Monday, July 9, 2007

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Last Days

Pictures: I tried to upload a bunch of learners and whatnot, not really working, so I got this one up. This is me on our first day of the Nauclauft Hike. Stay tuned over the next week for many, many more pictures.

It has been quite a ride but it seems it is time for me to leave Namibia. I made the choice about 8 days ago and much has happened since then.

I decided to leave last Monday. This was the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life, and I spent many hours pouring over every aspect of the decision. There have been many things that haven’t really been described on this blog. If you are yet unaware, I have kept this blog pretty positive on purpose. I try to reflect my overall feeling about my service on this blog, and the numerous small negatives can sometime portray the wrong image. However, now that my service is over, I will now elaborate on some of the things that have been a bit troubling this term. For one, I have not had running water in my house since the beginning of the term in late May. For a while I viewed this as normal; many of my learners live on homesteads with no running water, so why should I complain about my lack of water. There was ample water available from my roommate’s brothers’ house. A house with plumbing, however, should have water running through those pipes. My house started to smell pretty rank after a few days. Buckets baths in a shower stall just don’t have the same feeling as they do out in the open on the homestead. The responsibility falls on the school to keep the water running, and it never really materialized.

In addition to the water, my living situation wasn’t quite ideal. I lived with a roommate who I will miss very much. Two of his daughters stayed with us, both of which I saw every day in class. I was game to give this a try, though it turned out that I was often their only male role model. In the end it was simply too much interaction with learners.

I also had a lot of problems with the actual teaching. I vow to not let this experience effect how I view teaching in the states, however I worry that the same problems I encountered here may not disappear with teaching in the states. I couldn’t do the job, be it planning or marking. I don’t attribute these problems to the lack of achievement among learners. The daily requirements of a teacher are perhaps what I disliked the most about the experience. A bit scary, since I am a trained teacher.

A little aside about being a trained educator coming here as an education volunteer. Many here as surprised when they hear I studied education and am leaving because of the teaching (partly). I have considered this and to some extent feel as though you are at a disadvantage being a trained teacher. As a teacher, I feel I have a mindset that I can coach up everybody, or should be able to. That mindset in this environment is dangerous. Those that have never taught before at least can fall back on the idea that they have never done this before. Maybe a copout?

Combine those major problems with a feeling of lack of productivity, intense homesickness and a general lack of happiness, I started to consider this choice. My entire second term has not been great, and it finally built up enough to get me to start looking this way. Also my parents were beginning the planning of a trip here in December and I couldn’t guarantee I could make it that far, which to me was a flag of problems. If I have been in country for 8 months (exactly when I fly out) and cannot say that I will definitely be here in December, there is something wrong.

I concluded that there were two big reasons keeping me here. In addition to all the smaller reason (the other pcvs(actually not small at all), living in Africa, representing peace corps well, representing Americans well), the two big reasons were A)to prove it to myself that I could do it and B)for the learners, teachers, and Namibians. First things first

I suppose we can all think of a time when you have done something that you didn’t like just because you said you would do it. Well, I could have pushed through my time here, wait for the weekends, wait for the holidays, and finish. Though I would have completed my service, I wouldn’t have been happy and thus my work would have suffered. Now, perhaps things would have turned around, though I simply can't look at the What Ifs of this decision. I decided it was not healthy and wrote if off.

I announced my decision to the learners in one big school assembly. Everyone was crowded around me and my colleague, who was helping translate to Oshindonga. Needless to say they were very sad. Some began crying. It was rough. I would say among learners, teachers, and Namibians in general, the two emotions I felt the most were disappointment and surprise. The learners came to study after I informed them and many were crying. Some came up to my window and would cry, make eye contact with me, then look down and begin crying. For the most part, though, I believe the tears were genuine.

Earlier that day, I announced to the teachers that I would be leaving. They were confused on various levels. They don’t understand that Peace Corps is ok with this. Peace Corps certainly are not happy and they always do everything they can to keep the volunteer in country, but they also understand that sometimes things just can’t be worked out. I also think that teachers sometimes forget that we are volunteers. By many I was viewed as simply a fill in teacher, which can be frustrating when you are trying to do bigger projects and get bogged down in teaching. There are plans to lessen the teaching loads of volunteer teachers during their second year so the volunteer can focus on secondary projects. This is a great option for those feeling burnout. Many teachers commented that they were disappointed; they felt they learned a lot in the time I was there and were excited to learn more. All were surprised. I didn’t let out that I had been thinking about this just incase my feelings changed, so therefore most had no idea. It was difficult, especially looking at two of the teachers I had gotten pretty close with. Until that moment I didn’t fully realize the bond I formed with them in such a short time. In the end, the teachers were mostly supportive and forcing themselves to smile and wish me luck.

I headed into town on Wednesday to print some pictures from a small photo project I did. I got robbed at my hike (hitch) point. The moment I went to move my bag to the trailer, a guy went in my pocket and grabbed my hike money. It could have been much worse and I was most angry with myself.

Thursday was a great day, or at least as good as it could have been. I promised myself that I would be happy. I couldn’t have a day like Tuesday and let them remember me with sadness. I think I got this idea from my parents; when I last saw them and said goodbye, they surprised me and quickly hugged me and got in the car. It was exactly what I needed. I didn’t need a long, drawn out, sad goodbye, and this was the same view I took of this parting. I spent the day handing out pictures, taking pictures, giving away prizes (a momma goodwoman idea), distributing my home address, and smiling. I tricked them into being happy about me leaving. It was nice. After school the staff through together a small brai under the big tree on the school grounds. It was a nice way to go out. I evenly distributed all my teaching materials and stationary. I also printed some pictures for them and distributed them. Some had small gifts for me, which is nice considering it was two days after I informed them I was leaving. It was a relaxing time with the teachers and definitely something I needed.

I packed my life up on Thursday then got scooped on Friday. Headed into town for Friday and Saturday, and then hiked to the capital on Sunday. Saying goodbye to Oshifo was not as bad as I thought it would have been, which is a good thing. Leaving the north wasn’t even that bad. The most difficult thing was leaving the other volunteers in the north. Similar to the trail, we had been through so much together that the bond is strong, so leaving was tough.

I have spent the last two days running around Windhoek. Flight leaves Friday, which means, to the day, I will have spent 8 months in Africa. It’s natural to look back at my experience and see what I learned, enjoyed, and now question.

I learned much about myself. Peace Corps challenges you in ways I never thought possible. I had just hiked much of the AT and felt pretty good about challenges. PC calls upon your confidence, skill, adaptability, sense of self and self motivation. I learned that I need people. I was relatively isolated and hence missed interaction with fellow Americans. I had internet at my school but that didn’t seem to fulfill this need. I learned a whole new culture, one of this is extremely interesting and complex. The remnants of apartheid are difficult to describe and understand if you haven’t lived it. Racism is something that will trouble this country for many generations to come. It still causes issues in the US. I'd like to think that I did something to help this whole situation, albeit miniscule.

I enjoyed much of this experience, and though I am leaving, still encourage anyone to join PC. I have never been around such a likeminded group of people. Its refreshing, especially in this time we are living (I didn’t like the last year of college when nobody could say hello to each other on campus because they were listening to the newest PodCast or something[bad example, there are more ipods here than…well there’s a lot] ….but that’s another post). I saw Africa. Though it was a very small chunk of this amazing continent, I saw it, and it was beautiful. The learners made me smile every day, even on the worst day. I enjoyed them so much.

Dark Star Safari is a great book, I highly recommend it, though if you are getting ready to do any major service work, I might recommend waiting to read it till after you are done that service. I, however, didn’t receive this advice and made it the first book I read once in country. The book is written by a RPCV(returned Peace Corps Volunteer, PC loves acronyms) who travels overland from Cape Town to Cairo. It’s well written, exciting and really gets one excited to travel. However, there is an underlying theme of service and development. He describes returning to the country in which he served and observing that not much has changed since he was there, and in some cases, things have gotten worse. He makes an argument calling for all relief to be removed from Africa, making Africa develop on their own and hence forming a strong, self sufficient Africa. You can see how this book might twist the mind of a young, ambitious PCV. I see some valid points in his argument. Are we not building a culture of reliance? Why must I force my American culture on them and push my way of doing things (either knowingly or unknowingly). I don’t like that the child, with barely enough money for food and proper clothing, wants nothing more in the world then to buy the newest 50 Cent t-shirt. Peace Corps preaches about sustainability, but as much as the PCV strives for this, I feel it’s a lost battle with the way the system is set up. Don’t get me wrong, Peace Corps is doing great things here. People are setting up clubs, teaching classes and building bridges. But wouldn’t this be better if it were all Namibians doing this? Some say the skills are not here to make this happen. From my experience, this is false. Most of the things I was asked or suggested to do could be done by one or more of my colleagues. It’s all dangerous thinking as a PCV, though I feel it is important to evaluate while one is serving here.

So I finally let my true feelings start to show though on this last blog post and get everything out about some of the negatives things I have experienced. So let me finish with the things that I will miss dearly when I fly out on Friday.

-The kids. When children that I have seen daily for the last 6 months still come up and say to me “How are you!?!?!?” and I say “Fine, How are you?!” and they scream “IM FINE!!!” and run off and laugh and continue playing in the sand, it make me smile. To be able to constantly bring someone that kind of happiness with such little effort makes one happy.
-The fires. Every night around dusk thousands of fire spark up all over Africa, and I will think of that for the rest of my life; the three rock formation to hold a pot that’s charcoal black from years of use.
-Kwaito: the music of choice for many Namibians. It has grown on me and whenever I hear it will immediately take me back to this time.
-The National Anthem. Every Monday and Friday at morning assembly, the learners and staff sing the national anthem then have morning prayer. During the anthem, the flag is raised and timed perfectly to reach the top just as the anthem ends. At the very last moment, a cord is pulled that lets the flag unfurl. Kind of over dramatic but nice.
-Everybody I have met. The learners, teachers, fellow PCVs, PC staff, everybody. The relationships I have formed here will be something I cherish very much.
-Speaking Oshiwambo. The tiny bit I learned will quickly fade away as there ain't too many Oshindonga speaking Americans. It’s a complex and difficult language and I will miss listening to it.

It was a good run. It is a run I hope to finish one day. I am very excited for whatever is to come next in my life, be it teaching or not. Leah and I have both independently chosen to ET within 1 week of each other, rather story book. I am excited to see friends and family and try to get my life rolling again. I am excited to have some money, assuming I get a job. I am excited to eat my mothers’ food, I am excited to drive a car. I know that many of these superficial things will fade quickly, though right now they look pretty good. This was a difficult decision, and one that I made without the luxury of knowing what is to come. For me its right, now now.

I came across a quote that I think is pretty fitting.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again….who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly…”
-Theodore Roosevelt

I’d like to think I was in the arena, even if it was for a short time.


Ps, for those future peace corps volunteers coming to Namibia that are possibly reading this. Please get in contact with me (comment with email or something). I can try to answer any questions you may have getting ready for your training in November. They are already starting to get ready for your arrival in country…I hope you are excited!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Some big news...

I have decided to Early Terminate (et) my service. There is nothing wrong with my physical health or safety, I have just decided this is not the right place or job for me currently. It was a difficult and very draining decision, though now that I am going through with it, I am realizing it is the right choice for me. I will be arriving in the capital this weekend, where I will work on much paper work while doctors do what they need to do to me. Time is kinda short here at school so I will post a very detailed and profound (probably not) entry when I am in the capital. Stay tuned...and for those in the states....Ill see you soon.


Sunday, June 24, 2007


This was written by a grade 9 learner and read at our morning assembly on the Friday of AIDS Awareness week.

My name is HIV

My name is HIV
My real name is AIDS
I don't care whether you are black or white
Rich or poor, young and old. I infect all

So be careful I don't care
what u are
who u are
I kill

I'm waiting 4 u 2 open
I'm knocking on your door

You can choose to be my friend but
surely it
wont last because I'll kill you
you slowly bu t surely will die and
your death will be history in your community

so stay away from sex if you don't
want to be my friend.
so ABC which means Abstain, Be
Faithful and Condomise.