Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Goodbye Dordabis!

Final Goodbyes

Final goodbyes were sad, but honestly more stressful than anything else. The girls came over to clean my house. The water was out the whole week so we had to struggle to get enough water to clean the walls, but they are miracle workers. When they left I cried - can't seem to keep it together when goodbyes to the kids are included.

On the day I actually left, I cleaned up the rest of my things, packed up remaining items, and in completely Namibian fashion, brought my chair outside to sit and wait. Within minutes a few girls came to sit and wait with me, and within the hour the teachers also showed up. When the car showed up I hugged everyone goodbye and cried the whole way to Windhoek.

It's sad because there's a good chance I will never see these people again. Even if I come back in a year, someone might have died before then. It feels wierd not to have said goodbye to my favourite people, but it's finished now.

At the same time, it's REALLY nice to be done with a lot of the village bullshit. I feel SO much less stressed now, and more excited for my upcoming trip. Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, USA, here I come!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Best Gift Ever and Other Stories

One week left. Still doesn't feel real, but this is it.

Since I last wrote the following has happened:

  • Exams were completed. The last time I invigilated ever was today! Grade 7 did AMAZING on their finals! One kid even got a 92 which is simply unheard of on a national exam at our school! I'm so proud.

  • I've totaled the term marks and exam marks for both years. Here are the results:

GRADE 7 2008 Term marks : 9% improved by one letter mark or more

Exam marks: 6% improved by one letter mark or more

GRADE 6 2009 Term marks: 22% improved by one letter mark or more

Exam Marks:19% improved by one letter mark or more

GRADE 6 2008 Term marks: 41% improved by one letter more Exam marks: 59% improved by one letter mark or more

GRADE 7 2009 Term marks: 55% improved by one letter mark or more

Exam marks: 52% improved by one letter mark or more

When totaled as improvements of 10 pts or more, it reaches up to 75% of the class improved! Also, 4 children in Gr 7 this year have improved over two letter marks, and 11 have improved over two letter marks on exams over the course of the two years. It's really gratifying to FINALLY see some results after it felt like I was hitting my head on the wall trying to get them to learn.

  • I have given out: certificates for spelling, academic achievement and behaviour, sweets, my address, ALL my old clothes and random things accumulated over 2 years, and some bandanas my grandma sent for the kids. I think I should give away all my things more often! It was fun and liberating.

  • Grade 7 farewell party: The teachers made for me a traditional Nama dress. I wore it to the party and of course the children freaked out. Ms. Uises asked the children to say a few words of appreciation for me. A few children braved ridicule of their English to say something, and even though it was minimal, the feelings behind it made me and several of the Gr. 7 girls cry. Emotional times. Then we danced and ate meat. It was election day, so I talked with the people at the election area--the police officer and journalist monitoring the election. On the way home a lady burst out laughing when she saw me in the Nama dress, then she said "You look beautiful." In the beginning I thought giving traditional dress to PCVs was funny, awkward, and kinda silly. But now, it's really a powerful statement saying that I belong here.

  • The best gift ever: On the way back from the Gr 7 party, a lady pulls me aside. I think maybe she is drunk or something because she's not talking, she's dragging me over to the shade. She is obviously calling for someone, so I wait. Melvin, one of my grade 6 learners shows up. It turns out the lady is his grandmother, staying at New Poste. Melvin had told me earlier he was making a gift for me. Since these children have nothing, the most I expected was a letter or a drawing. Instead, his grandmother had made me a Herero doll. She makes these dolls for the tourists who visit New poste for the weavings. Like any Namibian-made things - it's totally handmade and kinda sloppy. She's also not a Herero - she's a Damara, but the Herero dress is more distinctive than the Nama/Damara dress, so it sells better. Anyhow, this gift is amazing to me because:

  • 1. It's from a parent. I rarely have any contact with any parent, and it's little more than "hi." Most parents don't have much to do with their children's lives. She is actually the grandmother, but she is the primary caregiver for Melvin, so she's really the parent. Getting a gift from a parent was something I never expected because they don't know me. Because she gave me something it means she took note of what I was doing in her child's life, and that really makes me happy. I love the aumas of Namibia, they make this country tick.

  • 2. Gift giving is not a part of this culture. Sharing is an essential part of the culture, but buying or making something specifically for one person alone is almost never done. There's no obligation to give gifts (as there was for the school to give me something upon my leaving them). When there's no obligation it's extremely rare that someone would act upon that. they might appreciate what I did, but they would never give me anything. So giving me a gift is so HUGE. It means what I did was AMAZING.

  • 3. People are poor here. This is one reason why gift-giving is not part of the culture. They can't give away things because they have nothing to give. What they have to give, they constantly share: food, water, etc. Especially in Damara tribe, people don't do anything for free. There's no such thing as voluntary work. Leaders will often sabotage projects that will benefit the community, simply because it will not benefit them. Everyone expects to be paid for any little thing. It's one way to survive. For the woman to buy the fabrics and spend hours making the doll and not expect any money in return is an amazing thing to do in this culture. Her family might go hungry an extra day just to give me a gift she had no obligation to give and is kind of against the culture to do so. WOW! I definitely hugged that woman because even without all the other good stuff, she just made my entire service worthwhile!

  • I asked the Grade 6 and Grade 7 what they wanted to be when they grew up and here are the results: (Well I tried to post the pie charts I made to no success.) As you can see, most want to be teachers. That's all me! Also they want to be police to stop people from stealing and raping. They want to be nurses and doctors to help the people with AIDS. They want to be lawyers to solve people's problems. My kids are amazing. Here are some comments from the kids:

I want to be a doctor when I grow up to save people’s lives to help people with AIDS. I want to help people beside God.

Pendje Tuahepa

If I grow up I want to be a teacher. If the small children stupid, I want to help that children. I want to have money. I will come at that school everyday.

Aletta Claasen

I want to be a teacher. I will not beat the children.

Bettie Khaxas

  • The History of Namibia according to two 6th grade Namibians:

A Long Ago in the war By Nego Goeieman

The Germans want to take Africa. The First name of Namibia was Southwest Africa. Then the Germans came to Africa. Then they divided Africa. You take this country, you take, like that. Then the Germans take Namibia and come to Namibia and they bring also alcohols, guns, sugar, bread, tea, coffee, and albarsters. They give people alcohol and people don’t know what they are drinking. They don’t ask because they don’t know German. Then the people are drunk. Then they take people’s cattles and eeverything and they give also guns, sugar, bread, tea things. They take people’s cattle and land also. And now we are working in them. We are looking after their cattle.

Story about war By: Geraldine Cloete

My grandfather told us a story about a war under the tree. The grandfather was telling us they were not weaving the clothes that we are wearing today. They were wearing the animal skins. In the war, they were not sleeping. They were fighting the whole year. But the other Namibian people were fighting in other countries. A long time ago this country was not called Namibia. The people called this country South West Africa. When the people said our country will rest. But the South African white men were saying “we will take that country because in that country, people don’t have power.” But Sam Nujoma was fighting for the freedom and then we got our flag. But he was saying he will never forget that story.

Quite accurate, ne?

  • And finally, just for fun, two real multiple choice questions from the natural science exam:

3. Alcohol abuse can cause:
A. world peace
B. violence
C. hurricanes
D. happiness

17. Should you help the child in the wheelchair?
A. No
B. only on Monday
C. yes
D. only at night

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Last two weeks at site!!!

I can’t quite get my head around the fact that I’m leaving here for good in two weeks. Even though I’ve only been here two years, it feels like a lifetime. It’s kind of like trying to get your head around the idea of “you” dying. Leaving Namibia still feels vague, uncertain, at some time in the distant future, and what comes after is the great Unknown. Even while I’ve given away a lot of things and had my last girl’s club meeting, it still doesn’t feel real. America is what feels like a dream now.

At the same time, Peace Corps has flied by! When I say to myself, “I lived in Africa for 2 years,” it sounds false, like I’m lying. Two years can’t possibly be up! Namibia certainly can’t be the exotic-sounding Africa! So Peace Corps was 10 years of life lessons packed into the fastest two years of my life.

To return to the death motif, I think I’m going through the 5 stages of grief. For most of Term 2 it was denial – “don’t think about leaving, that’s too far away.” Then came depression. For the whole month of September I could barely keep a dry eye. Then came anger this past week, when I bit off the head of my supervisor (that has been coming). I’m still a far ways away from acceptance.


My impact
While there have been many occasions where I doubted it, there’s no doubt now that I have made an impact. Almost half of my kids want to be teachers when they grow up. Even if only one makes it to be a teacher and then emulates me, that’s hundreds of children I will have impacted without even knowing them. About 64% of my learners have improved marks on their examinations. All of them have improved their understanding of English. They will do better in life because of this, even if they never realize it was all me.

The question of development
What’s more questionable is the impact I’ve made on “development.” Because of my typing and editing skills, two huge projects were funded—while it seemed like a hassle at the time, it was probably the biggest tangible thing I can point to. Ultimately I’ve come to the conclusion that changes only come through relationships, and building relationships is really what pc and “integration” is about. It’s untangible and unquantifiable, despite the US govts efforts to make us quantify it. But I think, it will work at the small scale for a few people. And for me that's enough. What I'm certain of is that throwing money at any problem is NOT the way to solve it.

The HIV-AIDS Problem
It’s really poverty that’s the problem. Condoms are free. Anti-Retro-Viral drugs are free. Food is not free. If you’re a girl, you might have transactional sex to get some food. You don’t get a say in the use of a condom. If you get HIV, you can go on ARVs, but you will just throw them up without food. If you miss even one pill, it will set you back in terms of CD 4 cells, eliminating a lot of the good the ARVs did. Then you die around age 30 but you’re kids don’t have food … and the cycle continues. I think that HIV rates will only reduce when poverty reduces. Capitalism is not a system that can achieve that, so HIV is simply another affliction among the world’s poor. While rates may reduce in the future, it’s still here to stay.

The toughest job you’ll ever love!

I didn’t understand at the beginning of the two years when all the volunteers were talking about how the kids were the best part. Then five minutes later they were saying the kids were the worst part. Now, I know that the kids are the best and worse part. Some days I visualize how I will murder them all; other days I want to adopt them all. I was repairing a paper a kid gave me that was ripped by another kid—not because it was anything important, but just because the kid would be upset. And that’s when I realized that I loved these kids. In no way was teaching them ever easy, but it has always been rewarding.

2 years in Peace Corps is like 10 years in “real” (American) life! So, so true.

Be flexible and patient!
Yep. Americans are so funny running around in haste all the time. The world’s not going to fall apart tomorrow if you don’t get your wash done.

Let me be the change I wish to see in the world.
A huge part of PC is just being a role model. Check.

Life is calling. How far will you go?
To Namibia, apparently. This is the lamest of the PC mottoes.

Hardest part: Emotional burden of becoming close to people, hearing their horrendous stories, and being virtually powerless to do anything about it.

Best part: Getting to know the kids, developing as a teacher and a person, living a tribal life.

Ultimately Peace Corps has been a completely unique experience. Just as university or study abroad were unique experiences than cannot be repeated, so is Peace Corps. There’s really nothing quite like it, and I'm SO so glad I decided to do it. Namibia is simply where I was supposed to be!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I’m in the last few months now. I’ve purchased all my souvenirs (for the most part). I’m starting to give away my old things. I’m out of ideas for creative projects. This term I’m having the kids make journals and do them each week, so they can practice writing. Some kids have seriously improved this term, which is bizarre since they have been the same every term for 2 years. It’s weird that it’s just now kicking in.
In Girl’s Club, I’ve run out of topics, so I am teaching the kids Rueda de Casino style salsa dance. They are really good when they are not playing around. I hope to do a performance at the end of the year sometime, if we do not have the cultural week.
My beginning of the term enthusiasm has worn off, and little Nam things are grating on me again, like they normally do this time of the term. So I’m not as sad about leaving in two months! In a way it feels surreal. All last year, I wanted to go home most days, and now that it is almost here, it still feels vague and in the future. However, my flights have already been purchased, so it’s a definite.
I wrote an extensive list of changes in me, based on diary entries, and my own observations of myself. There are 70 changes, some minor, some not so minor. Some will go away once I’m back in my own culture, and I hope that others will stay a part of me.
Some details:

  • Nam has released my inner bitch. I don’t take anybody’s crap anymore. I will confront when necessary.
  • Dualistic thinking has clouded my understanding of other people. There is such a thing as the best lower primary teacher being a drunk or the best upper primary teacher being a philanderer.
  • As a teacher, my classroom management skills were non existent before. Now, they are stellar. You try to teach 35 hungry, malnourished, learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, abused, orphaned/neglected, middle school students! Well, I did.
  • A lot of my personality traits were more developed, and some became more minor. For instance, I am more introverted, emotional, patient, lazy, and optimistic. I am less perfectionistic, ego-driven, honest, distracted, and controlling.

Skills gained through my Peace Corps experience:

  • How to cut corners
  • how to use tables in Word
  • how to use decorative page borders (on everything)
  • how to pay attention
  • how to say no or confront people
  • how to cook simply and well
  • how to speak Namlish
  • how to ask for help
  • how to see the grey area on everything
  • how to unclog toilet with only a stick
  • how to rid my house of cockroaches
  • how to hand wash laundry and bucket bathe myself
  • how to cook macaroni and cheese (and everything else) from scratch
  • how to caramelize onions
  • how to control a classroom full of middle school kids
  • how to accept discomfort as a part of life
  • how to fend off nam-stalkers
  • how to kill scorpions
  • how to garden
  • how to set boundaries
  • how to enjoy stupid stuff (movies, chitchat, etc)
  • how to small talk
  • how to hitchhike
  • how to lie well
  • how to accept my destiny

    Dec 11- 13 Hike out of Namibia into Zambia
    Dec 14-18 Travel to Lusaka, Zambia
    Dec 18-20 Train to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
    Dec 21-30 Zanzibar, Tanzania
    Dec 31 Travel to Moshi (8 hours on a bus) (New Year’s eve!)
    Jan 1 -2 Moshi, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
    Jan 3-5 Tours Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, etc. Tanzania
    Jan 6 Bus to Nairobi, Kenya
    Jan7 – Jan 9 Tours in Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, Kenya
    Jan 10 Fly to Ethiopia from Nairobi (leave 5:30 am – arrive 7:30 am)
    Jan 11-13 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
    Jan 14-16 Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
    Jan 17-21 Gonder ( for Religious festival) Ethiopia
    Jan 22-25 Aksum, Ethiopia
    Jan 26-27 Rock churches of Tigray, Ethiopia
    Jan 28-Feb 2 Lalibela, Ethiopia
    Feb 3-5 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
    Feb 6 Flight to Cairo, Egypt (leave 4:40am – arrive 7:30 am)
    Feb 7-12 Cairo, Egypt
    Feb 13 Memphis/Saqqara/Dashur, Egypt
    Feb 14-19 Luxor, Egypt
    Feb 20-23 Sinai peninsula, climb Mt. Sinai, see St. Katherine’s monastery
    Feb 24-26 Cairo, Egypt
    Feb 27 Flight to America! (Ash & Beth leave 9:20 am – arrive DC 7:45 pm)
    (Megan leaves 4:55 am -- arrive SC 7:47 pm)

Friday, September 11, 2009

August Vacation and More


First days: hung out with Ashley and her parents in Windhoek for a day.

Next days: came back to the village. There was a big political event going on, supposedly teaching them how to vote. They played all sorts of Owambo music and Kwaito that generally my tribe does not listen to. There was a relatively famous Damara singer there though and the crowd was big for his performances. I really love being in the village.

After that: I spent two days hitchhiking alone up to Opuwo. I do not prefer to hitchhike alone, but no one was going north at that time.’

Hike # 1 (Dordabis – Windhoek): Older Afrikaner couple who lives 60km south of me. Told me the reason why white people do not pick me up is because they think I must be insane to hike from Dordabis. Good to know. Invited me to the farm. Free.

Hike # 2 (Windhoek – Okahandja): White German-descended Windhoeker. He was on the way to pick up his mother. Believes the next empire will be Germany. Hates Chinese people. Free.

Hike # 3 (Okahandja – Otjiwarongo) Black couple on their way to Rundu. Didn’t talk to me, which is always preferred to awkward conversation. N$ 50.

Hike # 4 (Otjiwarongo – Outjo) Black man. I forgot to pay him, so he tracked me down. N$40.

Hike # 5 (Outjo – Opuwo) By far the best ride, in government car with Penny. Good conversation, safe ride, no harassment, direct route and Free!

After that, I hooked up with Ashley’s parents. We swam in the pool at Opuwo Lodge and bought lots of Himba bracelets. Opuwo surprised me in the fact that it is still very Namibian. I expected it to feel more exotic or uncomfortable.

For those that do not know, Opuwo is the home to the Himba and Themba tribes. Both still wear traditional dress. The Himba women wear a animal skin as a skirt and lots of homemade jewelry. They do not wear shirts or tops. They cover their skin with a mixture of ochre and animal fat. Their hairdo indicates class, whether they have menstruated yet, and whether they have had children yet. The Themba wear printed fabrics as skirts and also go topless or wear brightly colored bras. They do not use ochre. They put beads in their hair. Himba men also can wear traditional dress in skins, but I did not see any. All the Himba men wear western clothing. Themba men wear skins or colored fabric short skirts and jewelry. Then there are Herero people who speak the same language but wear longsleeve ankle-length dresses with 6 petticoats underneath, based on German attire from the colonial era. Then there are Himba/Herero women and men in Western clothing. Basically anything goes, but it all feels so natural and completely normal (to me who is used to Namibia).

After seeing Opuwo, we headed a long way to Palmwag Lodge. It is in Damaraland, the homeland for my tribe. The landscape is very beautiful, but we did not see many animals.

Later, we headed to Swakopmund where it was freezing! I couldn’t wait to get out of there!

Finally, we were in Windhoek for several days for the COS conference. The hotel was great, except for the mouse that got in our trash and woke me up in the night because he was rustling around so much. After PC the problem is not that there is a mouse in the room, but that it actually woke me up!

The COS conference was scary (getting a job sounds hard, as does readjusting to America), emotional (leaving Africa will be sad), and fun (vacation planning, hanging out one last time).


Hitchhike out of Namibia
Travel across half of Zambia on minibuses
Take the train to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Take the ferry to Zanzibar Island
Spend Christmas at the beach in Zanzibar or in Stone Town

Travel to Northern Tanzania: see the Serengeti, Mt. Kilimanjaro
Travel to Nairobi, Kenya and tour surrounding areas (Amboseli Park, Lakes of Rift Valley?)
Fly to Ethiopia.
Travel by bus to the historic sites of Addis Ababa Bahir Dar, Gonder, Tigray, and Lalibela. (rock hewn Christian churches, stelae)

Fly to Cairo, Egypt
See tombs/temples/museums in Cairo and Luxor. Climb Mt. Sinai in Sinai Peninsula.

Beginning of March: Fly home! Probably around March 4-7. Will know for sure in a month or so.

Leaving Namibia will be difficult, despite all the frustrations of living here. There are still days where I can barely bear living here. But most days I have really appreciated all the good stuff. Somehow, I’ve become really good friends with my staff and kids. I genuinely love them and will miss them a lot.
I’ve never been this sad over leaving a place (despite the fact that there are places I love more), but I think that is for a number of reasons. I am sad because I will miss:

1. PC life – 3 months of vacation, doing good work, PC culture (being grody is ok, there is no such thing as Too Much Information, you can show up at anyone’s house at any time)

2. NAM life – cultural elements I will miss: attitude towards time, tribal system, pace of life, hitchhiking, etc.

3. Namibians I know – teachers and students. These are the children I will always remember and wonder if they made it.

4. Maybe I will never come back.
I was sad to leave Costa Rica and Mexico, but I knew I could easily always come back, and I probably will continue going there for the rest of my life. Coming back to Namibia would be much more difficult. I had always assumed I would never come back, so I could preserve Namibia as it was while I was here. There is a good chance I may not get back here anytime soon, and even if I do, I may not see my students or the teachers ever again.

Stay in DC area (northern va?). Apply for government, NGO, company positions, preferably using Spanish. If I don’t get any jobs after a while, go back to school for teaching certificate in Spanish grades 6-12 or English 6-12 OR English as a Second language, get a teaching job. Before I’m 30, I’d like to live abroad again, probably as an ESL teacher or a Spanish teacher at an American school abroad.

My replacement comes on Monday! I will finally get to meet him/her.

One of the teachers who has children of her own who are mostly grown has adopted several orphans from her own family. One of them is Kennedy, my best 7th grade student. Kennedy’s mother is dead, but I am not sure if his father is dead. He calls the teacher mother, so it must have happened a long time ago. Another child the teacher was caring for was a 2nd grader who was the aunt’s child. That child (I’m not sure what her name is) died over the holiday. Nobody is saying what she died of, so it must be AIDS. She used to come over quite a bit and borrow DVDs for the family. I thought I was going to get away with not knowing anyone personally who had died in my village, but I was wrong. She was a sweet kid. It is really a shame. The memorial service is next week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

21 months in.

Superficial Comments

I can’t believe I only have 4.5 months left of service! Time really has flown. It doesn’t seem that I was here for almost as long as I was in Tucson. They said this year would fly by and it has!

I recently acquired a stove from the ministry—a delightful addition to my life. I have enjoyed baking numerous cookies and cakes (and eating them all!). ANYTHING I make tastes better than the store-bought biscuits available here. I can’t believe I survived without good chocolate chip cookies for a year and a half! Its also nice that I will be able to gorge myself with sweet things here for a while, get fat, then get thin again when I tire of it, and be back to my normal weight when I get home to eat more!

Girl’s club has been a hit. We’ve done self esteem, body parts, menstruation, pregnancy, birth control and condom use, boyfriends, and will be moving onto a long segment on careers. It’s the first secondary project I really enjoy and it’s quite clear the girls do too. I will definitely miss them when I leave!

Teaching is so easy for me now, it’s boring. Lately, I did a poster competition which was a huge success. I also had 7th grade make comic strips about a problem and a solution to that problem. The results were HILARIOUS—probably unintentionally. Otherwise, teaching is rather humdrum.

Winter is here “in full swing” as we like to say. It honestly doesn’t seem that bad this year. It fully has to do with attitude.
Last year, my attitude was winter should not come into my house. I.e. I can accept that I cannot regulate the temperature in the class or outside but I cannot accept that I cannot regulate the temperature INSIDE. That made me very bitter upon discovering that the heater used up a ridiculous amount of electricity so I couldn’t use it and it was super cold inside as well. Ultimately I ended up relinquishing that idea and accepting the cold, but staying in bed as long as I could and living in my winter jacket and hat.
This year it hasn’t been so bad because I’ve adopted Namibian’s policy of “life is suffering, get the hell over it and stop whining!” Again once you accept that there are things you cannot change, that you have NO agency over, then you can become happier. I never thought I could be fully happy in winter, but this winter is different. That doesn’t mean that I don’t try and mitigate the cold however I can—using the heater sparingly, putting on three pairs of socks, reading in bed instead of in the chair—but because I accept the cold, it’s tolerable.

My birthday is coming up this weekend!

I will be getting a replacement volunteer in October! For a while I was kind of jealous. Where was my PC mentor? Where was someone to explain to me the dynamics of the school and community? But now, I'm excited to have some company in the village next term. And to have someone to continue my work and help the children improve.

Just when I had given up integration, what happens? I get invited to a 50th anniversary party AND to a neighbouring community's school. The party was EXRAVAGANT--they must have killed a family of goats and there were 6-8 cakes. Although Namibian food is not my favorite (big hunk o fatty meat and too-much mayo salad), I eat because it is a way of breaking down those racial walls. When Namibian blacks in the south see me, they tiptoe around me because I am white. The burden of apartheid colors the way they see me (i.e. scary white woman who might fly off the handle at any little thing and is way too good for our food). Eating their food, greeting, hitchhiking, riding in the back of the bakkie, telling people I don't speak Afrikaans are all small, small ways I like to think I am helping to overcome that divide. This is also the reason why it is much easier to hang out with kids than with the adults. The kids never experienced the oppression of apartheid, and most have yet to realise the burden of race/class. They saw me as a white lady who speaks funny when I came, but now they just see Ms. Leo.

The other day a security guard I know in Windhoek was talking with one of the teachers. He described me to the teacher as "the small one" not as I had anticipated "the white one." That's gotta be progress.

Deep Stuff.

I used to think PC was all about the WORK: language-learning, integrating, cultural exchange, blablabla. And it is. Certainly if the work wasn’t rewarding I wouldn’t be here. But it is also NOT. For myself, it has really been about seeing myself more clearly.

Problems I’ve been interrogating lately: fatalism vs. free will (preliminary findings indicate only the presence of fate), birth of the artist (self-nomination is key), elements of Post-PC makeover (manicure and pedicure are MUSTS, but what LOOK do I want to cultivate?), ties between economy and religion (Are poor people fatalists just because they HAVE no choices? Are rich people atheists or agnostic because they CAN be? If I change class status do I also change religions? Class and religion seem to always go hand in hand, but to what extent does economy determine religion and vice versa?). Still thinking about those.

And finally, Some Learner Wisdom: Some More Funny Answers

Use the word “harvest” in a sentence.
I harvest many soccer balls.

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?
On Valentine’s day we dressing in white and red clothes. I give my best friend a titty bear and something else. And she give me also glasses and playthings and shoes . . . If we finish we shake hands and weapons.

What happened the last time you went to the farm for the holidays?
My grandfather give me a pig when I go to the farm. When I see my pig I just smile and smile. When I sleep, I dream about my pig.

Sunday, June 7, 2009



I do my shopping, stuff the full plastic bags into a big “china” bag, and lug it down the street to the Engen station. I look around for anyone who looks familiar. People start to yell “Gobabis?” at me; they are waiting for more people to fill up their car and earn an extra buck. I say, “Dordabis” loudly so everyone near overhears. I’m lucky this time. A guy comes up to me and introduces himself as the boyfriend of the schoolboard chairperson in Dordabis. At first I think he’s propositioning me, so I avoid eye contact and act distant. Once I know he’s a friend then I can act normal. We stuff my things behind the seats of his bakkie, but I get my book out first. You never know how long it is going to take for the bakkie to fill up with people. It turns out he didn’t want to wait for more people, so we left, just the two of us. On the way we converse in small talk I’ve mastered after many, many other hikes. It’s really good practice for first dates and boring parties I’ll encounter in the US.
There’s a car on the side of the road up ahead. We stop, because in Namibia it’s unforgivable not to. You might be the only car passing that day. It turns out they hit a small warthog, but the car is fine. My hike driver asks if he can keep it. The farm owners in the other vehicle say yes. He smiles broadly, steps outside and hauls the warthog by the back legs into the back of the truck. “That is nice meat!” he says to me. I’m happy it’s going to be a quick ride back. He’s happy for roadkill.
We get back just before dark. I see “Dordabis moutain” up ahead. Almost home. The first thing I do besides unlock my door is check to see if my plants are still alive. I’ve been gone for a month on holiday, and I hired two boys from the neighborhood to water my garden for the break. They did a nice job; my tomato plants are big and the basil grew back. Then, I check my house to make sure no one broke in. Nope. I always feel a great and abiding love for these D-town people when that’s the case.
I put away the groceries, unpack, and crash. Hitchhiking really takes it out of you.

I wake up the next day, stay in bed where it is warm. I hear singing outside. Probably another funeral. Not many people are buried in Dordabis proper, so we only really have funerals on the weekends. I get up and eat some corn flakes, start to soak my laundry. After the laundry is hung to dry, I take a break and cook something for lunch. I’m in the middle of season 4 of scrubs, so I continue with a few episodes. In the afternoon, I tend to my garden and get in the sun to warm up a bit. Sometimes, the kids will come and visit. I will show them pictures of my other life and South Africa—places they may never go. Around dusk, I have to open my front door. The goats come home at that time to the Community Hall right across the street from my house. On the way, they stop by my yard. So I have to leave the door open so I can see if they are getting too close to my garden and chase them off.
After dark, I close and lock my doors and settle in for some TV shows on my hard drive or a book. Since the ministry FINALLY brought my stove, I’ve been baking quite a bit. I’m in bed by 9pm most nights, sometimes earlier in winter.

The Strangeness of Donations

Some American tourists came to our school to give all the children shoes. Most of them were worn shoes from America, but there were quite a few new ones too. It started off very formal and orderly, but as time went along it turned to chaos (as usual). The little ones probably never had shoes before; it was so funny to see them clunk around in them.
American Perspective:
1. Shoes should fit. Take the shoes that fit over the pretty ones. Take the practical, ugly shoes that will last long over the pretty, nice ones. Adults should help the children try the shoes on for a proper fit.
2. We can donate old shoes because old shoes are better than no shoes. The Africans have nothing, so they will be grateful.
3. Every child who doesn’t wear shoes to school doesn’t have shoes.
4. Parents will be grateful for the shoes.
5. The children will appreciate and care for these shoes.
6. Since Americans can wear mostly any shoe to school or work, they donated shoes from snow boots to cowboy boots to flip-flops to high heels.
7. Their contribution will make a lasting difference in the lives of African children. The children will remember us Americans forever. The Americans can feel good about what they did.

Namibian Perspective:
1. Take the nice American shoe before someone else gets it! There is not enough to go around. If it is American, it must be nice and good quality. Don’t even try it on; you will make your foot fit if they are pretty enough. You are used to suffering, so it doesn’t matter if the fit is right or not. You probably will only wear them for special occasions anyways. If you are a child, you will share these shoes with all your friends and young family members, so it is not so important that you find a pair for you in particular.
2. Old shoes are going to break in about two seconds here.
3. Most children won’t wear shoes at all because they like it better without shoes and because they don’t want to wear out their one pair of school shoes. They only really wear shoes in winter.
4. Parents either won’t give a crap about the shoes or they will take the child’s shoes for themselves. They might sell the child’s shoes to someone else and use that money to buy alcohol or food. They will be pissed the Americans didn’t also bring some shoes for them. After all, it’s the white man’s duty to give them handouts.
5. The children didn’t have shoes before, and once these wear out they won’t have shoes again. Shoes wear out really fast here. Plus, because they are shared, soon someone steals the shoes or misplaces them, and in a few weeks there might not be any shoes at all.
6. Kids might be beat if they wear the donated shoes to school. (This doesn’t happen at my school, but some schools are really strict with the school shoe policy). Snow boots!? Seriously guys . . .
7. The children have already forgotten you. The only reason they said “thank you” is because the adults made them. Did you notice how all these random people from the location showed up to take shoes? Did you notice how the teachers who can definitely afford their own shoes took several pairs for themselves? There’s no gratitude for what is your duty. You white people are so rich; it’s easy for you to transport all these shoes over here. The shoes will last one winter, maybe two. Then, we hope you'll be back with more.


What is it about Peace Corps that makes all those skeletons in the closet, all those repressed memories, all those past embarrassments and hurts surface when they’ve been buried for so long? It’s not losing the reminders of your surface identity that, while traumatic, breaks the seam. Culture and friends and habits can be important and painful to leave behind, but there are always other replacement cultures and friends and habits. It’s not the new culture that, while it forces you to test your own moral code, requires you to face your demons.
The loss of the old and the bizarre new provide for mood lighting; they don’t bust up the ground with tectonic ruptures, letting the ghosts of the past escape. At least not by themselves. Joseph Campbell said something like if you leave home and family and friends for long enough you will see God (I can never remember exact quotes, try as I might). He was talking about heroes going on expeditions, sacrificing their senses and ultimately relinquishing their own ego and trusting in fate to demolish the monster (which was themselves). (Every story is the same after a while.) But it’s not the leaving or the staying away that does it.
I think it’s the time. Time to think. Time to sleep and dream. Time to read what you want to read and write what you want to write. Time to reflect and analyze. Time that appears when removed from the distractions of the familiar. The demons pop out, one by one with their past little hauntings. Here there’s time enough for all the personal earthquakes and shatterings of the soul, and for mapping anew the landscapes of the interior.