So I have been through a full week of teaching, and although there have certainly been low points, I would say that overall things have gone very well. Although I was warned that things here could be quite inefficient and consequently chaotic, I was not prepared for what I stepped into. I arrived on Monday morning (school had started the previous Wednesday), and the schedule for the learners had still not been set, so kids were either sitting in class unsupervised or teachers were just sitting in as babysitters. I did not realize that I wasn’t supposed to be teaching yet, so I asked the learners to write something and was then told that they didn’t have books. Luckily I had my own paper, so I was able to have them write me an introduction letter. They seemed completely confused with the assignment, even though I had written them an introduction letter that was supposed to serve as a model, so I ended up giving them sentences to write with the appropriate fill-in-the-blanks. This was a bit more successful, but some of them looked more like Mad-Libs than letters (most people signed it “Sincerely, Miss Kathryn” and several learners just copied my letter verbatim). The learners actually have really impressive vocabularies, but it seems as if most of them have no sense of grammatical structure. Sentences don’t begin with capital letters, they don’t end with punctuation, and in between is generally a random string of words that may or may not be spelled correctly.
On Tuesday I was told that my learners would have books, so I planned my lesson assuming that at least SOME of the kids would have books (most classrooms here have at least 3 or 4 learners to one textbook). So I walked into class, opened my book, and received a lot of blank stares. There were no books to be found. I desperately tried to improvise a lesson and it completely flopped. I ran out of the room to find my HOD (head of department), assuming she would know where I could find the books. She politely told me that there were no books. I went back to class and tried another tactic, hoping I could get some sort of group work going. Blank stares. I ended up leaving the class 10 minutes early and retreated to the “staff room,” which is also the computer room/library. I should note that one entire wall of the library is filled with unused textbooks, so sitting there was a lot like rubbing salt in a fresh wound. I was so frustrated and felt so helpless. No teachers seemed to know what was going on and the principal wasn’t even there. I stuck out the rest of the day, taught two more classes, and left school feeling much better. The activities in my final two classes didn’t completely fail and the kids seemed really interested in my introduction letter. I brought along some pictures from home and the kids loved them. Apparently Abbi (my family’s dog, for those of you who don’t know!) is really funny looking, because all of the kids burst into laughter upon seeing her picture. When I asked them to answer the questions I had posed in my letter, they eagerly answered verbally but had a much harder time when I asked them to write their answers. I’m thinking about doing a directed “free write” at the beginning of each period to get their writing skills up, but I’m not sure how much feedback I will be able to give every learner given my teaching load.
On Wednesday I was able to make photo copies for my lessons which made teaching SO much easier. I started the lesson by having them list the vocabulary words I had taught the day before (which nobody had written down because they didn’t have exercise books) and they had remembered all of them! The lesson went really well and I think I’m doing a decent job of managing the classroom. After that I was supposed to have lesson planning time, but my HOD came to tell me that I needed to distribute books to “my class.” I should take this moment to tell you that “my class” refers to the class that I am the class register teacher for, which means that I take their attendance every day and lead their morning devotional. Yes, I am in charge of leading a classroom full of Grade 5 learners in prayer. I was raised a Catholic and am now completely unreligious, so this is pretty humorous. Unfortunately the learners here aren’t Catholic, so I can’t resort to “Our Father” or “Hail Mary.” Instead I string together a list of nouns and hope that it makes sense: “Dear God, thank you for rain…..and food…..and school.” None of my learners have laughed at me yet so I’m guessing I don’t sound too silly! ANYWAY, I went to my homeroom class and distributed books, which took away all the happiness that had accumulated from teaching my first two periods. Their classroom is undergoing renovations right now, so their “classroom” is a few tin scraps piled together with desks crammed inside so tightly that the learners have to literally climb over desks to get into their chairs. It has no blackboard, no posters, no material to teach with whatsoever. As if this wasn’t bad enough, there were no more than 7 books per subject to distribute to a class of 30 kids. The learners are assigned to groups and each group has a complete set of books that have to be shared among four or five people. I distributed the books and then headed to the staff room, where I once again had to face the wall full of unused textbooks. Meme Kapau, the arts and religion teacher, offered to lend me her learners for a period to get the wall of textbooks sorted out (a lot of the shelves had books on them that looked like they had been through a paper shredder). I accepted and, although at the time it seemed like I had invited a tornado into my home, after they left I had a floor full of neat piles of sorted textbooks, many of which could actually be used. This included 27 Grade 6 English books, which will at least give one out of every three of my learners a textbook! One of my coworkers, Mr. McKensey, helped me distribute the books to the upper primary grades and there are still many more piles for the lower primary teachers to pick through.
Thursday and Friday went fairly well, with the exception of always being pulled out of my classes. On Friday (during period 3, mind you!) my principal told me that there were some urgent forms that I needed to fill out and have certified by the end of the day. This meant skipping the last two classes I was supposed to teach, and it broke my heart when the learners came into the computer room to get me (“Miss Kathryn, it is your period now.”) and I had to tell them I wouldn’t be teaching. After I filled out my forms, I was told to give my documents (including my actual passport) to a learner who would run it to the police station to have it certified. I was on the verge of a heart attack until it came back unharmed (the U.S. Embassy told us the security situation here in Namibia is the worst rating possible, critical, all because of how rampant petty theft is). My passport came back just in time for the final bell to ring and thus ended my first week!
On Saturday Dan and I hitchhiked into Oshakati, the nearest city, for some well needed shopping. Our village is really wonderful but absolutely useless in terms of shopping (the only produce available in the village is moldy potatoes), so we were delighted to find a store called “Fruit and Veg” in Oshakati, where we bought carrots, tomatoes, grapes, green peppers, and even MANGOES!!! It’s funny the things that I had taken for granted (my list has grown quite long already: availability of nutritious food, hot water, washing machines, and paved roads, just to name a few!), and the things I still do take for granted (most homes here don’t even have indoor plumbing, a stove, and in many cases electricity). Dan and I are constantly saying to each other, “Remember in America, where ____________ was easy?”. And, speaking of things I had taken for granted, we went to a RESTAURANT in Oshakati! It’s a place called SOS Club and it serves halfway decent food, especially considering the fact that most people here don’t know what cheese is (Dan asked a woman in a store where the cheese was and she led him to a bag of plastic toys!). I feel a bit uneasy with the origins of SOS Clubs (they were apparently places that only whites were allowed in during apartheid), but there were Ovambos (the darker skinned Africans) as well as coloreds (the lighter skinned Africans of mixed descent) eating there so I’m pretty sure the stigma is gone. We met up briefly with another volunteer, Steve, who is an older Canadian man. He is stationed not too far from us and has purchased a car, so we’re hoping he’ll come visit on the weekends!
Sunday was spent doing lots of exciting things such as handwashing our clothes, sweeping out the pounds of sand that had accumulated in our house over the week, and marking huge stacks of papers.
Today brought some excitement because many of our school buildings had been flooded out so the already crammed classrooms became teeming full of learners. All of the Grade 6 learners were instructed to stay in one classroom, so I was in charge of teaching a group of 70 or so kids English. I also began teaching some of my learners the Dewey Decimal System today, which is in preparation for the opening of our library! Dan and Jennica (the volunteers here before us) had thousands of books donated and I have spent the past week sorting them out. I have a long way to go but am working as hard as I can to get it done quickly. The learners are so excited and I know all of my hard work is going to pay off the moment I see the kids checking books out.
And now here I am, at 8:15 on Monday evening, about reading to call it quits for the day (we go to bed around 9:30 every night!). Tomorrow morning will begin like every other morning, with our neighbor’s evil rooster crowing incessantly, ensuring that I sleep no later than 5:30 am. For those of you with the misguided notion that roosters crow ONLY at the crack of dawn, I must tell you it isn’t so. They crow long before dawn, long after dawn, and lots around sundown as well. I know I wanted to remain a vegetarian while here, but I have conclusively decided that if I am ever given the chance to eat my neighbor’s rooster, I will do it in a heartbeat!