This website is for posting the correspondence between Mrs. Loewenthal's sixth grade classes at Solomon Schechter School in New Jersey and Jonathan Reichel, who is a Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching secondary school science in Namibia, and his students.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Some Questions Answered

Hi Class,
I have some time at the Peace Corps office here in town, and so I want to answer your questions. Some of you asked the same thing, so I will only answer each question once. Feel free to write with more questions or comments!

Nikki – The school is made up of 10 classrooms and one room as a small library. (Not to mention the principal’s office and staff room). My school has grades 8-9, and there are three classes for each grade (8A, 8B, 8C, 9A, 9B, etc). The learners stay in the same room all day long and the teachers rotate to them. There are 35-40 learners in each classroom (~350 in total).

Rachel – Ongini! Nawa? (What’s up? Are you good?) Since the national language of Namibia is English, I speak my learners only in English (although sometimes I sprinkle in words in their native language, Oshiwambo, just to grab their attention). Outside of the classrooms in the villages, many of the adults don’t speak any English, so I am learning Oshiwambo. Just like any language, it takes a large effort to learn Oshiwambo. I am getting better every day and it is interesting to talk in their language.

Jake – there are many, many native languages spoken in Namibia. Different groups usually cannot understand each other. I am living with the Owambo people, in the area called Owamboland. All Owambo people speak one of seven dialects of Oshiwambo. Even though the dialects are slightly different, they can all understand each other. One of my favorite parts of their language is the greeting. In the morning, it’s:
Wa-la-la-po, Meme? (good morning, mom?)
Eee-eee (yes)
Nawanga? (are you good?)
Eee-eee (yes)

In the afternoon, substitute walalapo with Wu-hala-po and in the evening, use Wa-tu-ke-wapo. If you are talking to a man, use Tate instead of Meme.

Ben – I didn’t notice a celebration for Human Rights Day. Maybe it’s one of those holidays where people take notice, but they don’t have a formal celebration. Also, you asked about the clicking sound with my throat. There are no clicking sounds in the Oshiwambo language, which is the language of my family and community. But, I do have a friend here who is from a different tribe, called Damara. Her language does use clicks, and she has taught me to say a few words.

Natasha – Of course I will visit you when I return to America. I will show you lots of pictures and speak the language for you.

Alison - I am teaching physical science and math (they call it maths here). The weather is getting a bit cooler because the hottest days of summer are gone, but even so, it can be over 100 degrees in my room on a sunny day. At night, it’s usually cool, which is very very nice, because during the hottest days of summer, I would sweat all night long. Teaching is sometimes fun, but also a very big challenge for me. I will talk more about these challenges in the future.

Ben – an experience like the Peace Corps doesn’t have to come around only once in a lifetime. There is no age limit, so maybe I will join again after I am retired! I have to dress nicely for school, so unfortunately, I can’t wear shorts to work. My wardrobe for work is dressy, but after work it’s shorts and shortsleeves. Sometimes I don’t wear a shirt because the heat is too great. My room is OK, but very hot. And there are mosquitos and flies in my village.

Warren – I finish my job in December of 2006. I will probably travel to some other countries for a while before I come home though. There are 8 periods in a day. The last subject ends at 1:45, and they have study hall until 3:30. Your question about lunch has an interesting answer – they don’t have lunch! There are two breaks during the day – one is for 10 minutes, and one for 15. Usually, the learners buy rolls or small “fat cakes” from some women who are selling such things. That’s if they have a dollar with them. I have a feeling that many of them don’t eat at all during the day. You are getting penpals soon, and you can ask them for details about their family, etc.

Zivi – I do miss America sometimes, but I am enjoying my time so much that I think my two years here will fly by!

I am out of time! I will answer the rest of your questions soon. (You should learn here about a thing called "African time." On this continent, time is less urgent. When someone says 'now,' he usually means 'later.' When he says 'soon,' sometimes it means 'much later.'

I will finish your questions "now."

-Mr. Reichel

Thursday, January 20, 2005

School has begun!

I have begun teaching! The first day of the school year was this Tuesday, January 18. I am excited to have met my students (they are called ‘learners’ here). I am teaching eighth grade math (which they call maths) as well as grade eight and nine physical science (a combination of physics and chemistry). It is very early in the school year, but I anticipate having a productive, but very challenging school year.

Soon, I will be able to introduce you to your penpals!

Friday, January 14, 2005

I am Settled In

Dear Students,
Thank you for your questions! I am glad that you are showing an interest in my Peace Corps experience in Namibia! I promise I will answer all of them, but before I do, I want to give you some information about where I am living, and what I’ve been doing now that I’m settled in.

My Peace Corps training ended several weeks ago but school has not started yet, so I have had some time to get used to living in my new home, and even to do a little bit of traveling.

Who do I live with?

I live on a ‘homestead’ with a family and many animals. There is a herd of cattle, a group of goats, and several chickens. The chickens wander around outside the home all day but the rest of the animals leave to search for grass to graze on, and then return at the end of the day. I am lucky in that I have my own room with a kitchen.

My family is two women, a grandmother, and six small kids and a baby. They also have a young guy named Lucas who lives with them. Lucas is not part of the family, but he works for them – herding the goats and cows and helping in the fields. In return for his work, the family cooks for him and provides a place to sleep. He’s treated like one of the family!

What does my home look like?

The people of Africa are made up of groups that used to be called tribes. I am living among the Owambo people. Most Owambo people today do not live in houses or apartments like in America. They live on ‘homesteads’ in rural villages. I live on a homestead, which is made up of huts and some concrete buildings.

Here is a picture of the huts: Click here

My room is a concrete building: Click here to see a picture

My home does not have electricity or any plumbing. So for water, my principal fills up some large jugs at the nearest water tap and drives them to my room. The water is clean and perfectly safe to drink. I bathe using a bucket of water instead of a shower – which has taken some getting used to! At night, it is very dark so I use a flashlight and I also have an oil-burning lantern.

Although, as you know, English is the “official language” of Namibia, many people do not speak it. In my family, the grandmother does not speak any English, and only one of the adult women speaks English. So, until I learn more of their language, which is called Oshiwambo, there is only one person at home I can speak to!

What do I eat?

Even though I don’t have electricity, I am lucky because the government has given me a gas-powered stove and a refrigerator. (The refrigerator uses the gas to produce a flame, which is used as an energy source to cool the refrigerator. There’s a physics assignment for you – figure out how that works!) If I leave my village and find a paved road, I can take a taxi into town. In town, I can find supermarkets that have almost any food item I could buy in the U.S. I can buy and cook whatever I want.

But my family does not work, and so they don’t have money to shop at a supermarket. They must grow all of their food. They grow and harvest crops – beans, spinach, and millet, which is a grain that they can turn into a thick meal called porridge. Sometimes they kill one of their chickens or buy some beef. They always cook using a fire outdoors, and they eat with their hands. This is the traditional African way of eating and sometimes I join them.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Some Namibian Students

Hi Students at Solomon Schechter:
I am glad to hear you have received the aerogram I sent from Namibia! I hope you will find this information interesting.

For Your Information (FYI): Namibia celebrated "Human Rights Day" today, Fri, November 10. Unfortunately, the other Peace Corps volunteers and I, as well as our Namibian trainers, had to work.. no rest for the weary. I am not aware of any special ceremonies or ways of celebrating the holiday.. but I'm sure the reason Human Rights Day is a holiday is partly to spread awareness about civil rights and respecting other people. Pretty nice!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these two pictures. For two weeks, I have been a teacher at the Iihenda Junior Secondary School in Oshitayi, Namibia. This was for my colleagues and me to get some practice at teaching. The first picture is of one of the classes I've been teaching.

In January, I will get move to a new village and will get all new classes at a new school. I will live and teach there for two years. The name of that village is Omalala. And the second picture is of the school I'll be teaching at - Mvula Junior Secondary School.

-Mr. Reichel

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hello Jon

It is December 9th in rainy New Jersey. I read your latest e-mails to the students. How wonderful to hear from you. Right now, we are in the middle of Hanukah and everyone is in a festive mood. The students will write to you soon. They are anxiously awaiting to hear about your teaching experience and look forward to communicating with the Namibian students! Have a Happy Hanukah. Fondly, Marilyn Loewenthal

Friday, November 12, 2004

Namibian Culture

Carrie asked me about the Namibian culture. This question has a very complicated answer. Namibia obtained independence of government in 1990 and awarded itself the nickname “The Land of the Brave.” Namibia is a very new country with a hurtful past. It is a “developing country.” (Remember that the Peace Corps only operates in “developing countries.”) One thing that Namibia is working to develop is a “national identity.” But this doesn’t mean there is no culture here! Namibia has many groups of people who consider themselves unique – at least 12! There are at least 13 languages spoken here and each has different traditions. There are many who still believe only in the traditional African religions/beliefs of their ancestors – specifically the Himba and the San people (sometimes called "Bushmen of the Kalahari). While most of the other Namibians (especially those in larger towns)dress just like those in the US, the Himba and San dress in traditional African clothing – usually made of animal skins.

The facts, though, are that Namibia was “colonized” by European countries in the past. The Europeans brought much of their culture, as well as Christianity as a religion, to Namibia. More than 80% of Namibians consider themselves Christian. So many of the rituals that most Namibians will go through are baptism, confirmation, and marriage. After Christian funerals, mourners are expected to return to the house of the deceased to wash their hands, symbolically washing off the death so it will not follow them to their own houses. The bereaved family then serves everyone food and drinks. The Owambo people (the most numerous group) will slaughter a cow for food to serve guests at funerals and weddings).

The Christian religions here are very similar to their counterparts in the United States – the most popular denominations are Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Dutch Reformed, but they are slightly different, and for that reason, they are considered “Africanized.”

Although so many people are Christians, there are many among them who still believe some of the traditional religions. Some will consult with traditional “healers” when they are sick. This leads to a multitude of different types of people, with many different identities. Because there are so many groups here, it is difficult to create one unified idea of what a national “Namibian” culture should be considered to be. It is quite an interesting country with much to learn about.


Dear Class,
I made it to Namibia! I am in a group of 53 Peace Corps volunteers. We make up a group of high school science, English, and math teachers, as well as health/HIV educators and computer teachers. My group is named PCNam 24. We are all living together in college-styled rooms at a conference center in a town called Okahandja. As a group, all 53 of us are living and traveling together for our first eight weeks in Namibia – during this whole time, we are learning lots of things about the country, and also how to be at whatever our job will be (of course, I will be a high school physical science teacher. I’ve also learned that I may be needed to teach other subjects also.).

Namibians are a diverse group of people. Most of the people who live here are black, but there are also many white people (descendents of Europeans who colonized Namibia), and people who come from mixed families. There are also a few people living in Namibia that are from immigrant families who have moved here mostly for business purposes - there are some Asian and Indian people, but they are few and live mainly in the capitol city (Windhoek) and other larger cities and towns. You should know that there are very few people living in Namibia – it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world!

A few interesting facts: Namibia has a high average family income. By comparison with many other African countries, you might even consider Namibia rich! BUT, the bulk (the main portion) of all the money in the entire country is owned by a tiny number of people. This leaves many people who are very poor. It is true that Namibia has the largest disparity of wealth distribution in the world! In fact, the large majority of Namibians are considered either poor or very poor. The definition of “poor” here means that 60% of all the money that a family earns is needed to buy food. People who are considered “very poor” must spend 80% of all their earned money just to have enough food to eat! You can imagine that a situation like this doesn’t leave much money over for other basic needs or for any luxury items at all. I will not become a teacher until January, but I will be teaching and living in the “north” of the country, where the majority of people (including the poorest people) live. I will be able to give you a good picture of how the local people in my village live and what their schools are like when I get there and settle in.

Alison – thank you for asking about the weather here. It has been hot, hot, hot every day. The good thing is that it is very dry (low humidity), so the temperature (which has been between 80 and 100 degrees F the whole time) feels cooler than it would if the air were very humid, like in Florida or Louisiana. The sun is very strong. Namibia is a very arid country – the climate is desert. It rains very little here, except during what is called “the rainy season.” And guess what – we are in the rainy season now! Yesterday it poured for 10 minutes. The rainy season, typically, consists of a couple of weeks in late November and then for many more weeks in January. There will be enough rainfall that by the end of the rainy season, the landscape will be covered with green grass and plants. But the green color won’t last long and soon the landscape will turn back to beige.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

10/20/04 - from Mr. R

I am glad that some of you have figured out how to post comments here on the website. I'd first like to address some questions that you mentioned in the thank-you letters. First - Warren asked me if I knew of Namibian or African holidays. I haven't yet learned any of this information since we have had lots of other things to learn, but when I hear about the holidays, I will post some information. Also, I don't yet know how many students I will have. I will find this out in 5-6 weeks.

Adi asked me where I will stay, and who I will stay with. For the first eight weeks, I will be training with the other Peace Corps volunteers I am grouped with. We will spend three weeks living with Namibian families during this time, and five weeks living in dorm rooms with my fellow volunteers. After the eight weeks of training, I will move to my permanent post. At my post, I will live either by myself or at the home of a Namibian teacher or perhaps the Namibian principal of the school I will be teaching at.

Ben - I am flying to Namibia tomorrow, and training is going great so far. The other volunteers are a very diverse and interesting group. I know we will be great colleagues and friends.

That's all for now.. Enjoy the rest of your classes.