Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Breaking the Blog Silence

It's taken me quite a while to try to come up with the words to explain the first four months of this year, and I wasn't going to post it until I could get some perspective. That's why I haven't posted for quite some time.

The phrase Term From Hades... is the best description for the first term this year. The disasters of my secondary projects, the teacher/computer training, learner behaviour in school and the hostel, teacher apathy, a priest not addressing my housing issues with electricity and sanitation, uffda! Visualize each of these as low pressure systems converging on my village, specifically me, all in a two week span and continuing throughout the term. A “perfect storm” of problems if you will, constantly dumping it's gloom on me. And I had about as much control over them as I do over the weather.

It didn't matter what I tried to do to alleviate the fronts, it just seemed to seed the clouds more. For example, I wrote a letter to the priest expressing my concern and disappointment with the lack of action taken on electricity (it went out almost every weekend the first term, and only in my building. It's been a continuing issue for well over a year) and sanitation (my toilet stopped working, so I asked to get it fixed. It took TWO months). His solution – move, because we are not going to fix anything. We only need to give you housing, nothing more.

As it turns out, after I leave he is going to turn the hostel into a bed and breakfast. The sooner I leave, the better. Still brings up the question of why he won't try to fix the power? Won't the guests at his B&B want electricity? Besides, why would people want to stay here? The majestic views of the sand dune, the herds of goats and donkeys? The open sewer just outside school grounds? They need a corn palace or the world's biggest ball of twine to bring in the big money.

As I now look back, the relationship started to sour last November when I wasn't able to change some of his Namibian $$ to US $$. Seems it's a little improper/illegal to do that here if you don't have proof (the exchange slip) the money wasn't originally in US $$. In April he had his workers replace all the broken windows at the primary school. The only classroom at the primary school the priest didn't replace the broken windows for was the library. Not very subtle, is it?

Almost every secondary project I tried to start didn't go as planned (usually failing when attendance was mandatory), and I tried to start quite a few. The most spirit-crushing was the teacher computer training class. I'd been asked/begged by the staff to train them in how to use Word and Excel to help with the question papers and mark sheets, throwing in how to use the Internet to search for teaching materials. We're talking importing graphics, fonts and alignments, special characters and symbols, etc. Classes were Monday to Thursday for one hour a day, starting the second week of school. Reminded everyone at devotion about it on the first day and even reminded them right after school, just to be sure. There is no after school study or any other conflict of any kind. Day 1 – Out of the ten teachers here only ONE showed up on time, two others arrived 30 minutes late. Day 2 – Only one showed up. Day 3 – Nobody. Spirit-crushing and shocking considering how often they've asked me to do a computer class for them. I did get an uplift in helping two teachers type up their question papers – they did a great job too!

I've been frustrated before, but not to this extent. An incident at the hostel and the disciplinary committee & school board response, or lack of a response – giving the learners a final last warning. I think they also put them on double-secret probation. Now mix into brew my friend got into a serious accident, two others going home and then getting the big-time shaft from a friend with a hike I REALLY wanted to do... Well, you get the picture.

Combining the toll on the personal, professional, spiritual and emotional areas of my life, the first term was by far the most difficult time of my life and, for the first time, quitting Peace Corps started to feel like the right thing to do. The day I seriously thought about quitting, I added the “until COS on Dec15th” counter to my blog. I've done a lot of soul searching in the department of life, meaning, volunteerism and such throughout the term. Fortunately I had my laptop and episodes of Doctor Who 2006, House MD, Firefly and West Wing to help me through the term. (It only took me four months to download all 13 of the episodes of Dr. Who 2006! )

Two of my secondary projects did get off the ground – continuation of girls club and movie night. I got a copy of Mary Chapin Carpenter's new album The Calling. Was so excited after hearing it, recognizing many of the songs as she played many of them at her concert at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater in 2004 – one of the best concerts I've attended. Throw in Motley Crue's import CD (and I just got your package Erik and that set of Bruce Hornsby rules!) and lots of kind words from many former learners now at different schools, that was enough to keep me going. Those intermittent successes coupled with escapism kept me from falling into a Rainy Days and Mondays Carpenters' type of blues.

Some other positives: near the end of the term I helped a learner with math for the grade 12 exam. If you could only feel the endorphin rush my brain felt when I got to teach matricies AND systems of equations. Then, I taught a woman how to type and use Microsoft Word using my laptop and an old South African keyboarding book.

The end of the term party did inject some humor and energy, going to the hot spring that's just 5k away. We braaied some meat, talked about my going away party in term 3, discussed the likelihood of a crocodile being at the waterfall just 2k downstream from here (the Fish River, which at the time the hot springs looked not like a tributary but the headwaters for that mighty river), dodged some questions about me extending and staying for a third year in Namibia (not going to happen) and talked about what I'm going to do after December.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: after getting Peace Corps involved who then talked to the priest, the head of parish in Keetmanshoop and a connection within the Namibian Catholic Bishops Conference - Ms. Kusch (the 1st principal of St. Therese and has a soft spot for volunteers) and doing a little PR campaign of my own within the community ... drum roll ... my toilet got fixed! An aside to the PR campaign, I pasted pictures of Galileo, Martin Luther and a copy of The 95 Theses in my flat. Passive revolt, the Midwestern way!

Add the grade 9 math results of term 1 2007: 37%. Grade 9 term 1 2006: 24%
(I have a much stronger group of learners this year)

Add the grade 10 English results from 2006: 53.4% and no one failed. English was the best subject overall, even beating out Afrikaans and the highest results in at least six years. Even had a learner get an 'A' in it, the only one for our school. My principal has kept saying over and over how impressed she was with the results, saying they were the best of all the volunteers who've been here. Maybe I'm an English teacher at heart?

Had I written this before going on break, it would've had a much different tone than now. This term I've decided the glass will be half full instead of empty. So far, so good!

Final ramblings:
I am looking forward to getting my hair cut when I get back. It's getting a little too long for my liking. Sometimes while listening to my 80's music on my iPod, I feel like putting it up in a ponytail, dressing in a pink shirt with white pants and playing the Miami Vice theme in the background.

I just realized that if you took what I got for my 2005 tax return (only working 2/3 of the year as a full-time teacher) and then doubled that amount, it is more than I earned in 2006.

I know I'm going to get fired from at least the first three jobs in the US due to my conversion to the Africa Pace of life, so Cold Stone, Dairy Queen, Don Pablos, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy, look out for my application! Can always bum around the world for a while, like most every foreigner I met at the Jo'burg hostels.


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