Bringing Cultures Together One Slaughtered Goat at a Time

** WARNING that this post contains pictures of animals pre and post slaughtering for our Cultural Cooking Day.  Proceed at your own risk **

Friday, May 8, 2015 – One of the most exhausting weeks of my life, finished off by karaoke in a German bier garden.

Even though it is only 8:00 on a Friday night, I am in bed and will be here for the remainder of the evening. Apart from having some stomach problems these past few days (sometimes the power goes out here and the food in the fridge gets warm for a few hours.. sometimes the food is left out for days without refrigeration.. sometimes you are taking Doxycycline daily as an anti-malarial when you normally don’t even take Asprin for a headache. The point is: who the hell knows where the stomach issues arose), the rest of this week manifested itself in the form of a migraine.

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My comfortable, mosquito net covered bed – thanks to Kelsey and Craig for the beautiful picture collage of my best friend’s friendship.

Sunday, May 10, 2015 – “You must take me to America with you” and other musings from a long weekend.

It’s a hard reality when two of your neighbors (both boys under the age of 10) ask why you lied about not drinking to a man who was at your house, and yet the 12 year old girl puts a hand on your knee, nods her head and says “They will never understand.”

Me: “Well, sometimes you have to lie in order to protect yourself and your health/well-being. Have you ever had to be in situations like that before?”

Boys: – blank stare –

Girl: (did I mention that she is 12?) “Yes, you know exactly what they mean and what they want when they ask if they can buy you a drink. You must learn quickly and know how to protect yourself.”

Patriarchy is undoubtedly pervasive in most cultures, but there is something more intense about a man who does not take no for an answer. Telling a man that you are not interested, in the Namibian culture, gives them an incentive to try harder next time they see you. You have become a challenge that they want to overcome and are now even more of a prize to be won. There is a huge sense of entitlement and ownership among many men here, where they say “I must get your number” or “I will come visit you” instead of asking for either of those things or taking your opinion and autonomy into account. It will take a lot of patience and getting used to in terms of my reactions to their statements, but I am looking at it as a lesson in understanding cultural expectations and expanding my ability to change people’s minds over time. Lets hope I can manage it. After the 100th time hearing “You must take me to America with you when you go back!”, I think I’ve got a fair chance of becoming immune to it.

We had a Cultural Food Immersion day on Saturday morning where each of us (in our language groups), along with our trainers and host families, cooked our traditional meals from our regions. My host mother was unable to attend due to working at the hospital where she is a maternity nurse, but one of the other women in my KKG group had her host Mom and a few of her friends who showed up and stole the show. They were absolutely incredible, cooking only out of cast iron pots (or a ‘sus’ in my new language) and with the ingredients that we had. We ended up making warthog with onions, a mutton stew with fresh carrots and peppers, a pea soup that ended up being many people’s favorite, boiled “fatcakes” (which are basically homemade doughnuts – most of the time, they are fried, but these were cooked in water which made them the texture of matzah balls), and porridge (or mai-i.. this is eaten with many meals and is also called “pap”.. it’s the texture of smooth grits, basically). This was also the day that we watched two goats and about 6 chickens be slaughtered in the backyard of our training center, which was not as sad of an experience as I thought it would be. It felt really purposeful and we were having a cultural exchange as well as using all of the parts for one dish or another – one of the other volunteers even took the hide home so that she could salt it and make a rug out of it eventually.  I knew there was a reason I liked this girl.

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Didn’t mean to look so happy about holding a skinned goat’s hoof..

That’s one really great thing about Peace Corps.. all of the other volunteers. They are all so incredibly diverse and educated that it sometimes blows me away. Someone told me before I left that they were excited that I would finally be surrounded by a large group of likeminded people who wanted to make a difference in the world in the same way that I do, and I think it has finally hit me that I feel that same excitement. It is incredibly refreshing to feel like I don’t even have to explain myself or my intentions to this group and that we are all so supportive of one another. We have heard multiple times from our training staff that we are very unique in our closeness and that we are one of the best groups that they have had come through – its good to hear that and makes me feel confident about our cohesiveness and the future of supporting one another through our service.

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Thankfully for the chickens, they had a quick death with a machete. The goats were not so lucky.

Monday, May 11, 2015 – Taking kids on a run is now my favorite part of the day..

That’s pretty big news for me – someone who has worked with kids a lot in the past, but doesn’t necessarily like them all that much. But I have to say, the kids here are so very different from kids in the United States. They grow up so quickly and seem to mature with a rapidness that I have never seen in America. On one hand, this is an asset to adults in their lives who are counting on them to help raise their younger siblings and that they are not spoiled in the same way that children at home would be. On the other hand, they are forced to grow up SO quickly and become little adults by the time many of them are 7, especially the girls. One of the Moms the other day said “All girls are soon to be mothers eventually” when we were talking about Mother’s Day and my lack of children. It is interesting how much I like the kids in my neighborhood and the games that we play every day that I never would have wanted to play in the States. They are helping me with my homework and correcting my KhoeKhoe (or Damara, as they call it – that is the tribe that I will be living with when I go to my site and how most people refer to the language) and telling me that I should be learning Afrikaans because it is much more applicable and easy. Many people assume that Afrikaans is what is taught to us because “we are white” and that is still an engrained in this post-Apartheid Namibia.  I still get head shakes daily when I tell people what language I am learning and sighs of “well.. at least your host Mom can help you learn”.

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My host family’s house. Very reminiscent of my Mom’s house back in the States, plus a lot of sand.

My host mother has helped me understand the Namibian way of sharing and the culture of giving what you can to those who need it. She is the house where all of the kids come when they want to watch a certain T.V. show that they don’t have at their house or where the teenagers down the street charge their phones because they don’t have electricity at their house. She is the person who lends out pots and pans to those who don’t have them and doesn’t think twice about giving one of the kids a snack when they look at her refrigerator. She has taught me a lot about being selfless in what you have without even saying much about it. She has three kids of her own that I have not met yet because they have been on holiday, so I tried to cook her a Mother’s Day meal yesterday to make up for her missing her kids.  I’m very grateful to her for being such a strong example of what a single Mom can do and handle – she works really hard to give her kids a comfortable life and is an inspiration to other women in similar situations.

My host Mom's funny children.  I gave her a picture frame as her going away gift with this photo in it.
My host Mom’s funny children. I gave her a picture frame as her going away gift with this photo in it.

For kids that I initially meet, many of them ask me what culture I am. This confused me until I asked one of my neighbors what they meant by that. He responded with an explanation of some of the options – there are Damaras, Afrikaaners, Coloreds (I still can’t bring myself to describe someone as this, even though it means something completely different here) Oshiwambos and a slew of many others. The culture symbolizes where you come from or what tribe you have been a part of, so helping them understand that we don’t have tribes and cultures the same way that they do has been educational for both them and me. I explained to them that most of the time, when it comes to Americans, we all came from another country by way of immigration except for the Native Americans. This is a hot topic for Namibians right now due to all of the protests and violence that have stemmed from the immigration issues in South Africa and it sparks a lot of good conversation between the kids.

After our Cultural Day on Saturday, we watched The Dark Knight at our training center before going out to the Expo that was in town for the weekend. There were a few good local bands playing and it seemed like everyone in our town was present, so we had to make up places that we were living in order to maintain our Anonymity and safety. A group of 6 Americans sticks out here, despite the diversity that I see constantly in Namibia, so it is important that we not tell a curious group of people about where we live and what we are doing in their town. This can be difficult because most of the people that we meet are generally interested in what we are doing and it feels odd to have to conceal much of your identity, but Peace Corps knows what they are doing and has put many security measures into place in order to keep us as protected as they can. They teach us to minimize our targetability (is that even a word? I swear, with how much English I am losing daily, I would think I would be fluent in Damara by now) and make sure to diversify our crowds. This is not difficult, as we pretty much always had a group of people surrounding us to inquire about who we were and what languages we spoke. Our curfew is usually 8:00 pm, as it gets dark here in the Winter time around 6:00 pm, but we were allowed to stay out until 11:00 pm so that we could integrate into the local culture at the Expo. It was a really nice surprise and definitely was one of the more fun nights we have had as a small group.

Yoga on top of Pride Rock - we hiked it a few times throughout our PST.
Really bad form in side plank on top of Pride Rock – we hiked it a few times throughout our PST.

I think that the thing I miss the most about the States so far is having a smart phone that I could look up music on any time I wanted. So many times throughout the day I want to hear a certain song and then I am harshly reminded that WiFi is something that I have decided to obtain once a week and on special occasions. It still feels really great to be so disconnected and I am now the only Trainee in my group who does not have a cell phone yet. I’ve only had one pang of loneliness so far and luckily, it subsided quickly for me – I listened to a little bit of the music that my brother put on my iPod (thanks, Michael!) and watched an episode of Daredevil that Cramer put on my iPad before I went to sleep and that seemed to help quite a bit. You become thankful for the little things, like an unexpected song, a piece of cheese or the memory of something that is sparked by the invasion of something from your past onto your senses.

Speaking of memories, this was our group waiting for the airport to open at JFK at 4 in the morning after a 2 hour bus ride and a 15 hour flight ahead of us and only 2 hours of sleep (if that).  Rough.
Speaking of memories, this was our group waiting for the airport to open at JFK at 4 in the morning after a 2 hour bus ride and a 15 hour flight ahead of us and only 2 hours of sleep (if that). Rough.

I think this is the longest post that I’ve made so far and I can feel the effects of the connection already. Just thinking about whoever is reading this, wherever they are in the world, makes me miss talking to my friends and being so close in proximity to my family. This is the first time I’ve lived more than an hour and a half away from anyone in my immediate family and talking to my best friend yesterday on her birthday really made me feel something strong. I’m going to miss two Christmases, two New Year’s Eve celebrations, two birthdays of all of the people I hold close, possible engagements, possible births of children and watching my little nephew Ethan grow older. He will say his first words while I am finding out where my permanent site is. He is tasting his first solid foods as I look at a picture of his sweet face filled with sweet potatoes while I am giving a presentation on specific stress that young Namibians face. He will turn two before I am able to hold him again and tell him that every child I see while I am here reminds me of him and gives me inspiration to allow them to have the best life that they can, just like the life I know his amazing parents are giving him.

Just a small representation of the beauty that surrounds me.
Just a small representation of the beauty that surrounds me.

P.S – check out an artist called MISS H if you want a glimpse of what a fluent Damara speaking person sounds like. She is a talented Namibian artist and her lyrics range greatly from KhoeKhoe to Afrikaans to English all in one song.

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