Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...?

Although Christmas decorations have been hung and music played at every school event I’ve been to since arriving at site [including the school diploma ceremony held before Halloween, seriously?], it wasn’t until Sunday that I acknowledged this as legitimate. Good thing, because it was all-out Christmas-time for the pre-primary learners, aka kindergarten.

The day was a combination of part one Christmas ------ and part two Pre-Primary Graduation! 75 adorable 5 year-olds performed in costume the traditional nativity scenes, and then following an extended break for pictures and changing, received their diplomas after shaking hands with the principal. Throughout this all the standard Christmas tunes were played, ranging from the carols to the religious ones to Mariah Carey “All I Want for Christmas.” Anyway, I thought it may be interesting for you to see the three ways that we sang “Silent Night” today.

First, let’s recap the good old English version:
Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Now, let’s move onto Afrikaans:
Stille Nag, Heilige Nag
Eensaam hou Josef wag
Met Maris die Moeder so teer
Heil’ge Kindjie ons kniel voor U neer
Slaap in Hemelse rus
Slaap in Hemelse rus

I’m sure you notice that some of these words look similar to English, fun! When it’s spoken at a lightning speed by people here though, it becomes much more difficult to distinguish what people are saying, so frustrating! With my understanding of Afrikaans, the meaning has definitely changed a bit in order to adhere to the intended sound of the song. The words here mean “Quiet night, holy night, alone how Joseph waits, with Mary the mother so tender, holy baby we kneel near before you, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace”

And now Oshiwambo:
Oufiku uyapuki, Aveshe va Kofa
Maria naJosef aveke
Va diinina okaana kavo
Aka ke li nawa
Aka ke li nawa

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this yet, but there is actually a significant population of people from Owamboland [the far north of the country] in Luderitz. The vast majority of Namibia’s population lives up in the north, above the red line, meaning in a malaria zone. However, due to the huge unemployment problem faced by Namibians, a lot of people come down to Luderitz in search of employment at the fish factories scattered along the coast. My school is in the location in which most of these people coming from the north live, and therefore we have lots and lots of learners whose first language is Oshikwanyama or one of the other 6 dialects of Oshiwambo. The languages up north are Bantu languages, and as you can tell, look absolutely nothing like any language familiar to you. I have nothing but respect for the people in my group who learned these languages. Hopefully I can pick up a little more than the basic greetings by the end of my service, because I think it would really help me with integrating, since it is many people in Luderitz’s first language, while Afrikaans and English are second and third. Anyway, long tangent, but there you go. My host mom speaks Oshiwambo and so do about half of the teachers at my school, so when they switch back and forth with Afrikaans/English/Oshiwambo my head just starts spinning with confusion.

Anyway, the funniest, or weirdest? part of today was when Santa Claus came out, announced as Santa even though in Namibia he is called Father Christmas. Someone had clearly gone to the China Shop in town and purchased the santa suit I was eyeing last weekend. They also purchased this freaky white face with white beard mask. The secretary at our school, Frieda, was perfect for this role because the costume went well with her white snow-bunny-esque boots! She came out unrecognizable, mostly because of the creepy mask, and the reaction of the kinders was hilarious. Each learner was called up one by one to receive a present and sit in Santa’s lap for a photo op. As this happened, their reactions ranged from pure enthusiasm/curiosity, to what looked like thoughts of this is weird/I’m uncomfortable but I’ll sit on the lap because I’m obedient, to downright scared. Two kids ran away crying. It was actually kind of cruel because Frieda stood up to ham it up walking around waving, and sought out the kids she had scared, who proceeded to run away and start crying again! The crowd loved it, and it was pretty funny though I felt bad for them. At the end of this event, 4 long hours later, it was time for everyone to eat cake, another standard for every one of the school events that has happened since I’ve been here. I don’t really know why, but I keep getting put on cake duty when trying to get everything in order, but I’ve learned I’m really really bad at cutting cake into small pieces! It gets super messy, but oh well, the perk of being the one cutting massive amounts of cake is that you get to sample many cakes, delish.

And that was my Sunday!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just when I think life can’t get anymore awkward, it inevitably does.

I’m used to awkward situations, they seem to gravitate towards me, and for the most part I embrace them. Since coming to Nam, I’ve become used to going to events where I don’t know a single person, am the only American, and don’t understand what anyone’s saying unless they’re making an effort to talk to me. It’s cool, I like observing anyway. I’ve also become used to encounters with annoying guys trying to creep. One once chased my friends and I to our cab… that was funny [he was sloppily drunk] and a little unnerving at the same time. Interestingly, though in America the opposite is often true, in Namibia whenever alcohol becomes involved, I’ve noticed that the awkward situations tend to escalate.

I had to wait a while to think about my life before I wrote up this story. Eventually, I decided that because something even more awkward has since happened this prior incident can be posted.

So towards the end of training, some PCTs started spending a bit of time at our favorite hangout, Club Opouri. Since it had become apparent that my host family didn’t really care about me so much, it follows that I wanted to spend all my free time with all the other trainees. Our Club-O meetings were fun, and I learned I love Hunter’s Dry Cider. One day, we got off training early, so we had some extra time at Club-O before it got dark. Of course, once darkness falls we had to be home, so we hopped in a cab and got back around 8ish. By this time most of us had had a sufficient amount of ‘cokes’ as one of our trainers would say in reference to his drinking habits. I got home and was more willing than usual to make an effort to get my host family to talk to me - the drinks provided me with a shield of sorts that brushed off their ambivalent [or sometimes depressing] responses to my attempts at conversation. After a quick dinner, I went to my room to get to bed, it was getting late!

As I was crawling into bed, one of my host sisters knocked on my door and came in. She was like “Listen Claire, as you can tell, the house is packed right now because people are here for my birthday. So, my friend needs to sleep in here tonight.” And standing behind her was this 20 year-old girl, who I had met about 30 minutes before this conversation. She continued, “She has nowhere else to sleep, every bed’s full, and it’ll just be for tonight. Since you have a bigger bed than me she needs to stay here” Her imposing attitude, my slightly tipsy state, and the fact that the girl was right there so I didn’t want to cause a scene/seem selfish got me to agree to this strange scenario… Bizarrely, my good logic and sense weren’t around, because if they were I would have told my host sister “Hey, this is weird, she should sleep on the floor in your room like a normal friend would when staying over, or maybe go chill on the couch, not stay with a complete stranger.” Anyway, about halfway through the night I woke up extremely angry, first because I realized I’d been duped. My host sister made me believe it would have been the end of the world for this girl to sleep on the floor. No, that’s normal! Second, the girl was hogging my bed, and spooning me. Being spooned by a strange girl falls under things that are: So.Not.Cool. The next morning I tried to give her the hint to get out by turning on my computer and playing music starting at 7am, but nope she didn’t budge until 9, on one of the few days I could have actually slept in!!!! And that, dear readers, is the story of the time in Namibia I woke up with a stranger in my bed. Still don’t know her name. As Namibians would say, aaatata.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It’s my favorite holiday of the year! Although I am currently lamenting the fact that my host family doesn’t have an oven [no pie… strike that, no baking for the past 3 months. That problem needs to be fixed and STAT] and people don't know that today is normally my favorite day spent in the kitchen with my family – no, especially not you Grade 5, because two of you cursed at me today and 11 others I had to confiscate pens from for shooting spitballs at each other… but I digress. I will be cooking a modified dinner for my host family shortly, and hopefully this will go better than the red beans and rice fiasco, fingers crossed![note: it went wonderfully yum!]

I will now share the lists I have crafted of what I am thankful for. Let’s start with American things I’m thankful for:
·      Hot showers
·      Frozen strawberry margaritas, and Mexican food.
·      Brunch, namely bagels
·      Properly functioning toilets
·      American television and movies. Can’t even get started on this topic.
·      Having free and instant internet at hours that aren’t ungodly
·      On that note: youtube and hulu.
·      My friends and family. Would probably have had a mental breakdown if not for the wondrous packages that arrived last/this week.
·      Things that are logical to me. Won’t go into this either.
·      Not being two and a half hours away from the nearest friend. Aka any form of a social life.

Namibian things I’m thankful for:
·      My host family. I think my host mom had some kind of feeling that I had hit a rough patch, and last weekend she bought a huge delicious chocolate cake for the 4 of us just to be nice! And then she took us out to lunch Saturday, and made custard with peaches [super nice fruit] on Sunday! I actually feel like a part of this family, I’m going to miss being around them so much!
·      Fat cakes
·      The sunrises/sunsets. When I start biking to school in January I’ll get to see them a lot more consistently, so pumped. Also the stars, wow.
·      Seeing the ocean every day at my site.
·      Luderitz in general. Even though the wind is seriously the most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced [sand blizzards every other day = slizzards = so much sand/dirt in my eyes and all over my body/clothes, all the time] I have a temperate climate generally.
·      Learners telling me “miss you are looking beautiful today!” a couple mornings a week.
·      The fact that when on the ‘highway’ there are most often no rails to prevent the obstruction of the road by baboons, all sorts of antelope, ostriches, and up north all the awesome animals like giraffes and elephants!!!
·      The singing and dancing. I have a mission to learn an Owambo dance in the course of my 2 years. I will probably fail miserably since it requires a sense of rhythm, but I’m going to try anyway.
·      Smarties and Cadbury bars. And Mexican Chili chips [it’s the closest to Mexican food I can get!]
·      PCNam Group 34. I guess they’re technically Americans, but they’re in Namibia. I can’t believe how close we became after just 8 weeks, but they’re my NAMily here, and I know I could text or call any of them if I ever needed something or had a problem. I don’t know if I could name 37 people in America I could comfortably call anytime about anything. 

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Save Me From Boredom

First installment of things I tried to stop being bored:
Why: a big origami manual was on someone’s external hard drive during training, so I took it in the hopes I could make cool things out of paper.
How long did it last: 15 minutes. The basic beginner elephant I tried to make failed miserably. I think I got to step 2, but then I was lost. I definitely don’t have the patience for origami anyway
Reading a 375-Page Yoga Book
Why: I’m trying to get into yoga here, thought I’d read about it to help understand these weirdo poses
How long did it last: an hour, then I realized it was maintaining the level of boredom I had already, so I went back to watching How I Met Your Mother.
Reading All the Lonely Planet Southern Africa Countries
Why: explanation unnecessary, obviously I love planning trips, and have begun my family itinerary for our May adventure
How long did it last: ongoing! This is really fun, but I get easily frustrated when I read about something cool and want to look it up, only to realize that I have to wait until 4 am to use the internet… and then when my alarm goes off I’ve forgotten why I woke up [sleep > internet]
Reading the Peace Corps Nam Cookbook, cover to cover
Why: this was a very self-destructive act, since I live with a host family without an oven. And somehow I am never included in their trips to the grocery.
How long did it last: too long. Luckily I stopped before I got to desserts [thanks for that advice Mo!]
Why: wanted to try to fix the broken purse issue
How long did it last: 20 minutes. My sewing abilities show promise [maybe], but my purse is good and done, gotta let it go.

I am so incredibly bored it is out of control. Please someone give me suggestions of how to occupy my seemingly endless time in the afternoons. I had to take a kindle hiatus after I realized none of my books would be able to compete with my Hunger Games trilogy obsession, which I read in its entirety in 4 days. Also, I have gone through all of Glee, Game of Thrones, and my new favorite show Modern Family on the TV via external hard drive front. I would venture outside my house, but the packs of dogs that have been roaming around in my location recently kind of frighten me. Once I move into my permanent house, my adventures in learning to cook, on a for-real-budget, will begin! Countdown rests at 13 days!

School front: there are a lottt of Grade 5 learners so teachers decided to create a 5th section of them for me to proctor during exams. So, naturally, who received the naughtiest kids from each section? This girl. It’s going to be a hellish 13 days, the kids were absolutely horrid on day 1. I told a boy to put his food away because there’s no eating in class, so to spite me he put the plastic bag in his mouth, intent to eat it. I told him he’d get sick, but he just gave me a belligerent look, and proceeded to chew the bag for the next 30 minutes, when he finally realized there was no way he’d be able to swallow it and live. And I beat my previous record of breaking up 2 fights in one day, it has been upped to 4 [albeit more minor ones than the epic showdown in 6C last week]. However, the lows of the morning were countered by the fact that I got a package!! Can’t wait to get it and find out who it’s from/what’s in it! Also, I began grading one of the English exams that my kids took today, and it appears as if I have gotten through to some of my learners, at least the ones I was given a chance to review with. They understood my lesson on run-on sentences!!!! They truly cannot spell, but at least they understand the power of short and concise sentences, a small victory that I will gladly take. Also, most of them seem to have understood my lesson on what forms a complete sentence [how did they not know that yet???] wooot. I just got into a semi-groove with the current Grade 6s, and now I have to move on to these new misbehaving ones ahhhhh!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shelter House

[written 11/13]
Last night I was given the opportunity to go to a fundraising event in Luderitz, put on by the Mayor’s Council. I was really excited to see how this event would go, because I’m pretty sure it was the beginning of raising awareness and funds to build this shelter for abused women and children. Leaders of businesses and other important groups in town were at the dinner, ready to hear about the project and show their support. To begin the night, as custom of all the Namibian events I’ve been to so far, the “director of ceremonies” addresses everyone in the crowd, which takes at least 5 minutes. You’d think that would be the last time everyone is addressed, but nope whenever someone new comes to speak he/she also addresses everyone of importance all the way down to ‘ladies and gentlemen.’

The event had performances by a band from Rehoboth, a keynote address by the Regional Chancellor of the Karas Region of Namibia, an auction of two rugby items, and a raffle. The really exciting part, though, was the pledging. One by one, representatives of different businesses/community leaders/members of the community came forward and pledged money they would donate to the project, or items that would be needed in the future house. By the end of the pledging ceremony, people had pledged amounts of cement, bricks, blankets, mattresses, sheets, cutlery, plates, a TV, a microwave, toys, and over N$100,000! In addition, someone came forward and said that the shelter house could start up in a building her failed business had been in until the new house could be built, which is just amazing! I really hope to be able to get involved with this project in some way when I get back from Christmas break in January, so fingers crossed.

On a different note, I feel like I reached a huge milestone last night, when I successfully hid my blackberry in my shirt. Namibian women don’t really carry purses that often so as to discourage theft, which is just as well for me since my purse sadly did not survive the epic journey down to Luda [RIP, it was a great purse]. However, as easy it has been store money in the ‘natural purse’ as my host mom calls it, my phone is of a pretty large size and I’ve struggled trying to find a way to fit it in. But last night I made it work without it being noticeable!!! It was a big day, bigger than my accomplishment Friday when, after almost three months I finally bought a real towel, wow I had completely forgotten how awesome full-sized towels were.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Whoooo the last few weeks have been a big adjustment period. The days go by so slowly, but then all of a sudden almost three weeks have passed since swear-in! On my first day at the school I was given control of Grade 6 English, which was slightly unexpected – I thought I’d have at least a week to adjust! I don’t mind teaching during this random 6 weeks before the end of the school year (I would have been so bored observing classes that whole time), but it has been challenging taking over so soon for several reasons. First, this class is used to the last PCV that I’m replacing in Luderitz. They love talking about what he used to do, and also imitating the way he got angry at them for misbehaving [therefore I vow never to cry in front of them, I must try to keep my cool, who knows what’s going on behind my back]. Second, I can’t really seem to figure out what they’ve worked on in the past couple of months… so I don’t entirely know how to help them prepare for their exams. Finally, I’m trying to get classroom management under control, but it seems as if the last volunteer was on a more friendly basis with them, so in order for me not to go crazy I’ve had to get the learners to adjust to the fact that I’m not their friend, I’m their teacher. Which is hard because obviously I want to be liked! I abandoned that desire quickly after a couple days in though. The days vary depending on the mood of the class, sometimes they behave angelically, other days they’re like little monsters! I almost lost it last week with 6C. A teacher hadn’t shown up for a class, so 6B was playing outside, because it was actually hot for a change [that weather only lasted a day]. All of a sudden, instead of doing their work quietly, 25 of my 40 learners were raising their hands, desperate to “go to the bathroom” even though I have a no-bathroom-unless-it’s-an-emergency policy. It took me a little while to realize what was going on, then they were all pointing at each other saying they actually needed go to the bathroom not play with 6B. The class then proceeded to get out. of. control. Loud, noisy, kids yelling at me that it was their turn to go they asked first, that other people were just playing, that they would go get them, when in fact they just wanted to join the fun outside. At that moment, I understood the impetus behind the last PCV’s crying outbursts in the middle of class. Luckily I held it in but I was fuming. To quote the movie Clue “flames, FLAMES, were coming out of my head.” The next day I had all of them write me an essay about why they misbehaved and how they as a class will work together to follow my rules, in particular my rule of being respectful. I got several very nice essays apologizing for behavior. I also got a couple essays saying they misbehaved because I don’t beat the learners, and they would have behaved if I were one of those teachers. What the heck?! Corporal punishment is technically against the law here in Namibia, but it is definitely still practiced. Anyway, since then 6C has been better because 1) the kids realized how upset I was and some of them did feel bad and 2) because of those shambles I now know all of their names, so I can call them out for being disruptive. Now to the next troublemakers: 6A. Only 10 days of classes left, so its really only to ensure I remain sane until Reconnect and the New Year, with a whole new grade all to myself.

 Took a trip to Shark Island last weekend - coolest moon rocks!
 First you see moonrocks, then you see the Namib.
On another note, life with host family number 2 is so awesome. It’s a complete 180 from my training host family, and I appreciate every moment of it. Instead of being ignored, I’m treated like an actual part of the family! I’ve been sick lately because of these extreme weather changes, and they’ve been so nice and concerned! Today my host mom, noticing my slight chocolate addiction, brought home a chocolate bar for me, baie lekker! One of my learners went to her class to tell her some people were being disruptive for me, so she’s offered to come tell them to behave tomorrow, because they know she’s no nonsense. And my sisters are so nice as well, we watch a lottt of soapies together.

A few tidbits of awkward:
-       On Halloween a bunch of volunteers from the south came to Luderitz to dress up and celebrate. It was so much fun meeting a lot of volunteers from different groups and getting to know the actual town, which I don’t see much of right now because my school is in the location! The club we ended up at was empty when we got there, so I went to request some of my favorite songs, which of course included Gaga. The DJ then told me he didn’t have any of her music, which provoked a solid conversation of me asking why he didn’t have any of her songs, how is that possible, her music is everywhere!? Two lessons learned from this experience: 1. I need to stop attempting to get people to like Lady Gaga here, it’s really not going to happen and not worth my effort. 2. Everyone in Nam seems to know each other or be related. I found out the next day that the DJ I had this conversation with is a cousin of my host family… sweet.
-       I tried to make red beans and rice the other day for my host family. Note to self: it doesn’t taste the same when the beans aren’t actually red beans, and the sausage is boerwors [my personal most detested meat in this country]. I cooked it to the perfect consistency, but that gross sausage flavor poisoned my dish! That was a bad day all around [also the day of the 6C bathroom fiasco].
-       Last Friday was the Grade 7 End of Year Party, so the teachers stayed at the school in the afternoon to make food. First, the teachers at my school seem awesome, and I can’t wait to get to know them better [mission number 1: learn their names. They only officially introduced themselves to me all at once a month ago during my site visit, and there are 25 of them. Those names in addition to 125 6th graders = challenge.] As I was preparing some food with one of them, another teacher came with koeldrinks [anything that isn’t water or alcohol], so we had some coke. She asked me if I was drinking soft drinks. I said yes, glancing at my cup of coke, confused because she had just seen me take a sip of it, and then she said ‘but not hard drinks right?’ then I realized we were definitely not talking about the same thing. I told her I was confused, and she said soft drinks are beers, ciders, and wine here. Ohhhh, glad to have found that out.
-       Once the Grade 7 Party had begun, after they’d eaten, of course an obligatory dance party started. A lot of the teachers got up to go dance but I wasn’t feeling it, as I was super tired and not feeling so hot. Luckily my host mom was also tired so we sat together. Then they began chanting her name to join, so I was alone when a group of teachers came to get me. All of a sudden, I was standing next to just one teacher who had some baller dance moves, and the entirety of Grade 7 was dancing in sync towards me. I felt like I was in a movie, but unlike in movies I didn’t magically know the coordinated movements to the song so I just kind of tried to blend in [impossible, I keep forgetting that I stand out here], and gradually eased myself out of the dance when they forgot about me.

Anyway, we’re almost halfway through Phase 2! I can’t believe that the 6 weeks I’m spending at site right now is almost the amount of time I spent in training – I swear training felt like 2 years! I feel like I’ve known the Volunteers in Group 34 for forever, I guess that’s what being around people for at least 12 hours a day every day for 8 weeks does to you… I’ve begun a countdown to the soon to be epic Christmas Break with these people, so pumped!

I will end with my favorite thing to say to people as a good night – “Slaap lekker!” to which you would respond “Ja, lekker slaap!” The word “lekker” is used for everything here, ranging in meanings from sweets as in candies, to nice as in tasting or a sweet day, or have a sweet sleep, the uses are endless!