It's funny how as children, we can become so accustomed to what we experience that as adults it can be difficult to think in any other way. Over the past three months, it's been a challenge, as mentioned in previous posts, to teach people about America/American culture and life. The challenge is to open people's mind to new worlds that they can't even imagine. One of the ways I've tried to do this, is to try and relate everything to something they have experienced in Namibia. However, it can be almost impossible to relate some things, when they haven't been outside of Kamanjab, or even the smaller communal farms, such as Anker.
I recently had the opportunity to take four learners (Namlish for students) from Anker to the launch of a mentoring programme hosted by the US Embassy and the American Cultural Centre. We were invited to spend a weekend in Windhoek, the capital, to learn about the programme, what our roles as mentor and mentee are. There were two boys and two girls around 14-15. It was the first time any of them have been outside of Kamanjab, and even then, most of them have only been to there a few times.
Before we left Kamanjab, we stopped for take away (Namlish for fast food) and it was fun to see the kids get to choose the food they want and to splurge a little bit. It was also very inspiring as they were fairly responsible with their money (probably better than American teens). Although they splurged, they spent the money wisely and when they didn't, they lived with their consequences. The six hour trip into Windhoek was pretty uneventful, but it was interesting to watch the kids look at the scenery changing or animals in the road. Each town we drove through got bigger and bigger until we reached the Capital.
It was a lot of fun to see how intrigued the kids were with the big city. They didn't know what a robot (Namlish for a traffic signal) was, and many things fascinated them such as the “tall” buildings, the adverts, etc. It was also amazing to show them how big the city is. Anker can't have more than 1 000 people and Kamanjab is not much bigger than 6 000. (Wikipedia says that Windhoek has a population of 300 000 but I'm not sure how true that is) Growing up in such a big city like Las Vegas, it's hard for me to imagine what it was like for four teens to see “the windy corner” for the first time. (Las Vegas is ~4-5x bigger than Windhoek and has well over 2 000 000 people, which is the entire population of Namibia)
The boys and I stayed in a small hotel in Windhoek West. It was their first night in a hotel and funny to teach them the concepts of a hotel and etiquette. They were very good to make their beds, afraid to eat too much, and not sure what to do with their dishes etc. While waiting for our transport, I taught them the taxi system and how it works. In Namibia, there are many taxis, and they're everywhere. They would honk at us to ask us if we're looking for a ride. The boys at first thought it was a way for them to greet us (which is the norm for someone honking in Anker and Kamanjab) but I explained all of this. It was even harder to explain to the taxis that we're not wanting a ride.
Thankfully, the mentoring meeting and everything worked out. We got to meet the US Ambassador and all! It lead to an interesting conversation with they boys trying to explain what an Embassy is, what the role of an Ambassador is, and why they're needed. I am also fortunate to be a mentor of one of the boys. He has some big hopes of going to UNAM to study engineering, and I hope to help him and encourage him to reach his goals.
After the event, I was able to take the boys to downtown Windhoek. Up to that point, we drove around downtown, but not actually in it. I tried to take them to areas of interest that are both fun and inspiring. The city closes early on Saturdays but they could still get a good idea of urban life. We went to a big shopping mall, a park, the famous Christ Church and even the government buildings such as the Tintenpalast (Parliament) and the Supreme Court. They were really impressed to see the places that they have learned about in school. I took their pictures in front of the buildings and even with statues of famous Namibians and was able to tell them a little bit about who they were and why they're on the money!
At one point, as we were walking back to town, I found myself walking/talking to myself. I looked behind me, and saw that the boys were stopped in the middle of the side walk. So I asked them what they're doing. They were mesmerized by a huge crane! Across the street from Parliament is the location for the a new museum and the boys were so fascinated, watching the crane moving cargo to and from different levels of the museum. It took me back to think that so far, that was one of the most interesting things they've seen! Of all of the things we've seen, I didn't think that would have such an impact. As we continued to walk, they saw the new Hilton that just opened, and they couldn't believe that it is a hotel, given that the hotel we were staying at was only 15 rooms. The other thing that blew their mind was the fact that there were trees growing on the roof!
Later that night, we had a lot of interesting experiences that were both really interesting and engaging. There were a lot of things I tried to learn (Namlish for teach) the boys. Surprisingly, they knew what a deck of playing cards were, but I learned them Blackjack. They especially loved Indian Poker! While we were playing cards, I used Google Earth to show the boys their home in Anker, then Kamanjab, then Windhoek, then Namibia, then America, then Nevada, and then Las Vegas. They couldn't imagine the big city. I then told them about a really tall building (the Stratosphere) that is 350 metres tall (over 1 100 feet). I found a great picture that was taken from a top the Big Shot ride that showed how high you are. I then had them look at the picture and told them about the ride:
“Imagine that you're a top this building, 350 metres tall... You're strapped into a chair and can't move. The chair begins to move, you're slowly rising to the top. Your feet are dangling, you can feel the wind. You're now 10 metres high, now 12, 15. (I use my hand to simulate the chair and raise my hand up) You finally get to the top. The chair shakes to a standstill. You're now 15 metres high, strapped in a chair, your feet are dangling. You feel the wind and you see the world below, 365 metres below, the world looks like ants. Your heart starts to beat faster and faster. But all you can do is wait, and wait, and Wait....” As I say this the boys are really getting into it and every time I said wait, they drew closer and closer hanging on my every word... “It seems like for ever but all you can do is wait and wait and WAIT..... and then (loudly snap my fingers, drop my hand and talk louder) the chair gives way and you FALL!” The boys almost fell out of their chairs and make this sound that Namibians make, “at ta ta ta ta tah.” The really got into it!
Afterwards, while we were still playing cards, we were watching the TV show “Minute to Win it.” I tried to explain the concept of game shows and why the people should be winning so much money. (It was a celebrity episode, and I had to also explain who the Jonas Brothers are :P ) It was quite a challenge to explain why someone should be able win all of this money in a minute doing a pointless task, when it's more money then they'll ever see in their life time of hard work. However, they really got into it and enjoyed the show. For dinner we headed out to takeaway and there was a Chinese family checking into the hotel. The boys were so amazed to hear them speak and how different they looked. It was a great way for them to experience a different culture and see how diverse the world is.
After dinner, one of the boys was fortunate enough to meet up with his older brother who is a student at UNAM (University of Namibia) and they haven't seen each other is quite a while. It can be challenging for people to get to Windhoek to got to UNAM or Poly Tech that they don't get to go home often. I am hoping that it was also inspiring to see his brother at UNAM and will help encourage him to reach his goals to attend UNAM.
By the end of the weekend, it was really rewarding to see how well the boys. They learned how hotels worked, the city life, etc. As we were getting ready to leave, they wanted to take pictures. There were two really nice cars, a Mercedes-Benz and an Audi, so I assumed that they would be wanting a picture with the cars. Lo and behold, they were wanting a picture by the pool! (Sadly it was too cold to swim in it as it is winter here) We had this really funny/awkward moment where we looked at each other amazed that we weren't on the same page. When I asked them if they wanted a picture by the car, they gave me this look like “why would we?” It wasn't until I told them that each of the cars are at least N$ 1 000 000 each, that they were interested in them.
When we were leaving back for Anker, the learner were able to see the entire metro area of Windhoek. They were amazed that it was so big! The boys asked me if we had to go because they liked it here so much that they didn't want to leave. I told them that if they stay away from alcohol, are safe about HIV and work hard in school, that they would be able to come to Windhoek and are capable of anything! One of the last stops we made was in Otjiwarongo, the last shopping town before Kamanjab and Anker. The learners all had saved up a bunch of money, and bought things for all of their family and friends. Some even sacrificed lunch that day to help get things for their families in need!