Friday, October 29, 2010

The ups & downs of the first week at site...


Meme & Ajax hanging on the homestead

Fillemon...milking one of the homestead's many cows

Group 32 at Swearing-In

So we’ve been at our sites for almost a week now and so far, so good. I was SO pleasantly surprised when I got to the homestead this past Saturday. When I was here three weeks ago for site visit, the house was FILTHY. I was prepared to come and clean the place for days. But when I actually arrived, it was relatively clean! No more bird poo on the walls and the bugs’ nests in the rafters had been removed! On top of that, much of the furniture was new (or at least clean!). My supervisor had apparently dispatched a cleaning crew before my arrival. I couldn’t believe it and it was certainly a nice and completely unexpected welcome to my new home.

Unfortunately, one thing that wasn’t working when I arrived was my (gas) refrigerator so I survived on macaroni and potatoes for a few days. WELL, the repairmen who came to fix it decided to come when I was at work, and since I didn’t know they’d be coming, the door was locked and I didn’t leave a key. SO they decided that the best course of action would be to...break into my house!!! Very logical, I know. As a result, the front door to my house wouldn’t close (or lock). When I thanked the repairmen for fixing my refrigerator and inquired about fixing my lock, he told me he was only responsible for the fridge and the door wasn’t his issue. I thought that was a rather interesting perspective. Eventually, someone came (they remain a mystery) and my door now functions normally, but there were a few days there where I was convinced a chicken was going to wander in and I’d get a new roommate...

Our swearing-in ceremony seems like it was forever ago already even though it was actually less than a week! It was awesome though. The best part was getting to sing the songs that we’d been singing every morning at PST as a group although it was bittersweet since it was the last time we’d be singing them all together. After the ceremony, a bunch of us went hiking with lots of celebratory drinks. It was so much fun, and nobody got overly dehydrated or accidentally danced their way off the mountain. It did make the 7-hour ride to site the next day a little rough but we all managed.

Living on the homestead is definitely full of new, constant challenges, and I’m finding that I’m dealing with all of these challenges by laughing at myself A LOT. I have constant visions of being stampeded or head-butted by all of the animals that roam the homestead (goats, cows, donkeys) and everyone who lives there thinks my fears are hilarious. This morning, I woke up early to help Fillemon, a learner on my homestead, milk the cows. By help I mean stand 300 feet away and try not to make eye contact with any of the giant beasts but my reluctance provided an early morning comedy show for everyone. More comic relief: my skin is not reacting too well to constantly sweating (because it is HOT here), and I get questions about “the mosquito bites on my forehead” at least once a day. Everyone wants to know “WHAT HAPPENED?!” to my face (with genuine concern). I guess acne does not exist in Namibia? One of my favorite hilarious moments so far was when I was changing my shirt in front of my 23 year old host sister in Okahandja. She looked at my bare stomach, gasped, and immediately grabbed my love handles. “THIS IS SO NICE!!!!!” she exclaimed as she proceeded to tug on my fat. “YOU WILL LOOK SO NICE IN A SKIRT!!!” That’s not usually the first thing I think when I notice my love handles, but what else can you really do in a situation like that except laugh? No matter how hot it is, or how long it takes for something to get done, or even how badly things are going, the Namibians that I’ve come into contact with seem to all have the “everything will be OK” attitude. As I discovered with my host family in Okahandja, Namibians love to laugh and do it as often as possible at everything they can. That’s one lesson I’m really hoping to take from this whole experience, and so far it’s serving me well!

My walk to work at the CLDC is not going to be easy but I’m thinking (and hoping) that it might become one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s about 4 km (2.5 miles) through thick sand in the blazing sun and as I’ve clocked it so far, takes me about an hour. I did the trek for the second time this morning and it actually wasn’t so bad. I popped on my headphones, blasted some Dr. Dog, and enjoyed the scenery. And since I am surrounded by nothing but muhangu fields, you better believe I will be (and have been) singing, whistling, snapping, and clapping out loud along to my music. It’s kind of nice to have some built in exercise/”me” time in my day where I don’t have to try to figure out something new or struggle to communicate with anyone. I’d love to see myself walking, though. I probably look ridiculous.

I experienced unbelievable Namibian kindness yet again yesterday. I spent the day traveling with a man who works for the Ministry of Education (which is the Ministry that brought me here). I got the chance to check out several different libraries, which was nice since I will be a librarian, and also see some of the fixes he applied to the library computers which is another part of my job description. One of the most exciting parts was that I got to travel further North than I have so far and see a different part of the country. At the end of the day, we realized we were running really late and my ride back to Omuthiya wouldn’t wait so he agreed to bring me ALL THE WAY HOME even though it was about 260 km out of his way (which is 160 miles or so). I had mentioned at some point during the day how I still needed to buy some things for my house that weren’t available in Omuthiya or even Ondangwa so he offered to stop in Oshakati and we went shopping there for AN HOUR. Not only did he wait for me while I got stuff for my house, but he also drove me all the way home, and when I continuously thanked him profusely, his responses were simply, “It’s not a problem” or “My pleasure.” Would that happen if he were American? I’m thinking no....

So after about a week at site, there have been lots of ups and lots of downs, and it’s a little bit overwhelming just because there are so many new things to get used to. Despite the frustrations, I am enjoying learning and laughing at myself. I’m really looking forward to feeling more settled here in Omuthiya and starting some meaningful work.

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