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

First week teaching

I survived the first week of school! I'm a bit exhausted now and glad it's the weekend. I had no idea that teaching took so much energy! I appreciate my former teachers even more now that I know what it's like to get up in front of a class of expectant students and try to teach multiplication! I am officially a math teacher now in charge of grades seven eight and nine. I also teach life skills (kind of like health but also includes any general life knowledge such as juggling) to eight nine ten and P.E. to grades five six seven. Some days were great and others felt like I was pulling teeth. I'm in the process of marking (grading) the quizzes I have on Friday and I definitely have some work to do... There are a few kids who get it completely and aced the tests but I also have some scores close to zero. Not sure how that gap happened but I'll do my best to close it. The kids are so shy in class though so it's almost impossible to tell when I'm not making sense. They will just say yes when I ask if they understand even if they really don't. But it's only been one week so hopefully they'll start getting more comfortable in class with me.
Aside from school, I am in complete village mode. I wake up with the roosters and/or the heat, have some tea, bucket bathe with shivering water, speak as much oshiwambo as I can, practice slingshot skills with the ten year old egumbo, help plow the fields with donkey power, climb trees like a monkey, play soccer with my three host siblings, eat porridge and meat for every meal, and go to sleep under my mosquito net after a spectacular sunset. The nearest town is a five mile walk and there is one tiny grocery store with peanut butter but it costs price and a half compared to a bigger town. To get back to the village, there are people with pickups who ferry people out to the bush for about eighty cents U.S., which means they try and take as many passengers as possible. This makes for quite a wild ride! Last week there were fourteen people somehow piled into the truck. And the rainy season has started, so the almost daily torrential thunder storms leave the flat plains, called oshanas, filled with standing muddy water. Thus, the proliferation of pickups. Walking to school on Thursday, I had to wade through ankle deep oozy gray water. But my colleague gave me an umbrella so it's all good. I think I may have to cut my hair soon.. One old grandpa thought I was a meme, granted he was a bit far away. My host mom got a good laugh out of that. Actually she laughs all the time about everything which is so great. There are goats bleating, donkeys crying, dogs barking, huge bees buzzing, lizards rustling, hawks soaring, millipedes crawling, chickens scampering, and dragonflies hovering. Along with all this activity, the people are constantly busy: plowing, sowing, hoeing, cooking, pounding flour, and resting when it's too hot to do any work. The fields and crops that surround the homestead are the soul source of food. Of course they could go to town and buy things but their only job is cultivating hence no monetary income, only sustenance. It's pretty amazing seeing how this lifestyle works day after day and to really be living it... Although I do admit I have been secretly eating mass amounts of peanut butter and apples and doing crossword puzzles whenever I feel the need for solitude... All in all life is onawa (good/sweet/swell) here in this small African village. Now back to mathematics and peanut butter... Miss and love you, parker --
Parker Lewis

Parker Lewis P.O. Box 344 Uukwaluuthi Tsandi Namibia Africa