Reflections and Sunset Musings

The smell of sour plastic burns through the dusty wind and layers of grime that fill the sleepy town with apathy.  Not even the burnt orange of the setting sun falling slowly over the hilltops could shake the pervasive feeling of monotony that seeped out between the rocks and sand that littered the roads.  How could this view ever become routine?  In what other world was this privilege a possibility?  The slapping of sneakers on the gravel and inhaling of oxygen is followed closely by the chortle of laugher from children playing in the dirt and the steady exhale of carbon dioxide.  Monotony would never be an option – wonder and appreciation would always supersede disappointment and frustration, though their presence would eventually become unavoidable.  Pastures and grass with goats and donkeys fly by in the periphery as the moon bursts alive with intensity and splendor, guiding the path back home once again.

Just a little running inspiration and word flow to start.  And here is another installment of past postings for your weekend reading as I contemplate all of the ways I can pull out the speakers from the youth hall that my flat is attached to in order to save myself from another weekend of Prophets with microphones.  Kidding, of course, that would be rude.  But maybe if I just pulled one of the plugs..

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 – Sleeping with a mosquito net is not always easy.

Watercolors could not paint this African sky in a more beautiful way than what I am privileged to see every night and morning (you were right, Aunt Alexa!). The miasma of blues and pinks and oranges bursting together to create the sunrises and sunsets is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The children in my neighborhood are constantly looking at me with confused interest as I climb on top of the cinderblocks in my yard in order to get a better glimpse of the sunset over the mountains in the distance. “It does that every night, Alex… why do you like the sun so much?” Trying to explain to them that we, in America, have very polluted skies and so much light that it blocks our ability to see the sky the way that they do. To them, America is the land of milk and honey that they all hope to be able to see one day. I’m asked quite often if I know Chris Brown personally or if Lil Wayne lives near me and if I like him as a person. I’m also asked if I used to own a Lambhourgini or a Ferrari (which both seem to be the most desired cars here in Namibia.. at least according to the kids I hang out with), because that’s what everyone drives in America.. right?

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Things are different here, that’s for sure. But in most ways, experiences, environments and people are very similar and I often forget where I am. Everything blends together and it has truly seemed like a seamless transition, aside from having money stolen from me already, the drastically huge number of stray dogs that I see on my walk to class every day, the random people stopping me in the street or in my neighborhood asking me where I am from and why I am in Namibia, and of course, the constant fear that I am going to try to speak a brand new language to somebody at the grocery store and be laughed into never going back there again. I kid, but y’all.. if you’ve never been to a foreign country and felt like a hugely, culturally inappropriate minority, I encourage you to give it a shot. It will give you a new appreciation for whomever you meet in the future who is trying their best to integrate into a new culture and is probably terrified of offending everyone – be kind, be patient.

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The KhoeKhoe ladies – there was never a class that went by where we weren’t cracking up at something. Learning this difficult language was only made better by these two being with me.

It is extremely humbling to be here and an absolute honor to get to know some of the Peace Corps Namibian staff here who speak many languages and introduce themselves with apologies about their English, because it was their 3rd language and was not as high on the priority level (pre-Independence, it seems). Many natives in our training town speak not only their tribal dialect (Oshikwanyama, Rukwangali, Silozi, Otjiherrero) and English, which is the main language of this country, but Arfikaans as well since it is still widely spoken by the older generation. Just like in many Spanish cultures back home in the States, many children do the translating for me and are able to act as a third party interpreter between groups of people. It is incredible to watch and gives me such hope for these kids (who I strive to be able to understand one day) that they have a great advantage over people like me, who have to struggle to even learn a second language as an adult.

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There is a festival going on this weekend near my neighborhood where the Herrero tribe will be crowning their newest chief – I’m excited to see this up close.

I’ve made the personal decision to not purchase a cell phone while I am in PST in order to stay focused on learning my language and allowing myself to be more present in my life than I feel when I’ve got technology around me 24/7. This worries many of my fellow PCTs and the staff in terms of security and emergency contact, understandably. After thinking carefully about the pros and cons, I recognized that there are very few times when I am actually alone and I am certainly never in a place where someone doesn’t have a cell phone that I could borrow. It is very common for Namibians to have two phones – one “dumb phone” that is used when they are going out and for basic calling and texting functions, and one “smart phone” that is used at home for Internet purposes and applications. The cell phone coverage here is very different from back in the States – one does not usually buy a plan the same way we would at Verizon or T-Mobile. Instead, a SIM card is purchased for the phone and minutes or data are added as needed in a pay as you go program. It seems to be a better option all around with the lack of a locked in plan, but it seems to be inconvenient when you run out of minutes or texts and have to top up the phone. Very similar to pre-paid phones in the States, I would gather.

Saturday, May 2, 2015 – Worker’s Day and living across from the Herrero Festival

It is now 4:30 a.m. and there is music playing in the living room. My host Mom’s best friend has come in to my room to check on me multiple times to hug me and ask me why I am not partying with them (have I mentioned the lack of privacy, comparatively to a US standpoint?). My host Mom and her friends got home at 2:00 in the morning and had to come knock on my window to let them in because she did not have her key. I have been reminded of being a big sister more than one time since I’ve been here. This weekend is a 4 day holiday for most people (not my host Mom, who is a nurse, and not for Peace Corps Trainees either.. we are still stuck on American time), so there has been a lot of partying and preparations for the weekend this evening. Today is also the coronation of the new Herrero chief, and I happen to be staying in the neighborhood directly across from the field where it is all taking place. Another PCT lives in a house that has people camping right across the dirt road from her yard. It was her birthday today so we went out for a few beers at a German bier garden after our sessions were finished and then her host Mom had us over for a braai (barbeque) to celebrate her and her host brother. I ate part of a goat tongue there and it was absolutely delicious. The head of the goat is served on a platter and the skin, eyeballs and tongue are all eaten. Meat is such a large part of the Namibian diet – I’ve never seen a meal be eaten without pasta, rice or mai-I, which is corn meal that has a consistency of very fine grits, and some sort of //gan-I (meat). Donkey, goat and sheep are very common here, although I have not gotten to eat donkey yet – this surprises people who find out I am learning Damara, as this is one of the staples of their culture. Apparently it is difficult to make without making the whole house smell badly.. Enticing. When I have it for the first time, I intend to describe it in as much detail as possible.

Saturday, May 2, 2015 –Herrero Coronation and Intense Heat

Many times that I am on my own, I am listening to music and processing the day and my thoughts. Tonight is no exception, as I sit under my mosquito net, attempting to not touch the DEET laced fabric, and hearing Michael Buble in my headphones (thanks, Miguel – this ipod has been a saving grace in a place when nothing felt like home). Today was the Herrero Festival where they coronated the new chief for the Herrero Tribe, and we were outside in the African sun from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm. There were speeches made by many important individuals in the tribe and most notably by the new Chief himself, and being the large group of obviously non-Herrero descent, we got a front row seat on a red carpet in front of the microphone. The African sun is absolutely gorgeous, but seriously harsh on the skin – almost all of us left with some type of sunburn today from sitting outside for hours on end. We came back to my host Mom’s house afterwards and grabbed beers down the street from my neighborhood to bring back. It was a great chance for all of us to let loose and talk openly where we are unable to during class Monday through Saturday. I feel a more real connection to the people that I am serving with now and I’m believing more in the common goal of what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer after seeing what funny and smart people I am in training with.

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A Herrero Army performing a traditional march. Lots of shouting and testosterone.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, but one of the most important decisions that brought me to the Peace Corps was whether or not I would be discriminated against because of my tattoos and piercings. Granted, all of my tattoos are unable to be seen from a professional standpoint and my piercings (aside from my nose ring) are very discreet. I’ve never articulated what they all mean to me, but each of them represents something important in my life and I would have a very hard time getting rid of something that I felt like was such an integral part of myself and my identity. So when we got to Philadelphia that first day on April 13 and the sign on the hotel door said “body and facial piercings are unacceptable”, my heart sank. I took my hoop nose ring out for the day of Orientation and replaced it at the end of the night, continuing into the first week in country since my first impression was that facial piercings would inhibit my integration. After being in Namibia for a week, I realized that this was not the case and it was completely up to me on whether or not I would want to be known as the girl with a nose rings (uh.. do you guys know me? I’m sure you can guess what choice I made). I decided that for PST (Pre-Service Training for the next two months), I would take advantage of the open-mindedness of our site and decide once I know where I will be placed what the best course of action is. Luckily, I brought studs and even a clear retainer if I end up somewhere extremely rural that does not accept piercings whatsoever. Although it will be a tough decision to make, the most important thing to me now is making sure that I am respectful of the new culture I am about to immerse myself in and make sure that I am integrating without any preconceived notions.  If this means hiding parts of myself until I have made stronger connections, I am willing to do that.

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