Sunday, 28 March 2010

Omaongo Festival

Yesterday I was invited to the Omaongo Festival which was held at the palace of the Queen of Oukwanyama. This festival celebrates the harvest of the marula fruit and the drink which is made from it, called omaongo. Many important people attended including the President of Namibia. Everyone wore their best Ovambo clothes. The women wear pink and add beads and shells to make their dresses even more beautiful. Do you remember the red powder which the Himba women use to cover their skin? The same red stone is what the Ovambo women use to dye their clothes pink. The men wear red and white striped shirts with a waistcoat and a hat with a large feather; they sometimes add leopard skin materials to their clothes as decoration. First there were many speeches. Once the festival began, we were entertained by marching by some people from the Herero tribe,

by a drama about how the marula fruit is made into the omaongo drink
and by dancing.

After this, the queen provided omaongo drink and food for everyone. We were invited into the palace which was a very complicated place. Thousands of tree trunks divided the whole space into corridors and areas in which were shaded spaces to sit or houses.
We were honoured and invited to sit in the Queen’s sitting room in which was her throne. We were given omaongo to drink and some fish and a whole chicken to eat – a sign that we were VIPs!
My dress came in useful - it was just the wrong colour!
This is my last blog as term will be ending this week. I hope you have enjoyed it and sharing some of my experiences. I am looking forward to seeing you all again after your holiday.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Independence Day

Namibia was ruled by other countries for over 100 years, firstly by Germany and then by South Africa. It became an independent country in 1990 and celebrated 20 years of independence last Sunday.

I know that Fox Talbot have been studying the Victorians this term. During Queen Victoria’s reign, many European countries tried to rule parts of Africa- does the dress of this woman from the Herero tribe remind you of anything......?

There was more than 20 years of fighting before Namibians could rule themselves, much of it in the north where I am. The fighters were led by SWAPO and many people still support them because of their actions. These are some of the words of the national anthem:

Namibia land of the brave,
Freedom fighters have won,
Glory to their bravery,
Whose blood waters our freedom.
We give our love and loyalty together in unity,
Contrasting beautiful Namibia,
Namibia our country.

This is the flag of Namibia. You should be able to work out the meaning of each colour from the textbook.

Kapolo School celebrated by singing, dancing and acting out a play about the struggle for independence.
The pink costumes are the traditional dress here in the north and would be worn by women to any special occasion or celebration. You can see them being worn by these older dancers also. Can you see the beaded belts? Men wear pink and red striped shirts.

Oshakati was very quiet on Independence Day. Many people had gone back to their villages to be with their families or had travelled to Windhoek where all the celebrations were being held. This is a typical homestead where a family lives.

Hileni and I decided that we needed to do something special. We travelled west into the countryside and stopped near Otapi to look at a boabob tree which is estimated to be more than 800 years old. It is hollow in the middle and has been used for many purposes such as for people to hide in to escape from fighting, for meetings or as a prison by the South Africans.
We then went searching for mopane worms, stopping on the way at this small oshana which was full of water lilies.

The mopane worms turned out to be big fat caterpillars which eat the leaves of mopane trees.
Some boys helped us to collect a bowlful and prepared them for us, squeezing them like a tube of toothpaste! They and their family had also been collecting them to sell in the market.

Hileni cooked them and I did eat one – and finish it! It tasted a bit like bacon but the skin was tough and covered in spikes, which got stuck between my teeth! Here is the proof!

What could be a better way to celebrate Independence Day than with a dish of mopane worms, garlic potatoes and salad?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A day in my Namibian life

My day starts at 6am when, just like at home, my alarm goes. It is dark but I can hear birdsong and the clucking and crowing of chickens. I take my malaria pill (I had 27 mosquito bites on my legs last weekend!), get ready for work, make my sandwiches and pack my school bag. I then walk to where the car is kept overnight and set off for work.

The security guard opens the gate of the college where my house is to let me pass. Some of the guards are very smiley though they are trying to look very serious in this photo; one always gives me a big salute!

My first task is to drive to the inspector’s house to collect her and then we proceed to Ompundja together. I usually drop her off at the circuit office where she works. Her name is Hileni.

Sometimes I pop into the Lower Primary School which is just behind the office. The children always wave to me and like to practise saying ‘Good Morning, how are you?’ They all giggle when I reply! They love to sing, dance and play football.

Kapolo School is my next stop. On Friday mornings there is a school assembly at which the Namibian flag is raised and the national anthem sung. I took this photo just for Mrs Shellard. Every Monday, John, one of the English teachers, updates me on the English football results and who is at the top of the league. He hasn't mentioned Blackburn yet.....

I meet with the Principal, help teachers to plan their lessons and teach with them. You can see that they are now using some of the things which help you in your learning such as the counting stick and chalk boards (you use white boards). The learners find it very difficult to talk to each other about their learning especially as English is their second language. Can you imagine discussing your thinking about fractions in French? Sometimes we travel to other schools. Last Thursday we drove for 2 hours along sandy tracks and through water to reach one of the most remote schools in Oshana. The countryside is very flat savannah but very peaceful and beautiful.

The school which is called Uupeke has no electricity and some of the classrooms have dirt floors – but you can see that they are learning about food chains just as you do.
At this school, Omuhama, the learners are being given porridge just as at Mary Aikenhead. They too have a garden and they keep chickens. One boy spilt his and started to cry. I thought that he had burned himself but he was crying because he thought that he would have nothing to eat. Don’t worry, his container was refilled!

After the school day ends, the inspector and I travel to the Regional Office where we collect the mail for the all the schools in her circuit. The people who sort it are very friendly and try to help me when I try to greet them in Oshindonga, though they sometimes add extra greetings which I don’t understand!
When I return home the first thing I do – after chasing the goats out of the garden - is have a shower as I am so hot and dusty. One day the tap broke; six people came to fix it. I then have chores to do such as my washing which I have to do by hand as we have no washing machine. We do not have a dishwasher, microwave, TV, radio etc either! After we have eaten, I read and answer my emails and maybe work on my blog or on school tasks. I’m in bed by 10pm; it is so hot that I do not have even a sheet over me. I read until my eyes are heavy and I soon fall asleep!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Himba

Last weekend we travelled west into the Kunene region of Namibia. We stayed in town called Opuwo which means ‘finish’. It was called this because it marked the end of the migration of the Himba people from a country called Angola in the 18th century.
The Himba have followed their traditional way of life for many, many centuries. They are a semi-nomadic people who rely mainly on the milk and meat of the cows and goats which they own. This means that they settle in one place during the rainy season when there is plenty of grass. They build huts from the trunks of young trees which they cover with dung and mud.

When the dry season comes, they move away for 3-4 months in search of food for their animals. At night the animals are kept in a kraal to protect them from predators. The amount of livestock they own represents their status and wealth.
We, with a local guide, travelled some way from the town of Opuwo, along dirt tracks and over dry water beds to a Himba village. When I was introduced to the chief he asked me how many animals I owned. When I told him that I had one cat, he was not impressed and asked how I managed to live with no goats or cattle. He thought I was a very poor woman. He thought even less of me when I told him that I had two daughters - to be a good Himba woman you have to have 12 -16 children. Even so, he did offer to marry me; Himba men have between 4 and 6 wives.
Each wife has her own hut which she shares with her youngest children, sleeping on animal skins. I decided not to accept especially as it meant I would have to have my four front teeth knocked out by a sharpened stick which he would have hit with a stone!

Whilst the men sit under a tree and watch the animals, the women do all the work! They rise between 4am and 5 am and walk 4-5 km to fetch water. Then they make a meal for their family, milk the goats, tend to the maize, look after the children and so on. The maize is ground using stones. Some of the milk is to drink – here some children are helping themselves – and some is to make porridge which they eat twice a day. They slaughter a goat about once a fortnight for the whole village. This is their whole diet.

The women also shake some of the milk in a calabash until the butter separates. They then grind a special stone to make a red powder and mix it with the butter. Every morning and every evening they cover themselves with this; it helps to protect their skin against the sun and is also part of their tradition.

As they do not wash, to stop themselves from smelling, they use an ember from the fire to burn fragrant bark and herbs.
They cover themselves with the smoke and then put the coals under a conical basket and drape their clothes over it.
Hairstyles are very important and signify different stages of life. Boys have their heads shaved apart from a circle on the top of their heads.

Girls of different ages have different numbers of ‘plaits’ over the front and back of their heads. When they become teenagers, their hair is worn very long over their faces and is covered by the red powder/butter and dung mix. When they marry, it goes back over their head and a cowhide headdress is also worn. They also wear beaded jewellery, heavy metal bands around their ankles and a conch shell around their neck.

They do not have clocks or calendars so measure time by the changing seasons. We asked one very old lady her age. She said that her mother had told her that that she had been born when the first locusts came to earth.
They do not worship God as Christians do, they worship their ancestors, visiting their burial places. They also have a sacred place in the village (the pile of sticks, surrounded by stones which you can see in front of the kraal) where normally, a fire is always kept lit. Weddings, funerals and other ceremonies take place here and people are taken there if they are sick. This village however decided only to light the fire for these special occasions as some of the children have been injured by it.
The life of the Himba is very simple in comparison to ours; they are very friendly – as are all Namibians whom we have met if we in our turn are friendly and respectful of their culture and beliefs. They seemed happy and none of the many children cried whilst I was there. Before we left they danced for us which they enjoyed as much as we did.
We felt very privileged to be welcomed so warmly into their community.

Sunday, 28 February 2010


This is the school where I am based. It is called Kapolo Combined School because it has children from upper primary and lower secondary grades. There are about 210 learners (I might introduce this way of describing you when I return!) and the subjects they study are very similar to those you learn at Southwick. The main difference is that everyone has agriculture lessons – very important in this part of Namibia where most people grow a great deal of their own food.

School starts at 8.00 when the ‘bell’ is sounded.

I have already told you that most of the pupils walk or run very long distances to get there. Lessons are 40 minutes each and the learners work until 2pm with two 15 minute breaks. During these breaks some of them buy guava for a snack. There are no school dinners. I have learned that we are very lucky at our school. The government gives Kapolo School money for teachers, desks and chairs and some textbooks. The school has to buy everything else with fees which the parents are asked to pay. Everyone in Namibia, like in the UK, has the right to a free education, so if the parents cannot afford to pay the fees the school does not have enough money to pay for the things we take for granted. In the rural areas, like the one I am working in, most of the parents are very poor. Some learners do not even have parents and are responsible for looking after younger brothers and sisters. You have wonderful teaching assistants to help you, lots of computers, books and other equipment and games to help you learn; Kapolo School has none of these.

This is one of the classrooms. The learners are taught something by the teacher, then they copy from the board or do an exercise in their book. Here they are being taught the simple present tense (I fly, you fly, he/she flies).
Part of my work has been to show them how to make the learners do more of the work and not just listen! I have run two workshops for teachers.I based my English workshop on writing instructions - I remembered watching a wonderful lesson in Brunel on writing instructions for cleaning your teeth so asked one group to do that. It was very funny as the other group who had to carry them out tried to rinse their mouths with the toothbrushes still in them – they hadn’t been told to take them out! Mind you, their instructions also needed improving as they didn’t give us one to stop doing the exercise routine they had designed.

In the maths workshop, I showed them how they could make learning more fun by using practical equipment and games. I was very pleased as, on the very next day, I saw learners in a grade 5 class finding out about fractions by cutting up guava, using fraction wheels which I had shown them and stones which they pretended were sweets. I was so impressed that I gave them real sweets to do that activity with – the class was very excited.

We have also looked at how the school could make better use of its classrooms.
This is a picture of one where the floor was so bad that it couldn’t be used. We decided however that it needed to be used as a base for Junior Secondary maths. The school bought some concrete and pupils who had been late or who had been absent from school had to stay to repair the floor as a punishment. Desks and chairs were also mended and cleaned and I helped them to start to put up displays to help the learners. I also bought them some equipment such as metre rulers, a stop watch, measuring jugs, card and coloured paper.

This is a Grade 8 lesson I taught today in that classroom with their teacher whose name is Angelius - he's called Angel for short. I am sure that those of you in Fox Talbot and Priestley could add some more percentages to the number line.
Tomorrow I will be teaching a Grade 10 lesson on borrowing money. Some learners will pretend to be businessmen or women and the others will visit them to find the best deal to buy a car. I have had to learn all about simple and compound interest so wish me luck!
This is the staffroom and the school principal (head teacher). Each teacher has a desk to work at.

Have the toilets for Rennie and Brunel been refurbished yet? This is what a school toilet looks like here.

I also spend time working with an inspector called Hileni Amukana. We get on very well and she really wants to visit you and see our school at work. She wants Kapolo to tell the other schools in her circuit what they are changing and why. She is very proud as Kapolo is now the first school in Oshana to have a school improvement plan (ask your teacher to explain this bit to you).
We attended a 2 day conference together last week on text books – how to order them, label them, record them, check them at the end of each year, take care of them and use them. This is very important as Namibia aims to provide every child with a textbook in every subject and this will cost the country a great deal of money. On the second day I went to 3 lessons which showed how the textbooks could be used. I am very pleased with the story which my group wrote on ‘How the mosquito got its buzz’. Maybe you could write one too and we could compare our reasons.
One of the other tasks I have done with her was to visit some learners at the hospital. A company had sprayed their school with insecticide to kill the mosquitoes but hadn’t told them to stay out of the rooms afterwards. Many of them then got burns on their skin and their eyes were also affected.
I still have lots of work to do before I leave. I will show you more photos and videos when I see you all again in April. I know that our school will be different – I have already heard that the new classroom door locks are causing a few problems! I wonder if the school grounds will have changed too.
Just remember to appreciate everyone and everything you have.