Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Crazy, Wild, Unorganized Accomplishments

Wow.  Instead of trying to control the torrent of youth that ebb and flow from the computer lab like the tide, I just started a computer lab party.  We played Descent- one of my favorite group games from my days at the Club. We also played arcade games and watched scary movies.  It amazes me still just how many people will fit into this small room.  At one point I counted 80 and was sure I missed many.[cut]

I'm struggling to find a proper balance between productive learning and playing games.  I try to make the learning as fun as possible, but fun learning requires copious amounts of prep time and creativity, both of which seem to be available in decreasing amounts each day.  The problem with game time is that everyone in the school wants to play, and there's no easy way to make it fair.  It becomes a survival of the fittest scenario where only the tall, loud and quick learners make it to the front of the line. I'd like to implement some sort of tokens program where each learner has X number of tokens to use during game time each week, but that will require an additional layer of management and control.  Somewhere out there is a solution...

It continues to amaze me how little management and structure are required to get things done.  In the states I loved structure, and felt like no project would be completed productively unless it was well planned and organized.  But this entire school is loosely organized by time tables written on learner's hands, strong suggestions from teachers and the occasional announcement during assembly.  Yet all the learning, homework and extra-curricular programs somehow exist and operate in this environment- amazing.  I still don't understand how it all works; I keep expecting the learners to just stop going to classes one day because they tire of a subject ,or organize a school dance that none of the teachers know about in order to get out of a test period. 

But it doesn't happen, for the most part.  Usually, learners show up somewhere near 7:20 in the morning.  They move from class to class each period with relative easy and little confusion.  They turn up for after school programs and always remember when you promised to let them print their resume.  It all works, not in the best way possible, or even one that sets up these learners for success in the working world, but it works just the same. 

There's a profound lesson buried deep in these observations.  Something about just working with what you've got; or finding solutions only to problems that are worth solving; or working with things you can influence, and letting go of things you can't. Perhaps I'll figure it out before my two years are up.[/cut]

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Makin Movies

We've started shooting the videos that the classes have been writing last week.  I was pleasantly surprised at how hard these kids worked on their movies and videos, as well as how well they worked together to shoot them.  It occurred to me that after working with troubled youth for so many years, I forgot what it's like to work with average kids; how ironic that it's not until I came to Africa to work with the kids here that I've finally seen what impressive imaginations teens have. 

The girls seemed to take the lead in most of the projects.  In all three large-group production crews the directors and assistant directors are all females.  The guys prefer the camera work, set design and acting.  What's amazed me most is how much work these learners have put into their movie plans.  With just a few seeds of encouragement they have run with their ideas full steam.  I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with in the end.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe last group to shoot on Friday was a small 11th grade production crew that is shooting a music video.  The three girls that star in the video had, prior to Friday, chose every single location they wanted to shoot as well as exactly what they were going to do.  They had costumes picked out and even had already decided who was going to get to wear the one pair of sunglasses they collectively own at which scene. 

In the states I fought with lackadaisical attitudes, indifference to decisions and short attention spans;  but the kids here are so excited to just be able to shoot a video they are willing to fight off those comfortable teen characteristics in order to accomplish something they truly want.  Their creative energy is inspiring.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Finally, I made it out of Windhoek!  My trip to Swakopmund was a welcomed and relaxing weekend.  Just getting out of town was quite an ordeal though.  But before I left Friday, there were visitors in town Wednesday and Thursday. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usMegan K. was in town (well close to town anyway) for a health conference and Amy was in town to see the nurse.  We had a nice dinner, played some minigolf  and watched the movie Zathura which was mildly entertaining.  It was great to see Amy, who I haven't seen or heard from in some time.   She is, as I had expected, doing very well.  Aside from the typical teacher challenges that most volunteers report, her community loves her and she has been fitting in well.  Thursday Amy and I had a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown; getting in one last good meal before leaving for the small town of Anker which is very close to the middle of nowhere.[cut]

Friday was an interesting day.  As March 21st is Independence Day for Namibia, and schools were out the Monday (20th) as well as the Tuesday, all schools had their Independence Day celebrations Friday.  Learners were asked to wear traditional clothes to school and classes ended half-way through the day to make time for the celebration.  The program included speeches from the History teachers, the Principle and a select few learners.  The highlight of the day was definably the traditional dances that were performed.  The combination of these great dances, traditional songs, and seeing everyone dressed up in traditional garments made me feel like I was in a village, not a High school. 

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFree Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usTraditional dress for Namibians come in three or four main categories.  The most obvious are the dresses worn by Hererro women which are variants of Victorian-era bell-shaped ball gowns.  The Hererro men wear suits and walk with canes.  The Damara people wore short dresses and styled their hair in a multitude of braids.  Some of the Oshibwombo men wore long dress-like garments that look like a hybrid of a Greek toga and a long night gown.

The dances that were performed were excellent.  The Damara group sat in two lines, taking turns two at a time to dance in the middle of the group.  The Damara group performed a choreographed group dance in unison.  The O'wambo group paired off and danced what looked like 16th-centry waltz moves, only set to 21st century beats.  It was all very entertaining and quite a treat to witness.

My Friday didn't end with school though.  The principle asked me to go along with her to a friends house who agreed to donated some of her positions to the school as she is moving back to Sweden.  I came to asses the usability of some computer equipment and video equipment which she had.  The 80-year old Swedish lady had quite a few stories to tell, and among her many accomplishments talks about meeting heads of state, receiving a doctoral degree and starting the first women's rights organization in Namibia.  She apparently was involved in some documentary film making because I found quite a bit of audio and video equipment which she agreed to donate.  After a few hours of rummaging through decades of stuff and libraries of books, we sat down for lunch then headed out.

It wasn't until past 4:00 that I made it to the hike point to start my vacation.  I first headed to Karabib to meet up with Erikka.  Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis being my first hike, I was a bit nervous, but hiking out of major cities like Windhoek is a snap.  My anxieties were quickly relieved when I was sitting in a nice BMW headed out of town just 20 minutes from arriving at the hike point.  The drive was precarious at best; torrential rains hit just outside of Windhoek making the drive both slow and dangerous.  Despite my well trained ability to ignore the road (due to hundreds of taxi rides in Windhoek) I found eyes glued straight ahead as we plowed past trucks with very limited visibility.  But alas, I made it safely to Karabib and was enjoying a conversation with Erikka and Dan (who was in Karabib to do some shopping) in less than three hours. 

At this point in my story, I will cease talking about and using the names of PCV's that I met up with.  Since we were all traveling without having filled the appropriate paperwork (except for Courtney and Snoti) we were technically on vacation "illegally".

I left for Swakop Saturday morning after a very nice breakfast at the "OK".  I decided to just pay the $50 up front to get to Swakop quickly rather than wait around for free rides like other wanted to do.  The ride to Swak was quick and painless (unlike the ride back...).  We met with Pam who took us in for the weekend in her hostel-flat.  Her place is quite large, with two seperate levels and two bedrooms.  With six beds and plenty of floor space, Pam can conceivably host as many as... let's say seven other guests easily.  My first outing was to the beach where I promptly waded in and inhaled that wonderful sea air.  It was great seeing the ocean again.  Funny to think that I was once on the other side of this ocean.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFree Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usSwakopmund is a very interesting town.  It has a lot of German architecture, but the overall character of the town is closer to a Hollywood movie set than any real-world place.  The buildings are brightly colorful and the streets are absurdly wide.  The sidewalks are neat and clean and the shops are plentiful.  Swakopmund is most definitely a resort town.

We ate out at a wonderful Indian restaurant and watched a movie: A New World.  The food was great, but the movie was probably the worst I've ever seen.  To make matters worse, I had an allergy attack which made breathing and seeing somewhat difficult.  I returned to the flat rather than going out to the bars to get some drugs and rest.

Sunday we dorked around town, reading by the beach, eating ice cream, and sleeping.  Some of us (not I so much) spent the evening preparing a supurb Mexican dinner that consisted of tortillas, chips, salsa and a seven-layer bean dip.  Everything in the meal was hand made, from the tortillas and chips to the salsa and beans.  Amazing.  We were joind by some group 24 PVC's and a Canadian who is serving an internship.  After several hours of conversation we all headed to bed.

The trip home on Monday was quite an ordeal.  I got a combi ride for $75 that left just twenty minutes after I was dropped off at the hike point by a cab.  The adventure started when two more passengers were added to the combi as we were fueling up before leaving town.  with 14 people in a small van, I became very cramped. Just twenty minutes out of town the plot thickened was we suddenly pulled off the road.  Five minutes later everyone got out of the combi as another combi pulled up behind us. They moved the trailer with our luggage to the newly arrived combi, we boarded and were off again, no one knowing what the combi dance was all about.  This new combi was slightly smaller than the previous one, and I now found my knees jammed up against the back of the seat infront of me- a very uncomfortable position.  Ten minutes after thick grey smoke started pouring out of the back of the combi and we were soon yet again on the road side.  This time we waited a half an hour for another combi to come, all the time trying to hide from the mid-day sun; a task that proved impossible as the only thing taller than myself I could find as a telephone pole that was a fifth my width.  

The new combi arrived and my hopes for a more comfortable ride were smashed to pieces when I sat down, finding the seat in front of me could freely recline into my lap.  The weight of the 6' guy sitting in front of me was supported by my knees for the rest of the two hour journey.  Aside from short bouts of relief when my torturer leaned forward, I tried to constantly entertain myself to keep my mind off the pain. When we finally got back to Windhoek, I was amazed my legs still worked.

Monday didn't end there though, some unexpected visitors found themselves stranded when their rides took longer than expected, so they stayed over and we had dinner.

Just last week I was looking forward to attending the huge Independence Day celebration in town, but after a long weekend and a mild cold, I am pretty content to stay locked up in my flat for the rest of the day.  After I cleaned, did the laundry, ate and did the dishes, and organized a few untidy cupboards, I'm now ready to relax for the rest of the day.  Tomorrow brings more adventures.[/cut]

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Invigilator

Call me the Invigilator.  Tests are a big deal here.  The entire school changes into test mode to accommodate the thousands of tests to be written.  Schedules change and teachers are asked to proctor (Invigilate) exams for other classes.

I've just received my schedule on this, the first day of exams.  I'm not at all suprised at being given a schedule of exams to proctor the day they start.  The new me laughs at the old me who would have certainly blown a gasket at the idea of changing the entire week's plans to accommodate a previously unknown responsibility.  But the new me almost enjoys these weekly changes; it keeps me on my feet.

So this is the schedule for the next two and a half weeks of school: I invigilate six of the more than 60 tests being given, which will give me plenty of time to sit around and play on the internet.  And I thought vacation started in April!

Thursday, March 16, 2006


The kids and I have come up with a great fundraising idea.  We will be taking free pictures of learners in whatever groups and poses they want.  The pictures will be stored on the server for their endless enjoyment, but the money comes in with the printing.  They will have the option to get either a normal print of any picture they've had taken, or they can pay a little extra to have some creative digital photography done. 

 Free Image Hosting at Free Image Hosting at Free Image Hosting at
These examples were put together by a few of the 12th graders to show the others what is possible. 

I think this is going to be a huge hit!  I'm aiming for mid-April to do the fundraiser, so more will be posted then.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


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Here's Coppelia and I being dorks.  Well, I guess I can only speak for myself...  The funny thing about this dinner was the people sitting just behind her- they are from Arizona, just a few streets from here Coppelia grew up.  What a small world...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Atypical Becomes Typical

Despite a rather interesting and confusing taxi ride this morning (he decided not to take me all the way to the school and left me on the street half-way there) I was ready for another great day at 8:00 this morning. 

But after a few minutes passed and no grade 11's showed up, I started to wonder what I had missed.  I was at the staff meeting, nothing out of the ordinary was mentioned.  Surly something as important as entire classes not coming to class would be brought up, right?  Wrong. 

Grade 11's are writing exams today, which means everyone in school stays in their classes until they are finished.  This odd system is in place because standard class periods are not long enough for tests to be taken.  Thus, any 11th or 12th grade class that has a test holds the rest of the school up until they are done.  Ahh, Africa.  You never cease to amaze me.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Weekend

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usWow.  I had a blast this weekend.  In summary, I saw five volunteers, played mini golf, ate amazing food, had great conversations, fixed the screen on a laptop, visited a choir performance in Katatura, and had lots of fun.

Copellia and Robin came to town Friday evening from Swokup where they attended a ministry health meeting.  Here they are attending some church organization's health meeting.  Must be nice- traveling all over Namibia!  They come from the far north, near the caprivi strip.[cut]

Erikka came to town Friday evening to meet with Waldo (or APCD) and Clara (our nurse) about some issues at her site.  She comes from Karabib, not more than an hour and a half north of Windhoek.

Will came from the far north to get the laptop screen replaced on his Apple Powerbook.

We also met up with Caroline Sunday, who came to town Friday to see Clara, she's not feeling well. 

With all these visitors, there was plenty to do!  Will stayed at a hostle near by for the first night, but with me on Saturday night.  The rest all crashed at my place, which was a bit crowded, but fun none the less.  Friday we played some miniture golf after a nice dinner of pizza.  Saturday we shopped, fixed Will's computer and had some great Italian food (and ice cream). 

Fixing will's computer was quite a task.  He ordered a replacement screen on ebay and had it shipped here.  We had to take the computer completely apart in order to replace it.  Not only the keyboard and CD-ROM, but the motherboard, processor heat sink, wireless cards, and just about everything else.  All that was left was the external case and a few wires.  We did manage to put it all back together after a few minor problems and six hours of work.  The most amazing part was turning it on and hearing that wonderful Apple chime, then seeing the screen pop on bright and clear.  We had a short victory man hug. 

Sunday we did more shopping and had a great lunch at a coffee shop in the mall.  Will had to leave to get back to his site.  Erikka met up with a friend of the family and Robin took a much needed mid-day nap. Copellia and I went to Katatura for a Choir performance I was invited to by a teacher.

Being in the location on the weekend was great.  It's amazing how different it is, moving from town to Katatura.  In town we blend in as if we were natives.  In Katatura, there's no mistaking our tourist status.  We were the only white (or even colored) people I saw, and everyone we passed on the street gave us inquisitive looks. 

We met up with the teacher at my school (Mr. |Hohobeb) who walked with us to the church.  We passed the "river" on the way, which consisted of a wide trickle of water the looked and smelled more like an open sewage system than any stream.  It was pretty disgusting.

The church was beautiful and very nice.  The choir performance I was expecting ended up being more of a fundraiser, where the choirs would sing songs by request only.  In order to request a song, one had to make a donation.  They also had a strange game involving a twisted wire and a small hoop.  The object is to get the hoop from one side of the wire to the other without touching it. If touched, a light pops on.  Winners received an apple and the tickets were $3.  Mr. |Hohobeb got tickets for Copellia and I, and we ended up being the first to try. 

The whole thing was a great experience and I'm so glad I went.  I can't wait to go back there.  Now that I've been to this area and even spoken to a few people, I think I can now brave a trip to the location on my own next week.  We'll see...

After that we went to Erikkas' place (PeaceCorps set her up with a place) and watched a movie called "Smile" which brought a few tears to a few eyes.  We were lucky to meet up with Caroline who was in much need to friends.  After that we all headed our own ways.  I hope to hear from Erikka and Caroline today to find out how long they will be in town.  I'll likely meet up with Robin and Copellia for dinner sometime this week.

This entry is just an event update.  I hope to get some time tonight to write more about the location experience- what I saw in Katatura and the people there.  Until then, take care![/cut]

Friday, March 03, 2006


Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usI have one several rules that I have put in place in the computer classes to ensure that the learners are actually learning.  One is the "Speak Up" rule that states they must find answers to their questions by either asking questions in class, talking to other learners, or talking to teachers.  There's the "Explain don't do" rule that ensures learners who are being helped by their classmates are actually doing the tasks on the computer for themselves.  And finally, there's the 100% pass rule.[cut]

All learners in every class must pass the practical exams.  The exams are not very hard and cover basic computer tasks like starting up, opening programs, typing and editing, opening and saving.  These tests are pass/fail, no scores are given.  After a test, all learners who did not pass (usually about 10 to 20% of the class) are assisted by the rest of the class in learning what they don't understand.  No further class work, projects, games or anything commences until all learners have passed the test.

It may seem harsh, but it works great here.  Learners are more than willing to both help and accept help when the time is given for it.  They also understand why these rules are in place (we work together as a class on projects, so everyone must know the basic computer skills) and as of today have fully embraced them.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe only reason I post this is because prior to coming to Africa, I would have never thought of implementing such a system.  Requiring everyone to pass a test is not reasonable and drags the rest of the class back.  But here it's different.  Everyone is already so far behind national standards, it's far better to set the bar lower and have them help each other over it.  Sure, there are more advanced learners that are being held back by this system, but that cost is outweighed by reward of having learners who would otherwise be left in the dust learn computer skills.

Maybe something like this would work in the states as well.  Those who already understand the material gain by helping their classmates through teaching them the material and reinforcing it.  Those who are assisted by classmates get help in from peers that is personal and one-on-one.  Everyone wins.  I like it.[/cut]

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Study Time

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHere are some of the tenth graders that I study with Monday through Thursday.  For the most part they are good kids, pretty well behaved.  I am able to help with just about any homework they are given with the exception of algebra.  I thought I knew algebra pretty well, but when it comes to factoring and polynomial division, it was just too long ago.  They've stumped me several times on some pretty basic factoring questions.

I mostly spend this hour of study hall each day reading or doing a crossword puzzle.  They help each other on their homework, and only bring questions to me if no one else can help.  I hope to slowly gain their trust as I make myself available as much as possible.  I've already promised some of them that they can play some computer games on my lap top next week before study hall.  We'll see how that goes...