Sunday, November 21, 2010

The last post in Namibia?

I officially have my flight home booked and I will arrive at Seatac airport at 10:51 am on December 16th!!! I doubt I'll be coming to town again so quite probably this will be the last post until I get home. Appropriately, here are some goodbye pictures:

Johannes and Bonifatius both in grade 8

Grade 7 girls: Johanna, Auguste, Ingrid, Linda, Emma

Alina and Justina both in grade 8

Sir at his desk in the library. Note the M.C. Escher calendar pages on the wall, my chess set (I've been studying so Grant and Evan watch out!), the completed colorful puzzle (another donation), and the mishmash of books and papers strewn about.

Mr. Percy Marumani is the English teacher for Grade 8, 9, and 10. He speaks the best English out of all the teachers (besides me), and has been a great friend for the last two years.

Meme Emilia in her flashy new dress courtesy of yours truly.

America! Angula, Meme Emilia, and Mwiingona holding up their omapandela

The grade 7 class photo. Top to bottom left to right with my favorites in bold: Mr. Simeon Musilika (teacher for English and Social Studies), Frans, Titus, Monica, Hertha, Emma, Johanna, Leticia, Genesia, Peneyambeko, Mr. Marumani, Ingrid, Bertha, Auguste, Johanna, Vistorina, Hilma, Ndasilohenda, Lukresia, Emma, Sir Paka, Frans, Fanuel, Selestino, Simeon, Japhet, Ileni, Leonard, Joseph, Timoteus, Linda

Grade 7 again but this time 'funny style'

The grade 8 class photo. Top to bottom left to right with my favorites in bold: Sir Paka, Junias, Titus, Malakia, Sakaria, Uushona, Wilbard, Petrus, Iipuleni, Tomas, Sir Marumani, Kaarina, Sylvia, Tusnelde, Magano, Alina, Justina, Helvi, Mwiingona, Rautia, Ester, Sylvia, Martin, Ndili, Andreas, Johannes, Abner, Sem, Bonifatius, Kashongwi, Jason

The grade 9 class photo. Top to bottom left to right with my favorites in bold: Sir Marumani, Rauna, Erastus, Nepando, Andreas, Aino, Alweendo, Soini, Vendelinus, Sir Paka, Susana, Leta, Aina, Gertrude, Erica, Enguwa, Rosalia, Ndakulilwa, Evelina, Rautia, Maria, Simson, Marti, Menas, Festus, Markus, Alfeus, Hosea, Lukas

Thursday was the last day of teaching and actually there was no teaching because I declared Thursday to be picture day! I rigged up a tower of desks for a platform for some self-timer shots and arranged each class so we would all fit in the picture. We did three photos as a group with two formal smiling shots (to increase the chances of getting a quality picture) and the third one funny style. Then we all went to the library for individual portraits. I decided since these kids don't have much to begin with, don't get many presents, and absolutely love photos, that I would give them all two photos: a class picture and also a self portrait. They were pretty happy when I told them and in return I am asking them all to sign in my memory book a la high school yearbooks. And I am making sure they put their full name: first name, surname, oshiwambo name, and nickname. For example:

Bonifatius, Japhet, Dimba, Rooney Boy (after famous soccer star Wayne Rooney)

Also for my 'favorites' I am giving them the photos like the ones I posted above where they are standing with me. But that will be a surprise for them on the last day of school! Exams started on Monday and they take the math exam on December 2nd. After that I have to wade through piles and piles of papers that need grading and then I say goodbye to everyone, head down to Windhoek, have my exit interview, close my bank account, and get on the plane! Wow! December 16th I will be back home after 26 months away and I cannot wait for the reunion with friends and family, snowboarding in snowy forests, cold damp drizzly walks with the dogs, drinking eggnog by the fire, Christmas!, Thai food feasts, fast internet, hot showers, Canadian islands, the Pacific Northwest, cuddling up on the couch with my cat and watching movies, playing the Wii, riding my bike, playing some pickup soccer/frisbee, and generally enjoying America.

Until then,

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Village Variety

Just call me Link! (the star of the Nintendo Zelda series) Hunting is a favorite pastime of village boys and I often see them carrying around bows and arrows made from wood scraps and various other bits and pieces. Another popular method is to send out the dogs to flush out the rabbits and then a knotty wood club is employed with a surprisingly high success rate.

The mammoth cactus plant on the neighboring homestead. Meme told me the English word for the fruits was ‘opickalipah.’ It didn’t ring a bell at first but I eventually figured out she meant ‘Prickly Pear’ like the one from the famous Disney Jungle Book song. I don’t know how indigenous it is because they are not so common but there is a word for it in Oshiwambo: efauena.

The fruit is covered with those bumps and extremely small hairs and give your hands quite a prickling if you don’t first soak it in water and rub them off. Inside is the seedy pulp which is very sweet and tasty. You can see a few unripe fruits at the tippy top of the plant. The others were all snatched up by the kids who consider anything remotely sweet an utterly mesmerizing delicacy.

I stumbled upon these small plasticky old toys that Uncle Tom gave me in my ‘monkey basket.’ I gave them to the kids and literally within 5 minutes after this picture, they had ripped out the inside stuffing and bitten holes in two of the noses. Most toys do not survive long in Africa. For supporting evidence to this claim, see also the countless (20+) soccer balls that have popped on thorns.

Sunrise with an early appearance of clouds. But it’s just a tease. There won’t be rain for another month I bet and that will make at least six months with no precipitation. Did I mention that these days it is regularly pushing 100 degrees?

Me and our neighbor Meme Berita also secretly known as Bad-Eye Meme. She made me that sweet little basket and says it’s where I can keep my money. So in return I’m printing her this picture and a couple others. Such nice people in this village!

Here is some genius engineering. The kids are very resourceful with whatever scraps they find and whip up these fantastic contraptions. This car even has a workable steering wheel! I’ve seen a couple different steering mechanisms and this one utilizes some thin rubber strips connected to the wheels which are made out of old pop cans.

Here’s Egumbo preparing for the Grand Prix. I don’t know who actually made this car but he borrowed it for the week.

Egumbo always looks so innocent but the next day he burnt the fence down! He and some other kid were playing some make-believe game with matches and the fire got out of control and spread and consumed a huge swath of the wooden fence. And what did they do? They just ran away! But luckily some neighbors saw the flames and came running to help put it out with buckets of water. Now there is a big black charred area and the goats have an easy escape. Meme and other altruistic villagers will have to hack down some mopane trees to get poles to repair it.

This is Leta and Aina who are both in grade 9. Leta used to be Retta according to the school roster. But she kept writing ‘Leta’ on all her papers. So I finally asked her and apparently they made a mistake on her birth certificate. Anyway, she is one of my smartest and most creative learners but unfortunately she is still so reserved with me. I try to initiate as much conversation with her and when I do her English is great! So one day I saw this thing on her desk and asked her what it was and she told me it was a stethoscope. More genius innovative creativity: some bits of foam stuck onto the ends of an old piece of wire. I had to get a picture of Doctor Leta and Aina, her best friend, agreed to be the patient. The next week she brought her homework for me to check and also in the book (I think she secretly wanted me to see it) was a model bird made from cardboard, colored paper, and chicken feathers! I’ll sure miss her.

Here is grade 9 taking a quiz on the Cartesian Plane. Leta is in the pink jacket. She got a 9 out of 10.

Here is grade 8 holding up their dry-erase boards. These and a bunch of markers were graciously donated by a friend and they helped immensely when teaching coordinates, area, perimeter, and countless other topics so here’s a huge thank you!!

This is the aftermath of a lesson on probability that I taught to grade 10. Isn’t my handwriting and organization superb?

Here’s grade 7 playing multiplication bingo, another awesome donation from a friend! They sent over a whole set of boards, counters, and tiles for the announcer and it has been a huge hit with all the grades.


Any guesses? What you are seeing is a pot of boiled cow skin being served up for an afternoon snack! In other words, spiced leather! It’s a common item sold at the village cuca shops. One piece cost N$1. I tried two bites and that was enough. A bit like eating sautéed slug.

Meme chowing down

Tate Ananias the bike guy! He’s about 80 years old I think but still rides his bike everywhere and has the best laugh ever.

With the lack of rain, all the wells (or pits dug in the ground) have run dry. There are only a few places left where you can find standing water and they become meccas for all the village cows. Notice that the water is about the color of pencil lead.

This is the water hole. It’s called Omuwandi which is the name of that type of tree which is one of the coolest, tallest, stateliest tree in the village. I’ve read that is called a jackalberry tree in English and it produces some sweet, slightly gritty, plumlike fruit.

Meme and Tate Makwani at his cuca shop – The Namib Straker 02 which you can see is open 7 to 7. It sells nothing but homemade alcoholic drinks.

Here is the other type of cuca shops that is made from mopane poles, palm tree branches, bark ties and other natural materials. This particular shop was built just last week by Meme Emilia herself with some help from the neighbors. I’m not sure what prompted her to enter into the liquor business but now a lot of her time is spent brewing okanyatau, epwaka, tombo, omalovu, which she sells for a dollar or two a cup.

The brewing process: the very pinnacle of cleanliness and sanitation.

Meme handing me a mug of okanyatau which looks and tastes like sour wine infused with barnyard sediments. Actually it’s fairly palatable and I’ve never gotten sick yet.

My desk in my room. Notice the ubiquitous jar of peanut butter, my infallible book of crossword puzzles, and the mega mug of oshikundu.

My parents sent over a bunch of Frisbees and one day I gave them to grade 7 and they went wild. It was complete chaos before I showed them the proper technique and towards the end most were starting to get it although I think they had more fun just flinging them every which way.

Here are some more donations: Yoyos! I certainly have some very generous and compassionate friends and my most sincere thanks go to all of them! The yoyos quickly became favorites, and I’ve taught a number of kids to do the basic up and down and the power throw. They haven’t mastered walking the dog or the around the world but are amazed when I show them my limited skills.

Some grade 5s enjoying puzzles and toys.

Me and my four favorite grade 10 learners. Rautia, Linda, Monica, and Lusia

Grade 7s playing with Rush Hour, yoyos, and Rubik’s Cubes.

Linda contemplates her checkers move against Emma and behind them, Genesia and Timoteus fight over my photo album full of picture of home (they can’t get enough of the picture of me as a 7 year old)

Erika and Ndakulilwa puzzle over the sliding numbers. I don’t think anyone has been able to solve it yet! Except me that is… my best time is under thirty seconds

More yoyo madness. Simson, Martti, Evelina, Aino, Markus, Nepando

The four starlets again. Completely on their own volition they came to sweep out the library and organize all the books and games. “It’s our lucky day!” was their comment after I gave them all a bunch of stickers, candy, and a pen and pencil.

And finally, the Grade 10 class picture. There are a few missing, namely the two girls who got pregnant, one who dropped out last month, and two boys who didn’t want to be in the picture for whatever reason. Top to bottom, left to right: Selma, Hilka, Evelina, Salmi, Hilma, Rautia, Titus, Linda, Olavi, Tomas, Ileka, Sir, Bartholomeus, Solomon, Johanna, Monica, Jacobina, Lusia, Asser, Lempie, Leena, Aino. I printed a copy for all of them

I say goodbye to all the Grade 10 on Monday as it's their last exam of the year. I will probably see the ones that stay in the village occasionally and I do have some plans to go visit their homesteads. For the other grades, there is only a week or so left of formal teaching then the long protracted extremely inefficient exam schedule starts. The school year ends December 9 and then I have a few days left before heading down to the capital and getting on the plane.

Whew! That was a long internet session after a month in the electricity-less village. But a stretch of time like that goes by fast as it is filled with soccer games, village visits, reading, crosswords, and of course, teaching. Speaking of crosswords, I finally took some time to accomplish a longtime goal of constructing my own puzzles and after some seriously difficult word weaving, I have two completed grids with a couple more in the works! I now have to get some snappy clues whipped up and then I'll send them to Will Shortz for his all-important approval.

I'm in town for the weekend catching up on some errands, stocking up on food, and hanging out with some volunteer friends. Time for burritos! Hope you are all well. Prosperity, Puzzles, and Peace. ~ Paka

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The times are trickling

Here's a bit of a recap of the last month or so:

Three awesome Israelis came to visit my homestead via and stayed for two nights with me and my family. It was such a great visit and it was very cool to meet these free like minded travelers. They have plans to come to USA someday so we will meet again.

They cooked us a wonderful meal of fresh pita bread accompanied by Shakshouka!!!

Tillie being lifted by Rom, Meme, Grizzly Adams, Ran, and Lia

After term 2 ended, I went down to Okahandja to meet the new group of Peace Corps volunteers. Good luck to them as they start out on their two year odyssey, I know how they feel! Then it was time for vacation so I made my way up North to Rundu and met up with my Israeli friends again. We drove in their car to Livingstone, Zambia and spent a few days chilling at Victoria Falls. I forgot my juggling balls at the hostel but still managed to get my obligatory juggling picture. I eventually made my way back to Windhoek (they continued on to Malawi) and attended the last Peace Corps function before our Close of Service in December. All the logistics were worked out and I will be getting on the plane home on December 15!

Here is a typical view of what's in the fridge: Lucky Star canned pilchards, Savannah Dry (alcoholic cider), and a freshly caught rabbit in a bag

Nightly dinner scene: the kids covered with dust and smoke and ash, Meme sitting on her blanket cracking jokes, and the porridge-stirring spoon being passed around for everyone to get their licks.

Egumbo climbing the massive termite mound outside our homestead

When I went to Cape Town for the World Cup a very gracious friend-of-a-friend donated some soccer balls for the kids. I can assure you that they are a huge hit!

Donkey Cart 64. See how strong that girl in front is!?!? I could have used one of these on the hike from Epupa to Ruacana!

Me and the local soccer gang before our evening pickup game at the school field. (Me, Nepando, Namindi, Shikongo, Johnny, Biangi, Ileni, Amwaama, Dangi, Evelina [the cutest little girl you've ever seen] and Egumbo)

Sunset as the ball makes its inevitable way towards goal

Tillie with ondunga (palm tree fruit). This is a prime example of how kids look after a day of playing in the dirt and dust.

Meme after finishing her stunning basket. It took about four days of hard work before it was complete

Don't I just look like a drunkard? Actually the jar contains oshikundu (a refreshing slightly alcoholic brew of millet, sugar and accidental ants). And I'm reading Ishmael which I highly recommend.

Top to bottom left to right: Magano, Tusnelde, Sylvia, Bonifatius, and Thomas
I have about a million of these pictures of kids where they are striking some sort of 'cool' pose. This year I started offering to print pictures for kids (one photo is N$4) and they have jumped at the opportunity.
Now it is my last term of teaching at Elamba Combined School! I am busy trying to make sure the Grade tens are prepared for their important exams which determine whether they can continue on with grade 11 and 12. Trying to teach Trigonometry in one week is not so easy. You would not believe how packed the syllabus is and compounding the difficulty is the fact that many of the kids are still having problems with material covered during the previous years (be it that they didn't study enough then or that the teachers didn't teach it). So it has been a struggle but I think/hope that at least half of my kids will pass the math exam which is actually a pretty good percentage compared to most rural schools.
With only two months or so left in Namibia, I am trying to live it up and do as much as I can before I say goodbye. I am taking pictures of everything and anything and trying to get in some last visits to neighbors and learners. I cannot describe how much I will miss my Namibian family and my learners, and will be very sad to leave Elamba, the place that has been my home for the last two years.