Thursday, January 24, 2013

Schools and Drought Relief

Suzy, one of our students was happy to converse.

After leaving the tent school, Uanee really wanted us to visit his primary school, a government school for children living in Opuwo.  Government schools in Opuwo are permanent structures and all students are required to wear uniforms.  When we arrived we saw people sitting around a large tree—someone mentioned it looked like the Tree of Life from Avatar, but seeing that I haven’t seen the film, I can’t really say.  I just know that everyone from surrounding homesteads were there—Himba, Herero and Zemba, all waiting to receive their drought relief supplies which were white bags of maize stacked in a large pile.   Because this was Uanaee’s community, we were allowed to take pictures which was really nice to not worry about offending anyone.  He explained that we were with him learning about their community and had brought food and supplies to the school.
Waiting for food, government lady in blue
Our first stop was the school, but we learned that the students had left school at 10:30 that day in order for teachers to either pick up their pay checks or attend a meeting.  I can’t be sure, but I remember hearing both reasons.  However, one teacher, had already returned, so she gathered some kids that were part of the crowd waiting to receive their maize.  About 20 children came, sat in desks, and said good afternoon to all of us.  Then they decided to sing to us and once again they selected religious songs.  After we sang our anthem, we decided to get them to sing Head and Shoulders with us. We gathered in a circle and sang the song three times, so our last version was sung quickly, although not the speedy version sung by most American elementary students.  We saved some  supplies for this school and decided to give the kids a new pencil prior to giving the school supplies to the teacher. The learners as they are referred to in Namibia were thrilled, and it was interesting to see more children appear as soon as word spread we were passing out pencils.  A brand new pencil, especially when there is a choice between yellow and  colorful patterned pencils was rather exciting. The great ending to our time in the classroom was when a group of Namibian children gathered around our students and sang their national anthem.  What a touching moment and I am always moved by how the students sing together, create their own harmony, and produce a beautiful sound. 

Singing to the PLU students

Everyone wants a pencil.

My helpers who carried maize and supplies.

Everyone is happy to help.

We then returned to the drought relief tree where people were still sitting around.  We wandered around the different groups—one group was young Himba girls/women with babies, another was Herero in traditional dress and there were also women from the Zemba tribe.  People mingled and there were a few men who tended to stand and talk, unlike the women who tended to sit patiently.  The government lady would call out a name, someone in the crowd might call out the name loudly if there was no movement, and finally someone ambled over to the government lady, showed identification, picked up maize bags and deposited them some place, not always next to where they were sitting.  Then that maize recipient would return to their spot and continue sitting.  This was the rhythm of the afternoon.  During the time we were there, I saw only two groups of people leave, even though several more received their food.  One of the families traveled in a donkey cart and the other drove away in a pick up truck.

Herero women

Himba women and babies

A Zemba woman waiting with her baby

Uanee knew a group of 4 Himba women sitting in their own area of the tree and motioned for us to come over.  He explained their hair, jewelry made from metal and red skin (mixture of red rock and animal fat or oil).  Although the mixture provides protection from the sun, it really is about beauty to the Himba women. While Uanee was talking, I was standing next to a woman holding a small child (maybe 7 months) and a two year old.  She handed me her baby and of course I took the child and didn’t worry about what happened to my shirt.  His skin was soft and I was lucky with the timing, seeing there are no diapers (I stayed dry). I can still recollect the softness of the baby’s skin and loved that he seemed quite content being handed off to a total stranger.   About 5 minutes later, the woman handed Kelli who was wearing a white shirt, the two year old.  He was wearing a little more clothing, but her white shirt also had red stains.  He was more skeptical about being held, but Kelli and I loved the experience.

We are all intrigued and fortunate to have such a connected and knowledgeable guide.

The back of the hair, only the fluffy balls on the end are extensions--this style keeps for about 3 months.  
So soft...
Kelli is happy, the toddler isn't totally sure.

Showing off our colors!  Everything does clean up.

After Uanee’s explanation of the Himba hairstyles, we wandered off but then heard his booming voice shout, READY?? and I reluctantly climbed back into our vehicle—reluctant because I just loved watching and being part of this incredibly slow pace and also because I was curious when and how people would gather their maize and head back to their homesteads.  

Some men were hanging around.  The sticks are for tending goat herds.

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