Monday, March 2, 2015

Goodbye Namibia

       And just like that, we’re home, safe and sound and on the ground in the USA! This weekend meant a long 40 hours of travel; four different airports, four countries, three continents and a lot of airtime, all in a matter of hours! Is it good to be home? Of course it is great to see family, friends and loved ones! It’s great to sleep in your “own” bed, go to your “own” grocery store, and cook in your “own kitchen.” But every single one of us left a little piece of our hearts in Namibia. I know I left mine at St. Baranbus Primary School.
         After spending two months in that beautiful country, it really became home. We had a routine, we were living everyday life, working as teachers and loving the culture. The warmth of the sun shone bright everyday, we read books, hugged children and relied on each other for everything.
         Our last day at school (Thursday) was one of the hardest days of my life. As I have thought many times, there was not a single day of teaching where I got home and thought to myself, “wow! That was easy!” Each day brought new and different challenges in all forms. But Thursday was the hardest day of them all. The waterworks began at 7:00 am in the teachers meeting as we thanked them for their hospitality, donated the rest of our school supplies and left them with new books for the library (thanks to MaryBeth at BNC!). Each of our teachers stood up and gave beautiful speeches about how proud they were of us and how much they would miss us. My teacher and I formed a really incredible bond while I was in her classroom, and it was so sweet to hear her say those things.
I had 7C, my home class, for the first two periods of the day. We played games, both American and Namibian, then just hung out. We took lots of pictures, drew, did crafts and then said goodbyes. I told them how proud of I was of them and that I loved each and every one of them. I handed each of them a little card with a note for them to paste in their math journals to remember me when I left. Each of my three other classes followed suit. The day was emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting. There were many tears shed from both us and our learners. Each one of them, no matter how naughty, annoying or lovely they had been over the last two months etched themselves a place in our hearts. They were all so unique and different, each bringing something new to our classes and the school. They are unforgettable. At the end of each class, we were flooded with hugs, some kisses, many tears, and handfuls of notes and cards the kids had made for us. I think I must have packed at least 100 cards in my suitcase from kids, none of which I have been able to read yet.
       When school was over, we met kids at the gate to take more pictures and say more goodbyes. One kid told me then that his Otjiherero threated to beat him because he was crying so hard during that class, as it followed mine. The tears were flowing non-stop, the ugly crying was real, and Kelsey, Amy and I decided we needed to go because it was only getting harder by the minute. When I went to the staff room to collect my belongings, a train of 6 kids followed me, each grabbing a bag, a water bottle and all the things I had with me. We were walking to BNC for our last day of tutoring and they all wanted to help carry our things there with us! (In Namibia, kids walk home and many of them walk home to an empty house, so it doesn’t matter when they get there). Well, I didn’t carry a single thing to BNC with me that day. Each of the kids followed me there where it was even harder to say goodbye. There were two boys who absolutely killed me. Hermando and Keja. They helped me set things down in my classroom and we went to the gate of the BNC for our final goodbyes.  At this point, they both had tears streaming down their faces, looking longingly at me as we hugged, I cried, we hugged again, I told them I loved them and finally I had to tell them I needed to go. As I sobbed watching them walk away, they stood, hands and faces pressed up against the fence, looking at me in the BNC as they cried. I couldn’t handle it, sobbing myself, and had to walk away, knowing that I would never see these beautiful boys again.
       After this horribly emotional day, I thought to myself…how will I ever be a teacher? If I have to do this every single year, and to think it was this hard after only being with these kids for 9 months. Then, I realized this… all day kids were asking us “when will you be back to teach us?” “When will we see you again?” “Are you coming back?” we would never see these kids again. We had to say goodbye forever, and even for a 10 year old, that was extremely hard to comprehend. It felt almost like we were abandoning them. We started something and didn’t finish. We wouldn’t see them walking through the halls the following year, at an assembly with their new class or after school getting picked up. We were never going to see their beautiful faces again. Knowing that this won’t be the case in the U.S. is a little bit easier, but I know this is only the beginning of how hard it will be.
The jet lag is still wreaking havoc and my suitcases are still not fully unpacked.  My room that I left so nice and clean is a mess and I feel like the To Do list will never end. We go back to our U.S. classrooms on Wednesday. I am looking forward to seeing my teacher and hugging each one of my 56 little students, plus one new one! I cannot wait to see them! But every second, I miss being in Namibia. I look at the clock and think about what time it is there, how warm it would be outside (I’m really not used to the cold again), where my learners are, etc. The U.S. is home, but right now, it is still uncomfortable. I feel out of place and like I don’t belong here right now. I don’t feel like my job in Namibia is finished. There is still more to see, more to do, more culture to take in, more friends to make and more knowledge to be had. I will be back, I know. But until then, a piece of my heart will always be there.
        I am so thankful to all of you for the undying love, support and encouragement. I could not have made this happen without you, and I will be forever grateful for that. This experience has changed my life, and I cannot wait to share more of my experiences with you in the coming months. Much love to all, and cheers to Namibia! 

At the BNC gate

Saying goodbye to the sweetest grade 5 boys: Hermando (left) and Keja (right) 
Crying my eyes out

Saying goodbye to Cynthia

Our sweet Jacky

Ronelli, head of the Math Dept., with my handmade Herero doll 

Some of the staff: Secretary (far left), Ms. Ham (Kelsey's teacher) and Cynthia. 

7C, my home class and first group of Namibian learners

Some of my 5A learners

Class picture with 5D

Sweet girls of 5A: Richardine, almost Miss Valentine (left) and Alyssa (right) 

Meunju, 7C. Another one of my hardest goodbyes. 

Hugging goodbye

Final goodbye to Cynthia 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Preparing for the End

I really have no idea what to say...Tomorrow is our last day of school and to say I am completely unprepared would be an understatement. There will be no lessons tomorrow, only games, cards, love, pictures, hugs and many tears. While I'm prepared for the fun, I'm not at all prepared for the goodbyes that I have to face. It will be a long time before this pit in my stomach goes away. To think I will never be able to see these kids again breaks my heart. My thoughts are completely jumbled and I really don't know what to say. These kids have touched my life in a way I never could have imagined. All I can say, is I wish I could stay forever!

Say a prayer for me...

Friday, February 20, 2015

This week's escapades!

As per usual, there is never a dull moment when teaching in Katutura, Namibia…

The week started out wonderfully. In grade 5 we worked on rounding. But, what I didn’t know when preparing my lessons was that they had never in their lives been taught about rounding. I made the rookie mistake of assuming they at least knew how to round off to the nearest 10 and 100 since I was supposed to be teaching them to round to the nearest 10,000. Naïve teacher moment for sure! Well, after a disastrous lesson with the first class of students where they stared at me like I was nuts, I later realized, thanks to my teacher that I was in fact nuts. They had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. After that class, my teacher offered to teach the next period to show me how she usually introduces the concept and because I of course now didn’t really have a plan. I was planning to ask her to teach this particular class later in the week so I could observe their behavior (since it hadn’t been very good when I was teaching the past few days). It was SO helpful to watch her teach and use some of her techniques, since I am not used to being a “subject teacher” and many of my techniques are for elementary aged kids. I also observed their behavior and realized the kids hadn’t been engaged enough in my recent lessons. Watching her was super, super helpful! She is one of the few Namibian teachers I have met that truly loves what she does!
         There were many other small but wonderful experiences I had throughout the rest of the week both at school and the BNC, but this one affected me the most…
         On Thursday when I was walking to break, I walked past a classroom with swarm of 50+ learners standing outside and some with their faces pressed against the windows. I stopped for a moment and my heart dropped, knowing exactly what I was about to witness. I walked up to the classroom, peered inside the door and I just wanted to throw up. It was exactly what I had expected…the male teacher was standing at the front of the class screaming at a learner with his whip caulked back, ready to swing at this child. Meanwhile, the learner was sobbing as every kid stood there watching. As a naïve American, I thought for a moment that standing in front of the door where the teacher could see me might stop what was about to happen, but of course, that wasn’t the case. We had been prepared for the possibility of children being beat. It is now illegal in Namibia, although it used to happen quite frequently and still does happen on occasion. Every year the teachers sign a contract saying that they won’t beat the kids and they understand their job is on the line should they be caught. It is no responsibility of the school’s. But truthfully, nothing could have prepared me for this.
         As I stood in the doorway, awestruck, I didn’t know what to do. So I followed what I guess was my natural instinct and started shooing kids away from the scene. If this teacher was going to humiliate this kid and I couldn’t stop it, there was no reason for tons of other children to be watching. I spent the next 5 minutes shooing kids away from the doorway, listening to the whip beating against this boy’s bare skin. When the madness finally stopped, the boy walked out of the classroom, head down, sobbing. I waited a few minutes and turned around as if I was going to walk away. Once I was out of the sight of the teacher, I turned around and followed the boy. We went behind a building where nobody could see him and I stood with him, rubbing his back, coaxing him to take deep breaths. He was sobbing so hard he could barely breathe. When he finally calmed down, I asked was able to get his name and what grade he was in. Johannes from grade 6D. I then asked him about what happened and he told me the kid behind him was kicking his desk and when he wouldn’t stop he turned around and “beat” him. (Mind you, even the slightest thing like poking or touching someone is considered beating in Namibia.) We talked about what he could do in this situation next time and I asked him if the other kid was hit as well and of course the answer was no. I asked to see where he was hit and he showed me the palm of his hand, glowing red. It was everything I could do not to cry at this moment. I opened my arms and told him he could hug me if he wanted and he turned around, this child I had never even met, and gave me a huge squeeze. The whole experience was horrifying and completely broke my heart. I am still in shock I watched that happen and can’t believe that was ever acceptable anywhere in the world.
         On a happier note…a story that brightened my Thursday… Jacky, a sweet boy in grade 5 has completely stolen my heart. He has the sweetest, most endearing smile. He has a horrible past of abuse both towards him and others in his household. He has been neglected time after time and is repeating grade 5 for the first or second time (I’m not sure). For the last two months, I’ve watched him get bullied and beat on by other learners for various reasons, one of them being his pencil case. Kids have a school bag/backpack of some sort that is inevitably falling apart because of the many pounds of books they carry around with them every day to and from school. Every kid also has a pencil case where they keep all of their supplies. I have noticed Jacky carries around his pencils in an old plastic shopping bag. Kids make fun of him for it because even here, it is a sign the family really has no money to spare. As I have observed this, I had an idea last week that towards the end of my time here, I would give him mine. At the end of class, I ran out the door calling after him to come back. I took him into the office in my classroom, told him to bring his bag and get out his pencils. Then, I dumped out my supplies and told him to throw away his bag and put his pencils in mine. It was his. He looked at me with a little bit of disbelief and said “thank you teacha!” I gave him a hug and of course we had to take a picture. It breaks my heart to think about children like Jacky and whether or not they will fall through the cracks when we leave. I have to give him every last bit of my love and attention for this next week and pray he will continue to work hard and pass grade 5.
         Finally, on Wednesday and Thursday I finally brought out the letters my 2nd and 3rd graders in the states wrote. I talked to my grade 7’s about the US, about these kids and what school was like in the U.S. I passed out a letter to each one of them to read and respond to. By the end of next week, every single one of my Namibian grade 7’s will have read a letter from a child in the U.S. and in a few weeks all of my U.S. learners will have read a letter from a Namibian child. The looks on their faces when they read these letters were so sweet. The classroom was dead silent and they were completely mesmerized. I can’t wait to give my Elk Plain learners a letter back with a  picture of their pen pal!
         What a week it’s been…it’s starting to set in that we are leaving next week. We are cramming every last thing in this weekend and getting together our last gifts and treasures to take home. None of us are really ready to leave and I cannot bare to think about saying goodbye to my learners next week. All I can do is enjoy every last second while I can!
Giving this sweet boy his new pencil case (Jacky)


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Namibian Valentines Day!

This week has been filled with many different emotions. To be completely honest, this is the first time I have felt a little hint of homesickness. We’ve been here for 5 and a half weeks here and this place is definitely home now. I am starting to know my way around town, I can direct a taxi driver home and I am adjusted to the heat again. But amid some of the inevitable highs and lows of any given week, I started to miss what I knew so well. Most especially, I started to miss my class of 2nd and 3rd graders at home!
         As I have already mentioned, I am teaching upper primary math at St. Barnabus. I have three classes of grade 5’s and a class of grade 7’s. I have grown to love each and every child so much in their own way, although some test me more than others. I love when they walk into my classroom and I can greet them with a handshake, hug or high five. Actually, this is one of the best parts of Namibia…I get to hug almost every single one of my kids every day. And for some, I know it is the only love and touch they get from adults in their life. I love being able to welcome them into my classroom with a smile. I love that I am still remembering more and more names each day. But when class begins, it can be a struggle. Some days all I want to do is tell them to “shut up!” because I cannot stand one more second of their talking over me. Some days I want to rip my hair out because I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain a concept in a way they’ll understand. And some days I feel like a fool, completely defeated because they were bored out of their minds throughout my entire class. This week was a mix of that.
         I missed my class in the States. I know so well what they know and how to get them to understand certain concepts. I know the culture that they live in and that my analogies will be meaningful and helpful to them. I have so many resources at my fingertips. I can introduce them to hands on activities knowing that they’ll be able to handle them. I was missing the comfort. But, when I started to think about it, I realized it was this feeling of discomfort that was really stretching me to be more creative, more patient and more forgiving and molding me into a real live teacher.
         Today, however, has to have been one of the weirdest experiences of my life. In Namibia, Valentines day is a BIG deal! The schools let the learners dress out of uniform in red and white for a price of N$5 (about 50 cents in USD). For the second half of the day, the whole school sits out on the yard and they have a pageant: Mr. and Miss Valentine. We were lucky enough to be the judges of this pageant along with two other Namibians. There were 9 girls and 10 boys competing for the title. There were four categories: swimwear, “own creation,” valentines wear and eveningwear. The last round only included the 5 finalists for boys and girls. For each round we judged the learners on their speaking ability, appearance, smile, confidence, and the most disturbing of all…body movement! To me there was something completely wrong with grade 5 through grade 7 learners putting on bikinis and modeling in front of their entire PUBLIC school. And to have to judge them on their “body movement” as they walked was horrifying. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience that I have hopefully had for the last time.
         Although we had a very strange day, the swarms of kids that wouldn’t let go of us made up for it. For some of these kids, these are the only hugs and love they get all day. I love getting to be that person in their life but it absolutely breaks my heart that they are receiving this at home, and what will happen when we leave?! Even though I’m missing my own valentine today, I loved having so many precious little Namibian valentines to make up for it!
         Tonight we are going over to Edwin and Emmy Tjiramba’s (both PLU alum and members of the Namibian 9) to watch the kids while they enjoy Valentines Day. We are going to play games, make valentines crafts and have a pool party! The perfect Namibian Valentine’s Day since it’s only 95 F outside. Boy will I miss lying by the pool with my book when we have to come home!
My teacher, Cynthia and I 

A few of us judges 
Getting ready to judge our first child pageant 

The Miss Valentine court, including one of my Grade 5 learners, Richardine as this year's Miss Valentine 

Some of my sweet Namibian Valentines, including two of my grade 5's: Hermando in the red pants to my left and Meunaje in the bottom left (white tank top) 

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Good Days and The Bad

For every good day there is inevitably be at least one bad day to go with it. I wouldn’t say Wednesday was a bad day, but it sure had its moments…
         Lessons were going really well before break. Then, after break I had 5D for a double period. This class can be a challenge at times. There are a handful of extremely bright learners in this class who I absolutely feel bad for because most of the time they are just bored (this is where the struggle to differentiate instruction becomes extremely evident and so frustrating). This class also has some of my toughest behavioral cases.
I set the expectation from day 1 that the learners line up when they arrive at my class and I invite them into the class when they show me they are ready to come in. I greet each and every one of them at the door and they walk in quietly and stand behind their seats until I come in to greet them and we begin. Well, today, as my cooperating teacher would describe them, they walked in like a bunch of baboons. There were learners pushing each other in line, screaming at each other immediately after greeting me, a fight that broke out before I could even walk over the threshold. Meanwhile, I have 10 kids swarming me asking “teacha can I leave the classroom?” and “teacha can I go drink wata” and “teacha they are beating each otha.” For those of you who know me, you know I rarely get angry. I don’t like to raise my voice and I’m especially bad at being a mean teacher. Well today, I had to put on my mean teacher pants…big time.
When I walked into the classroom I was completely distraught. I was not prepared for this after a morning of such great lessons. So, after breaking up the fight between two boys that was going on when I walked into my classroom, I put on a stern look and told this class of learners that I was VERY disappointed in them and they were to walk back outside and line up again. This time, it was almost worse than the first. I had even more learners pushing each other to be the first in line, yelling “teacha teacha” and being absolutely ridiculous. For a split second, I thought I might have to kill half of them. My head was about to explode. But I didn’t…I stood for the next 5 minutes in front of my door at the head of the line, waiting for them to show me they knew how to line up. When I finally had silence, I looked up and down the two lines (one boy line, one girl) and gave them a long speech about how disappointed I was in their behavior and how disrespectful they had been to me, another class expectation. I gave them a mini lecture about how it is a privilege to walk into my classroom and they may only walk in when they have shown me they deserve that privilege.
After 3 tries, they finally got it. They sat with their heads down for 10 minutes, which I think was punishment enough for their behavior. I took this opportunity to tell them that I cared about them and wanted them to be successful. I told them I have high expectations for them because I know they are capable of success. When they walked out of the classroom that day many of them gave me big hugs and told me how sorry they were. What I have realized in having a few experiences like this is this…in Namibia if you are “bad,” often times you are just beat, no questions asked, whether it is their parents, grandparents, teachers or whomever. For most of these learners I think there have been very few instances in their lives where they have been held to high expectations because someone cared about them. Even though the class began in frustration, it felt so incredible to hug each of them at the end and tell them how wonderful they are!
Twice each week we volunteer after school at the BNC, a children’s center where about 200 learners go after school to play with friends, eat lunch and have extra learning time in Math and English. When we first heard about the BNC I was really excited. It sounded like these children were really excited to be here to get extra help on their homework and be stars in math and English. Well, a lot of the kids were more naughty than I expected. They were violent to each other, rude to adults and overall just naughty kids. Amy and I are co-teaching grades 2 and 3 math. We have each class for an hour and then switch.  When we first started with these kids we had to be firm. It was hard to spend the hour telling them to be quiet, to sit in their seats and to raise their hands. Many of them just didn’t get it. It was completely exhausting and after a long day at school, I would dread going to the BNC.
On Thursday, I had one of the best days! This was our 3rd week, so our 6th time teaching these classes and we decided to do something different. We are working with story problems, and even though this is math we thought it would be fun for the learners to read a story from the library first and then make math problems about the story. So, we pushed back all the tables and chairs and had the kids sit on the carpet. I read If You Give a Moose a Muffin and the kids absolutely loved it. For many of them, the BNC is the only place they see books with pictures. They are completely fascinated and itching to see the pictures. I had every student completely engaged, even the ones who are usually bouncing off the walls. They were so engaged by the end of the story, I even felt like they could stand up and do a fun brain break to recharge their energy. Then, Amy thought of some story problems about the moose and hi muffin and led those for the class. I had a blast and I cannot wait to go back next week!
Since I am teaching upper primary math at St. Barnabus, I have really missed reading stories and using some of my more elementary teaching and management techniques. It restored so much excitement for me and was a great reminder of why I love to teach!