The thing I most want to try and capture and share is some of what we experienced while spending a week in a village outside of Rundu, a town on Namibia's Northern border, where we conducted our teaching practicum. Because when I look back, it is the people we met in Rundu, the feel of life in a rural Namibian village, and the reactions of the students we taught that stay with me and touch me the most.
Imagine for a moment packing 14 people and their stuff into a kombi (a van used to transport people around Namibia) and driving nine hours to the Namibian/Angolan border. Imagine driving away from the town of Rundu to where the paved road turns into an unpaved dusty road. Picture the dusty road lined on either side with groups of straw huts enclosed by fences made of sticks, and bordered by farmland. Animals roam freely on the road and we slow down frequently and honk at a group of goats or cows, urging the animals to make way for the kombi. I'm sure you can envision our faces pressed against the windows, trying to make sense of the new and foreign surroundings. To the North of the road is the lovely Kavango river which serves as the official border between Namibia and Angola. Women balance jugs of water on their heads as they carry them from the river, young girls gather wood for fires, mothers wash clothes in the river and boys and men herd cattle as the sun sets on the horizon. It is probably as foreign a scene as any I have ever seen in my life. And certainly our kombi full of American and Canadian volunteer teachers is a pretty foreign sight for the community as well.
But the way the people in these villages welcomed our group and how they responded to us was pretty incredible. When we arrived at the local shebeen (bar) the first night, the owner of the shebeen danced with us under a sky full of stars and offered us free drinks. Schoolchildren showed us impressive moves to West African music, and older women spun volunteers around on the dance floor. Our Namibian teacher translated what was being said between songs: "Come on now, the visitors are taking over! Get on the dance floor and let's show them how it's done." It was just such a welcoming feeling, having the community greet us as they did, and include us in their weekend dancing and festivities.
We also visited the Chief of the village who told us, through a translator, about his role as the leader in the community. As he sat in his sharp suit, tie, and beaded necklace in the sweltering heat, he explained how he enjoys his responsibilities helping people resolve domestic and community disputes. His belief that there is always a solution to a problem, and that people can work together to find that solution helps to guide him in this work.
We met the family of a beloved deceased former Chief of the village, and they offered us chicken, drinks and a seat in the shade of their front yard, and explained the history of their family, and how pleased they were to have us in their community.
In the evenings, several of us went for a run or jog along the dirt road and found ourselves waving and smiling to community members walking by, while witnessing the nightly rituals for families in the area and taking in the breathtaking skies as the sun made its slow dramatic descent. We would wave to people and say "ngapi!" as we ran by, to which children and adults alike would smile with surprise to hear us speak a word of Rukwangali, and reply "nawa." One evening a group of youngsters (ages 7-10 or so) started chasing me while I was running and when I turned around and started chasing them back, the gleeful shrieks and delight in an impromptu game of tag cracked me up (until I ran out of breath!). We also stumbled upon a drum circle of primary school kids, drumming, dancing, clapping and singing, which felt just so incredibly special and so full of life.
The focal point and the core of our community interaction was our week of teaching in the local school Levi Hakusembe. On Monday, we had more than 200 students from surrounding villages voluntarily show up to school on their holiday for our teaching practicum week. These students – ages 5 to 22 – were so eager to learn some of them walked an hour each morning to get to the school. The WorldTeach volunteers taught in pairs, and my partner Christy and I taught 8th and 9th grade English to about 35 kids each day.
I must say, teaching is hard work! But I truly enjoyed the experience and it made me more excited for the year ahead. The process of lesson planning, then seeing what works in the classroom and what doesn't, coupled with testing out my own teaching style and trying new things was incredibly helpful preparation. Although it was only a week, Christy and I got more comfortable with the class, and the students grew more comfortable with us. At first it was quite hard to understand what the students were saying, and I think they had trouble understanding us when we spoke. But as they got used to our speaking voices and styles and expectations, and as we learned how to speak slowly and clearly and ask questions in ways our students could understand, our relationship with the class and with individual students began to grow, even in just a week, which felt great.
We asked our students to write journal entries one day, entitled "A Day in My Life," both to practice writing skills and also for us to understand everyday life in the villages surrounding Rundu. Below are a few excerpts from those journal entries:
"When the teach is teaching I feel happy because I want to know the thing that I don't know."
"When the sun come out I use to go at the river to fetching water. When the sun rise I use to cooking food. When the sun go down I use to collect fire wood. When the sun go in I use to sleep. When the sun come out I use to take the blanket and washing at the river."
As I reflect back on all that we have seen and experienced and learned in such a short time, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this experience. The challenge of learning how to be a good teacher in such a different context, and helping students learn the skills they will need… it's such an exciting and eye-opening opportunity.
Written by Elisa Mandell.
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