Monday, August 23, 2010

Training Begins!

So....things are going really well so far! We’ve been here for two days now but it feels like we’ve been here forever. We arrived in Okahandja, our site for preservice training, after an over 30 hour travel day. We checked out of the hotel at 2:30 AM in Philly, drove to JFK, waited 6 hours for our flight to Johannesburg which was about 16 hours, waited another few hours for our flight from Johannesburg to Windhoek (which is the capital of Namibia) and then drove an hour and a half on a bus to get to Okahandja. On the way to Okahandja, we saw wild babboons and giraffes along the side of the road which was AWESOME. The scenery was also very beautiful - lots of mountains.

As soon we arrived at the training site, all of our trainers greeted us with traditional Namibian songs. I’ll try to get video of that up here if I can. Over the next two months, these trainers will be teaching us everything from language to cultural sensitivity to safety and security to technical things about our jobs. The living situation here is also really nice. We’re staying at the Namibian National Institute for Educational Development (NIED) compound in hostel-style living. I am sharing a room with another trainee, Jeannine, and there are flushing toilets and showers with hot water and better water pressure than my bathroom at home. The food here is good too and there’s always plenty of it. On Tuesday, we’ll move in with host families for the remainder of the two-month training period but will be coming back to NIED everyday for classes. Living with a host family will be another transition, and we’ll also hopefully be able to practice whatever language we are learning at the same time in training.

The other trainees are all great. There are 45 of us total, a few more women than men, and of all ages (many that just graduated college recently like me but also a few older people who have grown kids my age and people of every age in between). We will all mostly be education volunteers - teaching computers like I will be, English, Science, or Math - but there is another group of business volunteers that are starting the Small Enterprise and Entrepreneurial Development program. This year is the program’s first year so I am REALLY excited to see what they will be doing. It’s so cool that they get to pilot a program. The other trainees are from all over the United States. I’m the only one from New Jersey and the only one who graduated from GWU. It’s really cool to meet so many people from all over the US (Montana, Wisconsin, Alaska, New Mexico to name a few). The one thing that everyone does share, though, is that they are all so so nice. Everyone is so positive, down-to-earth, friendly and just so equally excited about what we’re doing and that makes it incredibly motivational and fun to be around them. I kind of feel like I’m back at Camp Lohikan...but then I look up and see the brightest moon and stars I’ve ever seen, hear the random peacocks walking around the grounds of where we’re staying squawk (they make the weirdest noises!), and remember that the mosquito net I’m sleeping under is there for a reason and not a princess canopy.

Today, we discussed with one of the staff members our potential site placements which will be made definite tomorrow morning, but we won’t find out the actual location until later. I’m not really sure why Peace Corps does this but I have another meeting tomorrow at 8 AM so I’ll ask. Because there are only four ICT (Information and Communications Technology) volunteers total, they told us the four sites we’d be placed at and that if we could decide amongst ourselves, we could have the site we choose. So now, I know a few details about where I’ll be working for my service! The site was actually my second choice since we compromised as a group, but as I’m thinking about it more, I think it should have been my first!!!!

I am going to be living in a homestead! which means I’ll be leaving in a compound with a family. I am THRILLED about the family part. Hopefully, I will truly be exposed and eventually integrated into the culture and will also make some amazing Namibian family members. Dad, I know your dream is to have another foreign family so hopefully you’ll get it! I really hope I get to experience the amazing African hospitality I’ve heard about through the family that I’ll be living with. I am pretty sure that the bathing room and kitchen will be shared but within the compound, I’ll have my own room. I will also have running water and POSSIBLY even electricity. So I’ll at least have water to drink - and apparently the water in Namibia is pretty clean. We had a medical briefing today and the nurse told us that Namibia’s water purification system is one of the best in Africa and that Namibia is generally also one of the healthiest countries in Africa. I figured that could be another birthday present for you, Mom. Anyway, running water doesn’t necessarily mean a flushing toilet or a running shower (here I come bucket showers!) but I feel great about adjusting to that and am SO excited about my living situation.

Also, I’ll be living in a semi-urban area in the North of the country which we were told would be between the size of a village and a town. That means I get the benefits of the hospitality and sense of community I’ve heard about that comes from living in a small village and the benefits (hopefully) of living in a town - like a close-by grocery store. I have a feeling the term “town” isn’t defined like we would define it back in the US.

For my work, I’ll be working at some type of community center (not many details yet) and will be providing computer classes to learners (what students are called in Namibia) and community members. I guess I’ll find out what my students want to learn about and then decide what to teach but the staff made it seem like it’s REALLY basic computer stuff - even how to turn on a computer or use a mouse. I am a bit worried that since the classes won’t be within a school curriculum and mandatory, no one will want to come to them, but the PC staff assured me that there is massive demand for computer classes and I may even have to turn people away. Aside from teaching these classes, I will also be setting up and maintaining libraries and computer labs in schools. I should have more details soon. We will also start learning a language soon and that will give me a hint as to what region I’m in. I wonder if the language will be one with clicks....


  1. ahh this is soo exciting!! I'm so happy ur happy and surrounded by nice people! I keep on wanting to text u and then realize i can't and it makes me sad. I just arrived in ocean city today and we are about to order crabs. I wish u were here with me so bad! The fam says hi and wishes u the best in Namibia! We will all eat a crab for u! Im excited to hear the language u learn when u get back u will probably be soo fluent by then! I can't wait to hear about the family u will be living with! I love u so much and u will be a fabulous teacher! I'm so happy for u and proud of u! I miss and love u soo much!!xoxoxoxooxo

  2. 1. There are so many awesome things that i've read so far, from the diversity of volunteers to your placement site, to your actual job!
    2. Pictures please!
    3. I'm pretty sure we bucket-showered at Lohikan. Oh wait, maybe those were the shaving parties...
    4. I'd like a herero hat
    5. I love you and miss you and love this blog!

  3. Hey Julie, it's Baliat! Have a great time out there and I wish you the best! You're doing great things!

  4. screw computer literacy, make sure to teach your learners all the best places to illegally watch glee and give them something they can actually use: musicals.

  5. I am so glad you posted today! It had been a week since you left and I woke up this AM saying, "I think I should email Julie to see how she is doing!" but this is just as good :) You sound like you are having a great time so far and I'm glad there are other people you can meet and talk to and stuff, can't imagine you not surrounded by sociable people! Goooood luck as you move on with your adventure, keep posting I love hearing about it. One of my cohort's brother is applying to the PC as we speak and I told her all about you and can't wait to share the link to your blog to show her!! Miss you, keep having FUN!!

  6. I LOVED reading about your first couple of days in Namibia. It is so surreal and I can't even begin to imagine all of the things you must be learning already! I really liked your little joke about the mosquito nets :) I hope you got my first e-mail and I start grad school this week so there will be more updates soon! Can't wait to continue to read about all of your adventures while you're in training and what your host family is going to be like. In phonetics we learned about the click languages... while it would be seriously interesting for you to be around it, I'm sorry to say that since you weren't born speaking the language, we learned that chances are you won't be able to distinguish between the different clicks/be able to produce them. BUT how cool would that be!!!!!!!

  7. Oh, the simple things we take for granted! Walking into a bathroom, turning the handle, and having HOT water come out. We are so spoiled with even the simplest of things. Keep the experiences coming so we can all stay connected!