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Irene Harvley-Felder grew up in Sanford and graduated from Elon University in 2005 with a degree in English/Creative Writing. After graduation she worked briefly as a copy editor for The Education Center in Greensboro before joining the Peace Corps. She arrived in Namibia in November 2005, completed training in the town of Omaruru, and was sworn in as a Volunteer in January 2006. She is currently teaching at a primary school called Baumgartsbrunn, which is located 45km south of Windhoek. She will complete her Peace Corps Service in December of 2007. Irene can be contacted at: irenefelder@gmail.com

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March 6, 2007

Don't Ask
At least once a day, my whole house hums, a deep bass moaning that starts in the floors and moves up the walls, and you can feel it if you're sitting down, like the rumbling of a plane about to take off. Something about the electrical wiring is amiss. I guess. Either that, or I'm eventually going to explode? Whatever. If I've learned anything here, it's that sometimes you just shouldn't ask questions.

Five Plus Five Is Eleven
On Monday, I taught a class of 42 sixth graders that 61 rounded to the nearest Tens place is 50. I watched as they diligently copied it in their exercise books. I must say, I felt pleased with myself, pleased with them, pleased with that particular brand of magic that makes them at least appear to be attentive. Not until I had assigned practice problems, walked around to "help" the slower ones, and chosen five eager learners to write their answers on the board did I realize that I'm a total idiot. Like they don't have it hard enough, here I am to teach them how best to get the wrong answer.

That's How We Roll
Athletics has, thankfully, come and gone. And let me just say, for the record, I'm glad I never have to do THAT again. Athletics is like a communist version of field day. Everyone is required to participate. The whole school is divided into teams, including the teachers: we had Red Team, Blue Team, and Yellow Team. I was assigned to the Red Team, and everybody in the team had to participate in at least 2 events. We're talking Track and Field here. Picture first graders trying to throw a shot-put. Picture Miss running down the dirt road at 3 p.m. in the blazing African sun, accompanied by 75 barefoot, mildly dehydrated kids. Imagine one of the other teachers yelling at the kids, "SAY! I don't want to hear any of this 'I'm too little' what-what. There is no 'too little' anymore, my boy! Everyone must run!" As if Mao himself descended upon Namibia some years ago and said, "And These Are The Rules For Athletics. Let It Be So." I do have to say, all the work and the sunburn and the choking on dust from any cars that drove by was worth it just to see grade 6 Richard soaring over the high jump bar as though his feet had wings, nowhere close to knocking it down, at our school first, then again in Windhoek, coming first against all the city schools. Those other kids can have their matching track suits, their bag lunches, their school buses and tennis shoes. We sit 25 to the back of Mr. Mberirua's bakkie with our industrial-sized pot of noodles and our leathery bare feet because that's how we roll.

What Do White People Taste Like?
My classroom is on the far side of the dining hall from the other classrooms, so the kids have to walk farther to get to me. What I like to do is stand outside on my stoop and yell at them to run because I know the word
for run in Khoekhoe (but I can't spell it here because it starts with a click) and it makes them laugh. Also, it's standard for kids to line up outside their classrooms in two rows (boys and girls separate, of course) and wait to be invited inside by the teacher. I used to think this was a dumb waste of time, but I've grown to enjoy inane formalities. Anyway, I was doing that last week, yelling at the stragglers to run while the ones who had already arrived stood laughing, when I felt something strange. I looked down and Melvin, grade 6, was licking my arm. "Melvin," I said. He stopped
licking my arm.
"Yes Miss?"
"Melvin, did you lick my arm?"
"Yes Miss." He looks up at me and grins.
What could I say? I said, "Well. Okay. Girls, come inside." And the girls came inside like always, and like always Verona said, "Girls, come inside," doing her high-pitched imitation of me that I ignore because she's at least practicing her English, and it's good for the kids to hear everything twice. Also I think she has Terrets. Maybe he thought I would taste like vanilla?

Not By The Hairs On My Chinny Chin Chin
Every time she sees me, Magreth in grade 5 smiles and says "Miss must borrow me her hairs." She means the hairs on my head, but English is a ridiculous language in which both "hair" and "hairs" are plural forms of
"hair," so when she says it I immediately think of arm hairs and chin hairs and the like. She says she wants to plait my hairs into hers because her hairs are "not nice."

Miss, Must I Click?
Magreth is also in my computer class. Before this year, she had never touched a computer in her life. She and Mondelika sit there chirping, "Miss, must I click?" Navigating the mouse is sort of like that game where you try to pick the body parts out of the sick guy without touching the sides, and if you do a buzzer buzzes and you lose. There is intense concentration. And when the arrow is finally positioned over something clickable, there is gritting of teeth, chewing of lips, grunting, and mashing on the mouse button with superhuman force. One must just ignore Miss when she says the mouse is already dead, there's no need to kill it more. Everyone knows that all buttons work best when you mash the hell out of them. This theory also applies to Enter keys, space bars, and back spaces. Also, the Shift key makes the best capital letters when you bear down on it with the entire weight of your body. But oh, the joy of seeing their eyes widen with shock and amazement when they learn to change the size, the font, and yes, even the color of their carefully typed names. Oh, the hand-clapping, the pointing, the cries of "Ai-III" and "Et-SAY!" and "Look Miss, they did come blue!"

Miss, It Is Energy
Girls Club continues. Three weeks ago, I made sugar cookie dough and rolled it flat, and each girl cut out small cookies to bake and decorate. I made 5 different colors of frosting and bought sprinkles, raisins, peanuts, and colored chocolate candies, and they decorated their cookies with enough sugary things to keep them awake for an entire week. (A girl licks her fingers, slips them into her shirt pocket where she has poured brown sugar, then licks the sugar from her fingers. She dips her hand in again and offers it to me: "Miss, it is energy!") Two weeks ago, the visiting Germans went on a walk with the girls club around the school. I thought they would let the girls take pictures, but they ended up just taking pictures of the girls. But it was still fun because they love posing for pictures. ("Miss, catch me one photo!") I got to see parts of the school grounds I had never explored before. Cathleen and Tikeline showed me the sticky sap on the acacia trees at the far end of the soccer field that the baboons like to eat. Apparently, the girls also like to eat it. I don't know why though, because when I tasted it, it tasted like earwax. Behind the dam, we saw what looked from a distance like a deflated netball, but close-up it turned out to be the carcass of a newly-slain calf, head still intact, big cow eyes still staring, but the rest of it stripped of flesh down to its skeleton. The girls found it amusing. Miss wanted to barf. The girls found that amusing, too. Later, they sang and danced for theGermans, and the Germans were so inspired they decided to make a short music video with the girls.

Pimp My Donkey Cart
I've heard other volunteers joke about making a new show for MTV involving donkey carts, but last Saturday it became apparent that the real money is in Namibia: Making the Video. I mean, nobody was dangling from a bungee cord in front of a green screen or anything, but everything else was on par with J-Lo: location scouting (shoots in the library, outside the clinic, on the playground, in the cow pasture, inside one of the old classrooms that's missing a wall), dancing on the desks in my classroom, a chain-smoking German director, and a guest spot by Melvin, grade 5, who appeared rollingan old tire across the pasture with two sticks. The music video was for the popular Namibian artist Stanley, who sings in Khoekhoe, so in each different locale, the girls were taped dancing to the same song, and then the Germans edited it all together. (Sorry, I don't speak film language.) We watched it last Wednesday and let me tell you, it was hilarious. It opens with Miss standing in front of her class saying, "Good morning class. Who is everyone's favorite singer?" And all the hands shoot up and everyone shouts, "Stanley!" And then everyone jumps up on the desks and starts dancing. Just like one of my real classes.

The Weather Report
Overnight, it seems, the winds have changed. It's cool in the mornings now and again in the evenings. If only it would stay cool at midday, things would be perfect. Most of the kids don't have sweaters (or, for that matter, shoes), so they huddle in patches of sunlight in the mornings, pressing themselves against the few white-washed walls that hold the new sun's heat best. They dance to stay warm. The blow on their hands. They get by. The magic that brought the torrential rains of last year has been spent, leaving us drier than dry, a few measly rain showers each week if we're lucky, and a whole lot of clouds making empty promises as they break apart and fade into the hot blue sky. Still, the soil also knows how to get by, and things are greener now than they were in early January. The rolling hills of the Khomas Hochland seem almost lush with their leafy trees and bushes. (A bit of trivia: "Khomas" means Cow, and "Hochland" means Highlands.) In the evenings, as always, the light is at its most beautiful, casting the distant Omitaka mountains in shades of darkening violet against the horizon, not so very different from the blues of the Appalachians. Last night, I rode with the Germans in their nice car to a high spot some 30 kilometers from the school to drink beers and watch the sun set. On the way, we passed three cows, a group of baboons, and a man carrying a bundle of something on his back, walking from nowhere to nowhere.

(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)