Today I have to get some things off my chest that might seem harsh or very critical to some of you. So if you are not prepared for some tough talk, just stop reading right here! There are not even pictures accompanying this post but lots to think about.
I just have to get it out though in order to process my experiences and also it’s just the way things are on this side of the world. It is nothing but the truth about life in Namibia that most tourists don’t get to experience. Daily life and reality here are just extreme and a cultural shock to most of us Westerns.
I have talked to many people here and I have to say, that it really shocks me, how naïve, ignorant and uninformed most people are. Don’t get me wrong, they are not stupid, they just don’t know any better sometimes. And how are they supposed to regarding their public school system. I feel for all those very smart kids I met that their potential is not being seen or supported. Some of the teachers I met hardly speak any English but actually the official school language is English and they are supposed to teach it to the kids. Also you hear those stories about teachers that are given materials for the kids but they decide to take them home or sell them. I witnessed teachers playing on their cell phones instead of teaching and the kids come home regularly telling me that their teachers were absent all day. So I am not surprised that the kids and also most of the adults have trouble doing simple math. Although the national bill says that education should be free and equal for all, the leaders of the country send their kids to private schools in South Africa, the USA or the UK – they know why. Also it seems to me that they are pretty happy to keep everything this way because knowledge is power. So why educate the masses – they might just realize what their government is like and might not elect the current leaders again or let alone start a coup.
Also the influence of the church bugs me because their one and only argument is “It’s written in the Bible”. But if you question them or ask them to explain a scientific fact by using the Bible, they just tell you that you are the anti-Christ. Well I guess this is also the reason why the kids don’t learn any science or biology at school. There is only “Life Sciences” which covers topics like sex ed, HIV or Malaria.
One night the boys started a conversation with me about how some people say that they are like baboons. First I thought they meant that some people from Windhoek or from wherever tease them or talk nasty about villagers until I figured that they were talking about evolution. They explained to me that God created the earth and when I told them that some people also believe in the big bang theory they were furious with me. They explained to me that I was all wrong and that humans did not evolve from apes but God created them from his image. If you ask them if people were created from God’s image how come that they are black and I am white, they end the conversation with “You are illuminati”. And I have verified this with adults, too. Just one of them admitted that sometimes he thinks there might be some truth in evolution.
I try to encourage them to ask critical questions, taking a look at another source or having their own opinion. But it is unbelievable how much they obey to hierarchy. If an elder or a well-respected person like a pastor or a teacher told them something it is true to them and there is no arguing about it. And how could they because the word “but” does not exist in their language Rukangali. I guess it is a step forward that the youth is borrowing words from Afrikaans or English in order to have a debate about issues. But still, they only dare to say “mar” once in a conversation because otherwise they might get beaten by the teacher or their parents. And I have seen kids gotten beaten up – it’s nothing like a slap on the fingers or bum like I have gotten maybe 3 times as a kid when I was naughty – and I mean really naughty!
Peter, Klaus and I also had an appointment at Ngone Combined School which is about 5km East of Mayana to promote the center, but while walking there I found out that we were supposed to teach Sex Ed. Well this was going to be interesting. We got to the school and went to the assigned classroom and I could not believe it. First of all there was no order whatsoever of the desks and chairs also most of them were broken or the back of a chair was missing. The writing from the previous class on the blackboard was horrible – you could hardly read it and the spelling…puhhh. The teacher who invited us explained that some of the kids had left early but also he didn’t really seem to care. So after introducing ourselves Peter started the class. Peter explained about sex, pregnancy, sexual diseases, how to prevent them or what the causes of teenage pregnancy are. The 13 to 16 years old students had very disturbing remarks and questions. One boy said “If she doesn’t want to have sex with me because I don’t have a condom, I’ll just force her.” I was happy to see one girl interfering with “That’s raping.” When explaining about HIV a boy said that he doesn’t have to worry about it because he is circumcised which means you are immune. Another asked if you could get cancer from having sex. Then Peter talked about condoms and all the kids seemed to be pretty familiar with them. When a boy said that his church forbids condoms I couldn’t take it anymore and asked him what his church things about pre-marital sex. Ohhhh those double standards! Since I had already spoken up and the kids apparently knew so much about condoms I got up to the front of the class and asked who could demonstrate how condoms are being used. Of course it was just the boys coming up to the front acting all smug and confident, but I had to send 5 boys back to their seats before one boy pointed out that first of all you had to check the expiry date and read the instructions. So I am pretty sure that none of them actually know how to use a condom properly. Although statistics tell us that at the moment more people are getting treated for HIV than being infected by it I think this is just bogus. I learned that most men deny getting tested although it is free or even having HIV. The teenagers don’t want to use the local clinic because that way the whole village would find out and only a few can afford to travel to Rundu to get treated there. No wonder 16% of the Namibian population gets infected each year, ranking the country 6th in the world also meaning nearly every third is infected – and those are just the estimated stats for adults (15 to 49 years).
Peter asked the students what the causes of teenage pregnancy are and words like “curiosity”, “uninformed”, “irresponsible”, “not using protection” or “taking risks” came to my mind. But the kids said things like “source of income”, “poverty” or “need of money” and Peter agreed with them. This was it for me and after 1.5 hrs of this nonsense I had to close the class. There was just no way I could take any more of this. On our way back I asked the guys why they agreed with the kids on those answers and I found out that this time I was the naïve one. Because I expected teenage pregnancy to affect two teenagers, but actually lots of the girls go to the shebeens to hook up with older men from other villages or Rundu. So actually they were talking about prostitution and even child abuse. Sadly the boys also told me that the girls don’t use the money to buy food for the family but to get smartphones, clothing or alcohol. And this is where I come to think that the Western influences the kids experience don’t do them any good. On their educational level and maturity I think they are at least 3 years behind kids in Europe but of course they are teenagers, their hormones are going wild and they see movies or use the internet which makes them wanting to experience those things too which they are just not mentally ready to handle.
I thought that on this side the world is still ok because they all seem so innocent and daily life seems so simple consisting only of looking after cattle, fetching water, pounding mahango or sitting around the fire. But just because you don’t see it out in the open or at first glance that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Also money is a big issue. Sadly I had to find out that most people are not able to handle money or understand the concept of saving. If they do get paid, they spend everything right away. Most who get access to money – like the water tariff payments or donations from church – will take advantage of it. If they’d at least do something reasonable with it like buying cloths or food for their kids I could understand because some are in desperate need, but they rather go out to the cuca shops or shebeens to get wasted or buy drugs. It is sad to see, that a lot of people have given up hope on themselves. Also most men don’t let their wives know when they got paid or how much they got paid. They might stay away for a few days because they want to spend the money for themselves. It is unbelievable how selfish people are and that they would rather see their family suffer than cutting back on their own pleasures. Also kids told me if they sell a chicken or get money from the grandparents they don’t tell anyone about it and spend the money right away on candy or fat cakes and eat them in secret before their siblings get a chance to steal it from them.
So what do I take back from this? Working here is just a waste of time? Let them continue digging their own grave? I think all of this is not just a problem to Namibia but to most African countries. I don’t think it is pointless to help or donate or necessary to take all the founding out of Africa, but it is very important to support the right causes. Education is the key to everything! And there is much more help needed to further the development of the school system and training of teachers. Also I am of the opinion that just handing donations to people here doesn’t get them anywhere. Sure they are in need of many things and it breaks my heart when I see kids running around in cloths or shoes that are just hanging on a threat nearly falling of their back or if they tell me, that they haven’t eaten all day. Also I learned when on vacation it is best to give directly to the people in need because if you donate to lodges for example, they will sell the donations to the villagers to make a profit of their own. But at the same time people in Africa have to learn that nothing comes free in life, that you need to work hard to get ahead and that you can’t just rely on whites to fix everything for you. Otherwise you just find those kids hanging out around the tourist hotspots bagging for things and not being able to say more than “Give me a dollar”. Every time I pass a shebeen adults too just address me in Rukangali with “Buy me a beer”.
Therefore I think the concept of MCP is great, heading the right direction and straight to the point. All the people at the centre work as volunteers supporting their community and trying to better the life in Mayana. If they have proven that they are committed, reliable and trustworthy they can apply with MCP for funding their retaking of class 12 or getting a professional training to push their own life further. So I am very happy that I was given the opportunity to support the community in Mayana. I hope that my time here makes a difference in people’s lives and made a little change possible.