Friday, November 18, 2005

Day 9 (15-Nov 22h20): Details

Last night we kept most of the other guys up with recollections of Saturday Night Live skits and sex jokes. What’s ironic is that tonight, right now, the same guys are all standing outside discussing classroom management. Go figure…

We started the morning with more language training. I learned how to introduce myself and ask where other people are from. They are small steps, and it seems like I’ll never actually speak Afrikaans, but it’s a start. After that, we had tea (more ham biscuits) then had a round table on culturally sensitive situations. After lunch, we endured a very long discussion on malaria, then afternoon tea (doughnuts!) and STD’s. We even put a condom on a carrot. Before dinner we watched a short video that featured five PCV’s that contracted AIDS while in the PeaceCorps. By the time dinner hit, I had eaten so much that I only had a little of the stringy potato stuff, carroty stuff, rice, and cantaloupe. (For those interested, breakfast consisted of one over-easy egg, bush meat, and toast. Lunch was chicken with corn, peas, and rice.)

Some of the more interesting information came from a PCV that showed up today- Chris. He’s an IT volunteer that is on his way home. One of us will be taking over his site. He had a lot to share. He gave me a better picture of what the schools are like; how there is no discipline other than corporal, how learners (students) are moved up in grade level despite never learning the material, how teachers are not particularly interested in improving things, how learners die all the time from accidents and AIDS, how every year six percent of the teachers die of AIDS, while half that number graduate to take their places. But not everything was so bad. He said that learners are very excited about being able to use the computers, even if they mostly want to play games. Well, that’s about all the good stuff.

There are some things I want to think through before I get on site. One is to determine a system to admit learners into computer classes. Chris used pay stubs from school fees; if they paid for school, they got to attend. I’d rather not do it this way, since many of the families that cannot afford to pay for school volunteer instead, in which case their kids wouldn’t be allowed in the computer classes. I’d like to use a privilege system, but other teachers would have to be on board for that to work, and I don’t know if that’s likely. Any ideas?

Another issue is classroom management. I want learners to be excited about learning and make efforts, which is asking more than you can imagine. I think this issue will slowly resolve itself as I work in the community and get to know the kids; what motivates them, what’s important to them.

I have the feeling that many things are going to change next week. Here, we are all together. Next Tuesday, we all split up and travel to our sites for a week. It’ll be a taste of reality, and we will, for the first time, have to process new experiences here without each other. I wonder what that will be like. I also wonder who will be near me.

I’m getting a little nervous about the assignment. Chris worked in Windhoek, the capital city. I was pretty surprised to find that out, and initially I was worried that I may be assigned there. I’m sure I made it clear to Waldo that I favored the new computer lab assignment, which is not where Chris is working now. Maybe because all of our assurances that we each got the assignment we wanted come from stringing together bits of information from various sources, maybe knowing I’m not sure about the placement is why I’m worried. I was unprepared for the idea of being in a huge city like Windhoek, and after thinking about it, I’m not sure I’d like it. They type of community involvement that you could accomplish in a small town takes much longer in a large one.

[After a 40 minute conversation with Jay, who visited me in my hammock at the edge of camp under the full moon…]

I think I’m ready for anything. If it’s going to be Windhoek, I’ll make it work. It doesn’t matter exactly what my circumstances are, I will be equally prepared for any iteration, which is to say I’m not very prepared. And I can’t be. I want so much to be creating lesson plans, developing incentive systems, and planning open houses, but none of that can be done now. All that can be done is follow instructions, take in as much as possible, and brace. Brace for whatever.

Jay and I talked a bit about religion. Religion, specifically Christianity, is huge here. It’s in the government and schools; kids pray before class each day and staff meeting start with a group prayer. It’s so ironic and fascinating for me to see this community so westernized, so Christian, yet at the same time hates what colonialism did to their way of life, traditions, and tribal relations. We arrived on Saturday to a chorus of youth singing traditional African songs, dancing and drawing tears. I see very little of this hidden culture when I walk around town and talk to the people. There is no traditional African art; you don’t hear night time dances around fires; there are no village wise men; there is simply no sign of what existed here just 300 years ago. These cultures have literally been stripped and forced to assimilate. Not even their languages remain. Afrikaans developed as a blend of German (the colonialists) and the local dialects.

Well, enough for now. It’s a beautiful night; stars shining bright in configurations I’ve never seen before; the full moon lighting the dusty ground and silhouetting thick trees; crickets and other insects claiming the night’s sound stage; this is a beautiful night.

I think I’ll try to get online tomorrow to post these entries and see what you guys have sent me. If you can, call me this Sunday morning at 8:00 your time (5:00 my time) on the pay phone so we can have a short chat. I’m told that the phone beeps every minute and automatically disconnects after ten minutes, but we’ll make do. I’ll be getting a cell phone as soon as possible (maybe next week), after which you’ll be able to call me regularly.

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