It’s hard to believe that it’s already been six months. Every day on my walk home from school I see Queenie, the child that Dan and I have agreed is one of the cutest kids to ever exist. We have actually watched Queenie grow from an infant to a toddler, and seeing her get bigger is a constant reminder of the time that is passing. When we arrived, she couldn’t even crawl. Now she is walking on her own and waving to us each time we pass (not to mention smiling from ear to ear!). Another looming reminder is the return ticket that we have just confirmed. We will be leaving Johannesburg on December 17 and getting into Boston the evening of the 18th. That leaves us a week before Christmas to catch up, and although I love and miss everyone at home, the thought of going home makes me feel both unbelievably excited and incredibly melancholy. So rather than linger on the topic and make myself cry, I think I’ll update you on the events of the past week or so, which ironically involve crying.
Last Monday we had off of school for The Day of the African Child. This commemorates a day in South Africa when learners protested the education system and were killed for doing so. Before English was the medium of instruction, many schools were taught in Afrikaans. Afrikaans is a legitimate language, but it came into existence because of the white Boers that colonized the area. Many Africans therefore associate the language with the people that came here, stole their natural resources, raped their women, and claimed ownership over land that Africans had put their blood, sweat and tears into. If you couldn’t guess, many Africans weren’t happy about having to learn in Afrikaans and eventually protested, asserting they wanted to learn in their mother tongue or even English. This didn’t please the authorities and, although I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, I know learners were killed. Our school did nothing to acknowledge the event, but I felt the need to address how important the day is to my learners. To set the tone for the learners, I asked them if their parents/caretakers told them about the country before Independence. The answer was an overwhelming yes, and learners began making comments about how hard it had been for the blacks. Despite the fact that I had asked them the question assuming it would be affirmative, hearing their confirmations overwhelmed me. I started thinking about how difficult things must have been for their ancestors, how so much had been taken away from them, and how hard and courageously many people had fought against it. For a brief history fill-in, the first genocide of the 20th century took place in Namibia, with the Germans decimating 85% of the Herero population. The Hereros who weren’t slaughtered by the troops were pushed into the Kalahari desert, where their dead bodies were found later, shrivelled and emaciated. Although most of my learners are Owambo (a different tribe from the Hereros), I can’t imagine they were treated royally by the colonizers. Unfortunately, discussing the holiday made it necessary for me to approach their terrible history that revolves around racism and apartheid, and I felt so guilty. I’m not German. Americans had nothing to do with it (or essentially nothing), but still I felt this huge burden swoop down on my shoulders, and I began thinking of it as my people killing their people. I know that’s not how it was, I know they knew that, but it still just crushed me. Tears began rolling down my cheeks and I just couldn’t stop. I was trying to continue teaching, talking about how awful the event was, but all of my learners just stared at me stunned. The point of the lesson was to distribute surveys asking what was good and bad about class (trying to empower them and let them know their opinions were important), so I gave out the surveys and left the room. When I returned 10 minutes later, I asked if they all understood what The Day of the African Child was. They all seemed upset and insisted I stop talking about it. I thought I had offended them or hit a nerve, but then they began saying that they didn’t want me to cry again. I was both relieved (that I hadn’t traumatized them in some way!) and touched that seeing me upset hurt them. As if I haven’t said it enough times, I love my kids.
Onto a slightly (…considerably) less depressing topic, I began lending out books a couple of weeks ago. I had been waiting until I could categorize and file all of the books according to the Dewey Decimal system, but that would take the better part of the year (not to mention as soon as I leave I’m pretty sure the teachers will ban learners from using the library), so it seemed like a good idea to give them access to the books sooner rather than later. So far learners have been doing a really fantastic job of bringing the books back on time, although they’ve been less than stellar on keeping the library straightened and orderly. I started a “Library Club,” which essentially has recruited ambitious learners to work for free. One of my most reliable workers is Elifas, the boy I posted about a few weeks ago. The teachers have begun referring to him as “my boy” because he is like a puppy at my heels whenever possible, and he dutifully serves as my library “policeman” several days a week. This means he’s in charge of ensuring that learners put books back properly and exhibit good behaviour. If not, he “arrests” them (takes them by the arm and escorts them out of the library!). The boys all love that they are “policemen,” and the girls love keeping the library straightened and clean. Have I mentioned that Namibia has incredibly rigid gender roles?
Other fun updates include my latest English topic—THE PRESENT TENSE!!! The biggest language mistake that Namibians make (in my opinion) is constantly putting is, am, or are before a verb and slapping ing onto the end… whether it is happening at the time or not. Because every teacher at my school does this, you can imagine the problems I’m facing. Some have caught on very quickly, and others are halfway there (“I am pound mahangu every weekend.”). I’ll be giving them a test on Tuesday, so we’ll see how they do when I formally assess them.
And that about wraps it up. I’m going to post a few fun pictures of my learners. When they’re extra good I bring my camera in and take pictures, so I’ve got a decent stash at this point.