“My camera!” Jeannine cried, as she watched in horror as a baboon unzipped her camera case with his human-like hands, presumably looking for food, and tossed her expensive electronic down the hill. We still question how he knew how to use a zipper.
Monday, June 25, 2012
“My camera!” Jeannine cried, as she watched in horror as a baboon unzipped her camera case with his human-like hands, presumably looking for food, and tossed her expensive electronic down the hill. We still question how he knew how to use a zipper.
Monday, December 26, 2011
THE TRIP WITH SCOTT AND MY PARENTS WAS AWESOME! It went too fast, of course, in hindsight, but each day was truly memorable and unique.
I think the most interesting part of the trip was that my family all completely went out of their comfort zones and stayed on my homestead for TWO nights. They met my Nam family, ate traditional food with their hands and slept underneath mosquito nets for the first time in their lives. I guess I forgot how different living on my homestead is from living in a house in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and am not sure I prepared them properly. Although thinking back now, I don’t even know what I could have told them to better prepare them.
My brother, Scott, literally did not speak for the first 24 hours he was here. My dad took videos of me walking around the homestead explaining things and my mom and my brother look so uncomfortable and confused and lost and unsure of what to do with themselves in the background, it's actually pretty funny. For me, my homestead is a magical place where I truly feel at home and which represents how I’ve adapted and adjusted to life here but to them...scary bugs, oppressive heat, chickens and goats running all around, no running water, no electricity, not understanding any Oshiwambo so really not knowing what was going on nor having any control over things. They were really quite the troopers and I am happy they agreed to stay here!
Scott told me this story later which he said was a big deal for him:
I was showing the family around the homestead and explaining something to them when Scott interrupted me.
"Jul...the biggest spider I've ever seen is crawling on the wall right above you."
"Oh yeah, those are really big but they don't hurt you. They only bite holes in your clothes...” Then I continued non-chalantly with whatever else I was explaining.
Scott, who is not a fan of anything creepy-crawly, said he looked at me in that moment and realized his jappy sister was long gone. HAHA!
Aside from staying at my homestead, which was very memorable and amazing in its own way, the rest of the trip was awesome as well. We experienced so many amazing things together. We saw a leopard try to stalk and kill warthogs (unsuccessfully unfortunately), saw 4 of the big 5 of Africa’s hardest animals to hunt, spent an afternoon at a traditional Himba homestead, saw all kinds of snakes and lizards buried underneath the sand dunes in the desert outside of Swakopmund, met up with a group of my fellow volunteers for lunch, hiked ON rock engravings that are tens of thousands of years old...THE LIST GOES ON.
During one of the more stressful nights at my homestead while my family was here, my little (host) brother, Kabila, decided to add to the chaos. He came to me while I was in the middle of explaining something to my parents and handed me a TINY, ADORABLE and very scared puppy.
“This is for you, Miss Julie,” he said, beaming.
So...I unexpectedly acquired a new pet and carried him around with me for the rest of the night while trying to explain “T.I.A.” to my family amongst many other things. When I returned from holiday a few weeks later, the puppy was BIG! The kids had taken great care of him for me while I was gone. We named him TUYOLENI which means “Let’s Laugh” in Oshiwambo but we mostly call him YOLENI for short. He is a wonderful and very happy new addition to my life. And with the way I worry about him, there is no doubt that I'm going to be a neurotic Jewish parent (Thanks, Mom). After a long day at work, there’s nothing like coming home to a cute little pup, whose tail is wagging so hard it looks like it will fall off because of how excited he is to see me!
Another incredibly memorable event that has happened since I last wrote was a multi-cultural Thanksgiving celebration. I traveled to a beautiful town in Northwest Namibia called Opuwo with several volunteers and Namibian friends to cook an epic meal and show our non-American friends what Thanksgiving is all about. Brian, another volunteer, lives there, and his friend offered us his BEAUTIFUL huge house in Opuwo with a nice kitchen, plenty of space inside and a balcony with an amazing view. The meal worked out great and was delicious. FOUR different continents were represented with the guests who were there. We had lots of fun but one of the nicest parts was all going around as a group and saying what we were thankful for. Not so different than my usual Jersey Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house.
Things at the library are still going pretty well. We are making a lot of small improvements, including developing a more practical version of the library orientation program that was started in June and doing a huge (INCREDIBLY TEDIOUS) stocktaking of all of our materials so that we are better organized and better able to assist our users. We are also planning an official opening ceremony for the library which will tentatively happen in March. I REALLY hope this happens before I leave Namibia. With how far we’ve come, it’s crazy to think that a year ago, the library was not even open yet to the public.
At the beginning of November, I started teaching a 10-week basic computer class in addition to the two-day Internet and e-mail classes. The basic classes take place with the same group of learners for about three hours a day, three days a week and will go until January. Because it’s the first time I’m teaching it, planning for the class and working out the syllabus has been keeping me pretty busy. I've been working on getting this class together for awhile so I’m excited about it and think it’s going pretty well so far. I like being a (computer) teacher. It's fun to see my learners (students) enjoying the activities I come up with for them and it's rewarding to see them actually get excited about what they're learning. I’m looking forward to the second batch of learners who will begin when this class is over in February - there is a huge waitlist for people who want to take the class! I think by then I will be more confident and more prepared which can only mean good things for the class.
Some other things I have been working on outside of the library:
• The second Oshikoto Ministry of Education regional newsletter. For this newsletter, I taught another member of the publicity committee, Helena, some basic design and journalistic skills and she has been putting together this issue while I’m playing more of a supervisory/editor role with the content. She’s doing awesome and the newsletter looks great so far which makes me feel good about it continuing on after I’ve left Namibia.
• I have been working with another volunteer, Shawn, to acquire a large quantity of books to distribute to school libraries where there are Peace Corps volunteer teachers throughout Owamboland. Many volunteers have inquired with me about getting books for their school libraries since I work at a library and went through the whole process with Neil’s donation last year. Shawn originally had the idea of getting a large shipment of books to be split amongst any interested volunteer in our region, but I ended up assisting because of my prior experience. We got a small donation of culturally relevant books and magazines from UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, based in Windhoek. We were also informed recently that in March, we will be receiving a 700-book donation from an organization called Book Aid International which we applied for several months ago! It will be a lot of work to work out the logistics and sort through all of the books when they finally do arrive but Book Aid donates really wonderful quality books that people here can relate to with African authors, themes and characters. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’ll provide us with when that comes through in a few months.
• I was also recently asked to coach part of the regional girls’ soccer team before a tournament which took place last weekend. I’ve been trying to do something with girls’ soccer since last year when one girl who lives in my village expressed interest but starting a team always seemed to fail...Even though I am incredibly unathletic, everything about this was REALLY fun from scheduling the practices to going to the tournament. I’m not sure that there is enough interest for an Omuthiya girls’ soccer team to continue in the future but we did win a soccer ball at the tournament. I’m hoping to start weekly community games with that new acquisition once I return from vacation. We’ll see what happens with that!
• Last year I assisted with Camp GLOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World), a leadership camp for exceptional learners from throughout Namibia. This year, I think I’ll have a bit of a bigger role with organizing it. Currently, we’re trying to woo potential Namibian partners (i.e. an NGO, a government ministry, a Namibian business) to help plan, fund and run the camp since we must have a significant amount of Namibian participation in an effort to achieve sustainability and from there, there are A LOT of other details that must be worked out. This year’s camp will take place during the kids’ April school holiday and I really hope everything works out for it.
December in Namibia is very exciting. It’s when the majority of traditional weddings take place here in Owamboland, everyone is in a good mood as they look forward to vacations and prepare for the New Year, and a huge amount of the country’s population comes to Owamboland to visit family. The place is buzzing and I’ve really been enjoying it.
I was at home this year to celebrate Christmas with my host family and it was a WONDERFUL experience. Several of my host parents’ grown children traveled here from the capital of Windhoek and they were truly DELIGHTFUL to talk to and get to know. They are all very well-educated, interesting people with great jobs and perfect English. While the rest of the family went to church on Christmas morning, two of the daughters and I cooked and baked up a storm for an amazing Christmas dinner, which was really memorable - lots of laughing, hapiness and FOOD. In fact, I think I’m still full from the incredible assortment of western and traditional food we ate.
That about sums up what has been happening with me since I last wrote! The next update will include details about the Cape Town/Swaziland trip and the beginning of 2012! When I arrived to Namibia in 2010, 2012 seemed a long ways away. Now it’s here. This is the year I will LEAVE Namibia and that is something that is crazy to think about.
Monday, September 19, 2011
I’ll start with the reason I am here...the library. It continues to operate daily and although there are still many kinks to be worked out, I do think we’re providing some pretty cool services to a lot of different people in and around Omuthiya. In August, we had over 2,000 visitors! That’s a pretty significant increase from the 1,100 that came to use it in July. Most people are coming in to use the computers and the free public Internet, but through a library orientation program that I began at the end of June, I hope more and more people will use the books and reference materials that we also offer.
The orientation program is something that will hopefully continue to improve and grow with the start of the new school term. I’ve been told by many Namibians and have realized through observation that because there is not really a library/reading culture here, it doesn't seem like people who come in really know how to use everything that the library offers. Most users make a b-line for the computers with free Internet and we don't have too many people coming in to study or do their homework or use the books and other resources. So, at the end of June, I decided to get the orientation program which I’d been working on since February off the ground. I made a presentation at a local school’s staff meeting directed at the teachers who are responsible for teaching BIS (Basic Information Science) classes. They were incredibly cooperative, and together we agreed on the details of the library orientation program. During the BIS period, I came to their classes to teach their learners all about the library (Dewey Decimal system, card catalogue, library benefits/resources, etc.). Then, during the school study hours at the end of the day, the teachers brought the kids in to the library for a tour and a scavenger hunt to practice what they had learned and how to find materials in the library...complete with prizes! My supervisor, Ingrid, told me that since I started giving these presentations she noticed that the learners (students) who come in are better behaved and less intimidated by the library so I hope they really are learning something. The classes were put on hold due to end of term exams in August, but after a meeting on Monday with my new colleague, Martha, we discussed how to expand the orientation program not only to the local school but to people throughout the region. We brainstormed a lot of really good ideas and with her help and the backing of the regional office, hopefully we can continue to build a really good program.
Speaking of my new colleagues, five staff that were previously working in Ondangwa started at Omuthiya Community Library on July 4th! Since I came to Omuthiya, the only library staff were me and a library assistant, Maria, which was pretty overwhelming at times. Since I last wrote, Maria took a new job but having all these new people with fresh ideas come has been great for the library. Things are more organized, users are being assisted better, and I have more time to focus on the computer lab and on community programs, like the library orientation program and several other things that we have been working on. I also REALLY like all of my new colleagues. Not only do we work together, but they have also become new friends.
Some of the programs we’ve been able to implement in the past few months include a budgeting class at the library which I worked on with a Peace Corps business volunteer, Dan, and an NGO that focuses on teaching business skills to youth; a weekly storytelling program where we read to little kids; and a weekly movie program. The weekly programs are still struggling to get off the ground but I know they will be wonderful additions to the library once we finally get the hang of them. Additionally, I have been teaching advanced computer classes (about Internet and e-mail) in the downstairs computer lab and more basic computer classes will begin soon upstairs in the new computer lab that I helped to set up. Things are not running completely smoothly yet, but they are improving all the time. If and when I get frustrated with what I consider slow progress or silly roadblocks, I always remind myself that a year ago, none of this stuff was here!
Going to the local school for the BIS classes has been really fun. Since I’m just teaching one class period, I’m definitely not sick of it and don’t experience the frustrations (or all the marking!) that other teachers have to deal with, and the kids all get really excited. I told my mom that I feel like Britney Spears walking into that school. Everyone says hello to me by name with huge smiles on their faces. I’ve gotten to know some of the teachers there and as a result, have been invited to take part in some school activities that have gone on after school hours. I was a judge at the school’s Ms. POP beauty pageant and also at a circuit-wide art exhibition. The winners got to display their art at the library so the library now has paintings, drawings and even a statue displayed from young artists throughout the region.
Other things that have been going on at the library and with work in the past few months:
- We held the first meeting of the regional publicity committee for the Ministry of Education, which I am on with 5 other employees from different divisions and from throughout the region. It’s cool to get to know people outside of Omuthiya and outside of the library and we all work pretty well together. We put out the first edition of our quarterly newsletter at the end of August, which was kind of a fun use of my journalism skills, and we will start working on the next one at the end of this month for publication in December.
- UNESCO conducted a survey throughout Oshikoto region, where Omuthiya is located, to gauge how well the information centers here (including the library) are operating. In July, they called together representatives from the various centers around the region (including me!) to discuss the results and come up with a plan to improve all of the centers’ operations. This was a really good way to brainstorm improvements with other people who have simliar interests and to network with one another. The results still remain to be seen but a skills development center based in Tsumeb (a pretty large and developed town about 170 km south of Omuthiya), listened to our idea about bringing their trainings to the more rural areas i.e. Omuthiya and the surrounding villages. They came last week to meet with some stakeholders in Omuthiya (Ministry of Youth, NGO’s, the library and CLDC, etc.) about how to expand their trainings to our communities. Hopefully something good will happen with that!
- Last week, the Director of Libraries for Namibia came in with the Director of Libraries for Tanzania on an official visit to check out the library and learn about the services we offer. It gave us all an excuse to clean and reorganize the library and it’s looking better than ever. The visit went really well as I think all of the bigwigs were impressed and gave us a lot of accolades to continue to do what we’ve been doing!
Outside of the library, things are still going really well and I’m enjoying living on the homestead with my family more and more as I become more comfortable there. One interesting thing has been watching the seasons change. Obviously, I’ve always been able to do this in the U.S. too but I feel like in the U.S., we’re pretty climate controlled. We get in our cars with AC or heat in the garage, drive to work, park in the parking lot and then sit in our ACed or heated offices all day. Here, I’m walking about 45 minutes to and from work everyday, I’m living on a working farm where the growing seasons completely affect how everyone spends their days and what work is being done, and I think people here just generally spend more time outside.
In addition to the fact that I’m walking to and from work everyday, the village I live in is pretty bush-y and I’m always finding little creatures in my house. A few months ago, I was doing a serious cleaning job when a giant lizard jumped out of a box I was going through. I screamed and my host sister, Lynette, came running with a stick. In her attempt to chase the lizard out of my house with the stick (because I told her NOT to kill it!), she whacked it several times and knocked its tail off. The blows must have been too much for the little guy because it died right in front of us and the tail kept wriggling for a good 15 minutes several feet away from its body. It creeped me out a LOT which my sister thought was HILARIOUS. She said she could tell I didn’t grow up in a village. I guess there are certain things which I’ll never get used to, no matter how long I stay here!
I’ve been able to continue to enjoy lots of cultural stuff including two weddings. The weddings were both lovely, and I feel like I’m a pro now with at least sort of knowing what’s going on at traditional Owambo weddings. One of the couples was a former Peace Corps volunteer, Patrick, who stayed in Omuthiya about 10 years ago and was living in my village and teaching at the school in town. He married an Owambo woman he met during his service which of course meant I got lots of questions about when I was going to settle down with my future Owambo husband. Additionally, about 15 of Patrick’s family and friends came from the states to witness the nuptials. I think his family was a little understandably overwhelmed that they couldn’t communicate with their in-laws and that their son was marrying into a culture that they didn’t understand but it was very interesting talking to them. I imagined how my own family would react in the same situation. It was cool having Americans in my village. I felt proud of it and of myself and was reminded in little ways of what life in America would be like if I had never come here.
Pension day or opezela is another cultural phenomenon that I’ve gotten to experience. This happens once a month when all of the area’s pensioners line up to get photographed and fingerprinted by this crazy high-tech machine that then spits out money at them. Keep in mind that this high-tech machine is brought to a field in the middle of nowhere and used by very traditionally dressed Kukus and Tatekulus (Grandmothers and Grandfathers - the pensioners!). All around these machines, people set up tents to sell lots of good stuff and everyone hangs out and drinks lots of beer and omalovu (traditional beer) and it just becomes a huge party. On the day that I accompanied my host parents to the pension party, they were there to sell lots of good stuff that we produce at home on our farm. This included ondunga (a fruit from the palm tree that’s very tasty but kind of hurts your teeth), enyangwa or pumpkins, potatoes and live doves, which my Meme keeps on our homestead to sell. Before heading back to the library, I made sure to greet all of the people who showed up for the party and fill my belly with iikuki (fatcakes, pretty much just fried balls of dough) and efukwa (these starch-y bean things that are my new obsession. Openzela is so much fun!
A few months ago, some of the girls in my village expressed to me how much they would like to learn how to play soccer, which is a sport mostly played by boys here as there are no girls’ soccer teams in the schools. Even though I am incredibly unathletic, I thought this might be a cool opportunity to get a soccer club started and I approached the principal and the sports teacher at a local school to ask if I could borrow a soccer ball from them for the weekend. Because I have a good relationship with them and they trust me, they agreed. I was SO EXCITED and told the girls that we’d play a pick-up game on Sunday so I could gauge their interest. I noticed the ball was a little bit flat so on my way home, I took it to the local tire shop or Tyre Shop, as its spelled on the sign out front. In hindsight, I should have taken this spelling error as a huge red flag. I asked the man inside if he would blow up the soccer ball for me using a tire air pump and he agreed even though I noticed that the pump looked much larger than the hole on the ball. Sure enough, in attempting to pump more air into it, he made a huge hole in the ball, making it completely unusable! I angrily asked him what I was supposed to do now and he shrugged and grinned at me helplessly. I walked home pretty bummed out until I showed the ball to my little brother, Fillimon. An ever resourceful village kid, he asked me for some newspaper and duct tape and proceeded to crumple up the newspaper, put it in his mouth, and stuff it in the hole which he covered with duct tape. The ball was once again usable! Unfortunately, I still felt like I had to replace the school’s soccer ball and ended up buying them a new, rather expensive one with my meager volunteer stipend. And once Sunday rolled around, none of the village girls even showed up to play. I ended up playing one-on-one soccer for about two hours with my sister, who later told me that the girls in our village said soccer was a boys’ sport and they’d changed their minds. Another lesson in not sweating the small stuff...At least my host siblings now have a soccer ball of their own to play with.
Peace Corps has afforded me the opportunity to do some traveling for work-related stuff lately including a midservice (we’re halfway through!) and all-volunteer conference in Windhoek, a conference for IT volunteers all the way down in Luderitz and Camp GLOW, a leadership camp that I helped with for smart learners from all over Namibia.
The IT conference in Luderitz was definitely the most memorable because of how cool of a place Luderitz is. Luderitz is a VERY remote town on the southwestern coast of Namibia. It’s beautiful with a cool mix of desert, mountain and ocean landscapes and is quirky and charming with lots of character including a small bohemian community and lots of European-esque architecture. As we were driving, there was literally NOTHING around and then all of a sudden this beautiful little modern town emerged from the desert after more than two days of travelling. During one of the days in Luderitz, my friend Matt and I did some sightseeing including to visit an abandoned diamond mining town that the desert is literally taking over called Kolmanskop. These huge mansions were left there and are now filled with sand! It was a very eerie but cool excursion.
On my way back to Windhoek from Luderitz, I stayed at another volunteers’ house overnight since I couldn’t make the journey to Windhoek in one day! There were a few other volunteers also staying there (which often happens at volunteer houses in towns) including a couple who I have met before and am friendly with. We all fell asleep on mattresses in the living room that night and I was awoken at about 3 AM by a poke on my arm. “I’m cold,” said the person who poked me, who I couldn’t see because I didn’t have my glasses on. So, grumpy and confused, I handed this person my blanket and rolled over to go back to sleep. Suddenly, the person got into bed with me and started cuddling me and even went to kiss the back of my neck. Well, now I was certainly awake! I sat straight up and got close enough to the person to realize that it was the male half of the couple who was also staying there. He was HORRIFIED to see that it was me and not his girlfriend, who also happens to have long brown hair, and we both sat there for a moment in the dark looking at each other, equally shocked and appalled. “I’m going to find my girlfriend,” he said. (It turns out she had gone into one of the empty bedrooms to sleep.) And he got up and ran out of the room. HILARIOUS!
It was really nice to get home from those two weeks of traveling, especially to talk to my brother, Sakeus, who had gone on a Peace Corps managed program called Diversity Tour while I was away. On Diversity Tour, orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) from all over Namibia are taken to visit places all around the country, in this case Windhoek, Etosha and Swakopmund (the beach). This is something Sakeus would definitely not have had the opportunity to do otherwise and hearing how excited he was when we got home was really cool. He was raving about swimming in the ocean, how amazed he was by the waves and how scared he was to walk out onto the boardwalk. He also seemed excited to have met new friends from tribes all over Namibia since where we live is very homogenous with the same tribe, Owambos. I got him a disposable camera for the trip and am excited to get those photos developed when I go to Windhoek this week to see the trip through his eyes.
SO this is probably the longest blog I’ve ever written but I think that’s a good sum-up of the events that have happened over the past FOUR months!
I have been in Namibia now for over one year :-) which is very exciting.
Also, Mom, Dad and Scott will be coming to visit in THREE WEEKS! I can’t wait to see them and share my world here with them. It will be so amazing for me to have them see and learn about all of this stuff first-hand!
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Lynette and Sakeus helping out in my garden
A library user enjoying a LeapFrog learning pad, one of many things in Neil's donation.
After spending almost two months away from my homestead, I finally came home last week. Although I really missed Omuthiya, evacuation wasn’t all bad - I got to see and live in a southern Namibian town, Mariental, for a few weeks and got to do a bit of traveling. I took trips to Keetmanshoop, Swakopmund and Okahandja where I got to visit with my host family from training and attend the swearing in of Group 33. It’s so hard to believe that there is already a new group of volunteers beginning their service in Namibia. Didn’t I JUST get here?! Time is definitely a weird concept here, sometimes it goes WAY too slow but other times it seems like it flies by (9 months in Namibia already?!).
One of the evacuation weeks was spent in Windhoek at a two-part workshop for us put on by Peace Corps. The first part was Project, Design & Management (PDM) where we learned about implementing community projects. The second part was Male Engagement (ME), a workshop to discuss gender inequality in Namibia.
For me, the best part of the week was that I got to celebrate my birthday with a lot of my fellow American volunteers. They all made me feel SO special - singing happy birthday to me various times, writing and performing a rap for me and giving me incredibly thoughtful cards and gifts (Jeannine and Allie!), organizing me an AWESOME party, and even arranging for me to have SEVEN birthday cakes (Thanks, Lance!) of which not a CRUMB remained, of course. During the day while we were in one of the training sessions, I wasn’t really paying attention (shocker). Suddenly, I looked up, and the entire conference center was staring at me. Another volunteer, Dorothy, had taken a photo of my during the day and arranged to have it put up on the big screen in front of everyone attending the session. From there, Allie ran over to me with a princess crown and everyone started singing happy birthday. Once I realized what was going on and stopped freaking out as to why everyone was staring, I had a huge smile on my face.
Also on my birthday, I booked a bus for a very impromptu trip to Cape Town four days later. I decided since I had to be evacuated anyway and didn’t yet have permission to return to Omuthiya, I would visit my friend Rachel from GWU. Rachel is getting her Masters’ Degree at the University of Cape Town. Scott refers to her degree as “becoming a superhero” but it’s actually in “Political Studies & Political Science with a focus on international conflict resolution and transitional justice.” Superhero is a bit less of a mouthful yet just as accurate. The trip to visit Rachel was LONG - 18 hours on an overnight bus but when I got there, I could not have been more excited. When Rachel and I get together, regardless of how much time has gone by, we are so comfortable with each other and we pick up right where we left off.
The first week I was in Cape Town, we spent five days camping at Afrika Burn, a festival that’s South Africa’s version of Burning Man. At Afrika Burn, 4,000+ people from all over the world (although mostly South Africa) gathered together and created a temporary community of campsites filled with love, art, music and creativity. There is no money exchanged at Afrika Burn. You bring what you need - A LOT OF WATER...and beer! - and trade for things or gift things to other people and get things gifted to you. Our crew (Rachel, myself and her two friends Chris & Caroline) brought lollipops as our gift to hand out and other burners were incredibly generous with their gifts. One favorite was “Serendipi-TEA,” a tent where you could relax and have tea (hot or cold) and cookies any time of day. Other gifts included crepes, hammocks, alcohol, hugs and music. At Afrika Burn, you are surrounded by other people’s unbelievably creative art installations and the incredible scenery of the Tankwa Karoo desert (middle of nowhere even by Namibian standards). The people you are surrounded by are wearing costumes, face paint, fake eyelashes, or nothing at all and the friendliness and openness is something I’ve never found anywhere else. Afrika Burn was amazing. Both Rachel and I, and I can pretty confidently say everyone else who attended, had a blast.
After Afrika Burn, we returned to Cape Town and I had the week to explore the city before returning to Nam. And what a beautiful, bustling and fantastic city it is! Being in a city and living with a student reminded me a lot of being back in DC at GWU which no longer felt 100% normal. That was a weird revelation but I enjoyed my time in Cape Town regardless. Some highlights:
- Walking around and exploring - Especially the Long Street/downtown area and the waterfront
- INCREDIBLE views from everywhere - Mountains, beaches, forest...you name it, Cape Town has it. Cape Town is built along the bases of three mountains - Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and Devil’s Peak - and is also surrounded by beautiful beaches. Makes for breathtaking views from everywhere at every time of day!
- A sunset hike up Lion’s Head with Rachel - It’s hard to say whether I enjoyed the exercise, the views or the company and conversation the most.
- A coastal drive with two of Rachel’s friends, Caroline & Carilee - BEAUTIFUL!
- SUSHI! - Ate myself sick and it was glorious (although it was no Nagoya...). The abundance of salads, fresh vegetables and bacon egg & cheese on croissant sandwiches was also quite a highlight.
- Wandering around Kirstenbosch - This is Cape Town’s national botanical gardens which showcases Southern Africa’s flora and fauna and is built on a slope of Table Mountain - quite a place.
- Live jazz - For a moment, I regretted quitting the saxophone in 8th grade
- Seeing a movie - Although the movie itself, Rabbit Hole, was kind of depressing, sitting in a movie theater and eating candy ROCKED!
- Robben Island tour - Beautiful views, interesting history, perhaps a bit overpriced...
- Stellenbosch and wine - Our neighboring campsite at Afrika Burn consisted of several wine enthusiasts/winemakers from Stellenbosch (an area outside of Cape Town with lots of vineyards and wineries) who agreed to show me around and set up a wine tasting and tour for me the week after Afrika Burn. This was probably one of the highlights of my trip.
- Biscuit Mill Market - This weekend market in the Woodstock neighborhood was AWESOME. There was every type of fresh food and drink you could imagine, live entertainment, jewelry, flowers, etc. and the atmosphere was incredible. Very, very cool although doesn’t exactly compare to the traditional open market located in Omuthiya (I’m biased).
- Bo-Kaap - Bo-Kaap is an area of Cape Town built on Signal Hill (more awesome views of the city) where a majority of the city’s Muslim population lives. It is known for its cobblestone streets, colorful houses and delicious Cape Malay food all of which I enjoyed very much when I explored the area with Rachel’s friends Carilee and Laura.
- Nightlife - Going out and being a “normal” 23-year-old was thrilling...and really nice.
The trip home took two and a half days (I left Cape Town Sunday morning and arrived to the homestead Tuesday afternoon) but it felt GOOD to be back when I finally did arrive. I got incredibly warm greetings from my entire family, my garden had actual vegetables in it (tomatoes, spinach, peppers, beetroot) and things at the library seemed to have gone really well while I was gone. For one of the first times in this country, I actually felt like I was coming HOME. My house was filthy when I arrived (2 months of no one living inside except spiders, ants and lizards) but my host sister, Lynette, immediately started helping me clean it when I got home, and it was back to normal just a few hours later.
Since arriving back to the library, we’ve had several new additions including a flat screen TV with surround sound speaker system and DVD player, a digital camera and video camera, chairs (we previously had a ton of tables...and very few chairs), furniture for the “Kids’ Korner,” water coolers, a desk for an upstairs reception area, a huge bulletin board for community notices and lockers for people to put their bags in while using the library. There is also now a literacy class taking place several times a week in our group study room upstairs to help Omuthiya residents become literate.
In addition to all this great stuff provided by the regional Ministry of Education, about half of the materials that were donated with Neil’s shipment have arrived. During evacuation, I spent a day in Windhoek helping to organize the other half which are still at the Community Library office in Windhoek being processed. In the meantime, though, the half of the donation that has already made it to Omuthiya is being put to good use. This includes construction paper, pens (which are comparable to crack in Owamboland), scissors, a set of puppets, several videos and several instructional tapes (i.e. a tape set instructing about financial management). Also included in the shipment are a set of LeapFrog Learning Pads, which are an educational toy that helps kids learn how to read interactively. I’ve taken them out to show them to a few kids and they are a HIT. Helena and I will meet sometime this week to discuss how best to utilize the LeapFrogs and other items that were donated. I’m happy that I’ve returned to a place where there is lots for me to do (Let’s hope that continues!). Things at the library continue to improve.
Today, I spoke with my Peace Corps supervisor, who is an Owambo women and has lots of friends who are from the Omuthiya area. She told me that during holiday, she returned to Owamboland from Windhoek, where she lives and got together with her friends. She sat quietly as her friends all raved about the new library that was in Omuthiya, unaware that my supervisor had any involvement with it. She said there’s lots of buzz in the community about everything we offer, especially the computers and free public Internet, and that her friends all spoke about the library very excitedly. This was really awesome to hear, especially because we still haven’t done any official promotion. People in the community are finding out about us solely by word of mouth which means they like what they see when they pay us a visit!
This past weekend was very eventful. After a presentation on Friday to regional Ministry of Education employees about the library’s progress (which went VERY well!), I found out that one of my very good friends and fellow volunteers, Lance, was going back home to America. This was really sad news and a bunch of my fellow Owamboland volunteers and I decided that we’d have a farewell get together for him. We ended up going to a concert (Gazza, one of two of Namibia’s most famous rappers) and all really enjoyed ourselves...except for the fact that three of us were robbed during the show. No one was hurt but I got my digital camera and wallet stolen, Lisa got her cell phone stolen and Jeannine got her cell phone and wallet stolen. These must have been some seriously professional thieves because not one of us realized what had happened until well after the fact.
The next day, we decided to head back to the concert venue, Bennie’s Entertainment Park, to check if anything had been recovered. There, we met the owner of the place, Bennie, who felt horrible that we’d been robbed. It turns out both my wallet and Jeannine’s were recovered, without the money of course but with all of the documents inside, but Bennie still insisted on buying all eight of us breakfast as an apology. At breakfast, we got to talking to him and realized that he is one of Namibia’s most successful businessmen and he has quite an interesting success story. We really hit it off and he ended up offering to take all of us to Etosha game reserve (about 3 hours south...) that day with him and his friends. We saw oryx, wildebeest, giraffe, zebras, springbok, kudu...all out of the window of his iced-out Hummer truck. We were treated not only to park entrance but to an amazing picnic lunch and money for taxi rides home. What a day! Since Etosha, we’ve heard from Bennie several times. He is insisting on paying for what was stolen at the concert including my camera and Lisa and Jeannine’s cell phones. He is an incredible guy. This COULD be the only time in history that anything positive came from a robbery!
So, after two months away, life continues on for me in Omuthiya. The break, although a bit long, was nice. I feel like I’m refreshed and remotivated and ready to get back to work!
Friday, April 1, 2011
A lot of unexpected things have happened since I last wrote so I figured I’d update again!
Independence Day Weekend was a blast. A bunch of my friends and I traveled up to Ruacana Falls, which are waterfalls right on the border of Angola at the Kunene River. We camped there for the three day weekend and celebrated two of my friends’ birthdays.
On the first night, we camped in the backyard of Lance’s principal who really took care of us for the whole weekend and made it all possible - so so nice of him! Well, it rained over night and we all woke up soaking wet and with 2 inches of water in the bottom of our tents - definitely made me think about investing in a better tent! Once we got to the waterfalls, however, the grouchiness of the morning disappeared. This rainy season is one of the rainiest Namibia has ever seen and the falls were flowing in all of their glory. It was truly breathtaking.
That night, we set up our tents again at a campsite right next to the river (despite being repeatedly warned of potential crocodile attacks) and the rest of the weekend was awesome. We somehow avoided another major rainfall although the sky looked threatening at times and explored the area. We got to walk all the way to the bottom of the waterfalls down 300 soaking wet and slippery steps where it felt like it was pouring rain. We commented how if it really WERE pouring rain, we’d complain but because we were at the bottom of these huge and majestic waterfalls, we loved it!
In honor of Namibian Independence Day, we slaughtered a goat which Lance’s principal bought for us. We let Nick, one of the birthday boys, do the slaughtering. I’ve never seen an animal being slaughtered before and it wasn’t too pretty although none of us had any problem eating it later (and it was fresh and delicious!). I think every meat eater should have to witness an animal slaughter like that because most Americans don’t even think about that when biting into a big juicy steak!
During the trip to the waterfalls, I got what I thought was pink eye from sand blowing into my eye. It turns out my cornea was inflamed and by the time I got back from the weekend, my vision was blurry. Peace Corps told me to come down to the eye doctor in the capital of Windhoek, which is about an 8 hour drive from my site in Omuthiya. In Windhoek, I was put up at a really nice hotel for a few days while my eye healed. It’s back to normal now and my vision is pretty much completely better too. When the doctor told me I was free to go back home to Omuthiya, Peace Corps told me I had to stay in Windhoek. Owamboland, which is the northern part of Namibia where I live, was experiencing serious flooding and the other volunteers in the area were all staying at hotels because the flooding had gotten so bad.
After a few days, Peace Corps decided that mostly all of the volunteers who stay up north in Owamboland needed to be evacuated from the area. My site isn’t too badly flooded so everyone in my family, on my homestead and at my library shouldn’t be too badly effected but Peace Corps is taking precautions in case the flooding gets worse. A lot of schools, where most of the northern volunteers work, are closed to keep kids who can’t swim from drowning while trying to get to school. Of course I’m a little bit disappointed to leave my home, my family and to have to put everything I’ve been doing and wanted to do at the library on hold but safety’s first and I trust Peace Corps’ judgement.
So, for now, until further notice, I’ve moved down south, to a town which is a 13 hour drive from my site. I’m living at another volunteer, Debbie’s, house with 3 other volunteers. This house actually happens to be where my friend Megan lived during her Peace Corps service from 2004-2006 - weird coincidence! Debbie is also an IT volunteer so I’m hoping to shadow her and learn some things about maintaining the computer lab at the library while I’m down here. The other volunteers who are here are going to be helping process and organize a shipment of books that the local Teacher’s Resource Center received. I’m not sure how long we’ll be here but it’s also a good opportunity to travel around down here and see the south, which is an area of the country we probably wouldn’t normally get to see. It’s really different down here than it is up north - it seems like there’s a lot more racial tension and there are completely different cultures and languages than there are up north. The adventure continues!
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
One of the most exciting things that happened since I last wrote was Jakob Muleka’s visit. Jakob, a librarian from the head office in Windhoek, came up for two of the most productive weeks of my time here to really get things moving at the library. We’re now operating at full capacity and so much was improved during his visit. This includes:
- A display table. Right now it has books about Namibian Independence Day which is in March but it will change to a different theme every month. (Thoughts for April? We’re thinking about Earth Day or Global Youth Service Day.)
- A notice board for community notices. This huge board lets users know what’s going on around the community and also welcomes them to the library.
- Two audiovisual rooms. Library users can go in there to listen to CDs, the radio, or tapes which we have a small collection of or they can bring their own. The rooms are small and private but it took us a long time to clean all the stuff out that was in them.
- A TV viewing room. Right now we have the capacity for the local news channel and VHS tapes.
- A group study room
- A "Kid's Corner." This is a space in the library designated for kids with games, toys and books appropriate for their age.
- Lots of posters hanging all over the library
- A newspaper and magazine rack. It’s now organized and easy to use.
- Computer lab rules, library rules and other forms. We re-wrote, re-translated and perfected all of these!
- Promotional fliers, brochures and an orientation presentation
- A huge donation of books and VHS tapes were processed and placed on the shelves. This donation came from two American missionaries whose kids have now grown up and moved away. Thanks to them!
- We went and talked to local distributors about getting newspapers delivered daily (we still need to finish dealing with that...).
- We also met with a local politician to promote the library so he could talk about it amongst community members and he came in to check it out with a ton of other local politicians which was exciting.
- Cleaning! A huge amount of time was spent going through everything we have here and organizing what could be thrown away or given away. We gave boxes of old newspapers and magazines to the literacy program in Omuthiya and to local schools.
Jakob also wrote a report that will be submitted to all of the library and regional head honchos with recommendations on how the library can continue to improve. I’m hoping this report will turn some heads and the people who are high up on the totem pole will implement some changes that would really benefit the library users (i.e. hiring more staff, changing our operating hours, making the library handicap accessible, etc.).
Now that the library has been open and running at full capacity, people are really starting to stream in. There was one day where we had 173 users in the library at the same time! That was a bit overwhelming since we’re pretty understaffed but at least people are interested in what we have to offer. After seeing all of these people come in to the library, I realized how important that orientation presentation really is. Public and school libraries aren’t readily available or part of the culture in Namibia like they are in the US, and many of the people coming in have never really used a library before. They don’t really know HOW to use everything we have to offer. After finishing translating the orientation presentation into Oshiwambo (we want to make sure EVERYONE who sees the presentation understands it!), we’ve been brainstorming ways to reach people with it most efficiently. Since the majority of people who are coming in are students, we decided we will send out a letter to school principals asking them to schedule a time for their classes to come in and learn about the library. Hopefully, there will be a good response to this. After training the learners (students) with the presentation, hopefully we’ll be able to reach other people in the community, too!
As a response to the fact that we’re pretty understaffed (the library only has one permanent staff member!), I’ve been waiting for permission to implement a community volunteer program. A program like this would definitely be a win-win situation for everyone since the library would get some extra staffing help and community members who may be out of work or school would be involved with a meaningful task and would have the opportunity to better their community while learning useful skills for their futures. I approached one guy who visits the library everyday to ask if he’d be interested. He smiled and said, "When can I start?"
Some other really exciting news is that Horizon Air Freight has agreed to ship all 47 boxes of books that Neil collected pro bono! They will actually be arriving at the airport sometime this week and will be sent via South African Airways to Windhoek. Once there, they will be classified and processed at the head library office and then sent up to Omuthiya. It has been AWESOME to see how many people got involved with the book collection and shipment. Sincere thanks goes out to everyone involved including Neil Klinedinst of course for collecting all of the books, Barb Whitehead at Give 2 the Troops Center in North Carolina, Jim Gerdes at Maersk & Steve Leondis at Horizon Air Freight. You guys all rock! Omuthiya Community Library will soon be much better equipped to serve the community here because of everything YOU did. The staff here and in Windhoek can’t wait until those books arrive!
Another highlight of the past few months was heading down to Windhoek with some other volunteers for the weekend to see UB40 in concert. It was a really good show and so much fun to spend time with my American friends since it’d been awhile since we all were together. It also was AWESOME to go to a concert - which is one of my favorite things to do and something I didn’t think I’d get to do for two years!
At the concert, I started talking to a woman who turned out to be a journalist at one of Namibia’s major newspapers. I told her why I was here and all about the library and she excitedly said that it would make for a great story! She’ll interview both my supervisor and me sometime this week and the library will be featured in the newspaper! Hopefully that national attention will be good promotion. I’m excited to read her article when it comes out and see if anything will happen as a result!
On the way home from the concert, we stopped in Okahandja where the next group of volunteers have arrived and started training. It is SO WEIRD to no longer be the newbie volunteers here and also feels like kind of an accomplishment. It’s kind of fun to think back on how I was feeling when we first arrived here seven months ago. So much has happened since then and it feels like a lifetime ago! While in Okahandja, I got to meet Neil which was pretty surreal. We’ve been corresponding via e-mail about Namibia and the book donation drive since I was in training back in October so our meeting has been a long time coming!
A few weeks after the concert, I attended the Peace Corps gardening workshop. Here, we learned all about different gardening methods to use for community garden projects. The idea of teaching people these gardening methods is to empower people living with HIV & AIDS to show them that they can have control over something. The output of the garden is food (and nutrition is really important for people who are ill) but also income generation. It was a cool workshop and pretty hands on so we were out in the garden everyday digging, making compost and getting dirty! It also didn’t hurt that we stayed in a hotel where all meals were provided and there were hot showers, electricity, a fridge, and a TV. In addition to being an informative and fun workshop, it was like a mini-vacation!
After the workshop, my fellow volunteers Nick, Dan, Lance & Joe travelled back with me to my site in Omuthiya where we wanted to practice what we’d learned and made a garden on my homestead. We got all of the necessary materials at the workshop and planted cabbage, swiss chard, beetroot, green peppers, carrots and tomatoes. I’m pretty psyched for when veggies actually start growing!
A few weeks ago, I came to the library on a Sunday with Lynette and taught her a little bit about the Internet. I’m usually too busy to sit down one-on-one with them while I’m working so it was really nice to sit together and listen to her questions and what she wanted to know. We used Google a little bit and then we set up an e-mail account for her. She started corresponding with Rachel down in South Africa and my mom back in America and was in awe at how far around the world her words could reach. It was cool.
My favorite part of day-to-day life here is spending time and continuing to get to know the kids who live on my homestead, including Lynette, who have become my sister and brothers. Sitting out with all of the kids at night under the stars and around the fire is really awesome. There is ALWAYS a lot of laughter. Recently, I started bringing books home from the library to read with them which I think they enjoy. When they don’t understand a word, they don’t hesitate to ask me what it means, and I think that shows that they’re getting more comfortable with me which makes me feel great!
So things have continued to go well since I last wrote. I’m getting more used to life here and have developed a daily routine which has become normal for me. It isn’t and hasn’t always been easy and I’m definitely not finished adjusting! I’m enjoying continuing to learn a little more about Namibian people, culture, society and my role here everyday.
Some things coming up to look forward to:
This upcoming weekend will be three days long to celebrate Namibian Independence. It also happens to be two volunteers’ birthdays. A bunch of us will head up to Ruacana Waterfalls (right on the border of Angola!) and spend a night camping there and another night on a Namibian friend’s homestead to experience how Namibians celebrate Independence Day (fairly certain a goat slaughter will be involved)! I’m pretty excited for that!
Also, my parents are in the process of planning a vacation to come here sometime in May or June! I CAN’T WAIT! I think all the time about how they would react to things I do everyday (especially Carol) and it’s going to be really fun to see how they ACTUALLY react. We will most likely travel a bit around Southern Africa while they’re here but I’m most excited for them to come, stay on my homestead and see my life here. Scott has also expressed interest in coming separately, maybe in September. I’m lucky to have so many potential visitors!