[Update: I have added the pictures Kathryn originally included in this post. Sorry for the omission; uploading files takes a long time on a dial-up connection! (That’s why I made the pictures smaller.) -Dan]
So the computers at Daniel’s school DO have USB ports, so here is my post from nearly two weeks ago:
I am one week away from the beginning of my teaching assignment and it is so hard to believe that training is almost over. I realize that I have not kept most of you updated on what’s been going on, so I will attempt to do so now!
We arrived in Windhoek after nearly 48 hours of straight traveling and, needless to say, the entire group was completely exhausted. Training began the next day and it’s been packed days ever since. A veteran teacher and 2nd year Namibia WorldTeach volunteer, Josh, has been in charge of training and he has done a great job. Each day is filled with a variety of activities and lectures, from various teaching techniques to culture shock to Oshikwinyama lessons (the dialect that is spoken where Dan and I will be teaching. Luckily we aren’t the group that is learning Damara Nama; that dialect is one of the African languages that includes the clicking noises and they’re having a pretty hard time with it!).
My introduction to the country has been a bit bittersweet. The people here are so friendly, the terrain is so picturesque, and the kids are wonderful, but there have been quite a few negative discoveries that I’ve been having trouble coping with. First, I was somehow not aware that Namibia is the country with the largest disparity between the rich and the poor, and it’s been hard seeing such huge gaps firsthand. We took a tour of Windhoek, starting with the wealthy neighborhoods and ending with an area called Katutura, which was an area started during apartheid that separated the tribes (blacks) from the Afrikaaners (whites). Since the end of apartheid, Katutura has remained a slum for the poorest of the poor. We stopped there for cool drinks (Namibian English for drinks, which are for some reason even called this when the drink is hot!) and I felt incredibly guilty. Despite the fact that I was genuinely interested and concerned for the people there, I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable with the experience. We drove in on a huge tour bus (and I should mention that none of us are black), cameras in hand, and then exited the bus for roughly 20 minutes to drink some Coke and make small talk with the community. The conditions there were like nothing I had ever seen. One room “houses” were made of a few pieces of tin, void of electricity or water, accommodating families in a space the size of a large bathroom in America. As word got out that a bunch of white people were there, tons of kids made their way over and we awkwardly attempted to engage them in conversation. This obviously failed (kids begin taking English classes in Grade 1 but the teachers can barely speak the language themselves, not to mention that poor areas generally receive the least qualified teachers), so we stood silently together until my friend Weslie and I began brainstorming games and settled upon “Duck, Duck, Goose.” The game was actually really fun and the kids loved it, but after about 15 minutes we were told to get back on the bus and left, completely powerless to change anything about what we had seen.
I am also already realizing how fortunate I was to have gone through the American school system. Corporal punishment is illegal but is the standard punishment for children that misbehave. Kids are taught to memorize facts and never given the chance to use their own imaginations or critical thinking skills. And, as if this didn’t handicap them enough, the medium of instruction is suddenly changed to English in Grade 4, completely crippling the children who don’t have parents speaking English at home. Last week we did four days of practice teaching and it was painfully obvious which students had parents at home that were able to help them with their English. It created a classroom environment in which several of the students were star pupils, quick to answer every question, while others were unable to carry a simple conversation and were still making egregious spelling errors with simple words (such as “ngwing” for “going”). It breaks my heart to think that there are so many intelligent learners that are completely left behind in every subject because their English skills are limited. The worst part about this is that there is no remedial teaching for the kids that fall behind, and there isn’t enough room in the schools to allow them to repeat a grade. So even if you technically fail a grade, your transcript indicates that you have failed but you are still pushed up to the next grade. As you can imagine, the students who are pushed up are completely unable to learn anything in the next grade because they still don’t understand English, and the gap in the classroom therefore widens with each year. In 10th grade, students take an exam that actually matters and determines whether or not they can move up to Grade 11 and, not surprisingly, the pass rate is about 30%. I hope that Dan and I are able to help some struggling learners this year and make at least a small difference in their ability to learn in school.
Now, before I completely depress every one of you (and I swear I actually really like the country overall and am enjoying my time here!), I should talk about some of the fun highlights and wonderful aspects of the culture. As I previously stated, we did four days of practice teaching last week, but what I failed to mention is that we taught in Omungwelume, which is actually the village that Dan and I will be teaching in this year! Everyone there was eager to meet us, which made every 5 minute walk for cool drinks into an epic adventure. Each trip would go something like this:
Namibian woman: Wa lele po meme? (Roughly: “Did you sleep well?”)
Me: Ehee (“Yes”)
Namibian woman: Nawa tuu? (“Is it so?”)
Me: Ehee. Onawa tuu? (“Yes, and is it so for you?)
Namibian woman: Ehee
Now, you think that if there was a group of ten women, this conversation could serve as a friendly hello and we could continue on our way, but it is not so. When greeting a large group of people, you are expected to circulate around the group and go through this dialogue with each individual person! We had just started our Oshikwinyama lessons before departing for the North (Omungwelume), and I was an expert in the method of greeting for each time of day by the time we returned to Windhoek. Although as an American I find it a tad inefficient and time consuming, I must admit that there is a charm to acknowledging each individual as an important person worth your attention. And, as greeting is a very important part of Namibian culture, children were more than eager to practice their limited English with us– I think I told you about this in my last post!
One night our WorldTeach group divided up into pairs and each pair was able to stay with a Namibian family for a day. I was assigned with Becca, another vegetarian from the group, and we had a really great time with our family. They had a hard time understanding that we were vegetarians, however, and when dinnertime rolled around we were served a whole chicken! We politely declined it and opted for the oshifema, which is a bit like porridge. The oshifema had potential but it is ground outside and, being as we live in a desert, made for tons of sand in the final product. The oshifema is made of mahongu (to my understanding we call it pro-millet, and it is a grain that is used in America to feed farm animals), and mahongu is a major staple of their diet here. They also make a drink called oshikundu out of it, which is DELICIOUS. It is slightly sweet and difficult to describe beyond that, but I’m hoping that someone can teach me how to make it this year so that I can prepare when we get back to the States.
It was sad saying goodbye when we left the next day but I know I will be seeing them a lot over the coming year, especially considering that two of children will be living on the school grounds where Dan and I are also living.
The father of my host family, Tate John (tate is “father” and is added as a form of respect to elders here), has already taken a liking to Dan and his “advanced” computer skills. We walked over to Tate John’s a few days ago to “fix” their computer (the antivirus software kept popping up the “update” option but the computer is not connected to the internet, making the antivirus software unnecessary and the reminder to update an impossibility). Dan fixed this after roughly 20 seconds and then Tate John mentioned that they had somehow lost a program called “Chicken Invaders,” which I had grown intimately familiar with a few days earlier during my homestay. The youngest son, Emmanuel, is one of the cutest five year olds I have ever seen and, like many children, had become quite smitten with his computer games. This boy barely ever spoke but oh boy did he know how to operate a mouse and a keyboard when “Chicken Invaders” came on. As soon as the game turned on he began furiously clicking the mouse and yelling things in Oshikwinyama, and as soon as the game turned off he transformed back into his composed, timid self. Throughout our entire stay, the only words we were able to coax out of him were “Hello” and “Yes.” So, anyway, I’m sure you can see where this story is going. Shortly after I left my homestay, Emmanuel’s furious clicking resulted in some crazy computer maneuvers and the game was mysteriously placed elsewhere on the computer. Needless to say, Emmanuel was heartbroken and Tate John was unable to locate the game himself. Now, for those of you that don’t know Dan, he is pretty darn good with computers. Apparently Emmanuel was better, because it took Dan a good 15 minutes and a command prompt trip to relocate the game. I should also mention that several members of the family crowded around him, watching his every move as he desperately tried to relocate “Chicken Invaders.” So, when he finally found it, everyone began yelling with joy and literally applauded him. Emmanuel came running in moments later and seized the mouse, once again furiously clicking and wearing the biggest smile I had ever seen. As we walked out of the house, I heard a small voice yell, “Thank you very much!” And so it was—my 24 hours at his home had elicited two words from him and Dan’s retrieval of Chicken Invaders doubled my record. I have a feeling we’ll be back many times throughout the year, retrieving various files and programs that Emmanuel hides with his frantic clicking.
After our homestay we prepared for our week of practice teaching. Our WorldTeach group teamed up into pairs again and this time I worked with a girl named Katie. We were in charge of Grade 5 and the week went really well. The kids were really eager to learn and always happy to help us with tasks like distributing papers or erasing the board. Apparently teachers are really respected here and we were told that discipline measures such as making the student stay with you at lunch or after school would more than likely seem like a reward! This has thrown a monkey wrench into my “punishment plan,” so creative ideas are always welcome. 🙂 Luckily we didn’t have too many behavioral problems during the practice week, with the exception of one incredibly bright student, Ndeshy, who was quick to point out when we were easier on the less advanced students and frequently sulked when we didn’t call on her. I found dealing with her to be incredibly challenging because it was hard to strike a balance between encouraging her intellectual curiosity without discouraging the other students. In the photo below I am with my Grade 5 learners. The two girls in the back with me are Dortea and Francina. The two small boys in front were the brothers of one of the learners (funny story regarding that to come). The long row of students are (from the left): David, Ndeshy, Onesmus, Hangula, Tangi, Set-Son, Joseph, Wilson, Ottilie, Elvi, Ndapandula, Johanna). The funny thing about practice teaching was that many of the students, because they were on holiday, were in charge of taking care of their brothers and sisters. This meant that if they wanted to go to school, their tiny brothers and sisters invariably came along with them. And by tiny I mean 8 year old girls bringing their infant siblings to school! They obviously couldn’t learn while taking care of the children, so us teachers ended up teaching with babies on our hips and toddlers sitting in the back of the room with crayons (I’m not kidding, we actually started bringing mattresses into the classrooms for the babies to nap on during the lessons!). My room was (unfortunately!) baby-less, but I got plenty of fun time with the little ones before and after school.
That’s all for now, but I’ll try to update again soon!