Monday, June 25, 2012

The Burglar Baboon...and Other Adventures

Life in Namibia continues to be random and exciting and adventurous accompanied by a roller coaster of other emotions and adjectives. Example: recently I went to my friend Ryan's village Oshekasheka, which literally means very very far away in Oshiwambo. He had invited friends because his (host) family was throwing a birthday party for him at their traditional homestead which is similar to where I'm living but they have electricity! Omagongo, traditional marula liquor, ondjuhwa yoshiwambo, traditionally prepared DELICIOUS chicken, onyama, meat!, and oshithima, porridge, abounded. We all, Namibians and Americans alike, sat around eating with our hands and drinking from traditional gourds that have been hollowed out to use as cups, chatting and laughing. What's striking about this to me is that I don't even think to tell family and friends about stuff like this anymore because it has become pretty standard. I'm now somewhat used to traditional food, used to the setting that I used to think only came from a national geographic magazine, used to hearing and speaking Oshiwambo and generally accustomed to other little nuances of everyday life here. Sometimes it's hard to remember what life in America was like and even harder to remember that the normalcies of daily life here - hitch hiking, getting stared at because I'm white, "Africa time", African hospitality, ETC. - are not the normalcies of the life I grew up with. Yet at the same time, the birthday celebration, the abundance of food and drinks, the laughing and talking and later...dancing with loved ones..isn't so different from a typical party in the US. So different yet so much the same! Perhaps this is the biggest lesson I’ve learned in Peace Corps thus far.

Washing our hands pre-birthday feast
This week, I’m at a conference in Windhoek for librarians from around the whole country, which has been very interesting and enjoyable for a lot of different reasons. One of those reasons is that I get a full week in a fancy hotel room with hot showers as many times a day as I want and free wireless Internet. Most exciting, though, is the THREE ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET MEALS A DAY! Ice cream at every meal is most people’s idea of heaven, right?
The content of the conference has also re-lit my fire for continuing to improve Omuthiya Community Library. It’s inspiring to be with so many intelligent Namibians who feel palpably passionate about bringing a reading and library culture to this country. I’ve got renewed spirit and ideas to bring back to Omuthiya along with a new librarian, Katrina, who was hired last week. Her enthusiasm is contagious and I think we’ll work very well together. Additionally, Namibia Library and Archives Service (NLAS) announced at this workshop that they’ve hired two new IT technicians, one of which will be based in my area of the country and will be responsible for the kind of ICT work I’ve been doing including teaching computer classes. Though I still have a few more months to go, I do feel like I’ll be leaving the library in good hands. Knock on wood this feeling is correct!
Me with a few learners and their certificates/grades upon completing my computer class!

It kind of does feel like things are coming full circle in a way at the library for other reasons, too. I was glad to witness and help plan the library’s official opening ceremony which took place June 14 & 15.  Although we’ve been open for about a year and a half now, this made it OFFICIAL. We got a fancy plaque and the Governor of the region came to unveil it. We had a whole official ceremony, attended by the Director of NLAS and other “VIPs.” We also held a library showcase where people could come in, walk around and we showed off all our resources. Different staff members ran computer game competitions, reading competitions, showed movies, demonstrated the educational software we have and ran library quiz competitions. I was happy the opening happened while I’m still in the country. It was truly a learning experience to help plan an official Namibian government/Ministry of Education event!

The library's official opening event...and the Governor of Oshikoto region checking out our computer lab. 
Last time I wrote, I was getting ready to embark on a trip to Swaziland but since then, I actually have taken another trip as well...three weeks traveling to Zanzibar! Four friends and I traveled by bus, boat and train all the way across the continent to the little island off the coast of Tanzania. We spent the majority of time traveling and we dubbed the theme of the trip “the journey is the destination!” Every stop we made, every place we stayed, every bus ride we took was a new and exciting adventure.

Allie painting nails out the window as our train made stops on the way to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
In Livingstone, Zambia, we stopped to visit Victoria Falls, the largest waterfalls in the world and an impromptu dance party underneath the waterfalls took place. We “shook our bum bums” (that’s the song we joined in singing with our new Zambian friends), and got soaking wet as the spray from the incredibly powerful waterfalls poured on top of us. It was way better than singing in the rain.
The area around the falls is jungle-like, beautiful with lots of exotic plants, trees and BABOONS!! On the hike back up from the falls, we found ourself surrounded by these eerily human-like creatures. As we hiked up single-file, I heard Jeannine say, “ is behind you...” but I kept walking, unsure of what else to do. Suddenly, I felt a violent tug on the backpack I was carrying. I didn’t have to feel it again before I slipped the straps off my arms and turned around in time to watch a particularly hideous baboon running up the hill next to us, backpack in hand.

“My camera!” Jeannine cried, as she watched in horror as a baboon unzipped her camera case with his human-like hands, presumably looking for food, and tossed her expensive electronic down the hill. We still question how he knew how to use a zipper.
We watched as the baboons opened our bread bag with nimble thumbs, chomped each piece of bread individually and ate our apples like people, holding them in their hands (claws?) and chomping the apple bite by bite.
“My blackberry!” I heard Pissy say as we remained frozen to the hiking trail, staring helplessly at what was happening above us.
That’s when I realized everyone in our group had put all of their money and other valuables in the bag in an attempt to control what would and wouldn’t get wet under the waterfalls. Without that stuff, the trip was over. We would be stuck in Livingstone without money, IDs, credit cards. There would be no journey. And no destination.
Luckily for us, as we stood there dumbfounded, a few Zambian superheroes (a.k.a. regular guys who are used to the baboons), started throwing rocks at the animals and climbed up to get our things back. When we asked them why they weren’t afraid of being attacked, they replied that baboons can smell the difference between men and women. While they will never attempt to dominate, steal from or attack a man, they have no fear when it comes to women. Stupid us were walking around in a group of 5 girls with apples, peanut butter AND bread in our bag. Apparently we were a moving target. 
So yes, we learned a lesson, got our things back and the vacation was saved but...that’s how I got mugged by a baboon.

A terrifying, horrible thief 
The trip had many other adventures and Zanzibar was an absolute paradise. We met and spent time with so many interesting and different people along the way. Crossing the continent, watching the landscape change and buying local food from the people who approached the train everytime we stopped, was incredible. 

Enjoying the wonders of Zanzibar on a tour of the island's spices

Despite that, I think we were all very relieved when we crossed the border from Zambia back into Namibia. In Namibia, we can (sort of) speak the language, (sort of) understand what’s going on around us, (sort of) know where we are and how to get where we need to short, it has become home and the place where we are most comfortable. The warm welcome I received from friends, from my colleagues at the library and most of all from Yoleni and my host family was bittersweet. How am I going to be able to leave this home in just a few months and return to my original home?! Although part of me is ready to go and ready to start the next chapter...another part of me already tears up as I think about leaving.