Welcome back to my life in Namibia! I am alive and well, despite my lack of updates in the last month or so. In many ways, I am grateful for the break because I feel that I have been investing myself more fully into my community and staying busy with the present as opposed to thinking about life back in the States, friends and family that can preoccupy the mind easily. Needless to say, I am excited to let you all know what has been going on with my time that has kept me away from the norm and updating the world on these small town shenanigans.
Peace Corps is really great about reimbursements for necessary items that they do not provide for us in our stipends, including an allowance for the purchase of a bicycle. As the weather turns hotter and more unbearable, we knew that we had to get a move on the bike search since we are not allowed to drive cars during our service. My sitemate and I asked around and found out that one of our friends has been restoring old bikes and was selling them pretty cheaply – so despite him warning us that they were trick bikes that most of the guys in town ride around, we took a gamble and went to acquire our new mode of transportation. I’m sure we are going to stand out even more now in our small town, but it will be worth every moment that I am able to feel the breeze on my face instead of just the harsh sun beating down on me. Freedom on two wheels never felt so good.
The main thing that has kept me the most busy these past few weeks was the planning of a Cleaning Up Campaign that my sitemate and I organized together with Town Council. Environmental Education and helping people understand the importance of a clean town has always been an interest of mine, but never has it held such significance till I moved here. The amount of rubbish and litter that pollutes this beautiful town is astounding and became a top priority for me to bring to light to this community. There is still a very heavy sense of living in the present moment here without much regard for the future, as the mindset has not had a chance to grow as much as is necessary to understand the impact that a lack of planning can have. So instead of becoming frustrated with the way that things are and have been for a long time, we decided to take the initiative in organizing an educational day for the youth and figureheads followed by going out into the town to collect trash. This event was the first one that I have played a lead role in, taking care of the logistical factors like writing proposals, collecting materials (trash bags and a donation of cool drink for the volunteers), making announcements on the local radio stations and posting flyers up in the important locations. It turned out to be something I really enjoyed doing (able to be in control of a project? organizing and making things function? count me in!) but absolutely exhausting at the same time. Making sure that all of the stakeholders were on the same page with content and timing for the day of the event (Africa Time is a real thing, y’all.. thanks for preparing me so well for lateness, Dad) meant spending a lot of time on my phone as well as doing my main job at the Ministry of Youth. With two weeks of planning time, we managed to pull off a pretty successful event where about 120 people from the local schools, Police Station, Ministry of Education and Junior Town Council showed up to participate in our Keep Khorixas Beautiful campaign.
The first part of the campaign consisted of educational speeches from a few community members, including a social worker from the Ministry of Health and an environmental educator who works at the Ministry of Youth with me. The second part consisted of going out into the community nearby the Youth Hall and picking up rubbish for about an hour, almost using up all the bags that were donated by Town Council. This was a huge success in my mind because the community mobilized together in order to make a small, but important change while hopefully taking the education we gave them into their own lives and telling others about what they learned. It all comes back to sustainability with Peace Corps and we are going to try to do these campaigns once a month until that aspect has been achieved. Once everyone understands why preservation of their town and environment is so important, the campaigns will become obsolete – at least, that is my dream for the future.
During our time of planning our Cleaning Up Campaign, I was also involved in teaching a week of Health classes at one of our combined schools in town. My sitemate and I planned different lessons and topics for each of the days, covering Anatomy and Physiology, reproductive education and sexual health. I have always greatly respected teachers and how hard they work, even just to maintain a classroom environment, but my understanding of just how difficult that can be became so much clearer after spending 6 hours a day with these learners. In order to be able to teach an entire lesson in 40 minute increments becomes incrementally more impossible the more excited the kids get about the lesson at hand. Classroom rules and punishments became our best friends as we made it very clear what our expectations were of these Grade 6 and 7 learners.
Despite some moments of frustration, these kids were pretty well behaved for having to talk about sex topics for a week. They learn to fear HIV/AIDS from such an early age, but do not have the basic comprehension of how their own bodies work or the virus composition itself. It really gave me a better glimpse of how important it is to start at the basics and work up from there, creating a solid foundation for them to better themselves in the future and pass along their education to their families and friends. I’ve read a few different statistics on the percentages, but around 70% of Namibia’s population consists of Youth (which is generally categorized from 16-35 here). This is a huge majority of the country that is vulnerable to many of the issues that currently face young people today, including poverty, unemployment and prevalent diseases. If we can start the education process at a young age and empower the Youth to take matters into their own hands, the necessary education will continue to be taught to future generations while creating a sustainable knowledge basis.
Things finally slowed down this past week after the teaching gig ended and the Clean Up Campaign turned out successfully. I did a lot of relaxing and reorganizing that evolved into making glasses out of empty bottles with my site mates – making something that I could have paid money for out of something that we already had lying around? Repurposed activities are my favorite kind. The glasses actually turned out pretty nicely for only using acetone, yarn and matches and now we have reminders of our times spent drinking ciders in Namibia. Plus, no one lost any fingers or eyebrows in our attempts at perfection. If y’all want to try this at home, I’ll post the link that we followed. Save yourselves some money and make beverage holders out of your favorite empty drinks!
I have been slowly coming to terms with the ending of the Namibian honeymoon phase that I felt during my first four months of living on this continent. I felt such an affiliation with my new culture and the excitement of living in a new country that when these feelings slowly began to drop off, it was difficult to accept. Instead of understanding that this is a normal process that most PCVs go through (staff prepared us for this with many, many powerpoint presentations and I still felt like I somehow failed in my service) I began to dwell on the physical and mental exhaustion of the everyday life here. It can become tiring quickly when I know that I have to prepare myself for the potential conversations in a foreign language that people in the community will want to have or the other random encounters that are bound to happen. I have never found myself so drained from doing such simple tasks as going into town for groceries, as there is the constant trail of thought in the back of my mind that whispers questions of cultural sensitivity, appropriate behavior and bringing new light to topics of health. I’ve always been a person with lots of available energy to spread myself across many different groups of people and events while lacking patience when others did not share the same energy. I am learning that the multi-tasking, as great as it is to help accomplish tasks, does not always yield the greatest outputs. More recently, I have found that the more time I give to myself to read, do yoga or go for runs, the better off I am the next day or when an important event or meeting comes up. It is truly all about stocking up the reserves, including going to the local rest camp for drinks by the pool once in a while. We may have unintentionally ended up in a newlywed couple’s photos and videos.
I don’t often get to eat green vegetables here, either due to their lack of availability in our grocery store or the inflated cost when they are here. So when one of my co-workers passed through a neighboring town on her way back home, she stopped to bring me back some spinach and cabbage. It is common that when you go out of town for something, you bring back small gifts for your friends from wherever you were visiting. Why would my gift not be something of the food variety? An easy dinner after a long day that would have otherwise gone to a KIND bar or CLIF bar from a care package.
It seems as the weather gets hotter, the wind picks up here a lot as well. This brings some relief from the strength of the sun, but also kicks up so much dust that the power lines get knocked out frequently. Our power went out three days during the last week and succeeded in blowing sand and dust into every open window that served as ventilation. It made me really appreciate how fortunate I am to have simple things like electricity and running water on a daily basis, especially when it came to making coffee one morning with no power. The perfect excuse to go relax at the lodge nearby and drink coffee and tea in the shade of the trees. We even met an Australian couple traveling through Africa that afternoon who invited us to dinner – one of the best I have had in a long time. Kudu steaks, meatballs, chicken kebabs, vanilla cake with custard for desert.. this was a weekend of appreciating the timing of events and the wonderful people that you meet in different circumstances. The world is a small place full of good people who come along at the right time if you are willing to trust in the universe and where you need to be.