Monday, February 25, 2008

I’m coming home.

After a lot of thought, I have decided to come home permanently. I'll be home sometime next week.

What made me decide this? It's not the teaching, because it's gotten easier and I'm enjoying the kids. Even though they can be annoying and really slow, they're cute and they make me laugh. So it's not that. I'm lonely and unhappy here because I miss my family and friends a whole lot more than I thought I would. It was not an easy decision to make, but I know what I'm doing, and this is what's best for me right now. I have changed so much for the better in the past four months and even more so in the past few weeks.

When I'm home, I will apply for jobs, continue to do volunteer work, and study for the GRE. And eat a LOT of Mexican food. So, that's the end of my blog. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Things are looking up…


First, I'm so sorry I haven't posted pictures. I tried to post one and I sat there for half an hour while it was uploading and it still didn't upload. I will try to find a high speed connection somewhere so that I can post…I'm sorry. I promise I have not forgotten.

The big news is that I'm finally moving into my house this week. My own little two-bedroom house. I promise I'll post pictures as soon as I can. I am really excited.

Teaching has gotten a lot easier. The kids are starting to grow on me, and I even really like some of them now. The weeks fly by faster and faster. My colleagues are all great.

Sorry, nothing too exciting yet. I don't have any stories to tell. I do have to say, though, that the sky in Namibia is incredible. It's just so…big. And starry. If you look westward at sunset, the sky might be bright blue and streaked with neon pink clouds, and if you look eastward you might see fluffy gray clouds against a smoky violet sky. When it gets really dark, the stars come out in huge numbers. It's beautiful.

I knew I was in Africa last week because a goat was being slaughtered right below my balcony. I was horrified yet fascinated. I also felt sorry for the little guy.

I hope everything is well at home.

Also, if AC and/or Fiona are reading this, I accidentally left your contact information at home. Please send me an email with your address. I'd love to send you a postcard.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Teaching is getting easier each day. I'm really homesick but that should get better too. I am trying unsuccessfully to upload some pictures. I promise I haven't forgotten about it!! I hope everything is fine at home.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Caution: A Really Negative Rant

    Today was my second day teaching. Since there is a teacher absent due to an in-service training (held during the first two weeks of school – WHAT THE HELL?!), I am teaching eight periods straight without being able to take my allotted two free periods for rest and/or prep. I am exhausted, stressed and angry. The exhaustion will pass when the absent teacher returns. The stress will pass as time goes on and I get used to teaching and used to my learners. But the anger – the anger is at the Namibian Ministry of Education. How in the world can you possibly expect these kids to give a crap about school when they only need a 30% score to pass a class?! What in the world is going on here?! Low expectations bring low results. I looked at the grades of these kids from last year….it was rare to see anything above a C. In the U.S., a C is 70-79%, not something to be proud of. But here, a D is 30% and a C is 40%! To pass a class, you must get a D. This is unreal. I mean, they told us this at training, but that was when I was in my safe zone and had no idea how difficult teaching would be. Now that I'm in class during the day, facing children whose only goal is to get 30% in each class…it is appalling. Hello, reality. This is going to be the toughest thing that I ever do. I know it. And I plan to live a long time. Unbelievable.

    Why did I come here? Can I really make a difference in this country? Why is it that I was able to make it through high school and on through college? It's not because I'm American. My oldest host brother Otjiwarongo is in his third year of college. My younger host brother passed the grade 10 national exam with flying colors and plans to go to college in South Africa to study mineralogy. And my little host sister wants to be a doctor. What is the difference between these kids and the kids I am teaching now in Noordoewer? The parents. My host mother would not allow her children to not do their homework. She and her husband don't make a ton of money but they paid higher school fees so that their kids could attend a "white school" (which, not surprisingly, is much better than a black school). When my brother did so well on the national exam, they had a party. The parents of my learners, for the most part, could not give a flying fig if their kids do well in school or not. And why should they? In Noordoewer, where I am living and working, you will find a shebeen (a bar) for every fifteen or twenty houses. I am not exaggerating. You can't throw a stick around here and not hit a shebeen. But how about toys? Or books? Or crayons or paper airplanes or art or anything else to spark the imagination, for goodness sake?! No. You just drink til the sun comes up, and when it comes up you drink some more. I am not kidding! I have seen this with my own eyes. I saw it today. Some people work, and some don't, but it doesn't matter. Alcoholism is a problem here. So what we have is parental apathy, horrifically low educational standards set by the government itself, and no reason in sight to do well in school. Under these circumstances, would you push yourself to study hard? No. I probably wouldn't either. So why in the world am I here?

    What drives me up the wall even further is that I at any minute, I could pick up my phone and call the Peace Corps office and tell them I want to go home. Within 48 hours I would be home safe and sound. What is stopping me? What keeps me here? Me. I'm sorry. But it's true. I know that I can make a difference here, but if you want to know the truth, the difference that I will eventually make here is so small, so miniscule that I can't claim any compassionate reason to stay. I'm here for myself. At this point, even so early in the game, if I ever do end up making a speck of difference, it will be a bonus. Don't get me wrong. I am not going to stop trying. I just know that the problems in the system here would require some kind of educational revolution of sorts, or a complete and total overhaul, and being that I am here under very strict guidelines and restrictions (forbidden to discuss politics, drive a car or ride in the back of a truck, etc.) I have no way of making that happen. If I were to speak out, I'd be sent home; even if I were to speak out, let's remember that Namibia only earned its independence in 1990. It is still an incredibly young country, and when America was 18 years old, were we thriving and flourishing? I am going to do what I can with what I have and hope that some day, in the future of one of my learners' lives, I will have inspired him or her to just try a little harder and make that learner know that he or she is capable of whatever accomplishment is desired. That is all I can do.

    In the meantime, I will continue to go through a rollercoaster of emotions while I try to teach my kids. In about an hour, after I wake up from my nap, I'll look in the mirror and feel proud of being a PCV. I'll feel like I'm on top of the world. Then I'll be homesick for my mom. Then I'll be excited about the first school term being over so that I can travel around the country with my friends. If you think a pregnant woman is moody, you've never been a PCV before. But then again, I've never been pregnant before.


Monday, January 14, 2008

“Are you a China?”

    Our swearing-in ceremony was Wednesday. Since the eight o'clock news on Thursday, I have had at least 10 people say to me, "hey, didn't I see you on tv?" Unfortunately, the answer is yes. I somehow was first in line to enter the hall, which put me in the first seat in the corner, right smack dab in front of the news camera. Great. What also makes it kinda funny (kinda) is that a few of the PCVs gave speeches in the local languages, and the girl who did the Afrikaans speech was also Asian…and since we all look alike, some people thought it was me giving that speech. Ha, ha. Anyway, there went my fifteen minutes of fame.

    It is weird being Asian-American here. I have had only a few negative experiences related to this, but they have angered and frustrated me so much that whenever I meet a Namibian, I immediately brace myself for some kind of "you don't look American" comment. During my site visit, my boss took me to a neighboring settlement. A group of three little boys came upon me and immediately started yelling, "China! China!" and one of them did a karate chop. I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him hard. Martial arts movies are really popular here and consequently will be the bane of my existence for the next two years. I also frequently have conversations like this:

Me: Hello, my name is Jennifer. Nice to meet you.

Namibian: Where are you from, Jennifer?

Me: I'm from America.

Namibian: Oh. (pause) Are you from Japan?

This is always followed by a really sarcastic comment going on inside my head, for example, "Are you deaf, you moron?" I mean, why don't they ask the white people where their ancestors came from? In all fairness, though, Namibians don't question my nationality out of any bad intentions. On the news, in the movies, most of anything you see here from America, features mostly white people. Why wouldn't they think that all Americans are white? Also, my 20-year-old host brother, who is a third-year college student, had no idea that China is just one country in this mysterious region of the world called Asia. Nobody ever told him, I guess. Nevertheless, the minute somebody calls me "a China" (which is what they call any Asian person) I am immediately on the defensive. More rants about this are sure to come.

Also, in many towns you can also find "China shops," where you can buy anything and everything imported from China, from hats to jewelry to pots and pans to handbags and blankets and everything in between. The people who own the China shops are from China (you guessed it), and when I went into a China shop a couple weeks ago, a customer asked me the price on an item. She thought I worked there. That really pissed me off. Strangely enough though, when I went into a China shop last week looking for some stuff, I really enjoyed talking to the Chinese people working there. Of course, they asked me if I was Chinese, but I didn't even mind. I don't know why. Maybe because I haven't encountered much ethnic diversity in the past couple months and was happy for a change. Or maybe I was glad to interact with someone who looked a little bit like me. I really don't know. But anyway, China shops are an obvious reason as to why China is pretty much the only known Asian country around here. They aren't called Thailand shops. I know I will continue to be questioned about my nationality in the next two years, and therefore need to just get over it, but I don't see it as something I will ever get used to. But, maybe I will. You never know.

If you're reading this, shoot me an email and let me know what's going on with you! I will post more in the next couple days…take care!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Catching Up

    Hi everyone! Sorry, it has been a while since I've posted. Training is over and since Wednesday, I have officially been a Peace Corps Volunteer. Wahoo! I have a lot to share, so this posting will be long and possibly jumbled. Bear with me.

    I spent the third week of November in Noordoewer, visiting my site for the first time. (More about my site later.) The fourth week of November was spent shadowing a current volunteer. That was the most difficult week for me since leaving home. Even though it was final exam week and no actual teaching was going on, I saw how difficult it is to teach in Namibia. In a single 7th-grade class, for example, you might have kids that are anywhere from 12-16, and their ability levels vary widely. How is it possible to teach each of these kids while being fair to all the rest? By that I mean that if I spend extra time helping out a learner who is a little slower than most, then what happens to the gifted learner? She becomes bored, and with boredom comes a lack of motivation and possible disciplinary problems in class. (Btw, in Namibia, a "learner" is a K-12 student, and a "student" is a university student.) But if I cater to that gifted learner, the slow kid gets more and more behind. And how about all the ones in between? These are all questions that I have yet to answer. School starts Wednesday and I am scared to death, now more than ever.

    The other reason that week was so difficult for me was because I was homesick. I came so close to quitting and going home. I have never been away from home for this long before, and the fact that I am in a completely unfamiliar environment and culture, certainly does not help. Every time I got off the phone with somebody from home, I would cry and cry and ask myself what in the world I was doing here. Even though I was among fellow trainees that weekend, I wanted nothing more than to just beam myself home. Every second was spent imagining what was going on at home and what my family and friends were doing, and what I'd be doing if I was with them. As I was trying to talk myself into accepting defeat, I told myself that while one reason I joined the Peace Corps was to make a difference, I can always make a difference at home. There are lots of things that I could do in the U.S. that would make a world of change in other peoples' lives. Just because I'm leaving Namibia, does that mean I'm missing out on my chance to affect change? Of course not. Which, looking back, is still true.

    A number of times that week, I had my hand on my cell phone, ready to call Peace Corps and tell them, "I quit!" What made me decide against that? Here is the honest answer. As I just stated, one of the three reasons I joined was to make a difference. The other two reasons were to have an adventure and to add something spectacular to my resume when I apply to grad school and jobs. Those two reasons are obviously for my own personal benefit, and before I came here, they were secondary reasons for joining PC. Altruism was my main motivator. Now, after feeling more homesick than I ever thought I could, feeling more alien and out of place than I ever thought I could, and feeling so much anxiety about teaching, what is keeping me here is reason three: my resume. I came here for the sake of others, but I'm staying for my own sake.

    Before you decide that I'm a selfish punk, please keep in mind that I still want to contribute to Namibia's future by teaching its children. It's still one of the three reasons I'm here. It's just moved to the back of the line. I have only officially been a PCV for three days, but it has not been easy. Knowing that I'll benefit from this down the road, is what is keeping me sane. (So far.)

    What sucks about training is that you are shuttled around like a bad fruitcake at Christmas. You move from place to place, don't have as much privacy as you're accustomed to, and have to live out of a suitcase. That is the worst part. I've been in this country for two months and still have not been able to really unpack my things, because I know that in a few days I'll have to pack up again and go somewhere else. At this moment, I am in a government flat in Noordoewer. It is definitely one of the Top Ten Dirtiest Apartments in the World. The floor is thick with dust, there are cobwebs everywhere, trash left here by the previous occupant, and whats really gross are the cobwebs with brown dust stuck to them. They look like brown fireworks. And I won't even talk about the bathroom. My boss agreed that it was a disgusting flat, but it was also the only one available tonight, so tomorrow morning I am moving into a different flat right after another occupant moves out. My little house on the school campus is not ready yet, so I'll be staying here for a couple weeks while it is prepared for me. Which means that I still can't fully unpack! I just want so badly to get settled and start my life here. Soon enough, soon enough.

    For the month of December, we had what is known as Community-Based Training, or CBT, which is when you stay with a host family, and if you are an education volunteer, you teach at "model school." My CBT experience was not bad. My host family was really nice. They were accommodating, friendly, and easy to talk to. I had a bedroom of my own (as was required by PC) the entire house was kept very clean. The only negative experience that I had was the food. As is typical of Namibians, they eat a lot of white rice, pasta and red meat. They also don't refrigerate their mayonnaise or ketchup, which is revolting. I did cook a few times. The first time, I made chicken with onions and garlic. I am not terribly experienced with cooking, which is why the chicken was undercooked. How embarrassing. The second time, I made fried rice. The soy sauce they have here is crap. It is thick and syrupy and too sweet. I thought I did an okay job with it, though, until my host dad slathered his fried rice in mayonnaise. When he finished his plate, he told me it was delicious. I'd have to say the experience with my family was positive, though. I do plan on keeping in touch with them, and we plan to visit each other during my service.

    My experience with model school wasn't as good as that with my host family. The kids were rambunctious. They would not shut up! Even when I promised that if they behaved, we'd play a game (they love games), they still didn't behave, and when we played games and they misbehaved, I'd cut the game short, which was followed by a lot of groans and whining…but did they learn their lesson for the next day? No. Which is why classroom management is my biggest concern. I can think of lesson plans and curriculum and stuff like that, but if my actual students are as rowdy as the model school kids were, it's gonna be a long two years. In addition to that, I had the aforementioned problems of learners at different skill levels. Woo hoo. What a ride this will be.

    The best part of CBT was that it was a smaller group, only about 15 of us, versus the entire group of 70. I got to know my peers pretty well, and made some good friends. After school, we would go out for pizza at this amazing little restaurant. The pizza was better than in the states!! Our favorite was the Bongo pizza, which had mushrooms, bacon, pineapple and onions. It was delish. We would also go to the Super Spar often. Spar is a grocery store chain here that is comparable to any Vons or Ralphs, which is why we love it so much. It's the closest thing we have to home. And if Spar is so great, you know that Super Spar is gonna be fantastic. It was. At any given moment, you could count on there being at least one PC trainee in there.

    That is all for today. Thank you for reading. I have internet on my laptop now, so I can blog regularly!! I will write more in a couple days, so please check back! I will post pictures soon, too.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Quick Hello

Hi everyone! Okay, I'm silly...I had a really long blog typed out on my laptop so that when I came to the internet cafe I could just copy and paste it from my flash drive. Great idea except that I forgot to put it on my flash drive, so here I am blogging a quickie. Nothing terribly exciting yet except that my permanent site is called Noordoewer, right on the border of Namibia and South Africa. I'll be teaching English, social studies and possibly math, plus creating a school library. I'll also be working with an NGO called Catholic Aids Action, helping them to write grant proposals, letters and with fundraising, and I also intend to start a girls club. That is all for now. There is more and I promise to blog it as soon as I can! I miss all of you and I hope everything is well at home. Have a wonderful week!