Well, right now I’m technically in Ondangwa (a sprawling city in comparison to Omungwelume!), but the point is that I’m back in Northern Namibia and have spent the past few days visiting with old colleagues, friends, and learners.
I arrived on Sunday and have had a lot less down time than anticipated. I’ve spent each day at the school, helping my teachers set examinations or assisting my principal in drafting letters to request aid from various organizations. Sunday was interesting—the kids took awhile to really process that I was BACK. Kids that used to be silly and hyper were suddenly timid and apprehensive. It was as if they were assessing if I were in fact Miss Kathryn. After awhile Penelao, a Grade 4 learner, began tickling me and braiding my hair and, upon seeing that I was in fact still the same ol’ silly Miss Kathryn, the other kids went crazy.
On Monday I arrived early at the school in time for morning devotion, and whispers of, “Miss Kathryn is here! Miss Kathryn is here!” were sent up and down the lines of children. My former learners began clapping and their smiles were priceless. It felt really good to be back. They had heard rumors of my return, but weren’t sure if I would just be coming to Windhoek (the capital). Many of the learners had prepared letters for me, which touched my heart. My return even brought a breakdown in the “physical affection taboo,” for when I asked one of my classes why I hadn’t gotten any hugs, several learners literally jumped out of their seats and ran across the room to hug me. Warde was the first and was soon followed by others as they realized that it was okay to do so!
On Tuesday I distributed a ton of clothing which had been collected and donated by students of East High School. It was bittersweet, because the selection process was essentially me going into classrooms and assessing who was in dire need of new clothing. Once the kids heard why I was in the room, they began showing me all of the holes and tears and missing buttons on their clothing in hopes that they would be given something. Unfortunately, despite the fact that every learner had tattered clothing, I only had enough to distribute to the kids who were nearly in rags. Luckily we still have more of the boxes of donated clothing at home, so I’ll have to work out a way to ship it to the village. It just makes you think of the massive amount of resources that we have in the States—clothes, computers, microscopes, and how we just need a cheap way to direct these old (but still usable) things to places that could really use them, like Omungwelume. Seeing the faces of these kids receiving second hand clothing was really like seeing an American child on Christmas morning, and it just makes you think of how incredibly lucky we are. I remember pouting when I had to get hand me downs from my older sister, and yet to these kids used clothing is a luxury.
Later that day I went into Oshakati (the nearest shopping town) and bought new school uniforms for some of the kids who were really in need of one. It felt really good to go in the next day and hand them out. The school shoes were particularly coveted (most kids don’t even own school shoes because they’re quite expensive—N$160, or about US$20, for a pair) and it felt good to see the smiles on the faces of the children who received it. At the same time, I felt bad that I couldn’t do it for ALL the kids. Yes, I chose the kids who seemed to need it the most, but essentially all of the kids at my school could have really benefited from some new clothes.
On Wednesday I spent the day at school and later went to the homestead of Meameno’s grandparents. A homestead is what most people think of when they envision traditional African homes—a fence made of sticks and huts made of mud and grass. And while they had so little, they showered me with gifts. The grandmother gave me a handwoven basket and two clay pots, not to mention they slaughtered one of their chickens in my honor (which I embarrassingly had to tell them I couldn’t eat because I was a vegetarian!). The sense of togetherness was palpable, despite my inability to speak their language and our vast cultural differences. We sat there, around a basketful of porridge and a chicken, all sharing from the same plate, and ate our dinner. I love getting together as a family to share a meal, and this was really special—all of us, from grandparents to small children, on our haunches around a small plate of food. It felt really good.
Today I am visiting with a volunteer from 2008, Steve, who has extended through this school year. This weekend will be a mix of visiting with volunteers and spending time with people in my community. It’s hard to believe that it’s already Thursday, and that I’ll be headed out on Tuesday.
I’m not sure if I’ll have internet again before I go (the internet has been entirely out from our village this entire year), but if not I will be sure to give a bigger update soon upon my return.
Hope all is well with everyone, and for those of you in the Philadelphia area, you’ll soon be meeting Paulina and Meameno!