Stories in the Sand

This is the last of four blog posts by CTTR’s Candi Miller recounting her experiences with the San people in Northeastern Namibia over the summer, and the development of her latest research project.  

For previous installments see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3; and continue to follow Candi’s adventures on her own Research Blog.

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Trrrrr-trrrrr-trrrr’ is the sound an agitated porcupine makes by bristling its quills. My informants were the children of Duin Pos village school who live alongside porcupines, pangolins and much larger wildlife in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Namibia.

As you’ll know from my latest Research blogs, one of my objectives of my recent trip was to do some creative writing with school children. The principal of the Village Schools is the wonderfully named Cwisa Cwi, or |Ui’sa |Ui – linguists keep fiddling with the spelling of Ju|’hoan, which, ancient as it probably is, has only had a written form for about 50 years.

[This orthographic evolution is going to cause me a headache when it comes to writing the next novel in my Koba series – I have a character named Twi, which is how Cwi used to be spelled. Sorry, writer’s digression, but I feel I’m among friends.] 

Cwisa invited me to give a few classes in the more accessible Village Schools. These are tented schools in remote, but nevertheless 2WD-reachable settlements, where children aged 6 –10 are given a basic primary education in their mother-tongue.Many children board at the schools as they live too far away to do a daily walk. (Plus they could encounter elephant and lion, the aforementioned wildlife.) This means they are dependent upon the government’s school feeding scheme, well-intentioned, but in practice, unreliable. The food (chiefly maize meal) is often not delivered in time for the term start, or an insufficient amount is sent so it runs out before the end of the term. When this happens the children have no choice but to leave for their home villages, often sitting at the side of the road for many hours hoping for a lift. Once home, food is likely to be scarce too, given the long-standing drought in the region and consequently the scarcity of bush foods.

It was no surprise at Duin Pos to see the school ‘canteen’, a lone three-legged pot on an unlit fire, deserted.  But the tented classroom was full, pupils ranging from 5 to 16. (I’m assuming that the older boys and girls were ‘drop outs’ from Tsumkwe Secondary school who experienced one or more the issues I’ve described in my blog post: The School Problem.)

I designed a “Story Starter”, an adapted origami fortune-teller that offers Character, Setting and Feeling choices (culturally relevant ones, e.g. Hyena, Bush camp and Feeling hungry) as a hands-on writing prompt.  More about this in the !’o !oahn !’o ||hai  post – suffice to say it helped the group to produce a collaborative story, very short, but original – a first for them, their teacher said.  I called their story  ‘Trrrr Trrrr Trrrr’ as the class came alive when I asked them what sound the main character they’d chosen for the story, viz. a porcupine, makes. (Oral learners, see. )

I’ll upload this story (in English) onto the website called African Storybook. This site is a great resource for teachers, writers and early learners. It features Afro-centric stories in more than 200 African languages. In due course I hope to have ‘Trrr-trrrr-trrr’ translated into Ju|’hoan. Frustratingly, there is little chance of any of the writers seeing their story on the internet: the nearest connection is at the public library in Tsumkwe, where, even if the kids could reach it, the bandwidth is so narrow and in such demand, it’s a major struggle accessing it.

I’m working on a plan to return to Duin Pos to show children their creations on a screen.  It’s a small step, but could be important in igniting a spark in a child who is going to become a writer for her/his people.

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