Here’s what happened. I jumped right into the term by assigning speeches to my English class and a giving a quiz on multiplication to my Math class. My standards were set a little high, though, because the eighth graders didn’t even know the 2 Times Table, and only 2 out of 38 9th graders showed up with their speech prepared… oops! BUT instead of being discouraged, I told them they had to step up their game in my class… Gone are the days of slacking, Sharukwe Combined School! Many of the students have approached me after class with fears that I will “kill them in English”, but I really think that so far I’m finding the right balance between working hard and having fun in class. Today in Math we listened to American music while we made flashcards with colored markers, and in English we sang songs before the speeches.
It seems weird that I went straight from being a student – all too often a slacker – to a serious teacher. When I walk into a classroom and ask them how they are, they all have to stand up and say “We are fine, and how are you, Miss Sydney?” – kinda throws me off but it’s better than original version in which they called me “Madam”. Then I tell them to tuck in their shirts and get their notebooks out. Weird.
Funny questions of the week:
1) “Is Obama president of South America too? Or is it just North America.”
2) “How did Michael Jackson die?” (actually I get this question almost every day. Does anyone know the real answer?)
3) “Do you think if I stuck my foot in the fire I would turn white like you?”
4) And finally, “Is the earth shaped like a circle or a diamond?”
And now an unrelated quip about my life in Nam. In the U.S. I never had any problems sleeping; as soon as my head hit the pillow I feel asleep and it lasted until my alarm went off the next morning. But here, most likely a result of the malaria medicine Mefoquin (side effects include hallucinations), I wake up in the middle of the night with freakishly real nightmares of giant insects. The first one I woke up to was a six-legged beast crawling up my wall. Even though it was at least 4 feet long and hairy, I was absolutely convinced it was real. Then when I visited Ndiyona, both nights I had hallucinations of cockroaches climbing all over the wall. Last weekend it was a giant spider hovering above my head, which was so close that I had to duck under it to get out of bed and grab my flashlight. The weirdest part is that the hallucinations are so realistic, that I wake up with a start – heart racing – absolutely convinced that the creatures are there. No matter how many times I reassure myself that they are not, I almost always have to turn on the light, and sit – eyes wide – for a half hour before I can resume sleep. Last time I was in Rundu, I woke up next to Matt, grabbed his hand without saying a word and dragged him (still sleeping) to the other side of the room so we could examine the corner for giant ants. Starting to know what it feels like to go crazy.
I have been videotaping some of the daily activities that go on at the center. I put them all together, but it’s really short and FAR from being complete (as there are a lot more activities to be added…). So by the end of the year I’m hoping to have a lot more to show you. But I figured I’d post the working project so you can get a little taste.
This week was my first week as a real teacher! I’m teaching Grade 8 Math and Grade 9 English. As it’s my secondary project, it is only 8 classes a week, but it’s such a great way to get out of the center and into the community. So far all we’ve done is go over class rules and a little multiplication review, BUT it has been going well. The kids reported that they love when I teach, but the main reason is that they like to make fun of my “deep” English accent. But hey, as long as they’re paying attention, right?
Meanwhile, back at the Center, we’re starting the school year with a lot energy and excitement. Holding study/homework sessions for two hours a day. About 50 percent of the kids failed last year so let me state on record that my goal is REALLY improve the rate this year. I think I’m up to the challenge!
Also, I realized that – while I have posted several pictures of my site on this here blog – they don’t really show the full picture. Then when my mother told me that she imagined the Center as a large building (it’s not), I knew I had to do something about this little issue. So I took a really quick (3 minute) walking tour of my site. Aaaaaand here it is!
Is it, A) intimidating or, B) inspiring, when you go on a run and your partners are eleven year old malnourished boys with no shoes?
…But it’s not my fault I live in Africa and haven’t had internet in a month!
Also, am I allowed to blog about things unrelated to my life in Namibia? I’m going to say yes. First – thank you Miss Charlotte Mayme – I’m obsessed with this song.
Second, someone asked me to name the three things I miss most about the U.S… Any guesses? I said:
1) Chipotle (Obviously).
2) People that I love (Of course).
3) Shopping (Huh? Even more than hot showers?).
Remembering my mother and her irritating quote in our last Christmas card: “Sydney is joining the Peace Corps and I don’t know what she’ll do without Marc Jacobs”… I hate to fulfill her prophesy. Fine, Mom! I miss shopping. But who says a girl can’t go 32 days without shaving her armpits and still want to look good? So today I bought some overall shorts and a summer dress, and spent the last two hours reading about my new obsession: Tavi Gevison. Check her out.
Also – if anyone has extra Vogues/InStyles laying around (and can I add to that list home decorating magazines?) PLEASE send them along (Sydney Neuschel/U.S. Peace Corps/PO Box 114/Rundu, Namibia). And I promise this will be my last post for a while…
I forgot to tell you something yesterday, World. Even though vacation was amazing, and I was so excited to come back… I gotta say I’m nervous about the transition. When I first came to Namibia, I had no expectations – just a small case of nerves and a whole lot of adventurous spirit. So though it was hard to say goodbye to America, I think I was ready. But now, I’ve just come from a whole month only interacting with Americans – the same ones 24 hours a day. And I got used to it. But starting tomorrow, I will be totally alone… the sole American in a sea of Rukwangali and Nyemba speakers. It makes me feel like I’m moving to Namibia all over again. On top of the fact that I have to start being a responsible teacher/authority figure? AND create a whole education program from scratch and monitor 109 children? So it hit me that this new transition might be a lot harder than the first.
…BUT THEN I reminded myself how amazing the kids are; their excitement when I came back to site , and their eagerness to tell me that they passed their final exams. I flipped through pictures to get myself in the mood and I came across this little video of them goofing around/singing/dancing. I thought I’d share it with you 🙂
After an amazing month-long vacation on the southern coast of Namibia, I’m finally back in Kavango! If it seemed like a whole separate world before, now the disparity is even greater. Since I left, my region went from One-Giant-Sand-Trap to a beautiful green paradise. Thank you rainy season! But with that change came some awkward moments…
1) First I got stung by a two-inch wasp, and the sting made my whole left arm fall asleep. Then,
2) We walked into Matt’s new house and it was floor-to-ceiling infested with cockroaches. I probably killed 562 of them, and was so scarred that I woke up two nights in a row with nightmares of giant bugs all over my body.
3) We also cooked on a (cockroach-infested) electric stove, so when the power went out we ate salami tacos…
4) With a hanger as our only utensil. We also used the dog’s bowl as our plate.
But it feels SO GREAT to be back. I didn’t realize how attached I was to Kavango… from the random wandering goats to the huts and the rain. It’s just so different from the more developed, dry, Afrikaans-influenced south.
Also I have a new dog! We hitchhiked across the whole country together (14 different cars in 3 days!) and he is perfect. Well-behaved, loving, and so attached that he doesn’t need a leash. Then I brought him to my site and – even though I had a name picked out – the boys overrode me and dubbed him “George”. So there you go…
On our first day, George and I walked into my room and there was a chicken. Pooping on my bed. So as I was yelling at the top of my lungs, the chicken starts flying around in circles, I just cover my face, and George completely took over… He chased it out of my room, cornered it and caught it in his mouth outside the coop. I was so proud of how smart he was! The only problem is that now George thinks he’s supposed to catch chickens. And at my house when dogs kill chickens, they don’t last very long.
New project: teach George not to kill chickens.
But now I have to backtrack to the past month, aka our VACATION!
Leg 1: Training
The Core 34 congregated at a lodge in the mountains near Windhoek to finish training, share stories about site, and – in some cases – recover from a month of not speaking to anyone. It was really nice to spend time with each other, so we made the most of it by holding several theme parties, including Doppleganger and Toga!
Leg 2: Swakopmund
Then we all packed our bags and headed to a town on the coast called Swakopmund, where we crammed 38 people into two bungalows and a total of 12 twin beds. It was really fun, though, because we got to spend a lot of time bonding together in close quarters without having to worry about waking up for training. Also we ate KFC every day and Mexican food every night, so really it was perfect. On top of the fact that there was a BEACH!
And then – best part – we went sand-boarding in the beautiful Namib Desert, which hosts the tallest sand dunes in the world. Not only was it absolutely gorgeous, it was a total blast to go down.
Then six of us went SKYDIVING. So I got to cross one major thing off my bucket list.
So obviously THAT was awesome.
Leg 3: Ludaritz
Afterwards, 11 of us headed even more south – to the most isolated town in Namibia – called Ludaritz. We stayed at Claire’s lovely house on the ocean, and spent time inventing ways to entertain ourselves. Best part was appointing daily “Fun Czars” whose sole purpose all day was to facilitate fun. So naturally we did scavenger hunts, song-writing competitions, Project Runway renditions, obstacle courses, etc. Also we ate liver-flavored dog food. Then on Christmas we woke up to 11 beautiful stockings with our names on them containing American candy, thanks to Claire’s amazing mom! We exchanged Secret Santa gifts, went to Christmas brunch on the ocean, and watched Miracle on 34th Street. It was the perfect second-best to being with the fam in Wilmette…
So clearly it was the perfect break (I almost forgot that I was in the Peace Corps!). But now it’s back to the grindstone… School starts on Tuesday. Preparations are underway. People are stressed. Hotels are closed. No more notebooks left at the Nam equivalent of “Office Max”. Children are running rampant. I’ll keep you updated on the chaos that will undoubtedly ensue. In the meantime, much love and peace. Also happy new year!