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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Spilling the Beans

And I don’t mean literally. But I did that yesterday. On my marking sheet, and now it looks like someone has puked on my learners’ final grades.


Anyway, many of you who read my blog are either family, know my family, or are my fellow volunteers. And thus you know the goings-on. But for those of you who perhaps have not been closely following my life outside this blog for the past few months, I want to let you in on some recent developments.

I want you to be in the know.

Because I care about my anonymous online audience. (Even the guy reading this because he clicked on the wrong Google link or something. Welcome, buddy.)

In 2 days I will leave Orotjitombo Primary School. In 3 weeks I will be returning home, after completing my designated year of volunteer service. I will be writing to you all until that time, but afterward, this blog will end…for the reason that “a year” is in the title, and any blogging past a year just feels like a sham.

A blog of lies.

At any rate…

The other night, while staring at the dead bug I had just smooshed on the wall and decided to keep there as a warning to his friends, I contemplated what it would feel like to get on a plane and leave Namibia, possibly forever.

The trouble was, I couldn’t visualize it. I tried to comprehend the bittersweet feelings being felt by everyone going home. I tried to imagine getting off the plane and assimilating back into my country, nudging back (an eventually comfortable) space in the American culture, speaking about my time in Namibia in the past tense. But every time I tried, my brain would short circuit and instead fill itself with images of smooshed mosquitos.

This was not for lack of interest in my own musings.

The truth is my attachment to living here runs much, much deeper than “Well, this is what I’ve known for a year, and it’s been some good times.”

It is a love.

And my brain cannot yet fathom not being here. I don’t know how to leave.

So, I am not.

A few months ago I decided that the thought of leaving was just not doing it for me at the moment. I didn’t intend on any of this to happen, and I certainly never would have anticipated my current situation.

But why not run with it?

I’ve never really been conventional. I find it boring. So, why should I start now?

So, my visa application has been submitted, and the job search is on. Although I’ll be going home for a bit over a week for the holidays and to see my long lost (and much beloved) family, I’ll be returning to Namibia before the new year.

I can’t describe my feelings about this without sounding like I have some sort of social disorder, but let’s say they run quite the gamut. Mostly, though, they are the good ones.

I’m excited, and I hope you are too. After all, I now get to start a new blog to pass on my knowledge of…absolutely nothing useful.

Consider the beans spilled.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Caffeinated Vignette

I’m sitting alone in a coffee shop in Swakopmund called Bojos. In the air there is the smell of sugary baked goods and fancy coffee, the kind that come on a saucer and have frothy designs steamed into the milky foam top. Through the speakers comes the melodic and gag-tastic smooth jazz version of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits. Currently, a duo of saxophone and trumpet is whining out The Girl Is Mine. It reminds me of something that would play in the gift shop of a very sophisticated old folks home. I once again look down at my Bill Bryson novel and begin to read about his travels through Europe.

I like Bill Bryson. I like reading about other people’s asinine escapades through foreign countries. It makes me feel more normal. As I read about his inability to tell if a big, metal vessel on his restaurant table is indeed an ashtray or some kind of cyborg piece of abstract art, I smile at how many times this sort of situation has happened to me.

When you are travelling alone, there is no one to share a confused laugh with. No one to ask “Well, gee, what the shit is this for?” So, you end up doing some weird, compromising thing to avoid having to look like a complete tourist, which generally just makes you look more like a fool than usual.

I giggle.

The German woman at the table next to me looks over at me like I just asked her how to get to Sesame Street, but soon gets bored with me and starts proclaiming something about her food in guttural tones.

The waitress comes over and greets me in Afrikaans. I respond in kind and ask for a “koppie koffie,” or a cup of coffee, feeling very pleased with myself. She returns with my coffee and says something in rapid Afrikaans that I presume means “Is there anything else I can get you?” Uncertainly, I mumble, “nee, dankie,” or no thank you. She stares at me in a way that means that answer makes no sense in this situtation, and waits patiently for me to explain why I am an idiot. I fumble around in my brain for a smooth move. Sorry I think I’ve just had a brain aneurism and suddenly forget how to speak my native South African tongue. No. “Uhh…” I pause “Sorry, I don’t actually speak Afrikaans. I have no idea what you just said, but I figured I’d continue living this lie because I’m bored.”

Actually, I didn’t say the second part.

But I do this sometimes. I don’t really know why. I suppose I’m either apathetic toward informing people correctly about my nationality or feel that it would be embarrassing on one of our parts to correct them. In fact, there is a woman in Otjiwarongo who still thinks I am Megan from the UK.

Instead I finished the conversation in English and turned to read the philosophical quotes written on the back of my sugar packets. (I like this concept. You can find anything from Aristotle to Chinese proverbs. Like, I think I will have a Nietzsche flavored cup of coffee today.) I choose one by Eleanor Roosevelt and emptied it into my coffee.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

An apt quote for my life right now, with the frustrations of my kitchen project and my general unenthusiasm with the end of term. (Microsoft Word is telling me “unenthusiasm” is not a word, but I am choosing to disregard it.)

So thank you, Eleanor. I will. But right now I will drink my coffee and listen to Michael Jazzy Pants Jackson and amuse myself by thinking about the trivial confusions and awkwardness of this past year. As you may have witnessed in the entirety of this blog, there are many.

And, you know, if it suits my fancy, I’ll probably pretend to speak Mandarin or Swahili or something to pass the time. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Where My Choir Directing Career Begins...

...and ends.

Today in Grade 5 Arts, we learned how to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” otherwise known as “Low, Low, Low Yo Baht.” And we did it…dun dun duuuun…as a round.

Well kind of.

I use the term learned loosely. Our round was a jumbled mess of “lowing Murray down tha stream.”
Here, wait. You need the full lyrics.

Grade 5 Version of “Row Your Boat
Low, low, low yo baht
Genly dow tha stream
Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray
Live is buhhh dream

You low that baht, Murray. You low.

After learning the song together in the previous class, I separated the students into 3 groups and had them practice the song within their groups. I showed them what a round should sound like. We practiced the round together, just them and me. Oh, the fun we had.

Then, I thought we would do the round in 3 groups. All together. As a class.

How naïve and unachievable that idea was.

I really should have gotten it on video. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Twenty-six 10 to 13 year-olds, stared delightedly at me as they butcher both the tune and pronunciation of a favorite childhood melody. Emphatically singing the wrong thing at varying speeds with unabashed vigor. They were having such a glorious time, that I didn’t even care that my eardrums were about to fall out of my skull and that I was probably pissing off the teacher in the classroom next to me.

By the end of class, though, a few willing learners were able to carry the tune, with a slightly panicked look on their face, as I sung over them.

 So, that’s a small accomplishment.

In the future, though, I think I’ll leave choir practice to the other teachers and stick with colored pencils and printer paper for Art class. (And also some other fun crafty things, thanks to a few packages from the fam. Thanks, guys.)

And here I am, hours later. Being serenaded by a small boy singing (shouting) at Murray to get down that stream as he lovingly tosses (pelts) rocks at a passing goat, unaware of the fact that I’m being a Peeping Tom about 3 meters away.

That sounds creepier than it was. I don’t know why I made it sound so creepy.

Anyway, although he will not become Andre Bocelli anytime soon, I’m enjoying his singing. It’s refreshing to be reminded that once and a while my students actually absorb the things I teach them.
Even if they don’t make sense and are totally pointless in life.

In other news, the kitchen construction is going at Africa speed. The bricks have been built, but we are waiting for Mr. Builder to drive out to our bush school. I am still aiming to have the kitchen finished by the end of November. Even if it kills me.

Happy days, everyone.

Friday, September 6, 2013

More Blog Nonsense and Holiday Happenings

After a short holiday of only 10 days, I am back at school, ready for term 3 to take off. It’s not so much a take off as it is like the equivalent of a chicken trying to launch itself off the ground with a 10 pound weight attached to it’s bottom.

Mull that over.

I expect all of the learners will not be back at school until next week. Until then, my job is to find something constructive to do with the 5 kids that are in each of my classes.

But let’s back up the train here.

August Holiday: n. 1. a time period in which as soon as you realize you are in fact on holiday it is time to return to your un-holiday filled life for the next 3 months. 2. A period in which you get out of Opuwo and eat any food item that you cannot find in Opuwo, regardless of whether you like it or not. But hopefully you do like it. Because otherwise that would be ridiculous. Which I never am.

For my August holiday, some friends and I returned to Swakopmund and Hentie’s Bay. The coast of Namibia.

Here, look at this map.

(Hentie's Bay is very close to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay)

What did we do on the coast?

No skydiving this time. But equally as liberating.

I enjoyed good company for a whole 10 days. I ate (sushi, nachos, pizza, burgers, seafood, fake African-like bagels, real coffee, pasta, cake, the list goes on…that’s actually pretty horrifying.). I shopped for things I can’t find in Opuwo. I behaved like a human for once. We went to the beach (even though it was freezing). We watched TV (crazy talk). We attached a piece of conveyor belt to the back of a bakkie and towed people around in the sand (I had sand in my hair for 2 days). And I learned to speak fluent Afrikaans.

I’m lying to you.

I did not learn Afrikaans. 

(I did, however, learn how to say “twee sebras,” which means “two zebras.” Which I learned from an interactive children’s pop-up book.)

But learning Afrikaans is on my to-do list. Along with “shower more,” “start running daily,” and “stay relatively sane for the duration of term 3.”

In other thrilling news:

I just ate a slice of cheddar-flavored, low-fat processed cheese. Individually wrapped. And I enjoyed it.

It wasn’t even cheddar. It was flavored to trick people into thinking it’s cheddar.

My family would be horrified.

I am horrified.

Why am I telling you about cheese?

(And why do I keep asking questions when it is, in my opinion, a horrible rhetorical device?)

Well, it caused me to wonder…if I were to go back to the states now, exactly as is, what would people think of me?

Let me paint you a picture of my current state.

My hair is grimy, and my feet, legs, and hands are covered in dirt. This is usual. I’ve put on a bit of weight (especially after eating my way around Swakopmund for 10 days). I’m wearing my glasses because it’s too dusty for contacts. My shirt has 2 holes in it. I say weird things like “I’ll make a turn that side” and “now now,” and I no longer bother to show up for things at their starting time. Things that should bother me don’t, and things that shouldn’t bother me do. I wake up between 4:30 and 6:00 during the week and go to sleep at 9. I’ve grown accustomed to instant coffee, and I no longer check to see if my milk has gone sour before I pour it in my cup of joe. Also, I just ate an unidentifiably aged piece of cereal that I found in my bed covers.

Actually that last one is normal. 

I’m sure I’ll bounce back to living like a presentable human when need be, but I’ll tell you something for free. I’m a bit concerned about my present state of being. Let’s just say if you were to videotape my daily life, I’m not sure if it would be a comedy or a tragedy.

It would, however, be damn interesting. And I think that is what we should take away from this valuable sharing session.  

As usual, if you would like to contribute to my kitchen project (see this post), there is a donate button at the bottom of my blog. Thanks!

Water of Love

We use it to drink. To bath. To cook. To clean. To swim in. To make energy. To hydrate our plants and animals. To pour down the pants of unsuspecting people. The list goes on.

It is made of two glorious elements. Hydrogen and oxygen.

It is not made of “salt” and “desk”, as was written by one of my learners on his science exam.

It is water. And it is a great thing.


Namibia is a dry country. Many regions are composed of flat dry plains, savannahs, and deserts. Sand dunes up the wahzoo.

Namibia is also in a drought. The worst drought since what I have been told to be the 40s. Whether that information is credible, I do not know. That could be made up. I am not a journalist. But it is the worst in a very long time.

What does this mean exactly? Well, it’s dusty and dry. And everything is a lot more beige now.

What it also means is that there is a lack of water in the taps and food on the table. Many people in Namibia make their living from subsistence farming. They have their land. They grow their food. They eat their food. They keep goats, sheep, and cattle to eat and to sell. These animals wander all over the place to graze during the day. In random fields, across the road, on school grounds, in the bathroom.

No, really. I found a cow in the toilets the other day.

So, there is very little water. The plants are dead. The rivers are dry. This means crops aren’t growing well, and the livestock are dying. It’s common to see dead donkeys, goats, and cows in the streets of Opuwo. They weren’t hit by cars. They died of starvation and thrist.

I know. I’m a buzz kill. But it’s the truth.

So, little food and little profit for livestock owners. Now, Namibia imports a lot of food anyway. Especially fruits and vegetables. But they are now importing foods that normally grow with ease in this country, such as maize.

As I was driving back to school for the first day of term, my Vice Principal mentioned that the government had not yet provided the subsidized maize meal bags for many schools, ours included. While I was wondering why the hell we were opening a hostel school when we couldn’t feed the children living there, I asked why the government was taking so long to give out the food. His answer was that they had to import maize meal from South Africa because Namibia could not produce enough, and the bags had not come through yet.

Never fear. Since then, the school has purchased enough food to get us through until the government food arrives. And I donated some rice and granola to the cause before the emergency stash was purchased.

But I’m wandering off here.

The point is that experiencing a shortage of water reveals itself in a drastic way here. It’s a strain on everyone. Especially those who don’t live in town. Like the nomadic Himba, who travel around to get their water from boreholes, rivers, and whatnot. Some of those boreholes are no longer functioning. All dried up.

Water is life, people. Water is life. (For the record, I am not smoking any illegal substances.)

Anyway, moral is don’t take your water for granted.

The only upside is that I have an excuse for looking like a dirtball.
I’m saving the environment, buddy. Back off.

Rain season should start within the next few months. Let’s hope it puts an end to this drought. This dryness is turning me into a raisin. Or rather a sultana. Because I’m white.

Is that not PC? Alright, unbunch your panties. I like raisins and sultanas equally, people.

But I’m seriously hoping for a good rainstorm soon. For Namibia’s benefit and my own.

I miss a good downpour. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

News Alert!

If you live in the Cape May County area, the Court House library will be hosting a bake sale to fundraise for my school, Orotjitombo Primary School, on August 26th

The funds will go towards a kitchen project I have been trying to get in order before I leave. Currently, the school does not have a kitchen, and is instead cooking maize meal porridge outside on a fire two times a day. It’s windy during this time of year, which makes building a fire difficult and the resulting porridge to be full of dirt, grit, and bits of foliage.

Cooking the porridge
The maize meal porridge that makes up their diet
Lining up for lunch

Serving the porridge

Mealtime isn't the healthiest it can be for the students, and thus we would like to construct a kitchen, complete with stove and refrigerator, allowing for more meal options and cleaner food. The kitchen will be an enclosed 7.5 x 5 m structure with a storage room included. 

Time is running out before I leave, and so far, the other teachers and I have not been able to find many willing donors.

The library staff has been kind enough to agree to bake some delicious treats for you Cape May County residents and visitors (and believe me, they are excellent bakers) in exchange for a few coins from your change purse. A dollar goes a long way in Namibia, and my learners and I would so appreciate if you break your diet for the day and drop by the library on August 26th.

If you don't live in the Cape May area, you can help too! Click the donate button at the bottom of this blog to make a contribution via PayPal. Or you can click this link to donate through the WorldTeach organization. WorldTeach is a non-profit organization; thus, you can claim your donation as a charitable deduction on your income tax if you donate through them. Just click the link, and choose  "contribution to volunteer fee/in-country project" from the drop-down box labeled "Donation Specified For:" and type "Mailin Plagge" in the box that pops up.

Many thanks, guys! Hoping for the best. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Beginner’s Guide on How To Take an Exam

Disclaimer: All of these answers are copied word for word from the English exams of my 6th and 7th graders. I would take pictures, but they would never upload. So, honor system. These answers actually exist. And although I appear to be making fun of some of the answers I received on this term’s final exams, I am in fact very proud of my learners. Many of them improved monumentally from last term. That said…

Welcome to Ms. May’s Tips for Test Taking! Follow these rules and you will be right as rain.

Be sure to begin by asking the proctor if you should indeed write your name on the name line.
Also, write a random phrase on the line for your grade, such as dangerous or cool boy. Numbers are for losers.

Now, let’s get going.

Read those instructions! But when you don’t know the answer, you can do several things.

1. Talk complete bollocks. For example:

Question: What is Rabies?
Answers:  -are small animal which lives in the bush eats trees
-is a something have lot of rain like Rabbit. Raining money time.
     -Is the small animal live in will but have big eyes.
                 -Rabies is the topic of the world.

2. Or, choose a random and irrelevant fact from science class to reiterate.

Question: Define what pets are and give an example of a pet.
Answer: Pets is insect like mosquitor

3. Another strategy is to start making up words.

Question: How many bread rolls did Tuli buy?
Answer: Gooby 11

Question: What is she holding in her hand?
Answer:  -is book and ekend
   -she holding a feedle
   -on dope the hand is ekori

If you still don’t know the answer, at least be sure to amuse your teacher.

Question: Change this sentence to a question: The medicine will make you better.
Answers:  -No.
     -Make better the medicine you will. (Thank you, little African Yoda.)

Finally, be sure to praise yourself. Really give yourself a pat on the back. You can even write something in the blank space on the last page if you want to. Like this:
-Good Boy!
-is excellence plz and plz!!

But don’t write this.
Miss I cano a speaking englsh (I can’t speak English.)

And if you can’t praise yourself, praise Jesus.
Good luck Jesus for me!!!!!!!!!!! Jesus!! Jesus!! Luck!!!

Got to admire the enthusiasm.