Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sleepless in Tempe

It is 6:18 AM, and I haven't slept tonight.

This is probably the fifth night I've had like this in the past week and a half. I'm not cramming for finals. I'm not doing much of anything. I just can't sleep.

Here are the recent happenings in my life:

- I didn't get into the nursing program.
- I'm going to be in a wedding on the 22nd of December.
- On the 23rd of December, I'm packing up my clothes, saying goodbye to my dog, and moving my life back to Northern California.
- I'm spending my spring semester in Dijon, France.
- I've applied to 5 nursing schools (ASU included, for the 3rd time), but there's no guarantee that I'll have a spot waiting for me when I get back to the States.

I'm not sure where my life is headed, but I hope it's somewhere wonderful.

Part Ten: Boredom

I don't think that I was bored for one second while I was in Namibia.

Mornings were spent at school.

Afternoons were reserved for naptime. Cierra and I never managed to fall asleep. Instead, we'd play cards. Do laundry. Talk. Read outside.

The most exciting afternoon outing was walking to the Spar, the local grocery store. We'd walk over to buy Cokes, chips, and chocolate. There was a phone and a computer next door to the Spar, so we'd call or write home. We would see students from school and say hello.

Midway through the trip, Cierra, Cat, and I decided that we needed to tan. After all, we were on summer break, right? We took our sleeping bags into the backyard and laid out. It was absurd and wonderful.

Most nights were spent watching Justin, the two-year-old son of my trip leader, dance. At two years old, he was a much better dance than any of the Navigator team.

We played music. We asked about each other's life stories. We wrote silly songs

We would dress up. One night, we decide to style our hair and wear skirts to dinner, which was always at the boys' house. When we showed up, they asked why we were so fancy.

"Where are you going?"
"Out. To the club."
"What club?"
"Oh, you know...some really exclusive club. We hear that they're going to feed us."

I loved spending time with my team and inventing things to do.

Part Nine: Mweshipandeka

School was amazing and difficult. Girls would heckled me as I tried to teach, asking questions that would make me blush. Two minutes after class was over, they'd be giggling with me, trying to teach me Oshiwambo, exchanging addresses, asking how to avoid temptation. I loved them.

Their faces and stories haunt me nearly every day.

Johanna, who was panicked about passing her Grade 12 exams, who wanted me to pray for her

Olivia, whose fiance beats her. She stays with him, even though she doesn't love him. She says she's never loved him.

Rocxy, whose only goal that week was to teach me Oshiwambo

Frida, who asked for my copy of "Choose to Wait"

Julia, one of the bravest girls I've ever met. She dropped out of school to have her baby, and then came back. She wants to be the future of Namibia. She wants to be a marine biologist. I deeply desire to know how she is, how her daugher is, what God is doing in her life.

I returned to our house angry and exhausted. I don't understand a culture where a young girl is beaten by her boyfriend, and all she knows how to do is laugh. I cannot accept a society where there is an epidemimc of young women dropping out of school because they are carrying their teacher's babies. These men are supposed to protect and educate these young women, but instead, are using one of the few lucrative professions in Namibia in order to exploit them. Yes, these things happen in the United States, but we agree that they are not acceptable. In Namibia, I got the feeling that nobody cared. Nobody wanted to change the system. These girls were expendable; they had no value.

I would tell my stories to my teammates, often in disbelief. I craved someone to tell me that it wasn't right, and to give me a vague idea of what I should say.

Part Eight: The First Day of School

We were terrified about dancing. I mean...let's be honest...when a group of white college students dances in front of an assembly of African teens, do you expect them to be impressed?

They laughed. We knew they would, and hoped that they wouldn't, but we weren't surprised when they did.

After our assembly, we broke up into groups of two or three and taught classes. I didn't quite know what to say. How was I supposed to start? Would they ask me questions? How should I relate to them? What did I want to say? What if they didn't pay attention? Who in the world decided that I was capable of talking to African teens about abstinence when I wouldn't feel comfortable doing the same thing in my native country?

My first day at Mweshipandeka High School was too full and too real.

The young man who feigned disinterest while Robin was talking, but later came to ask me questions about HIV. He didn't want to get tested, because he was afraid to test positive. He couldn't have been older than sixteen.

A Grade 12 classroom with no books on the shelves.

Things that were heartbreakingly difficult to hear, and impossible to respond to: "I've heard that in the United States, they have the cure for AIDS, but they just want us Africans to suffer."

Kaylen and I walked into a Grade 9 Home Sciences class. They didn't have a teacher. As soon as we entered the classroom, the girls started screaming. "Can we hug you?" they squealed. We both said yes, and had girls running toward the front of the classroom. After a few minutes, most of them returned to their seats. They asked about the United States. Did we know any famous people? (No.) Were we movie stars? (Of course not.) What do you think of Namibia? (It's a very nice country, and I love the people.) We talked about sex, relationships, abstinence. One of the girls in the back asked if we were missionaries. I was taken aback, because yes, I was a missionary, and I hadn't realized it. The thought of being a missionary terrified me. This girl, Priscilla, wanted to be a missionary, and wanted to know how you become a missionary.

Those Grade 9 girls stole my heart that day. For the rest of the trip, all I wanted to do was hang out with them, laugh with them, mentor them. They were so incredibly open, and wanted to tell me everything about their lives: the good, the bad, the embarrassing, the exciting.

After their class, I went back to the gym and nearly cried when telling one of my teammates about the amazing love that these girls had shown me. These girls were yearning for someone to guide them, listen to them, care about them.

Part Seven: The Wedding

I love weddings.

I'll watch weddings on TV. I'll browse wedding planning websites. I'll beg to be invited to weddings, because I LOVE WEDDINGS.

Part of my time in Namibia included attending a semi-traditional Oshiwambo wedding. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I couldn't wait. A wedding!

The night before the wedding, our team helped decorate the church. We didn't have much with which to decorate. Toilet paper. Food coloring. Balloons. But somehow, we made the church look amazing. Toilet paper and green food coloring turned into polka-dot crepe paper. We ran toilet paper bows down the aisle. We hung balloons from the ceiling; Jerome balanced on a ladder while a whole crew of guys held onto it.

The most amazing part of the night before the wedding was when Rico, Jerome, and Ashwin sat in the middle of the church and started singing hymns in flawless harmony. At that second, I thought I'd never be able to go home. How had I lived for nineteen years without this?

The morning of the wedding found the girls' house in complete excitement. We swapped clothes, eager to dress up, even though "dressing up" only meant showering and trying to find something semi-clean/not-too-wrinkly to wear.

The ceremony was lovely. There was at least an hour and a half of worship music, then a sermon, and then the actual wedding ceremony. The wedding party DANCED down the aisle. I don't think that I've ever been to a more beautiful wedding. I loved every second of it. (True to the concept of "Namibian time", some guests were still arriving after the kiss!)

After the church, everyone headed to a local water park to take pictures with the bride and groom. The park had waterslides, a mini zoo with monkeys, and springbok roaming the grounds.

After taking pictures, we waited headed home, changed into jeans, went to the reception site, and waited for everything to start. We waited. And waited. And waited. In Namibia, the new couple goes to the bride's reception first, and then to the groom's reception. We were guests of the groom, so our reception was delayed a little bit...about two hours. At this point, it was late afternoon, and we hadn't eaten since breakfast, but we were too excited to complain.

The couple finally showed up, accompanied by Oshiwambo women in their traditional dress. According to custom, the groom must wait at the gate for his father to come and welcome him in. Evidently, it's also a custom that the father make the son and his new bride wait. At this point, the guests were going wild, ululating, dancing, singing.

The bride and groom made their way into the tents. There were gigantic plates of food, and more types of meat than I've ever seen in one place at one time. We ate and laughed and drank too many Cokes and danced with complete strangers. It was the simplest, most beautiful, most joyful wedding I've ever had the honor of attending.