Thursday, September 9, 2010

Settling into training...

After being here for almost a month, this is the first time I saw clouds! This picture was taken from my front yard.

Mapone worms cooking...yum?
The only proof that I have that I helped pluck feathers off of the chicken -- notice my hand in the lower left corner!

So I’m starting to settle in more and more to life here during preservice training (PST). Training sessions or other Peace Corps events are 6 days a week and the sessions are from 7:30 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. On some days we have four hours of language which can be a bit much but hopefully it will be worth it when I get to site and - fingers crossed - at least have very, very basic proficiency in Oshindonga. We have all types of other sessions as well. Namibian social workers came in to talk to us about the problems young people are facing. We’ve had sessions about religion in Namibia, male-female relationships here, safety procedures, malaria, and the list goes on and on.

A lot of the sessions are based on the education system or being a teacher here since the majority of our group will be teaching in schools (English, Science & Math). Although these sessions don’t directly relate to what I’ll be doing as an ICT (Information & Communication Technology) volunteer, they are still usually interesting to sit through. Apparently in past PSTs, there wasn’t much specific ICT training, but they’ve really made more of an effort during this training to fix that. Today, for example, me and the other three ICT volunteers visited a school and talked with the teachers responsible for computer classes. Tomorrow we will travel to the capital, Windhoek, to visit the Ministry of Education and talk to a few people there about ICT in schools. Next week, we find out our permanent sites (FINALLY!) so I will have a ton more specific information about my job and my living situtation for the next two years. I CAN’T WAIT!

Aside from all of the lecture sessions, we also get to do some fun cultural stuff, too. Last Saturday, the vans picked us all up bright and early and we went to the local municipal hall (where we’ve been having our sessions) to start cooking. Our language trainers were in charge and each language/tribe had open fire pits set up. My language, Oshiwambo, was the biggest group because the majority of the trainees are learning either Oshindonga or Oshinkwanyama (the two main Oshiwambo languages). We had chicken, traditional porridge, a traditional drink with the same grain used to make the porridge, mopane worms (which I tried and did NOT like), and lots of other dishes. Because I live with an Oshiwambo family, I’ve already been eating a lot of these dishes at home so the coolest part for me was that we got to sample dishes from lots of different tribes within the country (there are a TON, I think we had 6 represented). It is amazing how much diversity there is within Namibia and it was really cool to see our trainers in their element cooking dishes that are so new to us but that they’ve been eating and preparing since childhood. The craziest part of the whole day was killing the chickens we cooked. I helped pluck out the feathers on one - whoa! Some of the other trainees actually killed them (slit their throat, waited for them to die, then cut off their heads! AH!). I don't think I was at that level quite yet and when it came time to eat, I skipped the chicken (even though it was probably way fresher and healthier and less processed than chicken I've eaten in the US!). At some point, we (the American trainees) get to cook AMERICAN food for the trainers. That should be equally as fun, but I doubt we’ll be killing any chickens.

I’m still also really enjoying living with the host family and I think we’re all getting more and more comfortable with each other. I feel pretty comfortable in their house, at least. I hope they feel the same about having me here. One thing that really strikes me is how much I HAVE even though I thought that when packing up for 2+ years, I didn’t bring that much with me. I took my contact lenses out in front of Emily and Isak, for example, without thinking much of it, and they were floored. They’d never seen anything like it before and erupted in hysterical laughter. “PLASTIC IN YOUR EYES!?” Even my pens amazed them. When Emily saw the pack of pens I bought at Target before I left, she was astounded. “These pens are SO NICE! How do you have so many of them!?!” Even all of my colored sharpies were treasure to her. And forget about my laptop, my iPod, my digital camera. It is really hitting me how much STUFF I have and have taken for granted. Despite what they do or don’t have, these kids laugh and smile so easily. They find entertainment in the most minor things and I don’t think ever complain about being bored. Even though I’m often the source of their laughter (especially when I speak Oshindonga -- or at least attempt to), I love how happy they sound. If I could, I would bottle Emily’s laughter with me and take it wherever I go. I’ve never heard anything so genuine.

The area I'm living in is pretty up to date, definitely not the bush, but its probably close to what you might think of when considering an African suburb. The “city” we are living close to, Okahandja, is about as urban as it gets in Namibia, but isn’t really what we might consider a city – it’s really different than New York or DC. The houses in my suburb are modest (although I have a running shower & flushing toilet – YES!) and there are always tons of people and tons of stray dogs walking around the neighborhood. One difference about dogs here and in the US is that Namibians usually own them as guard dogs rather than as pets so we were warned that they may not be the friendliest. I didn’t take that too seriously (I LOVE DOGS!) until I was jogging one morning and suddenly realized I had a teeth-baring, growling dog chasing me. I guess he felt that I was running too close to his yard’s fence and that I seemed like a suspicious character. At that time, we’d had only two of our three necessary rabies shots so my brisk jog turned into a quick sprint all the way to my front door.

When I walk around, people are very curious as there aren’t really many white people in my neighborhood (and definitely no white people with big North Face backpacks and nalgenes). I definitely stick out and people tend to stare. Despite that, greetings are really big here. We spent what I thought was a ridiculous amount of time on greetings and extended greetings in language class but it definitely paid off. When I say hello, it seems to make people very happy – especially if I am using one of the 10 (I think?) languages spoken in Namibia. As long as I smile first, I pretty much always get a huge smile back. It’s a nice feeling.


  1. Sounds like a great experience so far! Glad to hear everything is going so well!

  2. You mentioned you have a digital camera -- does it take videos? Maybe you can post a short one on your blog of Emily laughing!

  3. i got the chills like every few sentences. seems incredible julie, cant wait to keep reading. keep up the amazing attitude!! can you voicenote me Emily's laugh??

  4. sounds great! i love the pictures! i can't believe u plucked a chicken! U! I like peggys idea..that would b awesome to c a video! I can't believe a dog chased u! I wouldn't have made it to the front door! lol. i miss u so much and can't wait to read more! (ps i sent u a package yesterday i really hope u get it! and i wonder what their reactions to the things inside will be) i love u!

  5. Wa la la po meme!

    What's your address? I want to send you some liquid soap. You could try cooking chili with your host family or tacos. Is Linda still running training?