Monday, December 26, 2011

The Family Visits...and on to another vacation!

I realized I desperately need to update this blog when I thought about how I am leaving for another vacation tomorrow and I still haven’t even written about my vacation several months ago when my family came to visit! So here I go....

THE TRIP WITH SCOTT AND MY PARENTS WAS AWESOME! It went too fast, of course, in hindsight, but each day was truly memorable and unique.

I think the most interesting part of the trip was that my family all completely went out of their comfort zones and stayed on my homestead for TWO nights. They met my Nam family, ate traditional food with their hands and slept underneath mosquito nets for the first time in their lives. I guess I forgot how different living on my homestead is from living in a house in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and am not sure I prepared them properly. Although thinking back now, I don’t even know what I could have told them to better prepare them.

My brother, Scott, literally did not speak for the first 24 hours he was here. My dad took videos of me walking around the homestead explaining things and my mom and my brother look so uncomfortable and confused and lost and unsure of what to do with themselves in the background, it's actually pretty funny. For me, my homestead is a magical place where I truly feel at home and which represents how I’ve adapted and adjusted to life here but to them...scary bugs, oppressive heat, chickens and goats running all around, no running water, no electricity, not understanding any Oshiwambo so really not knowing what was going on nor having any control over things. They were really quite the troopers and I am happy they agreed to stay here!

Scott told me this story later which he said was a big deal for him:

I was showing the family around the homestead and explaining something to them when Scott interrupted me.

"Jul...the biggest spider I've ever seen is crawling on the wall right above you."

"Oh yeah, those are really big but they don't hurt you. They only bite holes in your clothes...” Then I continued non-chalantly with whatever else I was explaining.

Scott, who is not a fan of anything creepy-crawly, said he looked at me in that moment and realized his jappy sister was long gone. HAHA!

Nam fam and Am fam in traditional Owambo garb

Forcing my family to do my least favorite homestead chore - washing dishes!

Aside from staying at my homestead, which was very memorable and amazing in its own way, the rest of the trip was awesome as well. We experienced so many amazing things together. We saw a leopard try to stalk and kill warthogs (unsuccessfully unfortunately), saw 4 of the big 5 of Africa’s hardest animals to hunt, spent an afternoon at a traditional Himba homestead, saw all kinds of snakes and lizards buried underneath the sand dunes in the desert outside of Swakopmund, met up with a group of my fellow volunteers for lunch, hiked ON rock engravings that are tens of thousands of years old...THE LIST GOES ON.

Everyday was a new adventure for all of us and it was also very interesting for me to see Namibia as a tourist, which is completely different than how I have been experiencing it for the past year plus. It was so fun to be with my family too. As soon as we reunited and after the hugs and tears, it was like nothing had changed and it was completely normal being around one another. That might have been the craziest part. Even writing this now, I can't believe after all that planning and anticipation, the trip came and went and I'm talking about it in the past tense. WOO! WHAT A WHIRLWIND!

My family and I on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town

A snake emerging from the sand in the dunes outside Swakopmund

Scott and his new Himba friend outside of Opuwo

During one of the more stressful nights at my homestead while my family was here, my little (host) brother, Kabila, decided to add to the chaos. He came to me while I was in the middle of explaining something to my parents and handed me a TINY, ADORABLE and very scared puppy.

“This is for you, Miss Julie,” he said, beaming.

So...I unexpectedly acquired a new pet and carried him around with me for the rest of the night while trying to explain “T.I.A.” to my family amongst many other things. When I returned from holiday a few weeks later, the puppy was BIG! The kids had taken great care of him for me while I was gone. We named him TUYOLENI which means “Let’s Laugh” in Oshiwambo but we mostly call him YOLENI for short. He is a wonderful and very happy new addition to my life. And with the way I worry about him, there is no doubt that I'm going to be a neurotic Jewish parent (Thanks, Mom). After a long day at work, there’s nothing like coming home to a cute little pup, whose tail is wagging so hard it looks like it will fall off because of how excited he is to see me!

Yoleni, my pup!

Another incredibly memorable event that has happened since I last wrote was a multi-cultural Thanksgiving celebration. I traveled to a beautiful town in Northwest Namibia called Opuwo with several volunteers and Namibian friends to cook an epic meal and show our non-American friends what Thanksgiving is all about. Brian, another volunteer, lives there, and his friend offered us his BEAUTIFUL huge house in Opuwo with a nice kitchen, plenty of space inside and a balcony with an amazing view. The meal worked out great and was delicious. FOUR different continents were represented with the guests who were there. We had lots of fun but one of the nicest parts was all going around as a group and saying what we were thankful for. Not so different than my usual Jersey Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house.

Thanksgiving feast in Opuwo

Things at the library are still going pretty well. We are making a lot of small improvements, including developing a more practical version of the library orientation program that was started in June and doing a huge (INCREDIBLY TEDIOUS) stocktaking of all of our materials so that we are better organized and better able to assist our users. We are also planning an official opening ceremony for the library which will tentatively happen in March. I REALLY hope this happens before I leave Namibia. With how far we’ve come, it’s crazy to think that a year ago, the library was not even open yet to the public.

At the beginning of November, I started teaching a 10-week basic computer class in addition to the two-day Internet and e-mail classes. The basic classes take place with the same group of learners for about three hours a day, three days a week and will go until January. Because it’s the first time I’m teaching it, planning for the class and working out the syllabus has been keeping me pretty busy. I've been working on getting this class together for awhile so I’m excited about it and think it’s going pretty well so far. I like being a (computer) teacher. It's fun to see my learners (students) enjoying the activities I come up with for them and it's rewarding to see them actually get excited about what they're learning. I’m looking forward to the second batch of learners who will begin when this class is over in February - there is a huge waitlist for people who want to take the class! I think by then I will be more confident and more prepared which can only mean good things for the class.

Some other things I have been working on outside of the library:

• The second Oshikoto Ministry of Education regional newsletter. For this newsletter, I taught another member of the publicity committee, Helena, some basic design and journalistic skills and she has been putting together this issue while I’m playing more of a supervisory/editor role with the content. She’s doing awesome and the newsletter looks great so far which makes me feel good about it continuing on after I’ve left Namibia.

• I have been working with another volunteer, Shawn, to acquire a large quantity of books to distribute to school libraries where there are Peace Corps volunteer teachers throughout Owamboland. Many volunteers have inquired with me about getting books for their school libraries since I work at a library and went through the whole process with Neil’s donation last year. Shawn originally had the idea of getting a large shipment of books to be split amongst any interested volunteer in our region, but I ended up assisting because of my prior experience. We got a small donation of culturally relevant books and magazines from UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, based in Windhoek. We were also informed recently that in March, we will be receiving a 700-book donation from an organization called Book Aid International which we applied for several months ago! It will be a lot of work to work out the logistics and sort through all of the books when they finally do arrive but Book Aid donates really wonderful quality books that people here can relate to with African authors, themes and characters. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’ll provide us with when that comes through in a few months.

• I was also recently asked to coach part of the regional girls’ soccer team before a tournament which took place last weekend. I’ve been trying to do something with girls’ soccer since last year when one girl who lives in my village expressed interest but starting a team always seemed to fail...Even though I am incredibly unathletic, everything about this was REALLY fun from scheduling the practices to going to the tournament. I’m not sure that there is enough interest for an Omuthiya girls’ soccer team to continue in the future but we did win a soccer ball at the tournament. I’m hoping to start weekly community games with that new acquisition once I return from vacation. We’ll see what happens with that!
At the soccer tournament with two players from Oshikoto region

• Last year I assisted with Camp GLOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World), a leadership camp for exceptional learners from throughout Namibia. This year, I think I’ll have a bit of a bigger role with organizing it. Currently, we’re trying to woo potential Namibian partners (i.e. an NGO, a government ministry, a Namibian business) to help plan, fund and run the camp since we must have a significant amount of Namibian participation in an effort to achieve sustainability and from there, there are A LOT of other details that must be worked out. This year’s camp will take place during the kids’ April school holiday and I really hope everything works out for it.

December in Namibia is very exciting. It’s when the majority of traditional weddings take place here in Owamboland, everyone is in a good mood as they look forward to vacations and prepare for the New Year, and a huge amount of the country’s population comes to Owamboland to visit family. The place is buzzing and I’ve really been enjoying it.

I was at home this year to celebrate Christmas with my host family and it was a WONDERFUL experience. Several of my host parents’ grown children traveled here from the capital of Windhoek and they were truly DELIGHTFUL to talk to and get to know. They are all very well-educated, interesting people with great jobs and perfect English. While the rest of the family went to church on Christmas morning, two of the daughters and I cooked and baked up a storm for an amazing Christmas dinner, which was really memorable - lots of laughing, hapiness and FOOD. In fact, I think I’m still full from the incredible assortment of western and traditional food we ate.

Christmas dinner on my homestead

Now, I’ll leave Omuthiya for a bit to travel and experience other parts of the continent! First, I’m headed down to Cape Town to celebrate New Year’s Eve with lots of other volunteers who will also be there. Then, I will start the trek to visit Swaziland with Rachel, a friend from GWU who now lives in Cape Town, and one of her friends who attended high school there. Swaziland is a tiny country surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique. It has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world (Namibia is #7)! It was only briefly colonized and it is also the only monarchy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Apparently these two things really make a huge difference when you are visiting there vs. other Southern African countries. It is supposed to be very naturally beautiful and culturally rich. We haven’t planned too much and will let her friend guide us but I know we’ve already discussed going on at least one overnight hike which I’m looking forward to. It should be a really unique trip and I'm really excited not only to experience Swaziland but also to travel with Rach! It's always so awesome when we spend time together.

That about sums up what has been happening with me since I last wrote! The next update will include details about the Cape Town/Swaziland trip and the beginning of 2012! When I arrived to Namibia in 2010, 2012 seemed a long ways away. Now it’s here. This is the year I will LEAVE Namibia and that is something that is crazy to think about.