Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Experience with Police Corruption and Etosha National Park Trip

This weekend was a mandated home weekend for the learners, so the school was going to clear out. Three fellow volunteers and I decided to head to rent a car and head to Etosha National Park and go on safari for the weekend.

On the way to meet our friend in Tsumeb, two volunteers and I had our first experience with Namibian Police corruption.

I was driving along in our Toyota Corolla (on the right side of the car, and the left side of the road) and mostly adhering to the specified speed limits. However, we had some distance to cover before dark, and we were literally out in the middle of nowhere. I’m not kidding – nothing for miles. I figured going a little faster than the 120 km/hour speed limit wouldn’t make a difference to anyone, and there surely weren’t any police officers anywhere around. Needless to say, I was sorely mistaken.

I’m trucking along, and from out of the bush pops a person. I had never seen a police officer before, so my friends and I assumed it was a hitchhiker trying to get a ride. We kept driving along. About 10 minutes later, a police car drives up in front of me with its lights on. I start freaking out inside, knowing full well that I was speeding, and not knowing what the consequences could be.

The officer asks for my license, and then says, “Follow me to the bush!” angrily. Then he gets in his car (with my license) and drives off. I gather that I’m supposed to follow him, but I have no idea where we are going, and he is speeding off ahead of me. I lose sight of him for awhile, and then eventually see him at the side of the road. Once we stop, I am able to see that he had been operating a radar gun or camera of some kind, and that it was him, not a hiker, that had jumped out from the bush just a bit earlier, trying to flag me down.

He asks me to get out and I meet him over at his police car. He tells me he is going to write me tickets for speeding and for wasting government petrol. He says that I will have to pay the ticket in Tsumeb (about a 4-5 hour hike from Okahao) during business hours. Long conversation short, we get to talking about why I’m here, who I’m here with, how long I’m here, etc. I’m batting my eyes, and apologizing and explaining I’m here teaching voluntarily from the USA, I live very far from Tsumeb, I didn’t know he was a police officer, and it was my first time driving in Namibia. The conversation takes a turn for the better, and I have a feeling I’ve won him over. He says that he is starting to take pity on me and recognizes that it would be nearly impossible for me to get to Tsumeb during the week to pay the ticket. Ultimately, we come to an agreement that I will give him N$100 (about $14 USD) and he won’t write me a ticket! “This is just between you and me,” he says, in broken English. “I could get in a lot of trouble, so do not tell anyone. Warn your friends, too.” I run to the car to get the cash, return and trade him for my license. I bid him farewell in Oshivambo, and we’re on our way…my wallet a little lighter, a good story in tow, and definitely not driving faster than 120 km.

Police corruption aside, the experience at Etosha was amazing! The park is huge, and just chock-full of animals of every kind. It was a very different kind of safari than the one I went on in South Africa. This was all on your own, no guides, and you’re able to camp out at the protected rest camps in the park. We were able to see a lot more animals and in the ultimate African habitat. At Etosha you just drive around, looking for wildlife, and hope for the best. We saw herds of giraffes, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, springbok, impala, kudu, ostrich, oryx, rhino, lots of bird, and more. Throughout the weekend I did all of the driving – about 18 hours worth – and I was exhausted by the end. It was a relief to make it back to Okahao after a long weekend, and time to get ready for week two of teaching.

Melt-My-Heart Moments

#1: One of the Grade 9 learners, Sam, comes over just about every night to watch the World Cup soccer games. One night, he asked me, “Miss, can you please teach me how to email?”
I say, “Of course I can. Sam, is there someone special that you want to email?!”

Sam replies, “Yes, Miss. I want to email you when you leave our school.”

#2: Last week, a colleague and I went to the Okahao Community Library (which consists of about four shelves of books to inquire about the use of a computer skills typing program. While we were there, my colleague needed to use the Internet (the only place in town where you can access the Internet, as far as I know) and so I waited for him to finish. While I was waiting, a group of about 13 Grade 2 learners came into the library. It seemed like they had just finished with school and were coming to look at picture books. They were about the cutest things I have ever seen – and were very curious about the white person in town.

I remembered that I had a book of stickers in my purse. I decided to give them out to each of the kids. They were SO excited by just getting a tiny little sticker on their shirt!

Once I had made sure everyone had received a sticker, I decided to sit down at the table where they were sitting and see what they were reading. It was obvious that their English skills were poor, if they knew any at all. They were looking through the books, and so I decided to pick one up and start reading it out loud. Within a matter of minutes, I had the most silent, intrigued, and mesmerized group of 7 year-olds. I read two books to them and they were practically sitting on top of one another to see the pages of the book. I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand much of what I was saying, but it was so precious. It made me wonder if anyone ever read to them before. I hope to go back to visit the library and have the chance to read to them again.

You Know You're in Namibia When...

#1: You know you’re in Namibia when the Acting Principal begins the morning briefing by letting all of the teaching staff know that class 12F’s classroom will not be able to be used for the morning. It is not in service because the door was left open overnight and goats came in and slept in the classroom and made a mess.

#2: You know you’re in Namibia when you go camping at a rest camp in the middle of Etosha National Park and that happens to be one of the few places to get a hot shower and a good meal in the whole country. I had oryx steak, and it might have been the most delicious meal of my life.

#3: You know you're in Namibia when nothing is easy, and things rarely work the first time. I am certainly learning to be more patient here. :)