The beginning of the school year….sort of

According to Namibian Ministry of Education the school year officially started last Tuesday, Jan 17. However as I’ve come to learn, starting dates are more liquid than in the states. We had only 66 learners in the whole school that first day, we didn’t even follow a schedule. I was with my register class, grade 6, for the entire morning and ended up running  out of things to do. We did a fill in the blank worksheet about class rules and policies, and then I had each learner draw a star with their name in the middle and on each point draw or write a goal they have for life, for the schoolyear, for math class, someone who would help them with that goal, and what the could do themselves to accomplish that goal. Even in doing all that I was left with lots of time and stumbling to find something to do, I had them write worksheets with the numbers 1 -100 on them for our Worksheet for a Sticker Wednesday, but failed to actually explain worksheet for a sticker to the new learners. Needless to say, it was a bit of a rough  and unorganized first morning,  although I will say I am proud of the stars the kids made.  I don’t know if they had thought about goals before, especially what they want to be when they grow up. I was happy to give them all the chance to use their imagination and dream for the future Many of them want to be nurses, doctors, lawyers and soccer players. I hope the activity gave them each a chance to believe in themselves. Encouragement isn’t dished out regularly in Okahitua. Most of the conversations between adults and kids fall along the lines of yelling to do something, or telling them to stop doing something.

 

I did the same goal seeking exercise with grade 7 and grade 5. Grade 7 was great, their English is good enough to understand my basic instructions and each person came up with some really great goals. Grade 5 struggled. It became clear that many of them didn’t understand my English. when I was giving directions and they saw me write “Ms. Mathias” in the middle of the star I was making as an example, some  wrote “Ms Mathias” in their star instead of their own name. It was definitely frustrating, but their undestanding can only improve from here right?

 

Now I have a star up for every one of my learners on the wall in my classroom under a banner I made that says “Reach for the Stars!” (thanks Woody from Toy Story for that phrase). Its there to remind the kids not to be afraid to work hard and make their goals come ture.  The volunteer before me told me that getting the learners’ names on the wall quickly would stop them from writing all over everything, so the stars serve that purpose also.  So far it’s worked.

 

The rest of the last week went without a schedule. After day one it became clear to me that I was the only teacher doing anything in my classroom, The rest of the teachers had the learners sit, or clean the class during the day.  I took that time to keep going over the rules and classroom procedures. I’m happy to say that after repeatedly going over it, 90% of my learners know to raise 2 fingers when they have to go to the toilet, 3 to ask me a question and 1 to answer a question. Getting up to leave at the end of the day is still a bit of a struggle for grade 5, but after I assign them spots in the queue (line), I hope they will stop hitting each other to be  in the front or the back.

 

I played a pretty fun card game with grade 6 and 7 last week to review basic addition and multiplication. It was Ms. Mathias vs the class to see who could get to 100 first pulling two cards at a time. Each round we added all the numbers, and found the difference between the two scores . The kids got really into it, I could hear them whispering “two, two, two” when a learner was drawing a card for me, or blowing on their fingers for good luck before choosing. I think it was a great way to ease them back into doing some math.

 

This week, although the official start of the schoolyear with the school schedule, has been   lax as well. Monday went smoothly, in grade 5 and 6 we went over rules again, and played the game to 100. In grade 7 we started with place value. I read over the weekend that before teaching each place value it is good to make sure the learners have a good grasp of number sense and a good way to teach number sense is to use poker chips with different values for each color. I didn’t have poker chips, but I did have different color plastic dividers and covers from all the manuals Peace Corps handed out… and now I have chips! I had grade 7 make different numbers and subtract or add with the chips. By the end of the period they had a pretty good grasp of it, and on Tuesday I added a hundreds place. The physical exchange of one blue token for ten white token makes it easy to understand why we have to borrow in subtraction. Plus they aren’t used to be able to use things in class besides a pencil and paper, so its been an nice change of pace for htem.

 

Tuesday in the staff meeting  it was decided that Wednesday classes would be canceled and all of the learners would work clearing the soccerfield of weeds and grass so we could start athletics. Athletics are a big deal at the beginning of the year. I’m still not sure what they are, but I hear its something like track and field. All the learners grade 1-7 and the teachers are split into two teams and practice every day for an in house competition (although if its just track and field couldn’t we do it without the teams, most events are individual anyway). We have to have our in house competition by next Friday, so it has been decided that Wednesday and Thursday the kids will clear the field and Friday they will start practicing. That means no more classes and  I’m finished teaching for the week.   Apparently the change in schedule is common in many schools all around Namibia (learning is not always the main priority in school, not if the teacher needs something cleaned, or grass to be cleared, or the teacher is tired). It makes me wonder why the learners come. Half the day they sit in an empty classroom with nothing to do. I guess they get to see their friends, and now they’ll get to practice math!

 

Ok, back to worksheet for a sticker. I completely stole this idea from the volunteer before me. Every Wednesday instead of doing a lesson the learners do a worksheet with 100 problems on it. They start out with addition, and have 20 minutes to do the worksheet. If they get 97 or more correct they get a sticker on the chart I have on the bulletin board and they have to get three stickers to move on to the next level. But! If they get 97 or more the first time they do the worksheet they can get three stickers the first time and automatically move on to the next level whether it be subtraction, multiplication, divisision, or the mix up worksheet of all operations. Lucky for me, grade 6 and 7 did the worksheet last year so it needed only a little explanation and everything went smoothly. But I must say, I botched it with grade 5. When I first had them flip their papers and start working, I noticed nearly half the class just staring at the paper. So I stopped the clock and explained everything again, but still some kids were confused. The poor language barrier is so huge, I really need to learn some more Otjiheraro. After the twenty minutes most of them understood the directions, but when I graded it became clear to me that grade 5 needs help with basic addition. So! On Monday that’s where we will start.  I just hope that by the end of the term we can get through addition, subtraction, even and odd numbers, place value, multiplication and division. I have my hopes up that these kids will catch on, they haven’t had a true math teacher in a while. I can’t say this for sure, but I think in many places lower primary teachers neglect to teach math because they themselves don’t like it and aren’t good at it and the kids suffer from it. At least that stops in upper primary: In my classroom there will be learning, lots and lots of learning (I hope!)

 

My classroom is starting to take shape. I have posters of rules and consequences, learners’ stars, and a few other posters up. I hope to make some more posters with basic math concepts to put up around the room and hope htat when  the learners finish their work they will stare at them and the information will sink in.

 

Today is Wednesday. I spent the day pulling weeds in the soccer field with my grade 6 class. It was nice being with them outside the classroom, I feel like I got to know some of the learners better. They even spoke in English with me and taught me some new otjiheraro words. I have a feeling our class relationship is just starting to take form, but its going to turn out nicely.

 

At Ludwig Ndinda the teachers have a tea club for tea break. Every day one teacher is responsible for making food for the other teachers. Most of the time its some sort of meat, bread, and sauce, all cooked during the period before break. Yup, the teachers leave their classes and skip out on teaching to cook for the other teachers, seems kind of backwards doesn’t it? I have to cook for the tea club tomorrow, and have been toying with ideas for the past few weeks. I finally settled on making a cake instead of some sort of hot meat dish. Cakes can be made the day before, and is easy to make. I also played around and made some homemade orange/ lemon sherbet that I’ll serve with it. I hope it goes well! If not, next time I’ll be making a namlish version of tuna noodle casserole.

 

I had my first overly sexist issue during a tea break this week. One of the female teachers was handing out cups of punch and gave me a cup before one of the male teachers. Now, this male teacher is pretty modern and up to beat on cultural issues so his reaction surprised me. He said, “Um excuse me, this is Africa, men get served before women. Even if I don’t want the drink, I can have it sit here for two hours if I want but I should be served first”. The female teacher apologized repeatedly and then gave him a cup. It was appalling. I didn’t know what to do so I just sat there shocked and didn’t say anything, but it stuck with me all day. I mean, what is the big deal? He didn’t even want the drink, why did he have to insist that he’s served first? Ideas raced through my head all day. I know it was just a small little part of the day, but I realize that it was the first time since second grade when a kid yelled “Girls can’t play ball” that I had been hit with a directly sexist comment, at least that I can remember. Does it mean that this teacher thinks he is superior to me in other was solely because he is a man? I’ve known Heraro culture was sexist; men get served first and get to sit in the front of the car, but I had never experienced someone making such a huge deal out of it. Part of me wishes I said something, but this is the culture I’m living in I have to be careful with what I say.

 

Every day school gets out at 1:30 and I’m left with nothing to do but plan lessons. Life here is very relaxing. I have been reading, writing letters, cooking, baking, running watching movies and tv shows on my computer, and soon I’ll start to learn harmonica. Even if I do all of that in one day I can still get a solid nights sleep before starting it all again tomorrow. It’s a pretty nice life I live here.

 

I’ll fill you in  again once I really get into  some actual teaching. So far its just been games and review, next week I’ll start the real deal being a teacher  and I’m sure I’ll have some great stories to share!

 

Ka uhare nawa!

 

Mo aka Maureen aka Maureena aka Iwaneka aka Ms Mathias aka Madam Mathias (my least favorite)

Making fat cakes

Today on the homestead we made fat cakes over the fire. Fat cakes are a delicious fried dough treats found all over Namibia. You might think they’re like funnel cake, but they are so much better than that. They take the crispy fried, sugary part of a funnel cake outside and combine it with the warm, doughy taste of a fresh baked roll on the inside. They are simply incredible and can be purchased from many a meme or mama on school premises for $1 at break time. Well worth the money.

Anyway, i’ve always wanted to learn how to make them and today I did! Its pretty basic: water, sugar, flour and yeast mixed in a bucket and let sit for about an hour. Then you scoop bits of it into a pot of hot oil and leave them till they turn a tasty golden brown and bam! You’ve got fat cakes

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A bucket full to be exact.

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Heres a picture of my sister  making fat cakes. She’s a teacher in Windhoek but comes to the homestead during holidays to be with her 2year old twins

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I know it’s a few days late but I just wante to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and also thank you for your care and support.

Having the support of friends and family back at home means the world to me. It really helps get through the hard days. The walls in my house are covered in the pictures and letters I’ve received so far. I love looking at them when I start the day.

I’m in the village living on my own now and will have plenty of time to write letters, but I realize I did not collect addresses. So please, email me your address.

Also, I have an internet phone and can text message for free through the application WhatsApp. If you have a smartphone download it and we an talk!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you and Happy New Year!

Kara Nawa,

Maureen

Month of Adventure

Hello again, anyone who reads this! I’ll start this post with my standard apology for not posting often. I’m sorry, I’ve been traveling since the beginning of December and have only had limited access to internet.

My last post was a little before Thanksgiving. The rest of the school year was pretty boring, with exams every day. The learners take an exam that lasts between an hour and an hour and a half, and then spend the rest of the school day “studying” for the next days exam. I say “studying” because they’re 5, 6 and 7th graders. Do you remember being in 7th grade? Would you spend hours studying on your own for a test all day? I know I couldn’t.

Anyway, I left Okahitua Dec 2 to attend a week of training at a conference center near Windhoek, the capitol. I reunited with the other volunteers from my group, and I’m happy to say that not a single one of us has gone home yet (ET as they call it here, which stands for Early Termination)! Most groups lose somebody during training, or during the first few weeks at site, but not our group. It’s exciting knowing that every member of the peace corps family we made is still here (yay!)

After training I traveled with the other PCVs to Swakopmund, the resort town on the coast. It might sound familiar, Brangelina had a baby there and Matt Lauer went there on the Today show a month or so ago. The town is really nice. The streets are in a grid and have actual names, and they have all sorts of restaurants and coffee shops. Personal favorites were the Mexican and Asian restaurants, and the coffee shops. You might also be surprised to hear that Swakopmund has KFC, a prized place to get a meal in Namibia.
While in Swakop I went sandboarding (pictures to come). If you’ve ever seen me snowboard, you won’t be surprised that I had a pretty huge wipe out. But it was still fun!
To make it affordable all 37 of us crammed into 2 bungalos with 6 beds in each. Luckily some of us had hammocks and tents. I slept in a hammock tied to the crossbeams most of the week, it was fun!
On one of our last nights in Swakop all the volunteers exchanged secret Santa gifts. We decorated a palm tree with flashlights to make it look like a Christmas Tree and sang Christmas Carols. It was weird, but fun, like most of the adventures I’ve had since I came to Africa.

Swakopmund was a great vacation, it made it feel like we weren’t in Namibia anymore, which had its ups and downs.

When I left Swakop I traveled to Luderitz with ten other volunteers. Luderitz, or Luda as we called, is way far away. If you get a chance to look at a map of Namibia, you’ll see that its in the far south and there is only one road that will get you there. So we took an overnight train from Windhoek to Keetmanscop and then a combi (think large but crammed van) to Luderitz.

Luda is on the coast, but isn’t a resort town like Swakopmund. It could be described as a weird German colony on the moon. The road to the town drives through a sandy desert with strong winds that sometimes completely cover the road. They actually have tractors that clear the sand so people can continue to drive. A few miles outside of Luderitz there is a ghosttown called Kolmanscop. It used to house people who work in the diamond mines surrounding Luderitz, but then the winds were too strong so all the people left. Now it’s just a tourist attraction full of empty houses.

Luderitz was awesome. While Swakopmund was a bigger town with a lot going on Luderitz was smaller so we had to get creative, and that’s exactly what we did. Every day two people were assigned to be Fun Czars. These czars were responsible for planning fun, cheap activities for the day.
The first day of fun-czaring we had a brai (what they call bbq in Namibia) and hung out around the house. It felt like a summer day in America. The second day the fun czars set up a scavenger hunt in Luderitz, it was incredible. We were split into two teams so it was a competition, which really freaked out some of the people who were in town. They could not understand why these Americans were running around looking for little pieces of paper all over town. The clues were tricky, the one that threw my team off was Cameron ¬ ‘s coffee shop, which lead to a place called Diaz’s Coffee shop. We misread the clue and thought we were looking for Cameron’s coffee shop, but we couldn’t find it so we asked some Namibians on the street. They didn’t know what we were talking about either (because it doesn’t exist) so they sent us to the waterfront, ten minutes out of the way. They sent us to the waterfront again on another clue, and we ended up losing the hunt, but we still had a lot of fun.

The second day was another day full of competition. We started with a picnic on Shark Island, which isn’t actually an island at all: it’s a peninsula along the beach where you can see the desert, big boats, and seals swimming in the ocean. It’s really beautiful. Post picnic we split up into teams again. Each team had a half an hour to come up with a song and dance about out experience to the tune of a top 40’s hit. Our team chose Party in the USA, but changed it to be about Peace Corps and Namibia. The other team chose Superbass by Nicki Minag. There are videos on the internet somewhere, they might be on my facebook. Check them out. Seriously, they’re great. Some lyrical highlights of our song: “I hopped off the plane at 3 am with a Nalgene in my hand”. It was great, super fun and exciting. Our second competition was a mock western style shootout set in front of one of the factories on the walk to Claire’s house (she’s the volunteer in Luderitz). The factories are empty and sort of resemble a western town, mainly because they’re abandoned. The fun czars bought cap guns and we had a fake shoot out. We took three paces and everything. It was another great day.
The third day was Christmas Eve! We decorated Christmas cookies, watched Christmas movies, and then ate a delicious Christmas feast of chicken, the most amazing butternut squash soup, mashed potatoes, and green beans. There weren’t enough forks, so some of us ate with our fingers. Well, we sort of volunteered to eat with our fingers, its just the Namibian way. And when I say Namibian way, I mean that some groups in Namibia eat with their fingers. It’s just easier.
Later Christmas eve night Brian, one of the fun czars for the day, had arranged for the security guard to come to the door with a bag of small gifts for us, as if he were Santa. It was adorable and fun, and I think the security guard was really confused. Christmas isn’t that big of a holiday in Namibia. I’ve asked some people on my homestead why, and they say it’s because most of the pictures and movies show Christmas as a winter wonderland, and that’s not the case on Christmas in Namibia. People still exchange gifts and get together with family, but it isn’t the mother of holidays as it can be in the US.
Anywhoo, we spent the rest of Christmas eve watching more Christmas movies on our laptops and eating cookies.
Christmas day we woke up to homemade stockings sent from Claire’s mom filled with yummy American Christmas candies, and ate coffee cake that Claire and I made as we exchanged hand made secret santa gifts. We went to a brunch buffet at a hotel down the street from Claire’s that was really delicious. They even had bacon wrapped prunes, almost as good s bacon wrapped dates. Definitely one of the best meals I’ve had in Namibia.
After Christmas the fun czars continued with their fun . The 26th was my day to be a fun czar with Chris, a PCV in Kamanjab. Everyone was exausted from all the fun we had the week before, so we kept it simple: pancake breakfast in the morning, egg babies in the afternoon, and delicious chicken and rice for dinner. Let me explain the egg babies: we put everyone into couples and gave them an egg that became their child for a day, like an 8th grade life skills project. Each couple had to give their baby a face and tell a story of how they met. My favorite turned out to be a baby dinosaur egg found while the two parents were looking for dinosaur bones in Montana. Fun, cheap and hilarious.
Our final fun czar day was a fun czar day to rule them all! Once again we were are split into fake couples and had to compete in a Top Chef style egg cooking competition, a catch phrase tournament, a blind folded race, soccer, and a trivia game. This day was extraordinarily competitive because the losing team had to eat dog food! Yikes! Our team was in last place until the final Jeopardy style question: what is the first and last name of the president of Namibia, and we ended up winning!

Alright, I feel like that was a lot about fun czars. I’ll get on with my vacation. I spent the next few days and New Years in Luderitz hanging out with volunteers, relaxing, watching movies and reading magazines people sent Claire from the US (hint hint). I left the day after New Years and took a 12 hour combi ride to Windhoek, and then got a ride to Otjiwarongo (my shopping town).
Jan 4 I finally made it back to Okahitua, and I’ve been here since. The other teachers move back to their homesteads and hometowns during holiday so its been pretty quiet and I’ve spent a lot of time at the homestead where I stayed my first six weeks at site. Yesterday I put up my hammock and my host family loves it. We played Frisbee and hung out all day.

The rest of the teachers come back next Thursday, January 12, and the schoolyear starts January 17, although I’ve been told all the learners won’t actually come until a few weeks later. But I still have to be prepared for the first day so between now and then I’ll getting my classroom ready, making up classroom procedures and practicing my otjiheraro. I got an internet phone over Christmas break and have WhatsApp, so if you have a smartphone add it and add my cell phone number!

That’s all for now. If you made it to the end of this email I’m impressed at your dedication to avoiding whatever it is you should be doing at work, or studying for in school. Just kidding. But if you are really looking for another way to procrastinate send me an email updating me on your life, I’d love to hear from you!

Till next time,