Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Well, it's hard to believe but this is most probably going to be my last blog post from Omaruru before we leave next week. Today was the last day of school, which meant saying goodbye to the 500-odd kids I've come to know and love over the last year. There were hugs, songs and almost-tears; I really can't believe it's time to go and I can't put into words how much I'll miss these guys. They've been such nightmares in the classroom at times but they're all such kind, funny and, most especially, unique people who have made my year what it has been. To think that soon I won't be walking to school with the words "good morning ma'am" coming from all directions, or having small children who I don't even teach coming up to hug me as I walk down the verandas, or every day finding the same 2 G5s desperate to play snakes and ladders with me after school- even if it means waiting an hour for me to teach a piano lesson and go back to eat lunch... it's not something I want to spend too much time thinking about. I am, of course, looking forward to seeing my family and friends again- I literally can't wait to see them at the airport- but it's going to be just as hard leaving my new home here as it was saying goodbye to them and flying here in the first place.

Anyway, enough sentimentality, on with the news! The main news being- we survived Joseph! After all the blood (probably not, actually), sweat (definitely) and tears (almost, on many occasions), on Friday 24th July, OPS put on it's first ever school concert. With me on the piano and Micaela conducting, the G5s, 6s and 7s sang their hearts out and sounded amazing- I was so proud of them. What made me even prouder was seeing my 3 piano students- the ones who have stuck with me since term 1- each playing a little solo piece. To think that they had probably never touched a piano last year, and now they can read music (subject to concentration!) and play a proper tune- that makes me really happy. The concert ended with the standard rousing chorus of 'Don't Stop Believing'- who'd have thought it would literally become a school anthem- and we were then able to relax, knowing that the kids had pulled it off.

We've also had another few great trips: to Omaruru Game Lodge, where I was able to feed an elephant and touch its trunk, then last weekend we went camping at Erindi, another local game lodge. No baboons this time- just getting stuck on our game drive right in the middle of lion territory, when the jeep broke down... It was freezing at night but boiling during the day and we had a great time relaxing with the whole family. A lovely way to end off this year's travels!

And that's about it. Just a few learners left in the hostel now- we'll watch a movie with them tonight and repeat all the emotional goodbyes again with them tomorrow. Then we've got a week of muddling around, helping out with reports when we can, saying goodbye to the teachers, the hostel tannies and, worst of all, Riette, before the return journey and the final step of this adventure. Here we go!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Less than 2 months to go now and now we feel very much as if we’re on the home stretch. Getting back to teaching again has been tough, mainly due to the ever-present discipline issues but through perseverance also comes the odd moment that makes the frustration worth it. Today it was hearing a G7 class (normally the more difficult of the two) singing the song I’d taught them at the tops of their voices and sounding so happy I couldn’t help but smile! We’re currently teaching all our classes songs from the musical Joseph, with the hope of having them perform a small concert at the end of term. Most have taken to the songs well; sadly enthusiasm, we’ve found, doesn’t always equate to tunefulness! As long as they’re enjoying it…

The main news here is that winter has finally arrived. After 10 months of refusing to believe that we’d ever need the heater and hot water bottles left behind by previous volunteers, we woke up one morning to find it -2°C and were thoroughly depressed for the next 2 weeks. Though the mornings are still chilly at the moment, by late morning things have generally warmed up enough to be bearable.

Otherwise, life has generally been carrying on as normal, with the exception of some nice trips away- the first a 4-day weekend at Riette’s farm in the south. We had lots of fun- picking and eating oranges straight off the tree, crashing through the feld in an open bakkie and milking a cow for the first time! The whole family was there and we had some good laughs as well- it’s sad to think that the next time we meet up may be our last… Then last Friday we drove to Okonjima, a lodge and big cat conservation centre just outside Otjiwarongo, where Riette was providing a workshop for the teachers at the school there. We were lucky enough to go on a cheetah drive which involved tracking their radio collars with telemetry equipment, then getting out of the jeep to track them on foot through the bush- the thorn bushes left our trousers scarred for life but we eventually found the cheetahs we were looking for!

And that’s about it, really. This weekend is a home weekend, which means a bit of peace and quiet from the hostel kids- always quite nice but a bit spooky at the same time! Now it’s just a case of pushing through the bad lessons and holding onto the good times while the time flies by just like it always does!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Hi everyone- sorry for being so exceptionally bad at keeping this blog up to date! As an apology I’m putting up 2 posts- one that I wrote last month but didn’t get round to putting up, and a more recent one.

I had a great few weeks of holiday- mainly because my parents came out to visit- the first time I’d seen them in 8 months! After getting over the mental confusion of seeing them actually in Omaruru rather than through a grainy skype call, I had so much fun showing them around town and the school, showing them the work our kids have done and introducing them to Riette. It was just a pity all of the hostel kids had gone home so they weren’t able to meet any of them! From there we travelled up to the Caprivi Strip- an area of Namibia so different to everywhere I’d seen before. To go from Omaruru, with our river that ‘flowed’ (ie- had some deep puddles) for about 2 hours after a huge rainstorm, to the gushing Okavango river surrounded by greenery and full of hippos- you wouldn’t think you were in the same country! In Caprivi I was also lucky enough to see some buffalo, meaning that I’ve now seen the Big 5: buffalo, rhino, elephant, leopard and lion. We came back down through Etosha and the Erongo Mountains to Swakopmund, then flew to the Fish River Canyon- as different to Caprivi as you could get but equally spectacular. Upon returning to Swakopmund, I said goodbye to my parents and took an organised tour to Sossusvlei, home to some of the largest sand dunes in the world and utterly beautiful, especially in the early morning light. And the stars were just something else! After that it was back to Swakop again where I spent a few days relaxing (and almost freezing) in coffee shops until it was time to come home and get ready for the new term.

So that brings us to now! Today marks exactly 3 months until we come home (aaaarrgh!) and was also the first day of school after the holidays. Proper lessons start tomorrow and we know this term is going to be a busy one, with twice-weekly sport, ‘Windows of Hope’ sessions and cultural activities that will keep us occupied until the very end. Time to get started!


Wrote this last month but forgot to post it- better late than never!

Lessons have been continuing as normal, although as we near the end of term the general behaviour of learners in our lessons has gone very much downhill! We’ve been working towards an art competition that’s held in Omaruru every year and this year the theme is ‘Insects and Reptiles’- this has proved difficult especially with the G3s who we realised didn’t know what reptiles were. However, we persevered through the drawings of mice, requests to draw fish and zebras and the unexpected difficulty of getting students to write their age on the back- “ma’am what if I turn 12 in June?” “what if I race in the under-13 category?”- and some really impressive work was produced. In BIS we’ve continued with our Treasure Island project and now have coffee-stained letters-in-a-bottle piling up in the library.

The latest day I chose to celebrate was the International Day of Happiness, and I did various activities with the kids both in and out of school. In school I asked my learners to write a positive message along with a smiley face on a post-it note and to leave it for someone special to find. My G7s and 5s also decorated and put together little treasure chests to fill with good thoughts. With the hostel kids, I asked “what makes you happy?” and they wrote down their answer on a blackboard. Some of the things they said were very funny; others surprisingly touching and I’ve put the photos of them holding the board into a small video. I taught them part of ‘Always Look On the Bright Side of Life’ in singing- despite the fact that none of them can whistle, they all love it and will happily “doo” away for ages!

March 21st was Independence Day, a special one as it marked 25 years since Independence. On the Friday, everyone was encouraged to come in wearing their traditional dress, and those who did looked amazing. In the afternoon there was a cultural programme, with traditional dances from the Herero, Ovambo, Damara, Tswana and Kavango cultures, along with dramas, poetry and readings from students spanning G1 to G7. It’s really lovely to see how proud people are of their backgrounds here, and the performances were extremely impressive.

We spent Easter with a few other volunteers by the sea in Swakopmund- a lovely place even in the cold and drizzle! It was a nice chance to relax and catch up with friends, and to just do something different to what we’d normally do at home. I was sad to leave but felt well-rested and ready to tackle the week of exams planned for after the weekend.

So that brings us to now- exams are going alright, although it can be a challenge getting the kids to settle down and study, especially when they’ve already done an exam that day and there’s only 1 hour left of school! Not long to go now until the holidays, then it’s back for our final term- where on earth has the time gone?!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Well, we’ve hit the 6 month mark here, which is insane, and time shows no sign of slowing down. I wrote my last post just before the zonal athletics, which took place on the 26th of February with 3 other primary schools in the region. OPS sadly lost out to another school but that wasn't for a lack of trying. We were just 10 points behind Ubasen Primary School when the last relay events came along and our athletes tried their absolute hardest They won the last 3 races magnificently and our part of the stadium got louder and louder with each win- when the under 13 boys won the final race, our lot erupted! Teachers were hugging students, I was hugging a random child whilst trying to stop the kids from flooding the track- it was a truly amazing moment and more than made up for us not quite snatching an overall win. On a similar subject, the Junior Primary had their very own athletics competition yesterday morning- they ran and walked with beanbags on their heads and all looked seriously cute! Dolphins won again (of course!) and their teachers were clearly very proud of them.
We decided to focus on International Women's Day last week in BIS and arts (much to the disappointment of one girl- "but ma'am- I want to dance the culture!")- and our 5s, 6s and 7s made posters about various notable women, both historical and current. They had not heard of most of the women but worked well and I feel glad that they now know that women really have had an impact in history. Just today, a G3 teacher came to me, saying that one of her students had been asking who Marie Curie was, having seen her name on a poster- I was so happy that people were noticing and being interested in what they saw. Linked to Women's Day was the International Day of Prayer which was on the 6th. Riette's church had a special women-only service- it was Bahamas-themed so we helped out to decorate the church with palm leaves and bunting, then handed out little fruit kebabs at the end. I played the trumpet to accompany the congregation on one of the hymns and 4 of our teachers sang beautifully round the piano with Riette. In other music news, I've also been asked to help the local secondary school choir to prepare for a competition by working with the sopranos and altos and playing the piano for them. Rehearsals have been postponed for now but I'm excited (and slightly apprehensive- they are so good!) to start when the time comes.
So, those have been the main events of the past few weeks; last weekend we took a trip to Windhoek for a bit of shopping and to see Hermien, and the weekend before that we were at an art workshop put on for arts teachers at Omaruru schools. The night before the workshop, we slept outside in the garden and I woke up with my face covered in little red spots! The teachers at the workshop were thankfully very discreet about it- the children at school, less so! It went down within the week and we came to the conclusion that it was either too much mosquito repellent or an allergy to the grass... We've been having even more rain recently, much to the delight of everyone. Yesterday we took a roadtrip to Kalkfeld, about 70km away, in the hope of finding Omajovas- large mushrooms which grow on termite mounds and come out when it rains- being sold at the side of the road. There were none, so we set off home, but then Micaela spotted some out the window. We piled out of the car and clambered through the fence to find 6 huge (the biggest one was the size of a dinner plate), beautiful, pure white mushrooms which we pulled straight out of the ground and took home. Riette fried some in tempura batter and another one we turned into a kind of pizza base- so good and you don't get any fresher than they were! The rest are frozen and we still have multiple recipes to try out with them!
Not long to go now until exams start again, but for now it's all go!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Happy (late) Valentine's and Pancake Day to you all! We've been very busy recently, teaching and spending lots of time in the library. Speaking of the library, we received a visit on Wednesday from the regional director for libraries (who, it turned out, used to live in Archway- so close to where I live!) and the regional head librarian. They were very nice and complimentary of the hard work we've put into organising the library, which was good to hear, and also left us with some tips on ways to improve and sources of support. Needless to say, within about half an hour of after-school library, our careful tidying and organisation of the books had become non-existent! Having said that, it is very nice to see kids in the library- the G5s have only just started being allowed in so they're very keen to make the most of it. Even the most unlikely kids come in to just sit in the corner and read for a bit, or to carry on with some arts work from the past week so it's good to know that we can provide them with that opportunity.

Arts has been going well recently- we've been looking at various aspects of Scotland- tartans, poetry and songs. It's a very surreal sight to see a class of Namibian school children with arms crossed, jumping up and down and singing Auld Lang Syne! This week we've started trying to teach ceilidh dancing- I was slightly apprehensive but it seems to be going pretty well so far (when the class is quiet long enough to learn the dance). Wandering around the school and hostel, I keep seeing random pairs of children practising the dance together which really puts a smile on my face!

Valentine's fever took over the school in the week leading up to the big day- 'Valentine's day partners' were being requested all over the place and there was much gossip going around the school about who had asked who to be their partner. That was also the week of multiple changes to the timetable, meaning we had various classes for more lessons than we'd planned for- this proved a good opportunity to make Valentine's cards! On the day itself, I was treated to a Valentine's Day breakfast by Micaela and in the afternoon we were lucky enough to have been invited to a wedding. We'd agreed to help unwrap and lay out the food for the reception once the ceremony was over, but somehow Micaela ended up being part photographer, part caterer, and I found myself playing the bridal march on my trumpet as the bride walked in, then playing the piano as the guests left. Definitely a Valentine's Day to remember!

We had our interhouse athletics competition last Friday and the Dophins won by a mile- WOOOO! I didn't actually see much of the sports as I was running the tuck shop but the atmosphere was great- lots of chanting, singing and cheering as people ran past. We have some seriously good athletes here- hopefully they'll do the school proud at the zonal competition next Thursday. Field events are being practised at break time in the lead up to the zonals- for reasons unknown to me, I have been put in charge of discus. I don't know how to hold a discus correctly, let alone throw one, but the students are thankfully more knowledgeable than me and are working hard!

And that's about it, I think- the time is flying by as usual and we've been having the odd rain shower which makes everybody happy. It's not unusual to find teachers sitting outside just to feel the drizzle- odd for us but perfectly normal here! There have been some exciting thunderstorms and also some annoying power cuts (showering by torchlight, anyone?!) as a result of these but in a place like Namibia, every drop of rain counts! Perhaps coming back to England won't be such a challenge if we learn to appreciate the rain... doubt it, though!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Right, well school is well and truly underway now- we've spent the last 2 weeks settling back into normal lessons, which have all been going well so far. In BIS we've been doing New Years Resolutions and in arts we made skyline silhouettes with sunsets in the background. We looked up photographs to use as examples I felt very proud showing pictures of the London skyline to the kids as they all gaped and said "wow...!" Since coming back there's also been daily athletics training in preparation for the interhouse competition next weekend, which will then be followed by the zonals where the best athletes from all the schools in the region compete. I am not very athletic at all but I've impressed myself by running with the kids to the track and helping lead the warm-up and stretching and making up various games to get them all moving. I was quite proud of the relay race I had the younger ones doing which involved running on all fours, jumping like a frog and wheelbarrow racing- they all enjoyed it and it was very amusing to watch!  

Out of school time, the library is back up and running, as are my piano lessons. I've also started doing a bit of singing with the hostel kids at weekends (although they'd still much rather sing 'Don't Stop Believing'!). Felicity, our desk officer, and John, who also works on Coll, came to Omaruru on Wednesday and we had fun yesterday showing them around the project. It was nice to just be able to chat about what we'd been up to and get some tips and advice on a couple of issues and ideas. Last night we attempted a braai for them- it took about 3 hours to get it lit but the end result was definitely worth it and we had a lovely night!

This weekend is the first home weekend of the term so the hostel is spookily quiet. We haven't got much planned except a swim at Central Hotel tomorrow and a bit of peace and quiet, then it's back to work on Monday- fun, fun, fun!