Saturday, November 28, 2009

Esiku Lyokupandula

My learners have finished taking their yearend exams and the only thing left to do before I go on vacation is to grade approximately 500 pages of math answers! I'm not very eager to get started but it's not because of the quantity. I'm reluctant to start because marking wrong answer after wrong answer is bound to be depressing and will tell me exactly how ineffective I was at teaching these learners. Judging from their performance on the exams from the previous two terms, it will not be pretty. However, it's not all gloom doom and despair. I might not have been able to make every learner understand how to simplify fractions or how to plot grid coordinates, but there were a few instances that made me feel like my presence here is actually doing some good. A couple of teachers have commented that the learners in grade seven are 'free' with me, meaning that they aren't afraid to come ask me questions and don't hesitate to speak their broken, but improving, English. One example - I was looking at an encyclopedia of the human body with Festus and Hosea and there was an x-ray drawing of a pregnant woman and baby.

Hosea - "But how does the baby eat food?"
Me - "There is a tube called the umbilical cord, like a pipe, that brings food from the mom to the baby. The mom eats and some of the food also goes to the baby."
Festus - "now what happened if I put food here? (pointing to his belly button)"
Me - "(laughing) ah no you cannot eat like that"

Marumani, the English teacher who I like the most, actually said that he wished I could teach English to grade six and seven because the current teachers are not doing a good job and that he could see a definite improvement with the grade sevens who I spend the most time with. Another instance was during after school study when I talked with the learners about the What When Where Why of preparing for exams. I really wanted them to study and do well on their finals so I tried to give them some guidelines about effective studying habits. They seemed interested and were very willing to give some ideas and answers which is a big difference from the start of the year when and were hesitant to participate in class and they couldn't understand my American English (I have since developed a highly Namibian stylized accent). So it was encouraging even though it probably too little too late. This year I don't think I did as much as I could. I plead guilty with the excuse that I was trying to find my feet as a first time teacher, but now that I have developed my teaching style and know my learners next year I have no excuse. I'm writing it here for everyone to see so that you can hold me to it and not let me wimp out. Besides teaching math, I also teach Life Skills which is a class that doesn't really count towards a grade but is an opportunity to address other issues in life: HIV/AIDS, relationships, study habits, how to use a condom, how to take a test, etc. This year I didn't do much except letting the kids go to the library to read which was good because none of the other teachers have anything to do with the library besides going there to sleep when they should be teaching. Next year I want to utilize the Life Skills time more wisely and actually do some activities with the aim of imparting my knowledge and experience. Four girls at my school got pregnant this year and dropped out so I feel that I should do a little more than just teaching math.

Apart from school, I am quite comfortable in the village and am learning where some of my learners live. Most homesteads in the village have the same basic setup with an outer fence made from largish logs dug vertically into the ground enclosing a mazelike series of fenced areas. In the larger open spaces are the huts for sleeping and storage. These huts are constructed completely with natural organic materials. The walls are bricks made from dried mud and the roof is a pyramid made from saplings tied together with palm fronds and then covered with intricately woven grass. It's amazing how watertight they can make it! Another area of the homestead is called omashisha named after the large containers woven from strips of tree bark and branches which are used for storing flour. The elugo (kitchen) is an open space with some huts for storing food, and maybe a hut for cooking when it's raining. The oshithima (porridge) eaten with every meal is cooked in a pot that rests on top of three bricks that are arranged in a circular formation around an open fire. The oshithima is eaten with the right hand and dipped in the side dish which varies from night to night: oshigali (crushed beans), omboga (spinach), catfish, or the favorite of every Namibian, meat (beef, goat, pork, chicken). Another section of the house is the oshini for which there is no real English translation because do you know any English speakers who pound their homegrown grain into flour by hand? The oshini is an area with several 8-inch-deep cylindrical holes formed and hardened in the ground. The mahangu (millet) is systematically poured into the holes and is then pounded over and over with a heavy branch in a mortar and pestle style. The rhythmic pounding can be a solo job or a team effort but either way it is not an easy task. I've tried my hand at it a few times and it left me with much admiration for all the Owambo daughters and mothers who do this on almost a daily basis. The grain is periodically sifted with flat baskets woven from palm fronds in a process that sorts out the sufficiently-pounded flour from the flour that still has a ways to go. This is just one step in the year long cultivation process which converts latent seeds into nourishing sustenance: hoeing, ploughing with donkey power, sowing, weeding, hoping the rains are enough so that the plants can grow but not too much that they drown, protecting the crops from marauding birds and goats, harvesting, removing the grain from the stalks by beating them with branches, pounding the grain into flour, burning the stalks and clearing the fields for next year. And all that just for some millet flour!

I wish I had pictures to go along with my descriptions but my camera has finally kicked the electronic bucket after five years of trusty service. I will once again refer you to my buddy Greg's blog and his awesome photography:

The last few months, I have been staying in the village more often on the weekends. I've been trying to visit with my learners outside of the classroom setting, so my host sister Mwingona has taken me to other homesteads in the village. Most of them are quite similar to the homestead where I live, but you can get a sense of the comparative wealth depending on the presence of cement buildings, a water tap, plastic chairs, or more accurately by Namibian standards, the number of cattle and goats. It has been really neat to see where my learners live and to get a glimpse of what their home life is like. Alina in grade seven lives about an hour's walk away with her grandparents on a relatively large homestead house. We played jumprope, cards, and ondota (a game similar to jacks). A couple weekends ago she came to visit me at my homestead so I showed her a bunch of pictures of friends and family in America. She kept mistaking my mom for my sister, so Mom you should take that as a compliment! Asser in grade nine lives with his mom, siblings, and cousins. It is a smaller homestead with not many luxuries but they do have papaya trees and brought one for us to eat both times I went to visit! One day he had asked me to come visit and the plan was to go visit Monica and Rautia who live another couple miles away. He didn't openly tell me, but secretly I think Asser wants one of them to be his girlfriend. They are all great kids and are at the top of grade nine. Unfortunately Asser wasn't at home when I came to visit because apparently some crotchety old neighbor lost his donkey and sent him to go retrieve it from where it had wandered, probably about 5 miles away. So instead I went with Asser's older sister (not my learner) who took me to visit the two girls. Rautia lives with her parents and younger brother and cooked us some nice oshithima and chicken for lunch. Rautia is the best learner in math but pretty shy and is reluctant to speak English with me even when I try to ask questions and start conversation. I hope she opens up a little more next year. After lunch Rautia walked with us to Monica's house which was quite a stark contrast. Apparently Monica's mother worked in Windhoek, the capital, for several years as a nurse and only moved back to the north two years ago. She must have done well with her profession because the house is much different than the rest of the village: the outer fence is made with painted white bricks, there is a garden with flowers, the buildings are all cement and completely furnished, and she drives a fancy SUV. But they still brew oshikundu (a traditional drink made from millet) so we sat inside and drank chatted for a while before the two girls walked me home.

Another learner I've seen a few times on the weekends is Kristofina in grade seven. She is probably my favorite learner at Elamba Combined School, and wouldn't you know it, she's transferring to another school next year. She lives her Grandma and is the oldest child at the house which means she is in charge of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the small kids. I will really miss having her in class but I can't really blame her because some of the other teachers have made her cry (refer to a previous blog entry about my wonderful colleagues). Anyway, Kristofina is excellent in both math and English and has the best smile which she flashes at me all throughout the day. She is an avid reader and isn't afraid to ask me questions about words she doesn't know. Basically she is an ideal student because she is curious and wants to learn, she can make intuitive mental leaps, she is diligent about her homework, and she is an all-around friendly person. I am sad she is leaving, but she promised to come visit me.

I am spending more time with my learners now because in the village I have no friends and sitting around the homestead can get boring. I am friendly with the neighbors and they are friendly with me but I wouldn't say I have friends my age with similar interests and similar values. It's always nice to chat with some old kuku (grandma) or drink omalovu (traditional sorghum beer) with meme, but I can't talk to them about stuff most 24 year old American guys talk about. So when I need a break from the village (even though the low key daily life is enviable) I have some close friends in the PC volunteer community that I can visit. Halloween weekend I traveled to Ondangwa and hung out all day at a water park with some friends where we lubricated our esophagi, grilled hamburgers, and snuck into the waterslide after it got dark. Then last weekend, Greg and I hitchhiked to Rundu (about 8 hours away in NE Namibia) for a Thanksgiving party. On the way there we got picked up by six supermodels from Norway (seriously no joke) who took us to Tsumeb where we got picked up by an old Afrikaaner (white person whose first language is Afrikaans) who gave us a lift to Otavi where we ran into another volunteer, Kaitilin, who helped us all get a ride in the back of a truck the rest of the way. And all for free! In Rundu there is a former volunteer who married a local woman and now lives in Namibia and owns a lodge. Every year he cooks up a feast of turkey and gravy and hosts any current volunteers who want to come, providing they bring the other necessary Thanksgiving side dishes. In all there were about 30 volunteers and we gorged on stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn bread, green beans, and mashed potatoes. It was an excellent meal and it was great to visit another part of the country and some other friends who I never see because they live so far away. Leaving early Sunday morning, Greg and I caught a ride with an Afrikaner truck driver until Tsumeb and then made an unwise snap decision to take a free ride not realizing how cramped and uncomfortable the back of the truck would be. We survived though and celebrated with ice cream. Happy Thanksgiving by the way!

This weekend I am away from the village again, but this time not by choice. The voting for the national election concludes today and Peace Corps management decreed that all volunteers would be safer clustered together rather than spread around at their respective sites. There have been a few violent encounters between RDP and SWAPO supporters (the two main political parties in Owamboland where I live) but I felt perfectly safe in my village. Better safe than sorry though, so five of us have been bunkered down in Outapi, riding out the political storm, entertaining ourselves with pirated movies and TV shows, scrabble games, The Legend of Zelda, juggling, and enjoying American foods that are most certainly not porridge.

It's been a nice break but I'm going home this afternoon. It's just a N$14 taxi ride to Tsandi and then a N$7 for the last 8 kilometers into the village. Then there is less than two weeks until I trek to South Africa to meet my mom and sister! I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving and gave thanks for family, friends, and all the amenities America can offer.

Mucho amor, Paka

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do the Dune

It would have been very convenient for me end my travels after Ruacana since it it only about 90km away from my village, but this vast country has much to see! Four of us volunteers on the tour met up with a fifth friend in Windhoek, rented a car, stocked up on camp food, and set off towards the dunes of Sossusvlei. At times disastrous, our weekend getaway ended up being quite fulfilling. We weathered an exploded tire, a languid day of waiting for a replacement car, and twisty undulating dirt roads completely lacking directional road signs. It was worth it, though, for we were ultimately rewarded with the spectacular stark landscapes of the Namib Desert. Massive dunes of red, orange, and yellow sands surround sparse plains. Dead trees, hundreds of years old, stand sere and withered in barren pans. Ostrich and oryx scrounge for what little sustenance is to be found. We trekked up dunes, baked in the sun, tromped through vleis, and pondered nature's power.

Having had our fill of sandy stretches and dusty dunes, a celebratory overpriced ice cream bar was in order before we traversed even more treacherous dirt roads. We chose the shorter path this time but it seems all distances in Namibia are deceptive and we arrived in Swakopmund just in time for some delicious and revitalizing pizza! After a last stroll by the ocean, the return trip to Windhoek, an overnight in Okahandja, and another successful hitch-hike northward, I safely reached the village and concluded my extended holiday. I don't plan on leaving the village any time soon as I've had my fill of traveling for the time being. After all that extravagance and excitement, it's back to apples, peanut butter, and porridge. The final term of my first year as a teacher is underway and things are going swell. But where did September go? Time has a ruthless and unyielding agenda.... I will leave you to ruminate on a few riddles.

What lives if you give it food but dies if you give it water?

What comes twice in a week but only once in a year?

There are ten birds on a fence. If you shoot one, how many are left?

Set those digit-fingers a-typing if the answers spring bidden or unbidden your minds. Guesses, clarifying questions, hint inquiries and counter-riddles are most welcome.

Eewa amushe, onde mu hole shinene. Hamna shida, ku hande, oshi li nawa, fine, good, ok, alright, peace.

Love, PAKA (not to be confused with pakapaka which is the onomatopoeic oshiwambo word for motorcycle)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Diverse Diversions

The other day I did some calculating and figured that over the course of 21 days during the August-September holiday, I traveled a total of 5645 kilometers, about 3508 miles!
It was an epic trip full of innumerable memorable moments,
so I will try and recount the highest highlights which hopefully will do the journey justice. After a flurry of exam-marking and submitting the final grades for term two, I left the village and headed down to Okahandja to meet the new volunteers. The timing was such, that I had to travel the nine hours south on my birthday, but this time the unpredictable hitch-hiking worked out for the better. A nifty German guy and his Owambo wife picked me up in their van and we made a quick jaunt into Etosha National Park where the giraffes sang me their muted songs of birthday happiness and the twelve Oryx displayed their horns in a show of symbolic birthday candles. The unexpected nature visit, combined with snacks and intelligent conversation, made for quite a unique and fortunate experience. Arriving safely at the training center in Okahandja, I stayed for five days with the brand new arrivals to Peace Corps Namibia, answering questions, weighing in with my experiences so far, and explaining my role as a Volunteer Support Network member. I've been in Namibia for a little over ten months now, so in the eyes of the fresh-off-the-planers, I was sometimes regarded as the all-knowing expert, which is only true relative to their newness. There is always so much more to learn!

And then came Diversity Tour which definitely provided ample learning opportunities for kids and PC volunteers alike. The Diversity Tour is akin to a huge field trip, where 40 of the best learners from schools in all 13 regions of Namibia get to travel with ten lucky PCVs to the far corners of the country. The learners applied for the tour by writing essays about the diversity of gender and the different male/female roles in their cultures. Forty learners were chosen, and were provided transportation to Windhoek where the tour began. The tour is funded through donations from various sources: NGOs, PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), families and friends of PCVs, etc. In Windhoek, we went to The American Cultural Center; the memorial for war veterans called Heroes' Acre, and had an excellent tour of the international airport. All 50 of us were granted special access to go through security and out onto the tarmac where we watched a plane takeoff and then got to tour the inside of an airplane. The kids were really excited about the movie screens, the complementary blankets, and the barf bags! Some of these learners had never traveled farther than 50 kilometers (or less!) from their village so the capital city, the planes, the different landscapes, and most experiences throughout the next eight days were completely new and eye-opening. At least that was the goal!

We capped off the day in Windhoek with a visit to UNAM, the University of Namibia, which hopefully exposed these kids to the possibilities that exist outside of their rural villages, and inspired them to keep up the hard work in school. It must be said though, that the 40 kids, ranging from grades 6 to 10, were already excellent students, the cream of the crop. We had kids from almost every tribe in Namibia: Kwanyama, Ndonga, Mbalantu, Kwaluudhi, Damara, Nama, Herero, Himba, San, Baster, Tswana, Mbukushu, Subia, Mafwe, and probably more that I'm forgetting. They were required to speak English so as not to create tensions between the kids speaking different home languages. But they were all great and gave us no problems. We basically took every volunteer's favorite, smartest, funniest learner and mixed them together with amazing results. Their English was great, they could think outside the box, solve riddles, tell jokes, and even do math in their heads! As much as I love the kids in my classes at Elamba, it was hard not to wish for a classroom full of these superstars.

The next morning we watched a movie at the cinema and they loaded up on junk food. G-Force was a ridiculous ninety minutes of animated guinea pigs masquerading as FBI agents but the kids loved it and repeated their favorite lines throughout the rest of the trip. Then we spent a day at the coast in and around Swakopmund. The first stop was the snake park where some of the braver individuals got to hold a python. At the aquarium, we saw a scuba diver feeding turtles and sharks along with some prickly rock lobsters. The kids didn't believe that people eat lobsters and recoiled in horror when we told them to reach in the water and take one because it was on the menu for that night's dinner! After romping and climbing all over Dune Seven in the desert heat, the cold foggy beach didn't seem so appealing, but that didn't dissuade the majority of the kids, who jumped right in and frolicked in the waves!

All fabulous photos courtesy of Greg, Parker's friend and fellow PCV

The next morning we had bus trouble which forced us to miss the Cheetah Conservation Society, so instead, we used the spare time to play lots of games and squeeze in some other activities. Throughout the tour we planned various interactive presentations designed to address certain topics such as positive team building, HIV/AIDS education, cultural acceptance, horizon expansion, all with an overarching theme of enjoyment! The Wall and Snap Judgment demonstrated how stereotyping is neither fair nor accurate. Myth-Fact promoted HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Sex or Gender addressed the difference between physical characteristics and habitual actions. The Human Knot and Trust Falls stressed cooperation and teamwork. But we also had some games from the pure fun category like Sharks and Minnows (renamed to Lions and Springbok), frisbee, soccer, and a speed-counting game called 7up. The long bus rides were perfect for wordsearches, hangman, riddles and songs. But we began to rue the day that we taught them 'Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?'! The bus was finally fixed and the next interminable 30 mph drive deposited us right inside the gate of Etosha where we stayed the night. Early in the morning, we began the all-day trip through the park.

Within 5 minutes the ubiquitous springbok, oryx, and zebra were sighted and we couldn't help but see them in droves the rest of the day! For the whole tour, the 40 learners were divided into four teams: Giraffes, Rhinos, Zebras, and Elephants. Colleen and I were the leaders for the giraffes and when the first of our long-necked mascots appeared, the kids on our team went wild, calling out 'My brother! My sister!' And then all of a sudden we came across two huge male lions lounging in the dewy dawn not five yards from the bus! We were stunned by our luck and for a few brief moments, we marveled at their might. Then the bus driver inexplicably started honking the horn and the two maned beasts abruptly rose from their grassy beds and prowled away into to the endless acres of Etosha. This was just one of the many infuriating incidents involving our driver but I won't go into it so as not to ruin the reverie or mar the memories.

We continued on and stopped at Okaukuejo Lodge where there is a man-made watering hole. Jackals, kudu, wildebeests, and ostrich were added to the list. From then on, most animals were hiding from the intense midday heat, so we only chanced upon a few faraway elephants, some scattered giraffes, and the odd ostrich. The next destination was a town called Opuwo in the northwest, and we were given a special permit to exit the west gate of the park where only guided tours are usually allowed. We arrived in Opuwo early enough for a few activities before dinner followed by a screening of the desert episode of Planet Earth which contains several scenes of the Namibian deserts. The next day, we paid a visit to the cattle-centric, bare-breasted, hut-dwelling, ochre-wearing OvaHimba people. They live quite an amazing life and the visit was truly enlightening. Two of the learners on the tour were OvaHimba and it was amazing to see them come out of their quiet shells and answer questions posed by the other learners. Uapiaruka later said how surprised he was by the genuine respectful interest everyone showed in his culture, and it was moments like that that made the whole tour worth it.

That night we showed the inspirational movie Akeelah and the Bee, and had some impromptu spelling contests. The final day of the tour found us clambering about on the boulders and crags of Ruacana Falls. There was hardly a trickle where in May there had been a torrent. We missed out on the spuming spectacle, but instead descended the shaky spindly staircase to the depleted river below. It was probably not the best idea to let all those rambunctious kids loose on the rocks, but a dip in the cool green water was irresistible. Everyone survived with only one girl freaking out on some steep rocks and one scary moment in the water. Kauarive told me he could swim and proceeded to jump in and almost drown me with his clawing arms and adrenaline enhanced strength. But I was able to deliver him safely to the other side thanks to my years of swimming lessons and my equally adrenaline enhanced strength. He wrote me a thank you card later that day be called me his 'hiroe''

That night we had our closing ceremony talent show with all sorts of
acts: songs, dances, dramas, skits and one beautiful poem. David was the oldest learner and won over all the volunteers with his unfailing good humor, his wit, his caring behavior towards the younger kids, and his unequalled maturity and intelligence. He was the perfect role model for the rest of the learners (besides us volunteers of course!). His poem was an excellent metaphor depicting how the water (PCVs) nourished the scattered desert plants (learners from all parts of Namibia) and they grew into one continuous lush flourishing forest. My other favorite was a girl named Ningire who had the greatest laugh and played a shrewd game of hangman. She was a natural with the juggling balls so we did a short performance of some passing tricks we whipped up the previous day. I'm hoping to send her some juggling balls soon.

Geraldine and Kristiana, two of the quietest learners, surprised us all with a stellar duet. Katunavawo passed around some of his amazing drawings of village scenes. The rest of the program was filled with original songs, intricate dramas, and a striking lack of stage fright. After the talent show ended, we handed out certificates and a group picture to everyone for a tangible memento of the successful tour.

Alas, the tour had to end sometime, and the entire next day was spent driving the B1 south to Windhoek, intermittently dropping off learners along the way. Eight or so learners lived too far south to make it home in one day so we overnighted with Shawn, the volunteer who lives in Windhoek. Those lucky few were treated to pizza for the last hurrah and we saw them off in the morning after procuring transport to their respective homes. Thus ended the Diversity Tour, which will definitely be in the top highlights of my two years in Namibia. I'll sure miss those great kids.

But the journey was not over yet...

To see more of Greg's amazing photos and stories here is his blog

I hope all is well with all of you. I appreciate any and all emails from my dear friends and family. Kaleni po nawa, Parker

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Here's something I concocted recently as I was reminiscing about my trip in May when I hiked Fish River Canyon. (Amazing photos courtesy of Greg) Plus some juggling pictures taken with my less than amazing shotsnapper.

Scaling new heights to get my juggling fix

Only took a few tries to nail this self timer

Death does not prevent juggling

Playing catch with nature


One morning in May,
our trek had begun.
We ten went to play
'mongst the sand, rocks, and sun.

Entranced were we
by the canyon's allure,
we pranced with glee
like worms in manure.

Our bags were full packed,
three tons heavy duty.
But it didn't detract
from Fish River's beauty.

The rocky descent
was tough on our knees.
So hungry and spent,
Yum Yum mac 'n' cheese!

Through the nights we slept,
we'd arise with the dawn.
The morning shadows crept.
Post-breakfast we'd be gone.

Pure nature undefiled.
No lights or noise or cars.
Enveloped by the wild,
sleeping out 'neath the stars.

When the tents had been pitched,
although nipply of clime,
our clothing was ditched.
Twas skinny dip time!

When diving in the water,
beware of sunken rocks.
Though you may swim like an otter,
a neck's weaker than an ox.

Energy conservation,
we cut right through the shorts.
Avoiding dehydration,
gulp down the pints and quarts.

To cross the river with flair,
leap and jump and hop,
from stone to stone with care,
or in the wet kerplop!

Lentils, pasta, oatmeals,
apples, cheese, and bread.
Is this how a goat feels,
but stuffed with grass instead?

Though our fuel ran low,
we didn't despair.
Wood fires aglow,
in the brisk canyon air.

Twixt cranny, crag, and rock,
brown hyrax lithe and spry.
Danger, careful, look!
There's an eagle in the sky!

Hoofprints between the stones,
their spoor strewn 'cross the place.
Some dusty sunbaked bones.
Wild horses? Just their trace...

We reached the trail's end.
Our joints and muscles shot.
Relieved to heal and mend,
and soak in springs so hot.

Though we started the journey,
with our nerves all aquiver,
no one left on a gurney,
Yes! We conquered Fish River!

Elamba’s Edification

Term two of my first year as a math teacher is coming to a close with exams starting this week. If I were a student in my classes, I would feel confident and prepared to ace the two ninety-minute math papers (tests). But that viewpoint is coming from the perspective of someone who graduated through the American education system and has all of the junior high math indelibly imprinted across the interconnected synapses of the brain. For my learners in their radically different learning environment, the attitudes towards school, the quality of teaching they receive, the obstacles in their way, are all very distant from my experiences as a student.

The Owambo culture places an emphasis on respect for elders and this sometimes translates into children being regarded as servants who get the very short end of the stick. Outside of school, kids have an extreme amount of work during the farming season (read: basically year round) but at least all the other family members work just as hard. In school though, it is a very different dynamic. On top of a very high pressure to succeed in their studies, the students have to deal with Namibian teachers, most of whom, from what I've encountered, interact with learners in a way that is sickening to me. They command silence and attention in the classroom by fear and intimidation. They ridicule and abase learners for making common mistakes. They humiliate learners for untucked shirts or uncombed hair. But the worst is when they beat learners with whip-like tree branches, sometimes for the most trivial of offenses such as not drawing a line under a completed assignment. It's completely ridiculous and I hate to sound so negative but this rant was bound to spill out sometime. It appears that the reason for their behavior is that now that they have survived childhood and school under apartheid (which was most likely much worse than the current situation), they have these power positions as adults and want revenge for the suffering they endured. Many emulate the treatment they received and thus they teach how they were taught, which perpetuates this dismal cycle. I am struggling a lot with my attitude toward and relations with other teachers. As colleagues and friends, most are nice and friendly and funny but it is so hard to reciprocate when I see how they are with the learners. I would much rather be friends with all the learners but I'm supposed to be their teacher and a certain distance has to be maintained. It's a paradox to be sure.

But slowly I think my learners are realizing that I'm on their side and just want to help them learn math in a fun, encouraging, positive setting. I've tried to teach some topics with interactive lessons rather than just lecturing with chalkboard examples. For area and perimeter, I had the kids go physically walk the boundaries of places at school (the outer fence, the soccer field, the teachers' building). For rate and speed, I timed them as they covered a 100 meter distance with different styles of movement (walking, running, skipping, frog jumping - which got some pretty good laughs). For relating circumference and diameter, we found both measurements for various circles (buckets and lids and cups etc) and then divided, which would have ideally resulted in pi, but inaccuracy was rampant so I don't think they were convinced. For coordinates on the xy plane, I had them plot points that would eventually draw four shapes revealing a smiley face. For volume, I borrowed Greg's idea and had them fold origami which in the end can be blown up as a 3D box. For bar graphs, they counted the animals at their homesteads and made a chart of the results. Hopefully some of these activities achieved the goal of actual understanding and not just rote memorization and regurgitation. I'd like to think that the majority of my lessons were clear and followed logical steps, and that my learners were telling the truth when they said they had no questions. But this is a very subjective viewpoint and probably not realistic. Often, I'm sure what's obvious to me goes right over their heads, not to mention the fact that they are being taught in English which is not their mother tongue! Just this week I had one learner call me over to his desk and say 'I don't understand this' and as I explained, my mental celebrations were going wild because that means some students feel comfortable enough to ask questions!

Also keep in mind that Elamba Combined School has the most basic of supplies. Textbooks written after 1992 that actually cover the topics on the syllabus? Not for grade eight and nine.
Electricity? Nope.
Photocopies? Only when the resource office has blank paper and the machine isn't broken.
Cubic blocks to teach volume? Nope.
Most days all I use is the chalkboard.
But despite everything that is stacked against them, most of my learners are really great. Now here are some more personal anecdotes and details about these kids who I spend so much time with:

In grade nine there are 32 kids and most are 15 years old but some have repeated multiple grades so who knows how old they are. This is the class I have the most trouble with and I think it mostly has to do with the age gap and that even though I'm the teacher, I still look pretty young. That's why I've taken to shaving only every two weeks. Although there are some kids that constantly have that glazed look in their eyes and find the goats outside are far more interesting than polygons, the others are diligent students. Impartiality towards the learners is too difficult for me, however I do my best to conceal it. My favorites are Linda, Nangombe, Lusia, and despite their ridiculous names, Asser and Lempie. [Sidenote on names: Everyone in Owamboland has three names: the traditional first and last names plus the Christian name given at church. The missionaries were mostly Finnish so there are a lot of people with names like Rautia, Rauna, Titus, Andreas, Martin, Elias, Evelina... I'm not sure if those are really Finnish or not but there sure are a lot of kids that share the same name. To add to the confusion, many of the traditional names are variations on common Oshiwambo nouns. Amutenya = someone who was born in the afternoon. Angula = someone who was born in the morning. Ausiku = someone who was born at night. Egumbo = house. Kadhila = small bird. Ashipala = the place where they thresh millet. And some more unfortunate examples: Uushona = something small. Kangulu = small pig. Nangombe = cow.

Back to my favorite grade nine learners. Besides being quick and clever and in possession of mathematical intuition, Asser is a complete jokester. One day I had asked everyone to measure some part of their house and find the area and then some were sharing their drawings on the chalkboard the next day. I was asking what the pictures were and there was a sleeping hut, the kitchen area, the maize field and then on the last one, Asser pipes up before the other kid answers and blurts out 'the toilet' and the class erupted. Lusia, Linda and Lempie aren't the brightest students but they try really hard and have the best smiles. Nangombe is the ideal learner for a teacher. She understands before the explanation is finished, always has her homework complete and correct, and consistently aces the tests.
Grade eight has 25 learners. There are no super-scholastic-stars (besides the repeaters) but I do get the most questions in this class which is great because then I know what things are easy and what things to spend more time on. My favorites are Retta, Susana, Ileka, Erika and Aina all of whom like to answer questions in class (no matter how many wrong answers they give) and can throw a good punch when the boys are being jerks. Only girls on that list because the boys usually zone out and goof off in the back. They are great soccer players but less than great students. I am partial to Hosea, however, because he talks to himself while he does his homework... 'page one hundreds twenty fives... Multiplication by two... Base times height...'. Also he comes up with some very ingenious incorrect answers which helps put me inside the learners' minds so I can see where the errors originate. The latest example was plotting two points for each coordinate. (2,-3) prompted him to make two points at (2,0) and (0,-3).

As usual, I left the best for last. Grade seven has the best mix of personalities and most days my lessons go well. My host sister Mwingona sits in the back and several of the kids live on neighboring homesteads. Most are crazy about reading but the combination of a limited selection and a mild fear of chapter books, leaves them with the same beginner books over and over again. They are the most eager to answer questions in class and show me their completed work. I like to give a problem and then walk around for individual help. One day we were practicing writing our own multiplication story problems and Abner had copied my previous example: If a dog has four legs, how many legs do six dogs have? So I asked him to expand and write more. When I came back I saw 'If a dog has 17 legs, how many legs do six dogs have?' My definite favorite in this class is Alina. She is the smallest, spunkiest, sassiest, sneakiest sprite in the room. Even when I catch her reading a book during class, I don't have it in me to dole out any more punishment than just taking the book away. In fact, I really have no punishment system in place which is probably why some kids have learned to take advantage of my laxity. My reward system has some motivating power though. The best ten test scores get a piece of candy and there are prizes for memorizing the times tables. Grade seven is always saying 'Sir, we want multiplication!' Demonstrating mastery over the 4s, 5s, and 6s gets them a new pen or pencil sharpener or ruler.

One last story involves Johannes who cannot stop smiling despite his mathematical shortcomings. We were studying pictograms and the key said one big body = 10 people and one small body = 1 person. The chart showed four big bodies and I asked the class how many it was and everyone was snapping and squirming and screaming to answer and when I call on Johannes a disappointed silence settles as they all wait for the seemingly obvious answer of forty. But then, with the happiest grin, he shouts 'FOUR!' which is met with an uproar from the rest of the class. Don't worry Johannes, you'll get it next time!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Weeks with Paka

What an experience to be able to visit Parker (I had not seen him since he left back in November) and see not only his home and teaching environment but share traveling to several areas of Namibia that neither of us had ever seen.

I arrived in the capital city Windhoek and met Parker at the guest house we had reserved. After one night and a good meal with two of his fellow Peace Corps volunteers, we headed to the west coast to visit Swakupmond and Walvis Bay where we spent 2 nights. We had a fantastic kayak tour of a seal colony where a couple of hundred thousand seals reside. It was great fun paddling and watching how curious of us they were. Many would swim right next to us and nibble at our paddles and then splash us and swim away.

We headed up to climb the vast great sand dunes and then northeast to Damaraland to hike to see the White Lady Paintings. These ancient paintings and carvings are 5000-6000 years old. Then it was on to Etosha National Park to tour the water holes for 2 days viewing animals. We were able to see antelope, elephant, giraffe, zebra, jackal, hyena and lion. Absolutely amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat from the safety of our truck and have so many walk right by us. Off to Ovamboland where Parker lives in northern Namibian near the Angola border, to stay with him in his homestead and visit the school for 4 days before having to leave for home.

I have to be the proud father now and brag about my son and how absolutely proud of him I am for what he is doing and the conditions he works with.

Parker is five miles from the closest electricity and in the homestead where he lives there is one water faucet. It’s bucket bathing each day and when the sun sets it is definitely lights out- other than the brilliant stars, it is pitch black.

The school is a 15 minute walk from home and is also without power. The learners all respect Parker and seem to enjoy his teaching, humor and soccer skills- although they are so shy and reserved. The school has minimal supplies and resources. With no electricity there are no computers, no copy machines, no music and no video opportunities. Lesson plans are written on the chalk board and copied on paper or sometimes practiced in work books. That said, the kids seem happy and watching them interact together at break time or recess, its like watching kids in any school- laughing and playing with patched jump ropes, chasing and the little boys wrestling.

I was able to bring with me several soccer balls, basketballs, jump ropes and some school supplies. The principal assembled the students and told them of the gifts from several friends back home. They were so excited to have new things. School was basically called off the rest of the day and they all played with the jump ropes and balls. They are able to check them out from the principals office for recess and also after school for soccer practice.

The school has a soccer team which Parker coaches after school, and through a donation from Lake Washington Youth Soccer I was able to bring about 2 dozen jerseys for the team. They were so excited and so ready to use them in the upcoming games as they have never had official jerseys.

It’s amazing to listen to how fluent Parker is in the native language of Oshiwambo. Life in the homestead and surroundings is quite simple and the family he lives with along with the neighbors seem to really enjoy having Parker in their lives.

You’re doing a good thing Parker and I am so proud of you. I miss you and am so thankful that I had the opportunity to visit and spend time with you.

Love Dad

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Multitudinous Meanderings

A bonafide fully equipped computer sits in front of me hooked up to a legitimate internet source so hopefully I can whip up a comprehensive update about the last month before I leave for my next adventure. Term one ended in late April and my learners did well by Namibian education standards. Maybe I was too lenient with my marking or maybe I made the final exams too easy, because there was quite a large discrepancy when I compared the math results for my learners with their results in other subjects. If I erred, at least my error boosted their confidence. My last day of school found me scrambling to finish up grading and completing various forms, and then I waved goodbye to the homeward bound learners as I sped by in the back of a pickup truck on the way out of the village. A series of taxis brought me to a fellow volunteer’s homestead where I stayed the night before continuing on to Windhoek the next morning. Did I mention that in addition to my full backpacking pack, I was lugging around an extra bag of books and a huge 20 pound squash? It’s the Owambo style to give gifts for the dinner table and already in my short time on the homestead, I’ve received countless chickens, squashes, pumpkins, ears of corn etc. from village families. So on the day I was leaving to go south, Meme brings me this massive gourd and tells me that it’s a gift for the Peace Corps staff. I didn’t really fancy the prospect of traveling for hours toting this extra weight around so I tried to ‘forget’ it at home. But I had forgotten something else at home (for real this time) so I had to go back, and then there was no escape from being squashed by the squash. Luckily the taxis didn’t charge me extra for my big bags and child-size vegetable. My friend and I woke up early the next morning and tried our luck at hitchhiking the rest of the way to Windhoek. Our first attempt was soured by a crafty truck driver who, after a miscommunication, ended up charging us for the slow ride to Tsumeb. But then we hit the jackpot when two German-Namibians picked us up in a nice SUV, treated us to lunch, and dropped us off at the front door of the hotel! The two of us came down early because we successfully applied for the Volunteer Support Network and had our inaugural meeting to attend. VSN is a service for volunteers to use when they need a break from the ridiculousness that life in Namibia can sometimes be. We were trained in ‘active listening’ with the idea of providing a venting source for volunteers with frustrations, concerns, questions, or quandaries. The other part of being a VSN member is that we get to help welcome the new volunteers to the country and lead sessions during their training. After a couple days, the rest of the volunteers arrived in Windhoek for ‘reconnect’ after our initial three months at site. What followed was two weeks of refresher courses including Peace Corps policies, information about funding sources, secondary projects, more language training, and tips for effective teaching. It was a lot to take in all at once, so although it was great to see friends after such a long absence, I was more than ready to hit the road especially since the destination was the much-hyped Fish River Canyon.

Just the word ‘river’ has such a strong attraction after three months in sweltering normality, and the rave reviews from previous expeditions sent the anticipation meters to record levels. The five days we spent trekking (double k words are pretty rare) in the epic Namibian wilderness didn’t disappoint. It was as if the nature dial was turned to maximum, and we took full advantage. Beautiful panoramas, secretive wildlife, brisk skinny dips in the river, exotic juggling, and plenty of try-not-to-get-your-feet-wet river-crossing problems, all combined to send to the overall experience to the top of the camping charts. I managed to take lots of scenic juggling pictures but they don’t quite do justice to the natural splendor so I will direct you here to view and be envious:

There was a slight interruption in this post. I just now returned from a weekend getaway in Tsintsabis and Tsumeb and before the tales keep on piling up, I must write down some more stories before the memories fade. A reversal of the timeline is now in effect so I will start with this last weekend and work backwards to where I left off. One kilometer outside the small town of Tsintsabis is the Treesleepers campsite ( named for the traditional tactic of the San people who slept in certain trees to avoid curious predators. Some friends and I spent a couple days in the bush where we went on a nature walk to learn the basics of traditional hunting and gathering which included how to catch guinea fowl with a rope snare, how to identify poisonous plants and use them to lethally enhance arrows, how to read and identify animal tracks, how to start a fire without matches or a lighter, and how to utilize trees for meat storage and defense against rogue lions. That same night we were privileged to see some traditional dancing and singing around the fire with the accompanying traditional instruments and dress. Previously, my cursory knowledge of the native people of the Kalahari Desert was gleamed from the classic movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy. The portrayal is true to some extent but much information is left out. There are many parallels between the San people and the Native American: various tribes with different languages, intimate knowledge of flora and fauna, expert survival skills, countless deaths at the hands of foreign invaders, and the loss of traditional practices as modernization spread. The name 'Bushman' is the derogatory equivalent of 'Indians'. San is the more commonly accepted term nowadays but even that isn't totally correct, as the San are only one tribe of the many. It was a fascinating weekend but as usual with those types experiences, we were left with mixed feelings of awe and sadness. Then, when it was time to leave, serendipity once again pulled through and we instantly found a free ride for all eight of us back to Tsumeb where we went on a spree that demonstrated how different modern times are from the eons of traditional life. We treated our taste buds to avocado-laden burgers and chocolate milkshakes for lunch and real Italian pizza for dinner. All of that culinary extravagance was followed by a night at a hostel with satellite TV and hot showers. The quintessential necessities for a perfect break from porridge, sand, and isolation.

Now it is time to return to Elamba Combined School in Okatha Kombago village. Last Friday, our school soccer team played it's inaugural game in the newly donated uniforms courtesy of the Crossfire select team from Washington. The learners loved showing off the new kits and were able to celebrate with a 3-0 win over some local village boys. Huge thanks to the generous donors and to my dad for transporting all the gear to rural Africa. After the jaunt in the canyon, I met father in Windhoek and we began our great two-week trip all around Namibia which culminated in a visit to the homestead, village, and school. In a brief recap, we kayaked with seals on the coast, climbed huge sand dunes, avoided bright green chameleons on the road, tracked hyenas and giraffes in Etosha National Park, navigated the endless shebeen-infested towns, had translated conversations (thanks to my language prowess) with my host family and other village elders, and spent a few days with the incredibly shy learners. I won't go into great detail as I'm hoping that my dad can add his input about our trip and give a different perspective. He also has plenty of pictures to share which will hopefully make up for the lack in this post. I would like to comment though on the two huge duffel bags he carted all the way here and how appreciated they are. I am completely loaded with all sorts of goodies including Time and Newsweek magazines, candy bars, running shoes, and a hammock! I'm reveling with all the abnormal luxury. Maybe a little too fast though as almost all the candy has been consumed... Overall the visit was wonderful and it was hard to say goodbye. But I am back into village mode now and ready for school again tomorrow. Hope all is well in your various locales and that you can find enough time to zip me a quick email:

Iyaalo! Tangi Tangi! Kaleni po nawa


Friday, April 10, 2009

Aalongwa = The people who are being taught

Finally here are some pictures of those endearing learners that I keep mentioning.  Each grade has its own classroom which they stay in all day while the teachers rotate every class period, the end of which is signaled by a cow bell rung by a grade 10 learner.  I stay in the homestead with the Grade 7 girl with the neon green sweater.

Grade 9

Grade 7 

Grade 8 + my Caprivian colleague (can you spot him?)

Ruacana is Falling!

The intrepid juggler braves the onslaught that is Ruacana Falls

Zombie Juggler!!  Look out!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Omeya oga pwina (the water dried up)

After a tumultuous few weeks where plans were never certain and floods were discussed at length, I'm now happily back in a very dry village. I spent a week with my friend Greg ( during the first evacuation and was able to experience life with another Owambo family. Although their lifestyle is, in many ways, very similar to my host family, it is interesting to note some of the major differences. We still ate Oshithima every night, but they use maize flour instead of mahangu flour. We speak the same language, but their dialect of Oshiwambo changes the pronunciation of J to G and AY to OH. Their homestead is still a labyrinthian construction of huts and fences, but there are several more cement buildings as well as, wonder of all wonders, electricity! Due to this foreign amenity, I was a little spoiled for that week, but it didn't even compare to the luxury of Evacuation Round Two! While I thoroughly enjoyed my mini-vacation at Greg's, I was eager to get back to my host family and learners. It's not that my teaching mentality was fading or that my soccer skills were rusting, because I actually taught some math classes for a busy teacher and played etanga after school with the learners. (etanga = ay tong uh = ball) But I was feeling the pangs of homestead-sickness and a little out of my established education element. It was difficult to say goodbye to the satellite TV soccer matches, the warm water bucket baths, the wonderfully cute kids who live with Greg, and my new class of grade eight learners, but I was able to return to my site and start back at school the following Monday.

My joyous return, however, was shortlived. Even though the heavy rains had ceased and there was much less goop to walk through, the higher-ups decided that all of the volunteers who live beyond a certain bridge should be evacuated to the 'safer' side. And so begins our adventures at the Seven Valleys ( The dreaded Angolan floods were again the source of all the trouble. The fear being that the aforementioned bridge would wash out and we would be stranded. So four of us were whisked away to the safety of the posh corps hotel, complete with air conditioning, hot showers, and buffet breakfasts! We could hardly complain, but as the rainless days piled up with no sign of the bridge collapsing, we started to get antsy. During the long obligation-free week, I spent my time playing computer games, watching movies, reading books, solving crossword puzzles, juggling, and thinking of the following witty puns appropriate to the situation:

(Note: omeya = oh-may-uh = water) I'm a bit beFLOODled by the extent of this unFATHOMably long evacuation. It's OMEYAzing that we haven't been sent yet, because the bridge doesn't even look that thWETened. WATER they so worried about? Ok that's enough horRAINdous wordplay for now.

Upon returning to the village, I was quick to get back into the Owambo swing of things. By then, the rainwater had almost completely dried up and reconstruction had begun on the damaged huts and fences. Unfortunately, nothing could be done to save the watermelons, so their juicy corpulent futures won't be realized this year. Other than the countless deaths of these immature fruitballs, there was no major damage to the homestead or the school. The learners did well, by Namibian standards, on their first math tests which included some Namibian-esque story problems. (That means the topics ranged from goats and frogs to Oshithima and omeya) I gave the learners that scored the best ten grades a piece of candy and they loved it. This week at school, the learners are busy writing penpal letters and are really excited to hear back from the American students.

Here are some quality excerpts: From a grade nine learner: 'I am a famous boy known not just that i am intelligent but also because i am always screaming a hell out of my voice and jumping up and down once there is no teacher around the corner or inside the class. I'm hyperactive.' From a grade ten learner: 'My name is andreas. I am sixteen year boy. My hobbies are playing soccer, dancing, signing, and reading book. I hate soft misic. I am a namibian.' From a grade eight learner: 'My favourite food is catapilla and makaloni and frog meats. Don't be scared by our culture foods.' So needless to say, this should be an interesting cross-cultural exchange!

Other than the evacuation, life in Northern Namibia is pretty simple. I wake with the dawn, walk to school, try and be a fun teacher, play soccer in the blazing heat, return home to a glorious bucket rinse, eat some fresh maize from the fields, read a book, practice Oshiwambo during the porridge dinner, and fall asleep to the drone of the mosquitoes.

As another red African sun sets, I'll leave you with one more highlight from last week. I got a package in the mail full of edible and intellectal goodies! Here's the first part of what I wrote to my fabulous friend: 'Owa ninga nawa nawa nawa nawa!!!! (you did good good good good! As they say in oshiwambo) Yes yes thank you so much for the package! It finally arrived after a month in transit and I am elated, ecstatic, and exuberantly excited by your excellent endeavor!
Everything inside is eternally essential!' So if you feel so inclined and have the time to send me some treats, be assured that I will promptly send you an email full of praise and personal updates.

Seeing as my thumbs are about to fall off from typing this whole entry on my cellphone, I think I shall take my leave from cyber-world and prepare to enter the malaria-medicine-dreamscapes.

Oshili nawa.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eagerly anticipating the watermelon as they begin their journey into fruithood.

Sink hole! My pit latrine is now just a pit...

Part of our fence also fell prey to the effects of water and gravity.

The pathway up to the front entrance of the homestead. Flooded...

Omeya Ombwinayi!!! The Tale of the Bad Water

The time period that Namibians call the ‘rainy season’ is certainly living up to its moniker. Thunder and lightning are almost a daily occurrence and the ensuing rains are completely upsetting the rhythms and balance of life. The nature of the soil here is such that the process of absorbing the copious amounts of rainwater takes an extremely long time. This means that what begin as puddles soon grow into ponds, which then progress to miniature lakes. But it doesn’t stop there… Walking to school on Monday, the water was up to my ankles. That night, the storms returned with a vengeance. From two in the morning, the torrents of rain pelted my tin roof creating a sound akin to radio static blasting at full volume. It continued with no remorse into the morning so that by the time I arrived to school at eight I was completely soaked even though I had been wielding my trusty umbrella. Surprisingly, most of the learners showed up to school despite the weather but inside the classrooms the rain was too loud to even think about teaching. Instead I opened up the ‘library’ and grades 6 through 10 went wild over the picture books and two 50-piece jigsaw puzzles which they solved over and over and over. Around ten, the rest of the teachers showed up, finally arriving from Tsandi after their three hour trek. Even the pickups couldn’t make it from the small town out to the village so they were forced to ‘go by footing’ as we say in Namibia. Later the principal arrived and we had the fateful staff meeting. By that time the rain had lessened but the water was at least knee deep and had surrounded the whole school. That’s knee deep on someone my size, but on some of the smaller learners, it’s about waist high! Unfortunately, it was decided that we must close the school until the water subsides. That means potentially up to a month with no classes, no learning, no teaching, no maths, no soccer, no library, no school…
I’m still a little in shock about the whole thing so my thoughts are still a bit inchoate. It just happened on Tuesday, so plans are still being made for the next few weeks. Some people are saying that this is just the beginning and that we haven’t yet received the flood waters from Angola. If so, and if the rain continues, then school could be closed until March 16th. If not, then we can hopefully only miss a week or two and start again March 2nd or 9th. Perhaps we will make up the missed time during the April-May holiday. I hope we can find another solution because during that break, all of the Peace Corps volunteers have a ‘reconnect’ meeting for a couple weeks so I would not be able to teach. Currently I am staying with another volunteer friend and helping him at his school about 50 km away where there are still rainstorms but a lot less standing water. Peace Corps didn’t want us to be stranded way out in the village so I’m here for the time being. I feel a little out of place though at a new school and with a new family. I was really starting to feel the grooviness of village life and school was getting more and more fluid. Even if school is still closed, I want to go back to my host family soon because I really like chilling in the fields, playing soccer, roping the jump and jumping the rope, learning oshiwambo and trying out new phrases, eating embe berries (possibly a type of plum called the bird plum) straight off the trees, making up words to local popular songs, drawing pictures in the sand, and giving impromptu lessons on all sorts of things: math, the solar system, hopscotch, English, America (what we eat, when we sleep, what language we speak, the global location…), the ocean, and even how to dance the limbo!
There are a lot of things I don’t like about the rain: that we had to close school, that I have to wade in deep water rife with animal dung, that I can’t juggle outside in the mud, that the soccer field is under a foot of water, that my pit latrine fell into a sink hole, that it is difficult to get out of the village and buy peanut butter, that the staff room at school leaks water on the books, that the fences and huts are falling apart, and that old old tatekulu grandpas slip and break their arms. But apart from all those things, there are some things that I really do like about the rain... Thus begins the Tale of the Good Water
For one thing, the rain completely eradicates the intense heat and things are much cooler and less shirt-drenchingly sweaty. Also it reminds me a lot of Seattle and Portland, what with the damp gray drizzly overcast skies and the proliferation of raincoats and umbrellas. Water also provides home to a host of sweet animal species! Yesterday I caught a baby turtle swimming around in the murkiness and he promptly proceeded to try and bite my finger before he realized that his beak (do you call a turtle’s mouth a beak?) was too small and that the ugly pink giant meant no harm. And the frogs are flipping and flopping, to-ing and fro-ing, rejoicing in their amphibious namibious environment. Most people don’t like those warty slimy toad-cousins but I think the process of mutation from tadpole to full-fledged frog is pretty cool. I wish I could grow extra arms… then I could juggle twice as many balls! The puddles also propagate pranking and playing! Everyone seems to know this special puddle-stomping maneuver which creates a neat ‘spalsh-thump-galump’ing sound so of course it is on the list of skills that I want to master. So overall there my feelings are mixed about the weather here but it’s not all bad.
SAT analogy time: Alaska is to snow as Namibia is to….… Mud! With all this rain, I’ve learned a lot of new weather related vocabulary. It seems that, similar to how the native people of Alaska have many different words to describe various types of snow, the Owambo people have several words to describe different types of mud and rain. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far:
Oshitosi – splashy splashy slick sloppy slipperiness
Omuthenu – gooey oozy squoozy woozy mud
Ontopo – gushy squishy wishy-washy mushy mud
Evundia – muddy mud
Okatha – small puddle (usually consists of muddied water)
Omvula – rain in the most general sense (just add ‘unene’ to mean a really big rain)
Oluzigi – an advancing sheet of rain
loka – the verb used when the rain is raining
lokwa – the verb used when you are getting rained on
sheka – the verb used to say the rain has stopped (used infrequently)
Okalunda – umbrella (used frequently)

Apart from those descriptions, I've been learning a lot of other oshiwambo words phrases and grammatical constructions. Every day I write down what I learn along with any funny linguistic mishaps and sentences that make my host family laugh. Because Oshiwambo features so prominently in my daily modes of communication, I’ll give you a sample of some things I know how to say:
Onda lokwa nena molwasho onda dhimbwa okalunda kandje kosikola – I got rained on today because I forgot my umbrella at school
Ihandi pono oshiti shombe – I don’t swallow berry pits
Inandi hala okulya embangumbangu – I don’t want to eat that big beetle
Onda pya kiithima iipyu! – I got burned by the hot oshithima (the porridge that we eat with our hands)
Otandi ka tuka monjodhi nena uusiku – I am going to fly in my dreams tonight
Onda kwata ohimayandondi momeya popepi na Elamba – I caught a turtle in the water near Elamba (the name of our school)
Emanya lya pwa omundilo yongodhi yandje – the battery for my cellphone has no fire (AKA the battery is dead – most often the case because we have no electricity)
Otwa pumbwa okupata osikola molwasho omuna omeya omale - We had to close school because there is deep water

I really love the challenge of learning a new language and all the fun to be had messing with words. One thing about oshiwambo, is that a very high percentage of words (approximately 83.2%) begin with the letter O, so alliterations are absurdly abundant! There is so much more to write but no more time. Time to go watch the beautiful sunset and hope that those wonderful clouds don't signal the approach of more rain. I really appreciate any sort of emails no matter how short or small or trivial. So send 'em my way:

Ka laleni po nawa ookuume kandje!
Sleep well my friends!
Ombili, Paka

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Here is a picture of the result of the rains. These oshanas fill up with water about upper shin deep that makes the walk to school a wet one or a long circuitous one.

The scraggly one in front of his cement house

Resting under and eating the fruits of the embe berry tree

Interior shot of the homestead structure

The ever growing fields of sorghum and corn set with a backdrop of the approaching rainstorm

The eight year old Egumbo in front of a sleeping hut

Meme Emilia using traditional basket containers called embale baskets