It has been an abnormally long time since I have last entered an update, and it seems that the time between blog posts is getting longer and longer. I am trying to remedy that in the best way that I can, although I am grateful for the busy-ness that these last few months has brought. It means that I am working hard in my community, traveling a lot and really enjoying my time here to the fullest.
Many people have asked me what the next step is in my life once I get back from Namibia and the life of a Peace Corps volunteer. It used to stress me out and cause anxiety the same way that it did a few years ago when I was getting ready to graduate college and was continually asked this question. Not until I realized that this would be a very common question throughout my life did I begin to understand that I need to get over this. It is unquestionably engrained in American ideology that we should constantly be looking at the next step in our career, our upward movement and even our personal lives. There is a large-scale fabrication of expectations that people in my generation feel compelled to follow, or else they are not considered “successful” or “reaching their full potential”. I have fallen into this trap many times over the years: feeling inadequate for living at home for the majority of college in order to afford my education on my own; not searching for a corporate job right out of college and staying with jobs that I loved instead; not having an answer for “what I want to do now that I have my degree”.
Living in a foreign country on a foreign continent has given me a better grasp on just how strong and adaptable I can be. It gives ease to my frantic attempt at collecting my thoughts and experiences and forcing them into a mold, hoping that something comes out the other end that tells me exactly what it is that I should be doing with my life. For me, there is no perfect formula for having a productive, meaningful, exciting life that is so centrically based on what I am doing to make money – if I can say that I have worked 20 different jobs by the time I turn 40, I will feel proud that I moved on from something when it was no longer serving me and that I did not waste this one life I have been given on a product that I do not believe in. I am working on freeing myself of that pressure to be successful by someone else’s standards and fully participating in my own happiness, whatever that might be at the time. Currently, that attempt at happiness is trudging (and sometimes forcing my way) through the lowest point of my service and feeling unable to contribute myself in the way that I want to. In more ways than one, I have been denied the chance to give myself fully and share what I believe is important with my fellow volunteers and the Namibian people at large. It has been a trying, frustrating time that has encapsulated me in a perpetual cycle of self-depreciation, anger and apathy. My wonderful site mate has crowned it “bitter apathy” which sums me up quite accurately. What a blessing to have people in my life who know me better than I know myself and are able to see through the haze of my fumes.
In light of these circumstances, I have continued on in my community with detachment from outside influence and organizations. What has become apparent to me in this time is how much I have integrated, what the community’s perception of me is and that the projects I am working on are ones that I am proud of. Despite being placed with a Ministry that is lacking in resources and work for me to do internally, I have carved out a place in Khorixas where I am partnering with many different Ministries, NGO’s and extremely motivated people. I think when I look back on my Peace Corps service when people ask what my experience was like, I will be able to honestly tell them that it is one I was incredibly humbled by. When you are thrown into an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar people and sometimes incredibly stressful situations and are able to come out with advantageous stories, you have succeeded. It doesn’t matter what you report on your VRF (Volunteer Reporting Form) or what your supervisors and staff members think of your service – what matters is that you are the only one who knows what your service looked like, day in and day out, and you are the only one who is accountable for those memories and the legacy that you leave.
In lieu of a full on essay about what I have been up to, I will trim the updates down to a picture (or two) and a paragraph about the details of projects, events and travels I have taken.
A fellow volunteer invited us to celebrate her birthday with her in Swakopmund, one of my favorite coastal towns that makes me forget I am in Peace Corps. We naturally started our journey at Bojo’s, a cafe that serves homemade bagels (!!!) and epically prepared meals reminiscent of a (slower paced.. much slower paced) Manhattan sidewalk cafe.
Although there is not enough space here to indicate just how much we did in a short weekend, Skydiving over the Atlantic Ocean and the Swakopmund salt pans was one of the noteworthy events. Undoubtedly one of my most beautiful skydives I will probably ever jump.
Some incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean from the Swakopmund beach near the Strand Hotel and one of its newest breweries in town. Finally, a place that contains a few decent beers in Namibia!
The toughest part of getting anywhere while you are in Peace Corps is the hiking. Finding rides from one place to another and not knowing for sure when you will be arriving someplace is enough to bring the most patient of people to a breaking point. Admittedly, I have never been known for my patience in any regard, but I am learning to be a bit more understanding that for the next year, I am at the mercy of other drivers and their own time schedules. Having a fellow volunteer with you to laugh at the ridiculous things that happen on our journey can take your mood from the lowest of the lows to helping you remember to not take things too seriously (especially when you are gifted mushrooms that grow on the large termite mounds from the sweet Afrikaaners who take you on part of your journey).
I attended a “Coming Out” party with a good friend of mine, which is a Wambo tradition where people gather to witness a new baby’s first time out of the house. I’m glad I checked with her before showing up in my best rainbow outfit to celebrate the way that we normally would in the U.S. Angie has been a lifesaver in many ways through my time here in Khorixas. She has the brightest smile and the greatest laugh – its impossible to be in a bad mood when I am around her.
Sometimes we even get a few clouds in the sky – don’t worry, they are only a tease as Khorixas NEVER RAINS! I swear, only 4 times in the last 10 months that I have been here have I seen water fall out of the sky. Devastating. But check out that double rainbow! “DOUBLE RAINBOW, maaaaan!”
I partnered with the Khorixas Regional Constituency and the Red Cross to help put on (a very late) 2015 World AIDS Day recognition in March at a nearby constituency called Sorris-Sorris – directly translated in Damara, sunny sunny.. if that gives you a taste of the heat that Damaraland gives off. The turnout was not as high as we hoped for, but the people who were there made it an enjoyable and educational day for all. I did two condom demonstrations, one for the male condom and one for the female condom, with the assistance of two wonderfully personable (and charismatic) women from the crowd who helped to translate my directions into Damara. I love when people can make these demonstrations fun while understanding the importance of them simultaneously. We had performances and singing from a local activist group that was incredible, a motivational speech from an Ousie (respect term for older Damara woman) that commanded respect from the crowd and finally, I gave my first speech in KhoeKhoegowab. Talk about nerve-racking.
My amazing site mate knew that I was having a really tough week and hitting a low point in my service as a volunteer, so she orchestrated a surprise date day for me that encompassed petting donkeys, a 4-course brunch (she knew how much I missed brunch, oh man) and being picked up in a very special way. It was just the day I needed and helped solidify the strong connection that she and I share. She will be leaving in May and I know that it will hit me once she is gone, but for now I will show her all of my appreciation for who she is. I have been truly blessed with her in this small town of Khorixas and know that whatever comes of my service, I would never change it for all the world because I found one of the most important friendships of my life through Namibia.
I visited a nearby volunteer whose sarcasm and ornery-ness rival mine quite closely. We took a trip out with her Cheetah Club (with a health and lifeskills focus) to the dam and learned about nature conservation, built a tippy-tap (a found objects hand washing mechanism) and hung out with some fun, smart kids. We cooked a lot, including homemade nachos and a delicious brunch that was so tasty her neighbors came over to ask for some. Did I mention that it is quite culturally normal to come over un-announced to ask for things? The weekend was topped off by a night of fun at the local lodge called a Rëinfasmäker festival, where patrons buy a large funnel to put their drinks in for the night in hopes that their imbibing will bring rain to the lands.
My kitten Clementine has turned into a full blown cat and has brought me both innumerable amounts of joy and frustration simultaneously, especially when she brings HUGE bugs into my flat in the middle of the night and onto my bed. Still wouldn’t trade my Christmas present for anything, though.
One of my favorite Peace Corps volunteers from my group had a visit from her boyfriend from California and they were kind enough to invite me on a day trip to Vingerklip, a monument halfway inbetween Outjo and Khorixas. It was a beautiful day of hiking up steep, rocky interfaces and snacking on Pomegranates. Sometimes the most relaxing and rewarding days come with an ambiguous rock protruding out of the ground and a cider on the porch of a fully equipped lodge.
I went down to Aranos, a town in the southeast, for a collaboration week with the two volunteers who live there. I got to see their brilliant project where they work with women on teaching them sewing techniques as well as life and business skills to further their resilience in the world. The women are extremely motivated and are making their own bags and totes to sell at different markets and expos throughout Namibia, with the hope for an online store in the future. They are two badass volunteers who are working hard to maintain a sustainable project. When they weren’t too busy saving the world one sewing machine at a time, they took me for calamari and pizza, we strolled through a cheetah conservancy where we got to [pet] the cheetahs, went on many adventures with their super kind friends and ate all kinds of delicious foods. My first time adventuring that far south turned out to be an unexpected oasis in the midst of red dunes, thousands of yellow butterflies and green, green grass.
Directly after my visit to Aranos, my boyfriend Andy came to Khorixas to spend a few days with me before a few of our friends came into town for my birthday. The time that we get to spend together is few and far between, with our sites being about 8 hours away from each other, but exceptionally meaningful when it does happen. We had a bring and braai with some of my friends, including Americans and Namibians, topped with two homemade birthday cakes. It was a great weekend where I got to show other volunteers my site and let them experience the magic of Khorixas themselves.
So. Many. Volunteers in Khorixas! We had a taco night where everything was made from scratch, including the tortillas and the margaritas. The tortillas turned out 100 times better than the margaritas, but you win some and you lose some.
After the flood of volunteers left to head back to their respective sites or to the training for them to be Resource Volunteers for the next group, one stayed behind with me to work on a collaboration for the Ministry of Youth garden I am starting. We dug out two full plots with three beds in each, chopping through Mars reminiscent compacted dirt and granite slabs the size of a countertop. By the end of each day, we were exhausted, sore and incredibly dirty, but proud of the work that we had done. It has become my favorite parts of the day, in the morning and evening, to go out and tend to the garden. Watering twice a day here is absolutely necessary as the Khorixas sun easily depletes plants of their water source and nutrients. In the most recent days, I have seen a ton of green sprouts and am realizing the joy that people must experience when they see a fetus on an ultrasound for the first time. Since I don’t want kids, vegetables and herbs can take their place, right? 😉
So that is a comprehensive overview of what I have been doing for the last few months. As always, I hope that this post finds everyone well and in good spirits with whatever is being undertaken at the time. I love hearing comments and responses of what is going on in everyone’s life, so do let me know! Take care until next time.