Hello Otjikondo, Goodbye Otjikondo

Africa

This time last week I’d just booked a flight to Frankfurt but had almost 4 days to wait around in Windhoek for it; 4 days in Windhoek is 4 days too many, so with some broken communication, Gilly agreed for me to come and visit Otjikondo with Ottilie and Chelcie for the weekend. Our wait in Windhoek included ice cream in the park, shopping for fabric for Sara, making use of the internet at the Carboard Box, eating at Nando’s and Joe’s Beerhouse before meeting Paul on Thursday morning.Image

Chelcie and I ended up in the back of the open bakkie with a very strong natural air conditioning, lots of luggage and 2 mattresses to sit on. The mattresses would have been perfect if only they weren’t covered with plastic sheets that flapped around in the wind and made so much noise that it was almost impossible to hear each other.Image

 

Arriving at Otjikondo nearly 5 hours later was no less than magical; Paul beeped his horn and kids came running. Chelcie and Ottilie were greeted by hugs and squels, I got a few of the same then some ‘Miss Mary you’re back again?!‘s… It was great to see everyone again but I had to explain quickly that I could only stay for the weekend so the chance for them all to get a dance lesson was pretty slim, sorry kids!

Seeing current GAPs Rebecca and Eleanor again was awesome and they haven’t changed a bit since I last saw them. We got straight to work on Friday, I opened the shop and helped Destiny learn her rap for one of the songs in Wind in the Willows, their summer play. That evening most of the children watched Frozen in the evening but I went to look after the little boys as their hostel sister was away. We watched Antz and Matilda, I fell asleep on the freezing cold floor and woke up to some of them having a giggle at me. I got a few cuddles before I walked home.

Saturday’s normal routine was replaced with sport; the under 11s, 12s and 13s played netball and football against Kamanjab on maybe the windiest day I’ve ever experienced in Namibia. We won all games except 1 which was amazing! I looked after Brenda’s baby Crushanda and hung out with my girls Tjazupo (my sponsor child) and Eengwi (her best friend) whilst some of the older girls somehow convinced me to let them use my camera so went around documenting the matches and supporters.

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That afternoon was spent running the shop whilst the others did bank (gave the kids their pocket money). I don’t know how it took so long but Priska and I were in the shop until it was dark; we couldn’t find our way out and had to stumble over to Gilly’s house without dropping the bags full of coins and notes we had. I was exhausted and felt so ill but decided not to turn down Paul and Sara’s offer of dinner!

Sunday’s church service was enough church to last me a lifetime; it went on for 2 and a half hours and I can’t bring myself to write any more about it. Tjazupo, Fillemon, Tenesses and Dankie (our sponsor children. + Eengwi came as her and Tjazupo are pretty inseperable) were invited into the GAP garden afterwards and were spoiled by us with presents and sweets. Tjazupo and Eengwi loved their plastic princess accessories and I showed Fillemon how to play snakes and ladders and do races with his toy cars.

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The rest of the day was spent teaching the drama kids a dance, having lunch (Mina’s chicken and chips!!!!) at Gilly’s, messing around with the over excited Grade 7’s, eating fudge in the big girls hostel, reading Mr Strong to the girls in Weavers Nest hostel, hearing the girls own stories and acting them out, dinner with the ex and current GAPs and watching Pitch Perfect in my room with the girls.

Although my visit to Otjikondo was so short it felt really special and it’s always great to see the Stommels, staff, GAPs and children. I said my goodbyes and made sure they weren’t too emotional as I wasn’t in the mood to cry and be upset! I’ll miss everyone huge amounts and know I won’t be able to visit again soon which is a horrible feeling! On the plus side, I’m so thankful that I was able to go back and visit twice less than a year after I finished my 12 months there.

Goodbye Otjikondo, thank you GAPs and Stommels for putting up with me once again! 🙂 Love you, miss you, mean it 😉

Mary x

Baboons, braids and Thai tea – 20th May 2014

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Yesterday was a bizarre and exhausting day. And we’d decided that by 12:15.

An early start took us to a primary school in South Fields to see an educational show by Jungle Theatre, a company Trisha has been working with whilst in Cape Town. Traffic left us rushed and panicking about where to park; we soon realised we were actually at the wrong school so we became even more rushed in trying to find the school we were supposed to be at 25 mins earlier. With the power of maps on the iPhone we found it just in time and joined the classroom full of around 100 children to watch the show about baboons returning a human baby to it’s parents. The school children loved it and were so excitable that they actually made me feel tired. 
 
Bill, Callum, Trisha and I then made our to Long Street in town to tick off some things from their Cape Town Bucket List. Trisha and I had said we’d go for a Thai massage for a while so we tentatively entered the building that I pass so often and were greeted by a woman who looked like she’d expected us to arrive any minute (we hadn’t booked an appointment) and was really excited to see us. We had our massages in the same room and had 2 giggly masseurs who sometimes spoke to each other in their own language, leaving us to assume they were gossiping about us in the least discreet way possible! 60 mins was enough to leave us feeling relaxed and de-stressed and equally battered and bruised, standing on our backs and walking up and down our legs was a bit more intense than we expected. I think their idea of de-stressing us was giving us some green tea before we left.
 
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Our next task was to get hair braids! Yes, the type you got aged 9 when you went on holiday to France and you were giddy to show your mates at school after the summer holidays were over but then after a week the head teacher decided they weren’t allowed anymore so you had to unravel all the pretty threads and brush out that matted bit of hair. Yeah, those ones. I took us to the guy in Greenmarket Square (if you’ve ever stayed on Long Street you should know who I mean!) as everyone says he’s brill. Turns out he charges a fortune for a little braid. It was his lucky day as we were desperate enough to still want them; after a bit of haggling we paid the smaller fortune to have some coloured thread in our hair and small elephant charms on the end. Trisha went first whilst he told us that the braids he does last up to 10 years. Impressive, but we’d only planned to have them for a few days/weeks. I do like the thought of having a 10 year old braid in my hair when I’m 29 though, I’ll know then that I’ve become a full fledged hippy. I set up his table display whilst he did Trisha’s green, blue and yellow braid. I had different shades of pink and blue in my hair and the others watched in disbelief as he used his lighter to burn the knots. I love my little braid even though it may have cost me a weeks worth of food shopping…
 
Mary x

Snakes and lions – 1st March 2014

Africa

Hello!

We had a music concert on Saturday morning to show the parents what the children have been working on this term with Mr Faustinus. Fran’s music concert sign stood outside of the church as the children and parents piled inside. There were so many parents there that every inch of space inside the church was used, children were sitting down the aisle, at the sides, parents were out of the door and any small children had to sit on the laps of others. I had Armando on my lap and although he’s a really well behaved little boy he found it hilarious to tickle my neck during the performances, I managed to contain my giggles and luckily he fell asleep after a while. The music was really good and even if I didn’t know the kids I’d be really impressed. Faustinus used tambourine’s and drums to make the recorder pieces more lively and even had whole percussion groups. Mrs Vermaak made a quick speech at the end and thanked Faustinus, Rebecca and Sara for their involvement before we all exited ready for the parent’s meeting.

I met Iris and Luisa, the two Project Trust GAPs at St Michaels, the school ‘down the road’ from us. We all chatted for a while, accompanied by Armando who we seemed to be babysitting for the day. The girls were all meant to go somewhere for the out weekend but couldn’t decide on anywhere worthwhile so decided to stay in Otjikondo but take time off from their usual activities.

Because the parent’s were in the meeting I went to occupy some children with tennis bats and balls, skipping ropes and hula hoops and when the parents came out Tabs and I sold Vet cakes for $3 each. I was so tired already so went to the little girls hostel to return Armando to his mum and I nearly fell asleep on a little girl’s bed. I sunbathed at lunch then went with Annika to do Bank (handing out pocket money), I don’t know why it took so long but I was sat there with the books and money for more than an hour and a half! I helped in the shop with the other GAPs afterwards before the boys greeted us with a lovely present swimming around in a bucket. A live python. We all had a look until it started sliding to the top of the bucket and looked like it was going to come out. Tabs ordered the boys to take it out of the shop and to release it outside, we tipped the bucket over and it disappeared into the grass.

Karina, Destiny and Agnola had become my sidekicks for the day, following me everywhere and when I didn’t see them for an hour or so they’d come knocking on the GAP flat door asking to do something. I was in a good mood so put my laptop on a bench and we sat outside of the GAP flat watching The Lion King, so African! There’s been news in the past few days that theres a lion wandering near St Michaels and that it’s been killing cows so we made endless scenarios of what we’d do if the lion just jumped out of the grass while we were watching the film. Soon we were joined by about 6 more children and used my duvet to keep warm as it got dark and cold outside.

Rebecca and Eleanor are so much more adventurous with their food than Fran and I ever were so we had a Mexican themed dinner which was delicious! 6 GAPs in the flat meant lots of story swapping and giving the girls advice on where to go in their holidays. Another busy day at Otjikondo meant I slept like a baby, even if I did wake up a few times worried there was a lion waiting outside…
Lots of love,
Mary
xxx

Filling the gaps – February 23rd-24th

Africa

Hello!

The past 2 days have been so busy that I feel like I’ve been here for weeks already (in a good way!) Sunday evening was spent watching the GAPs do their drama rehearsal. This year’s play is ‘Wind in the Willows’ and from what I’ve seen/ heard so far it will be a really good performance. The kids were so enthusiastic when they sang the songs that it reminded me of how unenthusiastic they sometimes were with us when we we rehearsing for ‘The Giant Slayer’!

Monday morning felt like the first day of a new job for me, it’s so different seeing everyone in their school uniform and attending lessons rather than on the weekends when life is a lot more relaxed. Monday morning also was the first time I saw the teachers again! Hugs and questions about England filled my morning. I spent 2 hours assisting Miss Bitz in the grade 2 classroom. We played games and used beads to teach the number ’13’. I then read ‘The Sly Fox and the Red Hen’ to the children before asking them questions on the book to help their understanding. By before 10 o’clock I was already on to the next set of jobs. Gilly had trusted me with the school car (God knows why!?) to collect the Christmas presents for children who are now at High School for me to sort out. Driving in Otjikondo is bizarre as you can only really go about 20km per hour… Later on I sorted out templates for the kids to send thank you letters to their sponsors for their Christmas presents and typed up examples for them to copy. The rest of my morning was spent in the birthday cupboard, basically a big room full of cupboards of clothes to which we give the children 3 items from when it’s their birthday. Anyway, the room was a mess because of a big pile of new clothes so I sorted them out and put them away in the relevant cupboards.

In the afternoon I played football with the grade 1 boys who are all very sweet. There’s even a boy called Frans who is ADORABLE and I know Fran (my friend, other volunteer Fran) would love. After offering 2 girls a quick dance in the hall I was greeted by almost 20 girls begging for a dance lesson. I also played table tennis with the older boys so it ended up being quite a hot and sweaty afternoon.

That evening we were invited to the Stommel’s for a music concert. We had a delicious buffet (and laughed at how small the mustard spoon was…) and then listened to Rebecca and Faustinas on the violins and Ian on the piano. They’re all so talented so we felt pretty lucky to be listening to them play. When you think about it there aren’t many people who can say they’ve listened to live professional classic music on a Monday evening on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Africa. Life is bizarre here but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lots of love,

Mary xx

‘God is good’ – Back to Otjikondo – 22nd-23rd February 2014

Africa
Hello!
I’m back home! My african home of Otjikondo, Northern Namibia, The school village where I spent a year volunteering from August 2012 to 2013. It was so emotionally tough to leave 6 months ago that I was skeptical about returning, would it still be the same place that I left? This question was answered as soon as I stepped out of gillys car and  onto the now very green grass of Otjikondo. I knew that Gilly’s husband Reiner was praying in the church so i decided to quickly greet him before finding the children. At first he didn’t recognise me at all and just stared at me … after almost screaming ‘it’s Mary!!!!’ at him he jumped up and gave me a massive hug. Someone must’ve heard because as soon as I let go of Reiner I was surrounded by excitable girls. ‘Miss Mary’s back! Miss Mary’s back!’ I burst into tears after seeing all the faces of the children who I grew so close to. My sponsor child Tjazupo ran and jumped on me. 6 months ago I could pick her up with one arm, now I struggled to keep hold of her with both, she’s grown so much and looks so beautiful! I made sure to introduce myself to one of the new GAP’s, Eleanor. She was so nice and welcoming that it threw all of my fears out of the window. Stepping back into the GAP flat bought back so many memories, most of which were with Fran. It’s frustrating and upsetting that she’s not here to share all of these experiences with but I know that she’ll get an even bigger reception when she does visit. The children have bombarded me with questions as to where and how she is and I’ve only been here 2 days!
 
I later met Rebecca and Annika at Paul and Sara’s house where we had a braai (bbq) with Mrs Vermaak, Gilly, Reiner, Kate, Ian and Paul and Sara’s 3 children; Matty, Olivia and Helena. After a steak, salad and a few amarulas we called it a night and returned to the gap flat. The girls were very grateful for the percy pigs, snacks, magazines and CD’s I bought over for them. Sleeping was difficult in the GAP flat as I’m used to having Fran in the bed next to me. Another reason I found it so hard to sleep was because I’d heard some terrible news earlier that day. A student called Franzelle had been killed in a car crash 3 weeks ago. She was a grade 7 student that we taught art and PT to for a whole year, I took her for extra maths twice a week, had her for afternoon activities, spent weekends playing with her, wrote letters to her and she had a big part in the school play that we put on. Franzelle was so cheeky, talkative, confident, funny and loving to everyone she met and i can’t believe that she’s no longer with us. 
 
This morning I tried to take my mind off the terrible news by seeing the boys. Renico and Petersen ran and gave me the warmest welcomes of all the boys, hanging out with them again was so much fun and they gave me all the gossip that i’d missed. At 9:30 we went to church, the songs came flooding back to me and I felt like I’d never left. After church we gathered at the dining hall for one of my favourite activities at Otjikondo… handing out the christmas presents! Each child has a sponsor (usually from Germany or England) who sends them chrismtas presents. They take so long to arrive it was only today that we had the chance to hand them out. After singing ‘God is good’ Gilly counts down to opening the boxes. The room goes wild with paper and cardboard being thrown in every direction. The kids usually recieve toothbrushes, sweets, toy cars, dolls, clothes, colouring pencils and loads more. They are all so grateful and you realise how much of an impact a few toys can have to a child who doesn’t have much else. I loved seeing my sponsor child, Tjazupo’s face light up when she opened her box full of clothes, sweets, a pink water bottle, pink knickers, a torch and a teddy bear. Such a beautiful day in Otjikondo. 
lots of love,
Mary xxx