Friday, October 29, 2010

Hobnobbing with the Namibian Politicos (HA!)

Meme & Tate on stage with Madam Pohamba

President Pohamba speaking in Omuthiya

Dinner after President Pohamba's speech


The past few days have been crazy. On Friday night I stayed late at the new library helping a technician set up the tables and computer lab. It was a VERY long day but it’s pretty exciting to see the library finally coming together with my help! Anyway, when I got home Meme & Tate told me I would be going with them to a school inauguration ceremony the next day. I politely explained that I was very tired and just wanted to stay home and organize and clean my new house but they insisted, so I couldn’t really say no. I begrudgingly got up and got dressed the next morning and the three of us climbed into the cab of Tate’s pick-up truck and were on our way.

Well I’m glad they insisted I join them! When we got to the school, it turns out that the Namibian First Lady was there for the ceremony! Because Meme is Omuthiya’s Deputy Mayor and Tate is Ekulo Villages’ Head Man, I personally met and shook hands with the First Lady, Madam Pohamba, and was introduced to her as the new Peace Corps volunteer in Omuthiya. I also got to sit in a room with her as one of maybe 12 people while we waited for the ceremony to begin. During the ceremony, Meme & Tate were up on the stage sitting right next to Madam Pohamba and kept being introduced as “distinguished guests.” The ceremony was LONG, started late, and the microphone system kept losing power, but I enjoyed Madam Pohamba’s speech. When the whole thing was over, we proceeded to a local conference center.

At the conference center, we got a catered lunch with lots of VIPs including the First Lady and the Japanese Ambassador to South Africa. I kept feeling like somebody was going to ask me what I was doing there and tell me to leave, but people could not have been more friendly. Although I didn’t get a chance to chat with Madam Pohamba or Ambassador Sakamoto, I introduced myself to lots of other important community members - teachers, principals, bankers, etc. and was really excited about the day. When I thanked Meme and Tate for bringing me with them their response was, “Of course. You need to get to know how things work around here.” I wanted to hug them - I feel like they truly GET it and I feel SO lucky to have been placed on their homestead.

As if the First Lady wasn’t enough, on Monday, President Pohamba himself was in Omuthiya to inaugurate the new Town Council building. Since my Meme is on town council, she was asked to help cook the food for the post-speech meal, and I was allowed to skip work and go watch his speech. I think Namibia is going to make me a professional waiter. I arrived in town from the village around 11 and the ceremony didn’t start until 3. Although I wish I brought my book, it was pretty exciting just to observe all of the preparations. The crowd was buzzing and almost everyone was wearing the colors of the President’s political party, SWAPO. So I was surrounded by blue, green, and red as everyone speculated excitedly about when Mr. Pohamba would arrive. Unfortunately, since the president is from Owamboland, his speech was entirely in Oshiwambo but the woman next to me was nice enough to offer some translation. He spoke about Omuthiya’s development as a major town and all of the exciting new things that were coming (i.e. a big hospital). He also spoke about how Namibia itself is developing (how everyone has cell phones, how more roads are being built) but also about some of Namibia’s major problems (alcoholism, violent crimes). It was really exciting to see him speak and worth the wait, I’d say.

After the speech, I noticed a man walking around that I had met during the 6-hour church service I attended during site visit. I was pretty proud of myself because I even remembered his name, Mr. Shavute (most definitely spelled wrong). I’m pretty sure he’s also on Town Council but am not completely positive about what he does. He remembered me too and we had a nice chat about my move to Omuthiya and the President’s visit. Well, when I told him it was very nice to see him and tried to say goodbye, he gave me a confused look, and told me to come with him to the post-speech VIP dinner (?!?!?). Well, I was NOT going to say no to that, and Meme & Tate were nowhere to be found, so I went with him. Everyone at the door was pushing trying to get in until Mr. Shavute came through, and they all cleared the way for him. I guess I picked the right guy to chat with. As soon as he was inside, though, the crowd started pushing and shoving to get in, but he called me through, and everyone made way yet again. I have no idea how I joined the Peace Corps and managed to rub shoulders with all of these Namibian politicos, but Mr. Shavute pointed out some of the people who were there: the Mayors of various towns, SWAPO bigwigs, even military hotshots decked out in their uniforms. I’d never even been to a ceremony like this in my four years in DC! One of the coolest parts was that a few people I’d met previously greeted me by name and remembered me. During the first few weeks at site, we’re supposed to be working on integration and introducing ourselves to community members, so it felt great to be in there!

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