Friday, January 25, 2013

Otjerunda Pictures

More pictures to share!  These ones are of my village :) Enjoy!

Day Two of Teaching

I survived day two of teaching!  I think every single day I make it through will feel like an accomplishment.  Today, I only had English classes.  I am really enjoying my grade 7 and 8 learners, but I am having a hard time with my grade 6.  This class is actually small, but the students are so behind.  I tried to teach them about nouns today, but they were so lost.  It breaks my heart that they aren’t prepared for this grade, but I am hopeful that they will make great improvements throughout the year.  Yesterday, I talked to my subject head about the class and he informed me that it will be a challenge.  However, he made me feel better by reminding me that I don’t have fifth grade.  Supposedly if I did, I wouldn’t make it out alive.  Such a good feeling!

After school today, I went back to my room and prepared for my Friday classes.  Tomorrow I have grade 6 and 7 English, and also grade 8 and 9 Arts.  I am so excited for my first art class.  I was also able to watch some shows and pack for my trip into Opuwo.  I know I have only been here for a week, but the thought of being in town is keeping me going right now!  I need some girl time (if only all of my girls were gonna be there).  I need to share my school struggles and get suggestions.  I need to be around people that like to talk to me.  With that last statement, people do talk to me at Otjerunda.  I live with a sweet roommate who is interested in my life, is wiling to help, and has been there to help me transition into the African lifestyle.  My other colleagues have also been good. They have given me rides into town, helped with school stuff, and taken the time to ask me questions about America.  My only complaint is that when they talk as a group, it is usually in Otjiherero and I cant contribute and get to know them better.  This often leads to feeling lonely during my off periods, but hopefully with time I will be able to build deeper friendships and pick up on some of the language.

After lesson planning and secluding myself for my two hours, I decided to go for another run.  I have been trying to run to the hike point everyday and then back.  So far, it has been going well, and I usually have some company from my learners.   They are too funny!  Today though, my run was rough.  I went earlier, it was hot, and I had a lot on my mind, so I walked a good portion of it.  Afterwards though, the students saw me return.  I asked about four students if they wanted to go for a walk and they agreed.  As we were leaving school grounds though, I had 34 students with me!  It was a vision for sure.  All 35 of us ran, walked, and spoke in broken English.  It was a really cool moment, and exactly the reason that made me choose this country.

I know that God is taking care of me through this journey.  He never promised me it would be easy.  And honestly, how could it be?  But He is trying to keep me strong.  He is the one that keeps reminding me to get out and walk and “talk” with my learners, and I am thankful for that.

Day One as Ms. Mac

Today was my first day of teaching.  Holy smokes am I overwhelmed!  Even though I barely taught today, I was already able to see how challenging this year will be.  Today, I met with grade 6, 7, 8A (two times) and 8B.  We went over class rules, I introduced myself, and then I had the students answer a quick writing prompt that they had to present.  It required them to share their name, what they hope to learn in English this year, what they want to get better at, and what they do for fun.  Most of the other teachers dove right in and started teaching lessons though.  That makes me feel like I am behind, but I have to keep reminding myself that I do not know the students the way they do and that I am at a disadvantage due to the language.  I have no idea what level these students are actually on.  Do they know what a noun is?  Do they know how to write a paragraph?  Are they able to express their own opinions?  The latter is something I really want to stress in my classroom.  I want my students to know that they have a say in the types of things we read and do.  There is no point in them being bored or confused.  Therefore, I am using these first three days of teaching to feel them out, to see what kinds of things they write or say.  It has helped in good and bad ways.

The great thing about going to classes today though was finally getting to learn more about some of the learners that live at the hostel.  I see the same kids around everyday, but do not know their names, or even what grade they are in.  Today helped to clarify some things.  It also helped some of the older boys to lose their macho attitude around me.  Now that I have interacted with them in the classroom they are greeting me more and making an effort to acknowledge me.  That has been a wonderful improvement.  Speaking of older boys, I found out today from my subject head that one of my 8th grade boys is probably older than me.  He is at least in his 20s, but they are not sure of his actual age.  When I responded to that comment, the other teachers were amazed that I am so young.  One of the jokesters informed me that I should be living at the hostel.  They’re sweet haha.  Funny thing is though, they are all only 26 and 27.  Clearly those five plus years make a huge difference here in Namibia.

Tomorrow I teach all of the same classes, but instead of two 8A classes, I have two grade 7 classes.  As for Friday, I have three art classes and only 6th and 7th grade English.  I am already eager for the weekend.  I am eager to plan with Ashley and Maillin, eager to go to Opuwo and take a hot shower, and eager to speak an advanced English sentence.  Oh the little things!

Keep praying my dearest friends.  Pray that I learn to speak slower with my learners.  Pray that I am able to push through all of the hard times this country brings.  Pray I do not lose site of how beautiful this country is.  Pray for my learners.  Pray that they are eager to learn.  Pray that their little hearts are not hardened by the things they know they do not have.  Pray that they will feel love in their lives and that they would find their safety in God.

P.S. Today a girl wrote in her exercise book…

“In English, I hope to learn to sing songs about God.  For fun, I like to sing songs of God.”  Oh bless her soul!  How beautiful are those words!  It is so nice to see God in these schools.

Bumps in the Road

Each day I am presented with new challenges.  Ones that can bring me to tears and sometimes make me question what I am doing in Africa.  At the end of the day though, God sits me down or makes me go running and opens my eyes again to the beauty of this country.  He reminds me of why I am here.  He blesses me with parents and amazing friends that help me through these challenging times and who remind me that baby steps are better than big strides. 

These past couple of days I have been so grateful for my parents and for the friends I have made since being in Namibia.  With every up and down, I know there is at least one person close to my heart that will rejoice with me in my successes or talk me through my hard times.  Before everyone goes and assumes that I am depressed over here in Namibia though, I just want to say I am not.  This a life-altering situation that even a person who plans as much as I do could not prepare for.  Nothing in Windhoek or Omungwelume really put into perspective the life I would be living for the next year.  Each day I struggle to communicate with my learners or colleagues, each day I am confused at least five times, each day I am exposed to something completely new.  I have cried due to homesickness, I have praised God for his beauty, and I have been content with my surroundings.

Although these first couple of days have been difficult, there is so much beauty surrounding me!  I have learners always eager to speak with me, I have goats and cows that roam free in my front yard, I have wide open spaces to my left, right, front, back, you name it.  I also have friends who keep me sane, people in Opuwo who have offered to give me a helping hand, and other people in Opuwo who know me by name and are always there to lend a smile.  In these difficult times, I need to remember these things.  I need to remember that Rome was not built in a day, and that I am not here to change the world, but rather to love on my learners and to make the slightest improvement in their English skills.  I am blessed!  Blessed beyond anything I could ever deserve.  Blessed by a God who knows more than anyone exactly what I need!

My sister wrote me a letter on the day of my WorldTeach interview, and in it she included Hebrews 13:5-6, “God has said, “Never will I leave you.  Never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.””  Oh how I cling to these ever so honest words!  He will never forsake me!

Beginning Days in Otjerunda

Here’s for honesty...  I have been in Otjerunda for three days now and I can already admit that this will be the hardest thing I have done with my life.  Each day I am presented with new challenges and different emotions.  I wish that I could say that I have been strong and conquered the first couple days with grace and a worldly manner, but in all honesty, I have gone through almost every cultural high and low possible.  This experience has proven to be a new world to me, and without God and my parents, there is no way I would make it through the year.

On Thursday evening, I arrived at my new house with close to 50 eyes on me.  I am at a hostel school, which means that a majority of the students live on school grounds.  My house and the male house are also on school property.  As I got out of the van, teachers and learners awaited my descent.  My emotions here were ones of nervousness and excitement.  As a couple minutes passed though, we entered my home and I was shown where I would be living.  My room is a decent size and includes a double bed, a wardrobe, a fridge, desk, and stove (not working yet).  Now that I am set up, I can take a step back and realize that this room will be beneficial for the year.  I also share a bathroom with my roommate, her two children, and her siblings.  The bathroom will present my biggest struggles for the year.  Currently, the sink does not work and the toilet does not flush, so if you are planning to do additional business, you have to fill a water bucket and prepare to flush the old fashioned way.  The bathroom is definitely a get in and get out sort of situation for me.  As for the rest of Thursday, I spent time unpacking, organizing, and adjusting to my new home.

When Friday morning came, I followed my roommate to the teacher’s office where I met additional teachers.  There are about 19 of us, 11 of which teach 5th grade and up.  Mr. Zahungama, my principal, took the time to introduce me to all of the teachers.  The names are difficult and I have failed miserably at remembering them, which for those of you that know me well, I usually take pride in being good with names.  During the meeting, I learned that I will also be teaching 8-9th grade art.  I am not 100% sure what this entails yet, but I am excited to get creative with some of my learners.  Following the meeting, I was introduced to all of the students. As I told them my full name, they all broke out in laughter because it was so new to them.  The rest of the school day, I helped another colleague work on the time-table (class schedule), which is completed all on poster board.

When the school day was considered over, my roommate and I took a hike into Opuwo.  We were able to stay for a couple hours, so I was able to meet up with Mailin and Ashley for the day.  I purchased groceries and house supplies, had the opportunity to see more Himbas than I could ever imagine, and was approached by more strangers than I would have thought possible.  My day ended with a hike home, soccer and Frisbee with my learners, and me cooking chicken on my own for the very first time in my life.  It was a productive day for sure.  Oh also, our water went out this night. Yay!

On Saturday, I had planned to go into town to meet up with the girls again in order to run some more errands.  However, this would be my first solo hike.   To say I was nervous was an understatement.  I was sure I would not make it, but luckily, I convinced some of my learners to walk to the road with me and teach me to catch a ride.  I was able to finally get a car after 40 minutes and was on my way to Opuwo.  Once there, I got some tea, did more shopping, and bought another new bracelet (only $10 ND, which is about $1.50 USD).  Ashley, Mailin, and I, walked around town some more and discussed all of the problems/exciting situations we will be presented with this year.  Speaking of problems we were going to face, the grocery store closes at 1:30 pm on Saturday and we got there at 1:40.  This was a problem because I was planning to buy water in order to shower and look presentable.  Fortunately, God always provides and a butcher, yes a butcher, overheard us talking about my situation.  He took me to his shop, filled a huge bucket of water for me, and then had his wife drive me home.  I was so blessed in this situation that I can’t even put it into words!  On the drive home, his wife told me about her time in Namibia.  She is originally from South Africa, has 3 children, and has thoroughly enjoyed living in Namibia.  Being sweet and friendly, she gave me her number and told me to contact her if I ever needed help.  Again, a huge blessing!  From there, I spent the rest of the evening with my learners.  We played soccer in the field and went for a walk.  The principal saw us playing and has since asked me if I want to train the girls’ soccer team.  I guess I said yes, but I have no idea how to play soccer, so if any of you athletes have advice/plays, I would greatly appreciate it!

Sunday, today, has presented me with my biggest challenges.  I have been homesick more than I care to admit.  Without going into town, I am limited on what I can do and who can understand me well.  I was supposed to finish the time-table with some of the guys, but they needed to go to town to run some more errands.  Therefore, I volunteered to work on it.  This is a tricky job indeed because classes are set up differently than in the US.  I’m hoping that what I was able to get done will be beneficial, but no promises because there are more classes than there are time periods…  Other than doing that today, I have been in my room watching shows on my computer, writing, talking with my parents, and figuring out some little things.  My current state: I feel like I am the new toy that everyone wants to play with.  I am completely flattered, but also very exhausted from all of the attention.  I am not a person that enjoys being the center of attention, so I pray that my newness goes away pretty quickly.

Tomorrow is my first full week of school though.  As far as I understand, Monday will be used to pass out school materials and then we will start teaching on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, I may not be at school Tuesday because the Kunene girls need to go to Oshikati for our tax id.  This allows us to actually make some money while we are in Namibia.

Well that is all for now.  Pray for my strength so that I can continue to do good for these learners.  Also, stay tuned for an upcoming project I hope to take on while I am here.  There are no promises it will work, but baby steps will make a difference.

Drive into Kunene

There’s something about writing in the car that makes each journey a little easier to connect with.  It helps me to settle any nerves, address any fears, and embrace the excitement and blessings I am feeling.  I cannot even believe that I am currently on my way to Kunene with two other volunteers, all of us waiting anxiously to start out new jobs as teachers.  So many scenarios have run through my head on this long, hot, winding ride.  For instance, will I know what to teach?  Will my roommates like me?   Will I make friends in my village?  Will I conquer the bakki?  Will I figure out how to get paid?  There are so many new experiences that I will encounter here, so many foreign concepts that I’m afraid of failing at.  Luckily though, I know I am not alone in these feeling.  I know that there are 14 other people feeling and thinking the same or similar things.  We are all new to this Namibian world and we are all out of comfort zone on some level.  However, we know that we were selected for a reason, and whether it be a personal passion, an interest in foreign affairs, or a gracious God that put these desires in our heart, we are all here for a reason.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Otjirunda in Two Days

I currently have two days left in Windhoek, so much is continually happening, which makes it so hard to keep everyone up-to-date.  The wifi has been sketchy since returning from Omungwelume, so the best times for me to talk and message with others is either early in the morning or late at night, neither of which I’m super fond of right now.

The past couple days we have been finishing up our orientation sessions, running last minute errands, and exploring whenever is possible.  The stories I could share are priceless and full of empowerment.  My heart has seriously been so happy being here.  The people I’m surrounded with each day have been helpful, informative, caring, but even more importantly, like family.  God has seriously blessed me with a strong group and I’m so excited to visit homesteads and go on trips with these girls.

With all of that being said, today, a group of us were able to go into town and get more things bought for the long journey north.  I was able to buy a Namibian flag, which is clearly important :), and also a mosquito net to cut and put on my window, some African jewelry, and a battery charger.  I think the only things left on my list are some groceries and a soccer ball. 

Today, we also paid a little visit to USAID.  The meeting was very informative, and for the first time other than Kristin and Emily, I heard someone use the word y’all.  It was a beautiful moment from God.  Other than all of that fun going on, I hand washed some towels and baked cookies for the group.  It was a productive day, and being the nerd that I am, a productive day in Namibia deserves like five gold stars.

That’s all for now.  I’ll try to write again before leaving for Otjirunda.

Sunset view tonight

All my love,

Sunday, January 13, 2013


For those of you that don't have access to Facebook, here is a link to the pictures I have been able to post so far.  I hope you enjoy!  Also, if someone could let me know that it works, I would greatly appreciate it :)

All my love,

Friday, January 11, 2013


Warning: this will be long considering it covers a whole week of new adventures. 

"If you never leave home, never let go, you'll never make it to the great unknown."

Currently, we are driving home from Omungwelume. So much has happened this past week, and I so wish y'all could have been there as flies on the wall to see me conquer Africa. This week proved to be my first true glimpse into my new African life. It was filled with beautiful and big-hearted students, traditional food, and even an outhouse. These four days not only made me stronger, but they showed me once again, that no matter what, God will provide me with strength in every situation. With all of that being said, let me give you an overview of my week. 

On Sunday, we embarked on our journey from Windhoek. The Ministry of Education provided WorldTeach with two vans in order to make our 8.5 hour trek up north more comfortable. Eight people piled in my van ready for a new adventure, and a new adventure we got. The drive was sweaty and hot, but provided us with plenty of time to catch up on sleep. We made a handful of pit stops, were exposed to the bakki and kombi system, and saw landscapes this Southern girl couldn't even imagine. The African lands extended all around us and all we could do was be engulfed by a never ending sea of green and blue. 

Drive to Omungwelume
As time passed, we arrived in Oshakati, the closest "city" to Omungwelume, where we stocked up on groceries before continuing on to Jessie and Ted's new home for the year. At first glance, I was so impressed by where they would be living. Some cleaning needed to be done, and more hours of labor may be beneficial to make the place feel more homey, but they have a lot of space, a yard, sweet neighbors, and live on campus grounds. As for the rest of the group, we stayed at the school hostel, which at first sight made most of us question what we were doing in Africa. Our rooms were the bare minimum and the toilet/bathroom was outside in another building filled with new creepy crawly bugs and only cold water. 

Monday also presented us all with new experiences. I woke this morning with a somewhat swollen lip thanks to all of the mosquitoes. Luckily, it went down quickly and I did not look like i had just gotten a bad Botox job before meeting my learners. On Monday, it was also our first day to put to practice our teaching skills. Initially I was nervous about this task, but all proved to be ok. We started the morning off with some lesson planning and then transitioned into playing ball with the kids. My initial impression of these learners came from their quietness. The children appeared to be reserved and shy, not yet comfortable enough to show us their true, silly selves. Fortunately, as the week went on, their little personalities came out and we were exposed to the beautiful hearts of these Namibian children and the rest of their community. 

During our teacher practicum, we each taught with at least one other volunteer. On Monday, my partner and I began with the prompt: "things you do for fun." This was an easy way for us to gradually get to know the level of the students and ease them back into school. Overall, we got a good response. It was so interesting to see the differences between Namibian students and American ones (a blog to come). 

The rest of Monday allowed me to reach my culture shock high. After classes and sessions, a group of girls went for a walk around town. We saw traditional homesteads, witnessed a cow fight (cows have right away here and roam free), and took our first bakki ride, which is basically just a bunch of people piling into the back of a pickup truck. 

Tuesday came quickly and a new lesson was prepared for the learners. On this day, we discussed nouns, and I must say, it was the first time I knew that I could for sure be a teacher in Namibia. The children were so responsive and I could already feel a connection forming with them. It was amazing that within 24 hours, both the volunteers and learners were so much more comfortable in the classroom. 

Tuesday afternoon, we got more information on our placements and experienced our first Namibian rain storm, which was much welcomed since it cooled everything down. As far as my placement, I am officially living with two female teachers and have cellphone coverage! I will include my address at the end of this entry. 

Wednesday's lesson presented us with challenges we could only prepare so much for. On this day, we discussed different feelings and emotions. We had been told in advance that learners here are usually seen and not heard, but as a person who desires to know her students, I felt this lesson could be beneficial to both them and me.  Throughout the forty-five minutes, we emphasized that we all feel these different emotions in our lives. We gave examples and asked for some in return. This was difficult and others may say differently, but I think the response we received was strong considering the circumstances. 

Our last day to teach, Thursday, was a day of crazy and fun. We set up a game of pictionary and reviewed all of the lessons we had taught within the week. Many have said that the learners were very into the game, which makes my heart so happy to hear. After everyone taught their lessons though, we had a little dance party. We were able to teach the learners the wobble, and then one learner, Sylva, taught us the moves to Waka Waka. The highlight of my day for sure. The holiday school ended with many pictures and goodbyes. 

Some of the volunteers and learners
Later in the evening, the group all headed to the home of Angelina's (our FD's gf) mother, which consists of a traditional homestead with huts and an outdoor toilet. Their land was gorgeous and it made sense to me why they would live this way. They were one with the land and although her sister made a point about them not maintaining the traditional African life like the Himbas, I felt they had held to their heritage and culture very well. While at Angelina's, the group was served a traditional drink called Oshikundu, which is made from fermented grains. I couldn't taste it, but many said it resembled bread or the early stages of beer brewing. We were also served a traditional Oshiwambo meal of porridge and chicken. As the sun started going down, we left the way we entered, past the cows and through puddles of water up to our ankles.

Part of Angelina's homestead 
The week was exhausting, but one I will never forget. It reminded me that my decision to give up a year in America to come here was more than worth it.  I am slowly seeing why so many volunteers extend for another year.

Taylor McLaughlin
Otjirunda Combined School
206 Opuwo
Opuwo, Kunene, Namibia

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Windhoek, Namibia

I am officially in Namibia, so this is my first African post!!  I cannot even believe that I am finally here. I'm not gonna lie, the process was long and draining.  After 16 plus nauseating hours on a plane to South Africa, and then another plane ride into Windhoek, I was so thankful for African soil.  When we arrived in Windhoek, we were greeted by a very tiny airport and some nice heat similar to Texas' late spring, but without the humidity.  We then got our visas, our luggage, and exchanged some money.  Our Field Director, Bret, met us at the airport with a bus, and then we were on our way to the hostel.  The drive in was close to an hour, which was so nice because we got to see some of the Namibian landscape.  There's flat land and gorgeous mountains in the distance.  The sky was literally so clear that you could see the clouds' shadows on the open land.  It was awesome and I so wish I had pictures to share.

After arriving at our hostel, we quickly settled in our rooms and changed into cooler clothes.  I am sharing a room with Ashley, Mariella, and Jamie, which I am so excited about.  Since making it to the hostel, we have been going through our orientation packet.  On Monday (New Year's Eve), we had a pretty easy day and ended with a braii (BBQ).  Most people stayed up until the New Year, but with jet lag, I unfortunately got in my bed around 11:30.  I did however wake up at 11:59, watch my clock change to midnight, and then fall back asleep at 12:01.  It was a crazy night :)

Today, Tuesday, we started lectures around 10.  We've basically been focusing on culture shock and things to expect in Namibia.  We also started learning our languages.  A gentleman, Remsey, came and taught 4 of us Otjiherero, which was seriously the best part of my day.  I am going to have the hardest time remembering all of these words, but it is seriously such a fun and interesting language.  Here's a list of things I learned today:

  1. Moro- morning; Metaha- afternoon, hwenda- night
  2. Tji ke?- How's it going
  3. Ami mba za ko Amerika ko Texas- I am from Texas, America
  4. otjiti ndje za- leave me alone
Gah!  It's so fun!  Tonight we have another group dinner, but other than that, we're free for the rest of the day.  Tomorrow we are headed to the city, so hopefully I will be able to take some pictures :)

I'll right again soon.  All my love,