Friday, April 07, 2006

antenna antics

Lots to report – Peace Corps came for site visit last week and dropped off three m-Bags (thanks Mom, Camilla and Aunt Sylvie!) and made sure everything was a-okay around Otjituuo.  I have it relatively easy – most of the volunteers have issues ranging from the pesky to really serious.  Some still don’t have a real home yet and more than one person has moved because of issues with security.  Waldo’s only quibble with my house (I cleaned up, swept, and all the dishes were washed) was that I didn’t have mosquito netting up on my windows.  They also weren’t happy about there only being one phone line in the village that works reliably, more on that later.  It really was a whirlwind visit, one minute I’m invigilating a Grade 7 Maths test, then the Peace Corps Land Cruiser rolls up, then I’m fielding loaded questions about everything from immersion to harassment, then I’m waving goodbye as they leave before I get a chance to give them a package I needed to send to another volunteer.  

When I was in Windhoek for swearing-in we had shopped at the various cell phone stores for antennas that would work in the bush.  Waldo had gotten a deal on cellphone/antenna combo and delivered these, as promised, when he came for visit.  The setup is the same as your basic TV antenna back home; these “Yagi” antennas need to be perfectly aligned with the nearest cell phone tower to pick up signal. There was quite a bit of finagling of the antenna, which Uandara and I attached to a pole from the school and set up in my backyard.  As signal strength is supposed to be better at night we rigged it up just as the mosquitoes were coming out for their nocturnal blood meal, and were nearly eaten alive.  We were able to get service, but while I could sometimes detect a network, the signal wasn’t strong enough to actually dial or send SMS messages. I’ve read that 59 km is kinda pushing the envelope as far as these antennas are concerned; it’s looking like if I want to pick up a signal I’m going to need to go big.

As I do now have a cell phone and a number, when I am in town you can reach me (or at least my voicemail) at 267-081-3017890. I am quite proud of my phone – it’s the Nokia 5110, last seen in America during senior year of high school, it also had a recurring part appearing alongside Zach Morris on Saved By The Bell – here it’s useful as it’s the last model that still has the antenna port in the back and I’ve noticed that it’s size prevents unwanted attention.

This weekend the staff attended a funeral for the Principal’s father.  The trip started off with a debate in Otjiherero about wearing traditional clothing on the way there – as I’ve mentioned elsewhere it presents logistical problems.  Still, two of the matrons from the school were adamant, which meant that one person who wanted to go, Ms. Kandingua, my neighbor, was unable to go with us.  I was up front, straddling the shifter, alongside Mr. Kavezepa.  The ride was uneventful except for a fair amount of discomfort on all sides.  On the way to the funeral we made “a turn” in Grootfontein.  As it was the end of the month all the government and municipality workers were being paid and ‘da Groot was jumping.  Uandara, Mrs. Kalunduka and me had made a card that we had passed around the staff and the head boys and girls from each grade had signed, which I got laminated in town but that was the extent of my “business.”   The “turn” ended up lasting four hours.  This is relatively brief.  My host mother in Otjimbingwe made a turn at the farm and ended up returning a week later.

We arrived just before the wake began.  Although I live in the former Hereroland, our principal is Nama, an important difference in that our contingent stuck out, more than just having the one white guy.  As visitors we first were escorted into the house where the elders were seated.  What makes the event so poignant was the scale of change between the generations represented.  The deceased was in his 70s and his family and friends were born and still maintained a very specific and ancient way of life that really hadn’t changed. This is pretty much the last generation that will hold its funerals in this way, something I realized while hearing the fourth of fifth cell phone go off in the audience.  In the house village women clad in Nama dresses and headdresses sat on the floor.  I extended my hand and uttered !metisa, hello, the only word I know in that language.  Pretty sure my clicking is execrable but still appreciated.

After shaking hands with everyone inside we said hello to the persons waiting on the patio, a pastor and some middle-aged men who were essentially mcs for the wake. The wake proceeded as different people spoke about Salamon Tsimwke in Khoekhoegowab with a few people speaking in Afrikaans.  We were seated in chairs in the yard and stretching into the street under a Namibian army tent set up for the service. As we were in the former black township (“the location”)  I felt a little out of place, but still welcomed.  It also got a little chilly, not for me, but everyone was aghast that I wasn’t cold and wrapped themselves up in blankets.  The speeches were interspersed with singing, mostly gospel with a few recognizable melodies but incomprehensible clicking.  The body was delivered midway through the night, around 11:30 I was appointed to speak on behalf of the school.  From my limited vantage point I didn’t realize just how many people were actually around, but when I got up to speak I was a little unnerved to discover how the ranks of people had seemingly swelled over the course of the evening.  I explained to the mc that I only spoke English.  After briefly consulting some of the elders on the makeshift dais they decided to translate what I said into Afrikaans.  My speech was brief – I first apologized for my language deficiency, then explained my presence, gestured to the Otjituuo contingent who had come to support Mr. //Hoabeb and  then finished by saying I hadn’t known the deceased his influence was borne out in the excellent example of his son.  That said I presented the card to the principal and promptly forgot to include the wreath which some of the teachers had purchased, something I was apprised of afterwards.

The funeral itself was held at the Lutheran Church the following day --  full-on traditional regalia and some amazing dresses.  Again, I was unable to follow the pastor’s encomium, I do know it was good and funny at a couple points.  As it was a different pastor from the previous day, I think he was somewhat put off by my presence – at one point I became aware that he was talking about me, and suddenly being the focus of attention.  That was brief and somewhat uncomfortable.  After the service we loaded into vans to go to the cemetery where women then men shoveled dirt onto the casket.  For everyone to get a chance with the shovel it took about an hour and half, while the women ran through Nama hymns a cappella.  Before returning to the principal’s house I spoke to the pastor briefly.  He addressed me in Afrikaans, I responded in Afrikaans then quickly broke into English.  He grasped my hand, and as is the custom, continued holding it while we spoke.  I complimented the service and thanked him for the welcome.  Then I asked him, what was so funny.  He said that his point was that the man’s influence was so great that even this young man who did not even know him was touched by his death and came to pay his respects.  It was a very pleasant feeling, standing in the cemetery; in the midst of hundreds of people I didn’t know the day before holding this man’s hand and feeling welcome all of a sudden.


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At 6:58 AM, Anonymous camilla said...

invigilating. rule britannia.

At 10:21 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

Hi. My name is Brian. My wife, Marsha, and I were the first Peace Corps volunteers in Otjituuo. Though we wound up leaving early, it's amazing how deep the feelings and memories I have of that place are. It's nice to read your experiences and to remember what things were like there "way-out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere," Africa; to know who Mr. Kavezepa is, for example, when you mention him; to see photos of the small, two-room (not including the bathroom) apartment set in the corner of the schoolyard.

I look forward to reading more. Though our ties are pretty much broken, please say "Moro!" to anyone who might know us (Muuka "Priska" Ndjarakana [though I understand she is married now], David, Mr. Kavezepa, "Mother," Ndhafa, Janis[?] the policeman) and let them know how profoundly grateful I am for the time we were able to spend there. Thanks!



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