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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Whole New World

It's funny how as children, we can become so accustomed to what we experience that as adults it can be difficult to think in any other way. Over the past three months, it's been a challenge, as mentioned in previous posts, to teach people about America/American culture and life. The challenge is to open people's mind to new worlds that they can't even imagine. One of the ways I've tried to do this, is to try and relate everything to something they have experienced in Namibia. However, it can be almost impossible to relate some things, when they haven't been outside of Kamanjab, or even the smaller communal farms, such as Anker.

I recently had the opportunity to take four learners (Namlish for students) from Anker to the launch of a mentoring programme hosted by the US Embassy and the American Cultural Centre. We were invited to spend a weekend in Windhoek, the capital, to learn about the programme, what our roles as mentor and mentee are. There were two boys and two girls around 14-15. It was the first time any of them have been outside of Kamanjab, and even then, most of them have only been to there a few times.

Before we left Kamanjab, we stopped for take away (Namlish for fast food) and it was fun to see the kids get to choose the food they want and to splurge a little bit. It was also very inspiring as they were fairly responsible with their money (probably better than American teens). Although they splurged, they spent the money wisely and when they didn't, they lived with their consequences. The six hour trip into Windhoek was pretty uneventful, but it was interesting to watch the kids look at the scenery changing or animals in the road. Each town we drove through got bigger and bigger until we reached the Capital.

It was a lot of fun to see how intrigued the kids were with the big city. They didn't know what a robot (Namlish for a traffic signal) was, and many things fascinated them such as the “tall” buildings, the adverts, etc. It was also amazing to show them how big the city is. Anker can't have more than 1 000 people and Kamanjab is not much bigger than 6 000. (Wikipedia says that Windhoek has a population of 300 000 but I'm not sure how true that is) Growing up in such a big city like Las Vegas, it's hard for me to imagine what it was like for four teens to see “the windy corner” for the first time. (Las Vegas is ~4-5x bigger than Windhoek and has well over 2 000 000 people, which is the entire population of Namibia)

The boys and I stayed in a small hotel in Windhoek West. It was their first night in a hotel and funny to teach them the concepts of a hotel and etiquette. They were very good to make their beds, afraid to eat too much, and not sure what to do with their dishes etc. While waiting for our transport, I taught them the taxi system and how it works. In Namibia, there are many taxis, and they're everywhere. They would honk at us to ask us if we're looking for a ride. The boys at first thought it was a way for them to greet us (which is the norm for someone honking in Anker and Kamanjab) but I explained all of this. It was even harder to explain to the taxis that we're not wanting a ride.

Thankfully, the mentoring meeting and everything worked out. We got to meet the US Ambassador and all! It lead to an interesting conversation with they boys trying to explain what an Embassy is, what the role of an Ambassador is, and why they're needed. I am also fortunate to be a mentor of one of the boys. He has some big hopes of going to UNAM to study engineering, and I hope to help him and encourage him to reach his goals.

After the event, I was able to take the boys to downtown Windhoek. Up to that point, we drove around downtown, but not actually in it. I tried to take them to areas of interest that are both fun and inspiring. The city closes early on Saturdays but they could still get a good idea of urban life. We went to a big shopping mall, a park, the famous Christ Church and even the government buildings such as the Tintenpalast (Parliament) and the Supreme Court. They were really impressed to see the places that they have learned about in school. I took their pictures in front of the buildings and even with statues of famous Namibians and was able to tell them a little bit about who they were and why they're on the money!

At one point, as we were walking back to town, I found myself walking/talking to myself. I looked behind me, and saw that the boys were stopped in the middle of the side walk. So I asked them what they're doing. They were mesmerized by a huge crane! Across the street from Parliament is the location for the a new museum and the boys were so fascinated, watching the crane moving cargo to and from different levels of the museum. It took me back to think that so far, that was one of the most interesting things they've seen! Of all of the things we've seen, I didn't think that would have such an impact. As we continued to walk, they saw the new Hilton that just opened, and they couldn't believe that it is a hotel, given that the hotel we were staying at was only 15 rooms. The other thing that blew their mind was the fact that there were trees growing on the roof!

Later that night, we had a lot of interesting experiences that were both really interesting and engaging. There were a lot of things I tried to learn (Namlish for teach) the boys. Surprisingly, they knew what a deck of playing cards were, but I learned them Blackjack. They especially loved Indian Poker! While we were playing cards, I used Google Earth to show the boys their home in Anker, then Kamanjab, then Windhoek, then Namibia, then America, then Nevada, and then Las Vegas. They couldn't imagine the big city. I then told them about a really tall building (the Stratosphere) that is 350 metres tall (over 1 100 feet). I found a great picture that was taken from a top the Big Shot ride that showed how high you are. I then had them look at the picture and told them about the ride:

“Imagine that you're a top this building, 350 metres tall... You're strapped into a chair and can't move. The chair begins to move, you're slowly rising to the top. Your feet are dangling, you can feel the wind. You're now 10 metres high, now 12, 15. (I use my hand to simulate the chair and raise my hand up) You finally get to the top. The chair shakes to a standstill. You're now 15 metres high, strapped in a chair, your feet are dangling. You feel the wind and you see the world below, 365 metres below, the world looks like ants. Your heart starts to beat faster and faster. But all you can do is wait, and wait, and Wait....” As I say this the boys are really getting into it and every time I said wait, they drew closer and closer hanging on my every word... “It seems like for ever but all you can do is wait and wait and WAIT..... and then (loudly snap my fingers, drop my hand and talk louder) the chair gives way and you FALL!” The boys almost fell out of their chairs and make this sound that Namibians make, “at ta ta ta ta tah.” The really got into it!

Afterwards, while we were still playing cards, we were watching the TV show “Minute to Win it.” I tried to explain the concept of game shows and why the people should be winning so much money. (It was a celebrity episode, and I had to also explain who the Jonas Brothers are :P ) It was quite a challenge to explain why someone should be able win all of this money in a minute doing a pointless task, when it's more money then they'll ever see in their life time of hard work. However, they really got into it and enjoyed the show. For dinner we headed out to takeaway and there was a Chinese family checking into the hotel. The boys were so amazed to hear them speak and how different they looked. It was a great way for them to experience a different culture and see how diverse the world is.

After dinner, one of the boys was fortunate enough to meet up with his older brother who is a student at UNAM (University of Namibia) and they haven't seen each other is quite a while. It can be challenging for people to get to Windhoek to got to UNAM or Poly Tech that they don't get to go home often. I am hoping that it was also inspiring to see his brother at UNAM and will help encourage him to reach his goals to attend UNAM.

By the end of the weekend, it was really rewarding to see how well the boys. They learned how hotels worked, the city life, etc. As we were getting ready to leave, they wanted to take pictures. There were two really nice cars, a Mercedes-Benz and an Audi, so I assumed that they would be wanting a picture with the cars. Lo and behold, they were wanting a picture by the pool! (Sadly it was too cold to swim in it as it is winter here) We had this really funny/awkward moment where we looked at each other amazed that we weren't on the same page. When I asked them if they wanted a picture by the car, they gave me this look like “why would we?” It wasn't until I told them that each of the cars are at least N$ 1 000 000 each, that they were interested in them.

When we were leaving back for Anker, the learner were able to see the entire metro area of Windhoek. They were amazed that it was so big! The boys asked me if we had to go because they liked it here so much that they didn't want to leave. I told them that if they stay away from alcohol, are safe about HIV and work hard in school, that they would be able to come to Windhoek and are capable of anything! One of the last stops we made was in Otjiwarongo, the last shopping town before Kamanjab and Anker. The learners all had saved up a bunch of money, and bought things for all of their family and friends. Some even sacrificed lunch that day to help get things for their families in need!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dispelling Myths of America (Part 3) Talkin bout a real "cash cow"

In Namibia, regardless of culture, (Herero, Damara, Nama etc) the Cow is honoured and respected. So much so, that it is money. In rural areas, a man is not valued by how much money he has, or to some extent the items he owns (cars are an exception, especially an Isuzu or Toyota Double Cab 4x4 Bakkie [truck]) but how much livestock he has. Other livestock are not worth as much as cattle. If I were to Continue with the money analogy, I guess goats would be like small bills while chickens are like change or something.

You can read Elizabeth's blog more about Cattle in Herero culture.

It's very similar in Damara culture. There are cultural traditions where they must pay to marry someone, if they get divorced, or even harm someone. They must even give payment for crimes committed against someone, where the payment (besides punishment according to Namibian Law) is a set number of cattle, goats or the market price of said livestock in Namibian Dollars. There is a price list for all of the various crimes, even a list with respect to physical violence with each body part having a set price. Crimes against another man's cattle are some of the biggest offenses.

I've had interesting conversations with many people here in Kamanjab, and outlying communal farms such as Erwee, about Americans and cattle. The conversations go something like this:

“You are from America? You must be very rich. I only got # cows, but you must have a lot! How many cows do you have?”

“What?!?!?! You don't have cows? But you're American. They're very rich. You must have many more goats! How many Goats do you have?”

“No cows or goats? Are you poor? Are you not a Man? How will you marry?”

People who are younger and/or live in the bigger villages and towns, especially those who frequent Windhoek, understand that outside of Namibia, livestock are not seen as money and not everyone will have a farm with cattle, like in Namibia.

One of the more confusing aspects I have seen, was to meet people whose families are starving and yet they have at least a cow or two. Even though they are hungry, and they could easily eat the cow, they would as soon as go hungry. When I asked why they just won't eat the cow, I was asked “if you were hungry, would you eat [paper] money?” When they explained, they said the cow is worth more to sell than it is to eat. They must wait until the cow is ready to sell so the family can get the most for it. They also mentioned that they wouldn't be able to eat the entire cow soon enough before it would go bad. Elizabeth told me the same it true for the people she has met.

Around communal farms, especially on the C35 the road that goes from Khorixas to Raucana (through Kamanjab and eventually has a turn for Opuwo) you will find goats and cattle roaming free. The closer you get to the turn off to Opuwo, the more animals you'll find on or near the roads. I think it really annoying as it will make the drive much longer as you have to be careful for animals crossing (or standing in the road). Recently, I was very fortunate and honoured to have a free hike to Opuwo, from the Honourable Governor of Kunene (like the Governor of a State). We had an interesting conversation about livestock. Having livestock roam freely seems like a terrible idea, but he told me the reason for this. Apparently, it is human nature to show off the money and wealth one has, and Namibians are no exception. By allowing the livestock to roam freely, baring the brand of the farmer, he can show off his wealth. The more cattle and goats roaming the better off he is (though this isn't with all farmers and places). Interestingly enough, the people here are really respectful of other people's livestock and there seems to be very few issues with crimes against livestock, theft etc.

The other interesting thing about the cattle here, is that the cattle aren't castrated, and they aren't selectively bred like in the states. There also doesn't seem to be any prominent form of husbandry here either. It's been very interesting to see so many bulls and they all have their horns. It's a much different sight than in America. I don't know the breeds they use here, but they have some of the most elegant horns I have seen (save the few stragglers, who I'm guessing, got their ass kicked. I've seen a few bulls, who has one horn pointing up right and one facing down to the ground! I wonder why). I was also told by the Honourable Governor that the horns are needed to protect the cattle, and that some farmers must even train the bulls to protect the others and fend of predators.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dispelling Myths of America (part 2) The comprehension of size and life style difference

There are many things that most Namibians will never understand about America, because, in order to fully understand them, one would have to personally experience them. Sadly, that's something that the majority of the people will never get to do. Most, don't even travel outside of the region, let alone to America. Some of the things, they'll never fully understand, is life without ranching, the full concept of wealth without livestock, the sheer size of Namibia, America, or the world, and the crazy/hectic life of an American.

I've encountered many people, who travel very little, whether by choice or by financial limitations, and don't know any other life than what they know. As I encounter people who are interested to know about America and Americans, it can be difficult to explain things in Namibian terms. Sometimes it's easy, like for instance, when people inquire about the city I was born in, I can compare Las Vegas to Windhoek, but even that can be challenging. I try to explain that the city is four times bigger with buildings much taller, (especially the Stratosphere which is 330 metres or 1100 feet tall) and it contains the entire population of Namibia, around two million people. Some are able to try and comprehend that, others can't even imagine. It doesn't help if they haven't been to Windhoek.

The same principle applies when trying to explain that America is twelve times bigger than Namibia. One time, I was able to show my host family in Kamanjab a Google Earth rendition of the world and it showed America and Namibia on the same picture. (It was also nice because it was able to show just how far apart they really are) Because my host parents have traveled to most of Namibia, they understand just how big Namibia is and can appreciate and comprehend a kilometer. So telling them that during the flight from New York City to Johannesburg was ~8,000 km or 5,000 miles, or that Salt Lake City to Kamanjab is 15,000 km or 9,300 miles, they were able to appreciate how far away that is. It can be challenging to try and explain these topics to people who can't relate to these things.

It's also challenging to try and teach people about American lifestyles. Sometimes it's easy because there are things that relate well. In America we have BBQ and in Namibia we have braai. Most other things aren't so easy. I've tried to explain that it's not required that meat is served for every meal, where here, it's not a real meal unless there is some kind of meat. The fact that Americans don't eat goat confuses them and the concept of vegetarians and vegans is just blasphemy.

By the time I'm done talking with most of the people I've encountered, they can begin to wrap their head around the concept that not everyone has a farm, not everyone has livestock, and Americans have a different diet, but for the most part, it leaves a void in their minds. To them, ranching and being on the farm is all they know, and there are very few professions they can comprehend. Mostly, they can fathom the manual labour jobs, mining, ranching, fishing, manufacturing, etc but any form of theoretical job is lost. Accounting, marketing, etc. Sales can be hit or miss. Not to mention, there are a lot of stereotypes and gender roles associated with their opinions of those jobs. It can get tricky if the people can't comprehend these theoretical jobs and leaves them a little confused as to what Americans are like.
For the most part, I don't go into much more detail than that. In the past I've tried to explain to others how Americans have a much faster pace than Namibians, who run on “African time.” I've tried to explain the 9 to 5, commuting, and office life but I don't want to overwhelm them or depress them. I just refer them to the movie “Office Space.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dispelling Myths of America (Part 1) Wild Animals

There are three core goals that I have as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. The one everyone thinks of is: [to] “Help the people of interested countries [Namibia] in meeting their need for trained men and women.” But the other two are not as well known but just as important: [to] “Help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples severed [Namibians],” and [to] “Help promote a better understanding of other peoples [Namibians] on the part of Americans.”

The second one has been the most fun so far, trying to dispel the myths about America and to help the people of Namibia see what life is like outside of their village, town or city. That is something they can't even fathom. All they know about America is what they see on TV (mostly MTV) and South African media. Some of the people I've met treated me like I was some kind of angelic being, and spoke about America like it is some heavenly or magical place. I've been trying to show them that we're normal people and are just like them.

In the past, the third goal, to teach Americans about Namibians, would not have been possible until I returned home after service. (Well I guess there was snail mail and film cameras...) However, with the internet and all of the technology I can work on it, though the use of Facebook, emails and my blog.

Wild Animals- Northeast of Kamanjab, lies Etosha National Park, the biggest attraction in Namibia, and from what I've been told, one of the nicest parks in the world. Because of it's proximity to Kamanjab, there are many tourists who come through here, and apparently it's relatively easy to find lions outside of the park some 80 km (50 miles) north of Kamanjab, in the “wild.” From this, people here know about American's (and all westerners) fascination about wild life and have been really curious about the wild animals in America. I have been asked what wild life I've seen before, what I've seen here, and what animals are like in America.

I live with a family of four, the parents, a girl and boy, 12 and 4. One night, there was the left over remnants of a tourist book for Etosha. There were detailed drawings, names and sighting maps of all of the animals and birds of Etosha. They were showing me this and asking me if I have seen these animals and if they had them in America. The only “African” animals I have seen are baboons (running across the road), giraffes and zebras (on the way to Opuwo, the C35 runs along the border of Etosha. I have seen various antelope, but not good enough to know which they were. I've also seen many birds but they don't count to Namibians.) They even showed me a drawing of a hedgehog/armadillo type creature, and said that it's worth a lot of money, but you'll spend many years in prison if you have one or are caught with one. (I think they mentioned something about them being used in traditional medicine.) There is also tough laws on poaching any of these animals both in and out of Etosha.

While they were showing me these pictures, I explained that we don't have those exact animals, but their “cousins” so to speak. I tried to describe to them what our animals look like and how they behave differently than the ones here in Africa. I mentioned that we have lions, but they prefer to stay in the mountains, that we have plenty of antelope like animals but some, like Elk, aren't known for their speed like a Springbok (antelope). I then tried to explain a bear, which was kind of lost on them. (I'm curious as to why there aren't any bears here... Stephen Colbert, Africa is for you!) I tried to relate the story about the hedgehog/armadillo they had told me about, to a bald eagle. I tried to explain the different climates in America. There are different climates here in Namibia, but most don't see them, and they're not nearly as dramatic as they are in America (at least not from my understanding).

The next night, I went onto the internet during happy hour and got a bunch of pictures of mountain lions, cougars, other big cats, wolves, elk, buffalo, bears (both polar and grizzly), bald eagles, and even the majestik møøse. There was also a picture of an armadillo, and it looked similar to the one from Etosha! I went onto Google Earth and was able to get a cartoon map with America and Namibia in the same picture to show how much bigger America is. My family didn't know it was so big! I also took the time to talk about the different places in America, like the Rockies, the deserts, etc. I was probably a little biased with the Mojave desert, but I also showed them pictures of rattle snakes, coyotes, and other desert wild life. Thankfully I was able to relate all of these animals, except bears, to creatures they know of, and the places in America to places they know and can relate to in Namibia.

I especially enjoyed showing them the bears, elk and big cats. They were so amazed how differently they looked and behaved. They also really enjoyed seeing the møøse. They really liked it's elaborate antlers, but I warned them that møøse bites Kan be pretti nasti...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dear Group 34

I can't believe that it's already been three and a half months since I've been to Namibia, and a month and a half of that has been in Kamanjab. In many ways it has seemed like it was just yesterday and yet in other ways it has seemed like years. It's funny, during Pre-Service Training (PST) one of the current PCV's that came as a resource volunteer had given her outlook on time in Namibia, and so far it's been so true! She said that “the days seem long, but the weeks fly by.” It seems like this morning was forever ago, but that last week was just yesterday. I can't believe that it's been 15 weeks and that there is only 99 weeks left. I know that sounds crazy but if the rest of my time flies like the 15 weeks did, I'll be home in no time.

I've been hearing about group 34, the next batch of PCT's that will arrive after I did. They should be coming in August, after we've spent a month in reconnect and all volunteers conference. It's crazy to think that there is already a new batch of trainees coming and that we won't be the n00bies anymore... I was also reflecting on my invitation process. I had my acceptance letter on Halloween and left shortly after Valentines Day. That's slightly more than three months, so there might be a few people in group 34 who have, or will shortly have their letter to Namibia. I want to write a blog post for them, as well as others, that will help prepare them to come to Namibia and share some insights to others about my time so far. This might seem random, but taken with your acceptance letter, is everything I wish I would have known. I felt that the info PC gave and this blog would have made things so much better, but hind site is 20/20.

*Disclaimer* First, I want to begin by saying this blog is 100% based upon my opinion. Second, I am not trying to trash or criticize anyone. And lastly, these are all things I wish I would have known when I came. I feel like I might have some insights since we just finished PST. If there are questions that aren't answered email anyone of us. I'm sure almost all of us in the NamFam would be more than happy to answer questions.

If you contact any current PCV's it would be good to contact ones that are the same sector as you will be. There are 4 sectors: IT (technology), SEED (business), CHAAP (health), and Education. I contacted an education volunteer and while they were friendly and helpful, their scenario and advise wasn't really applicable to me (CHAAP).

About Namibia
  • I have heard that Namibia is a “middle income” country. This isn't west Africa. There is a great infrastructure system left over from the South African Government and Namibia is better off than most. There are good chances that this won't be as rugged and “hard-core Peace Corps” as you might think. I was expecting to live in a grass hut and be miles from people who don't speak English, have to fetch my water etc. (Some are kind of that way but small majority) Almost everyone speaks some form of English, I have power and running water.
  • I've got a cell phone and a wireless 3G internet device. It's really affordable, but you can bring a phone that uses a SIM card (any phone that's not Verizon or Sprint) but it MUST BE UNLOCKED! I thought that was only for “smart phones” but no! My cheap little Nokia still needed to be unlocked. Don't spend too much on unlocking a phone (unless you REALLY like that phone. Cheap phones can be bought here for N$180-N$400, which is like US $25-50. I've got service in like 92% of everywhere I am. It's not the fastest internet in rural areas, but you may or may not be in a rural area. If nothing else it's great when you travel to a non-rural area.
  • There are still some racial tensions, (Apartheid was not like the problems America had...) but thankfully the tensions are mostly regarded to South Africans and “Afrikaners,” people who are white Namibians and benefited the most from South African rule. There is also a big mess created by the German government pre-WWI. It isn't uncommon for you to be assumed to be an Afrikaner or even a german by the older generation, but most times, once they find out you're American there is little racial tension.
  • During Apartheid, the whites forced anyone not white into places called the locations, far from town. Sometimes, they're even named. Some towns such as Okahandja has a few and each had their purpose, other places like Kamanjab only has one. Today, the locations are where the majority of the people live, but mostly in poverty.
  • Although English is the official language, especially for government work, it's technically British English. You will find plenty of British words such as petrol and flat, and even spelling such as centre and coloured. However, in reality it's “Namlish.” It's Namibian English. There are words and sayings that don't make sense and it's even spoken differently. Merchants (with poor English) will ask you “Are you selling?” which means “Do you want to buy something?” And in order to be understood by people outside of the government or big cities, you must modify your pronunciation and word choice. Americans have to talk slower and to really enunciate their words. It is also important to keep in mind the British English/Namlish sayings and to avoid using too many words while simplifying your word choice. The important thing, however, isn't to insult them by talking like a baby or to a baby or to talk down to them like they're an idiot.
  • If you're a fan of BBQ, you're going to love it here! In Afrikaans, it's called a Braai and it's great. (it's called that all over Namibia, even in places that Afrikaans isn't spoken) There is a sausage called Boerewors, I LOVE IT! Braai pap (a corn based porridge isn't bad either)
  • You get to eat with your fingers! It's acceptable and encouraged to eat a piece of meat (goat) with your fingers, and eating braai pap with your fingers is half the fun. That said, a bunch of hand sanitizer is probably good.
  • Meat makes a meal here. Many Namibians feel that it isn't a meal unless there is meat, and when I say meat, I mean red meat. Most don't see chicken or fish as meat. Goat is usually the meat of choice. Sometimes there is mutton (sheep). Beef is money (literally, cows are money) so it's only eaten in special occasions. There is also boerewors and mince meat (ground meat). Also be prepared to eat a lot of TOUGH meat.
  • Attention vegetarians: As I said, meat is essential here! It's eaten almost every meal and you will get plenty of crap for not eating. People here won't understand why you don't eat meat and can hinder your integration. (Especially true for most places except the big towns) It can also be seen as being rude and ungrateful. It is expensive to provide meat for meals, but providing meat to guests it a very polite thing to do. Recently, I visited the king of the Aodaman Tribe. He gave me a nice portion of Goat and Pap (Braai pap). I ate the goat first, even the extremely tough meat, and ate all of the pap with my fingers. Everyone was so impressed! The king told everyone he knew and mentioned it several times.
  • If you haven't eaten meat in a while, but think you might in Namibia, it is a good idea to ease into in while you're still in America. Your digestive system will thank you.
  • If you're not planning to eat meat, that's OK too! Just be prepared for the various reactions you'll get and try to think of it as an opportunity to share your views. People here won't always understand but perhaps you can shed some light on it. However, do know that animal cruelty doesn't really exist here, most food comes from small, family owned farms and isn't like the PETA materials you'd find in America. Also know that in rural areas (such as Kamanjab) fresh produce is SUPER EXPENSIVE! I honestly can't imagine how anyone could live here and be a vegetarian, especially not vegan.
  • A lot of people will see you as Dollar signs and think you're rich. For some reason, people here don't understand the concept of volunteering, especially the part that involves work for little to no money. (It's ironic because in Afrikaans, the word for volunteer is vrywilleger, which literally means free willing.) You will get asked by a lot of people for money and it will become extremely annoying. It's also really important not to give anyone anything because it will never stop, only get worse, and showing money in most scenarios it's like blood in the water...
  • That said, some of the people I've met, especially in rural places like Kamanjab think that Americans are like gods or something and that America is a heavenly place that they can't even fathom.
  • People will ask you how much things cost in America and will relate it to Namibian dollars. It is ok with people who give good vibes and to talk about abstract things, and not how much you've paid for your personal belongings. I would also suggest to only do this with adults and not children.
  • Everything people have seen on TV, radio or internet about America, they assume to be true. The only form of American music that exists is rap, pop, and R&B, but think the really crappy stuff. People that are either really main stream or ones that never made it in America.
  • People here have no concept about the “N” word. They've heard it through American Culture but have no idea what it means or the history/hate behind it. I have even had children wanting to be called that by me and others.
  • There are many different racial groups of people here (Ovambo, Herero, Damara, Nama, San etc) and two that can take people by surprise are the “coloureds” and the “basters.” Those are two terms that aren't offensive and you'll hear frequently. I wouldn't recommend using those terms often and would wait until they themselves call themselves coloured or baster. They refer to people who have both Namibian and White ancestry. It can be complicated and you'll have to wait till you're here to fully understand.
  • One of my favorite Namlish terms is “cool drink.” It's used loosely to refer to anything to drink that isn't water and non-alcoholic. Usually it implies sodas (all made with real sugar!) but can also mean juices and oros (a drink concentrate like kool-aid). Usually, cool drink is provided to guests when people visit or at most meetings. Coke is everywhere here and it's amazing! Tastes much better than US Coke (with high fructose corn syrup, yuck!) It's kind of like Mexican Coke but I like Namibian Coke much better! I should also warn that it's cool drink and not COLD drink. I can't even tell you the last time I had a COLD drink. Most are slightly cooler than luke cold...
  • Alcohol is a HUGE problem here in Namibia and something every volunteer will encounter. In almost every village, town and city, there is alcohol everywhere. You can't go more than a few steps, even in the most rural areas, without seeing broken glass, bottles, caps etc. There are places called “Shebeens” that are really sketchy bars. They sell all kinds of alcohol, especially home brewed drinks (Tombo and other home brews aren't regulated, can have various alcohol contents, and can even be spiked with battery acid, and other crazy things!) are open almost 24 hours and play really loud music! They're also a really big problem because they magnify the issues here. They increase poverty, lead to health issues, spread HIV, increase gender-based violence (domestic violence), and other issues that go along with alcoholism. I would also strongly recommend that you drink as little as possible, especially at your site, but there has been history of drunken escapades, that can tarnish the reputation and prestige that PCV's enjoy. Also, wither or not your a CHAAP volunteer, you'll come into contact with HIV and you'll help set a good example and help others reduce the spread of HIV and the problems associated with alcohol.
  • In Namibia, there are the 3C's: Car, Cell Phone and Clothes. These are the three things that people want to have, are status symbols and especially in bigger towns and cities, cause problems among “sugar daddies” and “boyfriends/girlfriends.” It can be challenging to see people spend their money on these items (or especially alcohol) when they aren't paying children's school fees, a balanced diet, etc. I once spent a week in a house where the family was barely having two meals a day, which consisted only of porridge, but were using their cell phones extensively.
  • HIV has taken a huge toll on Africa, and Namibia is no exception. They have done a great job educating people here, and PEPFAR has done a great job, but there are several reasons why HIV is still prevalent. It's difficult to watch, because most people know the ways to prevent HIV infection, condom use, etc but don't follow the information. Sadly, I've heard many people tell me their fatalistic views on life and that they don't have a reason to control their drinking, condom usage, have one partner etc. There is also a good deal of sadness/depression as well.
  • For all of you SEED volunteers (assuming this is your role, I don't actually know what they do), you'll have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of problems here involving business and entrepreneurial skills, or the lack there of. It's been challenging to see people copying others without distinguishing themselves from the rest. People will sell all of the same items, at all of the same prices at all of the same places. It's interesting, the unemployment rate is high, and there is huge income division, but most aren't willing to put in the effort to do anything about it. My flat (apartment) is not finished yet, because we can't find people who want to work! The money is there, but the only companies that are willing to work are seriously trying to work us over. They're not even subtle about it, it's highway robbery!
  • Be prepared to hear a lot of the same music (not always good music) and often! There is a song called “Donkey,” a Hip Hop/Electronic song and everyone LOVES it. (It's ironic because it is about being the donkey that carried Jesus and how we all need to be that donkey, but the shebeens play it ALL THE TIME!) One day, between the various shebeens around my house, I heard “Donkey” twelve times! A couple of times it was back to back, and once one shebeen ended the song to have another instantly start it.
  • You'll find that a lot of people are looking for a free hand out, but thankfully that is not what the Peace Corps is about. It will be challenging at first because, as mentioned earlier, people will see you as Dollar signs. I've noticed it, and had very interesting conversations with other Namibians about it, but they believe that with the present generation has experienced a good deal of charity and giving, and that people are more to be more inclined to ask for things and take handouts than in the past. They also feel it is not real motivating and can hinder hard work and progress. It can also be challenging to make friendships here because many people will want to be your friend to get free stuff out of you. (Money, air time, use of personal items etc.) Because Namibia is a “middle income” country, there are many NGO's that are reducing their work, or pulling out of Namibia completely, so it is really important to focus on capacity building and to not propagate the bad behavior.

What to Pack
  • Don't worry about the recommended/required weight and size measurements given by Peace Corps. My bags were both bigger and heavier, but no one checked or cared.
  • Peace Corps will reimburse you for luggage fees, but it MUST be your name and your credit card on the receipt. They will deposit the money in your US bank account or give you the Namibian Dollar equivalent at the exchange rate the day you came. However, this process was really SLOW so don't count on it for at least a month.
  • Keep all expensive valuables on your carry on luggage, and everything listed on Random Recommended list below in your checked luggage. There are cheap locks that are TSA approved, these should be on every zipper and every bag, even your carry ons. There were a lot of random things taken at Jo berg airport from carryon bags as we went through security. Personally, I had my duct tape taken, others lost batteries and other things. They have sticky fingers.
  • Clothing: pack high quality clothing. The clothing here is full price and seems like light weight fabrics and low quality stitching, buttons, zippers etc. Bring nice clothing, during PST men are expected to wear a collared shirt and dockers, women were expected to wear dress pants, skirts, conservative shirts. However, do pack plenty of shorts and fun clothing. I packed as if I were an education volunteer and brought too many dress shirts and not enough causal wear. Polo shirts are really nice and work for most occasions. You'll be able to buy nice PC polo's once you're here. I bought three and wish I had more!
  • Shoes: contrary to given PC advise, shoe sizes are not impossible to find for men with larger feet. That said, the selection is smaller and they're more expensive, but not as drastic as I was advised. Cheap, comfortable flip flops are non existent. However, upon arrival to Namibia, you must go to a China shop and buy the China Shoes. They're supposed to be Adidas soccer knock offs. You can get them in many colors, but you'll find that literally almost everyone, especially anyone who's a soccer fan, has at least one pair of these. But you can't wear these to training. I would strongly recommend bringing a good pair of hiking boots as well.
  • Random recommended things to pack: Fishing line, duct tape, batteries (either rechargeable or disposable, but a lot of them), ziploc bags, swiss army knife, sleeping bag (compressible mummy sac to 0 ºC is best) Tent (small and light weight) a sharp kitchen knife, knife sharpener, cheap plastic cutting boards, Fabric shopping bags (especially ones that are strong and compact), Several kinds of lights (both flashlights and headlamps), ear plugs, sunglasses, quick dry towel, caribeeners (those things rock climbers use), water flavor packets, good pair of scissors, good office supplies (pens, sharpies, pencils, note books, sticky notes, metric ruler), sewing kit
  • Things to buy here: Plug adapter, china shoes, more casual shoes, cell phone, netman 3G stick
  • I exchanged a US $100 at the airport in Jo berg (Johannesburg, South Africa) for Rand. In Namibia, both Namibian Dollars and Rand are accepted and equal. It was really nice to have so I could get my Netman 3G stick and cell phone and still have money. Credit/debit cards work too but there can be fees. If you're flown through Frankfurt, you might be able to do this.
  • If you're wanting to visit other countries, (like to see Victoria Falls) bring at least US $200 for visa fees to visit other countries. You should also bring extra passport photos.
  • American money, especially change is fun to give out. Little children love it.
  • Post cards of your home town, photos you've taken are fun to bring. I'd also recommend a map and other picture books to show all of America, especially the wild life. It's important to talk to people here about life in America and to show it's not like MTV.
  • If you have time, pick of an Afrikaans-English Dictionary. If you happen to learn it, you're a step ahead. If you learn something else, it's still really handy. Especially for southern Namibia and South Africa.
  • Essentials: iPod, Speakers (for both computer and iPod) Camera (SLR or point and shoot, I brought both)
  • You'll really MUST bring a computer. Bring one that you're not concerned if it's lost but make sure it's in GOOD condition. The only place to buy/repair computers here is in Windhoek. I STRONGLY recommend to bring a MAC, PC's are really susceptible to viruses and due to the slow internet/lack of computer stores, it's difficult to stay up to date on your virus protection. I would also recommend having the latest version of Office for Mac.
  • Go to and buy yourself a LaCie Rugged! Don't bring any other kind of external hard drive, they'll break. Between the power issues, accidents and what not, they can break easily. Also get the biggest size possible! 2 TB is AMAZING.
  • If you want to win over your fellow PCT's and every PCV in the Nam Fam, download HandBreak and start burning movies, TV shows, and more. It is for both Mac and PC but I would suggest making the resolution smaller, say iPod size. We don't care about quality but space! I would start with the most recent TV and then movies.
  • Lots of music, current music, especially all of the pop crap that plays on the radio. Work out videos, podcasts etc.
  • Books: A lot of people brought Kindles (or I had my iPod Touch) but nothing beats a paper back book. (If you get a kindle buy plenty of books in America, there is a fee to download them here, even the free ones, not to mention the internet is slow anyways) Physical books are expensive here and hard to get. Plus it's great to share with others.
  • Bags: It is strongly recommended that one of your bags be an internal frame backpack. Even if you're not going to camp much, it's really convenient to have for conferences and other travel around Namibia.

  • It's important to socialize, both with fellow PCT's, your host family, and people of the place you're having PST at. However, it's good to be with them all in moderation. Don't be with too much. I would also suggest to try and know your fellow PCT's so things aren't so “cliquey.” You'll never know who will be near your site, same region, or a good friend. Sadly you also won't know who will head home early....
  • Every week or so, you'll have a new Resource PCV(s). Someone who's taken time from their site to come and help you out. Take use of them! Hopefully you'll get PCV's from all over Namibia and types of sites. It's also good to ask the Volunteer Support Network (VSN) PCV's to have “informal sessions,” where they can talk to you and tell you how it is without any PC staff present. Once you know you're site, especially make sure to know the ones in your region (kinda like a state) if possible.
  • Probably the most important thing you can learn at PST is the culture. You won't get to really know all of the cultures well, except for your host family, but learn as much as you can. You won't know for some time where your site is, nor will you know the demographics of your site until you come back from your visit near the end of PST. It's interesting and can really help you out.
  • It is important to learn the local language, but don't over stress it. There are two verbal tests (LPI) but they're not important, nor do they mean much. However, you might want to know that you get certificates with your scores and can post them on Resumes and CV's. But the only score that matters is the one you get when you leave at the end of your service. It's also important that you're open with your language trainer and the language manager. It's important to communicate to them how you learn and what they can do to help. When I was learning Afrikaans, I was struggling because I was getting caught up on the grammar of language. They were able to help. It's also advisable to learn the useful sayings and greetings in each of the big languages (Otjiherero, Oshivambo, KhoeKhoe) You'll never know who you'll meet or where you'll go on vacation. They'll help people see you're not a tourist and won't be scammed so much.
  • One American thing that will be invaluable is personal time/space, something that isn't really appreciated here. During PST, you'll experience all range of emotions, but it's important to have a good balance of Personal time and space. It can be hard to not lock yourself in your room and stay glued to your netman, but it's important to get to know your host family. Even if your site is far away, you'll never know when you'll see them again, or how helpful they can be.
  • Shortly after you arrive into Namibia, you'll have a meeting with your APCD (I forget the acronym, you learn SO many of them) about what kind of work you want to do and where you'd like to go. Make sure you take this meeting seriously! Answer truthfully and be honest. If there is something you'd really like to do or some where you really can't live tell them now or forever hold your peace!
  • During PST, you're going to have A LOT of stress. Your whole time is planned, with little input from you, even your weekends. The only time you'll really have to yourself is to sleep! Do anything you can to handle it. PST and the first few weeks of site are the hardest you'll have. If you can make it past that you're usually home free. That's what I was told and so far it seems true for me. However, you'll have extreme boredom after PST while you settle in at site. It's kind of hard to be so busy than instantly have nothing.

If your PST is in Okahandja there are some things to know:
  • there have been several PST's in the past, and they're used to PC and foreigners. It didn't prepare me for my site where a white person (or any other foreigner) was a novelty. It was quite the transition, getting used to people staring at me, talking ABOUT me but not TO me and traveling from all areas of the location just to peak into my window.
  • It's a really nice town with many luxuries. Kamanjab is literally a gas station, a super market, two take away restaurants (kind of like fast food) and a hotel. As boring as Okahandja was, it's nothing compared to Kamanjab
  • There is a really awesome hike to the top of the mountain with the cross. I would definitely do it! Great view and a lot of fun. I'm sure one of the resource volunteers will know, but basically you follow a bunch of spray painted rocks (at times obscure) to the top. Note there have been Baboons spotted and there are some crazy spiders. They're not poisonous, though they sure look like it, but their bite will hurt like hell and scar (according to the internet). They're usually out of the way, but the can make their webs in-between the trees on the path so keep vigilant. It's also important to know that their web is strong enough to catch a small bird...
  • The Garden cafe is one of the best places in Namibia! They're Americans who operate to help people and a local ministry. Their food is amazing and a great way to relieve home sickness and stress!
  • There are many places to go for lunch during PST. Spar is by far the cheapest and easiest. Their Ham, Cheese, and Tomato (Ham, kaas, en tomatie) is amazing. The best burger is at the german bakery, but their tomatie sous (catsup) isn't so good. Also their Coke is really expensive (I brought one from Spar before going) The second best is Rhino's, it's cheaper.

I can't think of much else to add. It's already pretty long. I hope this helps. Feel free to email me or the others. I would suggest reading several blogs of different people, job types, and stages in their PC service. If you have any questions, feel free to email me!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Welcoming Ceremony to Kamanjab

On April 18, 2011, I was officially welcomed into the community (Village) of Kamanjab. (Even though Kamanjab is technically a village, I don’t like to call it that because there aren’t many “huts,” most people have access to electricity and we’ve got a “supermarket” with most everything, even if it is extremely over priced) It was also my first official day as a PCV at site. Thankfully, I came dressed appropriately, in my red Peace Corps Polo, because I was surprised by the "meeting" that was to take place. (Thankfully, I am at an amazing site where I don't have to always dress is pants and a button down!) 

His Majesty, King Petrus Ukongo, King of the ‡Aodaman and I
When I arrived to work, I was greeted by a number of people (Around 50 or so) and had a ceremony to welcome me into Kamanjab. There were a number of local politicians, Tribal leaders including the King of the Aodaman (One of the seven Damara Tribes) Volunteers of Pots of Hope, Community elders and the women of our support groups. I was then formally introduced by several of the politicians and the King. There were speeches all around. I was then presented with clothing. My two oumas (Grandma's in Afrikaans) hand sewed me clothing in traditional style. In the Damara Culture, it is a sign of welcoming and embrace to give clothing. We then had a great meal!

My two oumas and I

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Namibian Wedding Crasher

While in Namibia, I've been very fortunate in my social agenda. I've only been here for three months, but I've already been to three weddings. That's a wedding a month! They have been a lot of fun and for one of them I was even fortunate enough to have a beautiful date. I've also been lucky enough that each one has been of a different culture. I've turned it into a check list! The first one was Baster, the second was Nama, and the last one was Damara. (The first two were in a town setting, during training in Okahandja, the last one was at my site in Kamanjab.) There are three left: Herero, Caprivian and Ovambo. The two challenging ones will be Caprivian and Ovambo. There are almost no Ovamboes that live in Kamanjab as they are more near Angola, and Caprivians live in the “Caprivi Strip” near Zambia and Zimbabwe.

At first I was rather disappointed because the weddings were very western, but as I thought about it, it is a western tradition so of course it will be western. But they did have their subtleties that made them unique. I'm sure it also doesn't help that Bravo and other fashion media is out here, even in my tiny village.

Baster Wedding:
Baster culture is located around Okahandja and south, especially in Rehoboth. They are the decendents of white settlers who had children with Namibians. The ceremony was done in Afrikaans and was quite western. After the ceremony, everyone followed the bride and groom in their cars and drove around the town, honking their horns while swerving in the road. They traveled the whole town to get to the reception. This wedding was unique in the music and dancing. There is a style of music and dance that just can't be described. Everyone danced with everyone and no one left with any energy.

Nama Wedding:
Nama people live in southern Namibia and even into parts of South Africa. They speak the same language as Damara, which has clicks incorperated into the language. (It's also a spoken language and wasn't really ment to be written) It started two hours late, late even by “African time,” but people waited like it was no big deal. This ceremony was also quite western and was done in Afrikaans. The actual ceremony had more singing and live music incorperated into the ceremony. Together, they lit a candle. This reception had a lot of good food and people. A lot of meat. The speaches were rather long, but they were really personable and funny. I actually don't know if they were, but everyone was laughing. The music was also really fun.

Damara Wedding:
Because this was at my site in Kamanjab, I was able to be a part of the whole process. It started off the night before the eve of the wedding, there were two separate parties at the respective houses. One for the Bride and one for the Groom. The parties continued all night into the day which was the day before the wedding. At sunrise, many people met at the Groom's house and joined the party. They would wave white flags and olive branches while cheering in a very unique way. Together, everyone walked a bull to the Bride's house. Thankfully the house was close and the horns were taken care of. It took 7 people to control the bull and even then it almost got away several times. Once at the Bride's house, the Groom's party mingled with the Bride's party and there was cheering. The Bride was then ushered into the house by the older women who were waving and smacking the olive branches and flags at her. She was not to leave the house until the following day to go to her wedding ceremony. The bull, and a goat, was slaughtered and the Groom had to process the carcasses. I'm told the bull testicles were saved and was a saved for the Bride and Groom as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. The following morning was the wedding ceremony. I was unable to attend it, but I am told that it is quite western and similar to the others. I don't know which language it was in. Later that afternoon was the reception. It was held at a community centre. All of the guests came first and ushered in the wedding party. Each danced with their counterpart (Groom's man with Bride's Maid) into the room to the front of the room. Then came prayers, toasts and speeches. There were a Lot of speeches, but thankfully they were all really short, and funny. Once again I couldn't understand them, but everyone was laughing. They even had me address everyone to introduce myself to Kamanjab! It was very nerve racking. After was food, drinking and dancing.

Each of the weddings also had their little subleties that i'm sure I wasn't able to pick up on. These are just the ones I observed and I hope I was able to correctly report them. One thing I can say is that each one had a really beautiful couple who were really graceous to invite me, a complete stranger, to the happiest day of their life.