Planting Seeds

I enjoy writing though I’m not very good at it. My spelling is horrible. My sentence constructions can be bested my many 10 year olds, and my grammar hasn’t improved since junior high school. Yet I continue. Becoming a writer is what I dreamt of becoming when I was a kid. I’ve yet to realize that dream. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Kids dream of all sorts of things they’d be when they become adults. While in Namibia, I had put together a series of lectures I would present to secondary and high school kids that exposed them to things I thought they just would not see otherwise. The lecture series was my way of addressing what I saw as a limit to the imagination natural to young minds. Whenever I asked a Namibian child what he or she wanted to be when they grew up I would get invariably the same answers: a nurse, a teacher, an engineer. All admirable careers, but the answers all lacked vision. What kind of nurse? Did they know they could specialize and become an emergency or operating room nurse? Did they know they could teach yoga, programming, or the art of sword making? Did they have any idea that nearly everything in our modern world requires specialized engineering? 

They did not. 

One of my early attempts at lecturing.

My lectures were supposed to expose these young minds to the vastness of human endeavor. I showed them how medicine and engineering produced prosthetics that allowed people to walk, pick up a can of soda, or see again. I showed them people who taught machines how to dance, open doors, and run on two legs like its creators. I showed them devices engineered to take people into the deepest, darkest, coldest places on earth and view, first hand, creatures never seen before by man.

Did it work? 

I don’t know. They were wowed when the watched a Boston Dynamics robot do a backflip and open a door without human assistance. They appeared mesmerized by men and women who seemed to possess comic book-like powers granting them superhuman speed, and strength through engineered prosthetics. They gasped when a diver surprised an octopus that had disguised itself as a rock. The students and teachers applauded loudly an asked for more, but did any of it mean anything?

I like to think that my lectures and presentations were more than hour-long distractions. I earnestly hope that hearing me talk and showing them video snippets of the world beyond their classrooms and auditoriums planted a seed in what I hope were minds still fertile and nourished with imagination and wonder. But I’m a realist, I know I will likely never know if anything I said or showed took root.

I left Namibia is 2020 as COVID became a pandemic. Some of those high schoolers may be freshman now in the University of Namibia or other institutes of higher eduction. Hopefully, by the time they are seniors, they will have decided of a career path and, hopefully, a few may remember the lectures and videos I showed and make a decision based on what they saw and heard.

I suppose what I’m wondering at the moment is what many teachers must wonder at some point in their career: did I make a difference? I am no teacher, but the sentiment is the same and I’ll likely never know if I made a difference, but I believed it was worth the effort. 

Maybe I should keep trying.

Stay tuned.


It’s Been A While…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, it’s because I’ve been rather busy, which is a good thing.

To the top of Dune 7

I’ve travelled to Luderitz with the Media Committee team on a project. That was a blast. Been back to Windhoek several times for different reasons, and to Okahandja. I have several weeks of a respite from traveling, but that will change soon as I need to go to Okhabdja again, then Windhoek, then out to the Zambezi region.

I haven’t been sitting idle while here at site either. Movie Night is still moving along. Last Friday we showed Jumanji and even though it was chilly we had a nearly a full house. There’s a lot to get done with Movie Night still. We need to set up the advertising process, advance the renovation of the amphitheater (walls and seats are the next focus), and finalize the whole process for making it self sustaining. It’ll get there.

Movie Night in full swing

One of my primary projects, Dreamland Gardens, had a major move forward. I was able to get a fully funded grant to buy and install two 10,000 liter water tanks and fix their irrigation system. I’ve been busy working the details of that and it’s moving along nicely.

My adult English class was a minor hit and I was able to get help from colleagues to offer remedial English to adults to augment the classes I offer. I’m going to offer my original class again and offer and second level class that focuses on research. The skills I’m teaching may not seem like they are business related, but actually they are. Being able to write a clear, concise and reasonably well researched essay can help learners create business plans and job proposals that are a step above their peers. It can be the defining difference in winning a job, loan, or grant. Combined with what my colleague are offering, learners taking our classes can advance their reading, writing and comprehension of English well pass what they’ve learned in public school. At least, that’s the goal.

English Class for adults

My supervisor seems happy with what I’ve been up to, so much so that he wants to expand it. He’s also asking me to mentor a handful of local small businesses. So, my time on site will definitely be full for the next quarter at least.

It hasn’t been all work, work, work though. The Peace Corps staff asked several of us ‘veteran’ volunteers to host trainees in what called ‘Exposure Visits’. The purpose is to give the trainers a taste of what life is actually like at various sites around Namibia.

I got 4 trainees (the house at my site is big by local standards and I can easily accommodate more if people don’t mind sleeping on the floor). The visit happened on a weekend when there was a Namibian holiday, so some of the planned meeting and greeting I had set up didn’t happen. Instead I was able to give them more of a environmental and cultural experience with the help of my friend and colleague, Engombe Florian, who drove us literally everywhere. The girls (Laura, Alex, Courtney, and Hailey), hiked, spelunked, climbed, and otherwise explored the desert around my site. We had a blast! We saw wildlife (ostriches in the wild), climbed mountains, and explored abandoned sites and more. Also, as part of the cultural exposure experience, we attended a local hip-hop concert.

Exposure Visitors getting exposed

I know that sounds like a vacation rather than work, and for them it was a bit of a time-off, but the point of exposure visits is to let the trainees experience some of the things they were taught about and warned against during their two-month long training. Women especially need to take notice since the culture here tends to be male oriented. At the concert, for instance, they were exposed to how aggressive young male Namibians can be in their quest for a hook-up. I, with Chris, a fellow PCV at my site, and Engombe watched over my charges as the concert progressed. We had to intervene a few times when situations got a bit much.

In all, it was a very positive experience for them, and me, since it offered me a glimpse of what female PCVs have to go through.

Today is the first full day I’ve had where I can do my normal household routines: washing clothes, sweeping and cleaning, and preparing the main meal for the rest of the week. (This week it’ll be pasta with meat and mushroom sauce.)

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ll try to be a bit more diligent in posting more often. Can’t guarantee it though.

Even so, please…

Stay Tuned