Heavenly weekend

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First of all, on Friday morning I awoke to pouring rain (which is a good thing because it brings cool air) and for the first time, I had to wear a SWEATER!  Ahhh…it was such a nice treat.  Some of the kids arrived at school with hats, winter jackets and big sweaters.  It was hilarious to see what they thought was really cold.

We decided to treat ourselves this weekend so Amy booked us a night at the Kavango River Lodge in Rundu.  To make it even better, Karen, one of the volunteers in the central north, took the two day journey to join us.

Kavango River Lodge is a luxury accommodation right on the Kavango River and it was superb.  When we got into our room, we were like giddy children.  Sofa, television, flushing toilet, hot water, air conditioning and NO BUGS!  We ate an amazing dinner on a patio overlooking the river and watched the sunset.  Then we had a glorious sleep in comfy beds with plush comforters while the air conditioning blasted!  Needless to say, I did not want to leave.  For the first time since I have arrived here, I felt like a tourist and it was a great feeling.  Even better was that it all cost less than $100 CAD.  We have booked ourselves 2 nights there in March to give us something to look forward to!

When I got back from Rundu, my frisbee friends were waiting for me under the tree behind my house.  We headed down to the river and hung out a bit.  They taught me more Rukwangali words, I took photos of them and watched them go for a swim.  I truly enjoy them (except when they are yelling ‘MADAM’ at my window while I am napping!) because it gives me an opportunity to interact with younger kids.  Their innocence is beautiful and they are so full of joy.  The simplest things make them laugh.

Happy to say that I am relaxed and ready for another week… 🙂

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Baby Steps!

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As I have mentioned before, the grade 8’s classes have been my biggest challenge. The number of them, combined with their poor English skills has made every class makes every lesson unpredictable. However, they are probably my favorite classes as they keep me on my toes and provide the greatest rewards for me when they finally make a breakthrough.

This week I began the near impossible task of teaching them the brand new and very difficult topic of integers. Because their English is weak, something as simple as explaining the number line and having them copy it took 60 minutes. I thought temperature would be the most relatable, real-life application, but when they didn’t understand what ‘colder’ and ‘warmer’ meant, I was in trouble. For two full classes they just stared at me as if I was speaking Chinese, while I jumped through hoops trying to get a reaction out of them!

But, this afternoon during study time, one of the grade 8’s came to me show me her work and when I marked it all correct and drew a happy face, she busted into a dance of celebration shouting “I understand! I understand!”. While I was dying of laughter, I too was doing my own celebration dance inside!

I can’t stop eating!

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In short… isolation and boredom lead to eating frenzy for me!

As you can imagine, there is a lot of alone time for me… and when I am not prepping for school, or thinking about school, I am thinking about what to eat next… and then eating it and then eating some more! Popcorn, chocolate, crackers, nuts, raisins and of course, cookies!

While I have been walking daily, I realize that I need to kick up the exercise to keep up with the calories I am intaking! So, I started pilates today (Darlene, my City of Brampton pilates teacher will be so proud of me!) – laid a towel on the cement floor of my room and started with “The Hundred”. Torture – staying thin this year is gonna take some serious will power!

Frustration sets in!

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Now that the initial culture shock has passed and I am finding myself in a routine, I am battling constant feelings of frustration.  I am sure this is part of the experience and I will learn to cope, but man, I am biting my tongue ALL THE TIME!  Here are some examples:

  • The language of instruction here is English, unless it is Rukwangali class.  But, all day long, all I hear the teachers speaking to the kids is Rukwangali.   Very little English is used in the classroom and none outside the classroom.  And then the principal wonders why the English language level of all learners at his school is so poor???!!!
  • One of my learners came to me for help with math last week and her arm was in a cast and sling.  When I asked her what happened, she said that one of the teachers beat her with a stick and broke her hand.  While I doubt it was broken, likely fractured, she had to visit a doctor and wear a cast because of a beating from a teacher!  It’s absolutely crazy!
  • I was told at the beginning of last week that I needed to come up with a punishment for learners that fail my tests.  For example, the grade 8’s who failed their Agriculture test had to remove all the grass from the front yard of the school.  They were raking and digging for over 3 hours.  I explained that I don’t teach that way and that failing a test is punishment enough.  I tried to explain that I motivate through positivity and praise, but was told that it wouldn’t work with these kids.
  • The shortage of desks and chairs in the grade 8 classes are creating a major problem.  When the students line up to come into the class, they trample each other (literally) to get into the class first to get a chair.  Then arguments break out and we’ve wasted 10 minutes of class (which is only 40 minutes) trying to get them all settled.  It’s ridiculous – but I really can’t blame them.
  • There is absolutely NO concept of sharing in the Namibian culture.  If they ask to borrow something, you will never see it again!  One of the other teachers asked if he could use some laundry detergent – so I gave him my box.  He used the entire box and gave it back to me empty!  And if you offer someone something, they will finish it all.  For example, I offered some raisins to a co-worker, and he emptied the bag into his hands.
  • Basic fact – Food left out in the open in the kitchen attracts cockroaches.  No one else but me seems to care about this.  On the weekend, while my room-mates were away, I cleaned the entire kitchen.  They came back Sunday night, and after cooking there was leftover food everywhere, dirty dishes in the sink, pasta stuck to the floor… and of course, within an hour, the kitchen was covered in cockroaches.

I hate to be so negative – but I want this blog to reflect my true experiences.  Some positive things are happening:

  • The school inspector was here today and evaluated the physical situation of the classrooms.   The lack of lighting in the classes, the overcrowding and the shortage of desks and chairs is apparently going to be dealt with.  Not sure how quickly, but at least there is hope.
  • I am cooking more here than I ever did at home!
  • The mosquitos have finally left me alone!
  • Kayla and I are in the midst of planning our trip together.  She is coming to visit in April and we are going to tour South Western Africa for a couple weeks.  Thanks to my Mama for helping research possible tours! Can’t tell you how excited I am for that!
  • I am reading ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and it is amazing.  Keeping me busy – so happy there are two more books in the series when I finish this one.

I want to say thank you to everyone for their encouraging emails and comments!   Thanks also to my Mama, Alisa, Kayla, Dad and Jan and Jamie who keep me going by calling once a week.  I couldn’t do this without you guys!  Miss you all very much!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wonderful Water!

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Gsoh – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone!

Up until about an hour ago, we hadn’t had any water since Sunday.  For most Namibians, this isn’t even an issue as running water is a luxury outside of the major towns.  But, let me tell you – I was MISERABLE!!

After using my stashed water reserve (which was a 1.5L bottle, not nearly enough!) and three trips to the closest store to buy out all their bottled water, I took a trip down to the river to get water.  Ugh – definitely not the cleanest fresh water I’ve seen!  I had trouble just collecting the water – never mind drinking it or bathing in it.  And the Namibians drink it straight from the river!  After boiling it for 20 minutes, it reduced down to nothing and I had to head back to the river!  Too funny!  So needless to say, I spent a good 25 minutes in the shower tonight.  Ahhh….wonderful water!

Ladies carrying water from the river. I plan on mastering the art of carrying things on my head by the time I leave here!

Overdue Photos!

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Everyone has been bugging me to post more photos… especially Alisa!  I have reduced the file sizes so they wouldn’t crash my internet, which means so the quality isn’t the greatest, but at least you’ll get an idea!

My office 🙂

My office, which as you can see is really a storage room, is where I do my planning.  It’s also where the learners come to borrow calculators and LINE UP during afternoon study to ask me questions!

My room...bed is a little lumpy, but I've been so tired that anything feels great!

My getaway! Only meters from my house.

My new frisbee friends!

I love this photo!  Yes, the frisbee was a hit and I realized I am pretty good at frisbee – was looking like an athletic superstar (very, very rare for me)!  It was a great way to interact with them in English and they could have played for hours if the rain hadn’t interrupted us.  I am sure the kids will be at my door this weekend looking for the frisbee again.  Can’t wait!

I dreaded this day…

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While I had been warned and thought I was mentally ready, I could never have been prepared for what I saw today – corporeal punishment.  And worse, it was partly my fault.

My grade 8 classes have definitely been the most difficult to manage due to the class size and their very poor English. So, last week I mentioned in passing to one of my colleagues that I was unsure how to handle certain situations and he offered some suggestions.  I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but since then, I have noticed the principal hanging around outside my classes and watching me more closely.  Discipline is HUGE here – the teachers expect military-like routines.  This morning, just as the bell rang to start class, I was preparing a lesson on the board for my grade 8’s, when a couple girls wandered into the classroom.   Normally, this is completely out of routine for them as they are instructed to line up in two lines, girls and boys, outside of the classroom and wait for the teacher to allow them in.  However, I feel that is a waste of time and usually just let them come in as they arrive.  But, the principal happened to be hanging around outside the classroom, noticed the two girls come into the class and came after them. He made them lean their heads towards him and he smashed his closed fist on each of their heads. The girls went on their way, into the line, and the principal moved on to the other class. I was in complete shock and immediately felt sick. I didn’t know how I was going to teach, so I quickly changed the lesson and had the learners write out all their times tables in the back of their notebooks.  That took the entire period and gave me a chance to settle down.

Corporeal punishment is against the law in Namibia. Clearly, the law is disregarded. The younger teachers seem to recognize the benefits of alternative methods of discipline but the older ones believe it is the only way to punish them. The other day I witnessed four learners kneeling on the cement while balancing chairs on their heads for a 40 minute period.

I am not sure how to proceed: if I should speak up against the act in general or just ensure that I handle my own discipline issues in the future. I know that I need to address the principal about my discomfort with the issue and ask him not to do that in front of me again. Gosh, that will be a tough conversation – he’s the principal! If it was anyone else, I’d like to think I’d have said something right away.