First week back.
Nothing has changed much around Otjituuo. We now have cell phone service, it is very incongruous to see the words “Otjituuo” light up when my phone picks up reception. On Wednesday I had to go back to town to shepherd one of my former grade six students who I got admitted to a good school in town. While there had been consultations with his mother regarding him moving to town this had not produced the desired effect and he was standing in the courtyard at Otjituuo on Wednesday morning unsure of what to do.
I asked him what was going on. He told me that he had been in Grootfontein but didn’t know where the school was. I found that hard to believe. Why didn’t you ask someone I said. I tried to give him directions but realized that I needed to be present to make it work. We gathered up his things in a shopping bag, loose toiletries, the parts of a various uniforms which had been handed down through his family and relatives, as well as some laundry detergent. One of his mother’s relatives accompanied us in the combi to town. She didn’t speak any English so communication was minimal.
In town we went first to the school. The three of us made something of an odd appearance among the rest of the parents and staff – a pseudo family we provoked some wry conjectures I am sure. I waited patiently in the principal’s waiting room, after all it was the first week of school and there were many people who were trying to get their kids into school. Unlike in the US where pre-registration is required for school very few schools are able to successfully impress the importance of this on parents. While the town schools are certainly better on this account, there is still a lot of uncertainty about where children are going to attend school during the first weeks. The official tally of the school’s enrollment is not done until the fifteenth school day – which gives parents, especially in the villages, a lot of leeway on when to bring students. Of course this makes teaching and running the school very difficult as numbers keep changing. The ultimate result of the school’s final enrollment relates to the number of staff that are allocated by the government to the school – the official student-teacher ratio is supposedly in the high thirties, that is 1 teacher per 38 learners.
When I did get in to see the principal I could tell she was pretty harried at that point. Her school is as different from our village school as can be imagined, odd considering that it is only sixty kilometers away it seems like it belongs to a different world which in many ways it does. She had detailed folders with printed up class lists that she had obviously compiled before the school term. She radiated a sense of authority and punctiliousness -- in other words she conveyed exactly what a principal should convey.
She didn’t remember admitting our learner (the deal I told her had been that they were not able to find room for him in the hostel but had guaranteed him a place in grade seven). After finding his application which I had put in sometime in September last year she made good on her promise and found him space. I paid his school fees and also for the school’s official golf shirt (only to be worn on Thursdays with the regulation boys uniform shorts). Although Nicholas was a star in Otjituuo, taking the most coveted academic award at our school, Dux learner, for three years running, he is certainly going to be challenged. The school’s official language is English although Afrikaans is used a lot informally – something I did not realize -- and his skills in both are lacking.
I am afraid that he will become discouraged, after being the big fish for so long it will be difficult to compete with the other learners as well as being away from home. This is certainly the chance of a lifetime for him, his new primary school is among the best in Namibia and if he can succeed there his future will be a lot brighter than had he stayed in the village. That being said I have to wonder about the true value of his leaving what was familiar and comfortable. He will also now be surrounded by alcohol and underage sex which is more strictly overseen here than in town. Suddenly he finds himself with a lot more choices of what to do with himself than play soccer or computers in the afternoon. Not only is he not in the hostel but I realized he will be living in Blickiesdorp, which means “tin town” in Afrikaans, the informal settlement which is beyond the formal “location” where many of Grootfontein’s black people reside. Blickiesdorp is worse than any village I’ve seen as the poverty is so much more pronounced in an urban setting, lack of electricity, access to water and food is immediately noticeable.
I’m not sure if it was the right decision. Instead of trying to help him here in the village I have essentially outsourced that to Grootfontein’s primary schools, but that is not what bugs me about the situation. I am comfortable in the realization that if it does turn out to work he will be more than welcome to return. Hopefully the experiment will work out.