Tomorrow morning Dan and I head off to Windhoek with Meameno and Paulina in tow. We have an interview scheduled at the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday morning and could use all the happy thoughts and prayers that you guys can muster up! We just recently learned that the other WorldTeach volunteer attempting to take home a few learners was denied visas for the kids, so we’re pretty worried.
As the time for the interview gets closer, I wonder what information to expound upon. Do I talk about how much I love these children, or will that lead the Embassy to think I may attempt to smuggle them in? Do I talk about how I want them to experience something beyond simple concrete structures and playing with a tattered string as a jump rope, or will their poverty turn them off to allowing these children to travel to America?
Last weekend we went into Oshakati with Meme Kapau (Meameno’s mother) and her family. I had originally planned on just having Dan go in to do the shopping, but after several half-hearted attempts at suggesting that I should go, Meameno came to blatantly ask me if I would go because her mother wanted me to help her buy a new outfit for Windhoek. Not able to resist, I went the next morning and experienced (what I think was) something similar to what my Mom had felt taking me shopping when I was younger. I remember my Mom would sometimes shrug off my suggestions and then really push for articles of clothing she found more appropriate. She always let me get what I wanted, but would end up getting me more than she said she would just because she found so many things she thought would look so nice on me. Our volunteer salaries didn’t allow me to quite spoil her as my Mom did me, but I found myself doing the sort of, “This one is nice, isn’t it?” as I held it up to her. And then I saw Meameno respond (just as the little Kathryn did) with a meek, “Yes.” I luckily convinced her out of buying a few ridiculous items, but I couldn’t sway her from the pair of bright yellow polyester pants she wanted. So we got her a really nice pair of black patent leather ballet flats, a white top with adorable buttons that fits her wonderfully, and an obnoxious pair of bright yellow polyester pants. Once again, it sounds like the result of my Mom taking me shopping when I was younger. She would concede to one or two horrific items (such as UFO pants or <UGH!> Jnco jeans), but the majority of my wardrobe remained fairly normal.
Although I didn’t take Paulina shopping, I can say that for the first time THIS ENTIRE YEAR I saw Paulina’s hair braided yesterday. This entire year it had remained shaved, which is actually pretty common for girls here (it seems like hair is considered a distraction to academic achievement as well as another financial liability). However, yesterday it was in tiny little braids (her hair was quite short, after all). When I asked her if it was for Windhoek, she shyly responded that it was.
I mean, when Dan and I get to go to Windhoek it’s a really exciting and big deal, so I don’t know why I was surprised at this behaviour, but I still found something so charming about their parents getting them ready for “the big city.” Tomorrow night we are headed to Jocie’s (our new field director—Maggie left us a couple of months ago to study at the London School of Economics) for a Thanksgiving dinner, so we’ll see how the girls like a traditional American holiday… by which I mean an overabundance of food.
Other things on the agenda include going to a swimming pool (assuming we can find them bathing suits somewhere… I would feel like a bad guardian by having them hop into a big city pool in their clothes!), taking them to the movies, and going out for pizza.
You’re probably wondering where this sudden generosity is coming from, what with our meagre volunteer salaries and all. Actually, you’re probably not, but I’m going to tell you why anyway, despite my parents having raised me to believe it’s uncouth and generally bad manners to talk about money. Sorry, Mom and Dad. This year WorldTeach was supposed to get a salary raise, what with the huge increase in petrol prices (petrol has over doubled in price since we got here), the food crisis, and what not (the global credit crunch didn’t even exist when this raise went through). Anyway, nobody out of the entire WorldTeach group EVER got the raise… except Dan. I know, I should have felt fortunate since our funds are shared, but I always felt a tinge of jealousy every month when he received a substantially higher amount than me for the same amount of work. HOWEVER, all praise the Namibian government for the incredibly substantial ARREARS check they sent me today. We’ve been able to survive on our meagre paychecks (mine, for the record, much more meagre than his), but our funds have been dwindling and I was beginning to cut back on our Tanzania trip (for instance the lodge that we are staying at on Mt. Kilimanjaro charges $40 for a 10 mile hike up the mountain from the base town, whereas we could take local transport for $2 and then walk up a mountain to the lodge for 3 km. Yes, I know it’s a mountain and we’ll have giant suitcases, but I had decided we couldn’t afford the tourist-priced transport). However, with this fantastic new paycheck, we will be receiving luxury lodge transport up and down the mountain, despite its outrageous cost, as well as a movie outing, nice dining, and swimsuits for the girls in Windhoek. Yes, this paycheck was almost the amount of 3 of my regular paychecks combined, so I am incredibly excited.
Just so I don’t leave this blog with you believing I have no manners, I’m now going to attempt to distract you with an adorable story from today. My top learner from all of Grade 6 today handed me a large envelope. I opened it and inside was an absolutely beautiful basket that her grandmother had weaved for me, along with a card that actually made me cry. I know I have meant a lot to the learners here, but Johanna’s English is so good that she was able to actually coherently express it to me. She wrote that I’d been more than a teacher, and had been a friend and even a “Mummy” to her. She said she would miss my jokes, my good behaviour, and my smile. She ended by saying that she would miss me a lot and that she hoped that God would bless me.
I hope that her thoughts are a common sentiment among my learners, and I really can say I see a marked difference not only in their English ability, but in their behaviour as well. My insistence on “using good manners” has become, in my opinion, a door into an increase in respect and appreciation for one another. I’d like to think that I’ve shown and taught them the best of Western culture, and that certain things are now integrated into their own culture—a love of reading and learning, respect for one’s peers, and a strong work ethic.
Dan and I are currently reading a biography of Ben Franklin and it is reminding me of so many of the things that I love about my country. Since I have become politically conscious, I’ve actually been ashamed of being an American, and that sentiment has only been magnified by spending so much time abroad and getting the perspective of people from around the world. However, with the promise of a president that will bring change (let’s hope it wasn’t just a really effective marketing ploy), and spending a year on a continent with horribly corrupt and malfunctioning “democracies,” I have come to appreciate and love so much about my own country that I had previously taken for granted. Yes, American politics can get ugly, but we’ve witnessed the leading political party here call the growing opposition “Judases” and make public decrees that any opposition party members be removed from jobs of significance, as well as refusing opposition members entrance into shops and refusing them WATER. And keep in mind this country is a beacon of hope for Africa, a success story for “African democracy.” Then look at the crisis in Zimbabwe, the genocide taking place in the Sudan, the growing regional problems erupting from the DRC conflict, and Mbeki’s recent step down from power, and you see that Namibia is a relatively stable country. One of my former colleagues made a comment that it wasn’t necessarily that things were bad here, but that they just lacked stability. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about, but after 11 months here I think I’m getting the picture. Yes, the financial crisis sucks, but we at least have the knowledge t hat our democracy functions as it should—that presidents step down when they should, that freedom of the press allows any opposition to freely and vehemently dissent from the current administration, and that Republicans and Democrats may not always get along (I seem to recall the Bush/Kerry election—I bought a George Bush dog toy for my dog and my sister dressed her son up in an anti-George Bush onesie when we went to vote. My Dad, for those of you that don’t know, is a staunch Republican. As you may guess, he refused to come to the polls with me, my sister, and my Mom ), but for the most part we’re able to respectfully dissent (this may not ALWAYS be the case when it comes to political arguments with my Dad, but I’m pretty sure that we all still love each other despite whatever political views we hold). My point is that I always took these things to be inherent—but they’re not. I took them to be rights, because America treats them as such, but that doesn’t mean they inherently are. They are privileges, despite all the “we hold these truths to be self-evident” mumbo jumbo we can conjure up. It’s not self-evident in a lot of places, where the idea of a multi-party democracy seems silly despite the fact that they call themselves a democracy. And perhaps I’m just being ethnocentric again, but I can’t help but feel incredibly PRIVILEGED to be an American. I guess I became cognizant during a particularly dark time in American history, and I’m not willing to excuse the terrible events of the past 8 years, but I’m willing to burrow deep underneath it to find the qualities that make our country so great—among them, a constant ability to remake itself to suit new challenges and barriers. I’m constantly being reminded of the “financial crisis” back home by friends and family, but I can’t help but feel it can’t be that bad, and that our ingenuity and determination will surely see us through it. Who knows, maybe 11 months of being away from my “motherland” is making me overly optimistic and sentimental, but I hope I won’t look back at this in a few years and regret my naivety.