The city of Ondangwa may be only three kilometers away, but it is a world apart from my surroundings at Olukolo.
|My Village, Onantsi|
I must admit that, despite my initial reaction to the isolation, I have adjusted quite well and have been learning the ins and outs of daily life in Onantsi. I owe much of my quick adjustment to Richard’s presence. Richard is a WorldTeach volunteer who worked at my site last summer. He decided to return to Northern Namibia during his winter vacation in order to perform research on dental hygiene in the country and he has graciously taught me many essentials of living in Onantsi. His guidance and advice during this first week have been invaluable and I am truly going to miss having him around.
However, living with a fellow American has not eliminated my sense of confusion altogether. The new environment, unrelenting heat and chaos of the new school year, have all played their part in leaving me puzzled, confused and, at times, intensely overwhelmed.
I have been teaching classes for a full week, but I am still unsure of what is going on around me most of the time and have felt utterly lost regarding my class schedule, the syllabus and my role at the school. Though I am sure that I will be able to iron out much of my confusion over the course of the next few weeks, there are times when I wonder if I will ever understand my place in the community.
Yet, there are other times when I can feel that the learning has already begun—whether it concerns teaching techniques, navigating the communication barrier or finding my way to town in this great sand sea. Over the past few weeks, I have also started to understand the complex ethnic relations in the country, the pattern of discrimination, the socio-economic disparities and the challenges Namibia is facing in terms of development. These bits and pieces of learning, however large or small, are playing their part in making me feel as though I will one day understand the complex job I have here in Namibia.
Though chaotic, my classes have been fun this week and my learners are enthusiastic. I am trying to instill an excitement about learning in my students. They are quite accustomed to monotonous classes of copying and summarizing, so I have mixed up the lessons with games, grammar, story time, writing and conversation. So far, the students have been quite responsive, and I sense an eagerness to learn that I hope will not wane over the course of the year. I am also hoping that their enthusiasm does not solely hinge on the fact that I am a novelty and that the passing of time will make it disappear.
I cannot help but feel that I have been regarded as a bit of a celebrity among students and village children. As I walk down the streets, people often stare, little children’s heads pop out from behind bushes or scraps of metal and passersby watch my every move. This constant attention can be taxing. However, walking the dusty streets of Ondangwa and hearing “hello Miss!” never ceases to make me smile. Today, I was even greeted enthusiastically by children I have never seen before. They waved at me as I walked down the path to town and called out “Miss Erika! How are you?” Apparently, word of the new white girl in town has spread throughout the community like wildfire.
|Primary School Learners on Their Way to School|
In the evenings, after school is over and the sweltering sun dips below the horizon, I often sit on my front steps and read. Since I arrived, I have been flipping voraciously through the pages of Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. I am enjoying the book immensely, not only because of its artistic prose and gripping plot, but also because it has made me think a lot about my hopes for my year here in Namibia. Like the Price family in Kingsolver’s novel, I have traveled to Africa with particular goals in mind and a desire to bring a seedling of change to my community.
Yet, the novel has constantly reminded me that what we believe will be beneficial to our communities and what we hold as truths can, instead, have little consequence or significance in the lives of those around us. We come into new environments and immerse ourselves in new cultures bringing with us judgments from home and a sense of feeling that we know right from wrong, good from bad and that we can somehow live up to the noble cause of enacting “positive change”, whatever we believe that to be.
I think my greatest fear here—more than the snakes, the spiders, the loneliness and the crazy drivers—is that I let my community down. I fear that I will not live up to the expectations of my school, my colleagues and my learners and that I will fail to attain the goals I created for myself before embarking on this incredible journey.
I have been trying to keep these feelings and fears in check with the understanding that I can only do my best, and nothing more. I am not here to change the world. I am not here to revolutionize the lives of those around me. I am merely here to absorb my surroundings, to listen to the voices and needs of my learners and to do my small part helping them realize their dreams.