“Happy New Year ” – a term and expression that is often said without much meaning or influence behind the words, mostly as a cultural phrase and much like asking how someone finds the weather today (you get very good at asking about the weather to locals as a PCV). 2017 will be an interesting year for me, as this is the year that I COS (close of service) and pack up my last two years into a hiking backpack to travel for a few months before, begrudgingly, returning to the U.S. How do I begin to culminate the last two years into a succinct conversation when someone asks me “so how was it?” How do I explain to someone who has never left the U.S. that Africa is not a country; that I am ashamed of the U.S. that I am going back to after having to explain to my friends here how it is possible to have the leader that we will on January 20; that I have met some of the most amazing people who have changed my life in Namibia? And the ultimate question – will my English EVER be as good as it used to be or will I be permanently regaled to taking 5 seconds to process my thoughts before I respond and still can’t formulate a coherent thought?
Of course, I know that this and the answers that I need will all come with time. Time that I am granting myself to enjoy, to replenish, to renew my sense of wonder with the world. Time has passed in such a strange way during my service – sometimes I consider Namibia, and Khorixas more specifically, my home and forget that there was ever anything before it. Other times I feel as though I have served an eternity in a perpetual cycle of ups and downs that leaves me disoriented and dissociated. “What a long, strange trip it has been..”
So how did I celebrate my last December in country? The way that many Namibian people do – traveling to a few different destinations and going to the farm for Christmas. For the Girl’s Club end of year celebration, I took 4 girls to the lodge in town to swim and have a nice dinner together to celebrate their accomplishments and growth throughout the year. This occasion happened to land on Thanksgiving, which was later spent with 8 of my best friends in Khorixas, in a perfect evening of drinking wine and celebrating our paths entwining.
After our unofficial Thanksgiving in Khorixas, we traveled to my favorite coastal town, Swakopmund for a huge get together with volunteers of all groups and sectors. The weekend was spent cooking, enjoying each other’s company and of course, drinking gin with some of the best cooks around.
The Ministry of Youth usually does an End-of-Year function where all of the colleagues get together and take a trip, promoting friendships and good nature within the office. Since the Ministry has been completely bankrupt for as long as I have been working with them, we decided that we would put together our own End-of-Year function without the support of the Windhoek office. We borrowed an old koombi from one of our co-workers, filled it with gas, food and drinks and made our way to Twyfelfontein for a braai, gift giving and relaxation at the beautiful Gondwana Lodge. No story in Damaraland is quite that cohesive and without excitement, so of course we had a few hiccups along the way, including a flat tire, getting lost for a few hours and finally running out of gas in the light rain on the way back. As it always does, everything worked out just fine thanks to the craftiness of my colleagues and the kindness of strangers. We also dressed the same, like we were the cast of a 90’s sitcom.
Since the garden that we started 9 months ago has become something very cathartic and peaceful for me in my work, I decided to join a Permagardening workshop in Ongwediva to further my knowledge of how to maintain a water smart and sustainable garden in a place that received little to no rain every year. Not to mention the sun wants to see us all suffer. Peter Jensen gave a great workshop with lots of new information and a healthy level of practice in a garden that we created for a town volunteer.
Last year we decided to spend Christmas at a fellow volunteer’s place in the Zambezi region and visit the beautiful Victoria Falls in Zambia, so we knew this year had to be even more special, even though he would not be with us. Although Peace Corps Namibia is quite a posh country to serve in, it certainly comes with its difficulties. We decided that Cape Town would give us a taste of what it will be like to go back to the States, where Über is everywhere, good food and alcohol are overflowing and no one stares at us as we walk through the city.
The five of us rented out an amazing AirBnB right in the center of Bo Kaap, one of the historical areas of Malaysian influence in Cape Town where many of the slaves lived when they were first brought over. The homes are beautifully colored with bright pastels, almost reminiscent of childhood Easter eggs.
We could not have picked a better location, as we were about 5 minutes walk from so many bars, restaurants and sights that we wanted to see and experience. The best part about having a home for 8 days in the city is making nachos, bringing back loads of craft beer and having an epic view of Table Mountain from our patio.
Cape Town was incredible, and we did so much during our short week there. Alongside the plethora of gin and craft beer bars and breweries, one of my favorite things we did was hiking Lion’s Head during the full moon. We weren’t up there at the darkest points, but watching the sun set over the ocean and using chains and ladders to climb to the highest point was something that I didn’t realize I missed so much until we did it. One of my favorite hikes that I have done since moving to Namibia, by far, as there is something mystical when a large group of people climb a mountain together as the moon rises.
We took a day tour throughout most of Cape Town with a cool company called “Lucky and Lost”, with a very knowledgeable woman who grew up in Cape Town and showed us many of the tourist spots, without making it super touristy. We got to see Boulder Beach where all of the adorably sad, molting penguins hang out, waiting to grow into their adult forms and stop being so miserable – much like human teenagers.
Visiting Cape Point, the most south-western point of the continent – we discussed how silly of a title this is to have, but man, the view did not disappoint for a moment. The crystal clear waters beneath us on our hike were jaw-dropping, while the breeze kept us cooler than Namibia ever has.
A quick wine tasting followed by a drive through Chapman’s Peak, an incredibly narrow but gorgeous route right on the edge of the ocean brought our tour to an end. It was a fantastic way for us to see everything we wanted to, pretty inexpensively and with a fun group of people.
No trip to Cape Town is complete without a wine tour and visit to Stellenbosch. We booked another tour with a company called Wine Flies – we had our own koombi to drive us around to 5 different vineyards and wineries, one in the beginning that was paired with cheese and another at the end paired with handmade chocolates. We had a traditional South African lunch at one of the vineyards (about the same as Namibian fare, with lots of meat and carbohydrates). Each of us ended up buying at least one bottle from somewhere, and we brought a few logs of the goat cheese home as well.
Handmade chocolates to be paired with the wine, while being hosted by an adorable South African woman in the basement of the winery.
What would a journey be without the people that you spent it with? So grateful to have met people who I know I will see for the rest of my life. If nothing else, Peace Corps service has brought about a wealth of knowledge and appreciation for those small moments that give you pure, unadulterated happiness.
Continued in Part 2