WorldTeach alumna Elizabeth has some words of wisdom for her pre-WorldTeach self.
Dear Pre-Namibia Elizabeth,
I see you, packing your bags, saying goodbyes, freaking out, and above all, wondering just what this year will bring. Having just lived through it, I thought I would send you off with a few words of advice:
First off, big bugs will dive bomb you while you lay in bed and read by the glowing light of your kindle. Try not to take it personally.
Your first few weeks at site will be your hardest, and you will question everything – your desire to come, you abilities, your ambition, your sanity. Push through. It will get easier and you will find a routine and a life here that you love. You will look back on those first few weeks with a smile when you think of how far you have come.
You can (and you will) survive without electricity and running water for days at a time. Electricity is actually pretty easy to do without – candles light up a room much brighter than you would think. Going without water is tougher, but manageable. And if nothing else, these days without it will make you appreciate just how much you rely on clean, running water for so many things in your life and make you very grateful for having access to this precious resource.
One day, you might wake up and find a sheep tied up in your bathroom. Go about your business – this is a part of life.
You will see things you’ve always dreamed of and do things you thought you were afraid of. Go ahead, surprise yourself.
There will be days when you are so frustrated, when you feel so put upon, that you just want to give up. Don’t. Tomorrow will probably be the best day ever.
When someone offers you some cooked goat meat, take it gratefully (it’s delicious). When someone offers you the head of the goat, respectfully decline.
You will meet new people – other volunteers here with you going through the same struggles, experiencing the same joys. They will commiserate, sympathize, offer advice and congratulations and support. They will understand what you are doing and how you are feeling in ways that few others can. Cherish them – they will become some of your best friends.
You will be overwhelmed by the beauty of this place time and time again. Take it in – a year goes quicker than you think.
Teaching is not everything. Seriously. You are so worried about being a good teacher – about marking and giving tests and engaging the students and figuring out just what the heck to say for forty minutes of class.
But the truth is, you will figure that out. And, in fact, you will get pretty good at it. And you will soon learn that teaching – while very important – is not the most important part of why you are here.
The most important part is movie nights, and making popcorn covered in powdered sugar with a bunch of grade 5s. It’ s teaching Sewa how to knit, Taa how to cross stitch, and the entire upper primary how to play bingo and go fish. It’s talking to your grade 7 girls about why it is okay if they want to do other things – like go to university or get a job – before becoming mothers. It’s talking to your grade 6 boys about how girls deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. It’s dancing like a crazy person because it makes them all laugh. It’s opening the library in the afternoons so the hostel learners have a place to go and things to do. It’s demonstrating how to shut down a computer time and time again. It’s sharpening pencils and passing out crayons and remarking how every picture is so different but how all are so, so beautiful. It’s laughing at jokes and listening to stories and answering questions. It’s saying “no” and setting limits and explaining why not. It’s book reports and cookie parties and stickers, lots and lots of stickers.
The most important part of this whole thing is simply taking the time. To show up, to be there, to be a part. So don’t worry about teaching. That will come. Be there for the kids – that’s what matters.
You will be changed. Not in the way that you think – but maybe in a better way. Embrace it. This year is incredibly challenging and so, so wonderful. You will never regret doing this.
Be brave. Be careful. Be excited.
You’ve so got this,
PS – remember to deeply thank your family, your friends, and your blog-readers for their love, support, and encouragement this year. There is no way you could have done this without them.
– Elizabeth Skurdahl, WorldTeach Namibia 2014
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