First Taste of Namibia and Past Entries

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I am jointly surprised and at the same time not at all shocked that it took almost three months of living in Namibia for me to get this blog up and running again.  I honestly forgot that I even had a website from a few years back when I was managing the coffee shop.  Its nice to be able to utilize something that has already been in existence – you all know how much I love recycling and reusing.  Writing has long been an outlet for me to process events and situations that go on around me and has allowed me to consistently keep myself in check when things feel like they are out of my control.  Most of the time, life is out of your control – the important part is to learn to accept that and do what you can with what resources you are given instead of making excuses as to why things would be different “if”.  In some circumstances, you are given the ability to make choices that will lead you to discovering something greater for yourself, like joining the Peace Corps and moving to southern Africa.  Although I always (okay, so since high school) knew that this was a program that I wanted to work for, so many things continued to get in the way of this goal.  It took me a while to realize that all of these roadblocks were self-imposed and that my preconceived notions of the lack of support I would receive only served as added barriers to me simply applying.  In August of 2014, I gave myself permission to let go of those bindings and set off on a pretty difficult but definitive path to where, almost a year later, I reside in Western Namibia working for the CHHAP program and learning Khoekhoegowab – the clicking language.  I started working on a few posts throughout my time in Pre-Service Training that I will begin to upload now that I have regained my memory of this website.  I hope that it is informative and educational while also serving to entertain from time to time – after all, one of the goals of Peace Corps service is to cultivate cultural understanding from both the United States side as well as the Namibian side.  Enjoy!

SHARING OUR CULTURES – “The African Way”

– Okahandja, Namibia

Sunday, April 26, 2015 – Its about the journey, not the destination.. but the destination seems nice right about now.

There’s only so many times a child can ask if they can braid your hair because its “so long and soft and pretty” before you feel compelled to give in and just let them run their fingers, full of saliva and boogers and dirt, through your hair. Its probably good that I have a pretty strict 7-10 day policy on washing my hair and it is a personal philosophy that the dirtier your hair gets, the cleaner it washes out. Needless to say, I don’t think any of my friends were surprised when I told them that I wasn’t worried about being “clean” when I came to Namibia. Lets be serious, y’all.. I think everyone was surprised that I hadn’t dredded my hair before. I’m starting to get more used to the idea.

Its only been two weeks since I was searched (thoroughly) at the Charlotte Douglas Airport for such suspect materials as 50+ batteries, a bag full of zip ties, two rolls of duct tape, a solar charger and two decently sharp pocket knives in my luggage, only to be cleared after swabbing my hands and bags for GSR and bomb residue. Since then, I’ve flown into Philadelphia, had my last bourbon (probably until I get back to the States), went for 72 hours with no sleep, took a 15 hour plane ride to a brand new continent, had a week and a half’s worth of training for something that I never thought I would be capable of doing, ATE A WORM (but really, it looked like a caterpillar and I almost spit it right back out) and figured out that I will be learning Khoekhoegowab. For those of you who are like I was and had no idea what that meant before coming to Africa, let me be the first to tell you what that means – I, ladies and gentlemen, am in the process of learning how to click. Yes, for all of you who made jokes about going to Africa and coming back clicking.. well, you were right. One of the three main pillars of Peace Corps is integrating a cross cultural experience that allows for an exchange between Namibians and Americans, and doing so gracefully and happily. I don’t know about the graceful part, but I sure as hell am putting my all into learning this difficult language, despite the de-motivational looks of astonishment that I get when I tell a native that I am learning KKG. Most of the responses range from “But why would you not learn Afrikaans? Everyone speaks Afrikaans!” to one of my favorite Language and Cultural Coordinators saying “Oh, my dear.. why would you want to learn that language? It is the hardest for Americans, and sometimes Namibians! I am so sorry.” !Gai //goas, y’all.

Monday, April 27, 2015 – How do I say “It takes a village to raise a child” in Khoekhoegowaba?

The Peace Corps staff warned us from the start that you will be laughed at when you try to speak your language – not because you are doing it wrong (mostly.. but honestly, I’m sure that this is the reason some of the time), but mostly because the Namibians are shocked that you are learning a language besides English. This couldn’t be more true. I don’t think I’ve approached someone who I heard speaking KKG without them giving me a look of disbelief, a chuckle, another look of contemplation and them becoming the most willing tutor I’ve ever met. Especially the children here (who all speak at least three languages – and that’s being modest, many of the children in my neighborhood speak five), who are so excited to play the teacher role. They are patient and stern and drill me until my tongue is numb and they are ready for me to chase them around the yard, hopefully without busting my ass on the many rocks that poke up from the sand and dirt. When I get back to my Host Mom’s house in the evenings, there are at least two children at the metal gate within moments of my arrival. I know its hilarious to think about me hanging out with children in the evening, but the even crazier part is that its one of the highlights of my day. Most of the time there are about 8 kids coming and going from my yard and in my house, grabbing snacks and drinking water as we play games and talk about our favorite rappers. Today, two small boys from across the street came over to play with the hoarde that congregated at my house this afternoon, and one of them asked what my favorite color was so that he could bring me flowers tomorrow that matched. Talk about heart melting! This kid is “making 7”, as Namibians like to say, and has the kindest way of speaking, always explaining the rules of our games to the younger children and making sure that I have the best advantages.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 – How do you lose N$150 when all your shit is in one room?

Sometimes it pays to be the only American that someone has actually met in real life, like them asking if you own a Bugatti or Lambourghini. Sometimes it pays to be asked if you hung out with Chris Brown or Trey Songz or Taylor Swift when they find out you are from the U.S… it makes you feel important. And then sometimes it gets you into a new cultural experience when you stick out like a sore thumb (another phrase that has been fun to teach Namibians) and are suddenly on a date with someone that your host Mom set you up with. Especially when it involves three hours of Roman Catholic mass in a hot church with no air conditioning, feeling like you are going to pass out for the first time since your days of blacking out at soccer camp from dehydration. Churches here last for at least 2 hours, in my two weekend experiences so far. Although I’ve never felt closer to a higher power and truly admire the congregation’s loyalty to their African culture, you inevitably find yourself praying for the end much more than you’ve ever prayed in your entire life. Add in your newly found “friend” that your host Mom said would take you to church and you’ve got a recipe for a not so casual Sunday morning (our only days off, by the way). Which leads me to Shabeens, where apparently all church dates must end.

Instead of the typical bar that we would see in the States with four walls, a roof and nice tables and chairs, it is common to see tin shacks put together to create a “Shabeen”, which is sometimes just an empty room in the middle of these pieces of metal. They are all over the place and we were told from the beginning that Peace Corps forbids us from hanging out at them. Our security officer even said (I think jokingly?) that he would be wandering around our local Shabeens to make sure that none of us ended up partaking in the fruits of Namibia’s craft beers, Tafel Budweiser, Castle Budweiser or Windhoek Budweiser. They all taste much like my high school partying days of Bud Light, but every person has their allegiance pledged to one of these brands. Everyone I’ve met has a preference and swears by one of them not giving them hangovers, or being the easiest beer to drink that they can sip on all day. When I ask people where to find a good IPA or Stout, most responses are inquiries on what kind of liquor that is. On a plus side, many people drink Jameson here when it comes to whiskey. Yay for good liquor taste in Namibia! I look forward to hanging out with that old friend again.

One of the many factors of Peace Corps that teaches patience (a lot of it) is that the program reveals your Language Selection and Site Location on a schedule of their choosing. I have no idea where I will be placed after these next two months of training are over, whether my site will be very rural or urban and what my actual job placement will be. Much of what the Peace Corps instills in us as Health Volunteers is that we will be assessing the communities that we integrate ourselves with and helping the community itself decide what resources it needs. It’s a fantastic way to allow our past experiences to guide our main project that we are assigned to as well as our options for side projects, while empowering the community to utilize what it already has and work with its residents. It really incorporates social work at its best and keeps the volunteer from playing too large a part in a program that is not sustainable after the volunteer’s service has ended. Although I look forward to finding out where I will be living for two years, I’m enjoying the slow process that the Peace Corps has set up for us and I appreciate the slow boil of culture shock as opposed to dropping us directly into scalding water.

More to come as the days pass.

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