when you come to Namibia, Bring Your Own Chair

I’ve almost been here for two months now, and I’m starting to realize some of the things I think are normal now I thought were crazy when I first got here. So I thought I’d make a list, in no particular order.

1. There are no paper products anywhere, except toilet paper. And toilet paper is more the texture of a paper towel in a public bathroom in America.

2. Everything in Namibia is BYOC- Bring your own chair. Bring it to church, a funeral, a brye (which is a barbeque), a bar, a festival, a school assembly, etc.

3. Ladies have facial hair. Sometimes even full on beards. It’s just accepted and in some areas seen as a sign of significant beauty. I’m not actually sure if that’s true, but I think I overheard someone saying that. Let’s hope it is

4. Omaere. That’s otjiheraro for sour milk. Yup, people prefer to drink sour milk. I am not a fan, but many heraro’s go crazy for it

5. There are several different tribes in Namibia, all with separate cultures, languages, foods, and customs. For this reason Namibians do not understand when I tell them I am just American. Being Irish would not be the same as being Damara or Owambo, but sometimes I say it to keep the conversation moving

6. People reuse everything. No food goes wasted, sometimes not even the bones from a piece of meat. and you can bet there will be bones in your meat. Bottles and bags are reused as much as possible. It’s pretty cool

7. There is trash everywhere. This isn’t as true in the village because there is nothing to buy that can make trash, but in Okahandja  there is trash all over the place. This confused me when I first got here because I thought people reused everything. It still confuses me some

8. Dust tornados. Have you seen the video of the kids soccer game where a tornado just touches down for a minute? That happens pretty frequently here. I’ve seen at least 4. I think this could also be an explanation for all the scattered trash.

9. Someone got ahold of a T-pain machine and an electric keyboard and have incorporated them into almost all Namibian songs. They sound like electronic polka music

10. People get paid at the end of the month, so the towns are crazy crowded at the end of the month. After a week they go back to being empty

11. I immediately assume white Namibians are racist. It’s bad of me, but unfortunately it’s the case most of the time

12. There are lizards and baboons instead of squirrels and deer

13. It’s weird for a building to have grass around it. That means the owner takes the time and has the money to water it and maintain it. Everything here is just straight dirt and sand.

14. The radio blasts while the TV is on. Somehow in the past month I’ve learned how to focus on both…kind of.

15. Soapies. I hope i’ve brought these up. They’re spanish soap operas dubbed in the worst english voices known to man and people are obsessed. Right now the current soapies are “El Clone” and “Saborati”. They’re so bad I can’t even watch, but people get in to them. Also, everything on tv is called a movie, at least to my host family members. It got some getting used to

16.Tomati sauce is sugary ketchup and it goes on everything. So does tangy mayonaise.

17. Cool drink = anything from soda to neon colored punch that tastes like medicine.

18.Hitch-hiking is a common and recommended form of transportation for Namibians (but not Peace Corps volunteers because it is against policy)

19. When a lady needs to feed a baby she might just do it wherever she is in the moment. This could mean breast feeding at the cash register in the grocery store, or just wipping out a boob while watching TV on the couch. I’ve seen both and it’s now perfectly normal.

20. kids under the age of 3 are not required to wear pants, and may poop in the yard. At hte homestead they roll around in the dirt and go wherever they please. In  town my little brother has a tiny plastic red toilet that he drags in front of the tv whenever he has to poop.

Ok, that’s all I have for now. I posted some pictures on my facebook, check them out if you get a chance!

karare nawa!

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Me Kara pi kOkahitua!

Helloooooo friends and family!
Holy nerds its been a while since I have put up a blog post. Sorry for that. I’ve figured out that I enjoy writing personal emails much more than writing to an anonymous electronic audience because that way I get to hear from YOU!

So much has happened over the last few weeks. I helped cook and then tasted sevarl traditional foods a few weekends ago during a culture day event. These foods included mopani worms (caterpillar), intestine, stomach, several different types of meat and porridge. Before that day I thought I could eat anything, but oh my god is intestine gross. Have you ever seen it? It looks and smells like someone cut up squares of carpet and threw them in a pot to soak and cook all day. I was no a fan. Stomach tastes like poop.

I spent last week visiting my permanent site Ludwig Ndinda Primary School in Okahitua, a small village 32 km south of Okakarara, a small town about 100 km from my shopping town, Otjiwarongo. On the drive up I saw a giraffe! It was so great, I’m a little obsessed with them at the moment. I also saw an ostrich, a kudu, some warthogs and baboon, all along the side of the road.

My school is very small. There are only 150 learners and five teachers in the entire school, grades 1 through 7. To me that means small class sizes (wahoo!). Unfortunately, none of the learners can really speak or understand much English, and their understanding of math is pretty low. So I will be doing a lot of remedial work, especially grade 5’s. The learners start learning in English in grade 4, however their teacher teaches grade 3 at the same time in Otjiheraro, their mother tongue. I observed one of the classes and it was nuts. The teacher had to keep going back and forth between the two grades and switch languages as she did it! I can’t imagine how much time she has to spend planning lessons and organizing children.

My principal is pretty cool. Years ago she was a language trainer for Peace Corps, so she has a decent understanding of how Peace Corps works and what should be expected of me. However, this did not stop her from calling me a “soccer expert” and sending a message over the radio for community members to meet at the soccer field for a match against the learners with the new local expert. I don’t know if you’ve seen me play soccer or not, but I am certainly not an expert. Especially when I am surrounded by people who have grown up playing the game barefoot with any object that simply resembles a ball. To add to that, I had no idea I would be playing soccer when I packed for the week and left all my tennis shoes and shorts at home. I showed up to play the local adult male soccer team in my work shoes and pants. This wasn;t so weird for everyone else because half the people chose to play barefoot, but I wasn’t used to it and sucked the whole game.

To organize the game my principal arranged a meeting with Cien, the captain of the Okahitua soccer team. They agreed that each grade would have a team and both boys and girls would be included, but when we got to the soccer pitch Cien had decided to make a roster of the best learners to play against the adults. I was a bit furious, but couldn’t even articulate my anger because no one could speak English! With the help of the English teacher (and local expert) we were able to organize new teams including boys and girls of all grades and skill levels and everyone had a bit of fun and got some exercise. Thinking back I wish we would have just played among learners. It would have been more competitive than the kids being crushed by grown men who play soccer all day because they don’t have jobs, but I guess that’s just my opinion.

Wednesday of my site visit was Ludwig Ndinda’s Readathon, which ironically had nothing to do with reading. The whole week each grade spent extra time preparing a reading/song/play that shared information about the flora and fauna of Namibia and celebrated the importance of reading. Then on Wednesday each class performed what they practiced in front of the rest of the school. The school is too small to have an assembly hall so they assemble outside.

Now picture this: 150 children ages 5 through 16 (probably) sitting in chairs for 4 hours watching and listening to other children struggle reading poems, stories, and summaries in broken/ non understandable english. It was a logistical disaster. Each grade took at least 20 minutes. If a learner stumbled saying a sentence their teacher would interrupt them and make them speak again. There was a dog sleeping in the middle of the “stage”. Teachers kept picking up phonecalls. It was a bit of a culture shock. As it was going on I thought to myself, “so this is what things are like without any time management”. It will certainly take some getting used to.

While the readathon was a logistical nightmare, the creativity of the learners shined through. I loved seeing the puppets and masks learners made for their performances, and was especially impressed by a grade 6 learner’s frighteningly realistic donkey impression.

I really think I’m going to enjoy my site. Because it is so small, I will be able to control almost everything I want to do in my classroom. The only thing that worries me is the huge language barrier. I have a serious amount of work to do in order to get my Otjiheraro skills up to par.

Oohh I haven’t even mentioned my housing arrangements. For the first two months I will be living on a homestead and it’s awesome! You may be thinking to yourself “what the nerds does homestead mean?” Well, I will be living in a small cinderblock building surrounded by other small buildings made out of sheet metal, mud and concrete. On most homesteads there are lots of people, most of whom are realated. Lucky for me, I am living on the homestead of the driver in Okahitua. My homestead father, a farmer by trade, drives one of the only trucks around. Read: easy to get transportation to Okakarara and then pick up a car or taxi to my shopping town Otjiwarongo.
Living on a homestead also means cooking over open fires in giant black pots that look like witches brews. Over my site visit I helped make a mince meat and potato stew with rice. It was delicious and had no bones! Namibians love meet with bones in it: chicken, beef, goat, or whatever the meat may be, you can guarantee it will have bones. And they eat every part of an animal. I think the Wednesday night of my site visit I actually ate the knee of some sort of animal, there was a big chunk of fat that I pretended to chew on and threw to the dog.
Another thing I find funny about my homestead is that while there may only be one toilet on the entire homestead and people living in houses made primarily out of sticks and mud, they have satellite television! That’s right, satellite. I didn’t even have that in the US.

Alright, I’m tired. There is so much more to write, but I have a feeling no one is really reading anymore so I’ll try to tell more about my life soon (ha, as if anyone believes that anymore)

Kara Nawa,

Mo