Monday, February 20, 2006

High School High

This past weekend was one of the more eventful weekends I’ve had in Namibia. And though I feel worlds away from home most of the time, this weekend was a bit reminiscent of my own days in high school. The conference track meet was Saturday, so my roommate, our friend Rachel and I stayed up late Friday night baking a few hundred cookies (while drinking a few cocktails) for the event. Saturday morning, the school/our house was up very early and filled with excited athletes. I made my way to the field around 9am, and began keeping time with the other teachers. Though this brought back many fond memories of my track and field days, this was no KC Relay track meet. First of all, it’s pretty generous to even call what they run on a “track.” It’s nothing more than a huge, uneven dirt circle someone carved into the middle of an open field. Unless they’re wearing shower-type flip flops, all of the kids run barefoot. Since none of the competing schools had uniforms, the runners wear anything from jeans to tiny boy-shorts to the khaki pants they wear to school. Besides our homemade, slightly burnt cookies (baking here is still sort of a chemistry experiment for us), there was a small “concession” stand selling the one staple of all big gatherings here in Namibia-- frozen bags of Oros. Oros is a concentrated, kool-aid-type beverage that yields about 6 gallons of juice for every ½ cup of concentrate. At most large events, and any makeshift knick knacky shop run from a person’s home (of which you will find many if you take a walk through the location), you will find sandwich baggies filled with frozen Oros, with which you bite off the end of the baggie and enjoy like a popsicle…. ingenious! Though not the most healthy snacks, the cookies and Oros were sufficient enough to keep everyone happy, and most of the runners from fainting in the heat. There was lots of dancing and chanting (“Everywhere we go, people wanna know!”), and overall it was a very successful event.

Saturday night was the “Miss Valentines Beauty Pageant” at the school. Rachel and my roommate and I were asked to be judges which, if you know any of the three of us, is totally hilarious. Beauty pageants pretty much represent everything I’m opposed to in life, but it was a fundraiser for the senior’s end of the year class trip, and since I’m totally incapable of saying no to any of these kids, I was there with bells on. Before the show started, we were instructed by the event organizers (aka, The Senior girls…yep, you know em) that we were to judge mostly on self-confidence and not on outfits, because very few of the girls could afford nice outfits. Okay… what? So during the swimsuit competition, obviously the girl who actually has a swimsuit to wear is more confident than the girl who is wearing her underwear because she can't afford a swimsuit. Same goes for the girl who has an evening gown that fits her as opposed to the one whose gown is safety pinned together and whose high heels are 3 sizes too big for her. And I’m supposed to judge this? I just gave them all eights across the board and called it a day. My friend Manly was the MC and my friend Michael was the DJ, so afterwards I stayed up until way past my bedtime and the kids tried to teach me their crazy, hip-hop Namibian dances.

After the dance, two boys from the soccer team came over to borrow my duct tape (thanks mom) to tape up their shoes, and invited me to come watch their soccer tournament the following morning. And of course, since I never say no, I promised I would. The tournament was at the nice private field in the location, usually reserved for government sponsored events, so there was actual grass for them to play on. There were five teams competing, including two private schools. And regardless of which team you were cheering for, our side was definitely the side everyone wanted to be on. People were playing music out of the backs of their cars, and we were all dancing and sucking on our bags of Oros. Though our players looked a bit like hooligans from the wrong side of the tracks next to the preppy private school kids in their clean white uniforms, I think the ripped shorts and duct-taped shoes my boys were sporting really added an intimidation factor. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and we lost 3-2, but fun was most definitely had by all.

Although similar to many of my high school weekends, there was one incredibly big difference: every single aspect of these events, from the planning to the finding of arenas to the security and to the clean-up, was carried out by the learners themselves. There is pretty much zero parental involvement in most young people’s lives. Granted, most of these kids are hostel borders, meaning they live at the school and their families probably live in other towns not close by, but the fact that these kids can pull off well-organized and more-or-less successful events without any adult direction or support is what really sets them apart from kids in the states. Referring to them as “kids” is really a misnomer; often times, they seem much older than I.


Blogger Pedro Nobre said...

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3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Caitlin,

Greetings from the windy city... these stories are amazing. And that photo of the cooked goat's head sure looks like one for the wallet. Just wanted to let you know that we are all thinking of you and could not be more proud of your compassionate efforts towards so many people in a place so foreign to those of us stateside. Keep up the great work.

And since Namibia is 15 years old, we were also thinking that it would be so cool if you were the first to dust off the classic "clear the streets" joke when the nation celebrates its sweet 16th birthday and is finally ready to get behind the wheel.

Take care Caitlin.


the Hettingers, and Steve Gutenburg

8:07 AM  

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