September 29, 2010

Not the same immune system I used to know and love…..

I guess it was inevitable -- different continent; new and different viruses.  I caught some sort of bug about 10 days ago that really knocked me for a loop. I haven’t had a GI bug in decades. I had almost forgotten how awful they are. Both the professor and I got sick but he had a much easier time of it than me and luckily didn’t miss any of his classes. I, on the other hand, missed an entire week with the pre-schoolers who learned 5 (five!) new sight words while I was gone last week. The little tykes were just bursting to read their new words to me when I got back to school today.

Over my ten days or so of illness (my immune system really let me down this time), my own children – former preschoolers themselves—were able to rush me a generous stack of Dr. Seuss books to share with the kids. The shiny hardbacks arrived today, so tomorrow when I go back to the preschool, it’s time for:

“I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with a fox.
I will not eat them with a mouse.
I will not eat them in a house.
I will not eat them here or there.
I will not eat them anywhere.
I do not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”

That should bring me up to about the 8,892,780th time I have read this book aloud. But you know how it is with Green Eggs and Ham. I’m probably in for at least another 200 times or more until I help get these kids graduated to Grade 1 in a couple of months.

For all the commotion about no one liking to eat Green Eggs and Ham, there sure is a dedicated following of youngsters who cannot get enough of hearing that no one likes them anywhere, not with a mouse, not on a house, not in a room, not on the moon.....

So tomorrow, at reading time, let the giggling begin!

You all remember how long that takes to stop, right?

Yes, that's right: it never really stops.  It just slows down long enough for a little voice to call out..."Teacher, read it again!" 

September 18, 2010

Teaching reading and in way over my head….

I started volunteering recently at a preschool near Polytechnic. The kids in the school are all 2-6 years old and are divided up into: 2-3 year olds, 3-4 year olds, and 5-6 year olds. The 5 and 6 year olds will be leaving in December to begin first grade in January. In the meantime, their teacher wants them to have additional practice with English. That’s where I come in – helping to polish their English.

English is the official language of Namibia and my understanding is that public school classes are taught in English. I think most pre-school kids hear Afrikaans and/or their indigenous languages in their homes and arrive in first grade without a kindergarten experience and no real exposure to English. That must be why the schools put off reading instruction until 2nd grade.

This particular preschool feels so strongly about giving their students a decided advantage, it teaches solely in English. The kids are hearing English from age 2, and are expected to speak to each other and their teachers only in English. The two dedicated teachers who founded this preschool feel strongly that the kids who pass through their program should be ready to read when they leave the preschool. As it turns out, in the kindergarten class I have, most all know how to print their names and indeed, many can also write their classmates’ names or spell them out loud. They are almost ready to read.

I thought I would be merely helping for my two days a week, but the kindergarten teacher turned over the entire hour and a half instruction section to me for each of my two days a week! This leaves me hustling to try to turn myself into an effective ESL kindergarten teacher. I did some beginning research and found some articles that convincingly advocate mastering specific sight words in kindergarten. By having those sight words memorized, a student should be off to a strong start in first grade and beginning reading. I decided to try the kindergarten Dolch sight word list to see if these kiddos might benefit from this approach to pre-reading.

We worked on ‘and’ last Wednesday. After noting that ‘and’ occurred in the Frog and Toad title I read to them on Wednesday, I wrote out a list of some of their names with ‘and’ between each pair
of names – i.e.:

Frog and Toad
Tom and John
Betty and Joy
Jacob and Michael

Each time we wrote a new pair, we read the entire list aloud from the beginning. After about 6 pairs of names -- each pair joined with an ‘and’-- I asked each of them to choose a book from the shelf and find ‘and’ somewhere in the text. They all found it and were totally thrilled to show me where it was in their book but even more thrilled to hear me tell them they were reading!

Despite my early success,

             I am in way over my head here.

             Any help you might want to offer is most welcome!

Here’s what makes this all worthwhile. The kindergarten teacher told me a story about one of her students who accompanied her parents to the bank to conduct some personal banking business. The parents spoke only Portuguese and no one at the bank spoke Portuguese. So, this little pre-school student successfully translated English into Portuguese and helped her parents conduct their business at the bank.


To make up for the fact that there are no photos to illustrate this post, here’s a peek at the Lemon Meringue the Professor and I shared today over wonderful Mocha Java coffee at Mugg and Bean’s second story patio. It was a great day.

September 14, 2010

Biscochitos Come to Namibia!

New Mexico has its own official state cookie. Not to be outdone, we were the first to have a state cookie; indeed, we may still be the only. Biscochitos and their somewhat unique texture and flavor are so intrinsic to New Mexican cuisine that making them the state cookie had to be the easiest completely non-partisan bill the New Mexican Legislature has ever passed. There are lots of recipes for these cookies, most of them adhering to the traditional lard based dough that is cut into fleur-de-lis shapes for baking.

My recipe is a little richer with butter and brandy to amplify the taste. They are always a favorite so when I volunteered to contribute something for IWAN’s participation at the local Bio Market (think Farmer’s Market) bake sale here, I thought it would be fun to bring a little of New Mexico to Namibia.

Once I located an oven thermometer to tell me what the temps really are in my oven (the dial is hugely incorrect) and found out that everyone uses cake flour here for cookies, I was ready to go.

Improvising turned out to be no problem at all and the recipe cooked up just as reliably as at home.

I packed up the Biscochitos and headed for the Bio Market

where not a single soul bought one!

I take that back. One of my fellow IWAN members thought they were great, and bought about 3 of them (then asked for the recipe!) But save for her generous spirit, no one else wanted to try something other than what they already knew – beautiful cakes and German pastries.

I still maintain they missed out big time but I have learned my lesson.

Next time, I’m baking my Marmorkuchen.

It's German. It's cake. It's traditional.

They’ll like that.

Should you be interested, here’s a  traditional Biscochito recipe

Here’s my recipe if you prefer a richer tasting cookie:

New Mexican Biscochitos

Recipe originally from the Kitchen Shoppe, Albuquerque Coronado Ctr (1970's)

6 cups flour, all-purpose

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound butter (traditionally, you would use lard in the same amount)

1 3/4 cups sugar

1/8 cup anise seed (I usually add more as I like lots of anise flavor)

2 eggs

1/4 cup brandy (or more)

1 Tbs. cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift flour with baking powder and salt.

Cream shortening with sugar and anise seeds.

Beat eggs until light. Add to creamed mixture.

Add brandy to flour mixture and mix until blended.

Use only enough brandy to form a stiff dough.

Roll dough into balls about 1/2 inch in diameter

and press into circles with cookie stamp(or glass bottom)that has been dipped into sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Bake cookies for 10 minutes (or a little longer if necessary) until very

lightly browned on the edges.

Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Store in airtight container.

NOTE: Fully baked cookies keep well for about a week in the freezer.

Can last up to two weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: 108 cookies (9 doz)

You can substitute orange juice for the brandy for a more

traditional taste.

September 13, 2010

Laundry: Moving from the 20th to the 21st century

As you may recall, our flat came with what here in Namibia is called a twin tub washer. Basically, it’s exactly that – an electric washing machine with one tub for washing and rinsing and another tub for spinning water out of clothes. This is early to mid 20th century technology.

The only real problem with the twin tub washer is that it takes an attendant to wash the clothes. It’s a step up from a wringer washer, but you can’t do much else but attend the washer while it works:

1. To begin, you plug in the washer, hook the water inlet hose to your kitchen water faucet and hook the drain hose over the edge of your kitchen sink. You add soap and turn on the water but you can’t stray far because you need to be careful to turn it off when the tub is full.

2. After the tub fills, you dial up the amount of time you want the clothes to wash. That starts the washing process.

3. Once the washing is complete, you turn the machine to drain and wait until it drains through a drain hose into the kitchen sink. Sometimes you need to turn it off midway so it doesn’t overflow the sink, turning it back on after you have let some of the water go down the sink.

4. Once the machine has drained, you transfer clothes from the washing tub to the spinning tub to spin out the sudsy water.

5. Once the spinning completes, you move them back to the washing tub to rinse them. Again the water enters via hose from the faucet and again, you have to remember to turn it off when the tub is full.

6. You dial up the rinsing time to begin the rinse.

7. Once the rinsing is complete, you turn the machine to drain and wait again until it does (see caution at #3 above).

8. After the clothes have drained, you move them to the spinning tub to spin the water out of them.

9. After that spin is finished, you can finally move the clothes to the dryer.

After making several kind requests for a newer washer, we were delighted with the delivery of a brand new LG automatic washer at the beginning of September.

It’s not quite what you’d expect in the states but the important key word here is automatic. You still need to attach water hoses to the hot and cold water inlets each time you use it and the washer still drains through a hose to the kitchen sink, BUT it does all the rest on its own – washing, spinning, rinsing, draining. You need only show up at the start to add detergent, and at the end to move the clothes to the dryer. This one is firmly in the 21st century – fuzzy logic and all.

There is a fuzzy wash cycle setting that supposedly invokes fuzzy logic to ascertain the soil level of the clothes and adjust water level and soap requirements to match. However, since you need to define the water level and soap requirements before the machine starts, it’s all a bit fuzzy. As are the clothes when they leave the washer as the lint filter is a bit primitive.

But all in all, it’s a big improvement. I’m exceedingly partial to this machine not just because it saves tons of work but because it came beautifully monogrammed just for me.

Now if we could just get a 21st century clothes dryer.

September 10, 2010


Of Air

There's a funny phenomenon associated with the haze over Windhoek. There is so much dust in the air these days, lights throughout the city literally twinkle every night, their light reflecting off dust particles – it’s like living in a Disney storybook animation. I keep expecting the most twinkly lights to develop faces and burst into little songs echoing out over the city. As spring has begun in earnest, the winds coming from the desert must fuel this ever present haze of suspended dust.

The haze wasn’t here when we arrived in July. The air was clear most every night and the city lights, a steady yellow. Last night, a windy (and rainless) front came through with high winds from late afternoon all the way through the night. It didn’t blow out the dust, just exchanged it for new dust. However, while it was barreling through, the dust was moving so fast, the lights couldn’t reflect off of it. You can’t tell from this photo, but the lights were still again just for a while.

City lights in Windhoek, September 9, 2010

The haze does suit photographers however as sunrises and sunsets can be stunning.

Sunrise over Windhoek, August 22, 2010
Sunrise over Windhoek, September 8, 2010

Sunset over Polytech, September 5, 2010

Of Earth

We were working on our laptops in late afternoon a couple of days ago. The only sounds in the flat were key clicks and jazz from the iPod. In the midst of our work, there was a short, very muted rumble and the building seemed to shudder a bit. We both looked up and said, “What was that?” The professor speculated that someone dropped a wheel barrow load of ceramic tile on a floor above us where tile is being installed. We didn’t think much of it until the next day when one of the professor’s students remarked that another professor told her there had been an earthquake about 45 miles north of Windhoek.

Of College Professors

Now that daylight saving time is in effect in Namibia, the professor is once again getting up in the 5AM darkness and into the shower before light. The other morning, just as he turned on the light to get into the shower, bees were buzzing around the light fixture adjacent to the shower. He tried to shoo them out of the same window they came in (no screens on any windows here) but there was no diverting them. As there is no second shower in this flat, he had no alternative but to go ahead and shower, bees and all. They ultimately deemed him uninteresting as compared to the light fixture so he was thankfully able to complete a stingless, but apprehension-filled shower. These are African bees after all.

September 09, 2010

Etosha - the last day

After two pretty full days at Etosha, we thought we would kick back a little and take it easy on our final day, maybe just hanging around the waterhole all day at Okaukeujo. We took our time over breakfast and arrived at the waterhole about mid-morning. A maternal elephant group was already drinking when we arrived.

 They were crowded around the inlet where the fresh water emerges, drinking to their heart’s content.

Thrilling for me, they had a baby with them.

I’m no judge of elephant ages, but this little one didn’t look more than a year old. Baby elephants are a favorite of a good friend of mine as they are for my daughter and me, so I took lots of baby photos to satisfy all three of us!

 It was clear this was a beloved baby to her/his family.

The elephants drank their fill and when what appeared to be the mom or grandmother started to leave the waterhole, the baby dutifully followed  immediately right behind her. The baby’s older siblings lingered at the waterhole for a good while longer.

As it turns out, the professor, with what is downright freakish hearing capability, seems to be able to hear some of the elephants’ low frequency communication (at least that’s his story). Once the mom disappeared from sight, the professor said he could hear the communication coming back from her to the group of three youngsters still hanging out at the watering hole. It certainly appeared that was the case because just as he said that, the two eldest of three adolescents started to the bush to follow mom. They turned back and saw the youngest sib still drinking and blowing bubbles so they trotted back to get their sibling in what clearly had to be a “you’d better get moving –you’re going to catch from Mom if you’re not out of here now!’ moment. One more slurp for good measure and all three hightailed it back to the brush to catch up with mom and baby. Recalcitrance in teenagers seems to be universal throughout the animal kingdom.
The waterhole was busy that morning with lots of bok and zebras.

The gemsbok (oryx) enjoy this waterhole because the water is plentiful and the area big

And deep enough to wade in up to your shoulders.

The giant weaver bird nest next to the watering hole pulsed constantly with rapid fire arrivals and departures. A few of the weavers got sidetracked by a discarded cookie they found on the sidewalk.

Carbohydrate loading must be necessary for building those high rises of theirs.  It’s amazing animal engineering.

A single Red billed quelea just watched from a nearby rock.

Once the elephants left and things quieted at the waterhole, we decided to drive out to other nearby waterholes to see what might be there. Turns out it was a quiet day while we were there with not much happening – just some peaceful secretary birds joining a springbok for a drink.

We drove much of the afternoon not really wanting to give up on this vacation.

Watching giraffes approach from far away draws attention to the movement of their necks necessary to balance their gait.

They look pretty small on the horizon but when they finally arrive, they are huge!

If it’s not a great animal watching day, it’s always a good birding day with some 360+ bird varieties known to frequent Etosha. Even I, who has no real talent for seeing birds in their environment, was able to spot some real beauties.

Kalahari robin

Kori bustard
White browed scrub robin

Chestnut backed sparrowlarks
Lilac breasted roller
We circled back to Okaukeujo but found the waterhole empty

except for a single Blacksmith plover edging in for a drink.

As we departed a final waterhole just before the gate, the sun was going down and the ubiquitous haze turned it into a postcard African sunset.

On the way back to the Lodge we saw this gorgeous steenbok at the side of the road. Generous with its time, it posed for any and all who stopped to look at him.

It was deep twilight when we made it back to the Lodge. Our little cabin beckoned us in

and after a quick rest, it was off to our final dinner and entertainment evening.

The next morning, we walked down the path to our last sunny breakfast on the patio.

 We hated to leave but Polytechnic classes were beginning again in two days and the professor had notes to write.

Reluctantly, we turned onto the highway back to Windhoek, stopping only briefly for fuel and a quick photo of the too numerous to count termite mounds that dot the landscape from Windhoek almost all the way to Etosha.

On our arrival home, the guards at the gates greeted us with big smiles and said they hadn’t seen us in a while but now realized we had been to Etosha.

There was no hiding the evidence.