Impalila Island
on Marika VSO-ing in Namibia (Namibia), 29/Sep/2010 19:14, 34 days ago
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After the conference, I return to work both a little more motivated and encouraged, but at the same time continuing to question the effectiveness of our roles here. This debate has been constantly nagging for my whole time here, continuously fluctuating between the two arguments, so in the end, I often end up with the conclusion of making the most of my time here, enjoying as much as possible and not to get too ground down by the negative impacts that I am reminded of daily. I suspect my very intuitive Principal was quick to pick up on this and initiates another of his valuable yet amusing conversations with me again this week.An increasingly hot week is appreciated more with a couple of visits for some well-needed drinks and a swim at the lodge. I regularly remind myself how lucky I am to be less than 10 minutes walk from a gorgeous view over the Zambezi and its hippos with a drink in hand and a little swimming pool to cool off. The week ends with hosting the 3 new Peace Corps expected to begin their placements here next month, al l excited and enthusiastic along with the rest of the current Peace Corps who gather in town from their surrounding villages to meet the new victims.The highlight of this post though is by far my visit to the very special Impalila Island. The Advisory Team regularly goes out to visit schools to improve standards. An equivalent of Ofsted in the UK perhaps, as an Advisory Teacher (AT) from each subject will usually go, camp on the nearby grounds, observe teachers, check their files, interview learners and such like. Although there are several aspects of the way these visits are run, that are not so favourable in my view, I heard that they were planning on visiting Impalila Island, somewhere they hadn’t visited for many years, maybe wouldn’t for a good while longer and as usual the bone idle Maths AT for Secondary would not be going. Being a place that I would really like to visit, starting to think of my time coming to an end here and it being only usually accessible by very wealthy tourists who can afford the US$750+ minimum pp per night lodge rates, I thought I’d grab the chance to essentially invite myself “in place of the Maths AT” of course. The sacrifice I had to make was to miss a few lessons with my lovely Grade 10 class, only a couple of weeks before their final exams. I debated it in my head for a while and then having given them plenty of past papers and solutions to work through, the admittedly weak argument of ‘encouraging independent learning’, and perhaps a cynical idea that they are so weak in their sense of number, it is perhaps too late for them tohave a chance to make a significant improvement this late in the day, I thought the rare opportunity to visit this rare island outweighed the guilt I felt for leaving them in the lurch.Why so rare you might ask?“The island” as our fellow AT’s called it, sits in the middle of both the Zambezi and Chobe River, is heavily flooded for half year and although it belongs to Namibia, one needs to cross into Botswana in order to get a little boat to take you across the river. It is located where the 4 four corners of Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet and requires a little boat or a charter flight to enter.So by our 9am seemingly haphazard meeting Sunday morning at the town open market with rumours that we still don’t have enough transport arranged, there was still the possibility of the whole trip being cancelled. By 10:30am though, things fell into place and by 11:00 we were on the road. I had the security of knowing that Rani would also be on this trip so I made the most of using here as a source of information of asking her ‘what-would-normally-happen-next’ (as she has now been on two such school visits so far) in the frequent case of simple lack of communication on behalf of the Namibians. The entertaining journey in classic Namibian ‘convoy-style’ began as we drove to Kasane (Botswana), and only then realised that the cars would have to be left in Kasane. Not really that surprising but a bit of a nightmare of you see how many belongings these Nambian AT’s carry with them on these trips. To summarise, there were 14 of us, plus a 7 month baby and nanny to go with. A full set ofcamping equipment and food supply for the 5-day stay they were all planning for. I asked, if I could just go for the first 2 days and with Robert’s (Senior Education Officer) approval and advice of it being possible and all I had to do was find someone who wanted to drive back after a couple ofdays (as there always is apparently). During the journey, I realised that this would not be logistically possible and was prepared for a longer than planned stay. By the time we landed on the island though, it was clear that the AT’s did not want to stay the whole 5 days after all and could do the job within a couple of days as they do with all other school visits by splitting the team into 2 halves – one based at the primary school and one at the secondary school. So, as we unpacked our ‘bakkies’ at the crossing point, we went to park them at the police station who had were not aware that they were expected to arrange transport for us across to the island. After about 3 hours, we managed to find a private little boat that needed to do 3 trips back and forth to fit us all loaded up with our luggage. After sending two of the men off to check out the island arrangements, when we arrived, we were lucky to have a police van that we could load and take us from the harbour to the schools, our campsites. We arrived at dusk, ‘dropped’ the primary team off a the island’s clinic (relatively near the school) to set up camp as we drove on to the secondary school, by which time it was dark to set up camp. At night, we could still make out that the school was using a dilapidated ex-military base as its building and were met by Grade 10 learners who live there as well as school there and the Principal who offered us a dusty room piled with broken chairs and tables and nodoor to stay in. We opted to put up our tents in preference next to the school. I realised that even for the teachers this was thought to be basic as we realised that the bush would be our toilet.So the school was definitely one of my favourites in character. In the driest part of the island is has just the 3 Grades, 8, 9 and 10 and 79 learners in total, of which a large number of grade 10’s resided in that same building along with the secretary and cleaner, and the 3 teachers including the Principal in the teachers houses 50metres or so away, as is usually provided in rural schools. The learners were just gorgeous in person and they would be also lighting their fires, bathing andcooking their pap nearby as we shared one running tap and the grounds. It was my first time to have to camp so basically and then have to dress up to the standards of my colleagues and present myself to work, but it all came about very naturally. No commute, waiting for dark to bucket bath and gofar enough from the tents so one couldn’t be seen (especially hard being white and with flat grounds), tents under a couple of very small trees providing minimal shade and the men grouped away from the ladies, I thoroughly enjoyed the evenings around the fire in the comfortable evening temperatures.The visit felt professionally more effective than some of my usual visits, as I had two days to work with the Maths teacher, compared to my usual few hours that transport allows, allowing us to spend half a dozen lessons together, observing, team teaching, demonstrating lessons etc. Fortunately he was also a keen teacher who also allowed me to take up his free periods with Maths-talk. It felt a bit unusual having to work within the region’s systems of giving feedback etc, but not so bad after all, that is what everyone is used to. The rest of the days were mostly enriched by the entertaining and cheerful company of the Advisory Team. There was constant banter along with entertaining daily walks to visit the exclusive lodges on the island and/or the Primary team who then managed to arrange a delicious fish and pap lunch on the last day. I really felt immersed in the culture and one of the team.With an equally entertaining return journey along the usual‘will we have transport’ or not, leading to ‘will we leave today or not’ made me feel almost gutted to be back. I would have gladly stayed and enjoyed the island for a bit longer; on the other hand, it lovely to come home to a warm shower. Once the exams are out the way then, I am now opento considering joining the team for more visits but also understand why other volunteers are so reluctant to join them if they resist ‘going with the flow’ of the nature of these visits.