Thursday, February 19, 2009

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


Ken Lewis said...


I'm not quite sure when you wrote all of this, fairly recently I suspect, but have things dried out any for you over there? We are experiencing March, "the cruelest month," here in the Pacific Northwest. Sunny and sixty degrees one day, cold and raining the next, and snowing lightly the day after that. Actually, I think last Friday was the first day of Spring! It sounds like you are having quite an adventure. Keep copious notes, save your blog files, and takes lots and lots of pictures. You may want to write a book about it someday!

Ken Lewis said...

NOW I see the date! Duh! Don't know how I missed it the first time. I guess I was just so caught up in your story. :)

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