Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Spiking Incentives

Oshiwambo: Mwa tokelwa po natango! Onda galuka okushanga iitya oyindji nokupopya kombinga omwenyo yandje. Onda nyanyukwa unene!

English: Hello/Good Evening again everyone! I have returned to write many words and talk about my life/heart/soul. I am happy in a big way!

As our two month pack-you-full-of-as-much-stuff-as-possible Peace Corps training comes to a close, I’m feeling pretty prepared for the next major life change. Earlier today, our group of trainees was officially sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers in a big ceremony full of speeches and songs and ambassadors and a finger lunch. NBC (Namibian Broadcasting Company) was there so I’ll have to watch the news tonight and see if they play a clip from my Oshindonga speech. I also was recommended to the local radio station to give a short interview over the phone so now I am a big time celebrity in Namibia.
After countless information sessions on all sorts of topics (PC policies, HIV/AIDS, personal health, transportation, Namibian culture, relationships, project funding, etc. etc.), daily language classes, and a wonderfully beneficial two week practice model school, tomorrow I say goodbye to Okahandja, the training staff and the rest of the group, and move up North to my permanent site. It’s pretty strange, contemplating all the drastic changes that will happen… I’ll go from seeing familiar faces every day to having to meet a whole new group of people (a whole new village!), from living a settled comfortable life with my host family to readjusting to a new host family and a new living arrangement, from the easily accessible grocery stores to the nearest shopping town almost an hour away… and the list goes on… But with that said, I can’t wait!

Language acquisition has been in hyperdrive these last couple weeks. Last Wednesday marked the final day of official language classes. Every day the six people in the oshindonga group have had a two hour language class with Victory. He is a complete omuyolithi (goofball silly goose) and goes on the wildest tangents in class about word etymology, crazy stories of his youth, and basically laughing at us oshilumbus when we mispronounce a new vocab and inadvertently say a ‘bad’ word. A couple weeks ago we had a mid-training language interview evaluation and I nailed it with a rating of intermediate-medium - best in the whole group if I can brag! Their rating scale goes from novice, to intermediate, to advanced, each with a subrating of low, med or high. And this week was our final language interview and I improved enough to merit a rating of intermediate high! So basically I can understand and answer reasonable questions, maintain simple conversations, and be a bit creative when formulating my sentences. No abstract philosophizing yet… I’ve learned a lot practicing with my host family and from asking our various trainers how to use some of the more prickly types of words. I’m excited to move North because the omniprevalence of English in Okahandja will cease and my incentives to learn will spike even sharper since my host meme speaks barely any English.

Model school was the Peace Corps moniker given to the two-week school for the vacationing learners where the volunteers were given invaluable and practical experience with all aspects of the Namibian school system: setting the class schedule, attendance, teaching with limited supplies, and of course the learners. We used the facilities at two of the local schools in Okahandja and recruited learners from town and even as far away as Windhoek. The learners who showed up for model school were there either because they were bored of vacation, their parents didn’t want to deal with them, or, as we would like to believe, that they really wanted to learn and be taught by new, fun, and exciting teachers. I ended up teaching two forty-minute periods of maths a day to both grades 9 and 10 and also helped co-teach a life skills class for grade 6 with another volunteer. The lower grades were pretty packed (about 30 per class) but my two classes each had only about 10 learners. Besides individual math tutoring, and informal juggling lessons, I have never taught in a classroom setting before. Needless to say, it was a bit scary getting up in front of the chalkboard and jumping right into the teaching role. Surprisingly though, I felt pretty good about my first few days. I taught grade 9 about series, sequences, with a dab of exponents. Grade 10 focused on ratios, proportions, and introductory probability.
The hardest part was trying to figure out which topics to teach then and how to structure the lesson plans. I taught just using a chalkboard and chalk and tried out some ideas that we had talked about in training. At the start of each lesson I gave them a fun brain-energizing warmup puzzle (how many triangles in this figure?, what comes next in the pattern here?, what dies when you give it water, but grows when you give it food? etc etc) I also tried to include some games into the lessons to make the subjects less dry and more interactive. One notable game for probability was an adaptation of paper-rock-scissors: Human-Chicken-Spider. Analysis: no pure strategy because the opponent chooses with an equal 1/3 probability. Then I added the Mosquito which changed all the probabilities around: Chicken eats Spider and Mosquito, Mosquito bites Human, Human eats Chicken, Spider scares Human and eats Mosquito. Analysis: Chicken and Spider have the best probability of winning against a random choice by the opponent. I had the class split into two teams and pantomime their choices when it was time for battle. It was pretty fun but after trying out some of these games, I realized that it is going to be pretty hard to think of a game or activity for every single class or else my box of ideas will be depleted too fast.
My learners all came from different schools and were at such different levels that it was difficult to gauge their understanding. And as we came to the end of the two weeks, the classroom management and discipline became more and more of an issue as the kids started pushing the boundaries. I am by no means a hard ass so it was difficult to become the dictator or rules and regulations but it gave me a great idea of what works and what doesn’t. I think that some of the problems stemmed from the nature of the model school: that it was only two weeks long, that the kids were all on vacation, that they knew the teachers were not going to be around all year to implement any serious long-term consequences. The sixth grade was ridiculous. Lots of troublemakers and hooligans. Sometimes they were pretty fun though and hopefully I motivated them when I told them that all the math was ‘up here’ as I pointed to my head, and then proceeded to wow them with my rapid-fire answers to a string of multiplication questions thrown at me by my colleague. We concluded with a small exam which gave us some good practice marking and also how to set up tests, and then each learner was given a nice certificate. Namibians sure do like their certificates!

Towards the end of model school, I learned that some of my ninth graders play soccer and after school one day I went with them to the dirt/rock/glass shards/brush field where they practice. The location where we are staying apparently has a few teams that practice regularly and I got to go through a couple days of real training with a team called the Battle Boys. Serendipitously, there was a tournament going on that weekend, and the coach/captain asked me to play with the team so I got to wear a uniform, get my picture taken with the team, and play almost a full 90 minute game in the small local stadium! The deadly heat coupled with a steely opposition made it a difficult game and even though we lost 2-1 it was pretty awesome. I haven’t played in any more games, but most evenings before the sun sets (when the 100 degree heat dissipates), I take my ball out in the street by my house and start juggling and before long, a crowd of neighborhood kids swarm and we start up a short-sided game. Some of them are super good for how small they are. And what’s my record you ask… let’s just say that they all want to be on my team.

The other night, we had a Peace Corps talent show and there was a variety of acts from guitar solos, to impromptu poetry, to traditional Namibian dances. For my part, I did some three-ball juggling, going through some of the tricks I know in the progression of how I learned them. Cascade, reverse cascade, tennis, windmill, mill’s mess, Boston mess, columns, shower, multiplexes, shuffle, in and out… I have the juggling skills but I’m still working on my performing skills... and I’ll definitely need them for circus college when I finish my Peace Corps Service!

Tomorrow is the big move! I start teaching for real next week! Yikers! It’ll probably be a whirlwind of organizing, unpacking, preparing, speaking Oshiwambo, reveling under the starry skies… Email is the best way to send me a note (and I know you all want to let me know how’s it), so until then, indeni po nawa nombili unene! (go well with big peace!) -Paka

P.S. Here is my speech in Oshiwambo and the translation to English.

Speech in Oshindonga

Mwa lala po?
Nawa ngaa?

Peha lyaalongi-aayiyambi yOshindonga, onda hala oku mu pandula. Otatu pandula uunene aanegumbo yetu mboka twa kala momagumbo geni okuza muNovomba omumvo gwa yi sigo onena. Otwa lya iikulya pamwe nane, otwa dhaneni efudho nOkrismesa wo. Otwa nyanyukwa uunene okukala mOkahandja oomwedhi ndhika mbali.

Paife, tse otatu yi kOwambo opo tu ka tameke iilonga yetu onga aalongi-aayiyambi. Otatu ka longa omwaalu, uunongononi, oshiingilisa, nokompiuta. Natango otatu ka tsikila okuilonga kombinga yomithigululwa-kalo. Otatu ka tsakaneka wo aantu aape nookuume aape, ihe itatu ke mu dhimbwa nande nande.

Otatu pandula wo sho mwetu pitika opo tu kale moNamibia, tu kwathe aaNamibia muule woomvula mbali komeho.

Pehulilo, otwa hala okupandula aadheuli yetu ayehe mwaashihe yetu ningile pethimbo lyomadheulo getu.

Omukulu gwonale okwa tile: "waa pandula noyaka." Onkee otwe mu pandula unene aaholike.

Kalunga ne mu yambeke. Tangi unene!

Speech in English

Did you all sleep well?
Are you really well?

On behalf of the teacher-volunteers from the Oshindonga group, I want to say thank you. We really thank our families who hosted us in their houses from November until now. We ate together, we celebrated the holidays and Christmas together. We enjoyed our stay in Okahandja for these two months.

Now, we are going to Owamboland to begin our work as teacher-volunteers. We will teach maths, science, English, and computers. Also, we will continue to learn about the culture. We will meet new people and new friends but we will never ever forget you.

We thank you for this opportunity to stay in Namibia and help Namibians for the next two years.

Lastly, we want to thank all of our trainers for everything they did for us during our training.

The old man once said: "If you are not grateful, you may end up stealing" (An Oshiwambo idiom meaning: Appreciate what you have and don't keep wishing for more. Count your blessings.) That's why we really thank you, our dear ones.

God bless you. Big thanks!

1 comment:

Amanda Jane said...

hey i'm enjoying your blog and pics, your life is WAY different from my life in the north-central namibia....also awesome speech to your host families, it's clear you have a great grip of your local language than i do with damara/nama....well good luck and see you in a few months at fish river

good luck with the rain,
(the amanda from training who met you guys at the airport : ) )

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