Saturday, October 2, 2010

So THIS is Africa!

Inside the CLDC where I'll be working

Meme & Lynette sorting some beans on the homestead

My future little house on the homestead

One of the homestead's many huts

Yesterday we got back from site visit and I got to spend a few days in Omuthiya, where I’ll be living and working for the next two years starting October 16. The experience started with the bus ride there. We stopped several times so the driver could do errands, listened to the same scratched reggaeton CD the whole ride on repeat, busted and changed a tire, and also picked up a few random people along the way. After about 7 hours of traveling, we finally arrived at Omuthiya Community Learning and Development Center (CLDC) where I was met by my new supervisor, Elizabeth, who could not have been more enthusiastic. She greeted me with a huge hug and kept calling me darling and proceeded to introduce me to the library staff. They thought it was HILARIOUS when I greeted them and introduced myself in Oshindonga but hopefully that means I made a good first impression!

The CLDC, where I’ll be based, is relatively small but seems to be pretty popular and widely used among the community members. At one point during my days there, a few girls were hanging out and playing Scrabble and there was always at least one person there reading or working on the computers (which unfortunately DON’T have internet). As far as I understand it, my primary job responsibility will be to help transfer materials and set up a new library that they’re hoping to open nearby. I think I will also be able to start my own projects, too, after doing a community needs assessment. I’m excited to get there, find out and get started!

The town of Omuthiya itself is a pretty interesting place and kind of an anomaly. It is the capital of Oshikoto region and has several pretty key amenities - bank, gas station, medical clinic, post office, and a hospital that’s being built. Its classification was upgraded from village to town by the government in 2008, but it’s still definitely in the process of developing and is not fully developed yet. The developed part of town is surrounded by villages like the one I’ll be living in, Ekulo, and there are still goats roaming all over the place and an open market in the center of town.

After spending some time at the library, Tate Nakaziko, my host dad, met us to take us to his homestead. As soon as we turned off the main road, a bumpy sand road began and pretty soon we were in the bush surrounded by muhangu (spelling?) fields and termite mounds. It’s hard to believe that a decent sized town is just a few kilometers away. I was amazed when we got to the homestead - it is HUGE and filled with round wooden huts! People were everywhere speaking Oshindonga a mile a minute and working - sorting beans, pounding muhangu (a traditional grain) and tending to the animals. We walked through the soft sand with chickens squawking at our feet until we got to my section of the compound. My little house has four rooms - two bedrooms, a common room, and a kitchen. It needs some serious cleaning and the current bug residents need to vacate but it has lots of potential. I’m PSYCHED to move in and get settled (even if it’s not a hut!).

Nights on the homestead were the most interesting. I definitely have never given a second thought to walking into a room and turning on the lights but wow! It’s definitely an adjustment to not have electricity. What is most amazing is that the work never stops on the homestead, even when the sun goes down. My meme and the rest of the women kept working, even in the dark, until they finished what they needed to for the evening. Although it was a little bit frustrating not having lights, there was also definitely a certain romance to having dinner on the sand by starlight and eating with my hands and then reading by candlelight after dinner. I think I will slowly get used to not having electricity...and will get a lot of reading done!

On Saturday, I hung at the homestead all day and helped sort some beans and pull the seeds out of these little nuts for one of the ingredients for traditional bread, oshikwila (which is delicious!). Sunday was a different story. It was decided that I would go to church with Meme & Tate. Going to church here is a good way to get to know people and make them aware that I’m here and will be working in the community so I was all for going. Well, I should have known this wouldn’t be any normal church service when Tate kept asking me if I had enough water and Meme insisted that I take some oshikwila in my purse. Nobody really explained this to me beforehand, but it turns out we went to a different church than the family normally goes to. There was a collection competition between two towns to see which could raise more money to build a new church. So aside from the normal service, there were several rounds of people dancing up to the front of the church to put money in a basket or give food or promise to give goats, chickens, or cows as part of their donation. This process took SIX hours and the whole thing was in Oshindonga so I really had no idea what was going on. Of course, I did my dancing up to the front to participate too, which was pretty fun. All in all, the whole experience was pretty amusing. At one point during the service, the pastor pointed to me and said something in Oshindonga (as if the whole church wasn’t already staring at me curiously), and I’m still not quite sure what he said. So I survived my first time at African church and it was quite the experience. It paid off, too. On Monday, as my supervisor took me around town, a few people came up to me, introduced themselves, and exclaimed that they had seen me in church on Sunday!

The trip to Omuthiya made it all real for me. I was on my own (without the 44 other Americans) for the first time in the country, and as you go north, the landscape definitely changes and becomes more like stereotypical Africa. After a few days in Omuthiya, I was exhausted and definitely ready to come back to Okahandja. The greeting I got from Ester and Emily made me a little sad because I realized how soon I’ll be moving out of here and leaving them. Of course I’m excited to get started with what will come next but it’s definitely bittersweet to leave my Okahandja family and the rest of the Americans and start all over as I’m just starting to get comfortable here...


  1. Enjoying the updates, keep the coming. Sounds like you are adjusting to life in Africa. The night sky on the homestead must be amazing. The picture of the hut is like the ones we stayed in when we visited the Kruger Park in South Africa. Your little house looks cute. Perhaps next time you can post pictures of the inside.

  2. Julie, my name is Neil and I will be traveling to Namibia in February to work with the Community Health HIV/AIDS program. If you could, shoot me an email at as I would like to ask for some advise in regards to packing, traveling, etc.
    I enjoyed reading through your updates as well as some others.