Evidence that someone thinks they're hilarious
Beach
valairoen
  Every time I manage to fix a problem (read: get someone smarter/more experienced than me to fix it, or find it somehow felicitously resolved without interference, as so many things in my life often are), it gives birth to 2d4 new problems. Someone is rolling dice on the obstacles in my life, and it's not funny. For instance: I have internet in my computer lab! Huzzah! I type this on an actual computer. A giant unwieldy box with a keyboard that is an accessory. The screen is larger than my thumb. Truly, it is a wondrous age we inhabit. Especially when you consider that I'll step outside and have to avoid donkey carts as I walk around town.
  So yes, I am appropriately appreciative of my good fortune's magnitude. However, that I have spent two hours trying to reconfigure the lab so that the clients connect to the server (which they did before- there was a clear and documented point in time at which they decided to try
 
and forge on alone, and that was the moment the ADSL was plugged in). Not only is this bad in the general sense (ie, that things that worked mere seconds before should continue doing so), but it raises the specific issue that people have been clambering to use the lab in wholly reasonable, academic, edifying ways and just when I'm about ready to announce that, hey, they totally can...no. Just kidding. Let me poke around to no clear benefit for a while.
  But that's life, right? If it was meant to be easy, well, it would be. Things are actually going incredibly well, but it's so much simpler to vent about stupid little annoyances than catalogue the vastness of positive experiences that typically characterise my existence. Also, there's plenty to write about, but I really need to get out of the lab for a while. And finally, the internet in Africa is not as well behaved as the domesticated North American version of which we are so fond. There's something feral about it. Trying to tame this beast is proving exhausting and frustrating beyond all reason. As an example, a random field of some sort just popped up in the middle of the post, which constantly refreshes itself, forcing me to type most of the last few sentences blind, since I can't read anything below the top of the post window. Technology: creating problems you never knew you would have to deal with.
Michael
An apparently dead organism was found in a 2000-year old geological stratum.

Capital! A Conclusion
Beach
valairoen
...the local barbershop, which charges the wholly usurous sum of 25 dollars for hair and beard. This comes to just over 3USD. But that adds up quick, and i planned to purchase an electric razor. Unfortunately, these are sufficiently uncommon enough to be unavailable in town. Many other things that are available are only so until the stock runs out, and even then, they are far pricier than their city-bought equivalents. Thus my trip to Windhoek was actually for the purpose of acquiring a hair clipper, pillow, pots and pans, milk, and eggs. I am happy to report the mission was an unqualified success. I now have neatly trimmed hair for the reasonable one-time fee of 200 dollars, a pillow of my very own, more than one frying pan, and enough dairy products to last through the summer. Yes, i had a single frying pan. Sort of made the 4 burner stove a bit superfluous. And yes, i have stockpiled milk. It's just over half the price in the city that it is here, and it's uht milk that, as long as it's unopened, will still be good long after my term of service is up. So while i wash my dishes and clothes by hand in a plastic bucket, read every night by the light of a candle, and only just acquired the means to cook two items at once or make myself presentable for public appearances, i still live a life of relative convenience. Some volunteers live in huts and use nature's vastness to answer nature's call. I am not one of them. But even so, this is not the USA. I can get what i need, but it takes careful planning, luck, and evidently a viral epidemic. Now if you'll excuse me, dear reader, i'm going to go make pizza with the cheese i bought and carried 250km. Michael. Call it sad, call it funny, but it's better than even money that the guy's only doin' it for some doll.

Capital! A Continuation
Beach
valairoen
... I sleep on a double bed that is more comfortable, not to mention much larger, than any bed i've owned in the past. I even have a guest bed for visitors! There are two general stores in town that sell most groceries i need and even most i could want. I can get chocolate, apples, green peppers, crushed garlic, and frozen chicken without walking more than ten minutes. Plates, silverware, candles (recall, i live by sun- or candlelight now), most things a kitchen absolutely requires, i can find in my town. There is a post office directly between these two stores which obligingly sends and receives my mail, again assuming the ministry has paid them. Which recently, has not happened. And if any need should arise that i cannot address here, well, i just amble out a few hundred metres past the store and post office to wait by the side of the nicely paved, one-lane-each-way road that leads toward areas of greater population. Which is where we left me with my ludicrously overstuffed backpack. Don't worry, in the time we've been gone i've only seen a few cars, none of then willing to pick me up. We'll talk more about hiking in a later post, but imagine for a moment that you're driving along and see a large, very hairy, sweaty guy waving emphatically for you to stop, asking that you carry him elsewhere without any form of payment. Oh, and he has a backpack whose bulging might appear sinister. I know that the contents are harmless necessities, but passers by don't. This does not sound like the sort of person you'd just invite into your vehicle. I can't blame you, i probably wouldn't pick me up. But people here do, and with an altogether astounding frequency. But let's go back to part of the above description. I said very hairy. And i meant it. During training, i was able to enjoy periodic haircuts. Once i was on my own, forced to fend for myself, i discovered that cutting one's own hair with just scissors and no mirror is a tricky endeavour. I had no electric razor, and being the cheapskate i am, tried to stay away from...

Capital!
Beach
valairoen
I am not a fan of the flu. Generally speaking, viruses are things i oppose on principle. You can therefore imagine, dear reader, that when the peace corps contacted me friday last to mandate that i receive a flu shot to prevent H1N1, well i positively leapt at the chance for innoculation. Of course, the enthusiasm might have had more to do with a chance to head to Windhoek than the prospect of receiving an injection, but that's not the sort of thing you tell the medical office when scheduling your appointment. Owing to engagements that i foolishly believed would become actual events, i booked my trip immediately, for tuesday and wednesday, rather than the more popular and practical friday-saturday time frame. Thus did mid-day tuesday find me on the side of the highway with a ludicrously overstuffed backpack. This is not a travel pack, but the same venerable container that has carried books since my freshman year of high school. Which brings us to the point of today's discussion- things. Stuff. Goods. Material possessions. I realized months ago that i perhaps do not need but would certainly enjoy the use of a real backpack. One designed to carry loads further than 3rd period english. In this vein, there were plenty of other items that could vastly improve the quality of my life. The problem is getting them. Now, namibia is a modern, developing country. To make the state of my existence more clear, perhaps i should explain the degree of convenience available here. I hardly need mention my internet phone as a start. I have electricity. One light bulb and one outlet that work of a possible five and two, respectively, but still... I have a mini-fridge and electric stove/oven that actually bakes at the professed temperature. This is accuracy i only rarely enjoyed even in the states. I have running water, usually from 6-8 am, 12-2 and 5-8 pm. If the ministry pays our water bill, of course, which is uncertain. I have a toilet, sink, and bathtub, all three in separate rooms...

Yes, I Did in Fact Sign Up for This (Afterword)
Beach
valairoen
I don't remember quite where i left off. Last night turned out to be a sort of combination wake, funeral, and impromptu spiritual concert. It was an interesting experience. I can't help but feel it would have been more interesting if i'd had any clue what was happening at any given time and why. It is supremely confusing to watch people wail as a group in evident anguish, then transition immediately into rousing song, with nary a tear in the eye or tremble in the voice, when everything that might explain this rapid switch is in a language you don't speak. Actually, that's not quite true. Confusing, dear reader, does not begin to describe it. Anyway, to bring our discussion to a close, let us once more attend to that most persisten question: just what is it that i do as a peace corps volunteer? Well, the best answer is really that i do whatever is needed. You can't really set down a pcv's job description until close of service, because everyone's is different. So i am a teacher. I explain math and science at what are sometimes agonizingly simple levels. But every once and again, it clicks. And there is progress. I call that success. But just as much as that is my job, so too is every other aspect of my service. I dodge out on being an atm; i consult random home owners about how best to turn their dirt patch into a lush, verdant paradise; i futilely explain to (possibly, there's no way to be sure) angry old women that i don't speak afrikaans, backing away slowly without turning my back or breaking eye contact when my protests inevitably fail to make an impression; i help organise the dining hall for a formal, something for which i am ill-trained; i attempt to bring my beloved language to a group of people who spoke more tongues by the age of five than i will in my entire life; i dispel the idea that all americans are rich, know famous people, and think we're better than the rest of the world while creating a whole new brand of misinformation for my own amusement; but mainly, i learn. I love my job. Michael. Iyo!

Yes, I Did in Fact Sign Up for This (Denoument)
Beach
valairoen
... Arts periods have been spent entirely dealing with administrative duties, meaning i have yet to even assume my position as art teacher. I needn't point out that grade 6 is probably fortunate in this regard, as their artistic development is unlikely to be spurred in any way by my instruction. Only pe, a scant 2 periods of 40 a week, just 5% of the time i spend at school, is going as i'd like. We play soccer. Well, the boys play soccer. The girls do whatever it is girls do during pe (they play games the rules to which are far beyond my ken). I read. I do a lot of reading these days. There will be book reviews in the future. Given the snail's pace, it seems like i'd get discouraged. And i do. But only for passing moments, and then i'm once again consumed by the challenge and the desire to meet it. This is new, i rarely find myself possessed of an urge to surmount obstacles. My usual response in just to not care. But here, there's actually something worth doing and people relying on me. So this explains why every day i enter the classroom, invite (or command) my learners to rise and recite "i am clever, i can learn, i will succeed," and begin to explain almost the exact same concept i did the previous day. I may do this happily, eagerly, apprehensively, grudgingly, exuberantly, or dispiritedly, but i do it. Because these learners deserve a chance to get the education they've been promised since they were born. Yes, i often find myself explaining concepts that seemed old hat when i was 12 as though they're breaking news. I often explain them at a level of simplicity i never felt it necessary to examine for myself. But at least once every day, maybe for just a second, someone gets a look of dawning comprehension. These learners are smart. They've managed algebra in a few weeks. The reason it seemed so shockingly new is that to them, it was. It turns out that you have to be a natural of no small talent to understand mathematics or science independently and spontaneously. Certainly my modest grasp of the subjects...

Yes, I Did in Fact Sign Up for This (Climax)
Beach
valairoen
...they've spent so many tax dollars providing, i'll also have afternoon computer classes, but more on those when i'm in a position to speak from experience rather than speculation. Stepping briefly aside from our current topic (which is unusual, i know) we are leaving the school now. It is 602. We're positively early. Mathematics being the focus of my studies and my intellectual passion, most of my effort goes into the maths lessons. And as they occupy just over a third of my course-load, that's not unreasonable. The ministry changed promotion requirements as of 1 january, mandating that students must pass english to move to the next grade. So yeah, maths is pretty deserving of the devotion, especially since learner performance is traditionally worse in exactly 0 subjects. Grades 8-10 are in the junior secondary phase. Junior secondary marks (we americans, for some inexplicable reason know these also as grades) range from U to A. U is 0-19%, G 20-29, F 30-39. These are the failing grades. E, at a seemingly difficult-not-to-achieve 40-49 is a pass. D at 50-59, C at 60, B 70, and A at an accomodating 80-100 are quality symbols. Marks are the points and percentages. Letters, again in a remarkably silly fashion called grades by we yankees, are symbols here. Oh, the colleague in question is one of the hostel staff whose last name i previously did not know. Being a super friendly fellow (he is) i'm quite glad i can offer him my sympathy. We rarely say more than hello, how are you, but it's a comfortable sort of friendship. So, my goal for the year is to bring 60-some learners to a 40% understanding of freshman mathematics. Sounds easy, ne? Oh, dear reader, to be young and naïve like you again. I've been working on basic (read: 6th grade) algebra for weeks. We moved into the grade 9 syllabus yesterday. In science, we still have not left behind what should be review topics. I have not even taught a satisfactory bis lesson, owing to the library's utility as a conference room and the computer lab's spartan furnishings...

Yes, I Did in Fact Sign Up for This (Conflict)
Beach
valairoen
...goes into being a teacher this side. Paying a group condolence call on a potential stranger is a staff activity. A mandatory staff activity. Compulsory. This immediately indicates two very important and borderline inevitable properties, which i call the Two Halves make Holes law- 1. It will begin at least half an hour late. We were scheduled to leave at 5, and now at 540 we are slowly gathering for departure. 2. At least half the involved parties will not show. Of 17 reported staff members, a frankly robust (compared to past events, at any rate) 6 people are in attendance. Admittedly, 3 have wandered off since showing up, but the night is yet young. There is a statistically significant chance they'll return. Anyway, this law indicates that any plan necessarily has holes if it relies on timeliness or respectable attendance. Anyway, moving on to more general aspects and for now leaving behind my current occupation as condoler-in-residence, being a teacher does actually, on occasion, involve teaching. Presumably, it's what i actually came this vast distance to do. I am a maths (maths is the conventional word in the queen's english, and is actually more correct than math as an abbreviate. I'd tell you why, dear reader, but you've been subjected to enough verbose distraction from the story already) and physical science teacher for 2 grade 9 classes. And basic information science for grades 8-10 (7 classes in total). And grades 6 and 7 pe. And grade 6 art. Anyone who would put me in charge of an art class is overly confident in my abilities, wholly unfamiliar with me as a person, desperate, or possessed of a perverse sense of humour. Bear in mind this is the mathematical, logical or, which allows for any combination of the options. So, 1 grade 6, 1 of 7, 3 8's, 2 9's, and 2 10's occupy my time. Maths is 5 periods per class per week, physci 4, bis and pe 1, arts 2. A grand total of 29 40-minute periods in a week, with 11 left for planning and the like. Assuming the ministry ever feels like setting up the computers...

Yes, I Did in Fact Sign Up for This (Opening)
Beach
valairoen
When last i left you, dear reader, i was engaged in all manner of activities, variously turned to as resident banker, doctor, english language authority, and outdoor recreational area engineer. As none of these activities appear even implicitly on the job description for education volunteers, you can imagine my surprise and confusion at the frequency with which i am called upon to act in some unfamiliar and apparently official capacity. To give you a further bit of flavor, i'm currently waiting outside my school office to fill yet another novel role, that of philanthropic mourner. In what is perhaps the most foreign (and by this i mean unfamiliar) duty i have thus far performed, i am going to spend my friday evening clambering into the back of a backie (a pick-up truck, although if you call it as much, most namibians will give you a look of confusion and occasional sympathy at your provincial american ways. A truck, you see, is a lorrie- anything large enough to be industrial or commercial, semis and so forth- while a backie is just a car. Clearly things in the states aren't quite so sophisticated, so of course you'd think such a small vehile is a truck) and driving slightly off-center from nowhere (nowhere's center being roughly where i sit now) to pay a condolence call on someone i am told is a colleague. If i have met this person, i do not recall the occasion. That i am expected to bring 20 dollars in addition to my empathy, well, that just makes sense. Funerals are expensive affairs. I in no way mean to make light of this as-yet unnamed fellow's grief. The passing of his family member is sad and i do offer my condolences on general principle. But whether my presence will make any positive difference, i cannot say. Certainly i hope it helps, although the intrusion of a stranger does not strike me as comforting to a mourner. But perhaps it is, as i said, this is utterly foreign to my experience. The reason i even mention it, aside from illustrating the extent of Kamanjab's night life, is to show just what...

Wait, is this what I Signed Up for? (Chapter the Sixth)
Beach
valairoen
...the removal of stumps, or the planting of trees. All as though i were some sort of expert in the field. And then there was one instance in which my services were requested as a literal landscape architect, which is to say someone who gets all architecty with yards and stuff. If that definition did not make it clear, dear reader, then let me be explicit in saying that i know, at most, just as much about designing a yard and garden and then implementing the plans as someone who asks me to do it. At most. It's quite likely that their mere desire to have a well-planned garden puts them in a horticultural class far beyond my ken. I am, after all, content to live in an apartment where the only growth i have to worry about is the occasional bit of mold on bread left out over an out-of-town weekend. I would like to plant some herbs either in a window box or in the school garden (under construction), but that's a desire born of wanting for spices. Anyway, no one knows that but you and me, dear reader. But, evidently, i exude an agricultural aura. Go figure. Well, i've managed to skirt the issue of what i spend my time doing quite effectively, and it's now well past my bedtime (10, because it's saturday), so i shall depart the internets with a fond farewell and a pledge to return soon to actually make good on the promise of answering the question, "just what exactly do you do to earn my tax dollars?" Michael. What? Why are you here?! All these interruptions are enough to make one insane, hmm? *Mad cackle* Here, take this and...leave me to my work. Trouble me no more!

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