Posted by: kam6761 | July 29, 2008

June 25, 2008

Today was an interesting day. Our school was chosen as the site of our circuit bazaar, which means that the school was (unnecessarily) turned into a circus for the day. The Circuit was providing its own cooks and cashiers, but nonetheless the teachers at my school took it as a “school, but no school” sort of day. They also had apparently told the learners this, because when I went in to actually teach, half of them didn’t even have their books.

The first half of the day was spent babysitting classrooms (or, in my case, actually attempting to teach), but after that all hell broke loose. The teachers gathered in the staff room and the learners ran around the schoolgrounds, unsupervised. After about an hour of this, my principal broke down and began screaming at them to get into their classes. On a funny (and simultaneously totally unfunny) note, I got to see him running full speed, chasing learners into the classrooms with a stick. It’s funny because the kids were much faster and he didn’t harm anyone, so it was just like watching this pudgy old man running around as if he had any chance in the world of catching these children.

Anyway, I figured I should get into a classroom so I dodged into 6A (my favorite!). All of the desks and chairs had been pushed into the back of the room, leaving a wide open space of floor and very little room for seating.* I sat on a desk in the back and spent the next hour just chatting with my learners. Due to the condensed seating, we were all cuddled up and it was quite cozy. At one point someone asked me if they could braid my hair, which resulted in 15 sets of hands fighting to touch my hair. Even the boys, who are always very insistent on what is boy work and what is girl work, tried their hand at it. One of my learners, Warde (who is increasingly one of my favorite kids in the entire world), was braiding my hair and the girls got very protective. They had an exchange in Oshiwambo and then the girls explained to me that only girls should braid. I looked at Warde and said, “Well, you heard them. Only girls are supposed to braid.” His response (which I found incredibly cute AND clever) was simply, “YES, MISS KATHRYN, BUT BOYS CAN BRAID.”

I guess the experience was so heartwarming because, as much as I love my learners, I very seldom have a chance to give them hugs or be affectionate in any way with them. When we went to visit our friend Weslie’s class when we were in Windhoek, I got more hugs than I’d gotten from any of my learners all year (Weslie’s learners are mentally handicapped, so I suppose social conventions like personal space and when affection is appropriate aren’t really upheld). In general I consider myself a really affectionate person, and I never really realized how much I wanted to hug my learners all the time until I visited Weslie’s classroom.

However, in the relaxed setting of “killing time before the principal actually releases us,” they were so adoring and it melted my heart. A few girls asked me if I could crack my knuckles, and after I successfully showed them I could, Nelson (Warde’s brother, who I also love, but is much more mischievous) came up to and seemed really genuinely considered. The conversation was as follows:

Nelson: (whining with a look of disgust) NOOOOO, Miss Kathryn
Me: What is it, Nelson?
Nelson: Miss Kathryn, these things. (takes my hands into his hands)
Me: (completely confused) What?
(a moment of silence, while Nelson looks as if I’ve punched him in the stomach)
Nelson: Miss Kathryn, you will…. you will… you will damage these things.

At this point he literally began massaging my fingers, with this grave look of concern the entire time. The cuteness was compounded when he began talking about his “mother’s fingers” (a term for me that many of them have recently adopted). I know that my learners all really like me, but today it was just so obvious that we absolutely adore each other, and that makes me so happy.

It got me thinking about being younger, and how much I adored my Mom. While I was in the classroom, some of the girls began tracing the outline of my fingernails and talked about how they wanted long nails like me. I remember saying that exact thing to my Mom when I was younger. I remember being so totally amazed at how long my Mom could grow her nails and, despite how long they were, how strong they seemed.

And, as if this all wasn’t cute enough, I would like to include a few other key excerpts from my hang out time with the learners:

Warde jokingly stood up under the classroom light and informed me that he was standing under the light “to make his skin lighter.” I politely informed him that sunlight is just the opposite, and then pointed out how much darker my skin has become since coming to Namibia. My thought process was that I’m teaching and playing and, in general, outside much more, so my skin in now darker. Theirs was…
Warde: Miss Kathryn! America has no sun?!?!
Me: No! No! There is sun in America… (muttering, fumbling over words trying to explain)
Chorus of learners: Miss Kathryn, there is no sun in America??!? MISS KATHRYN!!!!

I think I cleared up the confusion, but it’s certainly possible that one of my learners went home and informed his or her caretakers that America is sun-less.

The other incident began when my learner, Lusia, jokingly told me that she had purchased her nose from Shetweni Market (I actually have no idea why she said this to me, but sometimes my learners just beginning telling me extravagant lies and I play along. So… I played along). After I told her what a good buy her nose was, all of my other learners began telling me where they bought their noses and for how much. This was one of the stranger lies I’d heard them tell, so I began to wonder if they had recently learned about nose jobs. I decided to ask.

Me: Did you know that some people in America do buy new noses?
(Rumblings in Oshiwambo and a general look of disgust washing over the crowd)
Warde: Why? How?
Lusia: Miss Kathryn, you are lying!
Nelson: Is it true, Misses Kathryn?
Me: Yes, some people don’t like their noses so they buy new ones. A doctor cuts their nose and makes a new one.
(Even greater looks of disgust, general confusion and unhappiness)
Lucas: They must not do those things.
Sarafina: These things are wrong. Why do they do these things?
Me: I don’t know, some people just don’t like their noses I guess.
Sarafina: God gives them nice things and then they cut?
Lusia: Why do they want to take what God gave them?

Now, I’m not a religious person, and I’m not of the opinion that God handpicks our noses, but I found their perspective really sweet, and somehow simultaneously so wise and yet so simple. I love just listening to them talk and find every moment with them so enjoyable and refreshing.

*This was because there were visiting choirs who were performing at the church over the weekend, and the school had granted them permission to just sleep in the classrooms over their stay.



  1. So good to get a new message from you. I think when it is time for you to come home, the children will tie you to a post and try to keep you there. I will not comment on the nose job business. Hilarious comments from the children about that and cracking knuckles. I bet they would really be amazed at face lifts and boob jobs and tummy tucks and what ever.

  2. Those are the same sorts of things that Brennan says that just make me smile. There’s something wonderfully simple (and some think naive, but I think wise) about the way children look at things. I remember thinking the same thing about Mom’s nails… Of course, I also believed that mom really had eyes in the back of her head (and would ask to braid her hair just so I could search for them…) Anyway, we miss you Kathryn (and Dan!), and we’re all eagerly looking forward to your return. Let me know if there’s anything special I can send along with Mom and Dad in August.

  3. so many things in this post made me want to cry. in like… a good way. or… a…. “oh my goooosh that’s so sweet” way. like when nelson wanted to protect his “mother’s fingers” and… that whole conversation at the end about the noses and God giving the noses.

    your learners are so precious! and i’m so glad you have a special bond and that you can be affectionate with the braiding and everything πŸ™‚

    AND boys and girls can do it! πŸ™‚ one of my best guy friends loooves doing hair!

  4. So nice to hear from you again! Your love for the learners, and their adoration of you, really comes through. Mary, Happy, and Nate went to NY, but I missed it because I had to be away on business. Just got home and am glad!
    Dad Tao

  5. I sent you an e-mail concerning our friends who were so impressed with you and Daniel giving a year to the wonderful children in Namibia. I don’t know if you received our message. They were so taken by your volunteer work and immediately asked for your address and wanted to send a package to you. They sent a package off to you with pencils pens books etc. I told them it would be 3-4 weeks before it wopuld arrive in Namibia. They had a child or a friends child who voluteered in the Peace Corps several years ago so are well aware of the wonderful work you younsters do. Bless all of you.

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