Since most of the other volunteers will be teachers at schools (I am actually one of only two in our group of 44 who will not be), we have been assigned to different schools around Okahandja this week to observe and practice co-teaching classes. It’s actually pretty interesting being at the schools and while there are definitely a lot of differences between American and Namibian schools, the kids are the same. A 13-year-old Namibian is really very similar to a 13-year-old American. As far as I could tell, the main difference in the schools are the teaching and discipline methods. While I was in school, I have memories of kind, supportive teachers oozing with positive reinforcement for their students, and that’s not really the case here. It seems like kids rarely get praised for their work and that the teachers tend to be very strict and serious in order to maintain control of their classes. They take no crap and I think their learners are kind of scared of them. This also means that corporal punishment is a reality here. I’ve definitely been trying to see it as a cultural difference and not impose my American opinions because it’s just so far removed from anything we’d do in the US, but it’s a pretty difficult thing to get used to. In the staff room one day this week, I was having a conversation with a teacher and another volunteer who grew up in Korea. The other volunteer’s opinion on corporal punishment was very different since she was hit in schools as a child, and we all agreed that this is an interesting time to be in Namibia since corporal punishment was made illegal recently so the country is kind of in a transition phase. One teacher explained how she really does not want to hit her learners, but she doesn’t feel like she has any alternatives to keep control of her classroom. That conversation definitely got me thinking about ways to help educate teachers about alternatives to corporal punishment.
One highlight of the week was when I helped another volunteer, Caitlin, teach a science class about ecosystems. The learners finished their group work pretty quickly and before we knew it, we were surrounded by 8th graders touching our hair and asking us questions about ourselves. “Did you know Michael Jackson?” “Are you friends with Rihanna?” “Have you ever been to a Chris Brown concert?” All very important questions. The circle of kids decided they’d like to show their singing talents off to us and pretty soon we were all dancing and singing “Stand By Me” together. This was definitely one of my more amusing moments in Namibia so far.
It hit me how sad I was to be leaving Okahandja when I got home on Wednesday of this week. On Tuesday night, I had showed Emily (my little host sister) all of the stains in my clothes which my handwashing skills are not yet quite adept enough to handle, and she agreed to help me with them the next day. Well, when I got home the following day, I looked everywhere for the dirty laundry to get started on it, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. Emily was laughing as I looked around in every room of the house and sorted through all of the closets and hampers and claimed she had no idea where it went. And then she brought me outside. All of my clothes were clean, stain-free, and drying on the line because she had decided to surprise me by washing them. I was amazed. It is literally one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I can’t believe I have to leave this amazing family in one week! Not to mention the 43 other American trainees who I have spent every day with for the past two months!
There are a few things going on as we approach our final week of training. We have our final language exam - I’m excited for that one to be over. We had a host family appreciation day today where we recited speeches in the Namibian languages we’ve been learning to thank the families and cooked American foods for them. We weren’t sure the Namibians would like the food we made but it was a definite hit - there was NONE leftover. My family found it hard to believe that the chocolate chip banana pancakes were actually a breakfast food and LOVED pumpkin pie. Chili, fajitas, pizza (which is what I made!), mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, baked beans, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, onion rings, and fried chicken were all also on the menu. It was pretty nice to eat American food and I think we were all kind of food coma-esque when the day was over. At the end of the week, before we actually go to our sites next Saturday, we’ll have a swearing-in ceremony. It’s weird because it really feels like something huge is coming to an end, and in a way I guess it is, but really everything is just beginning!