Izzy Richards: First Term at Otjikondo

So here I am, very nearly 3 months into my gap year, and what a 3 months it has been. It is very easy to say there is never a dull day at Otjikondo.

You never know whether you’re going to be helping a child with a nose bleed, having a nose bleed yourself, hunting down snakes, pulling bits of scenery out of cupboards or improvising a lesson when you’re suddenly told that you actually have all of Grade 1 for an hour and 20 minutes instead of boys for 40 minutes and girls for 40 minutes. It hasn’t been easy; it’s been far from easy, but it’s been so much fun. I love it here and Otjikondo has very quickly become home.

A walk in the park?

It’s difficult to know where to start because so much has happened; maybe I should begin by saying that just because I love it here and wouldn’t change it for the world doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days…

It can become very difficult when you’re struggling with the heat, are very tired, have a very long ‘to do’ list that stretches across all aspects of life, everything on it seems to be due in at exactly the same time, all you want is a simple bowl of pasta but to top it all off the power has gone off.

Becoming ill, whether it’s me or my fellow gap volunteer Skye, is very difficult because one is stuck at home feeling awful whilst the other is trying to cover all the lessons.

Otjikondo feels like home…most of the time

A couple of months ago I had an allergic reaction to something which caused an aggressive rash to come up all over my body. I spent a night at a complete loss of what to do or how to make the itching stop – no number of cold showers or calamine lotion would make it go away. Eventually, I managed to fall asleep watching ‘Gavin and Stacey’ on Skye’s laptop which was great, but didn’t change the fact that I missed home where I knew the doctors, Mum would reassure me that it’ll be fine, and Dad would make some terrible joke in an attempt to cheer me up. Otjikondo, the place that has very quickly become my home, suddenly felt very foreign again.

There have been days where I’ve totally lost my confidence and been filled with self-doubt at my ability to fulfil what I’d been specially chosen to do out here. Sometimes it can take weeks to get back from, but Skye and I make a great duo and are always there to help each other on the bad days.

Highlights of my first term

Having said all that, it’s very easy to tell you that the good definitely outweighs the bad.

I’ve been on multiple class outings: to Etosha with Grade 4, B2 Gold with Grade 6 and to Oenitzaub with Grade 2. Each outing was full of good food and very excited children, but each one was a very different experience.

Camping with Grade 4

Going to Etosha with Grade 4 was only two weeks after I first arrived in Otjikondo, I still didn’t properly know most people, and everything was very new, so to suddenly be whisked away again was quite daunting. I soon found that there was nothing to be afraid of though (except maybe the agitated elephant we came across) and it was a brilliant opportunity to get to know some of the staff and, obviously, all of Grade 4.

We drove around for hours looking at all sorts of amazing animals (unfortunately no lions). We swam. Well, I swam and then carried each Grade 4 from one side of the pool to the other because they couldn’t swim and the pool was beyond their depth. We ate vetkoeks, braaied boerewors and drank a lot of cool drink.

After that camping trip in Etosha I knew I had a firm friend in Willem, the big boys hostel manager, and in Mr Hepute. On top of this, Grade 4, who had been our most troublesome grade, suddenly became much easier to manage.

Leadership Cource with Grade 6

My next opportunity to go on a class outing was much later on, at the beginning of November and was a totally different experience. I was back with the same team of staff, the “Etosha Dream Team” (me, Willem and Mr Hepute), but this time we were heading to B2 Gold with Grade 6.

Contrary to Etosha where we were doing something every minute of every day, we had almost nothing to do here. The whole trip was a leadership course for the Grade 6s, who all had hopes of becoming a prefect in Grade 7 and was entirely organised by the B2 Gold company. This meant that the three staff were left almost all day to sit in the heat, sleep, and watch the watering hole; even though it was a nice break I did wish I was able to join in more with the activities.

The best I could do was join in with the game drive and the tour of the gold mine – it felt very weird not doing any work and I was glad to be back in Otjikondo after two days.

Oenitzaub with Grade 2

Most recently, I went to Oenitzaub with Grade 2. Compared to all the other class outings, it is very close being only a 15 minute tractor ride away and still part of Gilly and Reiner’s farm. So, on a Thursday afternoon a few weeks ago, we were all bundled into a trailer and Willem drove us down the road to Oenitzaub and we set up our tents outside an old house named The Heritage Centre.

Sack race at Otjikondo, Namibia, taken by Izzy Richards

It was an evening full of games and food, a very short sleep, and a morning full of more games. We also got the opportunity to show the children around the building. They were all terrified by the dark, creaking doors and animal skins whilst I was fascinated by the names of all the previous gaps and visitors that have signed all the doors and walls. It was probably the most intense outing I’ve been on, but I really enjoyed it.

Return to Etosha

This report is becoming very long, but I can’t sign off without talking about how much I enjoy life out of work as well. I went back to Etosha after my class outing with Grade 4, this time with Skye, Paula (a German 3 month gap) and Aileen (a senior volunteer who comes annually). We were there for two nights and it was the most amazing time – the food, the swimming, the Savannas, the complete lack of responsibility for any children. Being in Otjikondo really teaches you to appreciate little luxuries as well – we were so excited when we found a shop that sold Magnums.

Open road in Namibia

The end of term 1

We’ve also formed really good relationships with all of the teachers (even Mrs Vermaark who is honestly terrifying) and many of the other staff, particularly Zelda who works in the office and runs the shop and her 3 year old son, Prince. This has led to many a happy night in Otjikondo, whether it be at dancing around a fire with the teachers, at Prince’s birthday party, or enjoying a family braai with Gilly, Reiner, Paul and Sara.

The end of term has been busier than I imagined with the Grade 7 farewell, the Christmas concert, the nativity play, prize giving and Father Christmas coming. The last week of school was extremely intense and was so much fun.

We’re all looking forward to a long holiday. I’ve not really thought about it before now, but I’ve learnt a lot over the last three months. First of all, I’m a lot more capable than I thought I was and have grown so much in confidence. I was so worried at the beginning that I wouldn’t fit in because I’m not naturally a hugely talkative and outgoing person, but I’ve learnt that I don’t need to be to do my job here well.

I’ve also become very good at taking criticism on the chin – it’s quite common to receive criticism for a lot of things here, but I very quickly learned that it’s not because the community don’t think you’re doing a good job. I’ve learned that as long as you can laugh at yourself and have some fun then the children will love you no matter what – it’s not nearly as difficult to get on with people as I thought it would be.

Wrapping up now for Christmas

By the time this (very long) report is up I will be somewhere in the middle of Botswana on our Christmas holidays. In a nutshell I love life here and have learnt that either I was a much stronger person than I thought I was, or I’ve become a lot stronger than I was. It will be am amazing adventure that will also make me realise how quickly Otjikondo has become my home and, by the time it gets to January, I will be so excited to come back to a new year and a new term.

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