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Day 2, “I wish my grandmother was a slave…”

You see the title, and yes that was a real statement made today by one of the learners, but I want to give you guys some African history real quick…

So today I was told by a student that the Himba tribe was originally a part of the Herero tribe (this was when Namibia was still a part of South Africa). Due to the war when the Germans were colonizing and killing, the Herero people started fleeing to their neighboring country Angola. The Herero people that fled were begging the Angolans for help, the Angolans saw that and called them Himba’s because the word Himba means “to beg”. I thought this was very interesting. I asked another teacher later who confirmed what he said to be true. The Herero’s and Himba’s now have two totally different languages and styles of dress. As I said, the Himba dress traditionally; the women bare breasted, barefoot and all that. The Herero’s wear a traditional hat with horns covered in fabric sort of like Nigerians wear “gele” on their heads. The Herero women wear a long dress that usually has many different patterns like a quilt, sometimes it is one pattern, the dress can also be tight at the top and long and flowing at the bottom. To my surprise, the teacher told me that when the Germans came and colonized them, they used the division that Herero’s and Himba already had due to war and changed the Herero’s style of dress, telling them that they were now more civilized because of this new style of dress. The Germans introduced what is now called traditional Herero clothing. Hmmm, interesting, because I hear a lot from the students and adults that “Himba’s are not civilized because of the way they dress, doesn’t it scare you?” many people assume that the way Himba’s dress scares me because I’ve never seen it before, but it honestly doesn’t bother me, why should it? Herero’s technically used to dress just like them because they were one people but colonization changed that, not surprising, divide and conquer.

The teacher told me today “Afrikaners (whites or white Africans) are so mean, I don’t know why they hate us Africans, I don’t know what we did to them”. She said this because the Afrikaner almost hit us with his car and I was told that when Afrikaners see Africans they almost try to hit them with their cars on purpose because Aparthied only ended in 1990, and they still have hatred. My response to her was “you didn’t do anything all you did was have the resources that they wanted and still want”. Another Namibian today noticed that when I asked another teacher to do my hair, I told her I would pay her even though she said she wouldn’t charge me. I don’t know how he connected the two but he said to me “don’t be like the colonizers, they came, took our resources, packaged it and sold it back to us”. We all laughed but I didn’t get how he connected me paying for my hair to be done with colonization, but hey maybe he just wanted to get that statement out.

Now let’s address the title of this blog -_-….

So I met the rest of my learners today. Yesterday I had 5 classes, today I had 3 which were basically the ones I didn’t meet yesterday. One class really stood out. I have to first say that these kids are really confused about how I am a black person from America. They keep asking me if my parents are white. In this particular class, a girl again asked if my parents were white, I said “no, do I look white?, my dad is from Nigeria and my mom is from the U.S.” Then she said, “oh so your mom is white”, I said “No she’s black”, she said “ohhh she’s a black American?!” Then what she said next shocked me because she was sooo serious, she said, “how did your mom become black if she’s in America?” I said “because of slavery”, she said “I wish my grandmother was a slave so that I could have been born in America”…. -_________- I was so shocked, why would she say that!!!! I said to her “you don’t know what you’re saying so you should watch your mouth”, she said “I know what I’m saying” and she said the nonsense again. After I explained what slavery actually meant, she still didn’t care but a few minutes later she said sorry. I told her to be sorry to herself and not to me because she really didn’t know what she was saying. It made me think, people that have a good life really think they’re suffering all because they don’t live in America? Here are children who know where they’re from, know their culture, are well taken care of and still wish to just be in America because they believe they will see celebrities all day. One kid today asked me if I saw lil’ wayne, 50 cent, and tupac!!! What does this world think America is, one big celebrity fest every day?! One kid asked me if there were any poor people in the U.S., I told him yes and some of the kids didn’t want to believe me. I expected these kinds of questions but this was just really a shock. Another class I was in had a “rap group” of the four class clown students in the class, I don’t remember all four names but I know two of them named themselves “50 cent” and “American”. One of them made a beat and they began to freestyle for me because they believed it’s what I wanted to hear. It was good and all but they are doing so much to impress me with their “Americaness” and I want to experience their “Africaness”. I live right next to the girls’ dorm so when I’m not around they’re singing their traditional African songs in their language and it sounds so good. I always say that African children love to sing and they sing in such harmony, it’s like nobody is off key. These are the moments I like because it shows me their true culture.

Keep in mind that I am in no way trying to criminalize these kids or chastise them. I want to talk about the positive because there is so much positive, but I really didn’t realize it was that deep just to be in America. You expect this kind of talk from poor, unhappy people, not happy, blessed, children. I do not brag about being from America in any way, when these kids ask me real questions, I give them real answers, I don’t try to make America look like what it’s not. The truth is, there are poor people everywhere in the world, and there are rich people everywhere in the world, and for every good or bad one society has, another society has that good or bad to balance it out. No society is better than the other, it’s just that the West has the power to control every image that is sent out through the media. All the good about African people that I have seen with my own  eyes in both Nigeria and Namibia has yet to be shown on TV, or embraced by the media.

With all that being said, I love these kids! And they love me back already! One learner got her hair done just like me because she said she really like me. I walked into class and we had the same exact hairstyle, I was so honored! Lol. It was so cute, “she said I did it because I like you!” Awwww. And other learners told me that they really like me, and I should come back next year and stay! I know  they really like the fact that I’m from America, but I’m going to turn it around and use that to give them more pride in their own heritage too.

They’re so cute though, they want to come to my house and eat and play volleyball with them, it’s so nice. Now when I’m out at the store or walking at the school all I hear is “hi miss, how are you miss”, with great big smiles on their face 🙂 kids will be kids, but they all need motivation and direction and I’m happy to be doing that for them this summer…. oh yeah, it’s winter here. Imagine, i’ve been walking around in a jacket, really cold in the morning and night, hot with a breeze during the day, whatev, it’s all love <3

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First day, “Have you met Chris Brown”

Wow, today was my first day of teaching in Opuwu, Namibia. Interesting  day. Lastnight I didn’t sleep well, everything hit me at once. I haven’t slept anyway since my Family’s loss, but I wanted to at least rest before the first day. We went into the staff meeting at 6:40 am, everyone was happy to have me there, and we started the day off well. The learners (what they call students in Namibia) are very funny and interesting. Again, they thought my name was funny, but I didn’t mind, they were very respectful and wanted to learn all about me. Being that they are high school children, they still act goofy and silly, but very respectful at the same time, it’s interesting. They introduced me to all the classes, then I went to the computer lab where I’ll be teaching. Different classes came to me all day long. The questions these kids have are funny. “Have you met Chris Brown”? one kid asked. Another kid mentioned that he “wanted to live that G life”. I asked him why he said he wants to struggle but not get shot, he wants the money!! Of course I told him that wanting the G life was no aspiration in life and I told him that I don’t ever want to hear him say that again. These kids just had so many questions about America, one girl even thought that I knew all the celebrities because she thought they walk around in the street all day. Can you imagine?

The school I’m teaching at is a boarding school so their parents send them there and pay for them to go. I know that they do not learn much Namibian history until the fifth grade but the ones they knew were really based on their parents knowledge from what I can perceive, they made a lot of reference to what their grandmother or mother told them (that is not a definite statement, it’s still only my first day) I was and was not surprised to see that there were not many history books or books about Namibia but a lot of history about Russia, Europe, and Britain. There was like one or two books that said Namibia. With that being said, I found out some things about Namibia from the children who grew up in traditional Himba or Herero homes. The school is made up of mostly those two tribes. After introducing ourselves, and them asking me questions about myself and where I come from, I asked them to tell me about Namibia, they were all anxious and didn’t want to wait their turns to tell me things. One girl told me that Namibia is in the top ten of one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Another told me about the beauty of the country and that I should “not be afraid of Namibia”. Not that I was but she told me anyway. Another told me about the history and how when the Germans colonized them, they killed all the cows (which was their source of wealth) and raped the women. She pointed to a lighter-skinned girl in the front of the room and said ‘this is why you see people that look like her skin color because the Germans raped the women”. The light-skinned girl didn’t get mad at all, she agreed!

On a more positive note, the kids told me that the concept of age in traditional Himba cultures was one that was confusing. One kid told me he had two birthdays, he said because traditional Himbas don’t always follow the western concept of age, they may see that the year a child was born, there was a lot of rain, so when the child asks ‘how old am I” the grandparent will tell them, “you were born in that year when there was a lot of rain”. And they calculate it somehow (by this point I was lost). Then I asked ‘whatif there were three years in a row with the same amount of rain”? another girl responded and said it doesn’t matter if it’s three years, they all fall under the same category ( I was still lost) I say grandparent because what I found out during training was that some people in traditional Herero and Himba tribes get married, have children, and leave them with the grandparent, while they  go and work. This is not in all cases, but a lot. I guess when people in traditional villages get work in more urban areas, they leave the kids behind so they can get the most out of their career (according to the historian we spoke to during training).

So now that I’ve confused myself and all of you. Let’s talk about some more things that happened today.  I had so much fun getting to know these children, even one learner gave me a bracelet so that I will remember her, it’s a traditional local made bracelet & I love it. Another  girl learner told me “miss I love you” when she saw me later in the day. It is a boarding school so where I live is next to one of the girls dorm halls, all the girls walk by and say “hi Miss”, “how are you miss”. It’s so nice to be around some respectful children. Even if they misbehaved, they immediately straighten up and feel ashamed when they are corrected, and they say “yes miss, sorry miss”. There were a couple bad apples though, a kid threw a pen at someone else and it hit me, I had to bring him to his teacher, I didn’t want to but I had to let him know that bad behavior was not acceptable. Bad behavior is not tolerated in any sense in Namibia, I wanna say that for most African countries bad behavior is not tolerated from children.

Lastnight all of my emotions about my Auntie hit me hard.. I considered going home and all that. I haven’t slept well since the news. I don’t want to sound cliché but I still don’t believe it. Today when work was over, my housemate was administering a test after hours and asked me to help. I had to read an excerpt to the children that involved boats sinking and planes crashing. I wanted to stop reading the test then and there but I couldn’t. I don’t want to read about crashing planes especially when that’s what took my Aunt & cousin’s life. I just feel like even going home or to Nigeria to cry in someone’s arms. My Mom and Dad comforted me and told me to stay here and keep going strong. If I cry here, nobody can be there for me that truly knows what I feel. So I’ve been trying to hold on as much as possible until I can really grieve 🙁

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School starts at 6:40am! & a Namibian teacher opens up & opened my eyes.

So I’m all settled in my place for the summer in a house where teachers and volunteer teachers live. I live with a Namibian teacher, her son and three daughters. I basically have one side to myself but it’s Africa so of course we don’t state any boundaries, we’re all free to move around the whole house. People actually think I’m Namibia in this town by looking at me, they think I’m Oshiwambo (the most populous ethnic group in Namibia). I think that’s pretty funny, once they realize I can’t speak Oshiwambo they become confused. And everybody thinks my name is funny, that’s funny. My name is African and other Africans think my name is funny, I guess they think because I live in the U.S. I’m supposed to have a western name. A lot of people here have their African names but they use their Christian names (basically western names). When I tell them my name is Nigerian they seem surprised, but on the flip side, Namibians love Nigerians and the movies as well as the music they all say Nigerians make comedies lol. Nigeria also helped Namibia out a lot with education when Namibians were in exile, fleeing the country. I don’t forget to mention that I’m from the U.S. too and that my mom is African- American, so they can see the diversity. They have so much interest in that and they are really curious, they really love to see that connection. Which brings me to my next thought; I was going food shopping with my housemate today and she was telling me that she never sees black volunteers come to Namibia, Maybe out of all the ones that come I’m like the second one she saw (she actually brought the conversation up, not me). She said she would like to see more Black American volunteers come because it makes her feel more comfortable as if it was her brother or sister (those were her exact words).This is a Namibian teacher telling me this, it’s not like she doesn’t like the white volunteers, she appreciated their help, but they make her feel foreign. We must remember that Aparthied only ended in 1990 and the whites in Namibia are still very racist towards Africans. That made me think that we really need to start pushing our young African-American children to study abroad in Africa. The teacher said that would be good so they can see that Africa is good and see the similarities of the African Diaspora to Africa.

I have to mention that Namibian music is awesome and I’m surprised it’s not very popular, the same way I’m surprised South African house music isn’t popular. Namibians are very calm, cool and collective people. They are peaceful at least from what I’ve seen in Windhoek and here in Opuwu. They are very relaxed and friendly.

I saw a few Himba men today and even more Himba women, their traditional clothing intrigues me and it may sound silly but I really want to try it. Himba men wear these skirts in the front and like a long piece of clothe in the back, wearing a t-shirt and they carry a stick around.As I said yesterday, the Himba women are basically naked up top with their breasts out and a skirt at the bottom. they wear something like in the middle of their breasts but I don’t want to stare so i don’t know what it is .They wear a brown paste all over their bodies and in their hair, this paste protects them from the sun. I was told today that Himba people are very rich people! Someone who watches TV in the U.S. and came toNamibia and saw a Himba person may assume they’re poor because of their nakedness but they are actually rich. So that goes along with what I said yesterday about their style of dress being sophisticated and representing who they are in society. And thier hairstyles tell who they are so if they are young, married, or just started their period then their different hairstyles would represent which one they are.

I’m excited that I start teaching tomorrow but school starts at 6:40am! During training week they said schools can start as early as 7 and that was bad enough, but 6:40? Geesh! Well I’ll just prepare to be up at 5:30 or maybe even 5:45 since I live right next to the school. It’s literally a 30 second walk, which is awesome. I know the kids will be shocked like I said I believe I’m the first black volunteer at their school, so I wonder how it will go. I remember asking one Namibian student how Namibians felt about African-Americans (me and Richard wanted to know) and he said he didn’t feel any kind of way, but when Paul asked him what they felt about white Americans he said that “the whites are superior and smarter”. So, with that being said, that is probably due to the fact that they are the majority of people who come to volunteer in places like Africa. Even when I was in Nigeria a friend said “whites are more innovative, blacks are not” another said “we don’t have whites to look up to, so we look up to the light-skin”. So we have to realize that both Africans and the diaspora are feeling negatively about one another. Other people may not have gotten this vibe when they go to Africa, or maybe they didn’t ask. Being that I’m a product of an African and African-American coming together, I have seen it first hand, and I want people to know that all it will take is education to bridge this gap that is dividing us apart. Let’s begin to educate and show the good of both sides. Education is what will save us, that is why I’m so glad to start tomorrow so the youth can see that yes African-American people want to come and help in Africa too, not just tour and party, but really make a difference. I heard it first hand from a teacher today, they want to see more African-Americans in Africa so they can see the good in us as well as us seeing the good in them.

Anyway above all, i’m excited to meet my learners tomorrow and create a bond with them so we can learn from each other!

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I live right next to the school!

So I arrived in my new town today, It wasn’t quite how they described it but the people here are very nice. It was an 8 hour drive from Windhoek to my town where I’ll be teaching called Opuwu. The driver was funny, and I saw 3 Giraffes, The Giraffes stood there so tall and reminded of how good God is. I couldn’t help but think, look at the beautiful design of those Giraffes and how they stand there looking like statues, Just beautiful! And the landscapes and mountains were beyond amazing. I’m realizing that Nigeria and Namibia are so much alike and so much different at the same time. The same African Spirit is still there but the cultures are so diverse it really makes me appreciate being able to experience two different African Cultures. For example, that clicking sound that people often make fun of when referring to Africans I s real, except the clicks come in between words and there is a certain way that you have to click to get the meaning of each word. It’s actually very sophisticated. The driver that bought Karina and I to our placements actually speaks that language, and He told me what it was but I didn’t get the spelling  so I don’t want to give you guys the incorrect spelling. I liked listening to him talk to his friends in his language as we stopped along the way, he even listened to a radio station with the language. Well I’m all over the place with this blog but now I’m in the town, the principal and vice principal of the school are so happy to have me here, my room is nice and the teacher I’m living with is nice along with her family. Tomorrow I’ll go into town and meet people and another WorldTeach volunteer (year long) lives close by, we’ll most likely meet tomorrow, she’s been here since January. Oh by the way, I saw Himba women in their traditional clothes today, it was quite interesting. They wear a certain paste on their body and hair to protect them from the sun, and yes, they are somewhat naked but their style of dress and the way they present themselves shows who they are in society, it is a very sophisticated way of life and is historical as well as inspirational. It’s good to see Africans that still keep their traditions although having so much western influence around them.