Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Settling into life in Namibia

Working in the garden on my homestead!

Lynette and Ajax, two members of my Namibian family

Helping some local politicians google themselves in the library computer lab

One of the most exciting things that happened since I last wrote was Jakob Muleka’s visit. Jakob, a librarian from the head office in Windhoek, came up for two of the most productive weeks of my time here to really get things moving at the library. We’re now operating at full capacity and so much was improved during his visit. This includes:

    • A display table. Right now it has books about Namibian Independence Day which is in March but it will change to a different theme every month. (Thoughts for April? We’re thinking about Earth Day or Global Youth Service Day.)
    • A notice board for community notices. This huge board lets users know what’s going on around the community and also welcomes them to the library.
    • Two audiovisual rooms. Library users can go in there to listen to CDs, the radio, or tapes which we have a small collection of or they can bring their own. The rooms are small and private but it took us a long time to clean all the stuff out that was in them.
    • A TV viewing room. Right now we have the capacity for the local news channel and VHS tapes.
    • A group study room
    • A "Kid's Corner." This is a space in the library designated for kids with games, toys and books appropriate for their age.
    • Lots of posters hanging all over the library
    • A newspaper and magazine rack. It’s now organized and easy to use.
    • Computer lab rules, library rules and other forms. We re-wrote, re-translated and perfected all of these!
    • Promotional fliers, brochures and an orientation presentation
    • A huge donation of books and VHS tapes were processed and placed on the shelves. This donation came from two American missionaries whose kids have now grown up and moved away. Thanks to them!
    • We went and talked to local distributors about getting newspapers delivered daily (we still need to finish dealing with that...).
    • We also met with a local politician to promote the library so he could talk about it amongst community members and he came in to check it out with a ton of other local politicians which was exciting.
    • Cleaning! A huge amount of time was spent going through everything we have here and organizing what could be thrown away or given away. We gave boxes of old newspapers and magazines to the literacy program in Omuthiya and to local schools.

Jakob also wrote a report that will be submitted to all of the library and regional head honchos with recommendations on how the library can continue to improve. I’m hoping this report will turn some heads and the people who are high up on the totem pole will implement some changes that would really benefit the library users (i.e. hiring more staff, changing our operating hours, making the library handicap accessible, etc.).

Now that the library has been open and running at full capacity, people are really starting to stream in. There was one day where we had 173 users in the library at the same time! That was a bit overwhelming since we’re pretty understaffed but at least people are interested in what we have to offer. After seeing all of these people come in to the library, I realized how important that orientation presentation really is. Public and school libraries aren’t readily available or part of the culture in Namibia like they are in the US, and many of the people coming in have never really used a library before. They don’t really know HOW to use everything we have to offer. After finishing translating the orientation presentation into Oshiwambo (we want to make sure EVERYONE who sees the presentation understands it!), we’ve been brainstorming ways to reach people with it most efficiently. Since the majority of people who are coming in are students, we decided we will send out a letter to school principals asking them to schedule a time for their classes to come in and learn about the library. Hopefully, there will be a good response to this. After training the learners (students) with the presentation, hopefully we’ll be able to reach other people in the community, too!

As a response to the fact that we’re pretty understaffed (the library only has one permanent staff member!), I’ve been waiting for permission to implement a community volunteer program. A program like this would definitely be a win-win situation for everyone since the library would get some extra staffing help and community members who may be out of work or school would be involved with a meaningful task and would have the opportunity to better their community while learning useful skills for their futures. I approached one guy who visits the library everyday to ask if he’d be interested. He smiled and said, "When can I start?"

Some other really exciting news is that Horizon Air Freight has agreed to ship all 47 boxes of books that Neil collected pro bono! They will actually be arriving at the airport sometime this week and will be sent via South African Airways to Windhoek. Once there, they will be classified and processed at the head library office and then sent up to Omuthiya. It has been AWESOME to see how many people got involved with the book collection and shipment. Sincere thanks goes out to everyone involved including Neil Klinedinst of course for collecting all of the books, Barb Whitehead at Give 2 the Troops Center in North Carolina, Jim Gerdes at Maersk & Steve Leondis at Horizon Air Freight. You guys all rock! Omuthiya Community Library will soon be much better equipped to serve the community here because of everything YOU did. The staff here and in Windhoek can’t wait until those books arrive!

Another highlight of the past few months was heading down to Windhoek with some other volunteers for the weekend to see UB40 in concert. It was a really good show and so much fun to spend time with my American friends since it’d been awhile since we all were together. It also was AWESOME to go to a concert - which is one of my favorite things to do and something I didn’t think I’d get to do for two years!

At the concert, I started talking to a woman who turned out to be a journalist at one of Namibia’s major newspapers. I told her why I was here and all about the library and she excitedly said that it would make for a great story! She’ll interview both my supervisor and me sometime this week and the library will be featured in the newspaper! Hopefully that national attention will be good promotion. I’m excited to read her article when it comes out and see if anything will happen as a result!

On the way home from the concert, we stopped in Okahandja where the next group of volunteers have arrived and started training. It is SO WEIRD to no longer be the newbie volunteers here and also feels like kind of an accomplishment. It’s kind of fun to think back on how I was feeling when we first arrived here seven months ago. So much has happened since then and it feels like a lifetime ago! While in Okahandja, I got to meet Neil which was pretty surreal. We’ve been corresponding via e-mail about Namibia and the book donation drive since I was in training back in October so our meeting has been a long time coming!

A few weeks after the concert, I attended the Peace Corps gardening workshop. Here, we learned all about different gardening methods to use for community garden projects. The idea of teaching people these gardening methods is to empower people living with HIV & AIDS to show them that they can have control over something. The output of the garden is food (and nutrition is really important for people who are ill) but also income generation. It was a cool workshop and pretty hands on so we were out in the garden everyday digging, making compost and getting dirty! It also didn’t hurt that we stayed in a hotel where all meals were provided and there were hot showers, electricity, a fridge, and a TV. In addition to being an informative and fun workshop, it was like a mini-vacation!

After the workshop, my fellow volunteers Nick, Dan, Lance & Joe travelled back with me to my site in Omuthiya where we wanted to practice what we’d learned and made a garden on my homestead. We got all of the necessary materials at the workshop and planted cabbage, swiss chard, beetroot, green peppers, carrots and tomatoes. I’m pretty psyched for when veggies actually start growing!

A few weeks ago, I came to the library on a Sunday with Lynette and taught her a little bit about the Internet. I’m usually too busy to sit down one-on-one with them while I’m working so it was really nice to sit together and listen to her questions and what she wanted to know. We used Google a little bit and then we set up an e-mail account for her. She started corresponding with Rachel down in South Africa and my mom back in America and was in awe at how far around the world her words could reach. It was cool.

My favorite part of day-to-day life here is spending time and continuing to get to know the kids who live on my homestead, including Lynette, who have become my sister and brothers. Sitting out with all of the kids at night under the stars and around the fire is really awesome. There is ALWAYS a lot of laughter. Recently, I started bringing books home from the library to read with them which I think they enjoy. When they don’t understand a word, they don’t hesitate to ask me what it means, and I think that shows that they’re getting more comfortable with me which makes me feel great!

So things have continued to go well since I last wrote. I’m getting more used to life here and have developed a daily routine which has become normal for me. It isn’t and hasn’t always been easy and I’m definitely not finished adjusting! I’m enjoying continuing to learn a little more about Namibian people, culture, society and my role here everyday.

Some things coming up to look forward to:

This upcoming weekend will be three days long to celebrate Namibian Independence. It also happens to be two volunteers’ birthdays. A bunch of us will head up to Ruacana Waterfalls (right on the border of Angola!) and spend a night camping there and another night on a Namibian friend’s homestead to experience how Namibians celebrate Independence Day (fairly certain a goat slaughter will be involved)! I’m pretty excited for that!

Also, my parents are in the process of planning a vacation to come here sometime in May or June! I CAN’T WAIT! I think all the time about how they would react to things I do everyday (especially Carol) and it’s going to be really fun to see how they ACTUALLY react. We will most likely travel a bit around Southern Africa while they’re here but I’m most excited for them to come, stay on my homestead and see my life here. Scott has also expressed interest in coming separately, maybe in September. I’m lucky to have so many potential visitors!


  1. Ok, Julie I like your blog, hope u are doing well in the north.

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