My last two weeks have been filled with many laughs and loud screaming, sugary-sweet drinks, sponge fights in the pool and arguments at bed time. Assisting with two summer holiday camps at Amani Development Centre near Windhoek has been a fulltime (workaway) job, but a rewarding one. I taught Dannika how to swim, discovered Petris talent for Macrame, distracted Nena and Enyo more than once when they were homesick and got a lot of smiles, hugs and compliments from the children. And while the first week was a relatively easy start with just eight children and five volunteers to keep them busy and watch over them – taking care of 30 children has been chaotic and challenging to say the least. Planning activities, pulling splinters out of tiny hand and feet, keeping track of everyone during walks in the nature, dealing with poo-stained sleeping bags and becoming a team with the other volunteers I learned a thing or two about children, Namibia and myself:
- It’s sad yet funny how religious Namibian children are. “EVERYONE believes in god!” – “No. I don’t.”, shocking looks all around me. The shock was on my side though when I found out even the 14 year old children didn’t “believe” in evolution. And even the pope endorses evolution nowadays. I also learned that rainbows are gods way of showing us he will not flood the world again – when I had always believed it was gods way of showing us he’s queer. Luckily I was not the only one amused by this and all of us volunteers had to hold back our laughter when a 6-year-old proclaimed in a serious voice: “Let’s pray, like we used to do”
- Children are a lot of work. Of course I knew this but I am not sure I realized the full extent of it. How my grandma didn’t go insane with seven children in her home I will probably never know. I really like children and gladly they seem to like me too, but I was still happy when they went back to their parents.
- Childrens abilities to learn languages are insane. Remember when I described how Namibia was as German as socks in sandals? Last week I met about 20 Namibian-German children with cliché names like Walter, Hagen, Kevin, Nena and Alexander and to my surprise their first language really was German. And while it was funny to hear so much German, there were also about 10 other children with either Afrikaans or English as their mother tongue. How do you communicate with so many languages? The answer is in whatever of these three languages you want to communicate, because most of the children speak at least two (if not all three) of these languages. Just a few of the small ones who were still in Kindergarden struggled, but there were six year olds flawlessly switching back and forth between the three languages. Wow.
- Namibian parents have a very different perception of what is dangerous or appropriate for children. When we took down the swings before the childrens arrival because they were “too dangerous” I thought Namibian parents must be over-protective, but then Ben took the children for a ride on the back of his pickup truck and with no seatbelts or even seats and I think my mum would have classified this as more dangerous than a swing. Food and drinks were also something that surprised me, because first thing in the morning the children were each given a cup of coffe. Yes, real coffe, followed up by sweet drinks which probably contained more sugar per glass that a bar of chocolate. No wonder these children had so much energy. What a lot of these (white as milk) children didn’t have though was a hat or suncream, which in Namibia at this time of the year guarantees sunburn. And finally the Namibian parenting style seemed to me a bit like it might have been 50 years ago in Germany: rather strict and not very focussed on feelings, emotions and explanations (e.g. why is something forbidden).
- I might be older than I thought. Lately a lot of things have made me realize that even though according to some I have the face of a 22-year-old and am travelling in a way that is mostly popular with 18-year-old highschool graduates I am in a very different phase and mindset. When caring for the children I couldn’t help but think I was old enough to be the mom of many of those little people and I did not dare to take my eyes off the pool when the small ones were swimming because I was concerned someone might drown (some had just learned how to swim). And while us volunteers got along great, some conversations made me feel even older. When the others (18, 20 and 21) were talking about school memories, mine seemed ancient and it even turned out some of my best friends were the age of their parents. Now, I still don’t think I’m old and I am certainly not complaining, but I am getting more close to 30 than to 20 by both age and mentality. I am glad I can still get along great with people aged 18 but I might have to start dealing with the fact that I am kind of an adult now.
If you would like to read some more about our time at the camp, Joscha also wrote a blogpost from his perspective. Also many thanks to Bastien for letting me use some of his pictures (picture 1, 2, 3 and 5).