Monthly Archives: June 2015

Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of Peace Corps. Numbers 10-18

This week we gather with our Peace Corps group, Group 38, in Windhoek for our Close of Service Conference. It is basically the graduation ceremony for all Peace Corps groups. We will have some sessions on reintegrating back to America, job searching and reflecting on our service. We’re being put up in a nice hotel (thanks American tax payers!) and breakfast and dinner are included for the 2.5 day conference. Josh and I will stay til the end of the week to do all our required medical tests. The last time our entire group was together was our Mid-Service conference, and before that for our Re-connect (6 months into service) and our 2 month Pre-Service Training.

We get back to Rundu on Saturday, we have one last full week of work and then our last days of work are July 13th. On July 14  we come back down to Windhoek for all the last minute paperwork, etc. and then on July 17 we officially become Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).

Here are my best memories, moments and lessons of my Peace Corps experience, Numbers 10-18. You can find Numbers 19-24 here and Numbers 25-30 here.

#10 Sharing holidays with my Namibian friends – Fulfilling Goal # 2

It’s been so exciting to share holidays with my Namibian friends, family and learners. Thanksgiving, Christmas in the village, 4th of July, bachelorette parties, the list goes on and on. I loved explaining the kinds of food Americans eat and how we celebrate each holiday.

I’ll never forget what my friend Kazao said at our Thanksgiving celebration last year. “I couldn’t go to America so America came to me. I’m the lucky one for having been chosen.” This made me tear up – this is one of the reasons the Peace Corps exists – cultural exchange. It’s been one of the most gratifying parts of my service, learning about how Namibians live and sharing what real life is like in America.

thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2014 hosted by JT and Queen (fellow PCVs in Rundu)

#11 Hearing my learners say Lisa-isms outside school

Some days you really wonder if anything you’re saying is getting through to your kids. But then some days you overhear some kids say things to one another and you know that some have been listening.

One day at volleyball practice I heard one player say to the other “Stop being an oompa-loompa!!” In the upper level grades here in Namibia learners are broken into “High Level” and “Ordinary Level” but I always called my grade 11s Extraordinary Level. I overheard one of my learners tell a higher level learner once “Oh, extraordinary level is actually better than higher level!”

Hearing little things like this always made me smile.

#12 Surprising people in our small community

I love city living, and while I’ve missed the amenities and anonymity I had in Denver, I have enjoyed living in a small community. As one of the few Americans in Rundu and Namibia, walking around town I often feel like a celebrity.

There are white people in Namibia. Most white people tend to stick together. I’m friends with both black and white people in Namibia. Most white people in our town have cars. PCVs can’t afford cars and aren’t allowed to drive. Consequently, we meet a lot of people walking all over our communities. Where I go running, I am on a trail that white people have little reason to be on.

When I am out with my Namibian friends in town we will get funny looks from people in our community. On my most recent trip to Windhoek with the volleyball team, my learners commented that the people in the mall were staring at us. They said to me “these white people are wondering what you’re doing with us.” The effects of apartheid are still felt here.

I’ve never been in a position where I felt like I was breaking down barriers a little bit, and it feels good.

#13 Changed, fresh perspective

Living overseas has changed the way I see the world. I’ll never view things through the same lense again, and I have Namibia to thank for that.  Former PC Director Anthony Williams once said  “Peace corps service isn’t a moment. Service is a mindset.” It’s true on so many levels.

Learning not to take things too seriously, remembering what matters most in life – being healthy, having enough food to eat, and having close friends and family. Living among people who have to deal with death from a very young age, and often, who don’t have enough food to eat, will change the way you see the world. I knew this existed before I came here, but now I have faces and names to attach to such circumstances. These are people in my community.

My colleagues always are grateful to wake up, and also think the afterlife will be a great thing, too. You have to do your best to let things roll off. Not everyone is afforded the luxury of getting old, especially in the developing world.

I read once that if there’s anything Americans are scared of, it’s inconvenience. I think this is true. I’ve had to shift and adjust myself to get used to being inconvenienced in Namibia. Uncomfortable combi rides, long lines at any store, not getting what you want often, cold showers, things not going as planned, frequent water and power outages, no electricity at all (for many in Namibia, not us), inefficient or traditional housing situations, dealing with very hot or cold temperatures with no A/C or heat, personal space not being respected and my cultural boundaries being pushed daily. I’ve grown a deeper appreciation of the USA, but also a deeper criticism for some things about my culture too now.

Experiencing all these things first hand has changed the way I see things. I’m a different person for it.

church

Being introduced at church for 20 minutes for Village Christmas 2013. One of my most unforgettable moments of our time in Namibia. Thanks to my friend Lucy and her family for hosting us.

#14 Finding new hobbies

Part of being a Peace Corps volunteer is learning how to be flexible and adjust to your new surroundings. Josh and I have always been big hikers, but since the mountains aren’t within a 20 minute drive like they are in Colorado, we found new ways to spend our alone and together time.

I got into workout videos and baking cakes. In Namibia I’m regarded as a decent cook!  Josh got into different man crafts. Together we discovered birding, sundowners and safari rides.

#15 Facing and Overcoming challenges. Truly getting out of my comfort zone.

I’m not a natural-born teacher. Living overseas isn’t easy, and working through challenges every day could get exhausting. However, learning to find ways to deal with difficulties and (sometimes) overcoming them gave me great satisfaction. You don’t have to leave your home country for this to occur, but it adds an extra layer of satisfaction to deal with specific problems here that don’t arise at home.

#16 Teaching 

I’ve never been an expert in my career. I’m a generalist, and while being the jack of all trades, master of nothing can be a good thing I have always wanted to be a master at something. In Namibia I am actually an expert at something – English! It’s been new for me to be the go-to person for all answers on anything, and I’ve enjoyed it. Learners and colleagues alike come to me often for random questions they have about English.

My classes were big and they were often loud. However, sometimes when I would read to my learners, it would get so quiet. You could hear a pin drop. There were other times when I would say something that really grabbed their attention and I could see all 50 faces looking at me. Though those days felt few and far between, they were very, very good days that I’ll always remember. Working in the library you can see how much books can transform people.

I’ve really enjoyed having a multi-dimensional job. I’ve grown professionally and personally from teaching. While Peace Corps can be frustrating, you could never say it’s boring. I’ve had some really boring jobs. This is by far the most interesting.

#17 Being in my friend Shikongo’s wedding and attending 2 other weddings

I felt incredibly honored to be in my friend Shikongo’s wedding. Josh and I got to observe and participate in Vambo wedding traditions. We were treated like family the whole weekend and danced and celebrated with all friends and family. It was a really special day.

#18 Admiring the beauty of nature in its finest state here in Africa

Seeing animals in the wild, watching mama elephants protect their young, seeing giraffes drink at a watering hole, watching wild dogs hunt, snakes in classrooms (can’t say I enjoyed this), seeing lizards all over, hearing frogs lull us to sleep with their croaks at night, the trees, seeing Chameleons. Africa does not disappoint with the nature-gazing you can enjoy.

wedding

My friend Shikongo’s wedding

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The successes and challenges of the Namibian education system

Living and working overseas can sometimes feel like being on a roller coaster with no harness. With more than 1,000 learners at the school where we also live, many days can feel like stimulation overload. I’m the type of person who loves change and can handle a lack of routine, but at times, life in Namibia has certainly pushed me to my limits. Living abroad in London I did not feel the same way. I think if you’re used to developed world living, the developing world can be a real challenge.

One of the lessons I taught my classes last year was on giving directions. I asked my learners to write down very detailed step-by-step directions for sweeping a room, to act as if you were explaining how to do that task to an alien. Often times when I sit down to blog, I think of explaining life this way because while many things unite humanity, there are certainly things that are very different about life in Namibia. It’s hard to know where to begin. The schools and the education system are certainly no exception.

No education system is perfect, and America has its challenges as well. Namibia is a very young country, both in years and demographics. According to the 2011 Namibia Population and Housing Census Main Report, the median age of people in Namibia is 21, but in Kavango Region the median age is 18, meaning that exactly half of the population is younger than 18 in our region.

Teachers are paid well in Namibia, and it is a highly sought-after job.  Due to a teacher shortage, HOD’s (head of department) and principals also have classes to teach, in addition to all their administrative work.

Kids at all schools wear uniforms, public (government) or private. There is no separation of church and state here – prayers and religious songs are common at schools. It’s very uncommon to meet a non-Christian in Namibia.

In many ways it is impressive how far Namibia has come in the 25 years since independence. The infrastructure is more developed than in many African countries with paved roads and clinics and schools.

It’s impossible to explain everything about the school system, but I’ll do my best to highlight the biggest points in this post.

The Ministry of Education sets the curriculum and exams. The school year runs from January to December. There are 195 scheduled days of instruction. We have three breaks: one from mid-April to mid-May, one for two weeks in August and one from early December to mid-January (Namibia’s summer/holiday break).

School begins at 7:10 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. There is tea break during the school day from 9:50 a.m. – 10:20 a.m.

There are eight classes a day and each class is 40 minutes long. On Wednesdays my school has a 9th period to make up for the assembly we have first period on Mondays. At assemblies there are announcements, prayers, words of wisdom and songs. Double periods are more common among older learners.

The subjects are similar to what we have at home. One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed about math in secondary school is that they teach elements of geometry, algebra and algebra 2 each year in a general math class. Most schools have afternoon study from 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. where learners are expected to do their homework and study.

Muke

Certificates are really important in the Namibian education system. And there’s nothing too fancy you can wear to give them out!

There will always be challenges. Here are some of the good things about the Namibian education system that I’ve noticed:

  • Being innovative – Namcol, Namibian College of Open Learning, offers distance learning. This is especially good for people who live far away from town. Technology is making education more available and affordable for people all over the world.
  • Free – Education is free for grades 1-7 and grades 8-12 may soon follow. Currently grades 8-12 must pay school fees, but there are programs available for those who can’t. School fees range from $N100-$N400 per year depending on what school you want to attend.
  • Diversity – In my school at least, there are kids from tribes all over Namibia. Learning from other students with a totally different background from you can be a real asset.
  • Equal – All citizens are allowed to attend school, regardless of color, tribe and economic status.
  • High standards – While the syllabus and scheme of work seem too large and overwhelming to me, the goals that are set are good ones. If my learners could master everything on the syllabus, they would be in excellent shape.
  • Teacher benefits – In addition to a high salary, teachers get the opportunity to further their education by taking study-leave or attending workshops. Teachers are also eligible to receive mortgage subsidies, free housing and bush stipends (for positions in rural areas). The teacher’s union is also active and strong.
  • Variety -I was impressed with how many subjects you can take at school in Namibia. Entrepreneurship, home economics, physical science, math, physics, life skills, business information science, moral and religious education, geography, English, accounting, and many foreign languages! Most Namibians are very good at mastering more than one languages and most of my learners speak at least three. Learners at my school can take Afrikaans and Portuguese.

Here are some of the biggest challenges I’ve faced and noticed as an educator here. I’ve discussed many of these challenges with Namibian and American colleagues:

  • An extremely large syllabus to cover – If you take a look at the English syllabus for upper secondary grade levels, you’ll see how lengthy it is. It’s safe to say it’s impossible to cover all this material, in a comprehensive manner, in two terms. The first two terms of school here are meant to cover the syllabus, and then the third term is meant for “revision” or review to prepare learners for the Term 3 exam which counts most.
  • An extremely long exam schedule – Exams are the last three weeks of every term. No instruction goes on during that time, at least in Kavango Region, and learners take about one exam each day. Teachers have to invigilate (proctor) exams daily and mark all the exams (no scantrons here).  In my opinion the exams aren’t always proofread well and often have mistakes that make answering some questions very confusing, even for native English speakers! Many classes have more than one exam. English has 3 exams- reading and directed writing, listening comprehension and writing. Last year I marked 660 exams each term. English isn’t like marking math and reading essays takes a long time. By the end of the three weeks, we are exhausted and so are the learners. Out of the 39 weeks of school each year, our learners have exams for nine of them. That leaves only 30 weeks for instruction.
  • The grade 10 and 12 exams – The goal for all schools and learners is to pass the grade 10 exam. The grade 10 exam is sort of like the SAT except with a lot more bad consequences for failing it. Learners at Namibian schools can choose specialties, or “tracks.” Except that here there aren’t any tracks that don’t involve a future with college academics. For example: one track is for Science and Bio and another track is for Development Studies and History. My American high school was set up for learners who wanted to go to college as well as those who didn’t want to go to college. Shop classes were a track learners could take in my high school. We all aren’t meant to go to college. Consequently, on average at each school at least half of all learners fail the grade 10 exam. If that happens, their option is to then go to Namcol and take the exam again. If they fail again, there are few options left. Those that pass the grade 10 exam then prepare for the grade 12 exam which determines if learners will be accepted to college. The exams are on a point system and more than 25 points is passing. Failing the grade 10 or grade 12 exam here feels like a bit of a death sentence. Even people who hire domestic workers want someone with a grade 12 education. Colleges look almost strictly at your exam points. For a student like me who wasn’t a good test taker and relied on my report card performance, extra-curriculars and good behavior to help me get into a college, it feels unfair.  In Namibia, you could miss school all term, show up for the exam, pass highly and pass the grade. Grades in class only factor into the third term grade, not the first two terms.
  • Trying to learn while not having basic needs met – One day we went to lunch with the United States chargé d’affaires to Namibia. He asked me what the biggest challenge was for me as a teacher. My response was teaching learners whose basic needs aren’t being met. In a town with more high-income people, there are some learners at my school whose day-to-day needs are met and exceeded. But there are also many who are hungry, who come from unstable families and who must face sad, stressful problems. Many young kids here are forced to raise their younger siblings after a parent dies. Half of the learners of my school are considered OVC (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children) which means they have one or less living parent. Many schools in Namibia are hostel schools and I’ve heard learners complain that the food served there is “not enough.” In addition to schoolwork, most of my learners do all the chores in their family’s house. Learners in the village are expected to herd cattle and perform other chores such as fetching water. It’s hard to maintain my frustration at learners for not being motivated or for not doing homework when I put myself in their shoes. I probably wouldn’t be very motivated either if I was hungry and dealing with many problems. Unlike America where most communities provide multiple recreational resources for kids, in Rundu there’s no good place for young people to go. Most kids don’t have toys here. Being a teenager isn’t easy, and there’s very little ways to blow off steam. Unplanned pregnancy and alcoholism are big problems among teenagers.
  • NamSept-Dec 593

    Me with my grade 11’s last year. These learners are now in grade 12.

  • Lack of resources  – Learners and teachers alike aren’t guaranteed textbooks, classrooms, chairs to sit in, desks, paper, printer ink or other common education resources. Our classrooms are in desperate need of repair. One of my colleagues has 20 desks and chairs in his classroom when he has an average class size of 50 learners. Learners are responsible for getting their own notebooks and must have a notebook for every class. All their work goes in there (essays, tests, notes) unless you’re lucky and have a copy machine at your school so you can print out separate test sheets. When teachers mark, they have hundreds of these notebooks sitting on their desk. In my classes last year three learners shared one textbook. This year I didn’t even bother to hand textbooks out – it wasn’t worth the hassle. Most schools offer biology and physics but have no equipment to do experiments. This year I didn’t have a register class (homeroom) so every time I had class I had to hunt for an open classroom. There isn’t always one available so then my choices are to teach in the library where there are not enough chairs or to teach under a tree. There are no buses here – Kids walk or taxi to school and many walk over an hour to get here and most haven’t eaten breakfast. It’s very difficult to teach when what you would consider to be basic resources aren’t available.
  • Absenteeism – Absenteeism is a problem on both sides – the learners and the teachers. Learners are absent all the time for a variety of reasons. It’s extremely rare to have a day in class when every learner is present. In my grade 11 register class one of my learners was absent 63 days in the school year. That’s an entire term of school that he missed! Teachers can be absent physically or mentally. Teachers are given the opportunity to take “study leave” which means that if they are enrolled for either a teaching diploma (a person can teach if they passed grade 12 without a university degree) or graduate degree, they are permitted to miss school to study. If they are teaching learners in grade 5 or above, their learners sit there with no teacher (substitute teachers sometimes exist here, but only for grades 1-4). The same situation happens when they attend workshops during the school year. Some teachers will try to get other teachers to provide work each day for their classes, and while that is good, there is nothing that can take the place of a real teacher. At many schools teachers will show up but won’t teach. They may be in class marking or doing other things around school or town.
  • Paperwork – Being a teacher in Namibia means dealing with a lot of paperwork. Teachers are expected to have three files: a resource file, an administration file and a preparation file. Teachers are expected to have a scheme of work which is like a road map of your lessons for the whole year. Lesson plans are due every Monday for that week of classes. The preparation forms are cumbersome and take a bit of time. It feels overwhelming to fill these out when you’re teaching more than five different classes – that would be 25 forms to hand in each week. I know teachers at home deal with a lot of paperwork as well.
  • Different learning levels combined in one class – I have students with learning disabilities in my classes. I have some 18-22 year old 9th graders. I have learners in my class who don’t speak English at all. I have very intelligent learners who must be absolutely bored in my class. Learners are able to fail a grade level twice and then they are usually passed onto the next grade, despite the fact that they haven’t mastered the material. I have learners this year repeating with me from last year and they don’t try very hard – they know the odds that they’ll be held back another year is low. The passing rate in Namibia is 40% for English, and 30% for all other subjects. All classes after grade 5 are taught in English.
  • Lack of Discipline and Overcrowded Schools – If you violate a school rule here, it’s not structured as to what the consequences will be, if any. In Namibia it depends on the school and the principal as to what kind of discipline program is in place. Some have standards in place, other schools have none at all. A detention system is difficult to implement if all teachers aren’t on board. My school was built for 400 learners and we have over 1,000. With a school like mine that is well over capacity, keeping all learners in order so teaching can take place is challenging. If you want to separate kids who talk too much in class, it’s nearly impossible because there aren’t enough desks. Kids are sitting on top of desks. Since many kids aren’t disciplined at home that carries over into school. Gender norms here aren’t like America –  I struggle most to get my male learners to respect me. There are so many distractions that happen in any given day, in any class. While classes are 40 minutes, it often feels like I get only 20 minutes of instruction.

Learning to be a teacher in a totally different environment with these difficulties has been challenging. I’m lucky I had good colleagues to help me. Now that we are at the end of service, looking back I’m really glad I was a teacher in Namibia. I had never worked with youth as closely before in my life. While my learners challenged me, enraged me, they also really inspired me and some made me a better person. I’m really looking forward to seeing what some of my learners and motivated colleagues will do in Namibia.

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Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of Peace Corps. Numbers 19-24

In three weeks, we will pack our bags and leave what has been our home for the last two years. On July 17 we will officially become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

As a way to commemorate the end of a very special time in my life, I’ve written a list of the top 30 things I’ll miss, the takeaways and the lessons I’ll carry with me the rest of my life about my time in Namibia.

While there are many hard parts about being a volunteer, the benefits outweigh the tough stuff. I will try my level best here to share the best parts of our service. These are not in any particular order. You can find #25-30 here.

#19 Eating new foods 

I love trying new food. Whoever said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” clearly has not been hanging out with me. 🙂 I got to try a lot of new food here that I wouldn’t have at home. I ate some stuff Americans might consider weird: mopani worms, porridge, oryx, zebra, springbok, cow intestines, fat cakes, maguni fruit, etc.

When visiting villages, I grew a newfound respect for how hard some people work to grow and prepare their own food. Pounding mahangu is no easy task! I’ll really miss Namibian braais and the meat, guava juice, and all of my friend Hamutenya’s traditional food.  She’s an amazing cook.

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A traditional Kavango meal. Pap, chicken, beans and mutete. Yum.

#20 Hearing American music, especially the Star Spangled Banner in Namibia

I loved hearing old American tunes while in a store, in a combi or blaring on someone’s phone. Songs that you thought were dead are very alive here in Nam and they transported me to a different place in my life at home. I have the Star Spangled Banner on my ipod (I played it on 4th of July in my classes last year) and when I heard that song come on shuffle it always made me smile and be more aware of my surroundings. Many times I’ve heard the Star Spangled Banner play on my ipod when in Divundu or town when going running passed all the mud huts. At model school during pre-service training the learners sang our National Anthem it made me tear up. It’s special to see a group of non-Americans sing your National Anthem.

#21 Learning to live without and learning to accept what comes

I tried my best to live a simple life before Namibia, and after living here I know that view has gotten even stronger. You see how you can have a happy life with very little. Things that we take for granted at home are seen as luxury items here. Pens are something I never thought of as something lucky to own. I’ve seen kids fight over pens, suck the last bit of ink out of them to get this maximum use, and get so incredibly excited when they receive one as a gift.

While our level of depravity hasn’t been nearly as bad as it could have been, our service did not come without sacrifice.

As an American one of the most challenging parts of PC service has been adjusting to things that come up. I like to plan but here things just get in the way. Have an idea of how your day should go? It won’t go that way. Have an idea of how the lesson will play out? It won’t play out that way. What takes you 10 minutes at home takes 60 minutes or longer here. At some point and for some things you have to just go with the flow – otherwise, you’ll end up angry. You have to try your best to embrace the chaos.

#22 Hitch Hiking

If you don’t take a combi (12 passenger bus) to get to and from places, then you “hike” or hitch-hike as Americans call it. It’s less scary than it sounds, it’s more like an informal taxi service. It is actually pretty cool – the haves help out the have-nots (and the have-nots help out with petrol cost). There are prices set by the government as to how much it should cost to go from one place to another, but you can negotiate with the driver.

There are “hike points” in towns throughout Namibia that people go to in order to find a driver going in the same direction as you. This requires some patience, but it can also be fun. It feels a bit wild and crazy, as hitch hiking at home is not something you would ever do. We’ve met many cool people hitch hiking all around Nam.  Hiking together can be a great way to bond with people. Josh and I have had picnics in the back of covered bakkies, met kind people who thanked us for serving their country by treating us to a free ride and food and sang with strangers in cars to mutually favorite songs.

Hiking

Our Peace Corps Daughter Mary Grace and I hitch hiking to Rundu after Girls Weekend at Nunda Lodge. We found that holding signs made things less awkward while hiking here.

#23 The moments of pure frustration and the moments of pure magic

There’s a lot of frustration but also a lot of magic that’s happened during my Peace Corps Service.

Part of the hard part of Peace Corps is that it’s only two years. But that is also what makes it special.

You can feel utterly hopeless and hopeful in the same day or even the same hour. The pendulum of extremes really swing far here.  You can feel so angry at a class, and then your friend helps build you back up or a different learner comes to tell you they care, and you’re reminded that you have family here. It was a good reminder that you have to take the good with the bad.

#24 Visits with friends and family from home in Namibia

It was really special to see friends and family here during our two years. We had nine visitors come from the United States! Some got to attend classes with me and with all our visitors we got to see some of Africa’s wonders. We felt really honored that our friends and family included us in their vacation time and money. Thanks to these visits now I have memories of our time in Africa with Americans who were part of our life before Nam and will be after. It was an incredible pick-me-up to see familiar faces here.

Numbers #10-18 to follow next week.

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Learner of the Week – Alina Kennedy

This week’s Learner of the Week is Alina. Alina is a library prefect and a dedicated one. She’s always helpful in class and in the library, is kind, courteous and always does her homework which is why I chose her as this week’s Learner of the Week. I’ve added some new questions for our Learner’s of the Week.

alina

Alina Kennedy, Grade 8, 14 years old

Mother tongue/tribe: Vambo and English

What is your favourite thing about school?

Learning something new, meeting new people and hanging out with my friends.

What are your hobbies?

I love singing.

How many languages do you speak?

4

Where in the world would you visit if you could and why?

California because it is such a beautiful place.

Who lives with you at your house? What are some of the chores you have to do at home?

I live with my mom and little brother. At home I do just about everything – cleaning, washing, cooking, etc.

What would you like people in America to know about your country, Namibia?

We love having visitors from all over the world.

What are some of your goals and dreams? What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I grow up I want to be an engineer.

Who is your hero and why?

My mother. She is my motivation and she is a very good loving person.

What are some challenges you face, at school or at home?

My mother being mad at me for no reason. She can be moody at times and I don’t understand her sometimes.

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Birds of Kavango, Namibia

African harrier-hawk

African harrier-hawk. I spotted this large hawk scoping out the nests of the pigeons who live in the rafters of the abandoned bus garage next door to us. They specialize in eating the eggs and nestlings of other species of birds.

Pied crow

Pied crow. Very similar to the crows of North America, but the white breast of this species makes it look like it is ready to go to a black-tie event.

Lilac-breasted roller

Lilac-breasted roller. A very common species to see on safari in Southern Africa, we featured this colorful bird in a post from Chobe National Park in Botswana. This one was much closer to home and sitting on a basketball backboard just behind our flat on the school campus.

African grey hornbill

African grey hornbill. The third hornbill species I have seen in Africa so far. This one is not as colorful as his cousins but the long, curved bill is somewhat visible here.

African wattled lapwing

African wattled lapwing. I saw this species when I first started birding here but misidentified it as a white-crowned lapwing. This bird is a frequent visitor at Hakusembe River Lodge.

African yellow white-eye

African yellow white-eye. This large tree at Hakusembe was full of flowers, bees and these small yellow birds who rarely stayed still enough for a photo.

Fork -tailed drongo

Fork-tailed drongo. Also at Hakusembe during a recent day trip, I spotted this black-feathered bird.

Arrow-marked babbler

Arrow-marked babbler. One of my better bird photos. This one took me awhile to identify because the coloration was fairly plain but the breast feathers are distinctive and make little arrow points.

Coppery-tailed Coucal

Coppery-tailed coucal. Not a great photo, but this shows the red eye that is common in the African coucal species. This may also be the Senegal coucal. This bird was located in Mahangu Game Park.

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Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of my Peace Corps Experience. Numbers 25-30

In exactly one month, we will pack our bags and leave what has been our home for the last two years. On July 17 we will officially become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

As a way to commemorate the end of a very special time in my life, I’ve written a list of the top 30 things I’ll miss, the takeaways and the lessons I’ll carry with me the rest of my life about my time in Namibia.

While there are many hard parts about being a volunteer, the benefits outweigh the tough stuff. I will try my level best here to share the best parts of our service. These are not in any particular order.

#25 Running, yoga, workout videos and getting in great shape

In all the places I’ve lived I’ve always made running a part of my weekly exercise. I have vivid memories of running with my cross country team around my neighborhood in high school, seeing beautiful monuments in D.C. running in college with my best friend, running the streets of London during study abroad, and seeing the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop to many of my runs out West. Now I can add to my life’s list of running scenery the gorgeous Kavango River ebbing and flowing, the Atlantic Ocean “this side” and my town of Rundu.

I’ll miss passing by ladies carry baskets on their head, the little kids who would join me for a few meters, and the men who would cheer me on.  While running in town it was impossible for me to not run into people I knew. I would greet them, and smile as it was a great reminder of how many people we have gotten to know in our time here.

Fitness has always been a big part of my life, but here I started to really vary my workouts with videos. Some of my best memories of Peace Corps are working out and doing yoga with fellow PCVs and learners. As Chalene Johnson says, “Fitness friends are the best friends.” That has always been true for me. I enjoy sweating and pushing myself to reach fitness goals alongside my friends. We usually indulge in cake after. 🙂

I’d also like to thank Jillian Michaels and SeanT in addition to Chalene for helping me build strength. I pushed play on those videos almost every day of my service and feel like those three have become my friends. I came to Namibia with high blood pressure and a couple extra pounds. I leave with perfect blood pressure and as a healthier woman. Here’s hoping I can keep up my improved workout and nutrition routine post-Peace Corps.

#26 Sundowners, Sunset cruises, Morning cruises

“Going for sundowner”is a common saying in Namibia. You park yourself in a good spot to watch the sun go down. Africa has some of the most incredible sunsets in the world. Living near the river, we feel fortunate that our Peace Corps experience included beautiful natural scenery.

I’ll miss Peace Corps date nights at Kavango River Lodge with my male husband and female husband (JT), the great staff and needless to say, the most amazing meal in Nam, the prawns. Sundowners provided a needed breath of fresh air from the often difficult things we had to face as PCVs.

LisaSunset

Enjoying a sunset cruise at Ngepi Camp in Divundu

#27 Doing things that you’d never do at home

Living abroad you find yourself in situations that you never would at home. In Namibia I’ve judged a beauty pageant, went for a swim at the edge of Victoria Falls and been introduced to a church congregation of hundreds for 20 minutes. The list goes on and on. The memories of the outrageous things we did these last two years will always help me remember my time fondly.

#28 Admiring the beautiful dancing, singing and cultural customs of Namibia

Africa celebrates its culture in beautiful ways. Tradition is important to my learners – I read about it in countless essays of theirs. I’ll always remember hearing the beautiful singing at Onane and Otate’s (our host parents) church, how singing united people in sadness at funerals and the enthusiasm of voices at weddings and at the beginning of meetings. As a tourist you may visit a places with a guide to get a sense of the culture. As Peace Corps volunteers, we ask our Namibian friends to share their culture with us, and we get to participate not just observe.

kavangodancers

Kavango traditional dance and song at our prize giving ceremony in September 2013

#29 The exploring we did on weekends and holidays

Nearby Lodge visits, baking at home, trips to the beach, great breakfasts, camping trips with our tent, the beach, trips home to the USA, London for the day, braais, the Dunes, visiting fellow PCVs at their sites, Namakasa’s Grandmom’s birthday weekend, Chobe National Park, my school staff party, Victoria Falls, weekends with Tanya and friends at Nunda Lodge. We’ve worked hard and we’ve played hard.

#30 The sounds of Nam

African birds chirping and singing, hearing “Miss!” or “Teacher!” from across campus and in town, frogs croaking me to sleep, our cat meowing first thing in the morning, hearing the learners play soccer with a coke can at 6 a.m., the learners singing the Namibian National anthem, hearing the volleyball team begin practising daily around 3 p.m. I’ll miss the sounds of Nam that I’ve become accustomed to and that are unique to living here.

Hakusembe

Josh and I at Hakusembe Lodge celebrating my birthday

Top #19-24 of our Peace Corps experience to follow next week!

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Lisa’s Secondary Projects in Peace Corps Namibia

Peace Corps volunteers are assigned primary projects which are intended to be their main responsibility during their Peace Corps service. My primary project is education (SUPEP). Josh’s is Community Economic Development (CED). I spend the majority of my time here at site (where we live) at school teaching and involved in school.

Our second year of service our primary project load is supposed to be reduced so we have time to devote to secondary projects. My first year of teaching I taught 220 learners and had 28 classes/week. This year I teach only one English class (44 learners) and six BIS classes (which only meet once a week). Having a reduced teaching load has given me more time to put energy into secondary projects.

Secondary projects are intended to fulfil a need in your community or school that they have specifically requested. On the Peace Corps volunteer form my school requested for a volunteer to start either a girls club, drama club, computer lab or library.

Girls Club

At school after Girls Club one afternoon

Toward the end of the first year of my service a close friend and colleague of mine  started a Girls Club at our school. Girls anywhere in the world face many challenges, but we felt like here in Kavango life seemed especially hard and we wanted to give girls a chance to interact with one another outside school. The Kavango region has the highest teen pregnancy and one of the highest HIV/AIDS rate in Namibia. Alcoholism is also a peer pressure and problem.

Miss Immanuel and I met with the girls once a week to discuss these types of topics. The girls acted out dramas, met in small groups, asked questions and spoke openly about what otherwise might be sensitive topics at home. We also gave some of the girls an opportunity to lead and present on topics they felt were important.

The biggest secondary project I took on was getting our library set up and running. Before independence, my school was the “white school” in town. Because of this reason, we had a big classroom set up for the library, but it had been lying dormant. We even had some old books that were still in decent shape.

LibraryBefore

The Library Before: A bit of a mess.

One of the challenges of having a school of 1,100 learners is handling the massive volume of kids. I was afraid of how challenging it would be to keep track of so many books that would be lent out. Luckily a smart colleague of mine came up with the idea to create library cards. Learners must get permission slips signed by their parents to get a card and borrow books.  

The learners really enjoy having ownership of their own card. Most carry their card in the shirt pocket. Some even wear it on their shirt proudly!

With some elbow grease from the learners and myself, we got the library cleaned up and in order. Thanks to some very generous donations from friends and family back home as well as Books for Africa, our library has great, new books and has been operational since late January. Our hours are break time Tuesday-Friday (9:50-10:20) and Tuesday and Thursday after school from 1-2.

LibraryAfter

The library after – cleaned up, fixed up, in order!

When our library opened it was greeted by a lot of enthusiastic learners. It’s been a great place for learners to read quietly and study. It has also given 20 learners the opportunity to learn some leadership skills by being library “prefects” or helpers. Our library prefects are a dedicated bunch of learners who are “on-duty” during library hours and perform the many duties critical to keep a library functional.

I opted not to use the Dewey Decimal system for our library – it would have been too hard to manage. Non-fiction books are organized by category, fiction by author’s last name, and the children’s books are not in any order. The children’s section by far is the most used so we just do our best to keep it neat. We have book pockets in the back that hold borrower’s slips as well as date sheets in the back. All of the aforementioned items were obtained from Namibia’s Ministry of Education. It is one of the goals of the Ministry of Education to get more libraries in schools and get learners excited about reading.

Last term 217 learners signed up for borrowers cards and we lent out 1,116 books! I am pretty proud of that number. Any learner is allowed to come in and use the library but to borrow books you need a card.

This term I’ve been bringing the little ones, the grades 1-4, into the library to show them how the library works. I teach them about the titles of books, authors, the spine of books and how to shelve books. I also read to them. The little kids come up and hug me often after using the library at break. It’s sweet. I love sharing my love of reading with the learners at our school.

As with any development project, seeing your work continue after you leave is a concern. With Girls Club, my counterpart is interested in continuing the club and I hope she does. With the library, I have a few colleagues who are committed to keeping the library open and helping where they can. I also have full faith the library prefects can do most of the work for the library to keep it operational. I’m doing my best to train them in all aspects of the library so they feel confident in taking over next month when I leave.

Some of my favorite memories of my Peace Corps experience have involved my secondary projects. As a teacher it’s been a great way to interact with my learners outside the classroom and see a different side of them.

LibraryinUse

It’s busy like this on a daily basis in our library!

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