Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Big things have been happening in Nam this past week! Recently I started to hear my colleagues talking about going on strike, for lack of a salary increase, in addition to benefits and several other things like transportation and housing allowances. Teachers have been unhappy with the way that the teachers' union was negotiating with the government for them. I didn’t think that anything would spread all the way down to Luderitz – my school has a lot of teachers, and though I love them, they are mostly apathetic about things/mobilizing 30 teachers is a big task for anyone.  People had been talking here and there about strikes but I definitely did not think anything would come of it. Well guess who was wrong?! Last Tuesday during our staff meeting I saw a very energized group of people ready to join the striking cause. The rest of the teachers in Luderitz were called and, from what I was told about the meeting, they decided it was time to join the other regions that were striking. And so the Luderitz schools went on strike starting last Wednesday. Kind of bummed that I didn’t get to give my kids Halloween candy, but ah well. Thursday they marched around town, going to the Mayor’s office and then outside town to the Regional Councilor’s office. By the end of last week the strikes seemed to have spread to most of the country. We were supposed to have two weeks left before exams, and I am not done with my marks, so I’m getting pretty anxious about that! Also, if this continues any longer I’m going to be legitimately quite bored. I have exhausted all my external hard drive’s media, and also planning for my world tour after COS for the moment, so I really need to find a hobby, and asap.

Anyway, when it comes to this striking business, we Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to get involved, just stay home if they’re marching and don’t teach if the strikes spread to our schools. The situation is complex, and pretty interesting I think, so here are a couple of links to articles you can read if you have any interest in knowing what’s been going on – especially regarding the now strained relationship between Namibian teachers and the main teacher’s union of Namibia, NANTU, and the talks between NANTU and the government/Ministry of Education.

PS fingers crossed that if the negotiations go according to schedule and finish Wednesday that we should be back to teaching on Thursday!

Friday, November 2, 2012

End of the Term SheNAMigans

Ay, it is nearing the end of the school year this side, and these learners are intent on driving me insane officially. How so you may ask? Run-through of what has been happening in my classroom over the past few weeks:

    At least one learner shared her nantjies with me!
  • I’m not sure if they’re in season now or what, but there is an Owambo fruit called nantjies – hard to describe, but they’re small and round, have shells like peanuts that you have to crack with your teeth, then there’s a tiny bit of fruit, which surrounds a solid size of a seed. I don’t get the appeal of this food because it’s a lot of work for very little actual edible content. Maybe the kids came to a similar realization, but they found another use for the seeds – throwing them at each other in the middle of class! I got hit with one the other day while writing on the chalkboard, and it did not yield a happy reaction. These seed wars cause a great many fights, since often girls get targeted who are actually trying to work, and getting hit in the back of the head doesn’t feel so nice. And then my classroom floor is covered in these strange black seeds. 
  • Spitballs. This is the standard go-to. All the pens here can be taken apart, and are taken apart quite often. Who needs to use the plastic part of the pen to grip when you can forgo doing work and spit wads of paper at people’s heads with it instead?! This has died down a little bit because my ears are fine-tuned to spot where the blowing sounds come from, and the learners don’t get their cases back if I catch them. Now they just make the spitballs and throw them… slow progress. 
  • Over break time every day a couple teachers and a lot of kids sell sweets/chips. Curses be upon whoever started selling lollipops with sticks that are whistles! Of course all the kids save the whistles, and the boys proceed to start whistling in the middle of class then hide them when I try and find the culprits. After a while I got good enough at catching people and grabbing the sticks from them before they were hidden. So then, naturally, the same kids figured out they could cause me to be equally annoyed if they just whistled normally, no tools necessary.
  • The other day three of my naughtiest learners – who I purposefully have sitting far from each other in my classroom – started playing the most bizarre game ever. One of my rules is to ask permission to leave your seat, but obviously for the naughty ones my rules don’t matter, because getting up is a crucial part of this game. From what I understand, whenever one of them spoke in Afrikaans, another one would get up, walk purposefully across the classroom [yes, this is in the middle of class while I’m trying to teach] and, with force, smack the boy in the back of the head. Three times this happened before I marched them out of my classroom. 


learners line up with their diplomas
Last weekend was the end of year ceremony for the learners with the highest marks in their classes. You had to have a 75 or above in one or more of your classes to be able to attend. One of the HODs announced learners in order of their marks, starting with those with 75 and continuing in ascending order to the one with the highest mark in the class. For grades 5-7, this process occurred for each of the subjects that you have to pass in order to move on to the next grade: english, math, natural science, social studies, home ecology [girls], design and technology [boys], and afrikaans. Then at the end the top three learners overall in each grade with their percentage for the year received prizes, and finally the top learner in lower primary, and the top learner in upper primary were announced to a room full of cheers! I was on cake duty for much of this evening, and we cut a massive amount of cake - each learner gets a plate, and so do each of their parents. Either the cake is getting better and better, or I have been in Namibia for a long time now, because last year I don't remember it being very good, but this time it was great!!
probably about 1/3 of the cake we cut.

Anyway, let’s just say that the children are not the only ones looking forward to the end of the term/year. Because after the term ends I’m going back to AMERICA for the December holiday!!!!!!! Unbelievably excited, countdown has begun, 6 weeks to go! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Namibia on CNN!!!

So, I was going through my routine on the days I get to use the internet - facebook, email, and then CNN/BBC news [trying to stay informed here!] and what do I see on the CNN website, but a link that brings me to the discovery that they are doing a spotlight on Namibia this month! They've written some really great articles about the Land of the Brave :) I already linked to the one about Sosussvlei, but they have several other articles that highlight a couple of the tribes in Nam and also discuss an approach to wildlife preservation. This chart they made of key facts is so awesome!

 Produced by Kyle Ellis. Sources: World Bank; UNDP; CIA World Factbook, Reporters Without Borders, Electoral Commission of Namibia; UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Of their articles I think my favorite is the country profile, which does a great job at summarizing many of the current challenges facing Namibia: 50% unemployment, 15% AIDS infection rate, and one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world, in addition to the steps that the country is slowly taking to counter them. It also provides a solid history of the country - beginning with the German colonization, through the South African run apartheid era and Independence. And of course information about Namibia's natural resources is there too.  Check check check it out!!!
Eye On Namibia

And the other articles: Herero Traditional Clothes, Wildlife Conservation, The Himba

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mid-Servicing Group 34

the three people nearest me ran half marathons.#timetogethealthy

     Just two weeks after getting back to school for Term 3, it was time for Peace Corps Namibia Group 34 to all reconvene for the first time since our December Reconnect. But first, conveniently in the weekend leading up to this Mid-Service Conference there was a marathon in Swakopmund! I went along with what seemed like almost all of the Peace Corps Volunteers from the various groups to cheer on everyone running either the 10k, half, or full marathon! Watching everyone finish their runs almost made me want to participate next year… until I remembered my intense hatred of running even a 5k. We had a nice two days with people from all over PCNam, revisited our favorite stomping grounds for dancing and eating, and said goodbye to many group 30/32 volunteers who are leaving in the coming weeks!
      At our Mid-Service we went to a conference center situated in the mountains outside of Windhoek for our first two days. This was one of the most helpful trainings to date, with a lot of sessions, during which we shared our best practices and discussed all our challenges. Aka it was really nice to commiserate with others experiencing similar struggles [classroom management, that’d be you]. We also got a little preview of advice about international jobs we may be interested in pursuing after closing our service. Currently we have only lost 2 of our 38 Volunteers that arrived last August, making us still the biggest group in Namibia right now! After those two days we returned to Windhoek and got medical stuff taken care of to make sure all is still well. And after spending way too much money in Windhoek once again, it was time to get back home where I could live quite sparsely for the next three weeks and hopefully not blow my budget like that ever again.

     Anyway, back in Luderitz, at some point recently I realized I’m really at home here. I walk around town and in the location and see people I know walking or driving past me. People stop for me and give me lifts because they recognize me. It took a long time to get here, but feeling like a real part of the community is awesome. I’ve got about 3 ½ - 4 weeks left of teaching, depending on when classes arbitrarily stop for the exam whatwhatwhat, and then the term will wrap up already! 

Oh, this past week the GUTS [Girls Utilizing Their Strengths] Girls Group visited the mayor! The girls were very shy once they met Her Worship [as she is called, but they didn’t know this so instead addressed her as Ms. Mayor], but I think they really enjoyed seeing Town Council, listening to the Mayor describe what she does, and introducing themselves to her and explaining what we do in girls group. We facilitators are currently organizing a Gala fundraiser at the beginning of December to raise money for our activities next year :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

This past week...

I was eating omakaka that one of my colleagues shared with me – traditional spinach/pap, and she added fish, it was so tasty! Some of my absolute favorite learners were sitting with me during this break, so excited that I was eating one of their traditional dishes and enjoying it. One of them then tells me that she once ate a mouse. The others joined in immediately. One other had also eaten mice, and several were disgusted by this suggestion. Then some started talking about having eaten dog before in the north. The first girl then told me that if I was given a plate of different meats, I wouldn’t know if I was eating dog or mouse, because they both taste nice and I wouldn’t be able to tell. I told her it must have been a fat mouse for there to have been enough of it to eat. 

Two rod/pipe things that are used to beat kids have showed up in my classroom... I LOVE the shocked reaction of the kids as they watch me throw them away. Cue my inevitable weekly speech about how they need to stand up for themselves when they get beaten to help stop the chain of violence in their community.

One of my prouder teaching moments when learners, instead of insulting each other through their standard Afrikaans swear words [seriously the number of f-bombs dropped in my classroom are out of control], started using “AUGUSTUS GLOOP!” as well as Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde as insults. The first few times this happened I couldn’t help but laugh, thereby egging on the offenders to continue calling the person they were fighting with Augustus over and over, provoking a couple nice little fights. Worth it.    

I was leaving the school at the same time as two of my Grade 6 boys. One of these boys, despite being pretty smart, can’t bring himself to actually work because he is just too obsessed with being in a gang and becoming Lil Wayne, living the LA life, whatever that is [read: writes essays about smoking weed, stealing to get by, and killing. Thanks American rappers. And yes, this learner is also 11 years old]. The other boy, I swear, has made it his personal mission to either drive me insane or make me quit and go back to America. In my classroom he is so horribly rude and disrespectful to me and I have to stop class at least 3 times each day to deal with his antics. Anyway, as we’re walking through the location I’m playing music from my phone, namstyle – as in no earphones, everyone gets to hear my awesome music. Last thing I expected to hear from lilwayne wanna-be: Miss N, play “Call Me Maybe.” My jaw almost dropped as I started playing this classic hit, and got to listen to these two gangster 11 year-olds sing some Carly Rae Jepsen. BEST AFTERNOON EVER.

Also, I was recently told about this hilarious website, guess some Peace Corps experiences are common no matter where in the world you are. http://whatshouldpcvscallme.tumblr.com/

Thursday, October 11, 2012

August Holiday

The past holiday was incredibly short, so naturally I decided to travel almost as far as I could from Luderitz in the shortest possible time frame. After taking a nice hot and sweaty combi to Windhoek from Luderitz, I decided I was done with public transportation for a while. If the two children vomiting in the row behind me didn’t do it, then maybe the fact that I thought the combi wasn’t even going to stop to let me out in Windhoek because no one understood English or Afrikaans, or because the ride was wayyy overpriced for my budget.

On the homestead!
Once in Windhoek I met up with two other good Group 34 friends, who had just finished Camp GLOW [Girls and Guys Leading Our World], and after two  days of treating ourselves in Windhoek/pretending that we aren’t actually on a budget, we were off! We were on the way to visit our friend Alex, who stays in a village maybe 30k outside of Ondangwa, one of the major towns in the north of Namibia, which is the part of the country where most of the population lives besides Windhoek. Now, to get a ride into the village, we needed to get there by a certain hour or else we would miss out! We also needed to get there because her host sister was getting married the next day, and we wanted to see the traditional Owambo wedding. So, typical, we ended up taking the long way, meaning no fewer than 8 separate hikes. We had an assortment of characters who gave us lifts – from a nice German who worked at a cement factory and explained the mechanics of precision field burnings, to an eccentric man who asked questions such as “what is the square area of an ostrich egg” [to which Mo responded “When would I ever need to know that?!?” as he gave a haughty look when we, as teachers, didn’t know], to an exceedingly uncomfortable 2 hours wedged between a lot of legs, a couple suitcases, and a huge bag of maizemeal in the back of a VERY slow-going closed bakkie, during which I kid you not this woman did not pause for more than 2 seconds to breathe as she spoke to us in a stream of half-Oshiwambo-half-English… Ayyyyy june.

The view from Alex's homestead
As in Nam, everything works out somehow, and even though we arrived about an hour and a half later than we were supposed to, we got a ride to the village! And wow, Alex lives in the bush. The whole ride in we wondered how Peace Corps even found this village. We were truly driving in sand for about 45 minutes as the sun set, nothing ahead of us except the occasional palm tree, and oh wait so many COWS. I forgot to mention, as you get farther north you cross a checkpoint called the ‘red line.’ You cannot transport animals/other assorted things across it, and above the line you are officially in a malaria zone. Also once we passed this line all of a sudden there were a lot more cars on the road, and there were cows and goats EVERYWHERE. I’m pretty sure Alex said something about the land being public/animals roaming freely, which would explain it.

After we reached the homestead, we greeted many extended members of Alex’s host family, most of whom do not really speak English. An elder man is a tate, and woman a meme. The evening greeting goes as follows in Oshindonga:
Me: Wa tokelwa po Meme?
Meme: Ee-ee
Not a real party without some meat!
Me: Nawa?
Meme: Ee-ee. Wa tokelwa po meme?
Me: ee-ee.
Meme: Nawa?
Me: ee-ee.
[In Oshiwambo nawa means good!]

Anyway, after a nice dinner of some sandy pap and traditional chicken we were off to bed, pretty exhausted from our travels. We woke up the next morning and prepared for the wedding! Alex procured some Owambo traditional clothes for us to wear, which we were so excited about!

The ceremony as usual started about 3 hours after it was supposed to, and I did not understand most of it. Towards the end though someone stood up and translated solely so that we could understand what was going on, which was so nice! After the ceremony ended picture time began, and before we got a chance to slip out the three of us were asked to go pose with the wedding party, only slightly unexpected since we had not met anyone in the wedding party before. After we returned to the homestead from the church, SO many memes greeted everyone as we walked in with the traditional high-pitched cheers, waving horse-tails in the air [see video!]. We got a tour of Alex’s homestead and saw a glimpse of life in the village before it was time to eat! Something got lost in communication, but another of Alex’s host sisters told us to go check out the wedding tent. Naturally, as we went to check out the wedding tent we ended up awkwardly standing right behind the bride and groom as they were getting introduced as man and wife to their closest family and friends… the bride quietly told us to just come inside already. From there we were unsure of what to do in order to not make the situation even more awkward, and after a stress/inappropriate laughter-filled couple of moments, someone took pity on us standing next to the food table and showed us to a couple of free seats. And so we got to eat while listening to our favorite Namibian songs as well as “It’s Your Wedding Day!” a song that I had not yet heard before! Afternoon turned into evening as we walked around the rest of the village, watched the sunset in the sand with Alex’s adorable adopted host son, and danced the night away as the evening's entertainment [aka a crowd of Namibians that preferred to watch us dance rather than break out their far superior dance moves]. In fact apparently the next week almost all of Alex’s learners wrote about how they watched Miss Alex and her American friends dance after the wedding. The next day it was already time to leave and get back to site for Term 3! Well worth the three day trek back to the bucht!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Just What I Needed

Hey Everyone!

Long time no update. I started having a hard time deciding what is and is not appropriate to post on a blog, but also the past couple months have really gone by fast! Anyway, I will try to get back on track and update more often. Watch out for a bunch of stuff I wrote a while ago in the next few days. In not-so-recent news, I have officially been in this country for a year! Well, now closer to 14 months :) How time flies! Some days it feels like yesterday I was at home, and others it seems like I’ve been in Nam for ages. This year has been a roller coaster, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve gotten to have so many incredible experiences, face unbelievable challenges, gain some lifelong friends, and I know I've changed a bit as well. One more year to go! Ok, backtracking to August nownow:

Exam season is not my favorite time of the year, mostly because of the massive amount of time that gets wasted as the kids sit in their register classes all day, not doing any actual studying and not getting any lessons. Because I had my act together this term, I was completely done with all my marks a week and a half before the term officially ended. In addition to helping other teachers finish up with their marks, I also experienced one of the proudest moments ever. I spent a whole two days in the computer lab, trying to figure out the issues that were preventing 13 of the 20 computers from turning on. A LOT of cords, lots of things not hooked to each other, power outlets being weird, etc. But I didn’t lose hope and now ALL of the computers turn on, and only two have to be rebooted! Considering my many previous struggles with technology, I was so psyched to have figured this IT dilemma out! The next mission on this front: get other teachers to volunteer their time so the learners all get computer classes.

Anyway, one of the bigger struggles I’ve had in Peace Corps has been integrating. A really big reason for this is that I live extremely far away from my colleagues. My house is literally as far as you can get on the opposite side of town, a solid 40 minute walk going through town and then past town some. During this last week, though, I was SO excited because some of my colleagues included me in their post-work hangouts. After hanging out the night before, two colleagues and I went for a drink after we were finished at the school, and after an hour or so another two colleagues showed up. We were having a grand time, and after about another hour these two white men from South Africa came over and started talking to us. We were hesitant at first, but then they kept talking so naturally we merged tables and became fast friends. Now side note, a few weeks ago the teachers started catching on that I understood what they were saying in Afrikaans. In reality, I’d say I probably understand between 60-70 percent of what happens in conversations, which is generally enough to get at least the jist of what’s going on. I cannot, however, properly speak Afrikaans [the order words are put in doesn’t make sense!], so I always respond in English. Anyway, this realization prompted the teachers to only speak Afrikaans now, because they assumed I understood everything they were saying but was just too shy to speak it. Back to the bar, we are now sitting at the table with the South Africans, and one of them [who looks almost exactly like Jay from Modern Family] is saying that I don’t understand anything. My colleagues begin strongly defending me just as everyone’s Afrikaans is getting faster and faster.  I realize that drinking is actually not helping my language abilities in the slightest, and I’m understanding less and less of what’s going on. My colleague sitting next to me suddenly leans over and says ‘I think we must invite them to braai tonight!’ And the adventure continues at her house! A few hours later, we officially had two new capetownian best friends and full bellies from lekker biltong chili bites [jerky], oysters and gemsbok! Days like these are exactly why I joined Peace Corps, to make friends and have unexpected and completely unplanned experiences.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Biggest Accomplishment Ever

This past weekend I made the always-desired squeaking noise when I handwashed three bathtubs full of laundry!!! Only took almost a solid year. Actually I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it again, but still very proud. There’s nothing like the sight of your clothes turning the water black and hearing that magical squeak. It came after adding a TON of laundry detergent powder… so why do my clothes still not smell so clean?

On a different note… A couple things that have been going on at school -- So the Ministry of Education has a program called Window of Hope, which basically helps boost self-esteem and address the emotions of learners in the presence of HIV/AIDS. I volunteered to be one of the facilitators of this program for a group of the Grade 6s, and I have loved it so far! Some of the sessions we’ve had involved topics such as ‘why I am special,’ ‘why friends are important,’ ‘why our family is important,’ and ‘how to cope with anger.’ We did lots of talking, played games, I read some stories, and we sang awesome songs! Our Term 2 session just wrapped up yesterday with a party – and don’t forget the handing out of certificates! It is not legitimate unless you receive a certificate at the end of it = reason why I now have a certificate for skydiving in Swakopmund and going in the hot air balloon in Sosussvlei. I brought some American snacks from my secret hoard, which the kids LOVED, and they brought some traditional food and various cooldrink/lekkers. I got to try traditional owambo bread, which is made with mahangu. 

Most of my Window of Hope group at our party!
Also, the past few days I underwent the torturous process of marking the previously mentioned exams. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the essays I received. Given the prompts, many of my learners displayed really great creativity! I thought I would share with you one of the essays from one of my favorite/also smartest learners – his name is Ghiovanni and what he wrote literally made me laugh out loud, partly because it was so different from the rest of the answers to this question, but also because its hilarious! I’ve corrected most of the spelling/punctuation here it so it can be read more easily.

Prompt: The old woman has been in hospital for 2 months now. She takes her tablets three times a day. One day she refuses to drink her tablets. Write a funny story about it.

One day Grandma Phumzy striked the lottery. Guess what happened? She won 1.3 million. She was so happy she laughed and laughed and laughed. At the same time she felt a very anxious pain in the stomach. Grandma Phumzy didn’t know it was wind in her stomach that let her pain. She fell to the ground and phoned the doctor. The ambulance came in ten minutes. They hurried back to the hospital. The doctor said “Grandma Phumzy you were drinking too many fizzy drinks and the gas aimed straight at the stomach and when you laugh the gas will hurt you.” It was true she bought many fizzy drinks because she loved them. The doctor gave her tablets, she drank them three times a day and then decided she wouldn’t drink them anymore. The doctor asked why and she replied “the tablets make me puff a lot.” The doctor laughed and said “the tablets are made to make someone puff.”

*embarrassingly enough I did not realize what puffing was until a learner explained it to me using some quality gestures. This is a huge cause of disruption in my class “Miss this one is puffing!!!” is guaranteed to simultaneously start a fight, cause 10 learners to cover their faces with their shirts, and start general disorder around the room as kids start pushing chairs around to get the windows opened.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Angriest I've Been In Peace Corps

Sooooo as I’ve mentioned, this term Grade 6 read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and most people were really into it. To wrap up our unit, I had an exam that integrated parts of the book into the mandated term exams - part 1: continuous writing and part 2: reading and directed writing. I came back from this ICT training and printed it out, went to the office and was immediately told to go staple my exams. As usual, being perpetually uninformed about everything, I stood there with my exam in hand and a puzzled look on my face, since I had not made copies yet. What??? Well, apparently I had to use the cluster exam.

Aside: In Namibia, schools from the same area sometimes get together and make plans for subjects. The goal is to work with other teachers of the same subject in coming up with a solid year plan. This works better in some regions than others – in Luderitz, for who knows what reason, our cluster was prohibited from meeting and planning together this year. Again, for some unknown reason, this somehow did not prevent cluster-designated exams. WHAT? Why is one person from these three schools writing an exam for English/Science/Math/etc? Especially if we didn’t lesson plan together, this does not accurately test what the kids learned, and how are you supposed to tell the kids to study for an exam that you didn’t yourself write or even see!?!?! Ay tog.

Back to me in the school setting. I proceed to plead with my principal to be able to use my exam. I told my kids that the exam was on the book we’ve been reading, this is ruining my credibility with them – nope not going to work. Then I look at this exam. Not only did whoever write this blatantly take one of the questions from the exam not even a year ago, but it is horribly written – I mean complete carelessness, not to mention the blandest of prompts. I go back to my principal, and continue to argue that this is not good, I want to use my exam!!!! I then tell him its poorly written – I am told that is a matter of opinion.

By the next day, flames are almost shooting out of my head after I read through this exam again. I went to each of the four sections of Grade 6 and apologized to them that they had to take this exam, and had to explain some of the questions that just didn’t make sense. I then told them to treat the questions like they treat my daily warm-ups, which involve correcting grammar in sentences. I told them to correct the improper prompts so I could see what grammar they learned, and that I would find another way for them to take my exams. As I walked out of the door to let them write these exams, one of my learners pulled me aside and pointed out one of the numerous grammatical errors – fyi, this kid literally is getting a D in English [which is a 29-45 out of 100], but was able to find the blatant errors.

I proceed to go into my classroom, take out my red pen, and go through that exam and mark every error, circling the ones that are simply unacceptable. By the end, the pages were covered in red. With my evidence, I walk to the office, but alas the principal is gone. I am instead directed to the staff room to staple part 2 of the English exams. What do I find? This exam is EVEN WORSE than the first!!!! Words don’t express my anger. I go to the computer lab to cool off so I don’t start crying in frustration [this is becoming a trend, Peace Corps is making me so emotional!]. The principal finds me there, and I show him my red-marked first exam, and point out the absurd second exam, saying how this is too embarrassing to even begin with. He sees my reason – at first I think he was annoyed because I was so persistent/this was a hassle of a problem to address/properly fix, but then he realized this was ridiculous, and said that he would call the principal from the other school and have the second exam emailed over so I could correct it, because there was too much gross negligence going on. That principal got angry as a result [duh, because it was embarrassing that his school wrote this]. But, a couple hours later I fixed it to a somewhat more presentable quality – some things were beyond simply correcting grammar.

This story still makes me angry because the point is – how are these kids supposed to take their schooling seriously if their teachers aren’t taking their teaching seriously? Honest to God whoever wrote these exams did not spend even a single minute proofreading to find the insane typos/realize this was entirely unreadable English. There have been many trying moments in this job, but this exam saga was the most upset I’ve been about incompetency in the workplace since I began Peace Corps a year ago. In my opinion, whoever wrote that exam should be fired – for embarrassing him/herself, for lowering English standards, and most importantly, for having written something that makes the 350 Grade 6 learners in Luderitz feel like their studies are a joke and they’re not worth someone spending a respectable amount of time writing a decent exam, one that reflects their hard work. #frustration

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Schooling Differences

Things have just gotten so routine over here at Diaz Primary, but I thought maybe I could reflect upon some things from my schooling years that are somewhat or very different from my school here.

American Primary School
Namibian Primary School
An automated bell rings at the end of the period
The bell rings whenever the secretary/whoever is in the office gets up to ring it… sometimes it rings early, sometimes the secretary forgets about it and I end up with rowdy kids because my lesson plan is finished. Also, the bell here sounds like what I imagine an air raid siren sounded like during World War II. True story.
There is a large building on school grounds, in which you find the offices, classrooms, and other assorted important rooms to a school. Often this involves STAIRS and even better HALLWAYS.
No stairs, no central building with everything, no hallways. Unless you count the hallway being the great outdoors. Classrooms are lined up in blocks. Stairs are pretty unheard of here.
There is a librarian, and generally someone in charge of the computer lab. Learners have access to the library and the computer lab.
There is no full-time librarian/computer lab person. Currently I am librarian along with another teacher. At the start of Term 3 hopefully I will share computer lab responsibilities with an ICT committee of teachers. As of now learners are not allowed into the computer lab at my school.
There is a gym. Maybe even a field on which you can play sports.
My school’s grounds are made of sand [#desertlife]. There are three concrete platform type things where we have PE and assembly, and learners practice netball. During track season, they run outside the gates of the school on the gravel/sand/rocks barefoot.
There is a cafeteria!!!!!!!! And a different time for recess!
Learners race outside of the classroom at break time to line up and receive their food outside the soup kitchen. Havoc ensues outside with 970 learners running around for 40 minutes. There is just one break, as school ends at 1:30.
There are class sets of fiction books to use in English class. There are also textbooks, spelling books, vocabulary books.
We have a class set of English textbooks. However, I find them boring/not challenging enough, so we literally never use them. I hoarded my copy paper to make a class set of copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Students wear whatever they want, within reason/a dress code
Learners have a set uniform.
If you fail the grade, you repeat it, end of story.
In Namibia, you can fail and repeat a grade just once during each phase of school. At the primary school level, the phases are Grade 1-4 and Grade 5-7. This means if you fail grade 3, but you have already failed grade 2 and repeated that year, you get passed on. Once you hit Grade 5 and fail only then will you repeat that year again, but just the once.  This consequently means I have about 6 learners who are completely illiterate, even though they are in Grade 6 and about 13/14 years old. Things start to get more serious with regards to failing in secondary school.
If you get a 66 you pass the year.
If you get a 29 for the year you pass. [will have to go into the marking system at another time, it’s a whole other story]
If you are bad, you go to detention.
If you are bad, you probably get beaten. And if you are Miss Nowlin, the boys don’t care how they act towards you because you aren’t going to hit them, and they run home instead of coming to detention.
If you are a teacher and have something to do, you do it yourself
If you are a teacher and have something to do, you send a child to do it for you. 
Students write however they want to, unless they have specific instructions from teachers
Learners are obsessed with ensuring that their notes are written perfectly, and take their time writing to make sure of this. They are also obsessed with drawing lines [using their oft fought over rulers] under their notes when topics are complete. In my classroom some children love asking me if they should draw a line when they’re done, because I get annoyed and another child shouts in their imitation American accent “Miss N doesn’t caaaaaaaare!!”
Handouts are common, whether as worksheets or homework assignments
Paper is a precious commodity, and has to be used sparingly --> lots of note taking from the board

Namjam of the month: this is a song that my learners got me hooked on during one of our recent Fun Friday dance parties. I actually like the version I have of them singing and dancing to it better, but I can’t seem to find the video on my computer! I BELIEVE

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Feels Like Christmas in July

I’ve been a bit mia lately, sorry neh! Things have just started to pick up at a rapid pace! This term is really flying by. What’s been going on as of late in Luderitz… for the 4th of July a guy from my group happened to be in town for a training, and I also hosted a PCV from South Africa at my house. Funnily enough an older couple from his group was also in town, and so was the other volunteer who used to live in Luderitz, so we had a big barbeque and American feast!  It’s always fun hanging out with other PCVs and hearing about how their service differs/is similar to ours, so it was a fun couple of days. Oh I also wore some neon blue pants to work with assorted red white and blue gear, and let the kids ask all the questions they wanted about America, they loved it.

Other then that, things are the same old over here. We’re reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my English classes, which I think the kids are really enjoying – though some of them have been disappointed when they’ve asked if Willy Wonka is still alive and I have to tell them that the story is made up.  This coming week I’m heading to an ICT workshop, which will hopefully help a counterpart from my school and I in developing a curriculum for computer classes at the school, so I’m looking forward to it a lot! When I get back there will be just a week left before exams start and the term wraps up, crazy!

Also, I'm getting SO excited/anxious because the Olympics start in T-5 days!!! I'm excited because I'm slightly obsessed with the Olympics. I'm anxious because I am about 95% sure that I will not be able to watch any of it. I wish there was a sports bar or something here, or someone who also likes the Olympics who has a TV I could camp out in front of, unfortunately neither of those options exist. My colleagues have given me some semi-judgmental looks when I alerted them about how soon they start. I guess it's just not a big deal here - Namibia is sending 9 people to the Olympics. 

Finally, a few amusing interactions to share about my crazy Grade Sixes

Found this on one of my learner’s spelling quizzes:
A letter to miss Nowlin
Dear Teacher
I Helena will hereby like to inform you that
In your class I keep my mouth shut
It has started from Monday up to Friday
This week I love to listen to you Teacher

During break several weeks ago I was walking with a couple learners to buy a fat cake [they're too cheap and delicious to resist]. As I literally go to take my first bite of this fried dough, one of these learners asks 'is Miss N on a diet?' I am kind of confused at first because sarcasm is not something I experience a lot from Namibians, but I'm eating a fat cake!! Not sure whether she's insulting me [in reality I probably should be eating better these days] or what's going on, I say, 'Uhhhh no look I'm eating this fat cake here, this is not healthy! But yeah I guess I should start exercising more...' and the learner goes 'no Miss N, Miss was very fat, very very fat when she first got here, now Miss is looking nice.' I thanked her, but remain pretty confused about that whole conversation.

For one of the recent English continuous assessment marks I prompted the writing task with “What is your biggest achievement or success?” after explaining what success and achievement mean, this is all that one of my naughtiest girls wrote:
I am very good at making Miss Nowlin angry, really really angry.

A couple weeks ago I brought a salad to work for my lunch. I felt pretty accomplished/proud of myself too! Upon taking it out, a group of 6 girls approached me with looks of shock and repulsion on their faces.
Girls: MISS N, what is Miss N eating?!?!?!
Me: I have a salad, it’s delicious!
Girls: Miss N, that is NOT nice food! Why is Miss N eating that???
Me: This is a really healthy lunch to have, it’s good for you to eat vegetables girls!
Girls: NO MISS N, NO they are not even cooked! That is NOT nice!!! *cue looks of disgust and Namibian expression “ooooooh-ahh-ahh” as they walk out of the classroom*

Winter Is Coming

[this was written a month ago, totally forgot to put it up]

Well actually winter is officially here this side.  As always, the weather in Luderitz is different compared to winter of the rest of Namibia, but it is still definitely a marked change. There is A LOT of fog/mist these days, and noticeably less wind. The intensity of the fog makes me feel like I’m on the set of a bad horror movie as I walk to and from school sometimes. It’s not that it’s crazy cold, it’s just that it never gets warm. I miss heating. The past few nights I have worn socks, leggings, pants, a shirt, a sweatshirt, and been inside a sleeping bag under sheets and two comforters in order to stay warm.  Then I wake up at 3 am and am extremely hot. I swear it’s colder inside my house than it is outside, don’t really know why. But as any true Buchter will tell you about the weather here, Luderitz has 4 seasons in a day! It will be super cold in the morning, then get surprisingly nice in the early afternoon, then the fog/mist will roll in with a drop in temperatures, and then it gets cold again. Despite my best efforts at staying healthy, these rapid weather changes have finally gotten me sick along with about half my learners.

Anyway, things have really picked up here in Luderitz. I think the theme of Term 1 can be called “Survive” and now this term it is “crazy busy ahh!” I’m so glad I stuck out the challenges of last term, because while classroom management continues to be challenging, things have gotten SO much better. The first week of school this term I switched classrooms to the one right next to the office, and adopted a new classroom management strategy introduced way back in PST [at the time I thought it was completely insane and way too strict]. I don’t know if it was one of those changes or I’ve gotten better at dealing with learners being rude to me, or a combination, but the change is like night and day compared to last term. It’s AWESOME. Things are starting to fall into place and I now definitely understand why Peace Corps asks for two years. So back to what I’m up to after school these days:

-       First off, during week 1 of the term the smartest girl in Grade 7 approached my colleague and I mid-conversation and asked what we thought about starting a debate club. After meeting with her and hearing her very articulate vision for the team, now I’m heading up a debate team, and there are about 35 kids so far who are interested. We had our first meeting a couple days ago, and it was amazing. I can’t believe what a difference there is between Grade 7 and Grade 6 learners – not only are they like a foot taller, but we had a really productive conversation about topics they want to debate, one that could never have happened in any of my classes. The group is really enthusiastic about debating controversial issues in Namibia and I can’t wait to see where this goes. If any friends with debate experience are reading this I’d love input/advice!
-       Second, we officially opened the library last week! So far I’m really happy with how well the prefects are doing at running it and checking in/out books for the learners. The one thing we’re doing in the coming weeks is assigning grades particular days to go get books – the library space is WAY too small [like the size of a small college dorm room] and there is A LOT of learner interest.  The first day there was a line of 25 kids waiting to go inside, and we hadn’t even announced that we were opening it. This week the lines are going to be madness. At a school with 970 learners, this is going to cause problems in the long run, but we’re making it work for now.
-       Really sad to say that the other two volunteers in Luderitz are about to leave! One of them goes home to America at the end of this week, and the other moves up north in the middle of July. So since this is happening, they have recruited and trained several Namibians to take over and continue their projects. Yay sustainability! One of the projects is a girls’ group, and I along with two other teachers at Diaz have become facilitators. Most of the girls in the group are in Grade 6/7 at Diaz, so the group is now going to be meeting at the school once a week. I’m really looking forward to this project. After having attended a few meetings already, it brings me back to the good old days of SR.
-       After getting these three things on solid ground I’m going back to the World Map Project idea, working towards opening up the computer lab for typing/IT classes, and developing an educational community recycling project with the science teachers. So in sum, life has gotten very very busy, but in the BEST way possible. Peace Corps is definitely a roller coaster, but right now things seem to be going up in the right direction!