completely of recycled materials (props for creativity for using condoms in the wheels), two young ladies with their shoe-glue concoction, a natural glue recipe, a full-functioning jack-pot machine, a hand carved remote boat made from local wood, a graphite-powered lightbulb lit by pencils, some happy learners, a young man with his take on a remote-powered truck from recycled materials. A young lady with her solar oven with which she cooked eggs, sausages and fish, some young learners with their painted paper mache plates and bowls. Directly below: My personal favorite, a helicopter model with revolving blades. But loot at the detail the door s window is the shape of Africa, and inside there is a pilot and everything! The talent and creativity of the learners made for such an inspiring and hopeful experience for the future of this developing nation.

4 THE TRAVELING TEACHER: NEWS FROM NAMIBIA Page 4 A Truly Wambo Wedding In every culture, there are certain rights of passage everyone participates in. While cultures all celebrate different rituals, some are consistent across most cultures of the world, like celebrations for birth, marriage, and death. I am fortunate to have experienced TWO weddings in my time here. And I must say, Namibian weddings, at least of the Owambo tribe, are QUITE the affair. This month, my beloved colleague Lydia got married. I was invited not only to the wedding, but to be in the wedding party! As a wedding gift, I offered my video/photo services and was so excited (and a bit nervous to take part.) So the day starts early, and I m in a rush to get on my dress, heels and grab my camera and provided umbrella (for the sun) and run out the door., We show up to the bride s house, and I m the ONLY one ready. I m wondering why they are all still sitting around. Well, actually you show up early to help COOK. Ah. So they wrapped up my hair in a traditional head wrap and gave me cloth to act as an apron and I was put to work peeling carrots, which stained my hands a lovely orange and made many people inquire about it the rest of the day. After a few hours, the bride got ready. This included a flourish of meme s (women) in the room all getting dressed up and tending to the bride, and an adorable flower girl spoke very little English but LOVED her photo being taken. A few ceremonies and speeches as the bride and groom leave the house, and then off we go to the church on the other side of the village. It seems like EVERYONE was there. Turns out there were SIX weddings that day. Seriously. And as efficient as Africa is known to be (KIDDING) I was told there would be one ceremony for ALL of them. So strange, but I was glad, or else we d be there all day. Of course, I m ready to go, camera in hand. We waiting something like an hour or two, in the tiny, over-crowed church for the ceremony to begin. Then the ceremony took about 2 hours. It was so hot in there, and just as hot outside, and people were getting hungry and thirsy. Then back to the brides house for the food. Yet there was more waiting, I forget why. By this time I had settled into the African pace nothing like the high stress every-second-planned weddings I ve been to back home. So we waited longer. Finally the bride and groom arrive, both tired and hungry at this point as well, and there are more ceremonies and speeches. They are greeted with more traditional dancers and joy is in the air despite it all. The traditional dancing was AMAZING. Instantly the group changed from the quiet church-goers to a loud, joyous chorus. Ladies are the predominant dancers, decked-out in traditional garb: skits or dresses in the traditional pink/black/red striped fabric, called onjede with matching headscarves and head-wraps and large beaded necklaces and belts all of them singing, dancing, and oku kuwilila, a sort of traditional Wambo yodeling almost, a vocalization of celebration. Harmonicas blaring, in no particular melody but intricate polyrhythms, people clapping and laughing along. You could feel the energy within the group, and it was an experience like no other. Pure, joy. Finally, time for food. And wow a LOT of food. A cow had been slaughtered and there was goat meat in addition. Not to mention 4 salads if you remember salad here means add a lot of mayo to some starch or vegetable so there was potato salad, macaroni salad, carrot salad, pasta with chakalaka and rice. And as in every good wedding, enough booze to intoxicate an

5 Page 5 VOLUME 1, ISSUE 9 elephant. The strange part, right after eating, people just up and left. It was so sudden. It was only about 6pm. But as I understand it, most go home, and there s clean up followed by an optional after party with drinking and dancing. (And by the looks of the people the next morning, it was a great party.)i wished well to married couple, and said I was leaving for holiday the next day, and the response I got was this, You aren t coming to the rest of the wedding? With a VERY sad face. Wait what? today. There s not too many ceremonies and we are starting so early, so once we go to the groom s house we eat and that s it. (I love it when a Namibian estimates we ll be home early.) So, back to the brides house. More ceremonies, this time for her leaving the family. Tradition goes that the bride leaves her parents to live at the husbands complex. I dutifully took video, not understanding a word, til everyone was looking at me. I was told to introduce myself to the elders. So in my best Oshiwambo, I did, much to their pleasure. Then they talked of the bride serving her parents and being a good daughter and taking care of them etc, and she got choked up and started to cry. She has only lived with her parents for her whole life, this transition for many brides here is utterly terrifying. Finally the procession of the official leaving of the house., and we re on the road to the groom s house. About 1.5 hours away. I m thinking we ve made such great time, when seriously, no lie, we stop to take a break. Just pulled over in the sand and everyone got out to relax. We only had about 20 min left to go, and everything in me was screaming, WHAT?!?! But there we were, talking with sodas under a tree. Then after about a half hour, they decide they want to WASH THE WEDDING DRESS. I kid you not. They didn t want the bride to arrive dusty. So they fetched buckets and HAND- WASHED the beautiful, It ended up being quite fun I played with adorable children, taught them how to speak Spanish and English. let them use my camera to take funny photos. And finally after a few hours, the meme s took over and did hair and make up once again for the bride, and we were on our way. We arrived t the groom s house and were greeted by so many community members, all singing and dancing and laughing and praising and playing harmonicas. It was quite a sight. When I get home I ll upload videos so you can see it! The energy was infectious, the joy potent. Everyone was celebrating the new life of the couple. Then ceremonies welcoming, the couple, and once again, as in every proper Namibia event time for meat. It was such a wonderful event. Such a mixture of age -old tradition fused with modernity, Christianity and western culture. Oh yea. Weddings are TWO days here. So to please the bride, I changed my holiday so I could go to the next day. The next morning my friend looks to me and says, We will probably get home early expensive, rented dress, and then hung it to dry on a fence. I kid you not. This actually happened.

6 THE TRAVELING TEACHER: NEWS FROM NAMIBIA Page 6 Spitzkoppe - Where Natural Beauty and History Meet

7 Page 7 VOLUME 1, ISSUE 9 Here are just a few of the paintings we saw. Above left: people of the San tribe. The paintings are much more clear in person, not bad for a few thousand years old! Bottom pictured: My German friends and I with rhino, and me with my lion friend. Bushman Paradise - Ancient History Up Close and Personal Definitely the most historically awesome activity I ve done here was visit Spitzkoppe, in present Damara-land. However, this dry area was once home to the ancient San people, some of the first people to live and exist in formal tribes in history. You know them as the Kalahari Bushmen. Now remember, I live in a San population as well, so I was super excited to see such an impressive part of their history. So behold, some of the earlier paintings in the history of the world. Pretty amazing right? The paint was made from animal blood mixed with different minerals for color and ostrich egg yolk. They painted with their hands, feathers, sticks etc. And here, 2,000-4,000 years later, you can still marvel at the detail. Even more interesting, the pictures often have several meanings. For example, the rhino means water is nearby, and it s horn points to the direction. A snake means, well, that a snake lives there, and also shows placement. The most fascinating thing to me, is that the San were bril- liant at storing water. They would empty out ostrich eggs form a small hole, and fill with water, then bury them under ground with thin reeds sticking up to use as a straw and show where they were. Clever! The best part is this: only one hour from Swakopmund, so if you decide to vacation there you can pack a picnic and take a lovely daytrip. The community runs this campsite all by it s self, so your contribution directly adds to their livelihood. Many adorable children line the streets to wave to you and sell you beautiful hand - made Damra crafts. The guides have great English and are part of the community. Frans, our guide, grew up here and never wants to leave. He was climbing the rocks before he could walk, and now shares Namibia s history with visitors. You can also camp here in many places around the site, something I will one day come back to do. There is no noise/ light pollution so I am told the sky is just astoundingly beautiful at night! If you ever get the chance, Spitzkoppe is a great opportunity to enjoy classic camping and history all at once!

8 Last Holiday of the Year! After term two there is only a short holiday to recharge and get ready for term three. Since I attended my colleague s wedding, that time was cut down in half, leaving me about 6 days of much-deserved, desperately-needed holiday, having just spent 3 weeks marking long exams. So where did I go? I took a super fast long weekend back to Swakopmund to consume copious amounts of coffee and cake on the beach. I went sandboarding for a second time, having fallen in love with the activity the first time around. I watched the most spectacular sunset of my life, and made friends with a couple of young German tourists who gave me a free ride to Windhoek (including Spitzkoppe along the way). We laughed and had intellectual conversations and it was wonderful. A little break from the bush was what I needed to get ready for an awesome term three! So, the final third of my year abroad is upon me, and I m ready to go! Images of Blissful Holiday Next Month: OPEATION RENOVATION updates, and some special events hosted at the school. As your summer concludes mine will finally begin once again, and so the time turns. Until next time, oshili nawa!