I have not been able to connect to the internet for several days (almost 10 days actually) while I’ve been in Africa. I just landed in Johannesburg, South Africa and have a long layover here before my flight back to the USA. Alan and I are sitting in an airport lounge where they do have internet! I’ve been writing all week and wanted to share these thoughts and photos about the conference and Africa.
July 9-10 – The trip began with a drive from Lynchburg to Washington Dulles International Airport. We got our boarding passes, cleared security, and made it to the gate with time to spare. I struggled with whether I should pack one large suitcase or two small ones (easier for me to handle in the airport) and, after a lot of thought, decided to go with two small bags. I checked them (for free) with South African Airways but had a lingering feeling I should have packed it all into one big suitcase. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’m on the same flight all the way to Johannesburg (JNB). They won’t lose anything.” We boarded the flight for the 16.5 hour journey to South Africa, there we would make a quick connection to another international flight to Namibia – our final destination.
South African Airways is a pleasant airline. We found the usual pillow and blanket on our seats but we also found a little goody-bag of sorts containing an eye mask, toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste, and a pair of socks for the flight.
With video monitors above our tray tables and a selection of more than 30 movies and television shows, there was the potential of an entertaining flight ahead. Cindy also bought me the new Steinmeyer book about Howard Thurston – THURSTON: The Last Great Magician in the World. I’ve been saving this book specifically for this trip.
Food service started within the first 90 minutes of the flight – chicken, beef, or vegetarian. They ran out of chicken early so we ended up with Italian Meatloaf. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, even for airplane food. After dinner, I watched the LINCOLN LAWYER and RED RIDING HOOD…and then started my Thurston book. Around midnight, I decided to get a little sleep and nodded off-and-on during the remainder of the flight. We landed in Dakar/Senegal Airport around 5:15am local time where some passengers left and others boarded. This is not a big airport and those who were continuing on to JNB were not allowed to get off the plane. We waited and, within an hour, we were back in the air. A second meal – omelet or pancakes– was served on this flight. And before our final arrival in JNB, we were served dinner – a choice of chicken, beef, or vegetarian. We went with the chicken this time…it was interesting (mixed with bananas and rice). We arrived in JNB at 5:20pm – almost 9 hours after our departure from Dakar. With only 60 minutes between flights, we quickly made our way through Transit Immigration, International Transfer, and to the gate for our last flight to Windhoek, Namibia. As we passed through this enormous, modern airport, there were numerous African shops along the way. One was filled with authentic African masks. I snapped this picture…and hope to find one of these in the village of Okahanje as we begin our safari. We boarded the plane and, once again, were served dinner – chicken, beef, or vegetarian. I chose the beef this time – not bad, but I was ready for some “real” food.
We landed early into Windhoek (WDH) – a much smaller airport than even Dakar. We easily cleared immigration and baggage claim was just through the doors. Unfortunately, this is where things turned bad. The smaller of my two bags did not make the connection from JNB to WDH. Good news is the suitcase with all my clothes made it; bad news, the bag with all my toiletries did not. After completing the necessary paperwork, I was assured the bag would be found and delivered the following day.
We cleared customs, were met by our driver, and driven the 45km to the Hotel Safari. Check in went smoothly. The room was comfortable…but there was no heat, not that nigh anyway. And it’s winter here in Africa. And it was cold!
We were in bed by midnight…excited about the busy days ahead of us.
July 11 – The International Association of Special Education conference started today. This would be my fourth education conference (Latvia, Hong Kong, Norway, and Africa) – and, each time, I always learn so much!
It was held on the campus of the University of Namibia. The first morning the Honorable Dr. Abraham Iyambo, the Namibia Minister of Education, treated us to a keynote speech that addressed the commitment of this new democratic republic to providing an education to all its children. I also listened to presentations on effective teaching practices for students with autism, the art of becoming a creative teacher, and a panel presentation on the global challenges of inclusive education. One of the best presentations came from two professors from Northern Arizona University – Involving Every Student in our Classrooms. It was practical, informative, educational, and highly entertaining!
My presentation is tomorrow morning – Hocus Focus: The Use of Magic Tricks for Emotional, Behavioral, and Social Development. I’ve also been asked to conduct a roundtable discussion group to provide more information for those who might not be able to attend the presentation. I’m nervously excited about sharing my research and information…and hoping for a very good turnout.
July 12 – Alan and I were up early to attend the morning keynote speech by two PhDs in the field of special education. They are experts on the subject of “inclusion” – the global term for placing learners with special needs into the general classroom. I realize I’m not an education expert but I’m not completely sure I agree with inclusion in spite of the fact that it’s becoming a global trend. And the research I heard presented at this conference from Spain, South Africa, and the USA supports the idea that teachers do not feel they are adequately prepared to teach inclusive classrooms. So where does that leave education in a time when resources are limited, teachers are overworked, and funding is diminishing?
My presentation was scheduled for 11:45am. As Alan and I started getting set up, people started coming into the room. I was totally excited (and a little nervous) by the huge number of educators at the initial presentation of Hocus Focus. I tried to effectively communicate the information and make it interesting with the help of a few magic tricks. Those who were there told me afterwards they could see how various education theories support these magic-trick-based concepts of learning. After lunch, we walked over to the Main Hall to conduct a second presentation – a roundtable discussion for those who were unable to come in the morning. We had to pull tables together to accommodate the crowd and they were standing 4-5 deep BUT everyone was totally engaged and excited about the concepts of this “magic trick education model” of teaching and learning. In total, we had the privilege of connecting with almost 2/3 of the conference delegates personally and many more through word-of-mouth. It was incredibly exciting and I’m eager to take the next step, whatever that might be!
The evening concluded with the big Gala Dinner Conference Event. Many registrants dressed in their native clothing. Before and after dinner, entertainment was provided by a group of young Namibian dancers. Check out the video!
July 13 – Wednesday was an opportunity to relax and listen to others share their research and information. We went to a great presentation on Social Entrepreneurship, an exciting partnership in Israel that emphasizes learning from those with special needs rather than learning about them. We are now talking about a partnership between us for next year. And we have about 8 other international universities who are also interested in exploring the Hocus Focus education model further.
After lunch, we decided to escape for a while. We spent the afternoon exploring downtown Windhoek and the City Center district. This is not a town built on tourism and while there are some historic sites, a museum, and outdoor markets, it’s a fairly typical downtown district. This is me in front of the Namibian Parliament building.
After dinner, we had tickets to the debut performing of HAPPY BEAT. This is a musical drama described by the director as “Lion King meets Happy Feet.” The 75-minute performance had a cast of over 200, a loosely-connected theme, but some good music and dance. Overall, it was a fun way to spend the evening. When it was finished, we were starving so we went back to the hotel for dinner.
Tomorrow should be an incredible experience. We have been invited to work in one of the public schools with two of the special education classes. It will be a great way to wrap up this conference.
July 14 – Alan and I were up early one more time in order to get ready, eat breakfast, and catch our ride at 8am to one of the Primary Schools in Windhoek. The principal, Ms. Anne Basson, invited me to come and work with two groups of learners who have special needs. Most of these students are not physically impaired or intellectually challenged; however, their needs are “special” nonetheless. Many are classified as OVC or “orphaned and vulnerable children.” HIV/AIDS is a huge problem in Africa and there are thousands and thousands of children who have been orphaned by the death of their parents to this disease. As a result of their emotional and/or physical trauma, many of them require additional support in their education.
Alan and I spent most of the morning at the school. Afterward, Ms. Basson took us back to our hotel. We picked up our rental car from the local AVIS and began the journey to Etosha National Park in northern Namibia (where, hopefully, it will be warmer).
We arrived at the Gateway to Etosha Toshari Lodge around 5pm. We got a slightly later start than we had hoped due to a “traffic incident” involving our rental car. Once the situation was handled, we were on our way by 12:30pm.
The Toshari Lodge is beautiful. Each “room” is a private bungalow nestled in the natural habitat of the region. The main hall reminds me a lot of the Inotawa Lodge in the Rain Forest where I stayed only two weeks ago in Peru, South America. This Main Hall is where breakfast and dinner are served (and included in the price of the lodging). We got settled into our room and walked to the main hall for dinner somewhere around 6:15pm. The menu is a full four-course meal complete with entertainment – the kitchen and wait staff all sing and dance after serving desert!
After dinner, it was back to the bungalow, quick shower, and into bed. There is no television, telephone, cell phone tower, or internet here…but, after an early morning and long day, sleep was a welcomed opportunity.
July 15-16 – The sun light came crashing into the room somewhere around 4:30am – much too early! After battling to try and go back to sleep, I gave up. I climbed out from beneath the covers and the mosquito net to make a run for the shower. The room was freezing (there is no heat in most buildings in Africa) but the shower was hot! Alan was awake when I finished so, after getting dressed, we walked down to the main hall for breakfast.
By 8:30am we were on our way to the Anderson Gate to begin our first day in Etosha. We registered at the Anderson Gate and, before got very far, our drive was halted by a herd of zebras making their way across the main road. The last one passed and we drove toward Okaukuejo, the “official southern entrance” into the Etosha National Park.
We stopped in Okaukuejo to pay the entrance fee into the park for the next two days. We also climbed the main tower to get a view of the thousands of kilometers that comprise the Park (or Etosha as most refer to it). It is an expansive park to say the least! We climbed down the tower and started our search for the best watering holes, places where the animals would be congregating during the dry season.
Once inside the park, there are literally thousands of kilometers to travel on gravel and dirt roads through savannah grasslands, ghost forests, and scrub brush. Animals are everywhere, not just at the watering holes. We spent two days exploring the Park and barely scratched the surface. We did see some amazing things – giraffes, rhinos, oryx, impalas, elephants, zebras, crazy squirrels, bustards, kudu, snakes, wildebeest, ostrich, and lions (just to name a few). Some of the watering holes were packed with animals. Others had already dried up in the heat of the dry season. And still others had only a few animals around including one place where three giraffe made their way to get something to drink. It’s an awesome sight to watch a giraffe struggle just to get some water. They have to get in such a vulnerable position.
July 17 – We were able to sleep in a little later than normal but we were still up and dressed by 8:30am (just in time for breakfast). We also had to do some interior cleaning to the rental car. There is so much fine white dust from the gravel roads that it literally permeated everywhere in the car. Once the car was clean, we loaded up the suitcases and started the drive back to Windhoek.
There are some very interesting highway signs in Namibia…here are a few. This one is to warn you about warthogs crossing the road.
Not completely sure what this one means….
And this one is to warn you about Kudu crossing the road…
We decided to stop in Okahanje to visit the wood market to buy some souvenirs. As we parked the car and started across the street, one of the shop owners approached us and asked us to come visit his tent. When we started to follow him, about 10 other shop owners came running across the street, voices loud and angry, to reprimand him for approaching us. Because it was Sunday, business was very slow and everyone was struggling to get a customer. Rather than get into a quarrel, we turned around and walked back across the street to the little coffee shop and ordered some lunch. After about 45 minutes, we decided to try the market again. This time, we walked far away from those shop guys and started at one end of the market. I knew what I was looking for and, once I found it, we would get out of there.
Many of the shops are filled with the same things – all African arts and crafts from all over the continent. I was searching for something specifically from Namibia, made in Namibia by Namibian people. About the fifth shop, I found what I was looking for. And the shop owner was knowledgeable and easy to talk with. Native Namibian women from Okahandja had carved and painted several masks from teak wood. There were also some animals carved from olive wood. Both of these – teak and olive – are native of Namibia. We actually saw several women walking down the road with bundles of wood on their shoulders…and now we knew what they would do with it. I picked my favorite mask and two small animals – a giraffe and a zebra. With souvenirs in hand, it was time to negotiate the price. Bartering is a way of life here…and it doesn’t just include money. By the time the transaction was over, I had given the shop owner $400 Namibian dollars and the shirt off my back! What a great way to end the adventure!