Tag Archives: Rundu

The 9 toughest parts of being a Peace Corps Volunteer

“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” – Mae West

I’m an optimist most of the time. I see the glass as half full, I believe there is good in most people, and I try to make the best out of bad situations. So to an extent, I feel as if the stories I’ve shared on Facebook and this blog about my Peace Corps experience in Namibia have been one-sided. Personally, I don’t enjoy scrolling through my Facebook feed hearing people complain, so I do my best to stay positive. But the flip-side is I fear much of what I’ve conveyed to people about our time here has been a bit too rose-colored.

Peace Corps Volunteer struggles vary from site-to-site and from country-to-country. Most single volunteers have to deal with intense loneliness at their sites. Being a married couple has helped us in many ways, and I’ve been fortunate to make some close connections with my Namibian colleagues. But we still do miss our family and friends from home. In our flat in the town of Rundu, we have running water and electricity. We also have a good cellular data network which has made it much easier to stay in touch with people from home than we expected. We have been healthy here in Namibia and are able to cook many familiar foods. We haven’t had to deal with being frequently sick from local food or different strains of germs. In Namibia, especially in town, English is widely-spoken, so we didn’t face the task of learning a new language (it’s important to note though, that communication is still a big challenge, even when everyone speaks the same language). However, with these conveniences in mind, we tend to put more pressure on ourselves at the workplace and often work long hours. In fact, PCVs in Namibia average working many more hours on their primary projects per week than any other post in Africa.

There are a lot of very difficult, complicated things about being a  Peace Corps volunteer. I imagine our Peace Corps experience will be a bit like childbirth. Years from now just the good parts will remembered. But right now the difficult parts are still fresh.

Lisa classroom

Getting frustrated with my class during a Flat Stanley photo session. The learners wanted to do all these funny hand gestures for the photo. I just wanted them to smile and be “normal.” Maybe it’s my own fault getting mad, for putting expectations on them and not allowing them to be goofy!

Peace Corps volunteers live with their community at the grassroots level, unlike most development workers who usually live in comfortable housing in the country’s capital. Because we are so close to the people we serve we get to know them and their struggles intimately. It’s difficult to create a comprehensive list of the most challenging aspects of my experience here, but I did my best below.

  • Seeing poverty up-close daily. We see extreme poverty here everyday. Hungry learners, people eating out of trash bins, and kids begging for food are common sights. Recently I asked my learners why so many of them got a question wrong on the exam that I had gone over repeatedly in class. The answer,  “Miss, when we are taking the exam, we are hungry.” The curriculum for learners is similar in English from year to year, but when I arrived my Grade 11s couldn’t tell me what a noun or adjective was. I’m often asked for food, water, money, and my belongings both at school and when I am seen out in town. I know there are people in bad situations at home, but there are so many more here who are struggling. It is especially hard to see children suffering so much.
  • Teaching frustrations. The kind of learning environment I grew up experiencing is much different than the public school system in Namibia. I try to teach the way I was taught, which included group work, raising your hand when you know the answer, being quiet when the teacher is teaching, etc. These simple things just aren’t common here. My learners are often confused by my classroom expectations. Even with very large class sizes, I still try to incorporate “learner-centered education,” but my learners are not used to group work, they are not used having someone read to them, and they are not used to thinking creatively. The most common method of instruction is for a teacher to write notes on the board and have the learners copy them down. Some days it feels like I’m teaching rocket science. I am often baffled at how difficult it is for many of my learners to understand what seems to be a simple concept. In my high school, many students worked hard and were very ambitious. Here I’ve had the opposite problem. It seems like more learners are unmotivated than motivated. Many learners do not do their homework or classwork at all. The solution in most classrooms is to punish learners by making them hold desks above their heads in front of class, beat the learners with a stick or have them clean the classrooms. I haven’t quite mastered this discipline system yet.
  • A 24/7 job. Peace Corps volunteers are always ambassadors for their country, whether they are working or not. Even if we are traveling on vacation, we are still representing America. When Namibians meet us they might think all other Americans are just like us. Our housing is at my school. When I was sick for a week I could hear the learners being loud on campus all day long. While it’s very convenient to live at school (it makes marking hundreds of books and exams much easier), it’s tough and exhausting to always feel like you are on duty. Being easily recognized in town by many is a great way to feel like you are really part of your community. It’s difficult, however, when you are enjoying a get-together with Namibian friends to blow off some steam and a few of your learners show up to the party because they’re related to someone there. This has happened many times. Most Americans like separation of their work and personal lives. The line between Mrs. Shusko the teacher and Lisa Shusko the person is very blurry here.
  • Feeling guilty and overwhelmed.  Peace Corps volunteers make a two year commitment to the communities they serve. I battle often with the feeling of not having taught my learners enough and of not having done enough for my community. You end up second guessing yourself a lot. “I should have taught that lesson a different way so that maybe all of my learners would have understood.” I am the type of person who felt overwhelmed in the U.S. at times, but here it takes on a new meaning. Everywhere I look, there’s a person I could help or there’s a project I could assist. It’s often a battle to remind yourself that there’s only so much you can do, to stay sane and not burn out, and to learn to accept that. Even if we help only a few people, that’s still success.
  • Sustainability. Peace Corps volunteers are supposed to make sure all their projects will continue when they leave service. If you open a library, there should be a teacher ready to take over the project when you’re gone. If you get a grant to start a garden, the community should be invested and educated on gardening by the time you depart. This is much easier said than done. Teachers at my school are overworked as most teach 38 or 40 periods a week, and it’s hard for them to imagine taking on more work.
  • Cultural frustrations. After living here I see how much the American work ethic and obsession with productivity has become ingrained in the fabric of my being. We are used to being around people who work too much. We are used to everyone having their own stuff, and not being asked to borrow our items. Things that we might consider to be rude are not rude here, and that can be exhausting at times. People usually live with large extended families, so alone time is seen as a bit weird.  Things that we would consider private at home aren’t private here. When I ask a learner to have a private conversation with me regarding their work or discipline issues usually their friends follow to listen in. People borrow things and often either don’t return them or return them broken. Americans are used to consistency. Things are not consistent in Namibia. Physical violence is also much more prevalent here. It’s hard to see and adapt to such things all the time without compromising what you feel is right or wrong. Living overseas, life can just feel awkward often.
  • Feeling apart. Mostly because of the aforementioned cultural issues, deep down I know I’ll never completely fit in here. After having grown up and started a career in a completely different culture, many of our values are very different. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, we serve for two years. We go into this assignment knowing it is only temporary. When we struggle, we remind ourselves that this isn’t permanent. In many ways, we get a glimpse into the struggles of daily life in our communities, but we are mostly shielded from the harsh realities.
  • Feeling the toll that death and illness take. I asked one of my learners how their holiday was and they told me “It was sad Miss, I went to three funerals.” Sadly this is not uncommon. Learners at my school and recent graduates have passed away during my time here from illnesses and car accidents. At times it’s hard to stay motivated and push others because you know those around you are dealing with very sad and stressful situations.
  • Failures. Some days it feels like nothing you’re doing is working. Your learners didn’t understand the lesson, they failed their exams, your secondary projects are going nowhere fast, etc. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we often fail. It can be a struggle to then get up the next day and throw yourself into work again when you know what the likely outcome will be.

budgeting work

The day was hot, budgeting was the topic and Josh was the facilitator.

All the above being said, there are moments and days when you feel the extreme “highs” of Peace Corps service and know that it’s been worth it. One day one of my learners hugged me out of the blue when I was writing vocab words on the chalkboard and said, “Miss, I learn so much in your class.”  I love seeing see a learner’s face light up when you’re reading to them because they are so engaged in the story. Small victories here feel like very big ones.

As with anything in life, there are big personal rewards for sticking things out and overcoming difficult challenges. I’ve had many more good memories than bad ones. I’ll always be glad and proud that I fulfilled my two years of Peace Corps service.

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The weather in Rundu, Namibia

What if someone told you that the weather at your Peace Corps site would be sunny with low humidity and with daytime temperatures in the 80’s°F (about 28°C) and nights in the 50’s°F (about 12°C)? Pretty perfect, right? That is one great benefit about being placed in Rundu in Kavango East region because that is the typical daily forecast in the winter months (May to August).

This is not to say that everything is perfect here in Rundu. The dry conditions mean that dust and sand are everywhere, and many people burn their trash and brush so often there is also a haze of smoke in the air.

Rundu weather 10 day forecast

The weather here in the dry season is very consistent!

In the summer, temperatures can often exceed 100°F (38°C) with the annual rainy season usually beginning in December and lasting until March. This year was very dry and many crops failed. The inconsistent rainfall we receive is one reason why Namibia has been primarily used for livestock in terms of agriculture.

During a normal rainy season, it might rain for a week straight at times. This weather pattern makes it difficult to do things like hang laundry to dry on our clothesline outside. The end of the rainy season can also get a little cold, especially now that we are used to a very warm climate. No one here has a heater, but we just bundle up a bit and by mid-morning the sun usually warms things up. Namibians consider a cloudy rainy day to be a beautiful day. Rain is needed for crops and provides a relief from the strong sun. 

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Our Peace Corps flat

When we learned we would be placed in Rundu, Namibia by Peace Corps, we were excited to see what our new home would be like. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long because our “shadowing” site was Rundu. Shadowing is a chance for Peace Corps trainees to get out into the field and observe and learn from currently-serving Peace Corps Volunteers.

Unlike everyone else in our group, we went for shadowing to the town where we would spend our service. I was happy because we got a sneak preview of our flat and also met with the colleagues with whom we would work for the next two years. In a great collaboration between our two host organizations, Noordgrens Secondary School supplied the flat where we would stay, and COSDEC Tukurenu provided housewares, a bed and some other furniture items. COSDEC trainees also painted the inside of the flat before we moved in as part of their practical training.

flat outside

The view outside from the door of our flat. The plants visible are a lonely basil plant on the left along with my attempts at landscaping that our puppy has mostly dug up by this point. The unfinished reed fence makes a great laundry line! Pigeons love to roost in the abandoned bus garage in the background.

Our flat was originally a bathhouse/locker room when the school was private and then was converted into teacher housing, so it is a bit quirky. The school did some work before we moved in to make the flat more livable like walling off a bedroom in what had been the living room area. They even put tile in the bathroom! The school also built a braai  (grill/barbecue) stand out of concrete that visible in the photo above.

You enter our flat through a metal gate and wooden door and then walk down a newly-partitioned hallway to our living room. Our guest bed makes it nice when we host other Peace Corps Volunteers and friends. This room is also known as our Peace Corps daughter’s bedroom. She is our most frequent guest.

flat living room

Our guest bed/day bed from Noordgrens and our other small sofa courtesy of COSDEC.

We have more furniture than most volunteers because of the combined host organization contributions. Once my replacement gets to site in mid-June, the COSDEC-owned furniture will be used to furnish their flat.

flat bedroom

Our bedroom is spacious and we even have matching nightstands! I took our mosquito net down to clean it and snapped this photo. Usually it is always hanging from the ceiling around our bed.

These photos were all taken with my wide-angle lens so the rooms look a bit bigger than they actually are. Still, our flat is a great size for two people, and we are lucky to have things like electricity and indoor plumbing! We do have to wash our clothes by hand and most of our windows don’t have screens so we have numerous insect visitors.  We also have had frogs in the toilet.

Peace Corps did provide us with a roll of lightweight screen for the windows, but the style of Namibian windows, with a latch inside and with windows that open out makes it impractical to install in the larger windows. We do use our screens on the bedroom windows and combined with our bed net and fan, we haven’t had too many issues with mosquitoes.

flat kitchen

Lisa welcomes you to our kitchen!

Many education and health volunteers in Namibia live in huts either with a family on a homestead or on the school/clinic grounds. You can have a situation where a volunteer has to fetch water from a borehole (well) but has wifi access in their hut. Everyone’s site is a bit different. Up until a week ago, we were the only “town” volunteers in Rundu without hot water, but thanks to some major renovations to the flat next door, we now can take warm showers! It is a nice treat for the last three months at site.

flat kitchen

Opposite view of our kitchen showing our water filter, stove and refrigerator. We struggled with an old fridge for six months before it finally died. It made us realize how much you actually don’t need to refrigerate (milk, butter, leftovers are fine for one day, etc.).

flat bathroom

Our bathroom with separate doors for the shower and toilet. The jerrycans under the sink are the back-up if we lose power and water, but luckily we have only had a day here and there without power (which eventually leads to the water also stopping) since we arrived.

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Recycling when there is no recycling program. Part 2: aluminum cans

alcohol stove in action

Our power was out earlier today, so the alcohol stove came in very useful even in our relatively modern flat. The empty steel food cans are being used just as a tripod for the pot of water. As a disclaimer, the stoves should not be used in an enclosed space indoors, but we had windows open and used the alcohol can right on our stove top.

Due to the long distances between towns and the low overall population density, it is not cost-efficient to implement recycling programs in the far reaches of Namibia. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rundu, Kavango East Region, it was difficult to see all of the aluminum cans and other recyclables scattered in trash piles all over town, when there is such economic potential. In my first post on recycling, I highlighted some uses for glass bottles.

As a hiker and backpacker (trekker), I was familiar with alcohol stoves made from aluminum cans, but never tried one until our friend Ryan made one for us as a gift. His stove is featured in the photo above and, as Ryan is an engineer, it is pretty advanced for this genre of stoves. I was looking for a technique to make these can stoves not requiring as many materials or tools and found this great tutorial on YouTube.

alcohol can stove

Test run of the easy-to-make alcohol stove.

The other nice thing about the stoves in the YouTube video is that the pot can go directly on the stove itself so you don’t need a separate pot stand, but elevating it a bit would probably be more efficient. A windscreen is also definitely recommended for these types of stoves. I’m going to research making a windscreen out of aluminum cans cut into strips as shown below. I’m hoping to run a short course sometime next month at COSDEC to demonstrate how to make these stoves.

aluminum can rectangle

Aluminum can cut into a rectangle for potential use.

These can stoves are also great because the fuel is just denatured alcohol or methanol (sold sometimes as HEET), which is available all over the world in hardware stores, grocery stores or pharmacies. The fuel burns cleanly, especially if your stove is well-made and produces nice blue flames.

methylated-spirits

Here in Namibia, alcohol that can be used in these can stoves is sold as “methylated spirits.”

This Instructables link has an interesting idea to use aluminium can rectangles as roofing shingles. I’m not going to attempt aluminum smelting in my remaining time in Namibia, but I think it would really have potential especially since the molten aluminum can be cast in sand (of which there is plenty here). Here is an example of how to make an aluminum foundry. Here is another good post on how to cast a bowl out of molten aluminum.

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Recycling when there is no recycling program. Part 1: bottle cutting

I drafted this post last week, but it makes for a nice Peace Corps Earth Day tie in!

As someone who grew up during the evolution of recycling in the U.S., I am conditioned to try to recycle as much as possible. Where we lived in Denver for instance, they made it ridiculously easy with single-stream recycling in a large wheeled container that was picked up every two weeks. Between that and using our compost pile for fruit and vegetable scraps, we usually had very little actual trash.

trash pit

A typical trash pile on our school campus. Seeing the waste of this marula fruit last year prompted me to take action. Aluminum cans, glass bottles and plastics are also either buried or burned in trash fires (these materials don’t burn well!)

As a newly minted Peace Corps Volunteer arriving in Rundu, Namibia in September 2013, I had a fast wake up call that developing countries are unable to recycle the vast majority of their trash. The sad thing is that this is a missed opportunity for employment creation and for income-generating opportunities for unskilled workers. There are fluctuations in the market for plastics, glass and paper, but municipal recycling programs are usually sustainable through aluminum can recycling. In the U.S. you can find many otherwise unemployed people collecting cans to sell. One guy even funded a movie just through collecting cans and selling them (but I can’t find a link to that! I gave up after an hour, sorry). Because of the ease of recycling cans, more of my favorite Colorado breweries started producing beer in cans as well. Recycling, especially aluminum, can be profitable.

In the locations (townships) around Rundu, trash pick up is nonexistent, so people dump their trash in open fields and eventually the town comes in with a bulldozer and loads it in a truck destined for the landfill. Early on in my service, I emailed a couple of companies that do recycling in Windhoek and the other larger cities in Namibia to see when a program might be coming to Rundu, but never received a reply (the usual situation when you email someone in Namibia).

I started saving cans and bottles here in our flat, much like a hoarder, because I found it also so wasteful. These materials quickly fill up a trash pit because they don’t burn. When we visited the U.S. last May, I brought back to Namibia a Kinkajou Bottle Cutter.  Basically, the Kinkajou blade makes a score line around the bottle and then cycles of hot and cold water are used to cleanly fracture the glass, so the bottle can then be sanded smooth and used as a glass or a vase, etc.

Nothing is ever as easy as advertised though. In my initial attempts to make small drinking glasses out of empty beer bottles, I was going through at least 10 cycles of hot and cold (even with an ice water bath for the bottles) before I was able to get them to break. This is a lot more time and effort than advertised. I was able to cut a few of these small bottles, but I moved onto other projects a bit disappointed because I was hoping to leave this bottle cutter behind for a Namibian to use to make these products as a business.

bottle cutting success

Thanks to the work of the Kinkajou Bottle Cutter, our South African wine bottle collection is ready to be put to new uses such as a replacement French press container – the large Four Cousins bottle. They call it a coffee plunger here.

Last month I shifted to attempting to cut wine bottles and had much better success! Maybe the larger surface area allows for better fracturing, but with only two or three cycles of hot and cold water, the wine bottles snapped fairly cleanly. I do recommend the product, just not for Namibian beer bottles. I am going to give the cut wine bottles away as gifts to my colleagues at work and feature this item in my business club as a possible income-generating activity. The bottle labels can be removed using warm water and soap. Soaking them for an hour seems to work pretty well for most of the labels.

marula cider glass

An example of a smaller glass made from a juice bottle.

Bottles can also be ‘cut’ using string and nail polish remover although I batted one for three on my attempts using that technique. You don’t need the fancy Kinajou cutter, but it does make it easier. The “cut” wine bottles can be used to display flowers, as storage containers and as pencil and pens cups.

A future post will cover “recycling” of aluminum and steel cans.

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The Animals of Rundu

Well it finally happened. I swore it wouldn’t, but now like many other Peace Corps Volunteer bloggers, we have devolved into posting photos of cute animals.

Just as some background, animals are not treated the same in Namibia as in the United States or other developed countries. Our first exposure to this was at our host family’s house in Okahandja where the family dogs never seemed to have access to food or water. Somehow they survived, but the tiny puppies that one of the dogs had did not, probably due to the fact that the mother was not getting enough food or water to be able to nurse them. In every town, you will see starving stray dogs roaming the streets. 50% of the population in Namibia lives on under USD$2 per day so you can see how feeding animals would be a lower priority when people barely have enough money to feed themselves. Other cultural issues also come into play, such as a reluctance to neuter male dogs even in the rare case where income is high enough and access to such a service is available. Hopefully this will change in the future as the country develops, but there are still many unwanted dogs and cats who are not cared for, especially in a large town such as Rundu. These are some stories of luckier animals.

OCHO

Ocho the cat

The very dignified Little Miss Ocho with paws tucked in.

This is the only Peace Corps pet we really “wanted.” Ocho, named for the color pattern on her side that looks like an ‘8’, has been passed down from volunteer to volunteer ever since Group 26 (we are Group 38). We took over the tradition of Ocho from Gio (Group 34) who preceded us in Rundu. She was spayed at some point so she can’t have kittens, but she does go into heat regularly. Ocho also enjoys sleeping, disappearing for days at a time, meowing for wet cat food that she rarely gets, and hissing at the puppy we now care for. Without exception, Ocho is not a fan of any other animal shown below. We hope to pass Ocho onto another Peace Corps Volunteer when we leave to continue the tradition!

Ocho the cat

Hunkering down under the couch in preparation for a thunderstorm, Ocho looks a bit embarrassed.

 

ADWOA

Adowa the kitten

Our first rescue kitten. This little one was later named Adwoa and had a brief but exceptional life as a village cat.

In March 2014, We heard some noise outside and thought it was a bird at first, but it turned out it was a tiny black kitten in distress. She was sniffing around our trash pit and was a little small to be on her own but in pretty good shape otherwise. We finally got her to eat some food and the image above is her sleeping on Lisa’s backpack on her first night in our flat. Learn the rest of the Adwoa story here from our Peace Corps daughter, Mary Grace.

Adowa the kitten

The cutest kitten photo I have ever taken.

 

PAVAROTTI

Pavarotti the cat

Named due to his very loud meows for such a little guy, Pavarotti really needed to be close. He mostly liked to be a little parrot perched on my shoulder.

Pavarotti was another kitten rescue. Our friend Thania, who is a true animal rescuer and operates the Rundu SPCA, heard Pavarotti outside and brought him in. We didn’t really want to take on another kitten at that point, and once it was clear that Pavarotti could not digest cat food, he was placed with a wet nurse cat at the SPCA. The last we heard, he is doing well and still enjoys meowing loudly.

kitten with basket

Pavarotti trying out for the mascot position of the FAWENA basket project.

 

BURGLAR

Burglar the cat

Burglar the kitten on her first legal night inside. After finally being officially invited into our flat, she never wanted to leave. I would put her outside to encourage her to explore, and she would just run right back in.

We can’t take credit for this last rescue. We left for our trip back to the U.S. last May for Lisa’s brother’s wedding for about two weeks. On our way back to Namibia, our Peace Corps daughter informed us that Adowa, who was always on the lookout for new friends, must have met this kitten and invited her over for all you can eat cat food buffets. Burglar was half-feral at that time so we had to get her out from behind furniture which caused her to run outside, and then we lured her back in with a bowl of food. We fostered Burglar for about a month before another Peace Corps Volunteer adopted her. Now known as “Burger”, she is happily living on a homestead about 15km west of Rundu.

Burglar the kitten

During her time at our flat, Burglar enjoyed purring, eating and sleeping .

 

DEANNA

Deanna the puppy

Lisa looking apprehensive about taking on another animal, pictured here with Deanna before we truly “adopted” her. Deanna was probably too small to be alone from her mother, but luckily she survived an early illness and is now many times that size! She is happily snoring under our kitchen table as I type.

In November, when I came home from a weekend away to find a very small puppy greeting me, I thought “oh no.” Sure enough, our neighbor had picked up a puppy from its mother much too young and was not really caring for it. Due to the time requirements (and drool), we never really wanted a puppy. This adoption was not intended from the start, but sometimes animals literally just show up on your doorstep. We didn’t even feed Deanna at first, she just kept coming around us for the attention.

She was named Deanna by our neighbor and so that is the name that stuck. She followed us all over, and we even took her to the vet to get treatment when she was very sick. We had seen enough puppies die in Namibia so we couldn’t just let this one remain neglected. When we traveled in December, we left food with the neighbor to feed her, but we could tell she was still very underfed when we got back.

Deanna the puppy

Deanna at a medium size. She enjoys stealing socks, annoying Ocho and chasing birds.

Since then, Deanna has been around everyday and it has been fun to have an enthusiastic greeter when I get home home from work. Due to our planned trip after we leave Namibia, we can’t take Deanna back to the U.S., but we think we have located a nice Namibian family who will take her in. She is good at basic commands such as Sit and Come, but I need to work with her more over the next couple of months to make sure she is calm with small kids.

Deanna the dog

Deanna today! She is getting big but very full of energy and seems to think she is still “puppy-size.” She is on her third dog collar. This better be her last one because we can’t afford anymore on our Peace Corps stipend.

***Animals of Rundu, please note that we are leaving Namibia in three months as our Peace Corps service is nearly complete. The Shusko Adoption Center is not accepting any new applicants at this time.***

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“Coaching” the Volleyball Team

I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher at Noordgrens Seceondary School in Rundu, Namibia. Teaching in Namibia is tough with overcrowding, lack of adequate desks and other resources, as well as discipline issues, so it is nice to get to know students outside of the classroom. I got involved with the volleyball team here at school by accident. The last time I played volleyball was high school gym class.

volleyball court

Noordgrens volleyball court

My school has 1100 learners and two sports teams – volleyball and netball. The netball team is not very active, but our volleyball team practices daily.

The volleyball team’s court was right next to my classroom last year, and so after school I would be marking tests and essays and the learners would come in to greet me. This happened just about every day, so I got to know them. I started watching them practice in between marking.

I thought the only sport played in Africa was soccer. Turns out, at least in Namibia, netball and volleyball are also popular. The learners tend to be very athletic and good at running, but there aren’t any organized school teams that I know of that compete in track and field.

Our school’s team has become a bit of a dynasty. Henk Bronner, a colleague of mine, has been coaching volleyball here for over a decade. He’s a sports fanatatic, and for many of these learners, it’s the biggest thing that keeps them from getting in trouble. Our school is at a great advantage in volleyball because we have such a dedicated coach.

Coach Bronner

Noordgrens’ Volleyball coach Henk Bronner explaining a drill to the learners.

Last June the team asked me if I’d travel with them to a tournament to be a chaperone and the coach for the Under 13 girls team for the weekend. Even though I know nothing about volleyball, I was flattered and said yes. Turns out sayings like “control the ball” and “work as a team” and “keep calm” are appropriate for many sports. 🙂

They asked me again last month to chaperone a tournament, and I said yes. Those two weekends standout for my Peace Corps Service as times when I got to know some learners on a more personal level and could share more than just grammar lessons.

Back in July the tournament we attended was the Namibian Nationals. Learners from each region/state were chosen after a regional tournament to determine who were the best players. Our school made up most of the Kavango Team.

Namibian nationals tournament

Namibian nationals tournament in Windhoek

Many of my learners said this was the trip of a lifetime for them. They were going to travel eight hours away to see the capital of their country, Windhoek. Most had never been before.

Here are some things that really stuck out for me those weekends, when comparing these learners sports experience to my own:

No uniforms are provided for the learners. Oh, how we used to complain about our uniforms at when I was in high school. “They’re so old!” Hey, at least we had them. : ) My learners had to fundraise to buy tshirts as their uniforms, so they could match on top at least.

volleyball uniforms

Volleyball uniform numbering with tape.

I have fond memories of sports camps. At home there is so much opportunity to learn from others at these camps in the summertime.

We had nice equipment. We played games weekly against other schools. We had transport arranged to these games. While my volleyball players practice every day, they only play games against other schools 1-4 times a year.

For the most recent trip I went on, the kids had to pay to ride the bus to get to the tournament. Housing was accommodated but everyone had to bring their own bedding. We stayed at the local college’s dorm. We crammed 18 girls into the tiny common room. The floor was mattress-to-mattress!

The learners also had to bring enough money to pay for their own food. Most could only afford to pay to ride the bus, and relied on others to share food to get them through the weekend. “In Africa, we share” is a quote I hear repeated often in Namibia.  While the extreme generosity is one of the things I love most about Namibia, as an American, it can also be one of the toughest things to adjust to.

volleyball players

Lisa with some volleyball players

Some good quotes and moments from the weekend:

“Miss! There’s so many lights! I think there’s a lot of electricity here.”

Wisdom from their coach and geography teacher Mr. Bronner after losing a game: “The second world war was much worse than this. People died.”

Learner: “Miss, it’s so relaxing.”

Me: “What is?”

Learner: “Walking down the stairs. It’s so calming, don’t you think?’

There are only a few tall buildings in Rundu, so most don’t climb stairs like we do back home. All homes are one level. Many learners that weekend kept getting lost in the building we were sleeping in. They couldn’t find their way around this 3 story building in Windhoek.

girls volleyball team

The 17 and under girls volleyball team. They are making the shape of the country of Namibia with their hands. We often do this to show where we live. It’s similar to people who live in Michigan and show the “mit.” Two of the girls are showing it the incorrect way for the camera haha.

They asked me a lot during the weekend to repeat words in their home language because they wanted to hear it an American accent. As soon as I did it they would bowl over in laughter.  It’s rare to hear an American say words so familiar to you, and often pronouncing them incorrectly.

At one point I surprised them and started dancing on the bus when one of my favorite songs started playing.  I really got into it. Unfortunately for me some of my moves were caught on video. The learners still talk about that dance.

I’ve often marveled at how Namibians are always happy for one another, and not jealous. One of the learners who didn’t make it to play in the final round of the last game said “It’s ok Miss, I’m so proud of my friends who made it.”

Often when you are with learners at times like this you learn a lot about them, that you wouldn’t otherwise in the classroom. A learner whom I’m close to told me about her dad passing away from malaria a few years ago, and she wasn’t able to go to the funeral because her dad’s new wife didn’t like her or her sister. Volleyball for this learner is her life, and unfortunately her dad never got to see her play.

Spending time with this team reminded me of the power of high school sports. Just like at home, sports have a way of really making a difference for some learners. It teaches them about hard work, teamwork, and self discipline. I’m grateful for the sports I had growing up. I made great friends through sports, and it gave me a great foundation to stay active and healthy that I still draw on today.

girls volleyball team

The under 13 girls team

If you didn’t like volleyball before, you’d love it after watching my team play. Both teams, the boys and girls, absolutely love the sport. And they are so good at it! They play with so much heart. They’re inspiring to watch. I never get bored watching them.

I’m proud of these kids and I love them. They work hard, on and off the court.

Sometimes our service asks us to go where we feel uncomfortable, where we don’t feel our talents lie. But we are usually rewarded for pushing ourselves to do so. I had no intention of helping out with sports but sometimes the things that develop organically are the things that end up feeling most natural (even if they are new to us, like coaching volleyball). I’ll always think of this great team when I see or hear anything about volleyball. ❤

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