Where In The World is Melanie
Eleven Reasons to Wake Up in the Morning

Over the past two months, I have had at least eleven reasons to wake up every morning. My eleven reasons travel long distances to get to school, live in the hostel to make their education possible, and shower me each day with smiles, hard working attitudes, and memorable quotes. Only once have all eleven been in class together, but that one time sure was special!

I knew today was going to be a challenging day as I would be saying goodbye to Pionier Boys’ learners and teachers. Driving in the taxi this morning, I reminded our driver to remember his “happy” music as some of us may be teary in the afternoon. After dropping the first group off, I looked over at Rayna and said, “Theme of the day: Don’t be sad that it’s over, just be glad that it happened.” When we arrived at Pionier, we were able to say some words to the staff and it was nice to have the opportunity to thank such a school that has been our second home over the past two months.

The boys practice phonics all morning using an American curriculum and I get to have them all afternoon. Before the morning phonics, my teacher asked me to wait in a different classroom so they could “take care of some things.” When escorted up to the classroom by one of my students, I said, “Alright, let’s go,” and he responded with “Chill, Miss, chill.” Yes sir Enrique. The learners had made me a wonderful card, each signed with a little message.

After phonics, the learners went to PE and returned back excited they had beat the other Bridge class 1-0 in soccer. I warned my teacher in advance that there would not be a lot of “educational” activities going on, but I think it was okay with her. When the learners returned, we played a game or two and then I showed them the video I had put together of different pictures I had taken throughout the year.

The background music was “Waka Waka” as the students love it and sing along. It was fun to see the smiles across their faces as pictures of them appeared. I then provided each of them with a letter, picture, and t-shirt. I had the opportunity to read each letter to the learners because they are still unable to read more complex words. Because I had my laptop, I also showed them pictures of my family and let them have some fun picking out different songs on iTunes. I think they finally realized I’m not an old, boring teacher, but instead, I am young, I like to have fun, and they were able to see a little bit of the United States while they were at it.

Throughout the two months, I have made all of the worksheets by hand to adjust the level of learning. Instead of having them glue each one into their notebooks (I think it is a waste of time), I put together folders to collect all of their work.

Today I had them go through their work and pick out the assignment they are most proud of. It was really rewarding and fun to see the spectrum of choices. Some picked their sentence reading, others their All About Me books, others the Pop-Up books, and others random assignments they did well on.

My last day was the first day I really saw my teacher express gratitude and it made me feel appreciated. I think she finally recognized how much personality her boys have and how it doesn’t always have to be a rigid form of teaching. I hope the boys will continue saying their morning routine of “I am kind….” and she will continue to encourage them to do their homework and think positively about their education.

It was an emotional day on many different levels. As the marathon of goodbyes happen throughout this week, I feel so blessed I have had the opportunity to work with such wonderful children. It is hard to describe what this experience has been like without including small anecdotes and stories. The stories are what have made this experience what it is, and as one of my boys said today, “Thank you Miss for teaching me to read and write.” Mission accomplished. It has been an incredible two months and I will miss each and every one of the eleven blessings as I journey back to the states on Friday.

Flying By…

As a part of my class assignment, we were required to pick 2-4 experiences that really stuck with us throughout our time here. Here is what I chose…

Soon after arriving in Windhoek, I quickly scribbled a few general goals in the back of my journal: teach my students to read, keep an open mind, take notes every day, and engage in the Namibian culture and school system. Though very broad, these goals provided me a mindset to take risks, to ask questions, and to document my experiences to look back on in days, months, and years ahead. For me, this experience was more than a trip. It was more than a study away experience. It truly was an opportunity for me to redefine my values, to question my views, and to improve my teaching abilities in the classroom. Through a multitude of experiences, my perspectives were widened, my knowledge was enhanced, and I was tested in challenging ways. Coming away from this adventure, there were a few events that truly stuck out—a common thread among them all—the people they were with. From sitting on the top of the dunes at Soussesvlei, to listening to my learners read their first sentences, to seeing the largest grin on a child through a gift of a soccer ball, to teaching at the BNC, to the bittersweet goodbyes, this experience is what it is because of the people who I met, spent time with, and taught throughout my two months in Namibia.

Sitting on the top of the dunes in Soussesvlei, I could not help but sit in awe. Many times I felt close to pinching myself wondering, “Is this real life?” The beauties and pure sensation of the environment truly struck me. Being with a few close friends on one of the tallest dunes in the world, looking out onto priceless views made me think, “What else is out there?” I had been bit by the travel bug. Not to say I did not have the bug to travel before Namibia, however, seeing these remarkable views in combination with some incredible friendships, I realized the importance of traveling, the importance of being with people you care about, and the importance of seeing the world because there are millions of diamonds in the rough. Soussesvlei was an unforgettable treat to say the least. It was a small weekend trip, however, it has sparked my trip to Europe this summer and my desire to eventually teach internationally. The bottom line—teaching can happen anywhere! Rural villages, the middle of the city, you name it. Seeing the dunes in combination with my bug to travel and experience new places, I was reaffirmed that teaching is a wonderful gateway and need across the world.

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From reading “I am kind. I am smart. I am important,” every day to reading their All About Me books in front of the class, my learners are slowing climbing the ladder from illiterate to literate in just a few short weeks. As soon as I started seeing students finally grasp the concept, “sound it out,” I challenged them with sentences to read. Each with their own list of sentences, they blossomed. The learners were smiling, competing with one another, and finally reading! Because my cooperating teacher constantly reminds the learners that they cannot read and they need to listen extra hard, it was nice to see this milestone accomplished. Of course they are not fluent readers but they have the confidence, they have the tools, and they have the desire to stay in during break just to read more sentences. As I mentioned earlier, teaching my students to read was a goal of mine from the beginning of the trip which made this success not only one for them, but for me too. It showed me I could be thrown into a new environment, feeling ill equipped to teach a certain academic level and I was able to adapt, adjust, and thrive in teaching 7th graders. The boys at Pionier have taught me how to meet the learner where they are and challenge them to achieve the next step.

Every morning when I raise my hand high in the air and ask them what it means, they know it means I have high expectations because they are capable of anything. They told me they could not read and after day one they were reading words. They told me they had never read a sentence and soon they were reading hand-made books. When I asked one boy what he was doing the upcoming weekend, he responded, “learning.” I asked if he learned by himself or with his family and he said his family. He then asked, “Miss, can I have more work please?” This sums up my overall experience at Pionier. A place I thought I would struggle to connect has become a place where learners have soaked up each opportunity to learn and I have looked forward to coming to each day for the past two months. I will miss “pounding it” with each student as they leave each afternoon.

Teaching twice a week at the BNC has also been a place where I have seen children grow in a multitude of ways. The learners challenged my behavior management strategies, and they challenged my ability to think outside the box to help them learn. Last Tuesday, Liz and I were team teaching 5th grade English. There was a new learner, Tobias, sitting in the class and he remained pretty quiet. Mary Beth had told us from the beginning each of these students are high achievers in the classroom and with that, I made the assumption they all knew English. Up until last Tuesday, all of our students actively participated, despite the amount of patience it tested, and I was not concerned about their proficiency in speaking English. For our lesson, we had the learners practice letter writing, each writing a letter to both Liz and I about what they had learned. We walked around, saw each student drawing, appearing on task, and the lesson went quite smoothly. When we went to collect the letters, I received my letter from Tobias who wrote, “Happy Birthday. I am not anderstand Eglish.” Wow. I had just spent an hour in a classroom and did not realize poor Tobias had no idea what was going on this entire time. Despite the fact that he faked his understanding incredibly well, it was a wake up call for me as a teacher. It made me think about what it must be like to be in a classroom where everyone understands but him. He was a new student who I was unfamiliar with and it the short hour, slid under the radar. I will take this lesson as I move into the field of education and because of Tobias, I hope my future students will not feel lost and confused for an entire hour of instruction.

Spending each Thursday at Dolam has been a gift and a place I have learned to appreciate simplicity. The first day I was there, I realized they were without a ball. With afternoons free to play outside, I thought I would bring one of my soccer balls donated by MetroParks back home. Katie took the soccer ball to school that day and then brought it to Dolam. She kept it hidden until play time and when Gustav finally asked if I had brought the ball, I asked him to ask Katie, as she knew where it was hidden. She led him around the house to add some suspense and then when Gustav found her bag, he leaped onto her with the biggest grin of gratitude I have ever seen in a child. The hug, the genuine happiness, and the excitement in something so simple as a donated soccer ball made me a little choked up. He then ran to me yelling thank you. I feel very fortunate to be able to provide such a moment of happiness for each of the children. They immediately ran outside to play for the rest of the afternoon. The soccer ball is really just one example of simple realities Dolam children face every day. They have created basic tag games, different jumping games from string. They make their bread every afternoon. Each of the kids help to “make it work.” I am greeted with hugs and smiles each afternoon making it a place I will miss dearly. The kids are full of love and as I was welcomed into their lives, I learned to appreciate the simple things. To love the family and friends who support you. To appreciate the small moments of happiness. To make the best out of any situation. These children impress me each week and I look forward to see the mark they get to leave on the world. 

These are just four of the many experiences that helped shape my time in Namibia. Each interaction added in a new way. I came to Namibia expecting to teach low-level children. I now leave having learned more than I could have imagined. From the sight seeing to the story telling to the time spent volunteering in multiple ways, this experience has come full circle. When I board the plane on Friday, it will then be my turn to bring these experiences and life lessons back to my life, back to my family and friends. Walking off the airplane two months ago, I was not sure what to expect. Looking back on my goals, I reached each of them in one capacity or another. I learned the importance of stretching myself and challenging my values. I am so grateful for this experience and after two months, I will return with a new lens on teaching and how I will choose to live my life.

Only a week left in this amazing place to teach a few days, say my goodbyes and soon enough I will be saying hellos to many of you!

The Wild School Chase

To start my day, I could not be more proud of routines! Because I was trying to find a teacher before school, the boys and the teacher were in class before I was. The boys get into class at 7:40, however, the first period does not start until 8:00. If I am not there, the teacher has the students sit quietly. Naturally, when I walked in, the students were all sitting quietly. When they saw me come, they immediately got out their homework (100% completion) and reminded me to have a learner lead the “I am kind…” morning routine. Seeing the students remember what to do, basically self-run the morning routine, and then ask for their next homework assignment, I was in awe. These learners continuously surprise me and to see them master the routine gives me hope for when I leave. Today I spent the day touring schools so I was not there—I missed by boys and I only missed a few hours—but what a day it was!

One of our teachers offered to take Rayna and I (the two student teachers at Pionier Boys’ School) to Windhoek High School to see what a mainstream high school looks like. To say the least, we were in for more than just an adventure to one high school. Little did we know when we got in the van, we ended up visiting about six schools, each of different ages and set-ups.

To begin our school tour, we started at a school for the hearing-impaired. What a gift! We were welcomed into a fourth grade classroom of about twelve students, all eager to learn our names. I somehow managed to pull out my sign language (thank you Girl Scouts) and spelled my name for them. They then gave me a surname combining the letter “m” and the dimples on my face. The learners then introduced themselves and it was very fun to watch their hands move in such a fluid motion as they communicated to one another as well as to us. Next to the school for the hearing impaired were schools for the visually impaired and mentally impaired. Though we did not visit those schools, it is interesting to know such schools exist and deepened my interest about the outlook on special education in Namibia.

From the school for the hearing-impaired, we ventured to Windhoek High School with about 1,400 students…a little different than our 400 at Pionier. The classroom we saw had about 20 students who were copying an image from the SMARTboard. It was technology I had not seen for a long time. The campus was surrounded by a beautiful hockey field and soccer complex. We had been forewarned that going into the city was very different than the schools we had been in. I now understand why. Besides the shift from majority black students to majority white students at Windhoek High School, the facilities are well kept. I also met Herman, who donated the hockey field and has a daughter attending Berkeley. He has invited us for coffee and I look forward to taking him up on this opportunity.

 

To continue our school adventure we went to Windhoek Gimnasium. Costing N$2,000 a month (compared to $450 each three month term at Pionier), the school was predominately white and every office looked like you were walking into IKEA. With twenty-five students in each class, the SMARTboards and teacher laptops serve as wonderful teaching devices. The facility itself is immaculate, equipped with their own workout gym and trainer (both open to the public in the morning). We were able to have a great conversation with the “headmaster” and he gave us a lot of information, and also admitted to corporal punishment, pulling out his wooden paddle to show us. The school is “in a league of its own” as mentioned by the teachers at Pionier and it definitely showed. This private school has grades K-12 with five classes of twenty-five per grade and with many different extracurricular classes, the educational set-up is pretty incredible.

From there, we drove through a couple of other high schools, made a quick stop at our teacher’s daughter’s pre-primary school, stopped in at a family who chooses to home school their children and lastly ended up at the all girls’ school, Eros High School. It is very similar to Pionier, except for all girls instead of all boys. Instead of woodwork, plumbing, mechanics, etc., the school offers secretary skills, pre-school assistant practice, hair salon prep, and housekeeping. It was interesting to see “the other side.” Pionier and Eros had a dance on Friday night so it was nice to finally be able to see the girls’ school.

When we returned back to the campus, we were able to walk through the hostel where about 150 boys stay. It is a great resource for learners who cannot afford to transport themselves to and from school, however, the living conditions are challenging. With about five to each room, the boys have little privacy. My learners who live in the hostel complain about having to get up early and they do not eat or sleep well. I understand why and it makes me appreciate the learners who choose to live there and then come to school each morning ready to learn.

Overall, the day was incredibly informative and I learned a lot about the various education systems.  I am so honored to be teaching at Pionier and though I saw schools that “had it all,” I am thankful for the experience I have had and the relationships I have formed with the boys I will leave in one short week. 

Swakopmund. Sentences. Simplicity. Success.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all! It has been a day full of red, pink, and white here as teachers go all out for Valentine’s Day. Though our boys were still in uniform, the holiday spirit was definitely there (except for the fight I will explain later). It has been an incredible last week or so full of success in the classroom, a visit to one of my student’s homes, a weekend beach trip to Swakopmund, and time to develop a greater understanding and appreciation for simplicity.

Last Wednesday I went to visit the home of one of my students as part of my course requirements. The home visit became a highlight of my experience here very quickly. When I asked my students who had parents home after school, my options were narrowed down to one: Julius. A child with handicaps in his legs, this fourteen year old is full of smiles. Though a low language learner, he tries to communicate the best he can and last week he welcomed me into his home with shy grins and quiet responses.

Driving to his home in Wanaheda, we weaved through various streets passing hundreds of kids walking home from school and finally reached his home, hidden behind a locked fence. Warmly greeted by his mother, Ana, she welcomed us into her two-room home and gladly shared a wealth of information. She spoke English extremely well, which made me relieved because Julius still needs a lot of language development and I was a bit concerned.

When asked about the neighborhood, Ana continuously focused on the fact that she did not feel safe and she locks her doors at all times because of the problem with petty crime. Just two days before our visit, someone had come through the fence and reached through the window to take her boyfriend’s trousers. She has lived in this home for four years after moving to Wanaheda to live with her boyfriend. He has lived in this house for many years, however, this transition has been difficult for her to make. I talked to her about the community structure and she said the kids walk by the fence and say hello, however, she would never feel comfortable walking next door to talk to the neighbors. Unemployed, she passes the days watching TV, cooking meals, and a lot of sitting. She expressed interest in moving once the children finish school. She did not necessarily share the optimistic perspective, however, I appreciated that she did not hide her unhappiness in her living situation.

Each day, Julius catches a taxi to go to school. It costs him N$8.00 each way for this fifteen-minute drive. His siblings walk to their schools, however, this relocation to the Pionier Boys’ School has added another financial burden to the family. It sure makes me grateful for the requirement of districts to provide transportation in the states. I asked about the opportunity to live in the hostel the Pionier Boys’ School provides, however, Ana is afraid to have him live there because of his inability to take care of himself. Julius has trouble getting up in the morning and still occasionally has accidents in his bed. She wants to be a good mother and I can tell the love for her children radiates in all she does. Though she does not want Julius living in the hostel, it means that when she does not have money, she is unable to send Julius to school. This is slightly concerning as he has a lot to learn and it was also interesting because he was not at school the day after my visit. Visiting his home helped me understand his background and it was a gift to be welcomed into a home where I was able to hear such honesty.

Overall—teaching in the classroom has been quite an experience. My boys are finally getting it. I am seeing the “light bulbs” go off and I could not be more proud. They are not afraid to ask questions. They are not afraid of failure. I have made them each a worksheet based on their reading level to practice sentence fluency and oh my gosh! They were given directions to raise their hand when they felt they could read the sentence without any errors—learners were booming. If I heard them guessing, I told them to sound it out and I would be back to listen. They continue to beg for free time to practice. I couldn’t ask for more eager learners. I have found strategies that click and I am sticking to them.

Today after computer class, six of my boys did not return back to class because of a fight that broke out while in computer class. With just three students in my classroom, we had a nice conversation and they let me know what happened (and received their Valentine treats for being good). Of the four kids actually involved in the fight, three of them were beat because one of them is the “class captain” and should have the respect of their classmates. To have one child held on a pedestal seems kind of silly to me and ruins the example of equality. Once the other students got back, we had a little discussion about bullying as it happens daily at our school. One of my students raised his hand and asked, “Miss, what should we do if someone hits us?” This tells me the students have never been given this background information and do not know how to problem solve. I asked them what they hear me saying when I see fighting while walking outside. Their response, “We always hear you staying stop, no thank you!” We have added the “Golden Rule” to our morning routine and talked about role modeling. Hopefully our classroom, though the youngest, can become role models. I think this conversation was a great one to have and I think the learners walked away having learned something about problem solving. Let’s hope tomorrow they can earn their Valentine chocolate.

This past weekend, a group of eight of us headed to Swakopmund on the coast for a weekend of relaxation, four wheeling, and an incredible boat ride. We found a house on the beach for a great price and were able to stay for a couple of nights. After arriving on Friday, we went to the open-air market to see if they had some souvenirs. It is their slow season and they were all relatively persistent.  We decided to call it “window shopping” and went back on Saturday to purchase.

Friday afternoon we went quad biking on the sand dunes. Having never been on a 4-wheeler before, it was quite the thrill. Friday night we went out to dinner at Kücki’s Pub and I had an amazing burger!

Saturday morning we were up early for a four-hour boat ride with Levo tours. We were on the boat with two other couples, which was nice to have such a small boat. After immediately leaving the dock, our guide, Peter, starting throwing fish off the side as many pelicans soared right over us (thank goodness for the rain jacket hood). Soon after, a seal hopped on board. It is interesting because though these animals live in the wild, they are very tame and gentle. The seal, Phatso, let us pet him and he hung out with us for quite a while.

Throughout our boat ride, we were able to see about eight seal colonies, each with hundreds of seals. It was insane…and had quite the odor. We also saw flamingos, damara terns, and learned about the oyster farms (and tried a couple too). As we went farther out, we were able to see dolphins too, and that was quite a treat. Other boats were out and they all worked together to find them. While watching the dolphins, another seal hopped on board the boat, obviously looking for fish. It is amazing how these random animals are trained, which actually started with Levo tours many many years ago. After a nice picnic lunch, the boat trip was a great experience. We learned a lot about the sea life and we were able to enjoy some time out on the water.

Saturday afternoon, we worked our bargaining skills back at the market but they were much more stubborn on prices than we had experienced in the past markets. Some of us came away successful. That evening, we enjoyed dinner at The Lighthouse restaurant on the water for some yummy fish and chips.

As our time here gets shorter and shorter, I continue to enjoy every day. My boys are learning and I am so fortunate to be in such a beautiful country. We have traveled quite a bit and with the next two weekends free, I look forward to spending time in the city and soaking up the last few sunrays.

Sending my love across the world on such a lovely day!

Mel

I am kind. I am smart. I am important.

Role models. It is amazing what a small routine, a few words, and inspirational learners can create. As I mentioned in my previous post, each morning, my learners say, “I am kind. I am smart. I am important.” I led them the first day, taught them how to say the words, helped them understand the meaning, and from there, they have showed me three simple sentences go much further than a daily routine.

During break last week, I looked up to see one of my learners writing his own three sentences on the board. Overall, the class is just learning how to form sentences and to see this, it gave me hope the students are understanding, the students are comprehending, and the students are learning! When I forget to say the routine in the morning, they remind me. When they leave for the day, I hear them saying it as they go out the door. I am truly in awe what a difference three sentences can make. When other students come into the classroom, the learners read it to them. The nine students have bonded, they are a unit, and I cannot believe the growth they have accomplished in the last three weeks. They choose to stay in at break to play spelling word bingo. They ask for more math problems to practice their carrying and borrowing. They write on the board, “I am a doctor.” From “special students” they are becoming readers, writers, and artists. They know if they are not in their seats soon after the bell rings, I will send a student to find them in the courtyard. With high expectations, a predictable routine, and encouragement, I have seen learners blossom and I cannot wait for the month ahead.

On the top of the world

What a week! From my wonderful nine students singing “Waka Waka Africa” by Shakira while working on pop-up books to running down 200 meter high dunes, it has been quite the week.

On Thursday, I started my first day at Dolam Children’s Home. This home houses about 6 children and serves as a safe place for children to come if they need. These children are full of love, energy, and laughter. After a day at school, it is wonderful to be able to drop the “teacher” side, leave classroom management at school, and go play with the kids. From jump roping to teaching them Mexican Train (a domino game), the kids love being read to and played with.

This past weekend, our program took a trip to Soussesvlei to see the most miraculous sand dunes I have seen (and probably will ever see) in my entire life. We were told they are among the highest, if not the highest in the world. Because the owners of the bed and breakfast where we stay also own a lodge near the dunes, we were invited to stay there for two nights. Zebra River Lodge is located along the Zebra River (who would have thought)  in the Tsaris Mountains and it was amazing. Surrounded by layer after layer of rock, we enjoyed the views, the sun bathing by the pool, and an incredible sundowner. They also have a small watering hole where we were able to watch baboons and kudos frequently visit. We left Windhoek on Friday morning, and after about a five-hour drive, we arrived at Zebra River Lodge. The next morning bright and early (to try to beat the heat), we drove out to the dunes. Talk about feeling on top of the world—what an experience. It definitely heightened my bug to travel, as I know such wonders exist. Fortunately the weather cooperated and though it was HOT, the cloud cover while climbing Big Mama (the second tallest dune there) was greatly appreciated. After climbing, I couldn’t help but feel on top of the world. The dunes were a great reward after an exhausting week and I am also excited to stay in town this next weekend as we have been driving all over Namibia. In two weeks, a group of us are headed to the beach, which should be amazing.

Last week in school, my learners were still participating in “Athletics” absorbing a lot of time (that in my opinion should be used for instruction) and it has continued into this week as well! Fortunately, instead of finishing at noon, we finish at 1:05, allowing the teachers another hour to teach. After truly teaching the class last week, the learners quickly realized I would never hit them, I actually could be “fun” and I was excited for them to learn. Taken from “The Help,” the learners start every morning reciting: “I am kind. I am smart. I am important.” With the frequent beatings from teachers and other classmates, I want to instill encouragement and optimism in these kids. Even if it is just a little bit, it is more beneficial than many alternatives the other teachers choose to use. The classroom is made up of nine students, each at their own academic level. Some are just learning their letters, while others are able to sound out words. It really depends but I can tell they are all anxious to learn and today they finally read their first sentence: I am a boy. I was so very proud of them and the smiles told me they were proud of themselves too. The dunes made me feel physically “on top of the world,” but my boys reading—that is a pretty awesome feeling too!

From what I have seen thus far in my school, there is no official “bell schedule.” The bell rings when it wants to, could be early, could be late, you just never know. Because Athletics go from 8-10, the learners then have “break/lunch” from 10:00-10:45 (or 11…or 11:05). Realizing that many of my students just sit around and wait for the bell, I decided today to leave the classroom unlocked and allow for additional learning time. I pulled out some flashcards, played some letter sounding games, and it was really neat to see my students choose to spend their time in the classroom. Who knows if their participation will continue, but at least they know the option is open.

It was another exciting week and it is amazing to think of all I have done this month. I am looking forward to the next month ahead.

As I watched the stars and saw the moon while visiting the Tsaris Mountains, I couldn’t help but remind myself of the quote, “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

Sending sunshine and warm wishes for a wonderful spring semester!

Digestion

Just got done with my second day of school, my second day of tutoring, and finally taking the time to digest all that I experienced over the last week or so. There have been roller coasters, moments of frustration, instances of amazement, and a constant appreciation for the simplicity, diversity, and history of Namibia.

Traveling up north was full of culturally rich experiences and I saw lifestyles unlike I have ever seen before. The traditional wear of the women is absolutely beautiful and the Himba women especially have incredible hair (done with animal fat and clay every 3 months). Both the Himba and Herrero tribes have such unique village lifestyles. Our driver, Uanee, allowed us to rotate sitting up with him in the front of our gigantic bus/van/white shark vehicle, and from him, we were able to learn more extensively about the history of Namibia, he offered his personal insight, and we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted. I like to say he became our Namibian uncle as he quickly gained our respect, our trust, and we always felt safe with Uanee around as he basically knows everyone, everywhere.

Having the privilege of hearing such experiences, I took full advantage of asking him questions, listening to his hysterical laugh, and absorbing the wisdom he so willingly shared.  Keeping it open ended, I asked him for any advice he cared to offer—in turn, I received basic, direct information that served as a kind reminder of why I am on this trip and how to really take this experience as a “once in a lifetime experience.” He began with the simple ideas, keeping an open mind, experiencing more than just where he takes us, and then we were able to gradually develop into a conversation based around understanding and disabilities (kind of up my alley as a SPED major). He talked about how no one can say they understand someone who is in a wheelchair if they do not share the handicap themselves. They can sympathize but they cannot entirely understand. Same with lifestyles—some see these village lifestyles unbearable, however, no one can understand until they have walked the same path. He also multiple times reiterated the importance of hearing stories beyond his own. He is an incredibly knowledgeable man, but as he said it, he doesn’t know everything. He told me about a woman who lives downtown Windhoek who sits across from the Hilton Hotel in a wheelchair and loves to speak to people and just talk. He encouraged me to reach out to her, as well as others, to learn about Namibia from multiple perspectives—this is a country where many people want to share, have their story be told, and I hope before I leave, I can take part in this incredible privilege of hearing the stories of multiple people.

Part of our trip up north was visiting both a tent and mobile school. After “digesting” this experience, it has been important to realize to not feel sorry for these children sleeping on cement floors all week in a hostel because it takes them so long to walk to school, but instead instill pride in the children, instill light in the children, and even after not eating for 3 days, these children offered us songs, offered us smiles—a consistency among their culture: the willingness to give to others simply because it is “the thing to do.” This isn’t saying people offer generosity right and left, however, the hospitality we have received, the willingness for the various villages and schools to let us come in and learn about their learning and living environments, the constant give and take between family members to simply get by—it has helped me put a lot into perspective.

A take away from this experience thus far has been visiting Uanee’s homestead. As a part of this community, he was able to give us a full tour, letting us pass over the sacred path between the main hut and sacred fire (a pile of logs representing sacred fire), something that is usually forbidden by outsiders. He let us go in the hut and hear the stories of the lamb bones, hung above the door, each lamb representing a celebration in their family. He shared with us the story of people knocking out their four bottom teeth as a tradition in case they were to contract the locked jaw disease, they would still be able to drink milk. He openly admitted to chickening out on the experience entirely but he is okay with it. He even opened up and told us the tradition of circumcision—living with his grandmother, she continued to see him as a boy, and he was not ready to become a man. Finally at age 4, while his grandmother was gone, his cousins made it happen.  As he put it, his “willy” became a man. If I remember correctly, an animal is sacrificed for this occasion. Uanee is also engaged and hearing the marriage traditions was pretty special and at times, comical. Though engaged, it is a long line of approval processes to allow the marriage to occur. The woman’s side of the family (extended included), must approve, but it is not always a short process. If the family approves and grants their blessing, then the woman’s family picks the date of the wedding, as they are financing the festivities. Uanee (the groom) will then need to purchase 5 suits for the weekend ordeal. One suit for when he visits her village (and gets grilled), one for when he is at his village with her, one for the ceremony, and two more, I am blanking for what right now. The night before the wedding (the comical part), the soon-to-be bride and groom sleep together in the same hut with the bride’s mother/aunt/etc. sleeping in between them. We are all hoping Uanee gets a date soon and the marriage can then occur. I can say I would not have gotten these stories from any ordinary tour guide—Uanee simply put, enhanced this experience more than words can describe.

A luxurious part of the experience, besides the beautiful hotels where we stayed, was visiting Etosha National Park. Being the size of Switzerland, it is a very large park full of animals. From seeing my personal favorite, the giraffes (and almost seeing them mate as well), to seeing a family of 7 lions, the drive through the park was incredible. The birds were so colorful and it’s pretty amazing when your truck gets blocked by a herd of giraffes or zebras—a kind reminder—I am in Africa. The game drive was definitely a great part of the trip and provided for excitement, hopes for an elephant (unfortunately not one this year).

Coming back from Etosha Sunday evening, Monday morning we were in the schools teaching and what a day it was. I had yet to see the inside of a classroom so I was happy to finally have a cooperating teacher—even better, I taught the whole day! The Pionier Boy School (yes, that is how they spell Pionier), has an interesting dynamic as it is an alternative school for boys. After arriving and meeting my teacher, I met my classroom of 8 special ed students. All polite, charming boys, I look forward to the month ahead. School started at 7:30 and at 8:00, Athletics began, which is basically a track event for all the kids in the school to compete. Sitting with my teacher, come 7:40 and she had not moved from her desk and the children were sitting in silence, I thought I may try to entertain them by reading a story. After Athletics ended at 10:00, the students were given a 40 minute break, and then after my teacher did not return to the classroom, I started teaching phonics. I quickly learned my students were unfamiliar with the sounds of the alphabet and I will have the opportunity to teach them how to write and read.  We started ABC pop-up books today to practice our words and create a Word Wall with each letter. When my teacher eventually returned, I continued to teach the class and the boys were smiling too! Corporal punishment is an interesting situation here and has been quite shocking to witness. My teachers told the students if they did not listen to me, they would be pinched, or hit on the head because that is where the problem is. When I was talking to a teacher, I asked if corporal punishment was a classroom management strategy used in many classes at the school…his response: it is required by law—(not true, but yet it is the philosophy of the school). Other teachers were hitting the kids with sticks if they were not performing their Athletic drills correctly. Their logic: “to become men.” I am sure I do not agree and I hope through my teaching experience, I will be able to show my teacher positive encouragement works as a form a learning….probably better than pinching or hitting. When a student pops their head into her classroom, instead of asking “what’s your problem boy?”…perhaps thinking of an alternative greeting may be productive. The afternoon tutoring center has been an experience as well, providing opportunities to learn outside of basic schooling. I co-teach with a classmate Monday and Tuesday and then I will have my first day at the Children’s home/orphanage on Thursday.

A few more realizations in my time here…

-If you go on a 5-day trip, make sure to bring underwear (wasn’t me, but made for a comical experience for someone!)

-If you drive a truck here, you are basically required to take people in the bed—this could be 10-50 people in some instances—if I ever get a picture, I will post it, I feel like people are going to fall out!

-After my salami and egg overload, I will never eat either of those things again.

-A piece of chocolate cures any bad day of teaching.

-I have so much to learn in two months and I just can’t wait!

Phew—I think that is all—a lot to digest in a week’s time and this adventure has inspired me, motivated me, and exposed me to experiences I would not find anywhere else.

Sending my love—
Mel

Here are just a few more pictures about the experience here! Enjoy!

A Week In Namibia

Well—I have finally spent a week in Namibia. From eating crocodile and zebra, to visiting the Cheetah Conservation Fund, to being introduced to my new school, this week has been full of excitement, anticipation, and absolutely incredible experiences.

The week started with a Game Drive at a place called Okapuka, a 100,000 acre piece of privately owned property where their animals roam freely. We set off on the drive in two different “trucks,” one being a giraffe and one being a zebra. I ended up in the giraffe (my personal bias toward the animal) and it was an adventure to say the least. Apart from seeing wildebeests, jackals, warthogs, rhinos, all types of deer/antelope type animals (oryx, blesbok, sable, and eland), we were able to take part in the “Wild Game Chase” as well. While on our tour, we noticed a baby wildebeest abandoned by their mother. The baby was still wet from being born and the umbilical chord was still attached. In the bushes nearby, a jackal was ready to make the baby their lunch, however, with some pedal to the metal, our driver chased the jackal away, tried to corral the herd of wildebeests back toward the mother, and it made for quite the excitement. When the second group went to see this, the mother had reunited with the baby, so we hope that the jackal found something else for lunch. Overall the game drive was great, our guide did a great job stopping, identifying animals and beautiful birds. Random fact: Did you know when a giraffe is born, the mother does not squat, but instead the giraffe just falls out of the mother from the say, 6 foot drop? Pretty crazy!

On Thursday, we all ventured to our respective schools. I have been placed at an alternative school for boys 6th-12th grade. After being dropped off at Pioneer Boys’ School, my classmate and I walked in with no idea what to expect. We were warmly greeted by the principal and other teachers. They were all coming back from holiday and warmly greeted one another like longtime friends. Learners do not choose to come to this school, but instead are placed there based upon their primary school experience. The school provides a hostel for 150 students to live during the year because their commute is so long. Pioneer also offers a technical department with woodwork, welding, plumbing, mechanics, etc. and I am excited to learn more. On Tuesday is the first day of school and then we will be placed in classrooms (hopefully). The learners need to be tested to see if they qualify for certain levels of Special Education. Their mission statement has the words “special education” in it, so I am excited for the learning opportunities ahead. Oh, did I mention the students range from ages 16-23…something tells me they will be much taller and I can’t say I have taught students older than me. We shall see!

On Friday, our group traveled 3 hours north to Otjiwarongo to visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund. On our way up, we stopped in Okahandja to barter at a local market. Let me tell you—this is the place to practice your negotiation skills. The market had about 15 little huts with pretty much the same products in each one—I quickly learned if you say another hut offered you a lower price, you will most likely get it matched. After an hour or so of bartering, walking away from bad deals, and cutting prices in half, we boarded our “bus” and continued our journey to Otjiwarongo for a quick night stay at the Out of Africa Guesthouse. Before dinner, we had a guest speaker, Betsy, who works with elephants through an organization called EHRA (Elephants Human Relations Aid). She provided us strategies of how communities harm elephants because they do not know how to interact with them and also showed us many pictures. Random fact: Did you know an elephant has 70,000 muscles in just their trunk?

Saturday morning, we woke up and drove to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, started by Dr. Laurie Marker (who has lived in Oregon for many years—small world right?!). Our tour started with a museum type structure, then we saw the cubs (about 17 months old), watched a cheetah feeding (holy cow…or should I say, holy horse!), and then we drove around to see the cheetahs at the facility. The cheetahs feed off of horse and donkey six days a week at noon, and then have one day of fasting because that is the normal cycle for a wild cheetah. The facility holds about 50 cheetahs, with 40 that will not be released from captivity because they came to the center as cubs and needed human interaction and nursing to stay healthy. Because Namibia has the highest population of cheetahs, the mission of the Cheetah Conservation Fund is to keep the cheetahs safe through education, as many farmers see them as a threat and immediately shoot them.  It is against the law to purposely breed them. Many student interns come from around the world to participate in a veterinary internship, or volunteer in another capacity. Another component of the Cheetah Conservation Fund is their strategy to protect goats using dogs. This is an example of the type of education they use to inform farmers of ways to protect their cattle. The dogs scare off the cheetahs and because the cheetahs can only run quickly for short distances, the dogs can provide long distance protection. The Cheetah Conservation Fund was very interesting to learn about and it is neat to see such actions being taken to protect both the elephants and cheetahs.

A long post, but we did a lot this past week. On Tuesday, we go to school for the first day where we have been told to expect only chaos, and then, Wednesday, we head up north to Etosha where we will see tent/mobile schools, hopefully zebras and an elephant or two, and again, some more bartering. It is an exciting week to come.

—Sending my love from across the world—