Likes, Dislikes and Realizations

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Over the past couple weeks I have noticed that life here is easier.  The kids are more comfortable with me, the community seems more welcoming and less suspicious of me and I am having more good days than bad ones!

I feel much more at peace.  I can appreciate things that I just looked over before… like the morning sky, or the gorgeous double rainbows.

Moments I love:

  • The torrential rains when I have no where to go.
  • Walking in the early evening.
  • Greeting older ladies in Rukwangali and watching a big smile come to their face.
  • Watching the village kids come running when they see me outside.
  • Sitting by the river with my coffee on a cool Sunday morning.
  • Watching the kids go crazy when they see an airplane (very rare).
  • Learners fighting over the opportunity to help me:  carry my books, clean the chalkboard, hand out papers.
  • Nights that I need a blanket .
  • Kids dancing.
  • Spending time with other volunteers.
  • Opening my email to a full inbox
  • Having my class interrupted by the principal to be told that there is a crocodile on the banks of the river by the school!  How cool is that??!
  • Sunrises, sunsets, and clear night skies.

Moments I could do without:

  • The torrential rains while I am trying to teach.  The echo of the rain on the metal roof of the school makes teaching impossible while it is raining heavily!
  • Realizing there is a massive bug in the shower with me.
  • Lack of indirectness of Namibian men when trying to hit on me.  “Miss Tanya, do you want a friend?  Maybe you can take me to Canada with you?”
  • Staff meetings (usually pointless) that are scheduled during class times.
  • Power outages while cooking dinner.
  • Dealing with any government agencies – service is not a forte.

Realizations:

  • Namibians have NO idea where Canada is.  A taxi driver asked me if Canada was an Arab nation???
  • They eat two meals a day – both of them consisting of porridge and occasionally fish or chicken.  When I asked a learner why she doesn’t eat breakfast, she said it was because there wasn’t enough food.
  • Their chickens run free.  They don’t collect the eggs or eat them (They could eat them for breakfast!!!).
  • All cooking is done over a fire inside their mud huts.
  • Everyone is related.
  • Suicide is very popular here, especially among teens.  I saw a father carrying his teenage daughter along the road trying to hitch a ride to the hospital.  Apparently she had taken a bottle of pills.
  • They love Celine Deon and Dolly Parton.
  • The scars of apartheid run very deep here…more to come on this topic in a future blog.
  • They will never say that a relative or friend died of AIDS.  They will just say that they were ‘ill’.
  • The World Food Program (through the United Nations) supplies rural Namibian schools with bags of maize meal to be fed to the children.  The Namibian government labels every bag of maize meal to say “Namibian School Feeding Program”.
  • My principal has more than 10 children!
  • I am actually starting to like it here!
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An Awesome Week in Photos!

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Gr. 9's finally get ratios!

The BRAINS of my gr. 9 class...hard working and curious... such a pleasure!

My learner Willen wanted a photo with me.

Grade 10A achieved a class average of 76% on their last test! As a reward, I brought my laptop, popcorn and juice and we watched a movie during study time! They loved it!

Grade 10's enjoying their movie reward

Celebrating Namibia's Independence Holiday at the Kavango River Lodge - Justine, myself, Karen and Amy

Rundu Beach - not much of a beach at all, but still nice.

One of the many hilarious signs in Namibia!

 

Pregnancy and babies!

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I realized a couple weeks ago that one of my grade 10 learners is pregnant. While it is a very common occurrence in this country, it was new for me. She is a very bright girl and I worry that her chances of successfully completing grade ten are very slim now. I asked a couple of the senior teachers what the protocol is for pregnant girls at our school and they were very, very harsh and insensitive about it. Apparently, she will is expected to be in classes until the baby is due and then she will get 2 weeks off after the baby is born. Crazy!

So, I have been going out of my way to support her. I am the only female teacher at the senior level and may be the only one she may feel comfortable coming to for assistance. She is 17 years old and she is an orphan. She lives with a relative and she thinks that the relative will look after her baby. The baby is due in May – she is unsure when in May though. I have researched prenatal care in areas of poverty and have been trying to talk to her about basics. The next step is a tough one… I have to encourage her to get an HIV test to ensure that she isn’t positive so that she can make the right decision about breast feeding.

Pregnancy here is viewed much differently than at home. First of all it is very, very common (which is very sad in an AIDS infected area!). There is very little sympathy or pampering for pregnant women. They are still required to carry out their daily routines – plowing, weeding, fetching water. And if they do have a full time job in the cities or towns, they get a maximum of 6 weeks maternity leave! Babies are tied around their mother’s backs or stomachs using large pieces of cloth. They hop in and out of the back of pickup trucks, wash clothing in the river and plough the fields with their babies tied to their backs. And when feeding time comes, they just pop out a boob – no matter where they are. I have seen women shopping in the grocery store with a baby latched onto her boob (fully exposed) while she decided which brand of sugar to buy. I have been in a car when a lady with a baby gets in and just passes me the baby while she gets settled.

Babies and toddlers are very, very tiny. I have a lot of trouble guessing how old they are. Due to the malnutrition and very petite size of the Kavango people, kids are so small. The other day, there was a little toddler under the tree behind the house and she barely looked like she could walk. When I went over to say hello, she reached her arms out to me to pick her up (there is absolutely no concept of stranger here as babies are passed around among families) and she was so light – less than 15 lbs. When I asked the other kids how old she was, they said 3 years old. I was shocked.

Final thought – in our staff meeting last Friday morning, the principal made a strong point to remind all teachers that impregnating a learner is against the school policy and could lead to a transfer (but not getting fired!) While I have heard that there are a lot of incidents of teachers sleeping with students, I didn’t think it would be happening at my school. And I am guessing that because the principal stressed it during a meeting, he has suspicion that it is happening. OMG –  things I don’t want to know!

Hands

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As I was reading all of the encouraging comments and emails everyone has sent since my last post (with my itunes on shuffle,) Jewel’s song “Hands” came on and I froze.  It spoke directly to me…  Here are the lyrics for anyone who doesn’t know the song.

“Hands”
If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we’re all OK
And not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I won’t be made useless
I won’t be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn’t steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn’t ever after
We’ll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what’s right
‘Cause where there’s a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
I am never broken
In the end only kindness matters
In the end only kindness matters
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s mind
We are God’s hands
We are God’s hands

Why am I here?  I am here because this is a dream of mine. I am so fortunate to be able to experience what I am experiencing.  I have the opportunity to work with these amazing kids and I gotta make the most of it.  And when things get tough, I have to rely on my faith.  I have to try not to worry and stress over things that are outside of my control, and just focus on the things that my hands, with God’s support, can handle. 

So right now, I am going to ask God to help me win the war against the cockroaches.  Last night, Hakusembe (one of my room mates) sprayed  cockroach killing spray through the kitchen and of course, the ones that could, fled… right into my room.  They were everywhere – I must have killed over 150 of them last night (and cleaned up hundreds more dead ones in the kitchen this morning!). And as a result, I couldn’t sleep!  So, tonight I ask for peace!

Thank you again to everyone for their constant encouragement.  You have helped remind me why I am here.  xox 

What am I doing here?

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Lately, I have felt really discouraged and it has led me to question myself and my motives for coming here.  The challenges facing this school are overwhelming and I struggle to wrap my mind around ways it can be improved.  I want to believe that even small, positive improvements are possible, but some days I have trouble even seeing that.

I often find myself feeling bitter towards Namibians and their culture.  After having my shoes stolen from inside the house and food taken from my fridge, it is hard to maintain a desire to give.  On a daily basis, people ask me for money or food.  When I go for my evening walks, there is usually someone who stops me and asks for money.  At school, the kids tell me they are hungry and ask for food.  And even the teachers (who I know make a very good salary) have no trouble asking or even taking from me.    I have explained numerous times to the teachers that I am a VOLUNTEER and that I do not have money nor do I have access to money.  They ask me for unrealistic favors – to borrow my camera for the weekend, to type up their tests or assignments for them, to take photos of the entire soccer team – modify each one in photoshop and then develop them!  And when I have agreed to do a favor, they rarely say thank you or even show any appreciation (which could definitely be a cultural thing, but COME ON!).

Getting together with other volunteers definitely helps keep me sane as I realize that I am not the only facing these challenges.  However, we do spend a lot of time criticizing the way things are done here and voicing our frustrations, which can tend to be negative.

I don’t remember being as frustrated in Thailand.  There were always answers for why things were done a certain way and although I didn’t agree with them, there were valid reasons why.   There are so many things here that just don’t make sense to me…photocopying entire textbooks for a class (every year) but not purchasing new ones, learners getting punished for not wrapping their exercise books in wrapping paper, holding staff meetings during class time (because if we hold it after school the majority of teachers won’t come!).

The students here don’t care if they fail.  Failure doesn’t mean the same thing it means at home.  I have learners in my grade 8 class that are 21 years old.  This means that they have failed approximate 5-7 grades since they started school!  They are unable to make the connection between academics and career opportunities.  They lack motivation to truly understand and excel.

Of course, you have to wonder… WHY?

My school (and I’d imagine the rest of the country) is filled with teachers who have no desire to teach.  The majority have chosen this career path not because they love children or are born educators but because it is one of the few jobs that is always in demand and provides a reasonably good income.   From what I have witnessed so far, most are lazy, take shortcuts and lack enthusiasm for their career.  They do very basic lesson planning and avoid any lesson that requires them to prep anything.

For most of these learners, they have never seen life outside the village so they have no concept of the opportunities that exist.  And realistically, opportunity is minimal here.  With an unemployment rate of over 50%, there are very few job openings.

After grade 12, there are very few options for students who want to continue education.  They can go to University of Namibia or the Polytechnic College.  While they may have the grades to get into either, both schools are in Windhoek and the expense is beyond what most rural families can afford.

Which all leads back to – why am I here?  Yes, my school needs a senior math teacher and if I wasn’t here there would be 250 kids without math this year.  This is what I need to focus on and not let the rest bother me.  If I can communicate the importance of math to the learners and help them to experience some degree of success in the subject, than I have been successful myself.

I apologize for the discouraging tone of this post, but I promised to be true to my experience when writing.  Of course, I anticipated that these types of feelings would pop up, and I am not surprised but  I wanted to share them with all of you.