I have to admit that the longer I’m here, the harder it is to write blog posts! Once you get into a routine, I guess those weird stories become more a part of daily life, and less a bizarre anecdote to share with the masses. But in light of the fact that I am in my last year here, I thought I’d post a little something about my daily life here. That way, even though I’m not really posting anymore, you can picture what I’m doing on a daily basis! Oh, and its a poem obviously.
This is difficult for me to do,
Mavanze can’t be explained
But “Kasiku” means walker in the night,
And that’s my village name.
And people with village names
Are more legit than the rest.
So I’m tackling this poem head on,
Get ready for my best.
To get to my village, take a cab.
At the gas station you’ll push.
Stalking taxis, begging, pleading,
Cuz no one wants to go in the “bush”.
On the way here’s the music:
Mshasho, The Dogg, Celine.
Some chats about life and the classic:
“Will you marry me?”
At the entrance to the center,
A red gate and Tiger our mascot.
He may be infest with fleas,
But he has the cutest trot.
He might be a little awk
But he’s as loyal as can be.
And on my way to school he stalks
While peeing on each tree.
Then there’s my lovely house.
A random collection of rooms
But they’re all smooshed together
Surviving Kahare’s music booms.
Mine is obviously the best -
It’s painted glacier blue.
Here live a lot of spiders,
And flies and crickets too.
The clutter is overwhelming;
I have a lot of stuff!
But I need my room to keep me sane
Cuz my life here’s kind of tough.
In the morning, I wake up at five
(if I survive those hallucinations)
I walk to school, it takes an hour
I’m drenched in perspiration.
On the way I tour the village,
It’s quite the gogeous site.
Pink sunrises, rolling plains,
Huts drenched in morning light.
And then there are the fires
As people cook breakfast.
And learners call out “Morokeni!”
As they join me in my quest.
And the little children have a dance
That they made up just for me.
They call it “Chindele” -
“White person” in Rukwangali
At school I have only one class,
I wish I could teach more.
But Grade 8 is worth the walk
And I try not to make them bored.
Harry Potter – themed competitions
Jeopardy and poetry reading;
But still I give tests once each week
To ensure they’re succeeding.
Don’t worry, I’m pretty strict -
And if I hear them speak
Their local language and not English,
It’s detention once that week.
During break time you’ll be shocked
I ignore the rest of the staff.
I avoid the drama and the meetings
I’d rather hang out with my class.
And even though I am with kids
At least twelve hours a day,
I’d rather spend my time with them.
I’m happier that way.
After school its a quick lunch break
Before I start two
I eat PB&J and watch a show
In my room of Glacier Blue.
But time to myself is over
Almost as soon as it begins.
And then its to the orphans
(I hang out with more kids!)
Their ages are quite varied:
Zero to eighteen.
Each lesson must be catered
To apply to what they’ve seen.
Geography, Bio, Social,
Vocab and spelling tests.
I try to reach each learner
To ensure they’re trying their best.
And above all we read -
And read and read and read.
They must grow in their English,
And our books provide the seed.
I’ve probably read The Giving Tree
A hundred million times
I could recite it in my sleep.
Every. Single. Line.
But the lessons all seem minor
And a class is just a class
You have to look at individuals
And they seem to be growing up fast.
Mungeli is the grumpy one,
But if you get him to smile,
It makes you feel you’ve done your job.
And it all seems worthwhile.
George is the most defiant,
(More than a fifth grader should be)
If you ask him to follow rules,
A frown is what you’ll see.
Muhepa always asks
Eighteen thousand questions
You’d think he was unsure in life,
But he’s firm in his convictions.
She wouldn’t miss school for the world.
But her studying face is just a mask
When her laughter is unfurled.
Maggah is serious, Likuwa is precocious,
Ihemba always dances.
Kankala fixes things that break,
While Diksa just romances.
Hellena is the quiet one,
Martha is the proudest.
Ngombio tells all the jokes
And Ntjamba laughs the loudest.
And then there’s my favorite child
That I’ve ever met in my life
Sadira makes me happy
And she takes away all strife.
She’s strong, a leader, caring,
The best family member you’ve seen.
Taking care of three children,
And she only is fourteen.
She studies with me every day,
And now she is the best
Learner at the center
Thus she trumps the rest.
And she does this all with no parents
Not two coins to rub together,
But you will never see her sad
Unless maybe you hurt her brother.
So when I stop to think about
Leaving this place in a year,
It’s not the sunrises I’ll miss most
Or the spiders, though they’re dear.
Its the kids wear me down,
The ones I put up with each week.
I will miss them more
Than this poem could ever speak.
At the end of the day I sit
By the fire as it cooks
My porridge and spinach dish -
It’s not as gross at it looks.
I talk to mom, Anna,
She’s my best friend here.
She give me gossip,
I tell her stories
While her children are always near.
Eveline sit on my lap,
Just repeating my name.
While ELiza plays on my phone
And talks about first grade.
As soon as I get to my room,
I pass out on my bed.
Though my room should be cleaned,
I’d rather sleep instead.
If you ask my learners who Barack Obama is, they’ll tell you: “He’s the President of America and he is black.” They might think the earth is shaped like a diamond, but they definitely know who Barack Obama is. And what is even more significant, they recognize what a huge milestone we reached in electing an African American president into the White House.
Yesterday, when I told my learners that Obama had to defend his place as leader of our country in a new election, they were scandalized and upset (they’re literally obsessed with Obama). Then I asked them: “Without knowing anything about the candidates, who you would vote for?” The class was unanimously for Obama. So I decided to explain a few simple issues to the class and see if any of them would change their minds…
SO I was prepared. I knew that my learners were socially conservative, and that their ideals are shaped by a literal interpretation of the Bible and their parents/grandparents’ traditional values. But still, their reactions were interesting to watch, and I thought I’d share them with you.
When I told them that abortion was legal in the US, they responded: “Nah! Nah! Nah! Nah!” “How can you kill your own baby?” They were totally shocked, but I tried to explain that the issue isn’t whether or not abortion is “right”, its whether the government should decide, or whether the pregnant woman should decide. I don’t think they had ever thought about it that way. I also asked whether it was better to have a safe abortion in a doctor’s office, or an unsafe one alone. I tried not to let my own opinions show, but rather to ask questions to get them thinking about implications they had never thought about before – which then brought some interesting commentary. Throughout the conversation, I learned that illegal abortions are actually not uncommon here, but rather teenagers go off alone so they can illegally abort their baby in private. My kids explained the two main methods: 1) Go to the bush and push a stick up your vagina, or 2) go to the bush and drink as many liters of juice as you possibly can.
When I suggested that a same-sex couple could be in love and be married, they reacted by laughing hysterically, and then straight up not believing me. I couldn’t calm them down for at least five minutes. I knew they would be against it, but the dramatic reaction was as if they had never heard of it before. I think they had learned the definition of “homosexuality” in class, but didn’t think it was a real thing. They asked, “Can two men reproduce?” and “How can gay people show affection?” And inevitably: “Miss, are you gay?” Even after class, learners were coming up to me to ask questions – still in shock.
Their ideas on the role of government in health care were relatively pro Obama, and their gun control opinions were split down the middle. I wish I could have gotten into more issues, but I stuck to the simple, straightforward ones for time’s sake.
So at the end of my experiment I asked them to vote again keeping in mind what they learned about the views of the two candidates. The result was Obama: 13, Romney: 10. So I guess I converted almost half the class to the Romney side. But the interesting question was: Why would more than half the class still vote for Obama, when they all vehemently disagree with his stances? I think in the end, the issues really don’t affect my learners – but I think they’re really inspired by the fact that the leader of such a powerful country is black. And as a teacher, anything that makes them proud, or starts them thinking, or gets them motivated, is OK with me.
…Bringing me to the REAL election. Before Matt came to Peace Corps, he predicted that he’d read about the presidential election on a Newsweek article shipped in a care package, two months after the election. But in the end we were fortunate enough not to rely on that. Instead, we found a lodge with wireless internet that we could stay at overnight and follow the race. Then to our surprise, the room had a TV with three channels – and one of them happened to be BBC covering the election all night.
So we threw on red, white and blue clothes, made posters, and brought snacks and Red Bull, ready for an all-nighter. It ended up being a really great 12 hours; I probably followed the details of the race better than I would have in the US. And on top of it all, I loved to follow the race from the perspective of Britian. We always get to listen to America’s issues; but to hear it from an outside perspective – and to see how much the BBC network cared about the outcome, was very fascinating. All night, I felt proud to be from the United States of America.
I brought a child in because he has a popped ear drum. I explained the whole story to the nurse – that the boy had only one functioning ear, and today his friends tried to fix it by blowing hard into the working ear, most likely popping his ear drum. The nurse wrote her note to the doctor: “water spilled in the eye.” Hmmm
It may be a mistake to post this on my blog. But in the wake of having been here a full year, I wrote a poem to reflect on my life. Its actually written to Matt, but here it is anyway:
My life started just the same
As everybody elses.
With a lot of pushing,
And a little screaming -
Out popped me, ex-fetus
But one thing was different,
And its that my mother dared
To birth me in a bed
Without any meds
(Mary Baker Eddy was there)
As a child I was a loner,
Some would say I had no friends.
But I scabbed my knees,
Climbing Rosebud my tree,
Up there my silence would end.
My childhood passed in this way
Until I got the news:
“Say goodbye to the tree,
We’re moving overseas!”
This truly gave me the blues.
But as I walked into my Dutch classroom
Things started to look up;
I really looked my best
In a matching skirt and vest
The boys said: “come sit with us!”
The two years there
Were the most life changing Ive known
I was popular, good looking
Well traveled, Dutch speaking
I finally came into my own.
After I returned to the States
Not that much happened.
Just passed through junior high
Had my first kiss with a guy
Then came the day I met the DRAGON.
Seven girls one boy
In cross country we did meet
Joe, Camille, Carrie, Kelsey,
Kate, Emily, Maggie, Missy
Each one made me feel complete.
Heres the thing we always did:
We drove around in cars.
Blasting Aarin Carter
And calling out “Blake Barrter!”
And never going to bars.
And that’s because we were too busy
In Joe’s basement in a corner.
Taking shots, singing, dancing
With Michael Jackson blasting.
The next day, insanely hungover.
Finally it came time to say goodbye
To the most amazing friends in the world
With my Harry Potter books and Boppy
I hopped a plane to DC
There a new plan unfurled.
It was there I became re-obsessed
With international stuff.
I took Arabic, Spanish, Chinese.
Srudied in Chile if you please!
With international development, I couldnt get enough.
Of course I found great friends
At this I never fail.
Around DC we played,
Eating Chipotle each day
And finishing our nights at the Whale
Then one day I say down and said,
“What should I do after this?
I can’t just stay here,
Drinking my weight in beer.
There’s a whole world I dont want to miss!”
So obviously that is when
I applied to serve in the Corps.
Now I’m spreading the peace
Amongst all kinds of beasts.
And there’s nothing I’d rather do more.
Its hard to tell the story
Of a single person’s life.
Each one can be so full of joy
And also full of strife.
But the most important part of all
Is where I am right now -
In a random Nam village
Amongst orphans, chickens and cows.
And it is here that I have found
Something quite unexpected.
An amazing partner Matt
My life he truly has affected.
We roam aroubd Ru-town
Trapeezing through the sand.
Playing pool, making out
Black Label always in hand.
And okay I wasn’t on my A-Game
When writing you this rhyme.
It took way too many drafts,
And an insane amount of time.
But I hope you got the picture
That my life has been the BEST.
Can you please help me
By taking part in the rest?
Since the last time I posted, Namibia has turned into a ginormous sweat-fest. I have officially taken all sheets and blankets off my bed, and now sleep fully nude with my fan on full blast. The walk from school is now interrupted by several pauses in the shade, and I go through about 16 liters of water a day. The spiders are extra big, the cobras are back, the beetles are in everything that I eat, AND I shower every day now!
Oh also, we now swim in our “pool” everyday.
The extreme sunny heat lasted about a month and a half, but now the rainy season has finally began. The heat is the same – actually getting worse – but it is now coupled by occasional rainstorms, which break it up and cool down the burning hot sand. With the onset of the rainy season has come a little adventure, heres the story.
Apparently there are eleven giant towers in Kavango, which are connected to all other electrical poles/wires that go out into the rest of the region. The towers are anchored by copper bolts. The copper is valuable and a rare commodity to people here, so some people have been slowly stealing the copper bolts that hold up the towers. I guess it happened over a period of months, so no one noticed it. But when the first rainstorm came, ten out of the eleven towers fell down almost at once. Our whole region immediately lost all power and water.
So on Sunday, sans electricity, Matt and I decided to head to the Rundu Beach and were shocked to find the WHOLE town there. Apparently everyone decided to take this break from life as an opportunity to have a full out rager on the beach, so obviously we joined in. We drank some wine, found a bunch of our Namibian friends, and had a picnic on the rocks. Then Matt and I swam across to the other side of the river and found ourselves on the edge of a field in the face of a toothless farmer who was growing some mysterious drug. So after uttering the only Nyemba greeting we know, we left the man and made our way back across the river. That’s when the best moment of the day happened. I guess I was swimming really slowly/awkwardly because all of a sudden, a half naked Namibian woman emerged out of nowhere, grabbed my thighs and started dragging me to shore as if I was drowning. My feet were planted on her naked breasts and she awkwardly grabbed my upper thigh area, pushing me to shore. Meanwhile Matt is just laughing hysterically from the deep end. As soon as I was deposited safely on the shore, the naked woman immediatly dove underwater and swam away like a mermaid. It was one of my most memorable moments in Nam so far.
Later that day, Peace Corps decided to evacuate us from our sites. Most people in my group had no water or food, and no access to communication – so Peace Corps decided it was best to get us all together where they could keep track of us. So on Monday and Tuesday, 23 of us got to have a mini camping vacation on the river. We spent most of it playing games, taking walks, and reading books on the dock in the river. It was such a fun break from life that we were all sad when the power unexpectedly came back last night and we had to return to site.
It is interesting to experience how Namibians react in this kind of emergency. I know that in the U.S., a complete water AND electricity outage for three days would cause massive panic. What can we do if we have no water running clean from our taps? We’d sit there dumbfounded. It was cool to see how the Namibians – even the ones who normally have running water -immediately knew how to fetch water from the river, boil it and pound some porridge for dinner. The self sufficiency was impressive, and I felt pride in my country. I was even surprised how quickly NamPower pulled themselves together fast enough to repair eleven towers in 3 days. Its a nice feeling when you live in the developing world and can still be pleasantly surprised.
Also, SHOUT OUT TO MY SISTER LAUREN! Happy birthday
It’s time to catch you up with the latest going-ons round these parts.
So about a month ago, I launched a campaign at the Center called: “Work Hard. Play Hard.” It seems like a pretty basic concept for us Americans, but my kids had never heard of it before. They’re constantly berated by parents and teachers to “work harder”, “stop walking around like the cattle”, “pull up your socks’, etc. But never are the kids encouraged to balance this with playing; and though it can’t be argued that they play a ridiculous amount of soccer, sometimes they almost feel like they’re breaking the rules by doing so.
Anyway, so I launched this campaign. And the kids became obsessed. They constantly referenced our slogan, and one kid even found a song online called “Work Hard, Play Hard”, and played it at the center incessantly. We made two posters – each one dedicated to either working or playing – and checked off the names of the learners who came to participate in either one of those activities. Then, we divided them up into two teams (are you following this?) and kept track of their work hard and play hard points. This all culminated in a much-anticipated CENTER OLYMPICS, in which each team started with the number of points we had calculated, and then competed in athletic activities all day. The winning team would be the one whose total number of points from Work Hard/Play Hard AND the all-day Olympics exceeded the other.
It sounds simple, but here was the tricky part. I had no idea the number of kids that would show up (could be anywhere from fifteen to one hundred and fifty); they are all different ages with different English levels (how could we include everyone, or pick and choose who could compete without total chaos?), and I had to keep track of points the entire day, with kids arguing and fighting about who was winning, etc. So I was a little nervous.
But don’t worry! It was pulled together (almost) seamlessly. About 120 kids (ages 5-18) came, we suited them up with a colored bandana, and launched the Olympics. We started out with a game of soccer, played by the older boys. Then we did three-legged races, which was good because we could match competitors by size on each team, and anyone could participate. Then we continued with netball by the older girls, and an egg-and-spoon race. That was SO funny because the kids had never seen that game, and were so confused why we would risk breaking a whole egg – a valuable source of protein – for a 30 second race. But they had an absolute blast, and I turned a blind eye when the leftover eggs were pocketed. Finally, after hours of playing in the hot sun, I brought out two buckets of water balloons, hoping to host one more game in which we could see how far the red and blue teams could pass their respective water balloons down a long line. Only that lasted for about three minutes before I chucked a water balloon at a learner and started an all-out war. It was a perfect end to a very long and crazy day. Want to see pictures?
So, predictably, the longer I’m here, the less I post on my blog. Which is lame because since we last spoke, I’ve hung out with cheetahs and leopards, visited one of the Seven Wonders of the World, bungee jumped, and almost got attacked by a hippo. And I promise I didn’t skip any (okay, many) days of work. But I’m already over all of that. And though I’m here to talk about my BIRTHDAY, I won’t deprive you of a little picture preview of my conquests.
Okay, but back to the birthday. Some would say that throwing a birthday party for yourself is probably Top 2 of the Most Embarrassing Things You Can Do (after posting details of your private sex life on a public blog. oops.). BUT can I give you my excuse that my only friends are poor/orphaned children? Maybe that’s equally embarrassing, though.
So here’s what it’s like throwing a party for two hundred people in a small village. First we woke up to defrost the meat. Picture this: fetching water in ginormous bowls on your head, spilling meat juice everywhere, dogs following you around trying to get a taste. And then sitting on the ground in the sand, wind blowing, while you try to chop the meat. And then of course you have to rinse off the sand particles so as to have minimal crunch and teeth-breaking. Meanwhile several chickens are (seemingly) innocently plucking around, and then – lightening fast – stealing the defrosted chunks of their dead brothers as soon as your back is turned.
Then comes the fire making (that was seamless, thank God) and skewering. I think we made a total of 250 kebab skewers, complete with beef, chicken, tomatoes, onions, peppers and apples. The piercing and chopping took several hours. Then we coupled that with some friend chicken legs, Caesar salad, and pasta – and we felt like we were back in America having a full on feast.
When the kids arrived, I decided to disperse balloons, which started a full-out riot. I think anytime you give away free stuff to kids, you have to know you’re entering a war zone. But the balloons made the party way more colorful and festive and periodically interrupted by of a loud burst or two. I also caught some of the kids bartering their balloons for maguni oranges, so Vitamin C?
Thankfully some teachers from my school arrived shortly thereafter to help cook, so I was free to run around with the kids and push tables together so we could have a dance party. That was by far the best part, because everyone danced together – even the kids from my Grade 9 class (who normally are too cool to interact with the small kids) joined in. AND I got to separate some couples who were grinding/making out/sitting on each other’s laps. A perfect initiation into the 24th year of my life. I feel like such an adult.
I was afraid that we wouldn’t have enough cake to feed 200+ mouths, but then Matt presented it me and it was HUGE. Still the pieces were about 2 square inches, but that worked out because then we had enough left over to throw into the screaming throng of children, to be caught and shoved into their mouths without any qualms.
Then of course the food was a total hit. And we spent the rest of the afternoon dancing! So I’d say it was probably the best birthday of my life. I’ve never been surrounded by THAT many people that I love, with so much joy and energy.
The only hiccup was this: the Committee of the center came to help cook; and though we were so grateful for their help, we couldn’t help but notice that they were hording exorbitant amounts of food in a secret room. And by “couldn’t help but notice”, I mean that we found a ton of heaping plates underneath rice bags and inside water-fetching buckets. Then we had to scold the adults like they were children, and then kick them out of the kitchen so they could be closely monitored. It was frustrating because I spent a good amount of money to spoil my kids, who rarely get vegetables or meat, and many of the children didn’t even get to eat as a result of the selfishness of the adults. Meanwhile, Matt, Giovanna and I didn’t get one taste of the food we spent all day cooking, for fear that we would further rob the kids of the meal. BUT no matter, we learned our lesson: that adults aren’t inherently more selfless than children. And while the adults spent the rest of the day in a little gossip huddle, the children laughed it off and danced for two more hours with big smiles on their faces. Ah, the things we can learn from children!