Posted by: kam6761 | January 17, 2010

The Ridiculous Defense of Roman Polanski

There are few things as absurd to me as the outcry over Roman Polanski’s arrest and imminent sentencing. Among my “favorites”:

“I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?” –Gore Vidal, who also added that “anti-Semitism got poor Polanski.”

“He’s a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland.”  –Otto Weisser

“He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.” –Anne Applebaum

There are plenty of things to be said about this case, and everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion… but, is it just me, or is everyone insane? The two arguments I am seeing set out in article after article seek to absolve Polanski for one of two reasons—that he has suffered enough in his life and because it just isn’t fair that he was arrested on his way to receive an award—no, I’m not kidding. The ridiculous defense of Polanski serves to highlight the way rape continues to be seen as a small crime (or “little mistake”) and the demonization that its victims receive. I can think of no other crime where the victim is scrutinized and vilified so pervasively. The fact of the matter is that Roman Polanski drugged and had sex with a 13 year old girl without her consent. Any of those three factors were enough to convict him (lack of consent, age of the victim, inebriation and drugging of victim), and as if he weren’t guilty enough, he FLED the country. How people continue to defend him despite these circumstances boggles my mind.

From the petition, signed by over 100 Hollywood movers and shakers, including Woody Allen (no surprise!), Martin Scorsese, and Tilda Swinton: “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.”  Oh boo hoo, Polanski doesn’t get to receive his lifetime achievement award! How about this, Tilda? How about Polanski RAPED a thirteen year old girl, and it really doesn’t matter how good his movies are. And jeez, Woody, I know all about your weird sexual predilections, but at least your current wife CONSENTED. Polanski’s victim, on the other hand, was DRUGGED and SODOMIZED. Otto Weisser classifies the incident as a “little mistake.” Call me crazy, but I think rape is well, I don’t know… a crime? For which people should be held accountable? From article to article, it would appear that many people genuinely believe Polanski’s skill as a director makes him unaccountable for the crime he committed. It makes me genuinely sad to see people whose work I respect immensely—Natalie Portman, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson, just to name a few— supporting a man who committed a heinous crime, for no other reason than cronyism and the embarrassingly flimsy reasoning that it wasn’t nice to arrest Polanski on the day that he was going to receive an important award. Brilliant director or not, Polanski broke the law of the United States and fled the country before he could be sentenced. These are crimes for which he has yet to be held accountable, and it is completely irrelevant whether or not he had an award to receive, or that he has a new film coming out soon.

Equally appalling is the attention being directed towards Polanski’s past. Yes, Polanski’s family was persecuted during the Holocaust. This is terrible and sad, and I’m sorry that he and  his parents had to endure such awful treatment. Yes, his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by Charles Manson and several of his followers. I cannot imagine the pain that an expecting father would feel upon learning that he had lost both his wife and child in one fell swoop. These things are terrible. There is no denying that Roman Polanski has had his share of tragedy, but these things should not be part of our discourse regarding his crime. Our thoughts and analysis need to remain on the case at hand, which is that Polanski raped a thirteen year old and then fled the United States before he could be sentenced for his awful act. Some crazies seem to think his tragic history is “payment enough” for what he did. This to me is analogous to exonerating Charles Manson on account of his mother’s alcoholism, or excusing Adolf Hitler because he was traumatized by the sudden deaths of his brother and father at a young age. If our justice system took the tragic past of every criminal into consideration before sentencing him or her, chances are this would be an incredibly terrifying place to live. Murderers would freely stalk the streets because they grew up in the wrong neighborhood, thieves would be free to plunder and pillage because their mothers didn’t give them enough love as children, and rapists would walk free because their parents had been victims of the Holocaust.  Somehow the absurdity of this defense has yet to dawn on its proponents.

Still other crazies seem to think that he has been “punished enough” because he had to pay lawyer fees and can’t come back to the United States. How does anyone seriously propose this as a legitimate point? Criminals have to pay for their lawyers, or are appointed one if they cannot afford it—you know, for that crazy thing we have called due process, where we make sure we don’t just go about convicting people of stuff they didn’t do all willy nilly. Now I could see this point if Polanski had pled innocent and was found innocent by the court. However, Polanski was originally charged with six felony counts, but five of them were dropped in order to preserve the victim’s anonymity. Polanski then pled guilty to one measly charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. And, before he could be sentenced for this extremely watered down charge, he fled the country. Polanski is then both a rapist and a fugitive, and certainly not entitled to any sympathy.

Honestly, I’m not sure what infuriates me more—the uproar of Polanski defenders or the fact that it took us 30 years to apprehend him. Fame should not operate as a “get out of jail free card,” and I’m glad that it appears that Polanski will finally be brought to justice. What truly terrifies me is the number of people who seem to think that Polanski’s genius and his history should somehow excuse him for raping a small girl. Among the ridiculous defenses of Polanski, many say he is being treated unfairly because of his fame. I would agree with this statement, but would contend that this unfair treatment has been 30 years of silence regarding the rape of a young girl. People say the only reason we’re still talking about this crime three decades later is due to his fame, when in fact it seems extremely clear that the only reason he has walked free for 30 years has been precisely because he is a celebrity. Luckily our justice system doesn’t have a caveat for Oscar award winners—rape is rape, regardless of professional accomplishments or personal history, at least until we start electing Hollywood stars as lawmakers.
Posted by: kam6761 | October 2, 2009



On September 23 Tropical Storm Ketsana hit the Philippines, giving Manila its worst rainfall in recorded history, killing hundreds and washing away countless homes and businesses. Flood levels reached a record high of 20 feet in rural areas, and now, before recovering from Ketsana, the Philippines is bracing itself for another natural disaster.

Supertyphoon Parma is estimated to touch down in the north tomorrow, leaving thousands of residents to flee their homes for safety further south. Residents of Manila are still scrambling to reorganize, with water and debris still filling the streets, and water levels already on the brink of flooding.

SEALNet is doing its best to raise funds for the victims of Ketsana, and Parma will do nothing but heighten the need for aid in the country. Please take a moment to donate (no amount is too small) and send this link to your friends and family.


Posted by: kam6761 | October 1, 2009

What I’m Doing For Breast Cancer Awareness Month

And my goodness, I promise you it will have nothing to do with pink ribbons. To those of you who have heard me rant against Project Red, you probably know where I’m going with this.

One cannot wander down Walnut St. without being blasted in the face with pink merchandise—to benefit breast cancer! They promise! Buy this Vaio pink laptop! Or this pink Swiffer! How about these nifty New Balance sneakers with a pink ribbon on them? Oh, sure—say, how much from these snazzy sneaks will go towards breast cancer research? Oh, what’s that you say, they’re just to raise awareness? Oh, I see, because I needed a pink ribbon on my sneakers to be aware that breast cancer was a problem. And what’s this here? A beautiful Hana Special Edition Flat Iron! Well it’s $51 more than the regular edition, but it’s for a GOOD CAUSE! Right, except that only $25 dollars goes to the Susan G Komen Foundation, which just means you just spent $51 more to put $26 extra dollars in this company’s pocket.

These companies do not care about breast cancer. They care about lining their pockets and polishing their tarnished public images. This should not be surprising. They are companies in a capitalist society, and their sole goal is to make more profit. What IS surprising to me is how quickly and avidly everyone around me is embracing this crap. It allows everybody to give their credit cards a workout and to sleep easier at night, knowing they’re really “doing something” to fight breast cancer! I hate to break it to everybody, but that pink merchandise is not helping anybody. It is distracting us from what’s actually important—what kind of research is being done, how conditions are improving for women diagnosed with breast cancer, and remembering those women who lost the fight.

What also concerns me is that people may think they’ve “done their part” after buying themselves that new pink tshirt. The sad thing is that giant cause marketing scams like this and Project Red just make it harder for legitimate non-profits who actually care about the issue at hand. “So sorry. You see, I just bought a new red iPod and a pink laptop, so donations just aren’t in my budget right now.” Here’s a thought: if you ACTUALLY care about breast cancer, or AIDS, or whatever cause these companies are trying to sell you crap for, just DONATE MONEY TO THE ORGANIZATION.

And, if the cause marketing scumbags have totally brainwashed you already, at least be an educated consumer. Here is a link to a list of Critical Questions to Ask Before You Buy Pink, provided by Breast Cancer Action, an organization of people who actually care about the issue at hand. That’s where I’ll be putting my money, and I promise that they too will not be wearing pink ribbons this month. Breast cancer is too important to be trivialized like that.

Posted by: kam6761 | August 13, 2009

Back in the Village

Well, right now I’m technically in Ondangwa (a sprawling city in comparison to Omungwelume!), but the point is that I’m back in Northern Namibia and have spent the past few days visiting with old colleagues, friends, and learners.


I arrived on Sunday and have had a lot less down time than anticipated. I’ve spent each day at the school, helping my teachers set examinations or assisting my principal in drafting letters to request aid from various organizations. Sunday was interesting—the kids took awhile to really process that I was BACK. Kids that used to be silly and hyper were suddenly timid and apprehensive. It was as if they were assessing if I were in fact Miss Kathryn. After awhile Penelao, a Grade 4 learner, began tickling me and braiding my hair and, upon seeing that I was in fact still the same ol’ silly Miss Kathryn, the other kids went crazy.


On Monday I arrived early at the school in time for morning devotion, and whispers of, “Miss Kathryn is here! Miss Kathryn is here!” were sent up and down the lines of children. My former learners began clapping and their smiles were priceless. It felt really good to be back. They had heard rumors of my return, but weren’t sure if I would just be coming to Windhoek (the capital). Many of the learners had prepared letters for me, which touched my heart. My return even brought a breakdown in the “physical affection taboo,” for when I asked one of my classes why I hadn’t gotten any hugs, several learners literally jumped out of their seats and ran across the room to hug me. Warde was the first and was soon followed by others as they realized that it was okay to do so!


On Tuesday I distributed a ton of clothing which had been collected and donated by students of East High School. It was bittersweet, because the selection process was essentially me going into classrooms and assessing who was in dire need of new clothing. Once the kids heard why I was in the room, they began showing me all of the holes and tears and missing buttons on their clothing in hopes that they would be given something. Unfortunately, despite the fact that every learner had tattered clothing, I only had enough to distribute to the kids who were nearly in rags. Luckily we still have more of the boxes of donated clothing at home, so I’ll have to work out a way to ship it to the village. It just makes you think of the massive amount of resources that we have in the States—clothes, computers, microscopes, and how we just need a cheap way to direct these old (but still usable) things to places that could really use them, like Omungwelume. Seeing the faces of these kids receiving second hand clothing was really like seeing an American child on Christmas morning, and it just makes you think of how incredibly lucky we are. I remember pouting when I had to get hand me downs from my older sister, and yet to these kids used clothing is a luxury.


Later that day I went into Oshakati (the nearest shopping town) and bought new school uniforms for some of the kids who were really in need of one. It felt really good to go in the next day and hand them out. The school shoes were particularly coveted (most kids don’t even own school shoes because they’re quite expensive—N$160, or about US$20, for a pair) and it felt good to see the smiles on the faces of the children who received it. At the same time, I felt bad that I couldn’t do it for ALL the kids. Yes, I chose the kids who seemed to need it the most, but essentially all of the kids at my school could have really benefited from some new clothes.


On Wednesday I spent the day at school and later went to the homestead of Meameno’s grandparents. A homestead is what most people think of when they envision traditional African homes—a fence made of sticks and huts made of mud and grass. And while they had so little, they showered me with gifts. The grandmother gave me a handwoven basket and two clay pots, not to mention they slaughtered one of their chickens in my honor (which I embarrassingly had to tell them I couldn’t eat because I was a vegetarian!). The sense of togetherness was palpable, despite my inability to speak their language and our vast cultural differences. We sat there, around a basketful of porridge and a chicken, all sharing from the same plate, and ate our dinner. I love getting together as a family to share a meal, and this was really special—all of us, from grandparents to small children, on our haunches around a small plate of food. It felt really good.


Today I am visiting with a volunteer from 2008, Steve, who has extended through this school year. This weekend will be a mix of visiting with volunteers and spending time with people in my community. It’s hard to believe that it’s already Thursday, and that I’ll be headed out on Tuesday.


I’m not sure if I’ll have internet again before I go (the internet has been entirely out from our village  this entire year), but if not I will be sure to give a bigger update soon upon my return.


Hope all is well with everyone, and for those of you in the Philadelphia area, you’ll soon be meeting Paulina and Meameno!

Posted by: kam6761 | May 14, 2009

Namibian Dreams Stars

Just wanted to give a quick shout out to the people who have gone above and beyond in order to help Namibian Dreams:

1. Both of my sisters– Michelle took the time to pass out letters to the 70 families that attended her son’s preschool, not to mention she’s been spreading the word through Facebook, work, and personal connections. My younger sister, Christine, has been helping me raise awareness for our fundraiser this Sunday, not to mention she has gotten two of her friends to donate. Thanks to the best sisters ever!

2. My Aunt Elizabeth– took the time to email what looked like her entire contact list about Namibian Dreams, which has thus far resulted in two donations! She’s also been great about plugging us in on her Facebook, and has graciously agreed to attend our fundraiser at a crappy college bar this weekend, no matter how bad the house wine!

3. Matt Brown– has kept us up on his GChat status for like 2 weeks now, and spread the word to his girlfriend and coworker, both of whom donated! Way to go, Matt!

4. Erin Moran– one of my best friends from elementary school and someone who was seated in front of me in homeroom class all through middle school and high school! She sent out an email to all of her coworkers, and is taking a collection in her office all through this week, not to mention telling people about our fundraiser!

5. Lauren Thoman– she has been AWESOME about giving us great ideas, whether it be the FAQ or places we could take the girls once they get here.  She has also been plugging our site into every single one of her blog entries– YAY for Lauren!

Posted by: kam6761 | April 30, 2009

Namibian Dreams

So the site is up and running! To check out what we’re up to, go to For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about, we’ve finally secured Meameno and Paulina visas to travel to the United States! Needless to say, we’re ELATED.

The site has been put up to drum up awareness of what’s going on and, of course, to solicit donations. I’m extremely touched by the generosity of those who have already donated, and am just getting another important lesson regarding the kindness of strangers. Thus far, the biggest donation has been $57 from a guy in New Zealand that neither Dan or I even know!

This also goes to show the importance of expanding the network of people we reach. If you are reading this, and you don’t intend on donating (which is obviously TOTALLY fine), please forward along the information to anyone you know who is interested in humanitarian and philanthropic work.

I think many people think since they can’t do A LOT, they don’t do anything, and that’s a terrible solution– not only in this case, but for life in general! Every tiny bit helps, whether it be telling a few friends, giving us website recommendations, or donating $5.

If people are apathetic and feckless, it’s one thing. Those people would not come to this website. If you are reading this, and want to do something, I want it to be clear that ANYTHING is better than nothing. If you can’t personally donate but could hang a flyer up at your church, AWESOME! If you can write a blog or newspaper article about Namibian Dreams, GREAT! Every person has a unique talent or quality– whether it be an ability with words, a large network or friends, or a knack for baking really awesome cakes (how cool would a bake sale be?!?).

We appreciate, from the bottom of our hearts, the smallest of gestures. A lot of small things can make a gigantic difference, so please follow your heart and take a few small steps along this journey with us.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by: kam6761 | February 19, 2009


So it’s been about two months at this point, and I guess it’s time to wrap up this chapter of my blog.

2008 was undoubtedly the best year of my life. Many people treat my year abroad as this great sacrifice I made, but I often wonder if I got more out of my volunteer work than my children did. I miss them every day, but the pace of life here leaves little time for reflection. I tried calling back to the village a week or two after we first got back, and the language barrier was much more difficult than I had anticipated. We had little trouble communicating in person, but somehow over the phone the communication was nearly impossible. The good news is that we’re in regular contact with the new volunteers in our village (unfortunately neither of them are at my school) and it seems that they can provide a link to the children. I’ve compiled a little photo album for all of our regular visitors (roughly that list of “Who’s Who” from Dan’s blog earlier this year!) and I’ll send them to the new volunteer, Chloe, to distribute to the children. She recently asked for my address and said she had “some things to send me,” so I’m guessing there are precious letters from the children on their way!

Since coming home I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out what I want to do next. The answer to that is still unclear, but I’ve at least found an outlet for utilizing the skills I’ve acquired/sharpened during my year in Namibia. I’ve become involved with SEALNet again (Southeast Asian Leadership Network). I first became involved with them in 2007, when I went on “Project Thailand,” which was a 2 week project to set up a recycling bank in a rural village and teach the community about the importance of recycling. I’ve just been chosen as a mentor for this year’s Project Malaysia, which means I’ll be guiding the project leaders through the process of planning and executing the project. The nature of the project is promoting environmental responsibility and educating the local population about the importance of it, which I think I’m at least relatively qualified for!

I’m also beginning to see the beauty of networking! From my work with SEALNet my name has floated about and I’ve just been contacted by an individual who is trying to set up a project that will help Vietnamese students with learning English. The idea is to set up Skype calls between Vietnamese students and native English speakers where the English speaker can lead “discussions” with 5-6 Vietnamese students. I feel pretty honored–  they want me to lead the trial session and give them feedback on benefits and setbacks! I’ll be doing that sometime next week and am a little wary of the whole thing (based on my pathetic attempt to stay in contact with my Namibian learners through the phone!), but I’m hoping it works out well.

For the time being I’m nannying three days a week and trying to fill up my remaining time with projects like I’ve listed above, not to mention I still have the lofty task of compiling a year’s worth of experiences into a (although most likely MANY) scrapbook(s). We’re still going through the process of trying to bring Meameno and Paulina over for a “cultural experience”! Meameno has been granted a visa and Paulina has been given a full birth certificate (long story, but that was the biggest obstacle standing in the way of her obtaining a visa). Once they’re both granted visas, we have to begin raising money for their trip here. We had originally been planning for May, but it’s now looking like August will be the earliest they can come. I’ll keep you updated on this and whatever other adventures I can manage to get myself into. 🙂

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  –Peter F. Drucker

Posted by: kam6761 | December 15, 2008

It’s all over!

So the year is over. I’ve wanted to write a long winded and thoughtful entry about all of the things I’ve learned and what the end was like, but internet is difficult to come by here in Tanzania (not to mention why would I want to blog when I could be exploring a new country?).

I SHOULD be home December 19. Upon trying to reconfirm our flight from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg (we fly back into Johannesburg early on the 17th and our flight back to the States is late at night on the 17th) we found out that currently all of Air Tanzania’s flights are suspended due to debt and documentation problems. I hope this doesn’t mean we’re stuck in Tanzania for Christmas. Assuming we’re back on time, I should have my cell phone (same number) back on the 19th or 20th. Hope to hear from everyone shortly after that!

Posted by: kam6761 | December 1, 2008

Queenie (old post)

[I neglected to dutifully upload this post when it was written, so it’s going up now, a couple of weeks late. -Dan]

She’s so Excited, she just can’t hide it…

Exams have started! This means a lot less work AT school, but a lot more work AFTER school. A lot of the learners have begun following me home, and Fransina (who is essentially one of our neighbors and comes from the same house as Queenie!) always stops home to pick up Queenie before coming over.

As usual, it’s always a pleasure to have Queenie over. She is one of the happiest, least fussy little kids I’ve ever seen. However, her family has recently begun potty training her. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but as far as I can tell it means letting her pee her pants. Last Friday I was doting on her, picking her up and flying her in the air, watching her squeal with delight. As I brought her down the last time and rested her on my hip, I realized I had gotten her a little bit too excited. She peed A LOT… ALL OVER ME. I wasn’t angry but was concerned about getting her changed and was a bit shocked when her “caretakers” (albeit they are 11 year olds) insisted she didn’t need to change, and then proceeded to pick her up as if she wasn’t covered in urine. Queenie came over again today and, although she didn’t relieve herself on ME this time, she decided that my house is in fact a giant toilet. First she went in the kitchen. Fransina kindly mopped up after her. Not even 15 minutes later she went in the common area, and decided to “help” by taking a rubber ball and using it to “clean up” the mess. After the second time I insisted that they take her home to change her, despite the fact that Queenie didn’t seem to care AT ALL that she was covered in her own filth. She continued to toddle around the house, screeching with glee and in as high spirits as ever. I guess having a baby relieve herself on your floor isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it does mean I get my floors mopped for me, so I don’t think I’m going to complain.


Posted by: kam6761 | November 24, 2008

November 21, 2008

Tomorrow morning Dan and I head off to Windhoek with Meameno and Paulina in tow. We have an interview scheduled at the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday morning and could use all the happy thoughts and prayers that you guys can muster up! We just recently learned that the other WorldTeach volunteer attempting to take home a few learners was denied visas for the kids, so we’re pretty worried.

As the time for the interview gets closer, I wonder what information to expound upon. Do I talk about how much I love these children, or will that lead the Embassy to think I may attempt to smuggle them in? Do I talk about how I want them to experience something beyond simple concrete structures and playing with a tattered string as a jump rope, or will their poverty turn them off to allowing these children to travel to America?

Me with Paulina and Meameno

Me with Paulina and Meameno

Last weekend we went into Oshakati with Meme Kapau (Meameno’s mother) and her family. I had originally planned on just having Dan go in to do the shopping, but after several half-hearted attempts at suggesting that I should go, Meameno came to blatantly ask me if I would go because her mother wanted me to help her buy a new outfit for Windhoek. Not able to resist, I went the next morning and experienced (what I think was) something similar to what my Mom had felt taking me shopping when I was younger. I remember my Mom would sometimes shrug off my suggestions and then really push for articles of clothing she found more appropriate. She always let me get what I wanted, but would end up getting me more than she said she would just because she found so many things she thought would look so nice on me. Our volunteer salaries didn’t allow me to quite spoil her as my Mom did me, but I found myself doing the sort of, “This one is nice, isn’t it?” as I held it up to her. And then I saw Meameno respond (just as the little Kathryn did) with a meek, “Yes.” I luckily convinced her out of buying a few ridiculous items, but I couldn’t sway her from the pair of bright yellow polyester pants she wanted. So we got her a really nice pair of black patent leather ballet flats, a white top with adorable buttons that fits her wonderfully, and an obnoxious pair of bright yellow polyester pants. Once again, it sounds like the result of my Mom taking me shopping when I was younger. She would concede to one or two horrific items (such as UFO pants or <UGH!> Jnco jeans), but the majority of my wardrobe remained fairly normal.

Although I didn’t take Paulina shopping, I can say that for the first time THIS ENTIRE YEAR I saw Paulina’s hair braided yesterday. This entire year it had remained shaved, which is actually pretty common for girls here (it seems like hair is considered a distraction to academic achievement as well as another financial liability). However, yesterday it was in tiny little braids (her hair was quite short, after all). When I asked her if it was for Windhoek, she shyly responded that it was.

I mean, when Dan and I get to go to Windhoek it’s a really exciting and big deal, so I don’t know why I was surprised at this behaviour, but I still found something so charming about their parents getting them ready for “the big city.” Tomorrow night we are headed to Jocie’s (our new field director—Maggie left us a couple of months ago to study at the London School of Economics) for a Thanksgiving dinner, so we’ll see how the girls like a traditional American holiday… by which I mean an overabundance of food.

Other things on the agenda include going to a swimming pool (assuming we can find them bathing suits somewhere… I would feel like a bad guardian by having them hop into a big city pool in their clothes!), taking them to the movies, and going out for pizza.



You’re probably wondering where this sudden generosity is coming from, what with our meagre volunteer salaries and all. Actually, you’re probably not, but I’m going to tell you why anyway, despite my parents having raised me to believe it’s uncouth and generally bad manners to talk about money. Sorry, Mom and Dad. This year WorldTeach was supposed to get a salary raise, what with the huge increase in petrol prices (petrol has over doubled in price since we got here), the food crisis, and what not (the global credit crunch didn’t even exist when this raise went through). Anyway, nobody out of the entire WorldTeach group EVER got the raise… except Dan. I know, I should have felt fortunate since our funds are shared, but I always felt a tinge of jealousy every month when he received a substantially higher amount than me for the same amount of work. HOWEVER, all praise the Namibian government for the incredibly substantial ARREARS check they sent me today. We’ve been able to survive on our meagre paychecks (mine, for the record, much more meagre than his), but our funds have been dwindling and I was beginning to cut back on our Tanzania trip (for instance the lodge that we are staying at on Mt. Kilimanjaro charges $40 for a 10 mile hike up the mountain from the base town, whereas we could take local transport for $2 and then walk up a mountain to the lodge for 3 km. Yes, I know it’s a mountain and we’ll have giant suitcases, but I had decided we couldn’t afford the tourist-priced transport). However, with this fantastic new paycheck, we will be receiving luxury lodge transport up and down the mountain, despite its outrageous cost, as well as a movie outing, nice dining, and swimsuits for the girls in Windhoek. Yes, this paycheck was almost the amount of 3 of my regular paychecks combined, so I am incredibly excited.

Just so I don’t leave this blog with you believing I have no manners, I’m now going to attempt to distract you with an adorable story from today. My top learner from all of Grade 6 today handed me a large envelope. I opened it and inside was an absolutely beautiful basket that her grandmother had weaved for me, along with a card that actually made me cry. I know I have meant a lot to the learners here, but Johanna’s English is so good that she was able to actually coherently express it to me. She wrote that I’d been more than a teacher, and had been a friend and even a “Mummy” to her. She said she would miss my jokes, my good behaviour, and my smile. She ended by saying that she would miss me a lot and that she hoped that God would bless me.

I hope that her thoughts are a common sentiment among my learners, and I really can say I see a marked difference not only in their English ability, but in their behaviour as well. My insistence on “using good manners” has become, in my opinion, a door into an increase in respect and appreciation for one another. I’d like to think that I’ve shown and taught them the best of Western culture, and that certain things are now integrated into their own culture—a love of reading and learning, respect for one’s peers, and a strong work ethic.

Dan and I are currently reading a biography of Ben Franklin and it is reminding me of so many of the things that I love about my country. Since I have become politically conscious, I’ve actually been ashamed of being an American, and that sentiment has only been magnified by spending so much time abroad and getting the perspective of people from around the world. However, with the promise of a president that will bring change (let’s hope it wasn’t just a really effective marketing ploy), and spending a year on a continent with horribly corrupt and malfunctioning “democracies,” I have come to appreciate and love so much about my own country that I had previously taken for granted. Yes, American politics can get ugly, but we’ve witnessed the leading political party here call the growing opposition “Judases” and make public decrees that any opposition party members be removed from jobs of significance, as well as refusing opposition members entrance into shops and refusing them WATER. And keep in mind this country is a beacon of hope for Africa, a success story for “African democracy.” Then look at the crisis in Zimbabwe, the genocide taking place in the Sudan, the growing regional problems erupting from the DRC conflict, and Mbeki’s recent step down from power, and you see that Namibia is a relatively stable country. One of my former colleagues made a comment that it wasn’t necessarily that things were bad here, but that they just lacked stability. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about, but after 11 months here I think I’m getting the picture. Yes, the financial crisis sucks, but we at least have the knowledge t hat our democracy functions as it should—that presidents step down when they should, that freedom of the press allows any opposition to freely and vehemently dissent from the current administration, and that Republicans and Democrats may not always get along (I seem to recall the Bush/Kerry election—I bought a George Bush dog toy for my dog and my sister dressed her son up in an anti-George Bush onesie when we went to vote. My Dad, for those of you that don’t know, is a staunch Republican. As you may guess, he refused to come to the polls with me, my sister, and my Mom ), but for the most part we’re able to respectfully dissent (this may not ALWAYS be the case when it comes to political arguments with my Dad, but I’m pretty sure that we all still love each other despite whatever political views we hold). My point is that I always took these things to be inherent—but they’re not. I took them to be rights, because America treats them as such, but that doesn’t mean they inherently are. They are privileges, despite all the “we hold these truths to be self-evident” mumbo jumbo we can conjure up. It’s not self-evident in a lot of places, where the idea of a multi-party democracy seems silly despite the fact that they call themselves a democracy. And perhaps I’m just being ethnocentric again, but I can’t help but feel incredibly PRIVILEGED to be an American. I guess I became cognizant during a particularly dark time in American history, and I’m not willing to excuse the terrible events of the past 8 years, but I’m willing to burrow deep underneath it to find the qualities that make our country so great—among them, a constant ability to remake itself to suit new challenges and barriers. I’m constantly being reminded of the “financial crisis” back home by friends and family, but I can’t help but feel it can’t be that bad, and that our ingenuity and determination will surely see us through it. Who knows, maybe 11 months of being away from my “motherland” is making me overly optimistic and sentimental, but I hope I won’t look back at this in a few years and regret my naivety.

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