Saturday, February 2, 2013

Final reflection musings

The group with Tickey--our Sossusvlei guide and local driver
Final Reflections

The program provides an incredibly rich learning environment.  Although students come to be able to begin their student teaching in Katutura, the program provides multiple opportunities experience Namibia.  This time we began on the Tjiramba farm, and although the students were still adjusting to the time, the heat, and the food being immersed in an authentic setting was a great way to begin the program.  Students for the first time understand their learners’ summer experience of being “on the farm.”  Farms and homesteads are a way of life for many Namibians.  Our students observed the self-sufficiency of young children, children helping with daily chores because that’s the expectations, and respect shown for elders by children and “elder” refers to anyone that is older.  

Our students participate in this program to begin their student teaching in Namibia.  We have students at two primary schools (Grades K-7) and Pionier Boys School for "special" students ranging in ages from 13-21.  These boys have not been successful in school and get an education and also learn a trade like welding and brick making.

A.I Steenkamp Pictures:

Teaching in Katutura is a challenge—the school and classroom facilities are run down.  The classrooms are crowded—a class of 35 learners is small—most of our student teachers had classes over 40 learners.  Although administrators at the school and university level always refer to best practices, learners still spend an inordinate amount of copying information and problems into their notebooks.  It seems the copying time often takes more time than instruction.  However, we encourage our students to use the strategies they have learned in our education program.  They stay up late planning at night, the develop activities that reinforce content from the books and they teach strategies like talk to a partner or think in your head.  We always hear from the cooperating teachers how much they learn from our students.  One of my favorite stories from this year involves a management strategy created by one of our students.  She refers to it as “Our Class’s Big 5.”  Namibia has their Big 5 which refers to the big 5 animals that are the hardest to hunt (Elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and buffalo).   Our student recognized the context of her learners and her Big 5 refers to how she counts down for attention—5 voices off, 4 eyes forward…She made a poster and references the expectations when counting down.  After one week of her teaching, her teacher who teaches most afternoons (half the time he as left knowing he has a US student teacher in his class, was reminding the learners of “Our Class’s Big 5, and using that as his management strategy too. 

St. Barnabas

Good bye High Fives

(I am missing Pionier Boys School photos.  They started academics late because of Athletics and we didn't get teaching photos)

Paula and I were able to observe every one of our student teachers teaching.  The timing worked well this year—it seems most of our students are teaching the entire morning before the break and are getting lots of teaching opportunities.  Although there will always be ways for improvement, our students have figured out ways to manage the large group of learners, and are doing some really strong teaching.  I observed one comprehension activity where students were able to identify and describe story elements from a Read Aloud.  Our student had her learners talking to each other before raising a hand to respond, and we talked about ways to get more students participating in oral responses.  I watched another pace her learning activities, so the students transitioned from a comprehension activity, to a singing review of letter sounds that included hand and body motions.  All except 1 student was engaged and my teacher noticed the lack of participation and pulled the student into the group singing.  Already in such a short time the student teachers demonstrate confidence and have acquired “teacher legs.”  They have even talked about their elevated levels of confidence in planning, management, and teaching.  They have set themselves nicely for the next month.  Not all days will be great, but  they know how to support each other, and they have a resource (Mary Beth) who has fabulous teacher skills herself.  Mary Beth (Director of the after school program) will be eating Wednesday dinners with them, and we have encouraged them to rely on her when they have questions because of her vast experience teaching kids from Katutura.

BNC snapshots

Mary Beth training our students
Before school started, ready for lunch

Some other musings....
Home has very different meanings for Namibians. I have thought about the idea of home on this trip because home has such varied meanings for the people I interacted with during the month.

For Edwin, home is the farm and Windhoek is where he lives and works.  For Emmy his wife, their new house is more like home.  At the old house there were always family members around, and now Emmy mostly has just her children at home, although there are always family members that pop in, but the home feels much calmer.  Emmy has made this place a home for her family.  I wonder what her children, who did not grow up on the farm will consider home.

For many young adults Katutura is home.  In the 1970’s many of their parents were forced to relocate to Katutura (means the place we will not settle), but they grew up in this community.  Shaun, the owner of Wadadee House considers Katutura home—the guest house is the large home his family moved into after independence.  He spent the beginning of his life in a smaller house in Katutura, but Katutura is home and his passion is for outsiders to experience the culture and vibrancy of Katutura.  When our students told people we were living in Katutura, everyone were surprised and couldn’t believe we lived there.  Wadadee house is clearly different from most of the cinder block or corrugated tin houses found in Katutura—it’s in a small area with large houses that overlooks the city in a place called Luxury Hill, but still part of Katutura where children play in the streets after school and the sidewalks just down the hill on Independence Avea crowded with people.  Our students know to always walk in pairs and not go out after dark.  Yesterday was payday, and five of the Norwegian nursing students living in the house had the 7PM – 1AM night shift in the Emergency Room and were warned to expect gunshot and stab wounds.  Katutura is home to many people. Often Windhoek residents and other Namibians associate Katutura with poverty and danger and there are  multiple issues related to drinking and violence.  However where we lived was not the typical Katutura area where Black Namibians had been relocated--we had our on place at the top of the hill and  coming back from weekend excursions, our students felt like they were coming “home.  They have another month at their home in Namibia, and will return  in another month to settle into their homes in Washington.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sossusvlei in Pictures

I know I wrote about Sossusvlei, but I wanted to add a series of pictures for those of you who might want to enjoy more visual images of one of my favorite places to visit in Namibia.

Jumping for photos is an interesting activity

The students love this photo--with Paula and me as book ends to our high jumpers

Our photo tree--Steve took many personal pictures for the students here

We love PLU
Leaving Deadvlei with Tickey
Sidewinder Snake tracks

Starting out on the Big Mama walk
Big Mama ahead

The top
Views from the top

The fast way down
Here are pictures from the Sesriem Canyon--the hike I didn't do with students--definitely a must with students.

Finally, the reward after the hot hike!  The pool at Sossus Dunes Lodge

Snack Tray

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oldest and Tallest in the World, along with 120+ temperatures


I am writing this from the privacy of my on room watching 2 springbok wander in the field in front of me along with views of the Sand Dunes and Nauklauft mountain range.

 The morning started at 4:30 with a gentle knock on my door—Sossus Dune Lodge’s version of a wake up call.  The plan was to leave at 5:00 AM so that we would be  at Deadvlei for the sunrise.  We opted out on climbing Dune 45 for sunrise, mostly because we knew the summer temperatures would be rise quickly after sunrise.  As we drove in on the lodge’s private road onto the tarred road of the national park it was still dark.  Driving on a tarred road this morning was a nice treat, seeing that 280K of the 380K driving was on unpaved roads.  The drive to reach Dune 45 is about 45 minutes from the park entrance, and the camping grounds and lodge are just inside the park.  It was dark most of the drive in and I was think the students  will be so surprised at the views on our way back.  As the sky started to get more light, some of the red colors of the dunes were starting to show. (The colors of the dunes are determined by the colors of the sand blown in from the Orange River that borders South Africa and Namibia.) 

Deadvlei is another fifteen minutes past Dune 45, and you actually have to transfer to a 4- wheel drive shuttle for the last 5 km—the road is no longer tarred and so sandy only a 4 wheel drive vehicle can make it through.   
Our 4-wheel vehicle

We were able to hike into Deadvlei, enjoy the coolness of the morning, the amazing sights of trees between 450 and 600 years old, and watch the sun rise over Big Daddy, the tallest sand dune in the world. 
Waiting for the sunrise

We were the first ones to make the 1.1K hike in the morning and had the entire place to ourselves.  Even with our group, the place felt peaceful and without sounding trite, there is something awe inspiring about being in the oldest desert in the world (learned that today) surrounded by the tallest dunes of amazing shades of orange/red (there is a lot of iron in the sand which oxidizes, creating such rich orange colors and standing among black trees that died when the Tsauchab river stopped flowing and providing water to these trees. The trees remain standing because there is not enough moisture for the trees to decompose.
Morning shadows

Some plants have adapted and now grow in Deadvlei relying on dew for a water source.

After having Steve photograph several “group jumping” photos, taking a variety of individual and friendship photos, and marveling at the changing colors and landscape of Deadvlei, we decided to head back to catch the 4-wheel drive shuttle to “Big Mama” (second tallest dune in the park), before the sun became too hot.  We were delayed by one shuttle while a couple of our guides worked on Josh’s 450 year old splinters.  Steve took pictures of each student next to a highly photographed tree, and instead of standing in front of the tree, Josh climbed the tree.   We have great photos, but Josh grabbed the trunk coming down the tree and managed to get a nice arm and hand scrape and multiple splinters.  Fortunately I had brought wipes in my bag, so he managed to do some cleaning of his scrapes, but once out of Deadvlei, Tickey and James use the African style of a thorn from an Acacia Camel Thorn tree to remove the splinters.  After about 10 minutes of working on his hand, Megan produced a pair of tweezers—she was getting something from her backpack and realized she had a pair of tweezers.  This  the accelerated the process and I believe we were able to remove all splinters.

It was about 8:30 AM when we reached Big Mama, and definitely cool enough to climb.  One of the students who had been challenged with stomach issues stayed back, but the rest of us all decided to climb.  It was my first time reaching the top, and as I climbed with all but one student in front of me, I followed the footsteps made by the person in front of me,  reciting a line from the Berenstein Bears, “Slow and steady wins the race.”  It was the slow and steady part that played multiple times in my head.  I was pleased to make it to the top. No one really wanted to leave because there is such a sweeping view of the dunes from the top and from one direction you can look back across to Deadvlei. However the run down the side of the dune was quite exciting too, less scary and more fun than I anticipated.  

By the time we made it back to the gathering point it was after 10.  We decided to drive to Dune 45 for a photo opportunity.  As the group climbed out of the van, they decided NOT to climb the dune.  Steve encouraged them to go up 10 yards for a picture that looked like they were climbing, and all of a sudden they were heading to the top.  Afterwards one of the girls said she didn’t know what happened because she had heard the “No Climb” while climbing out of the van, but then found the entire climbing.  The power of group think I guess.  I do know they were happy to have made another dune climb that was rewarded with great views from a different side and running down the dune,

The students returned back to campsite at 11:30 for a nap, lunch and down time.  Paula, Steve and I returned to our lodge.  We immediately put on our swimsuits, grabbed some snacks and went to the pool.  Many of you know I am not one to hang out by a pool all day, but that is exactly what I did.  I moved between the pool and my shaded lounge chair.  Even with shade, I needed frequent breaks to keep cool. We heard the temperature reached as high as 122 F.    I know I have not been in such hot weather before and even before having the temperature confirmed, I knew it was HOT.  Paula and I chose not to do the  Siersam canyon walk at 2:00 ( pictures from the canyon are interesting, but it was just too hot. The students said they would have been fine without the 30 minute walk, but our guide Tickey wants to make sure students experience everything).  However the students came back just before 3:00 and hung out with us at our pool for the afternoon.  We treated them to cold drinks after their hike and Sonia, a friendly and accommodating day manager brought a “snack” tray-- Meat, chicken fingers, potato smiles, samosas, nuts, dried fruit and tomatoes.  The group devoured the snacks and of course Josh got all the meat he wanted. Later that night when I was talking with a secondary school principal from Switzerland before dinner she told me she was worried when she saw university students arrive at the pool, but then commented on their friendliness, politeness and appropriate behavior.  I definitely felt proud—we had asked them to be respectful of the guests, and not take over the lounge chairs—and they proved to be the perfect guests.

The students left at 5:30 before the large group of 22 Belgiums arrived at the lodge.  They headed back to the campsite to enjoy Tickey’s gourmet meal of Chicken ala King that had multiple side dishes.  The previous night he had prepared game kebobs, potatoes with gravy, vegetables that according to the students were delicious.  This camping excursion for them has been well planned and definitely the way to enjoy camping in Namibia. No matter where we were in the desert this weekend, it was unusually hot—too bad the camp ground’s pool was not well maintained.

This morning I woke up to the full moon off one side of my deck, and colors from the sunrise on other.  What a spectacular way to start the day.  I also like that I brought my computer with me, so my blog was mostly written while I was in Sossusvlei.