During last month a neighbor—I’ll call her Tina—often came to visit me and her grandfather, who was the patriarch of my homestead. Tina is fashionable, very intelligent, and runs a cuca shop a few nights per week. She also attends church in order to help fill seats, as she puts it. Tina’s most boisterous performance occurred while I was writing a lesson plan in a small, hot room on the homestead. She began with a question to engage me, her captive audience.
This week, a fellow volunteer and I have taken charge of Grade 7, which was left without a teacher when another volunteer finished his two years of service. The Grade 7 learners (the official term for students in Namibia) are fascinating. They have achieved the impossible and are somehow simultaneously outspoken and shy. Eagerly, they shoot their hands into the air and snap for attention. Once they have been called on, then, they cover their mouths with their hands and whisper into their fingers. In total, the group is 38 learners, and this makes fitting into one room a challenge on its own.
The impact that foreigners, especially Germans and Apartheid-era South Africans, had on Namibia is still very present. It is tangible not only by the architecture of inns, biergartens, or barbed-wired watchtowers, but also by the living memories and oral histories that parents share with their children. It can also be felt whenever I meet a new friend, host family, or even teacher. If the first question is not about my possible identity as Boer, then it is as follows:
In celebration of my host sister’s graduation from Grade 12, we threw a party at home. This consisted mostly of middle-aged women and their children dancing and eating as many different types of meat as possible.
After a few days of being at the training site and shaking off the fog of jetlag, we’ve been able to communicate like real human beings again. Recently, some volunteers and I ate lunch with two of the Namibian trainers. My plate overflowed with game meat, butternut squash, and potatoes. We also drank some mango juice, and this prompted one of the trainers–a self-described “mixed chakalaka” who represents all of Namibia’s vast diversity in one person–to admit something to us.