Saturday in Sitopogo


This morning was a parent meeting at the school – once a term, the parents are invited to the school share information and discuss issues. The meeting lasted 5 hours…in the baking sun…in Rukwangali! So, it could easily be described as torture! A couple points were later translated to me: school uniforms -suggestions were made for teachers to wear the same uniform as students, cell phones – if teachers catch students with cell phones they will be burned, pregnancy – there was a 2 hour discussion on preventing pregnancy and how to deal with it in the schools once it happens. To encourage girls to stay focused on their education, they announced that the highest female grade 10 learner this year would receive a reward of $200 Namibian dollars (equivalent to $28 Cdn). However, the reward would not be given if the learner was pregnant. So, needless to say, teenage pregnancy is an issue here. Last year, there were 17 girls who ‘fell pregnant’ during the school year. Anyways, my personal observations during the meeting: men and women sat completely separately, nose picking in public is fully acceptable, texting and talking on the phone while the principal is speaking is not rude, most women wear wigs, wearing pink or blue plastic rosaries as a necklace is hip…and of course, shoes are always optional.

After the meeting and a nice long nap, I went to sit by the river to read my book. The river is where all the action is… people bathing, washing their clothes, or fishing and of course, the cows and goats come by for a drink too. I didn’t get much reading done…once word got out that I was at the river, everyone and their entire families came down to see me. And because most of them can’t speak English, they just stand and stare at me… or, hand me their babies to hold. They were absolutely fascinated with my lawn chair too! A group of young kids, ages6-10, came and sat with me and taught me some Rukwangali words. Tomorrow I think I will bring a Frisbee down with me and see if they want to play – it will force them to do something other than stare!

And now, after a dinner of French toast, a long walk along the main road, and a wonderful chat with my bff Jamie, I will lay in bed and watch a movie on my laptop. Aside from the heat, it has been a relaxing day! Looking forward to another one tomorrow.


Tackled week two!


I apologize for slacking this week with the blog posts…electricity and internet/phone have been in and out lately.  I will do my best to catch you up on my week!

I was absent from school on Monday as I had to go into Rundu to do some paperwork with the Ministry of Education and I assigned my classes the task of writing me a letter.  The letter had to include details about themselves and their families, their afterschool hobbies and responsibilities, their plans for the future and specific details on how I can help them in math.  Though their English was atrocious, after reading 260 letters, I know so much more about their lives and the culture I am living in.  Their thoughts on their world were amazing.  Some of the highlights:

  • It is very common to live with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
  • The ages of my grade 8-10 students fall between 12 and 21.
  • The majority said they wanted to be a teacher, police officer doctor or nurse after they finish school.  In their day to day lives in the village, these are the only admirable careers that they come into contact with.
  • One boy wanted to become a police officer so that he can catch all the learners drinking alcohol in the discos.  Alcoholism is a major problem here – even for students.  Every couple of kilometers is a bar/disco (mud hut with blasting music).  One student, Petrus, age 17 in grade 8 said “On the weekend I take my book and I study well.  I don’t want disco.  I hate disco like a public toilet”.  I thought this was hilarious!
  • Another boy said he wanted to become a doctor so that he can help stop all the Namibians from dying from AIDS.
  • Most openly labeled their families as poor and told me that mom and/or dad were unemployed (which is not surprising in a country with a 51% unemployment rate).  A couple told me that the best way I could help them was to pay their school fees, buy them a calculator and math supplies!
  • After school, their responsibilities sound endless.  The girls have to cook, clean, do laundry, pound the mahongu (grain) and the boys have to weed, garden, or herd the animals.
  • A bunch of letters included the importance of going to church on Sunday because ‘God is stronger than the witches’.

One thing I found really interesting was that a couple students signed off with ‘Wishing you 10 more years of life’.  Most of them know that I am 32 years old, and I’m guessing with a life expectancy of 50, I am more than halfway through my life.  Plus, they face death regularly – many of them wrote about recent deaths of brothers or sisters and their lack of mother or father (or both).

During my day to day activities over the past two weeks, I often forget that I am different.  I tend to think of myself as ‘new’ rather than different.  The new teacher, the new member of the community…   However, I quickly realize my identity here when I hear little kids yell “sirumbu” (which means ‘white thing’) constantly when they see me for the first time.  And, they can spot me miles away… it’s freaky.

Bug update… the 14 mosquito bites that I had on my face have subsided and been replaced with double that on my arms.  My left forearm and right ankle have two HUGE bites that are so swollen I look deformed!   The learners and other teachers think it is hilarious!

Food update… with the electricity going off for hours at a time, I am not really able to use the fridge or the stovetop (no ovenL).  So, I’ve been alternating between peanut butter and bread, oatmeal, and granola daily- which really isn’t much different from home 🙂  Fruit is non-existent in the Namibian diet – but I have been eating apples, which I can only get in Rundu.   Same with vegetables – can mainly get carrots, onions, cucumbers and potatoes.  But, there is NO shortage of cookies… thank goodness!

Don’t have any major plans for the weekend but really happy tomorrow is Friday, as I am exhausted.  I will update you again when I have something interesting to say!  Thanks for reading and for all the awesome comments!  They truly keep me going.

Patience please


My school - Sitipogo Combined School

My new friends! A group of learners that rest under the tree by my house while their animals graze.

Having a lot of trouble uploading photos (due to the super slow internet) but with a little patience, I was able to add these two photos.  Lots more coming!  Hopefully 🙂

Week one – done!


I am happy to say that I survived the first week of school.  No doubt it was challenging, but I know things will get easier.  Of course, the highlight for me will be teaching.

My two grade 8 classes are very large and a bit overwhelming.  One of them has 52 students – and everyday there seems to be more kids enrolled.  The unfortunate thing is that there are 19 desks and less than 40 chairs.  The kids willingly share desks and chairs and they appear unphased by it.  The classroom isn’t made for that many students so they are literally on top of each other.    It is going to be very difficult to do any group work or fun activities with a class that large.  Plus, I am the first western teacher they have had, so they tend to have trouble understanding me.  So far though, they have been well-behaved and follow my instruction after a lot of repetition.

A bunch of my grade 8 and grade 9 girls are eager to get to know me and follow me around during break and afterschool study.  I got two really sweet home-made cards from them, which were so sweet and I wanted to share with you.

Elizabeth, grade 8, wrote “First of all I want to give thanks to God who brought you in our country.  Secondly, I want to know when you will reach 33 years old because I want to celebrate your happy birthday”.

Olivia, grade 9, wrote “Dear Miss Tanya, I am overjoyed to wrote you a letter and I really miss your smile.  First, I really want to thank you that you are interesting to become my friend.  So Miss Tanya, I already realized that you are a hard working teacher and your hard working will help us to get good symbols on the end of the year.  For me, I will never let you down Miss Tanya but I will always rise up on you.  I feel proud of you because I have never see a kindly person like you.  I wish you all good work, hard work and faithful life”.

Yesterday, with Justine and Amy, I hitch hiked into Rundu, the closest major town (120km away).  Hiking is very common here and is said to be very safe.  It is the only way for me to get to groceries and supplies as taxis do not come this far out.   After waiting an hour for a car to pass, a small pick-up truck – called a bakki, stopped and let us into the back.  By the time we got to Rundu, we were jammed in the back with 9 other adults, 2 babies and a suitcase.  It was definitely not the most comfortable ride – but we made it.  Rundu was bigger than I imagined – a large open market, multiple grocery stores, hardware store, electronics shops and tons of discount stores.  We found a great little café where we had breakfast and an AMAZING cappuccino, wandered the town, had lunch at a nice riverside resort, and did our shopping.  The hike back was pretty smooth – although towards the end the drive stopped and picked up a family, so there were 4 adults and 2 kids jammed in the back of a sedan!

My house!

I have a bunch more photos that I am trying to post but it isn’t working.  Rrrr… stay posted!

First impressions…where am I?


I arrived in Sitipogo last night at 4pm, which was much sooner than I imagined as the driver drove 170km/hr the entire way. There was no vehicular traffic however, the goats and cattle often slowed us down.

Fortunately, Justine, another WorldTeach volunteer that lives 3km away and is here for her second year, was here to greet me. It helped with the shock a little bit. But, once she left, the reality sunk in BIG time! I am in the middle of nowhere. In the first 20 minutes that I was here, I saw species of bugs that I never knew existed! Spent 2 hours sterilizing my room, removing the dead cockroaches from my mattress and getting myself somewhat unpacked. I met my room-mates, John and Hakusembe, but they had very little to say. A couple of other teachers came by to meet me once it got out that I had arrived. I met Joseph, the gr 5-7 math teacher with whom I share a storeroom (aka office), who was wonderful. He brought me over to the school and gave me some basics. I felt a little better after that, and the phone call from Mom really helped!

Was up and ready for the first day of school and quite excited. School starts at 7am and ends at 12:50pm. Then, after a two hour lunch break (which I think will be naptime), we return to school for ‘afterschool study’ until 5pm. However, this week it doesn’t sound like there will be any afterschool study. The principal called a staff meeting mid-day so that he could introduce me to the rest of the staff. There are approximately 25 teachers, covering grades 1-10 and over 770 students. I was fortunate to not have to teach right away and spent most of the morning in the storeroom planning, reviewing the textbooks and school documents. I did teach my last period, a class of grade 9’s, and it went relatively smoothly. We spent the class introducing ourselves and I gave them a chance to ask me questions. They did not hesitate to ask if I was married, how old I was, if my parents were alive and if I owned a farm at home?

Lots more to say… but I should get to bed. One thing is for sure, the area is gorgeous! The river is just steps away from my house and with all the recent rain here, the landscape is very green. Goats and cattle graze all around… pictures coming soon!

Food, food and more food!

1 Comment


Thursday night, Moses and Camble (the Namibian husbands of our Field Directors, Jocie and Kelly Jo) cooked us traditional Namibian food.

Moses and Camble in the kitchen

In true Namibian style, the dinner took five hours to prepare – as the beans needed to be individually peeled, the chicken boiled for two and a half hours and the spinach cooked over the fire for four hours!  The meal consisted of Oshiwambo chicken, maize meal pap (porridge), mahango (porridge), spinach mush and white bean mush.  For me, the meal was a texture nightmare!  While I tried a teeny bit of everything, I couldn’t force myself to try the beans.  Ughhh!

Peeling the beans! A group event!

Beans - the finished product!







Last night, we all went out to celebrate the end of orientation.  We went to an African fusion restaurant and I had kingclip white fish, a fish caught off the coast of Walvis Bay, which was very tasty!   While I am more than ready to head up north to Sitipogo, I will definitely miss the safety and camaraderie of the past few weeks.  Kelly Jo did a great job at summarizing orientation by saying:

WorldTeach 2011 Orientation

19+ hour flight

4 sets of lost luggage

10 mornings with an 8:30am start

15 hours of cultural training

32 hours of teacher training

2 bathrooms for 12 people

1 key for 3 people

12 drives with Camerona (the Ministry of Ed’s CRAZY driver)

100 million reminders about safety

8 hours of practice teaching

2 braais

3 new languages

17 days of orientation

And… only 21.5 hours of free time!

Hannah and I

Bridget and Amy

Most of the other volunteers are heading up to their sites tomorrow but Amy and I have to wait an extra day for transportation.  This means we will miss the first day of school, but oh well – this is Africa!  The drive will take approximately 12 hours – which will be torture – but will be filled with so much anticipation.  And hopefully, my principal, Mr. Sikongo, will be waiting for me when I arrive!

History of Math in Namibia


Yesterday, one of the past volunteers, Rachel, came to speak to us to share ideas on teaching math.  I’d have to say that so far it was the most useful training session for me and it really made me realize that I have a lot of work ahead of me.  In preparing for the trip and through a lot of orientation, it has been easy to forget that I am here to work… and from what I hear, and what is expected of me, I think it will be the most challenging work I have ever done.

While most people expect English to be the area of Namibian education that is currently struggling the most, I was surprised to hear that math and science are equally as weak.  The reason for this comes from the history of the country.  Until 1990, Namibia was under the apartheid government of South Africa which left the legacy of an education system that was divided and dehumanizing.  Recognizing that knowledge was power, the system was set up to limit the education of blacks while empowering the whites through full access to education. While whites learned the core subjects such as math, science and language, the Blacks learned handiwork and domestic skills.  In addition, the belief that blacks weren’t capable of learning math or science further contributed to the apartheid-era education system.  This system ensured that there would be a steady supply of servants and farm labourers for the white minority.  So, it wasn’t until 1990, under the new education system, that all students were treated equally and were required to take all core subjects up to grade ten.  However, the teachers that trained before independence did not have any experience with math or science – as they did not learn these subjects.  As a result, many learners over the past 20 years have been educated by teachers that are not qualified to teach that subject, which has resulted in incredibly large failure rates on national exams.  So, this is why international volunteers are needed immediately!

While I have always been fascinated by the history of South Africa and the apartheid regime, being here and seeing the ripple effects that still exist, make me want to learn more.  While I imagine this can still be a sensitive subject,  I hope to be able to gather some first hand experiences from some of the older members of my new community who lived during this period.

Older Entries