Okay, first the holiday. August 26th is Heroes Day in Namibia. It commemorates a couple things: the burial (in 1929) of Maherero (the leader of the Herero people in the early 1900s), and the first battle for independence from South Africa (in1966). We haven’t actually had our History of Namibia session yet, so we just got that brief summary. The big celebration takes place in our town because that is where the remains of Maherero are buried.
The setting for the celebration is a big open area, mostly sand with some brush and rocks. One of the first things we noticed was the Herero women’s traditional dress – it looks like a Victorian dress (puffy sleeves, big full skirt with petticoats underneath) plus a hat that sticks out at the sides like horns. As people entered, they lined up to be blessed by the representative of the chief (it was too early in the day for the chief to be there). The blessing was this: They kneel in front of the old man, who asks them a few questions about where they’re from and their parents, then he takes a sip of water and spits in their face. Twice. What a blessing!
There was also a lot of food being cooked in tents around the field. We finally got to try Fat Cakes, which is essentially a big fried ball of dough. We have them in Rwanda too, but they’re called amandazi. We also got to see the famous Smiley, which we’ve heard about since we got here. What is a Smiley? When they cook the goats’ heads, something about the cooking process makes the lips curl back in a smile. Smiley! I did try a fat cake, I did not eat any part of a Smiley.
Sunday was good because we got to go to the English speaking international church in town. It was a very small congregation, only about 30 people, but some Namibians, some Americans, some Germans…and actually even a Peace Corps volunteer! It’s a relief to know we have somewhere to connect.
The other thing we did on Sunday was laundry. By hand. We had had a demonstration by the trainers on Saturday on how to do it, and of course I hand washed things in Rwanda, but I still feel like it’s half luck whether your clothes get clean or not. I just scrub them for a while, rinse them for a while, and assume that if they smell better than they did before, they’re clean. The PCVLs said, “Yeah, you can do it like they show you, or you can do it the volunteer way – Put all your dirty clothes in a big bucket of soapy water and let them soak for 24 hours. Rinse, and call them clean!” So far I’m sticking to scrubbing rather than just soaking.
Crazyday was Tuesday. What made it crazy were two long anticipated events – finding out what language we’ll be learning and meeting our host families for the next six weeks. Now, our schedule said first thing on Tuesday morning, “Language Assignments and Meet your Language Instructor,” so we were on edge from the very beginning. The language you learn can be an indication of which part of the country you’ll be in, and language obviously will be a huge part of the next two years.
There are six languages in our group – Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama are similar, then there’s also Rukwangali and Otjiherero. Those four are Bantu languages. We also have KKG (I can’t spell the whole thing), which is a click language, and Afrikaans, which is the general language spoken throughout the country. I enjoyed learning the greetings in each language – there were some similarities to Kinyarwanda in the Bantu languages that I could see right away, so that was exciting. The click language was really hard (as expected) and the Afrikaans stuck out as sounding so…unAfrican. In Afrikaans, Good morning starts with “Goeie...” How do you say that many vowels?? In order to get back into the building (we were outside learning the greetings), we had to greet each trainer in their own language. Phew!
Okay, we got back to our seats and sit through an hour long presentation on learning languages, then finally with five minutes to go in the three hour session, they have our language groups ready. But do they announce our assignments, or post them on a paper on the wall? No. We are given a folded slip of paper with our name on the outside (it takes a while to pass these out too) and when we are allowed to open the paper we find the name of an animal. Chicken.
We are instructed to walk around the room acting like the animal until we find our language group. So Dylan and I (who are both chickens) start wondering around flapping our arms and “bgawk”ing while others are meowing, mooing, quacking, baaing, and who knows what else. At one point we joined with the ducks because we though they were chickens, but we got that sorted out (they quacked). At another point I almost got run over by a group of sheep in search of their trainer. When we finally found our group we discovered we are studying…. Afrikaans!
About 15 people from our group are learning Afrikaans, and we’re split up among three trainers. Unlike many of the other languages, this does not help us at all to know which part of the country we’ll be placed in since everyone speaks Afrikaans. We had our first lesson in the afternoon, which mostly consisted of learning vowel sounds (there are a ridiculous number of them in Afrikaans), the alphabet, and informal greetings. It went well for a first lesson, being both exciting and frustrating already. =) The advantage of learning Afrikaans is that it’s spoken throughout Namibia, and it’s actually a recognized language outside Namibia (ever heard of any of the other ones I mentioned?). I feel like I’m branching into yet another set of languages (Germanic, Dutch type) outside of any other experience in Romance languages, Asian languages, Arabic, or Bantu languages! Eventually I’ll have to learn another one in the same category right?
Immediately after all the language stuff, we started to anticipate finding out our host families for the next 6 weeks. We started gathering in the town hall and milled around talking while host families arrived. Then, AGAIN, the Peace Corps staff went through an hour long session of information before finally giving us all slips of paper with the name of our host family on them. Then we had to walk around the room yelling the name until we found our family!
Dylan and I are staying with an older woman who lives here in town. She is a widow, but her granddaughter and grandson live with her so they can go to school here. She was very smiley and laughing the whole time we spoke and seemed happy to have us. Her English is conversational, but we’ll definitely be able to practice Afrikaans with her as well. The other host families range from single adults to extended families with lots of kids and all variety of languages!
By the time I’ve found time to blog about these three days, it’s three days later and I have new things to talk about! But I’m too tired to start so it’ll have to wait…