So I wish my experience was such that I would only blog about cheerful things like chickens and puppies (oh wait, I kinda do…). But the reality is not so unconditionally joyous – and at some points I feel the need to share with you the more shocking aspects of life here. This is one of them so get ready.
It happened when I was grading this week’s essay prompt: “If Only I Would Have Listened”. Though there were no other guidelines on the subject of the essay, coincidentally almost all of them dealt with rape and (informal) prostitution. I decided to type them all here. They might seem impersonal to you, but if that’s the case, keep in mind that these were written by my Grade 9 students – all kids that live in my village and I see everyday.
“Last week on Saturday we went to a bar called The System, but there is no under 18 getting in so we asked a boy to buy for us alcohol.
When it was 21:00 one boy came to our group and said ‘I want one girl from your group to be my girlfriend’. Then one of my friends said, ‘If you want one of our school friends, you have to supply for us alcohol before you will take her to be your lover.’
So when he went to buy alcohol my friend said, ‘Let’s go home so we will be gone before he comes back,’ but I refused. When he came back he said, ‘I want this one;’ then I refused, so that boy he started beating me until people ran and took me away. My one friend said, ‘I told you we should have gone home but you refused.’ And I said ‘I should have listened.'”
“Last week Friday me and my friend we went out to a bar to look for some girls. Then one girl came to me to ask me to buy for her a sweet. Then I said ‘No problem just wait for me here.’ After that I come out to propose to that girl. Then she accepts me to enjoy the whole night.
After one week one of my friends came to me to tell me that ‘the girl you proposed to that night is pregnant and that girl is very young to you, you raped her from now you’re going to spend your life in jail.’
Then I asked myself, why should I done this stupid thing? But you begged me to not go out with a group of school friends now I pregnated a young girl such as that one.”
“Last month we went with my school friends to the bar at Sauyemwa. I was with my friends and my sister. One friend of my sister was a girl and she asked me, ‘do you drink also?’ Then I said ‘no’. When my sister saw me walking with them she started calling me and I said, ‘I’m going with them,’ then one guy came to me and said ‘I want to go with you’ and I said ‘no’. The boy said, ‘if you say no, I will do what I want with you, girl.’ Then I said ‘Okay we can go then.’ We went to his friends house to sleep we started to do what that boy want to me. When we were finished he called his friend again to come to me and we slept again.
If I could have listened to me friend maybe this would not have happened to me!!”
“Two weeks ago I was with my friend who does not listen to what her parents are talking. In the afternoon she was in a group of her friends and they were going to a bar I asked my friend “Where are you going with those people who are drunkar?”
The sun set and they were meeting with some crazy guy who wanted to drink the alcohol. That guy, when he saw my friend then they bought a bottle of beer. They drunk the bottle and my best friend she still needed some alcohol. The guy bought her more then she drunk.a
Then that guy took her at some small shrubs and raped her. When she was feeling pain she took a bottle and threw it at the man who raped her and that man died there. When the family of the boy came they also decided that she should die also.
In the prison she started thinking, ‘If I could have listened to what my friends and parents were talking maybe I could not done this.’”
“Last month my school friend and I went out to the town of Rundu. My friend told me, don’t go out this night because you are drunk and these boys they are going to do to you bad things and it’s your first time out of the village.
Then I was not even listening to what she was saying. One of these guys that I was with started saying, ‘Lets go to my house because I see that you are drunk and you can not even want to move.’ Then I started saying, ‘Its okay lets go to your house.’
You know that a boy, if you are drunk and he is not drunk, do you think that he will feel pity for you? I was with that boy and I fell pregnant. A boy was not even using a condom and I was not knew when I was with him in the house.
At the end of the day I fell pregnant a baby without his father until now. If I could have listened to my friend all of this maybe could not have happened. Now I am suffering alone.”
“One of my friends, I told him that, ‘don’t go to the shebeen (bar) during nighttime’ but he did not listen to me. When he was socializing then he drank alcohol then he raped a young girl of 13 years old in the village.
My friend when he went to the shabeen during nighttime he lost self control so he raped a young girl of 13. Then my friend is arrested in the jail because you are not allowed to do that in the rule of Namibia.”
“One night I went out with a group of school friends. My best friend begged me that I must not go there but I did not listen.
At the bar we found lots of men and one of them proposed to my group member and the girl accepted the man. When the girl danced with the man she put her hand in his pocket and she took the money in his pocket. After dancing, the man and the girl went outside. From then the girl dodged the man and then she ran away home.
We waited a moment and she did not come back. Then the man came back and asked me if I saw my friend, and I said, ‘No I did not see her’. That man he started to beat us so that we would go call her back. Then he took out a knife and stabbed me in the eye. Until now I am only having one eye. Also he raped me and I got a disease. If only I would have listened!”
So I may or may not be excessive with my videos. But this one was actually made by my Grade 9 class. The original purpose was to make it for my family at home, to thank them for donating a group of Harry Potter books, and to give them a taste of what school life is like. In the end, I thought I’d share it with the world beyond my family. As most of the students have never seen/used a video camera, they really had fun with it. The result was that much of their footage was of the ground, or really shaky. But I made due with what they came up with and here’s the final result. (Sorry that it’s so long!)
As I recently explained to you, Blog Friend, I’m really starting to get used to my life here. And last night as I was outside making my fire to cook dinner, I realized that I have reached a point where I don’t constantly wonder at the strangeness of it.
I must admit, though, I’m not TOTALLY accustomed – evidenced by the recent fire-making experience. It was my first fire to make alone, and it took me a full hour to produce a fire that was flickering between a feeble flame and a pile of glowing embers. I was so hungry and frustrated that I took my soup off when it was still a watery mush with un-dissolved particles. Then, to my shame, my brother Katoko came to the very same fire to make his food, deftly rearranged the logs and within five minutes had a roaring inferno. I was too tired to give him a jealous eye roll, but I did manage a blank stare of puzzlement.
But that brings me to the subject of this post: weird things that don’t seem weird anymore.
1) Eating. Obviously there’s the cooking on the fire part. Then there’s what we eat – my host mom’s favorite part of the chicken is its feet. But also we eat exclusively with our hands. Specifically the right one, as the left one is used to wipe our butts when there’s no spare newspaper (and by “our” I mean “their”, as I’m not badass enough to give up my toilet paper). After dinner, this is how we wash dishes. We reach down, grab a handful of dirt/sand, and rub it all over the plates to get the porridge particles off.
2) Telling time. I only know of one person that has a watch here. So when I want to have a meeting with the children, I tell them the day, and then I reach my hand out and indicate the point in the sky at which the sun should be when they come. They call it “Africa Time”. I’ll never forget the moment in training, when a Namibian trainer justified their being late to everything with the explanation of: “well it’s because we have to ride donkeys, so there’s really no way we can be on time” to which we responded “well can’t you just account for the fact that donkeys are slow and leave earlier?” They just blinked at us.
3) Witches. In the absence of medical or scientific explanations for everything, often misfortunes are blamed on “witches”. There are several alleged witches in my community, and they are supposedly responsible for countless murders, sicknesses, nightmares, accidents, etc. When someone is sick, it’s almost always blamed on being “witched”. When I ask the children about the witches’ motivation for such acts, they say “they’re jealous because my family has more cattle”, or “it’s because my girlfriend is hotter than his, so he hired a witch”. Any argument on my part is responded with a “just you wait – you’ll believe”, or a story about decapitated heads that were posted outside the church across the street from my house. And when I drew a picture of a witch on the board with a pointy hat, wart, and broomstick, my class laughed out loud at how ridiculous I was being.
4) Rain. People are so afraid of it! I guess it’s not that weird, but the number of times that a villager will look up at the sky and exclaim, “the rain is coming!” (Mvuhra nza wiza!) daily, is astonishing.
5) Boobs. They’re literally everywhere. Usually it’s just one, popping (or hanging) out the side of shirt in anticipation of a hungry baby. But you can’t escape them. Yet, if I hang my underwear out to dry outside my room, I’m committing a privacy faux pas.
6) Constipation. That and diarrhea (they call it a “running stomach”) are almost a daily occurrence here. But when a baby has it, the solution is the following: Fill a turkey baster with water and squirt it up the baby’s butt, then wait for the watery goo to ooze out onto the sand. Then bury it. Not the baby, you sicko! The watery goo…
In my first week of school, a fellow teacher told me a shocking story: A few years ago, an Indian volunteer was stationed in Caprivi (an area along the river with a lot of wild animals), and as he was out on his morning run, he got eaten by a lion. Just like that. He had said goodbye to his family in India – ready for an African adventure – and then got eaten by a lion. My jaw dropped at the climax of this story, and it stayed that way as Mr. Mbozi continued with anecdotes about the thorny fences the villagers must construct to protect their homes, and that nobody even ventures out at night for fear of being eaten. I never thought this actually happened! I truly thought that animals in Africa stayed away from people; that yes, you shouldn’t wander around in the bush alone, but that the likelihood of being eaten was about the same as by a shark – like a million to one. I think, more than the story itself, I was shocked by the nonchalant way Mr. Mbozi discussed it.
Then recently I had the privilege of playing a double in the filming of a German show. The crew was small, so I worked pretty closely with the director and his new assistant. “New” being the key word; and it didn’t take me long to learn the reason for the recent staff change. The director’s prior assistant had come to Namibia (from Germany) several months earlier to set up some scenes for the movie, and as she and the crew were out filming in the bush, she was eaten by a cheetah. Oh. Right. I kinda wanted to laugh, as it seemed so rediculous. But then I saw the face of her boss – looking at the floor, avoiding the subject. He was freshly distraught by the memory of it. And then my co-double chimed in between puffs of her cigarette. One day as she sat by the river, she heard the screams of a man as he got ripped in half by a crocodile. Jeez!! Still, the show must go on (…too soon?).
It wasn’t until I received this text on Wednesday – and didn’t even blink an eye upon reading it –that I realized I might be officially immune to the shock of these stories: “Hey Sydney, are you free tomorrow? We are doing a bit of a PR stunt. It sounds grim but someone was trampled by a hippo today, and we are tasked with looking for the body. We won’t find it as the body won’t surface for three days so it will just be a trip on the river. If you are free we can pick you up on the way. If it’s a bit too morbid then perhaps another time…” My response? “That sounds fun, but sadly I have a meeting.” Just another day in Nam.
PS. If you’re worried about my safety at this moment, don’t. Though my host mom did kill a black mamba on my doorstep, there are no other dangerous animals near me. My animal encounters are almost exclusively limited to goats, chicken and cattle. Still, whether you’re safe in your living room in America, or out in the bushes in Africa, it never hurts to be cautious. And above all, to be grateful for every day that we’re blessed enough to be alive and kicking.
It’s getting harder to write on the blog, now, as the things that were unusual/exciting before are now just normal. I think that’s a good thing though. Instead of spending all my time trying to learn names, I’m now trying to master the sand-and-rock game that we always play (still have yet to win), and observing how quickly my little sisters are growing up. The four year old, Eliza, just decided this week that she feels comfortable trying English. I think she has been quietly observing me but keeping her knowledge a secret – now finally she has decided to demonstrate her perfect imitation of my accent in the form of complete sentences. The littlest one, Eveline, was a tiny baby when I met her, and now she’s learning to walk! That’s crazy to me. Also she calls me “Mama” and cries when anyone else holds her.
One thing that everyone says here, is “In Africa We Share”. I like that phrase way more than the more-pessimistic-seeming “This is Africa”. But I really feel like I’m beginning to understand it. The annoying parts are that people are constantly asking for money or food – but the downsides are FAR outweighed by the rewards. Anytime any child has food, they share it with everyone. Which I think is just such a wonderful lesson for people to learn – that even when having a bag of chips is a prized rarity, you still only get a quarter of the bag, and the rest is freely distributed. I feel wonderfully blessed to witness such selfless sharing. And child-rearing? Not totally up to the parents. Yesterday I happened to be holding a baby (named “Lee-Boy” Hm.), and was therefore expected to take responsibility over feeding him, and then hosting him on my shoulder for a nap. This wasn’t a verbal request, but an automatic expectation. And my laundry is never completed by me alone. Instead Eliza and her gaggle of 3 and 4 year old friends show up to help with smaller items like my underwear (no secrets in the village, eh?). Eliza walks around the perimeter of the scene, supervising and personally inspecting each article of clothing before it can be approved for the drying rack.
Other than that everything has been normal! Though I did get to play as a double for a nun in a German show (Un Himmels Villen) for a whole week, and I had a run-in with a hippo on the river. We were 6 feet away from each other and had an eye contact moment before the boat was whisked away to safer waters.