Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A few Saturdays ago, Charles, Imms and I spent some hours perusing the open market in Oshakati. It took me quite a while to find the true gems within this market. From one side of the street, a passerby would see a cultural array of baskets filled with traditional grains, spices, and nuts with the occasional stand selling fresh vegetables. From the other side, all that can be seen is a line of venders selling imported trinkets – rasta necklaces, bootlegged cds, socks, soccer paraphernalia, acrylic lingerie, lip gloss in every color and god knows what else. It takes some expert navigating and forceful refusals to marriage proposals to get into the heart of the market. Once there, one can find anything from vibrant traditional dresses to dried caterpillars, which I tasted for the first time last week and found them surprisingly bearable. I have sat and watched memes sewing on old school crank machines and old men slaughtering and hanging slabs of meat twice my size. Charles was on a mission to find the perfect gift for Jen. We were on our way to Okahao to celebrate her birthday. Imms ran into a ‘sister’ of his (aka a women somehow related to him by at least 5 degrees of separation) who was selling beads and necklaces. I encouraged Charles to buy Omagwe, the traditional belly beads, for Jen. I bought some as well. We spent a good hour at Jen’s attempting to secure them above our large hips and debating the significance of the beads. Here is what I learned……
All women wear the Omagwe beads from when they are a small girl, even infants. They are worn right below the waistline, hidden from view and only removed for adjustment as the girl/women grows. I have heard numerous explanations for why these beads are worn.
1. They are fertility beads and are worn until a woman gives birth.
2. They are worn to keep away the witches.
3. They represent purity and virginity and are taken off after marriage.
4. Their only purpose is to keep women thin, with feminine curves.
5. You where them to show that you are a girl. White beads are worn until you have a child and any color thereafter.

All of these have been proven wrong in some context or another, so I am not sure what to believe. I think I will go with the fourth explanation until I get further proof. Not sure it is a good alternative to Weight Watchers, but the beads do make me feel pretty!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Proof I am still alive

Riding home from Oshakati in the bed of a pickup with 5 kids and 4 grown men, I saw a small herd of red hardabeest and an oryx. I have yet to see a giraffe there, but I am told it is possible. That is my new goal in life……spotting a giraffe outside of Ogongo.

Something is perplexing me….too strong of a word….I have had a few short contemplations about something. So my learners have a pretty good sense of humor and I am able to joke and even be sarcastic with them. Thank god they have finally caught on to my sarcasm….most of the time. Anyways, so a few weeks ago I was packing up my things to leave grade 7 as I caught Tangi trying to jump through the window. I quickly stopped him and jokingly asked him, “Are you a monkey?” (No) “Then walk through the door like a human being please.” He looked at me like I had just slapped him across the face. He said something under his breath in Oshiwambo and stormed out the door leaving me a bit confused. Then last Friday I was hanging out with some of the little ones in the library. They were hanging on my arms and legs and just being silly. I started tickling one of them and said “You are such a little monkey!” The older kids that were around scoffed at me and she immediately dropped from my arm, slapped me on the calf and started laughing. Do these kids have a thing against monkeys? Perplexed.

After living here over a year, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on Ovambo culture and what was or wasn’t culturally acceptable. I learned quickly, mainly through trial and error, that the meme at the cuca shop will be highly offended if I give her money with my left hand, my colleagues will seek me out and scold me if I do not greet them first thing in the morning, andthere are certain words in oshiwambo that you never say in front of a kuku (grandmother). It is acceptable for me to flaunt my chest, but the second my skirt creeps above my knee I am scandalous. I offer my guests something to drink immediately after entering my home (even if it someone I don’t know or don’t like) and I have found myself curtsying and placing my left hand on my right arm when I hand anything. I thought I knew it all. I was wrong. Two days ago one of my closest learners, Lukas, was in the library with me after school. I can’t remember the exact context, but I made reference to someone acting like a monkey. “Miss, you are very much insulting. You cannot call someone a monkey.” He was unable to explain why. Later, over a few 40s of Windhoek Lager, I asked a friend to explain. To my horror, I learned that “monkey” is what the white colonists called blacks during apartheid. What I thought was a playful pet name was really a derogatory racial slur……coming from a white girl. Shit. I quickly realized that there is a lot about this culture that I don’t know and have yet to learn about. A learner at Jen’s school made another girl cry by telling her that her mother smiled like a black mamba. I think I will steer clear of using animal names for awhile.

Dear Mr. Dell Inspiron,

I thought I had lost you for 4 whole weeks and I don’t think I can go through that again.  Suicide crashing is not the way to go.  You hold many of my prize possessions and you are my only connection to the world outside of Namibia.  Isn’t that enough to keep you going?