So, the lemons are no longer in season, but the learners have found a new Owambo replacement for our apple: Give the teacher an ondunga!
My bag currently has seven ondungas* in it, and I’m not quite sure what to do with them. Ondungas are the fruit of the palm tree and I like them even less than lemons. During “lemon season,” I was able to use the lemons in iced tea or sangria or other beverages, but this new fruit is a bit different. The closest I can come to describing it is stale bread that is slightly sweet. The fruit has a really hard shell that you crack and peel off, sort of like a hard boiled egg but not as easy to get off. Once the shell is removed, the fruit actually looks like bread crust. And, as I said before, it tastes like stale, slightly sweet bread crust.
Because it tastes like stale bread crust, I can’t help but prefer the fresh bread in my bag that is smothered with peanut butter and jelly. Last week was the beginning of the wave, and I was able to regift my ondungas to learners from other classes ( so the donors would not realize I was giving away their precious gifts!), but this week there have been too many to slyly regift them. In a way I feel tremendously guilty because these kids seriously go crazy over this fruit, and so many of them are being generous enough to share with me, only for me to plot ways to sneakily get rid of them. Maybe Bingo would like them…
Speaking of Bingo, he is going teething crazy. Nothing is safe from his razor sharp fangs, including our toes and fingers. Gone are the days of snuggling him in my arms—they have been replaced with days of a growing Bingo thrashing in my arms, trying to position himself so that he can gnaw my fingers off. At first I allowed it because it meant he would sit happily in my arms, but he’s growing so fast that it’s already getting to the point where his bites are slightly painful. We’ve started hitting him each time he bites us, but it doesn’t seem like he’s getting the message. Any suggestions? And while I’m soliciting advice, how about potty training? It’s really strange because he seems to be trained at night. He whimpers when he wants us to let him out, but during the day it seems if he feels like going and he’s not outside, he just squats and goes on our floor! We let him out pretty frequently, take up his food and water around 7 pm, and stick his nose near his accident and say, “BAD!” whenever he makes a mistake, but it’s been three weeks and there are still accidents almost every day—is that normal?
Unfortunately, these aren’t our only recent problems. Dan and I have had some pretty tough situations to deal with lately. Within the past week, it was revealed that two of his learners fell pregnant (their euphemism here!). One of them was actually one of his best learners, so it’s unfortunate that they both had to leave school. I guess learners are required to leave school for two years (maybe to raise the child or something?), but after that they can go back. This doesn’t really seem like the brightest policy to me, considering those children will need to be provided for, and good jobs are hard to come by without a high school diploma, but who am I to judge?
One of my issues started this week when a learner came to me with Zulinda’s book and told me “she’s finished coming here.” Zulinda is a learner I wrote about briefly before. She was one of my weakest learners and, although I tried to encourage her, she didn’t seem to care. She would chuckle when I would ask her where her homework was or laugh when I had to reprimand her for not writing her classwork. She was one of my learners that, no matter what the topic assigned, would write the same sentences each time: “My name is Zulinda. My mother is nice. Our class is wonderful.” Then one day she turned in her assignment, which was supposed to be on her weekend, but it turned out to be something a bit different. There were a smattering of the usual sentences, but then at the end she began writing about school: “I don’t understand. Every time I study, but I don’t know. I try, but I don’t understand.” I had asked them to draw a picture to go with their writing, and for some reason the saddest part was her drawing—a rudimentary drawing of herself reading a book. To make a long story short, she dropped out…from Grade 6…because she was tired of failing. She was a 17 year old Grade 6 learner. It makes me sick to think what a girl without a primary school diploma will probably end up doing. I brought her case to the office, because it seemed strange to me that a Grade 6 learner could decide to just stop coming without consequences, but nobody else seemed to think it was a big deal.
Then one of my colleagues brought the case of one of my other learners, who is apparently being abused at home. She’s an orphan living with her aunt, who pretty much treats her like a servant. Last week she went to the public library, and when she got home her aunt was convinced she had been out with a boy and beat her senseless. She came to school with a bruised and swollen face, accompanied by sudden outbursts of crying, which the teachers obviously noticed. We know, but apparently there’s not a “Child Services” sort of deal here. The teachers are concerned about taking it to the police because her parents are dead, and if her aunt turns her out she may be worse off than before. I don’t even understand how anyone could think this girl has a mean bone in her body—she is soft spoken, kind, and always trying to do whatever she can to help. Of course I’m not in favor of anyone beating anyone, but I’m particularly not a fan of people beating innocent, kind hearted little girls.
I feel like, so often, I’m missing a lot of what happens. I notice when learners are acting strange or seem malnourished, but I don’t have the language ability to get the full story from them. I forget if I ever wrote about this, but there was an issue last term when one of my best learners stopped coming to school for almost a month because he “didn’t have a uniform to wear.” This didn’t make sense, because the orphans or vulnerable children that can’t afford uniforms are allowed to come in anything, yet every time I asked someone about it, the same story about the uniform came up. I still don’t know what happened, although I did eventually learn he was an orphan who had been chased from the home he was living in, but the details are a mystery.
The same is true of the latest drama at my school, which involves the school tour. For those of you that are in touch with my parents, they may have mentioned the day they came to visit the village and how the learners sat outside of the school for nearly 7 hours before the teachers showed up to take them on their field trip. This actually was not uncommon and is that “African time” that so often bungles our plans here, but what transpired after they left was another story. First of all, because the teachers showed up so late, they had to skip going to Etosha and headed straight for the coast. Then Mr. Hasheela (the principal, who should be…you know… principled and a strong role model, right?) and Meme Justy (a teacher who planned the tour) apparently had different views on what should happen. Meme Justy was following the itinerary, but Mr. Hasheela had different plans. He wanted to head off to other towns, which was impossible because they didn’t have enough gas to get there (petrol stations are few and far between here, and often not functional, as my parents can also tell you!). This was apparently unacceptable to my principal, who actually choked the driver and started mouthing off about his tribe (the driver was Himba), and then turned on Meme Justy and began blaming her for the non-functional petrol stations. Then he began screaming that HE WAS THE BOSS, THE ONLY BOSS, and IF HE SAID DRIVE THEN THEY WOULD DRIVE. At this point all of the kids on the bus were apparently bawling and the drama continued over the duration of the three days. Meme Justy then came back and told some people what happened, which my principal then chastised her for and accused her of spreading rumors and instigating trouble. Then the parents started coming. The parents came because the kids told them what happened, but Mr. Hasheela decided that Meme Justy was his scapegoat and then the fun began. He asked me to type a warning letter (because most of the time he treats me as a 2-in-1 teacher/personal secretary combo, despite the fact that he ALREADY HAS A SECRETARY), which she received, made copies off, and posted all over the school. Then it all hit the fan. It came out that I typed it (so of course Meme Justy is giving me the cold shoulder), the parents found out that the drama was still unfolding, and they began threatening to BOYCOTT AND PICKET THE SCHOOL.
Today there is an emergency school board meeting, which will be in Oshiwambo, not to mention all the recent arguments and juicy conversations that have also been in Oshiwambo, so I’m a bit out of the loop. Assuming I somehow get into the loop regarding what happens today, I’ll be sure to let you know.
And now, just so I don’t bog you down with the bad stuff, I’ll talk about a few fun things that have happened lately.
This past weekend was Eengedjo’s bazaar (Dan’s school), so we had a weekend full of selling raffle tickets (for chickens, mind you. Not a computer or a TV… a live chicken!) and selling food and things. The main attraction of the weekend was the Miss Eengedjo pageant, which was the 3rd beauty pageant Eengedjo has had this year. More on that in a minute.
Saturday morning, while getting ready for the bazaar, Meameno showed up at the house. I was putting on my makeup so I let her sit and watch while I finished. After I finished, she begged me to “put for her.” I agreed to put on some eyeshadow. She chose green. It was like the “If you give a mouse a cookie” story. After the eyeshadow, she HAD to have eyeliner. Once she had the eyeliner, she HAD to have mascara. And once the makeup on her eyes was sufficiently caked on, she HAD to have lipstick. She left looking like an 80s pop star. Before we left for the bazaar, I tried to convince her to take some of it off. She would not hear it. She insisted on wearing ALL of it, and for some ungodly reason people liked it. A Miss Eengedjo contestant heard of Meameno’s makeup (news travels in this village so fast it would make your head spin), and she showed up at my house to see if I would “put for her.” I agreed, and later that night I met her at the bazaar to do it. Then the line formed of the Miss Eengedjo contestants, and the “If you give a mouse a cookie” story happened all over again. First it was the eyeshadow, then the eyeliner, then the mascara…! I actually really enjoyed doing it and was proud to see the girls when they came out, seeing all the golden/silvery/pink/etc. eyes shimmering in the light. And luckily Meameno’s mother loved the makeup, so I’ll live to see another day. I guess I was thinking from the perspective of an American, where if you put makeup on someone’s young daughter you would seem irresponsible and unprincipled, but here it’s more that NOBODY has makeup, so putting makeup on her was more of a special treat that most women here have never experienced.
The last thing I’ll talk about is Bingo’s rising celebrity status. Over the past week or two, people I’ve never seen before in my life have asked me where Bingo is or what he’s doing. Learners stop at our gate on their walk home, call me outside, and then request to greet Bingo. Last week I was walking home from school and I saw Set-son (the boy who often walks with me to school) hiding behind a tree stump. I asked him several times what he was doing with no clear response, and then I began to continue towards home. Then I hear his little voice: “Miss Kathryn, where is Bingo?” He left his hiding place and walked back to the house so that he could greet Bingo, so I’m pretty sure he had just been waiting for me to come so that he could see Bingo. Even learners from the Junior Secondary School and Eengedjo, who I don’t know, are bold enough to call me outside to request Bingo. One day last week we had decided on no visitors on a specific day, but one girl Penelao kept coming back to the gate as if our answer would change. It seemed like she had finally given up, but then I heard her little voice outside. When I went outside, she told me she wanted “to visit Bingo,” as if that would somehow get her in. It makes me wonder if Bingo is really incredibly cute for a dog here, or if he’s just famous because he’s the white people’s dog… either way, he loves t he attention!
If you’re interested in seeing our little guy, Dan just posted a “Bingo” folder on his Picasa at http://picasaweb.google.com/daniel.tao/Bingo#. Enjoy!!!
*eendunga is the plural of ondunga in Oshiwambo, but I’m just going to say ondungas for simplicity’s sake!