October 31, 2006
I have been in this country for 11 months and 17 days and have seen Namibians move with a sense of urgency for only two reasons:
1. Free food.
2. It's Friday and (almost*) time for school to
So: I guess this is the perfect time to write about the marathon. Last Friday morning, we left for Walvis Bay with 12 runners aged 13-16 with the principal, Timoteus (the hostel father), and me to supervise. The plan was for the kids to sleep in the school hostel provided by the marathon sponsors, but when we got to Walvis Bay to register, there was no hostel. Instead, for the roughly 300 learners who came to run, there was one small auditorium and a stack of 14 mattresses. My principal took one look at the auditorium and announced he was going to stay with his family in Swakopmund, and he left. Timoteus announced that he refused to sleep on the floor, and he crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip. Can I just take this opportunity to admit that I don't think of myself as an adult, or a grown woman, but rather, in the words of my friend Elizabeth, "just a bigger form of girl." I started to panic. Luckily, just at that moment, it was announced that there was free food being served, so I behaved like any red-blooded Namibian and started throwing my elbows to get to the front of the line.
After finishing a giant bowl of macaroni and minced kudu, I was reminded that we ARE in Namibia, thank goodness, when Timoteus said he'd found places for us to stay. His cousin would take him and the boys at her house, and Thusy's (another teacher at our school) mother would take me and the girls. One thing I love about Namibia is peoples' willingness to make room for one more. There is no such thing as not enough room. So we stayed in the location and were much better off and cared for than we would've been even in the hostel.
On Saturday morning the learners started the marathon at 6:30am. In teams of 4, they each ran a 10K portion from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund. They didn't come in first, but they all finished. I also ran a 10K with Elizabeth, Elissa, and Brian, and a lot of the other volunteers ran the whole 40K. Afterwards I took the learners to the aquarium and the Swakopmund museum. We also walked out on the jetty, and it was cold and gray and foggy and the waves were crashing against the pilings. Marthina, 16 years old, grade 7, 80 lbs soaking wet, had never seen the ocean, and she was terrified. She walked down the portion of the jetty that's over the sand, but when she got to the place where the water begins, she wanted to turn back. I was afraid she would regret it forever if she did, so I pulled her along with me, and she clung to me and hid her face in my shirt. She was shaking the whole time, but once we reached the wide deck at the end, she couldn't take her eyes of the water, and she couldn't stop smiling. What must it be like to see the ocean for the first time when you're 16, when you know so little of the world that you have to ask your teacher if she has the ocean in her country, when the only ocean you've ever known is the ocean of empty land you were born in? The childrens' reactions took my breath away.
After the beach, we picked up my friend Chad's group of 6 learners because they'd run out of money, and they rode with us to Dune 7 in Walvis Bay. Dune 7 is supposedly the biggest dune in the world, but I can't remember where I heard that, so maybe I'm lying. Anyway it's big. We left our shoes on the bus and raced up, or rather the boys raced up while the girls sort of crawled and fell down laughing a lot. At the top we walked along the ridge and looked out at the ocean, and when it was time to go down everyone did it in their own style. I chose to roll, which was fun because you really pick up speed on a dune, plus it was entertaining for the kids, but it's been a week and I'm still washing sand out of my hair.
After the dune we bought meat and maizemeal for a braai, and Thusy's mom and sisters cooked it at their house while we took the learners to the beach to swim. Namibia doesn't have a beach the way North Carolina has a beach. Cold air from Antarctica makes it gray and cool most of the year, and the water is frigid. But I have to hand it to the kids, they grit their teeth and went swimming, and they loved it. When they got out their teeth were chattering. Chad's group was still with us, so we were 27 in that tiny house for dinner with the kids eating out of a communal plastic tub, but I don't think it was possible for them to be any happier. We left at noon on Sunday to drive back to school and made it in around 10 p.m.
(NOTE: The contents of these e-mails are mine personally and do not reflect the opinions, policies, or positions of any institution or individual mentioned, including the U.S. Government, U.S. Peace Corps, the Government of Namibia, or its citizens. - Irene Harvley-Felder)