Easy Weekends and Fake Ice Cream

It has been a leisurely Sunday morning between doing my usual weekend cleaning and going to our Catholic church right down the street from my flat for the first time.  I’ve debated how I was going to handle the religiosity of my town, with its many different denominations and importance that is placed upon going to and being seen at churches since I arrived almost two months ago.  As I sat on the wooden pews next to one of my sitemates this morning, I couldn’t help but watch how differently everyone behaved in this house of prayer compared to the churches I grew up going to.  The contrast of a woman breastfeeding her cooing child a few rows in front of me to the rigidity of a woman being glared at in the Roman Catholic Church back home for having the audacity to allow her newborn to gurgle or cry.  The dichotomy between the child who reached back to allow the baby to play with her fingers when he got restless during the sermon (half in KhoeKhoe, half in Afrikaans) and the child who was too timid to look at the other kids around him in the always freezing halls of the church back home for fear of his parent’s scolding for being heard, not just seen.  The differences in Catholic guilt felt at the end of the sermon where the congregation was told to bring donations for the church or else their names would not go onto a public list versus the guilt I felt as a child for questioning what the preacher spoke about in church that day.  A rush of memories overwhelmed me as I walked out of mass, thinking back to the times when my family would visit Georgia and Pennsylvania and all of the different churches we would attend.  The pungent smells of the Ukrainian Orthodox churches, riddled with the sweet incense that permeated its way through the small congregation from the gold lantern.  The colorful robes that the priest would wear, stitched with beautiful designs that instill a sense of pride for my heritage.  It is a beautiful experience to look at the uniqueness of the infinite cultures that exist in this world while simultaneously taking inventory of how connected everything is if you observe closely enough.  Thank you, Namibia.

First live performance in Namibia - Sally and Gazza.
First live performance in Namibia – Sally and Gazza.  I wish the photo had turned out more clear, but the cold had other ideas for the clarity.

Last week, the Ministry of Youth set up a stall at the Outjo Trade and Tourism Exhibition – Outjo is a neighboring town that has an adorable breakfast spot and a real grocery store with spinach, what?!  We decorated our space and marketed our services to the community while being able to get out of our small town and see something different.  I got to spend time with my site mates and one of my favorite volunteers and eat typical festival food.  A corn dog became a Russian encased in fat cake and salad came in the form of tomato, onion and green pepper doused in lemon juice, hot sauce and salt.  I like the traditional takes on modern food and love discovering new tastes with something that feels oddly familiar to what I have always known.  An unexpected concert presented itself that Saturday night at a nearby venue with a few popular Namibian artists that I was excited to attend.  Music, especially live, has always been something very important to me that makes me feel connected to my own body and those around me more so than anything else.  The show started about two hours late (was I meant to live in Namibia or what?) and went on till two in the morning, but it was fantastic to be in the atmosphere of energy and excitement while being absolutely freezing.

Outjo Exhibition Booth.
Outjo Exhibition Booth.

One of the great perks of living in the Kunene region is the diversity of wildlife that I am able to experience so frequently.  On Friday morning, I got to the office at the usual 8 am time and heard from my co-workers that there had been sightings of elephants in town according to the Damara-Nama radio (basically the people’s bible and how information is easily spread).  Naturally, four of us jumped in the car to go out and attempt to find them – turns out, we were not the only ones on the hunt.  We passed by a caravan of cars and trucks, some with a group of men and women in the back of the bakkie with rifles and spears.  Elephants are notorious in this area for destroying farm land and personal property in their search for water, so when there is news that they are near, apparently much of the community goes on a hunt to attempt to drive them out.  I have been told that they don’t actually shoot them, just that they use the rifles to startle them back into the safety of the mountains and bush farther west.  We drove around for probably an hour or so, even going to the highest point in Khorixas to get a glimpse of where the herd was heading, but to no avail.  It was a beautiful off-roading drive that led to some hidden gems in the town where I will hopefully go hiking soon, even though our search seemed to end with no success.  Suddenly, about one kilometer from our office and off of the main gravel road, an elephant pokes its head out from the trees and flares its ears at our car as we reached the top of the hill.  My co-worker slows the car down so that we don’t anger or threaten the elephant further as we wait to see if he will retreat into the bush or charge our car.  As we watch the elephant slowly move back into the coverage of the sparse trees, we get out of the car so that I can take a few photos of these ginormous, elegant creatures.  Unfortunately, my ability to capture the herd of about 15 of them was thwarted by their surprisingly quick movement into the brush when they saw us get out of the car.  There were a few calves with them, so they were in ultra protective mode and we did not want to startle them into a potentially dangerous situation.  Despite my lack of picture taking skills, I was stoked to be able to see them wandering around so close to my home and it made for an excellent start to the work day.

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This weekend has been a nice change of pace from the busyness of traveling around and keeping my prospects open for what will encompass the next two years of my life.  My other sitemate has a Girl’s Club which meets weekly and I got to be a part of their session this week.  it was really inspiring to see how she runs her group and the messages that she gives to the girls – it gave me a surge of energy for how I want to run my own youth groups in the future and the ways that I want to initiate boys and girls and their relationships together.  This is such a vulnerable and shapeshifting time for them in their pubescent years, and I can’t think of something more valuable than having a third party available to ask questions to that are unaccessible to their parents and teachers.  I hope that this vision can come through full circle.  After her meeting this week, we decided to have a craft day for the girls on Saturday afternoon so that they could get their creative juices flowing with a bunch of recycled materials that she and I had collected.  We brought some ideas with us, such as using egg carton containers to create flowers for decoration and utilizing cardboard boxes (thanks to all who have sent care packages throughout my service – they came in use this weekend!) to write and draw inspirational quotes to hand in their room.  They also surprised us with their own ideas, such as taking empty tin cans and covering them with tissue paper (thanks, Mom!) and stickers to make unique pencil and pen holders, as well as empty toilet paper rolls glued to pieces of cardboard to create a makeshift holder for craft supplies.  The creativity these girls have was ridiculously comforting and I have never felt the future of our generation more palpably than when I am with these ladies.  Yeah for a Saturday afternoon spend decorating our homes to be more beautiful!

Young laides with their crafts outside of the Ministry of Youth.
Young ladies with their crafts outside of the Ministry of Youth.
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These girls are awesome.

Since Namibian food is always an interesting topic for my friends and family (and one of great importance to my heart) I feel the need to express my distaste for the “Cool Whip ice cream” that is sold in my local grocery store.  A co-worker sweetly wanted to buy me a carton (in Namibia, it is considered rude to turn down what someone offers you, whether it is food or drink – you can see the problems this potentially creates, for your body and safety.  Sometimes you just have to play the dumb American in order to maintain your composure and health) so we went to the shop and I picked out a nice tri-color looking container.  What could go wrong?  It’s ice cream, for crying out loud.  Well, I was surprised to find out that the answer to that question was: many.  Many things could go wrong.  It is the poorest excuse for ice cream that I have ever experienced – the only milk in it comes from the whey powder that is used and the rest is made up of high fructose corn syrup and vegetable fat.  Nestle, why have you betrayed me so terribly?!  Especially with summer quickly approaching, discovering my distaste for the ice cream available to me has saddened me to no end.  Okay, its not that big of a deal, but still.. if anyone can figure out a way to send ice cream in a care package, you will be my new hero.

Gorgeous view from the highest point in town.
Gorgeous view from the highest point in town.

Thinking of the differences in cultures always brings me back to the community aspect of sharing that is constantly present here.  I went to a braai at one of my co-workers homes the other night when her husband was visiting from the north and remain continuously impressed with how soon you are considered family from being a complete stranger.  The meat was plentiful, the wine was abundant and anything that was needed appeared.  Hosting seems to be a prideful affair and especially when it comes to the men, they want to make sure that the women are taken care of with whatever they need.  The gender roles are still quite traditional, with the three other women and I cooking and preparing the meat, porridge and salad while the man prepared the fire and drank beer.  I am learning to appreciate this aspect of the culture more so, especially if there is apparent mutual respect between the couple like there is with my co-worker and her husband.  There is much about traditional gender roles that I still struggle with on a daily basis, especially the possessiveness that men here exhibit towards the women in their lives.  It is difficult to watch the incredibly strong women in this town, who care for all of the children while still working, sometimes also having to take care of their husbands or boyfriends who are completely dependent on them.  They are expected to cook and clean (because that is “women’s work” and men should not have to) and are not heard as prevalently in conversations of importance.  They are sometimes cut off in the middle of their sentences in the workplace and a man can say the exact same point that a woman did, but will be met with fervor and excitement at his idea.  These same principles are also common in the United States, especially in the south where I am from.  It is nothing shocking to see, but still something that I am hoping to bring awareness to little by little with the idea of gender equality at the forefront of Namibian policy and vision for the future.

Lastly, a huge congratulations to one of my best friends back home and her new fiancee!!  I’m thrilled for you guys and your ability to forge your own path of love and happiness – I wish I was home to celebrate with you two, but know that I’m over here showing my entire office the beautiful ring and telling people about how this one time, I spent a few years hanging out in the basement of this house with some of the nerdiest, goofiest, most wonderful people I’ve ever met.  I wouldn’t trade our friendship for anything, Lana, and I’m so glad that you were able to look past my sailor mouth and more outgoing personality to see that we were meant to be part of the Sailor Scouts together.  I love you and wish you and Jared the absolute best in planning your wedding – sorry it has to be postponed two years from now till I get back 😉

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