We are in the midst of exams again here at Oluvango, but instead of madness it is just kind of boring. That is because instead of being packed into one week the exams have been spread out over almost four. This is much too long, since there are only nine exams, and on many days the learners don't have one, but teachers are not allowed to teach (and the learners wouldn't listen anyway, especially in the classes where the exam has already been taken) so most of the time everyone is just sitting around studying (occasionally) or killing time (much more often). Most learners don't come to school on the days when they don't have exams, and I can't really blame them. The whole thing is a huge waste of time, especially for the learners, who are missing out on a few weeks of instruction that could really help them out. I have to admit, though, that I don't mind that much, because instead of teaching all I have to do is supervise classes and mark exams, which is much easier (if also less interesting) than teaching. All in all, though, I think I would have been happier if they had shaved off one week.
Things aren't all boring here though. Last weekend we went to an Oshikuuki (cake) party in honor of the retirement of the mother of one of Sinead's colleagues, Ms. Okongo. It was a long affair, with lots of speeches in Oshiwambo, but it also turned out to be a lot of fun. We were able to see Ms. Okongo's whole family together, and they are a really nice group of people. Her mother has 11 brothers and sisters, most of whom were there, and they all lined up in order of age and sang a song. Her mother, who is in her mid-nineties, was also there, and looked in fabulous shape. She was standing for a good bit of the party and even sang and danced a little. True to its name the party included an American supermarket style cake, on which they fit an amazing 60 candles, but they also served up some great goat and potato salad, which I was very happy about. I really love traditional food when I have the chance to eat it.
Another, sadder cultural event came last week when the grandfather of my principal died. He was the headman (kind of like a chief) of my village, so he was a very important figure. All of the teachers at my school, as well as Sinead and I, went over the next day for what is called a compassionate visit. We went into the family compound and shook hands with everyone present, which took quite a while. Then we sat in a circle and sang hymns in Oshiwambo for about thirty minutes. After this our group from the school was invited to another part of the compound where we were offered beer, soft drinks, goat meat, and oshifema (millet porridge). I thought it was strange that after someone died the family would feed everyone who visited. A colleauge told me the next day that this was part of the tradition of Owambo hospitality, but now that the death rate is so high it is causing problems because families are running out of money for things like the coffin or supporting orphans. The death rate is rising because of the AIDS epidemic. The headman was a very old man, which is a rarity these days. Most funerals are for young or middle aged people unfortunately.